Bathurst Harbour, Tasmania
On Christmas Eve in 1992, we arrived at Bathurst Harbour in South West Tasmania. It had taken us some time to organise this trip, and it meant purchasing a Peter Pool designed collapsible kayak, and getting it from Sydney to the little runway at Melaleuca. When we turned up at Sydney airport for the trip to Hobart, we got some strange looks, as we, (two obvious “Senior Citizens”), nonchalantly staggered into the check-in section with our two huge black zip-up plastic bags containing the boat. “Have you got Aunt Martha and Uncle Sebastian in there?” we heard someone murmur. “Oversize baggage – that way”, said the harassed clerk trying to cope with the pre-Christmas crowds. He was too busy to charge us for overweight baggage.
In Hobart, we contacted the representative of TasAir, who picked us up and took the boat to their section of the airport, and then arranged for us to go to the Hobart hotel where we stayed overnight. We used that time to complete our purchases, specially the food. We had it spread out all over the hotel bedroom floor that evening, and divided it into 10 ‘day packs’. Next day, we got into the 3-seater plane with all our gear – and the 2 huge plastic bags – and we were off.
It took us a couple of hours to put the boat together, pack it and ourselves into it, and leave a few things in the TasAir shed at Melaleuca for our return. Off at last, down the creek into Melaleuca lagoon and got stuck in shallow water, much to the amusement of a couple of small girls paddling in the water! Gathering our dignity, we got ourselves into the channel, marked by sticks, and an hour later arrived at our first camp site – Claytons. Was this really midsummer – how could it be so cold?
Well, Claytons turned out to be a house, once owned and occupied by Denny King’s sister, Wyn Clayton and her husband, a fisherman. When they retired and went to live near Hobart, the local fishermen ‘took over’ the care of it, and maintain it as a safe haven when the weather is bad. There is water there, a huge fireplace, and some beds without mattresses. Anyone who has been in that area knows about the Kings. Denny’s father, Charles started mining for tin there in the 1930s, and Denny took over. They built their home there, and also the runway at Melaleuca. When Denny was unable to continue, he sold the license to Peter Willson, who is still mining there with his wife, Barbara. The mine will close when they are no longer able to live there and work it, as the Area is now a World Heritage Area.
Next day we set off in beautiful calm water, the reflections were spectacular, the blue mountains in the distance topped with huge white cloud formations and the olive green hills made us appreciate the isolation and peace. We made our next camp at Farrell Point, near where the bushwalkers must cross the Bathurst narrows by dinghy. There was a shelter of sorts, a rough wooden frame with rusty corrugated iron roof as leaky as a colander, place for our tent and fire place. We got water from the creek. We stayed there for the best part of a week, as the weather deteriorated, and wind and rain became the daily pattern.
We did a fair amount of bushwalking on those days, one day up Mt. Beattie, another back along the Davey track. At last we decided to try our luck and make for Port Davey. The weather was atrocious – we paddled against the wind for 3 and half hours, and finally pulled in at Bramble Cove, before our final onslaught out to Breaksea Island. We were sheltered there, and wandered around the sandy beach, coming across an old unmarked grave, was it some seaman from long ago? Then after something to eat, we went out again, and got as far as the Heads, when we realised that try as we might, we were actually going backwards against the force of the wind, so sadly we gave up, turned the boat round, and without the aid of paddles, were back at our campsite in half an hour- we virtually surfed back ! Ah well, time was running out, and we wouldn’t be able to get out there this time.
The weather did not look like improving. We decided to go back to Claytons, and explore Bathurst Harbour itself. The wind continued from the West – we were experiencing the Roaring Forties, straight from the Cape of Good Hope. As we rounded the corner the next day, we saw 2 Crayfish boats tied up at Clayton’s jetty. We joined the party of about 19 people there from Hobart on holiday – the fishermen and their families on their annual Christmas trip. We had a great time with them, and learned a great deal about the area, and their lives that evening in front of the fire. Next day they left, and we set off across the Harbour to Swan Cove and Old River. It seemed a good day, and we got there fairly quickly, but got bogged briefly in the mud in the upper reaches of the River. Getting back to Clayton’s again was another battle against the wind, but at least it did not rain.
