A Holy Grail [58]

By Andrew Watkinson

So my 2 buddies had work commitments deflecting them from our Maria Island (MI) paddle, hmm. I’d just returned from backpacking in the Cradle Mtn wilderness and had a great hunger for a sea wilderness trip, but now not the buddies to do it with.

I had time, location and inclination, and a dirty great High was drifting at 5kts toward me (I was in Hobart staying with a friend at Roches Beach on Frederick Henry Bay). Methinks it would be inexcusable not to do “It”, so I made a spontaneous go decision. Not the MI holiday paddle, but a voyage of discovery, a personal search for my Holy Grail of paddling. Have you ever done something so good that after it’s done, you look back in horror at the thought: “Supposing I hadn’t made the decision to do it?” This was to be one of those.

Since paddling the Whitsunday’s with Harry and the south coast broozers, I had only paddled maybe 4 times in 2 months, and only once in the previous month. The MI trip was just a 2-hour paddle and camp so needed no more preparation than that. But my go decision was not for MI, it was to a place far far further, both in my mind and kms. But I had a secret weapon…attitude, and a generous measure of fitness that never seems to leave me.

You see, my friend Jo lives in a house that looks over to Outer North Head, a 20km distant and enigmatic headland on the Tasman Peninsular, and I had stared at it, and stared at it, and pored over the admiralty chart in her sunroom for weeks, figuring one day… ONE DAY!

Well, that day had arrived, albeit it with only 1-days notice, but it announced its arrival with my buddies businesses, the dirty big High and my kayak sitting in the garden. I was about to embark on a journey of indescribable beauty. Those of you who know me will perhaps be not at all surprised that I will now proceed to describe it..

At 8am on Monday 8th Nov. after my customary oats and cup of tea, I launched from Roches Beach, under leaden skies, light showers, Mt Wellington capped by sullen-looking clouds and a forecast for 5/15kts S/SE – a light headwind. This is what passes as a fine day in Hobart. But it felt good to be under way and I had a good forecast for Tuesday, my Holy Grail day.

My initial plan was to paddle to Fortesque Bay in 3 days via White Beach and Port Arthur. I changed this to finish at Port Arthur when the new forecast predicted 30kt NE winds on the 3rd and 4th days (subsequently proved correct).

Plan A was to paddle 40km to Wedge Is. (5km off White Beach), camp, and the next day, the forecasted fine sunny day with light winds, paddle to Port Arthur where Jo would collect me. There was no landing possible on Wedge Island (ok ok already, but >this< island was only 1km offshore and it was reached with 7 hours of daylight remaining – so are we good with that now?). The “beaches” were smooth round rocks, 1 to 2 foot in diameter, and required carrying a kayak 10m up and over them. Then Wedge Island, perhaps rather unsurprisingly, was shaped like a wedge – and offered no flat land for a tent. So I went to plan B, a landing inside Wedge Bay.. ‘cept it was ringed with those round rocks.

Happily I had a plan C – the (sand) beachside camping site at White Beach. It’s a pleasant, sheltered campsite, with clean hot showers and an easy 40m from the water. Just remember to take money ok? I called Jo and got her to pay by phone with my credit card, which I’d left at her place.

Five and a half hours earlier I had left Roches Beach and paddled south to Cape Deslacs, where I turned SE for an 8km crossing of Storm Bay to the Tasman Peninsular, arriving at Yellow Cliff. I continued south to Outer North Head (ONH) and, to celebrate my unmasking of this formerly enigmatic place, took shelter from the wind behind a big black rock and ate lunch on the deep black water, all the while eying nutritious Bull Kelp growing in it’s tidal zone. But with the swell surging between this rock and a hard place, I left it alone, for now.

ONH is a rugged and beautiful headland, and I felt the thrill of discovery pumping through me. The cliffs are black/brown, unyielding and strong, and offering no sanctuary they just fall, seemingly racing to reach the Southern Ocean. The feeling is quite unlike Sydney’s beaches of sandstone headlands framing shallow blue water, good because that’s why I was there.

Glad of two layers of thermals, cag and my woolly yak hair beanie I wore for the first time in the Himalaya in 1987, I pressed on warm and snug in my portable home. On past Roaring Beach, where that day it offered a nice beach landing and perhaps camp, but I wanted Wedge Island so I cut across Wedge Bay, ultimately to land on White Beach at 1:30pm.

The camp site owner told me of the beauty my next day would bring – he had gone that way on his boat to Port Arthur, and he described 300-foot cliffs I would encounter. That evening and next morning Jo sms’d me the boating forecasts, which remained the same: variable winds, which in my experience means a weather pattern with no dominant force, and insufficient pressure gradient to generate problematic wind. A great day beckoned – in fact it was to be the most fantastic day paddle of my life.

The day started well with a top performance in the bathroom, a good thing because this solo paddler was not about to be jumping into any part of the deep Southern Ocean by choice! For any reason!! The water was deep, cold (~15C) and black, ‘cept where it broke on rocks and then it was green, even though the sky was blue. The crystal clear sea was green because the sunlight was consumed by it’s depth.

So launching dry, yes a perfect beach allowing this paddler to dry his footsies and then button himself in, a final check that all hatches were on (I could almost hear Claudia calling me to check them, so I did), and away I went at 7:15am. Wanting to make Cape Raoul (28km) around 10am to avoid a forecasted seabreeze in my face, I set out at pace (9km/h).

Being primed to expect beauty and cliffs I allowed myself to be impressed by the cliffs of the 1st coupla capes from Wedge Bay. I diligently took my photos, seeing what I pretty much expected to see, and together with the sun, freedom and water, I was loving it.

