I have the good fortune to have friends who are writing and photographing for a forthcoming book about Australian wild islands. (My friends are Alasdair McGregor and Quentin Chester and publishing date of their book is April 96.) During the past six months, I have taken a little time off work to go with them on some of their research trips. Thus in August last year I visited islands off the eastern Northern Territory and in October the Recherche Archipelago near Esperance.The most recent trip was to less remote parts – Great Glennie Island which is off the Western coast of Wilsons Promontory. The way of getting to all these islands has been different, and I was pleased this time to have the chance to use my folding double Klepper sea kayak, Beach Master to get us there.
Glennie Island is a nature reserve, a wildlife sanctuary and in the mainly summer months short tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris) and little penguins (Eudyptula minor) nest there in their many thousands. Consequently the Victorian National Parks service arent too keen on having people visiting at any time, but especially then. However they issued Quentin with the necessary research permit.
We assembled the boat in the afternoon of a perfect beach day, on the main beach at Tidal River. Australians in general know little about folding kayaks (or of their superior seaworthiness compared to plastic boats) and so the assembly of my craft created considerable interest and there was some scepticism about our intentions. One former West Indian resident who passed by knew better. He had seen identical craft used to traverse his island group. I focussed on getting the boat organised, leaving Quentin to answer most of the questions.
We left Norman Bay each late in the afternoon. It was a pleasant time to do the trip which was a leisurely 90 minute paddle into a gentle NE breeze. We landed in a small harbour on Glennie marked good landing on the charts. It would be sheltered under most conditions (faces north), but at high tide when we arrived it was not an ideal place to land in a kayak, since the tiny beach had disappeared. There were some sloping coarse textured granite slabs in the NE corner (only room for one kayak) and so we lifted Beach Master onto these. Fortunately this spot was 50 cm above the high tide mark, so this became her dry dock during our stay.
This was in fact the easiest landing place in the entire group including nearby islands as well – Anser group, Rodondo Is, and Norman Island. In general the islands dont encourage human visitors. They are difficult to move around on (if you care about the wildlife) and they are difficult places on which to find campsites.
Great Glennie Island is covered in tussock grass and granite boulders with slabs on the seaward margins. Only occasionally are there patches of those dense teatree thickets for which the Prom is notorious. The nesting birds have fertilised the islands giving good soils which allow the tussock to flourish, which is again in contrast to the Prom. There is generally no surface water, although we did see water trickling down a granite slab into the sea from the southern end of the island. With such a high bird nesting population, I would be loath to drink it! With the tussock it looks easy to walk around the island, but the spaces in between the tufts of grass are riddled with bird nesting burrows. Walking must be approached carefully, and even then the ground underneath gives way. We always wore gaiters whilst walking around the island. We didnt see any snakes, just a few skinks. On other Bass Strait islands black tiger snakes abound.
It was fortunate that we landed on a balmy evening, as we didnt have to find a sheltered tent site, just somewhere relatively level. We pitched Quentins tent on a sloping granite slab near the waters edge and Beach Masters docking place. This meant that at dusk we had ringside seats to the coming ashore of hundreds of Little Penguins. Because of our presence they were hesitant about moving past at first, but their nesting instincts soon overcame their caution. When we retired they swarmed all around the tent, serenading the night away with their raucous husky voices.
Quentin’s Walkman was ostensibly brought to listen into weather reports, but it was also a source of cricket scores and other important information. The weather reports we obtained were general and not specifically for southern Gippsland, however they told us that a significant cold front was moving through later today. Thus we decided to go for a cruise around our island group before the front arrived. There was a northerly blowing so we had good sailing conditions down the western side of Glennie Island to Citadel Island.
We saw some Cape Barren Geese (Cereopsis novaehollandiae) on Dannevig Island and landed through a kelp bed at the southern end of the island. Typically the geese flew away before they were close enough for a good photo with my 300mm lens. They were generally seen in pairs and there were a number of them on these islands. They eat a lot, and their living places tended to be denuded of vegetation.
We were back on Glennie when the change arrived. Initially it was heralded by a pleasant southerly. I thought at the time, that perhaps we should have sailed down to the Anser Group in the morning and then come back with the southerly! However within a few hours the wind strength became violent, with spray being whipped off the water in large sheets, like spindrift from powder snow. It became imperative to find somewhere else to camp, and with difficulty we found somewhere – on top of a ridge, snuggled in amongst the crevices between granite boulders. These campsites were for one person only. Fortunately we had two tents. We later found out that wind speeds of 110 km/Hr were recorded at Pt Londsdale.
The high campsite had its compensations – it had a superb outlook to Wilsons Prom. In my past life as a Victorian, I had made numerous trips to the Prom, including a partial traverse of its mountain backbone. Quentin hadnt visited before, so it was the perfect place to recount to him some of these past memories. When nightfall came the Shearwaters filled the sky in their thousands. Little Penguins first announced their landfall with soft squeaking sounds before proceeding to follow their foot pads and rock climbing routes to nests in the heights above. Our rocky monuments formed part of their territory and their nightly singing made sleeping difficult.
The windy weather continued for the next two days but it gradually eased on Friday. In the afternoon we went for a paddle towards the Anser group but the big swell and backwashes convinced us that it was prudent to return early.
With another front predicted for the evening, we decided it was a good idea to leave today. We returned via Norman Island, hoping to land there, but at high tide that option wasnt promising. With a NW breeze we sailed most of the way to Pillar Pt before the wind died. Only a short paddle remained to reach Norman Bay beach. To the surprise of some beach sceptics we had returned, in weather as now as tranquil and sunny as it was on the day we left.
We had made a journey to an island, which I would normally not choose to visit.
I enjoyed the experience, but felt glad that few others would feel tempted. I felt that this is one place where other lifeforms are free to go about their affairs without too much disturbance from humans. This was not completely true of course. I was very quickly reminded of this by the story from the National Park rangers when we got back. They told us that there was a large oil spill rapidly drifting east towards the Prom and the islands we had just left.