Next day we set off back to Melaleuca, our holiday nearly over. After packing the boat we stayed at the Bushwalkers’ hut. Towards evening, the 2 girls we had ignominiously bumped into on our first day called at the hut, and invited all the bushwalkers to their mother’s house at 8 pm. for a party. It was New Year’s Eve. This was the late Denny King’s daughter, staying in their home for Christmas with her daughters. What a party it was, we felt quite overcome by their generosity, and there we met Barbara and Peter Willson. Max, being an Engineer was interested in the mine, and we accepted their invitation to morning tea the next day. We finally left them around 4 pm., filled with admiration for the way they manage and live their lives in that remote corner of Australia, both are into their 60’s.
Next morning, we were back in Hobart with our luggage – and the 2 plastic bags. Hungry for a ‘decent’ meal, we went into the Harbour area of Hobart and ate a huge meal looking at the yachts which were still tied up from the Sydney-Hobart race. We had a wonderful time, and in spite of the vagaries of the weather had paddled quite a bit, and seen a fair amount of the area. Our photos show one of the most beautiful Wilderness areas. The boat had managed the rough water with ease, while not as fast as a fibre-glass or kevlar boat, it had a comfortable yet tough quality about it, and it certainly held all our gear for 10 days.
Having managed to organise that trip successfully, we decided the next one would be to a warmer climate – what about the Whitsunday Islands?
Whitsunday Islands, North Queensland
“I am not going to drive all that way, we must fly up to Proserpine, and find some way to get the boat up there”, said Max. We started to ask everyone we knew, how? Garry Burnham gave us lots of help, and also sold us the right boat for THIS trip – a Tasman Twin. (We knew from past experience, our Estuary was not the right boat to go sea kayaking) Garry and his son Wade had done what we planned to do. Several phone calls later, Donoghue Transport from Nambucca Heads agreed to take the boat there, deliver it to Storit Warehouse at Cannonvale, Airlie Beach, to await our arrival, and bring it back to Sydney for us. We booked at a motel, poured over books and maps, which we got laminated, made sure our EPIRB was packed, learned about the importance of Tides, bought our snorkelling gear, booked camp sites and arrived at Sydney Airport with our duffle bags on August 22nd, 1993.
Next day we were off to meet Joy at Storit, and unpack the boat. She got Whitsunday Transport to collect us and the boat, and deliver us to the ramp at Shute Harbour in time for High Tide at 1.30 pm. It was rainy – where was the sun and picture-book water? Over a cup of coffee, a water taxi driver told us gloomily that the water was a bit ‘lumpy’ out there. “Let’s go” I said when Max asked me if I wanted to wait for better weather. There wasn’t much option anyway. Down the ramp, and off in our beautiful new boat. We made for South Molle, and up the West side to North Molle past Daydream Island, and an hour later pulled up on the beach at our first campsite.
It was lovely, a good shelter, toilets, lots of space and a good tent site. It was a marvellous feeling – we were really there after all the planning – so far, so good. In the evening we watched a pair of wedge-tailed eagles soaring above. We spent 3 days there, paddled over to South Molle on one day, and climbed Mt. Jackson to look East and gauge the distance across the Passage – our next stretch. On another day we climbed to the top of North Molle and had a rather dreadful descent through bush and shoulder-high grass, getting back with scratched and torn legs, which took days to heal.
The day we crossed the Passage, it was windy, and the swell was about 1.2 m high against us. The boat behaved magnificently, and it took us just 2 hours hard paddling to get to the shelter of Cid Island. Another hour, and we pulled up at Dugong Inlet campsite. There were lots of yachties at Sawmill Bay, and later several of them told us they had watched us arriving, as they sat over their lunch-time gin. We had arrived at another beautiful campsite, with amenities. We watched the first of many golden sunsets on the beach over our dinner that night. The goannas shuffled the leaves as they moved through the campsite. There were fresh oysters on the rocks – yum !
The following day we climbed Whitsunday Peak, and the views were extensive, and again we could see, as if there was a map laid out in front of us, where we would be going next. We explored Cid Harbour on another day, and located the drinking water which is up the creek at Sawmill. We left when we were invaded by 40 “Golden Plovers” – a tourist camping group. We watched in silence as they brought load after load from their boat to the beach, disturbing the peace with the sound of powerful motors. Yes, we identified with how the Aboriginals must have felt. Next campsite was a few hours away paddling North, at Scrub Hen Bay.
