When I was on P&O’s Pacific Dawn the cruise went from Brisbane to Far North Queensland stopping at three tender ports along the way. After the ship pulled away from the third port it headed east and traveled out beyond the Great Barrier Reef.
One morning the ship stopped out in the middle of nowhere. I went up onto the top deck of the ship and saw we had stopped beside a tiny, low-lying coral cay in the middle of nowhere. Like totally, in the middle of nowhere. It is so remote it is too far to get to by helicopter and a high-speed catamaran in smooth seas traveling from the Australian coast will take 12 hours to get there. The island is only 500mtrs (1600ft) long and rises just 9mtrs (30ft) above sea level.
We had anchored a few hundred metres from Willis Island. Willis Island is 450km east of Cairns and on the boarder of national and international waters. It’s hard to imagine but people actually do live on the Island. Four people to be exact but there’s room for up to 10 visitors as well. But I don’t know how the visitors would get there with the Island not only being remote but having no wharf or jetty. And just what do those four inhabitants do all day!
The Island was established in 1921 as a very important weather station where it would warn the Australian coast of impending cyclones via a radio transmitter. Today the Island is still being used as a weather station and it sets off a weather balloon every day. We were all on the top deck of the ship waiting for the launch of the weather balloon but it didn’t happen that day for some reason.
The Island is very important for birds and there are many bird species that breed and nest on the Island and they make quite a bit of noise. Two of the most common species you see are the boobies and the Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters.
Willis Island is the only permanently inhabited Island out there (not that you can see any others but apparently it’s ‘close’ to two others of similar size). Visitors would be very rare indeed. The only ‘contact’ the residents would seem to have is when cruise ships come by to point out the Island to passengers.
The motives for cruise ships visiting Willis Island are not just ‘educational’ and ‘scenic’ however. Visiting this tiny speck in the ocean puts the cruise ships into International Waters and that makes it a legitimate ‘overseas’ holiday which means the duty free stores can open for business. And that’s a win/win for everyone.
It was very interesting visiting this Island but I’m not sure I could live in such an isolated place with nothing to do but let off weather balloons and look at birds. Here’s a short video explaining the lifestyle on Willis Island.