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Lady Musgrave Experience Camping Transfer Review

Sitting far off the coast of Queensland between Gladstone and Bundaberg lies a tiny, distant, isolated island with a breathtaking drawcard. Forming the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef, the waters off Lady Musgrave Island is home to an incredible and ecologically diverse reef system. Its prolific marine life attracts both day-trippers and overnight campers alike looking to experience what the largest underwater ecosystem has to offer.

Laday Musgrave Experience - Reef Empress Docked In Bundaberg
THe Reef Empress docked at Burnett Heads (Right in the middle at the back)

To camp or not to camp, that is the question.

There are essentially two ways to experience Lady Musgrave Island without a boat of your own. Visit during the daylight hours with a tour boat or take a boat transfer there and go self-sufficient camping.

As someone who loves nature and wildlife and enjoys the peace and serenity in the absence of people, camping on a remote island sounded like unadulterated bliss.

At first, 1770 Creek2Reef Fishing Charters looked good as it was no-frills. But I had to opt-out as they, understandably, needed a minimum number of people to take, and my party-of-one wasn’t cutting it.

Then it was down to the Lady Musgrave Experience. Initially turned off by the $440 price tag, which seemed obscene as I’d be joining the same boat as the day tourists, it made me wonder? Why was there a significant discrepancy? I’d be doing all the same things as those guys. The only difference was they had to load and unload my gear, and I would make the return journey another day.


Decision

After a lot of hand wringing as to whether to just go for a day or not, I relented and booked the Lady Musgrave Island Camping Transfer. Reasoning that while it cost an arm and a leg, the fully self-sufficient nature of the adventure appealed to my wild, wild heart. Meanwhile, the exceptional opportunity to see sea turtles nesting at night (during certain times of the year) and explore part of the most expansive underwater ecosystem on earth by myself sealed the deal.

You don’t get to see this on the island on a day-tour.

What also helped take the sting out of the exorbitant transfer price tag was making the camping period there a week to make the most of it. It helped that camping with Queensland Wildlife & Parks Service (QWPS) was only a few bucks per night. I figured if I stayed at a hotel for even a few days, it’d equate to the $440+QWPS camping fees quickly. But the value I’d attain from experiencing Lady Musgrave Island in this way would be so much more rewarding than anything I could ever hope to attain from a hotel stay, so in the end, it was a no brainer.

*If you’re undecided whether to camp on Lady Musgrave Island or just take a day trip there, there’s a future post coming up soon. I’ll add the link here when it’s ready.

Lady Musgrave Experience Camping Transfer – The Outgoing Journey

Before boarding the Lady Musgrave Experience’s luxury yacht, the Reef Empress, I headed to Burnett Heads for my gear and kayak ($100 extra return) to be loaded onto the boat the day before.

Drop-Off

Before boarding the Lady Musgrave Experience’s luxury yacht, the Reef Empress, I needed to head to Burnett Heads to drop off my gear and kayak ($100 extra return) the day before.

Parking in the dedicated Lady Musgrave Experience Car Park, I was a little lost to where I was supposed to go. The office was not next to the car park ad one might assume. After finding it and having a few misdirections about what I was supposed to be doing, they eventually told me to unload my stuff at the car park. The vessel would sail over to the dock in front of the car park, and they’d pick it up. Leaving without the cart they mentioned in the documents, which would determine how much you could take on and whether they’d charge you extra, I got to unloading the car.

Despite being a slow mover and the boat already arriving before I finished unloading, I stood there wondering for a while why they weren’t coming to take my stuff. It was already raining when I got there. But now, it was becoming progressively heavier, and I had a few electronics that had me worried. I’m a patient person, but considering the weather and there being nowhere to shelter, this was getting ridiculous.

Thankfully, while wondering whether they’d forgotten about me, a kind, young woman who also worked with the Lady Musgrave Experience (not that day) saw me standing in the pouring rain. She emerged from her car with an umbrella and sheltered us both from the downpour. It was exceptionally kind of her to go out of her way to help me, especially as my umbrella broke earlier in the day.

