What is the passage from New Caledonia or Vanuatu to Australia like ?
The passage to Australia is usually very predictable, weather windows are typically longer in the later part of the southern hemisphere spring (September - November) and Australia offers a huge target!
This of course means that if needed you can change your port of arrival at any time to suit the conditions you encounter you are able to do so.
Typically, favourable weather windows of around 5 days for sailing from New Caledonia to Bundaberg (the shortest passage distance to a port of entry) are found in mid September to early November.
It is worth mentioning that cyclone season in Australia officially runs from 1 November to 30 April, however, tropical cyclones can form at any time of the year so do take this into consideration when planning your passage.
By comparison it is well documented that the passage to New Zealand is potentially the hardest leg a cruiser will ever make as you are heading into southern latitudes and to a very small destination target.
Choosing your Australian port of entry
Mackay - Queensland
Mackay is located to north of Bundaberg. The Great Barrier Reef extends south from Bundaberg and to above Cairns in the north.
Those wishing to clear into Mackay will find it necessary to navigate the waters of the Great Barrier Reef on route. Entering the reef via Hydrographers Passage is the route most commonly used . As with any reef pass it is not uncommon to encounter strong currents and standing waves and as such care and careful planning is required in relation to tides and seas conditions to ensure a safe transit.
Bundaberg - Queensland
Located just to the north of Brisbane and south of Mackay Bundaberg has long been the most popular port of entry for vessels under 25m LOA and in our opinion the preferred port of entry.
Choosing Bundaberg as your port of entry offers the shortest passage distance from New Caledonia (approx. 780nm) or Vanuatu (approx. 1040 nm) and as such your passage weather forecast is more reliable.
A stop over at Chesterfield Reef is also an option however the rules in regard to being granted permission to visit Chesterfield et Entrecasteaux reefs has changed since the 14th of August 2018. We have provided more information about the process that needs to be followed in order to apply for permission to visit the Chesterfield & or Entrecasteaux reefs at the bottom of this page.
For those wishing spend the summer in the south you will find that the voyage south from Bundaberg can, in the most part, be made up of day sails with very few overnight passages needed and as such the ability to time the voyage and bar crossings based on the best conditions.
Brisbane - Queensland
The port is located in the mouth of the Brisbane river and as such requires you cross Moreton Bay. The Channel is well marked and if followed you will have no issues navigating around the shoal waters that surround the area. Extra care should be taken when navigating in this area as you will be sharing the channel with shipping. For this reason you may wish to time your arrival in daylight hours.
Southport - Queensland
Southport in southern Queensland became a port of entry in May 2017 on a trial basis for 12 months. The trial period will end in May 2018. At the time of writing this (February 2018) the Australian Border Force were unable to confirm if the port will become a permanent port of entry or if it will be closed at the end of the trial.
To enter at Southport you will need to navigate the Southport Seaway which is a bar crossing and as such careful planning is required. Maritime Safety Queensland have this to say about crossing coastal bars on their website:
"Conditions offshore can be ideal for boating, but the conditions on the bar can be dangerous. Never underestimate a coastal bar as weather conditions can change quickly without warning. Do not try to cross a bar if the weather looks bad or in heavy swells, strong wind, or on a run-out tide when wave conditions are usually the most dangerous." "All bars are different. Local knowledge and experience are critical.
It is also important to understand that your charts may not provide you with accurate information in regard to the depths. A recent notice to mariners that was published by the Gold Coast Waterway Authority said:
"Gold Coast Waterways Authority (GCWA) is advising boaties to exercise caution when navigating the Gold Coast Seaway due to a sand shoal developing east of the southern training wall"
Lastly if you are thinking of clearing in at Southport be sure to confirm that is it still an approved port of entry with the Australian Border Force at the time of lodging your advance notification of arrival. Formalities including customs and biosecurity clearance for those choosing Southport as their port of entry will take place at The Southport Yacht Club.
Coffs Harbour or Newcastle in New South Wales.
In our experience and that of many others is that the passage to these more southern ports can be a challenging ones as the distances are further, making the passage times longer and the your passage weather forecast less reliable.
Another reason to choose a more northern port of entry is the weather phenomenon know as a "Southerly Buster". Should you encounter a Southerly Buster when you are approaching the more southern ports of entry you are going to be in for a very uncomfortable period of large seas and strong headwinds. To learn more about these "Southerly Busters" click here.