At 8:30am after Curin or Tunnel Bay, I came around Cape something or other and was gobsmacked. I felt like Mr. Tyson had roared up outa the deep and punched me in the guts. I was rendered breathless, couldn’t believe my eyes. My eyes were revealing a place of such breathtaking beauty, such stark and overwhelming grandeur that I just stopped. I just stopped and sat and looked.

And then I just sat and looked and paddled slowly, very slowly. I’m a point-topoint man, but this was no point-to-point place. This is a place to savour each moment, for every moment was creating it’s own memory, and these memories I knew even then would last a lifetime. It was a feeling of ecstasy, discovery, and personal contact with what many might say is the inanminate. I say paddle there and then tell me it is not a living creation.

Before me lay an object d’art stretching 7km to Cape Raoul. These were no 300- foot cliffs, – these were cliffs that soared to the heavens and plunged with sheer faces into the very depths of the Southern Ocean. Yet the water was gentle, the sun warm and the wind kind. A climax of nature was towering over me and I felt I had entered the twilight zone, a land of giants, and yet I was welcome here.

Now I was in a wilderness of sea and dolerite rock – and these rocks arose from the sea to more like 1000-feet. The dolerite, formed by igneous intrusions 175 million years ago, had patiently waited all that time to show Andrew it’s best. It was worth it, and I felt privileged and very thankful.

So I paddled and drifted, snacked a little, looked up, looked back and looked ahead. Didn’t do much looking down however, couldn’t think of anything I wanted to see down there..

There is nowhere to land for a fibreglass kayak, but a plastic one might, in calm seas, force a landing at one or two spots (onto those round rocks) along this coast, but nowhere to camp. I took 15 GPS waypoints to compute the distance to Port Arthur (see appendix 1), and it was 38km. On arriving at the pointy end of Cape Raoul I paddled hard to West Arthur Head (WAH), cutting across Maingon Bay.

As I approached WAH I heard two cannons fire – a salute to my discovery? I was not surprised – after all, the magnitude of that which I had “discovered” made a state reception seem plausible. I scanned the skyline half expecting to see the red coats of a phantom British Army still protecting Port Arthur, but saw just a fine looking headland. It was only as I closed to WAH that I found the “cannons” were actually two caves side by side that erupted in thunderous explosions as the swell beat upon them. Paul Loker would never have left them. But I did because by now I fancied a rest.

Just inside WAH is a perfect little beach (a local fisherman called it half moon bay/beach), with ever such a gentle beach landing, and Bull Kelp for dinner! And a view. I couldn’t believe it, yes truly, the view to Tasman Island is spectacular. However the forecasted 30kt NE wind said other things to me, but I am so happy, because I can paddle to Fortesque Bay next time!


After taking an hour for lunch on Half Moon Bay/Beach, I arrived at Big Possum Beach around 2pm, approx. 7 hours from White Beach and 5 1/2 hours paddling.

Appendix 1

Shorthand for sms forecasts

/ = to. e.g. 10/20 kts
– = tending, easing or increasing. e.g. 10/20 – 5/15 kts
ss = seas. e.g. s/sw ss 2m
swl = swell. e.g. s/sw swl 2m
sb = seabreeze
va = variable
am, pm = morning, afternoon


The ‘. ‘ separates water conditions from wind, and no-space attaches qualitative to quantative. No need to write anything for kts (knots), inshore (seabreezes always are on the east coast)


Note to sender: I need Southeast Coast Monday and Tuesday, and Lower East Coast Wed.

Southeast Coast sms would be for Monday: sw/s10/20 – 5/15se. ss1.5 swl s/sw2.5

Appendix 2

Notes on paddling nutrition (note I have no medical or nutrition training, below is based purely on my reading and experience):

Almond nuts have lowest saturated fat (bad fat), highest monounsaturated fat (good fat and is also thought to reduce the saturated fat in body). Are excellent blend of protein, fat and calories. Good for later (i.e. slow release fuel) energy, so eat it early in the day.

Sultanas have very high carbs (as sugar), very hi potassium (good for muscles), very low sodium. Good for quick energy.

A snack mix of these two and drinking water (as opposed to sports drink) offers I believe the best possible fuel. The GI (Glycemic Index is averaged when you eat the hi GI of the sultanas w the low GI of the nuts). Sports drinks are mainly sugar, salt (e.g. potassium) and water. You may be amazed at how much sodium comes in the processed food you eat.

Watch out for salt intake, one source recommend 1600mg/day, potassium of 3600 mg/day, potassium can also help reduce the sodium in the body. Cuppa soups, sauces are extremely high in sodium. Sodium is approx. 1/3 of salt (remember NaCl).

Soy meal (TVP Vege Mince) in the health food section at Woolworths is an excellent source of protein and carbs, and is dehydrated. Tastes “brown” so flavour w a sauce.

Bull Kelp is a reasonable source of fresh vitamins and minerals, 5% crude protein. Cut into 2cm x .5cm strips and boil with rice/pasta. Bull Kelp has also been found to increase loin length in swine and reduce the incidence of cracked hooves in horses. The web has the full scoop (oh yes.. it’s Algin content is also used in the ice cream you eat).

GPS decimal minute readings

  • Outer North Head: S43 04.50 E147 37.56
  • White Beach: S43 07.49 E147 43.87
  • Wedge Island, eastern/mainland side: S43 07.99 E147 40.49
  • Cape “something or other”: S43 14.27 E147 47.07
  • Cape Raoul, tip: S43 11.93 E147 52.05
  • Western Arthur Head: S43 09.14 E147 52.26
  • Isle of the Dead (Port Arthur): S43 09.10 E147 51.31
  • Big Possum Beach (landing Port Arthur): S43 09.50 E147 51.19