After a few more minutes of standing in the rain, the workers finally emerged from the boat, and they seemed in a rush. I could understand why they would be so. No one likes doing shit in the rain, but they weren’t exactly friendly or welcoming. I felt like I was inconveniencing them.

The guy taking my kayak wasn’t very gentle either, ripping off a bag I had secured to the back of the vessel, breaking an attachment. Luckily it was easy to fix, but I didn’t appreciate his rough approach to my gear.

But the young lady whose name I still remember who went out of her way to shelter me from the rain also helped her co-workers and me take the rest of my gear to the boat. She never made me feel like I was burdening her, and I am very grateful for her help and kindness.

Then after loading everything onto the boat, ready for the following days’ adventure, the heavens unleashed their fury and rained down all hell as I was trying to get back to the car. Thank you, clouds above, for holding off the heavy stuff until after my gear was safe. And no, thank you for not letting me get to the car before you let it all out.

Camping Transfer With The Reef Empress

The following morning, it was time to get the Lady Musgrave Island camping adventure on its way. Boarding was at 7.00 am and was quick, easy and painless. The majestic Reef Empress was a clean, slick and luxurious vessel.

But there were a couple of curious things about it, like the exterior vinyl film decorating the outside of the boat were over most of the windows reducing visibility for the vast majority of seats. Some of its edges were also peeling away, making it look a little tacky, but that was only a minor thing.

Shortly after plonking myself at the front of the boat where one of the few seats that had clear visibility was, we set sail. Whoo!!! A few captains announcements later, and the passengers were allowed to roam the ship. I beelined for the bow and was lucky enough to have it all to myself for a decent amount of time, which was incredible.

Lady Musgrave Experience - Reef Empress - Heading To Lady Musgrave Island
For the first part of the trip, I had the outer decks to myself

Food Mishap

Heading back in later, I hadn’t realized I’d missed the inclusive morning tea until the lovely blonde young woman went around asking if anyone would like more before they put the food away. I didn’t think they’d have anything to suit my dietary requirements, but she said they had fruit. YAY!

She grabbed me some of that, and I bought a drink to go with it. Taking it back to my seat with all the care in the world, I accidentally spilt the fruit all over the poor lady in the seat front! I was horrified, and she was understandably shocked. I apologized profusely, but thankfully she and her husband were total champs and didn’t scorn my clumsiness.

Going back to the counter, I told the same blonde woman about my mishap, and she offered to give me more. Upon returning to hand over the fruit, it also slid off the plate and scattered on the floor. We had a good chuckle, and the lady told her co-worker about how funny it was because I just had my fruit incident, then she had the same one only minutes later. She kindly gave me another plateful, but plenty of fruit died that day.


Seasickness

During the middle portion of the two-hour trip, I was inside the main cabin area. Not usually one to succumb to seasickness, I could feel it taking over as I chowed down on my fruit platter and drink. It wasn’t even a rough sea day. But whilst washing my hands in the bathroom sink, a sweet older lady who saw my food mishap struck up a conversation and said going outside might help my stomach woes. Heading back out to the bow, it wasn’t long before I felt better.


Birds & Dolphins

By now, many of the passengers had come outside to enjoy the sunshine and sea breeze. One little girl yelled out, “dolphins!” whilst pointing in the distance. I couldn’t see her marine mammals but briefly spotted a couple of them gliding under the bow. There were also plenty of sea birds flying low during the long trip to the island.

With the two hours passing by, the white sandy beaches and pisonia trees of Lady Musgrave Island revealed themselves amid the stunning azure blue waters. Nearby, the Lady Musgrave Experience Pontoon sat in solitude in the ocean awaiting us.

Lady Musgrave Experience - Reef Empress - Circling Lady Musgrave Island
Lady Musgrave Island from the Reef Empress

The Landing

The transfer from the Reef Empress to the Pontoon, to the Glass Bottom Boat was quick, but I was surprised they wanted me to paddle the kayak across to the island. They know I paid them to take it to the island, not 99% of the way, right? After telling them I was only a beginner kayaker, they loaded the vessel onto the roof of the Glass Bottom Boat then headed towards the island.