That was the day we got thoroughly drenched, it rained all afternoon and night. We lay in the tent and read, wringing out the towels every now and then. In the evening it stopped long enough for us to get a fire going with wet matches and wood, and dry ourselves out a little. Next day we decided to go and have a look at the resort on Hook Island, near the observatory. Heaven awaited us – room in a cabin, hot showers, place to dry ourselves and gear out properly, and filling meals cooked by someone else. We liked the atmosphere. It is an unpretentious backpackers’ resort, it suited us exactly, and it only cost us $46 per night. Back to our camp we went, packed our gear, and booked in. The next day we walked over to Pebble Beach and snorkelled amongst the coral and tropical fish – the first of many wonderful swims.
When we left the Hook Island resort after 2 days, it was rather overcast, and by the time we reached Nara Inlet, it was pouring. We paddled to the end and walked up to the Aboriginal site, and admired the cave-home, and then on to the waterfall. Some German tourists were complaining bitterly about the weather, and we couldn’t blame them ! After lunch, we paddled back and out of Nara, leaving many yachts sheltering there, and rounding the South-West corner of Hook, continued North. There was some rough water on that corner, and our “Bible”, ‘100 Magic Miles’ to which we constantly referred, indicated that there were strong currents there. We pulled into what we thought was Baird Point, for the night, but had misjudged it, the ‘campsite’ was coral, and we thought of going on, but stayed in the end. A small mouse, or was it a marsupial?, emerged from a large cave, and was very inquisitive examining our gear in detail.
When we arrived at Baird Point early the next morning, we realised how close we were to the proper campsite, we should have pressed on. After setting up camp we went over to Langford Island, and had one of our best days. The weather was perfect, no wind, the tide just right, snorkelling was unbelievably beautiful, the beach was pure sand. We ambled over to Bird Island, and saw the white-breasted sea eagles in the late afternoon, and paddled slowly back in shimmering, clear, turquoise water to our camp for the night. We agreed it was a very romantic place.
Next day on we went, rounded Hook Island North-West corner, and as we entered Butterfly Bay, were hit once again by the strong S-E wind. We had to paddle hard, and landed at Maureen Cove, where we stayed for 2 nights, in a campsite under a huge gnarled tree. The wind did not stop, but we were comfy, and had some good swims. Could we get half-way back to Hook Island resort next day?, it was only about 14 km, perhaps we could get all the way, and then go down later to Whitehaven Bay on the S-E end of Whitsunday Island. Anyway, that was our aim. Little did we know what was in store for us.
Sheltered largely by the landmass of Hook, we got to Mantra Ray Bay in smoothish water. We knew that on that corner was one of the most famous snorkelling sites, the Woodpile. “100 Magic Miles’ also indicated strong currents, but we had managed those in other places without trouble. But what was that in front of us, on the corner of Woodpile? We seemed to be in ominously smooth water moving towards a clear straight ‘wall’ of turbulence in front. As we entered it, within 30 seconds we realised we were in a gigantic rip, water coming from every direction, seemingly being sucked from underneath, and wind. There was no way to control the boat, the rudder seemed to be out of the water, we were being tossed every which way. “I cant control the boat, we are going to go over” I shouted. I tried to steer us toward the shore, it didn’t work. I tried to get it round the other way and slowly we began to face the way we had come. Again it seemed certain we would capsize. “Just paddle”, Max yelled. I suppose it took a total of only 15 minutes before we thankfully entered the calm water again.
We got to the beach, shocked and shaken. What next ? What should we do ? Was the weather going to calm down? Could we get round if we waited ? Should we go back the way we had come ? All these questions were going round our minds. A large game fishing boat came and anchored in the bay, and a couple of people went off in a dinghy to swim. We snorkelled over to the skipper to ask his advice, and he suggested we could get over the wild water if we waited till the flat time of high tide in an hour or so. We thought he should know, but I did wonder when I noticed the boat had come from Sydney ! Did he really have local knowledge ?
We set off again, and paddling strongly got over the rip, and round to ‘The Pinnacles”, when again we were in trouble. Swells of over 2 m. high were coming at us, with an 18 – 20 knot wind. We certainly were not going to make it to the next Bay, we were virtually going backwards. The boat didn’t like it any more than we did. Hastily we decided the only thing to do was to pull into a small cove, and miraculously avoided damaging the boat as we ground between rocks and breakers onto the coral ‘beach’. All night the waves pounded up the coral, there was no place to put up a tent, so we ‘slept’ on it. To add to our discomfort, it rained. I got up and made a fire, we had no shortage of driftwood, and erected the flysheet of the tent to make a shelter between rocks. We named the place “Nightmare Bay”. At dawn, it was clear the weather was no better. Max felt we could launch the boat, but the white caps out in the bay and at sea made us decide we would not go. The wind was as strong as ever.