Lady Musgrave Island - Boat Landing Area
Just before landing on the island

After a quick trip across to the island, they unloaded my gear super lightning fast as the day-trip passengers had an introduction to the island. As they headed off on their tour, I realised they’d forgotten my second 10L water container, an essential item I’d need on an island that had nothing more than a drop toilet and a decompression chamber.

I called back over the friendly tour guide to let him know. I also asked him where the campground was and how to get there because no one told me anything. Nevertheless, he was lovely, and I set about embarking on my micro-adventure on the magnificent Lady Musgrave Island.

MyGear On Lady Musgrave Island
The start of my Lady Musgrave Island camping adventure

Lady Musgrave Experience Camping Transfer – The Outgoing Journey

Before long, seven days of experiencing the breathtaking Lady Musgrave Island had passed, and it was time to make the return journey back to the mainland.

Left In The Sun

Pickup time was 10.00 am, where returning campers would meet the first Glass Bottom Boat Tour at the boat landing area so their gear could be loaded and taken back to the Reef Empress while the day passengers had their tour around the island. They weren’t necessarily going to pick us up yet, but the gear was supposed to go first. That didn’t happen. Instead, the lady tour guide told a group of fellow campers also returning on the same day and me that we’d be on the next one.

I thought that meant they’d be back shortly after to drop off more passengers to the island then take our gear back, but nope. They went to pick up more passengers and took them on a glass-bottom boat tour while making us wait. She didn’t tell us it would be about an hour, so we were just on the beach waiting. Had I known they wouldn’t have picked my stuff up anywhere near 10.00 am, I wouldn’t have brought my belongings out into the baking hot sun.

If I’d known they were going to leave us there while they did their first round of activities, I wouldn’t have laid next to my gear waiting for them to come back in a few minutes. The other group of campers made the most of it. One of the ladies paddled her SUP back to the pontoon, while the others, once realising they were going to be a while, went swimming. But I was so exhausted from hauling my equipment from the campground to the boat loading area that I didn’t want to exert any more energy, so I just laid there waiting as the sun seared my flesh.


Helpful Campers

When they were ready to pick us up, they didn’t help in any capacity with our gear. The other campers were kind enough to help me with mine. They also offered to paddle the kayak back to the pontoon. I didn’t want to burden them, especially as I had already paid the Lady Musgrave Experience for their workers to take it across for me. But after it became alarmingly clear that they weren’t giving any fucks about fulfilling that service, they kindly offered again, and one of the guys paddled it across for me.

The two remaining campers and I hopped aboard the Glass Bottom Boat for the tour. While it was lovely seeing some male turtles swimming beneath us and seeing the different corals, I couldn’t help but feel bad that the guy taking my kayak over to the Pontoon was missing out on this because of the Lady Musgrave Experience unwillingness to take my kayak, and I was too tired to do so. It also sucked that the two campers who were on the boat had no choice but to be in the sun, especially after we were all left on the island without any indication that they were going to take an hour earlier.

LAdy Musgrave Experience - View Off The Glass Bottom Boat
View of the reef over the side of the Glass Bottom Boat
Lady Musgrave Experience - Glass Bottom Boat Coming In To Dock At The Pontoon Where The Reef Empress Is Already Docked
The glass bottom boat just about to dock at the Pontoon and the Reef Empress already there.

Buffet Connundrum

Back at the pontoon, it was time for lunch. It was a buffet. There were a handful of different selections, but only one option for me: A pasta salad. It was cold, but it was delicious. And the group of campers who’d been so kind to help with my gear and take my kayak across invited me to eat with them, and I enjoyed chatting with them.

After eating, you were free to go snorkelling when you were ready, but I was still hungry from hauling stuff around all morning and burning in the sun. I didn’t realise you couldn’t go back for more, (what’s the difference taking more at first, or getting less at the start then more later) the lady doing the food said something about a couple of other people having to eat. I assumed because no one was, there they were done and anyone who wanted more was free to get some. My mistake.