We tried to make ourselves as visible as possible, hung out the red sleeping bags, draped on the rocks, and lit another fire. If anyone were mad enough to be out in that weather, we were determined to attract their attention. Looking through the binoculars I spotted a small fishing boat seemingly anchored near the horizon. We started flashing our mirror. (We were learning fast about our naive approach to safety. We had an EPIRB, but no flares and no radio on which to communicate with anyone. Never again would we set out without this basic equipment).
I watched the fishing boat for an hour or more, and then, could it be true..? “Max”, I said, “That boat has turned round and is facing our way, wave, flash the mirror”. It came nearer, and anchored out in the rough water, bobbing about. We could see 2 people getting into their wetsuits and flippers, and they jumped into the water and swam over to us. Two coal miners were out for a weekend fishing, and had seen our fire on this inhospitable place the night before. This morning they had seen us walking to and fro, and noticed the red sleeping bags on the rocks. They could see no boat, and thought they might come and see if all was well.
They helped us pack, got the boat out, tied it onto theirs, and we climbed into their boat. “Have a beer”, they said, they had an esky full. They towed us round to the passage between Hook and Hayman. On the way, our boat turned turtle, bounced about like a porpoise, bashed into the back of their boat, as we went once again through the rip, and lost all the gear strapped to the top. Our rescuers insisted on dropping Max off in our boat in calm water and going back to search for the lost gear, though we maintained it was unimportant. But it was gone. “Must have got sucked under the rocks” said one of them. “Dear God”, I thought, “The same could have happened to us if we had turned over”. But we were safe. We couldn’t thank them enough, however they took it in their stride, and having dropped us off, went back to continue fishing.
We spent the next 4 hours paddling back to the Hook resort, through wind and lumpy water. But it was nothing compared to what we had been in. Back to the luxury of a bed and hot shower, a place to regain our confidence and repair the boat. We found ourselves ‘re-playing the video’ of what had happened, in our minds. We stayed there 2 days, and enjoyed going to the Observatory, which we found well worth a visit, and then set off down the West side of Whitsunday. Turtles popped their heads above the water, and dived down in front of us. Crossing Cid Harbour, we once again had to paddle hard into the S.E wind..
We reached Joe’s Beach where it was quiet and calm, with the usual friendly goannas. The water was too shallow for the yachties to anchor. There was no-one there but us. We needed a swim. No sooner were we into the water as naked as the day we were born, when round the corner came a dinghy with a group of beautiful young things, and pulled up on the beach. “Damn it…… well, I am old enough to be their grandmother”, I called to tell them to look the other way and went up the beach to clothes and decency.
Next day on to Geographer’s Beach on Henning Island, amongst the trees above the beach. This was to be our last camp – we decided we would never go camping with my 20-year-old 2-person tent again, We couldn’t even sit up in it. We need a new you-beaut modern igloo. The winds had dropped. The views towards the mainland, and the colour of the water were as lovely as ever. Near our tent was the biggest brush-turkey mound we had seen. Max be-friended a tame sea-gull while washing the dishes, The possums woke us in the night as they curiously examined our gear outside the tent.
The next 2 days we spent at Hamilton Island in luxury – 5 star accommodation on standby for $60 each. We had a lot of fun, climbed Passage Peak for yet another stupendous view, hired a hobie-cat, dashed around the island in a buggy, and were entertained by the sulphur crested cockatoos on our verandah 11 storeys up. It is an extremely efficient resort, and we enjoyed our stay there, but 2 days was enough, and we set off back across the passage to Long Island in good weather, with the wind and tide with us. After a night at Palm Island (for $70 each, which we honestly did not think worth it) we went back to Shute Harbour.
It was just 21 days after we had set off. We had paddled about 300 km in 3 weeks, camped for 14 nights, and stayed in resorts for 7. Apart from Nightmare Bay, it had been a successful trip, and we had had a wonderful holiday. The boat had coped well with the windy lumpy weather, and had been a perfect vehicle for gliding through the calm shallow water. It had carried enough gear, food and water for us to be independent for a week or more.
Touring by kayak sure beats being in a yacht or motor boat.