Feeling a bit embarrassed and a bit of hostility from her, I went to ask someone else a question, but just as I was about to do so, the same lady who I wasn’t trying to address at this point was so fucking rude to me. I can’t recall exactly what she said but it was something about food and I remember being so shocked and flabbergasted that anyone could be that grotesque and didn’t even bother responding to her and just turned to the guy and asked my question that had nothing to do with food. I found him later and asked about the buffet, and he told me it was okay to go back for more, so I don’t know what the fuck happened there, but I was appalled by her.


A Friendly Face & A Fun Snorkel

Feeling like shit someone about this company, I was relieved to see the young blonde lady from the forward trip who’d been so lovely was working this shift too. Again, she was amazing to interact with and went above and beyond. Of particular note was when I saw her with a young passenger who was (probably) going snorkelling for the first time, and she was so sweet and patient with him.

In my own snorkelling experience with the Lady Musgrave Experience, I didn’t see any turtles, as I did during my time on the island. But I did see plenty of small, colourful fish and a young grouper. I only know it’s that species because a fellow passenger asked me if I saw it. I hope I didn’t make him uncomfortable when I complimented his accent. I wasn’t flirting with you. I just like the American way of speaking.


Not Just Me

After the lovely snorkelling session, it was time to head back to the mainland. As the journey progressed, the cloud cover got heavier and heavier, but it wasn’t a bumpy ride. I talked more with the other campers who had been so kind as to help me. I asked them whether they also felt like they were getting judged for being campers, and the lady replied, “I think they tolerate us.” It was a similar sentiment to what another lady on the island said.

Lady Musgrave Experience - Reef Empress Heading Back To The Mainland
Heading back to Bundaberg

Souvenir Denial

When I enquired with another Lady Musgrave Island worker about getting some souvenirs, she asked a co-worker where they were. He showed us a whole heap of stuff underneath the food counter in the passenger area before going back to what he was doing. She asked me what I wanted when I responded that I like to look at the wares before I pick, she wouldn’t let me look at them and that I could get them at the office when we got back to shore.

She kept saying it would still be open when I got off despite telling her I didn’t think I’d make it in time as I had all my camping stuff and my kayak to unload and pack in the car. She was very nice about it, but I don’t know why she wasn’t letting me get some souvenirs.

Needless to say, despite the crew seeming to rush all our campers gear off the boat at the speed of light, and the other campers being so kind as to help me again with my gear AND lifting the kayak onto the car roof for me, I didn’t make it to the office before closing time.


Ending On An Even More Sour Note

Leaving with a less than satisfied feeling from my Lady Musgrave Experience Camping Transfer adventure, I ended up having to drive back to the company’s office the next day to get my souvenirs.

I also needed to get an insurance note issued for my lost glasses. Wow, the judgemental look I got from the lady when I said I lost them on the island. Yes, I intentionally lost them in a pristine environment because I wanted to trash the environment. (Heavy sarcasm) 

I love the natural world and never intentionally leave stuff behind, . I spent so much time looking for my glasses, and every single person who spent time on the island at the same time I did can vouch for that. Numerous people were even kind enough to help me on several occasions.

Conclusion

Visiting Lady Musgrave Island was a phenomenal way to experience life at its purest. I got so much value from the short time I was there, and so many of the things I experienced will stay with me for a lifetime, including the incredible people who camped there alongside me.

Lady Musgrave Island - Sea Turtle
Camping at Lady Musgrave Island was incredible for so many reasons, but the return boat trip over was a big downer.

The Camping Transfer across to the island with the Lady Musgrave Experience was another matter entirely. While the young lady with the umbrella, and the young blonde lady on the boat and the male tour guide on the island were amazing and all deserve raises, several others were just awful and made this, by far, the worst company I’ve ever travelled with. I would go back and camp at Lady Musgrave Island in a heartbeat, but you’d have to pay me a lot to go with the Lady Musgrave Experience again. (This wasn’t a paid trip.)

Laday Musgrave Experience - Reef Empress Docked In Bundaberg
If I ever go to Lady Musgrave Island again, it will very unlikely be with the Lady Musgrave Experience.

More Bundaberg:

Bundaberg is part of the Wide Bay Burnett region. Click here to see what Wide Bay Burnett has to offer.



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