Tassie Delights — Cherry Picking on the East Coast of the Apple Isle [79]

by Adrian Clayton

My appetite for an extended paddling trip in Tasmania had been whetted by a couple of factors. First, viewing some of Jeff Jennings’s DVDs of trips he had filmed dating back to the early 1990s (Jeff is a long-standing member of the Maatsuyker Canoe Club), and second, an eventful one-day paddle I did very early in 2008 out of Cloudy Bay to Adventure Bay along the eastern side of Bruny Island. This paddle was done following a chance meeting with one-time NSWSKC member Kevin Songberg and some of his friends.

Late in 2008 I mentioned the idea of a Tassie trip to a paddling partner of a couple of earlier expeditions, Bruce Baldwin, and he indicated that he’d like to join in. As it turned out, Bruce was able to coax his wife Maggie to come along as land support.

Work commitments meant that my time was limited to a little less than three weeks. Some of this needed to be set aside to catch up with some close friends living near Hobart. Bruce and Maggie had family commitments in Tassie so we reckoned on getting a fortnight or so on the water. Our plan was to start with a few shakedown day trips with empty boats in the region of the Tasman Peninsulaѣherry picking destinations that suited the conditions of the day. These were to be followed by a more challenging multi-day trip along the remote south coast from Cockle Bay to Maatsuyker Island and back. The foray was timed to start early in March 2009.

We took our own kayaksѡ Tasmanian-built Greenlander for Bruce and an ageing and lightly-laid-up Nadgee for me. The Nadgee seems to have an affinity with TasmaniaѰerhaps it’s the green colour of the deck. This was to be its third trip to the Apple Isle. The first was back in 2003 when Andrew McAuley, as member of a 19-day expedition with Paul Loker and Lawrie Geoghegan, paddled it from Strahan on the west coast around the three southern capes and up to Cockle Bay (visiting Maatsuyker Island en route). Immediately afterwards Andrew did a solo Bass Strait crossing via King Island (the harder route). In 2008 I paddled it along the east coast of Bruny Island and in Pirates Bay. My impression was that Tasmania can be a hard place on kayaks and in anticipation of a fair bit of hauling over rocks and sand I’d had a protective keel strip added.

The kayaks were transported on top of the Baldwin’s VW Kombi camper van. Maggie and Bruce left Sydney a few days before me. I flew down and they collected me from Hobart airport.

Our first day on the water was in Port Arthur. We basically did a circumnavigation of the port clocking up close to 23 kilometres. We put in at pretty Stewarts Bay and soon after paddled past the port’s historic penal settlement. The old sandstone buildings were bathed in the early afternoon sunlight and projected a welcoming warmth which belied their brutal past. The nearby Isle of the DeadѴhe last resting place for over a thousand souls (mostly convicts in unmarked graves)Ѳeinforced the port’s harsh history. We crossed to the eastern shoreline and out to the rugged form of Budget Head before recrossing at the mouth of the port and on to Crescent Beach for a short land break. From here we had a tantalising view of Tasman Island. It was on the beach that we saw the only dolphin of the whole tripѡnd it was dead! On the return to Stewarts Bay we had the benefit of a following sea breeze which allowed Bruce to try out his new sail designѡ bright orange winged shape that could be fully spread for sailing downwind and could fold over on itself at the mast when reaching.

Courtesy of the Baldwins’ Kombi, we relocated to Fortescue Bay for our second day of paddling, which was a short run along the northern section of the Tasman Peninsula to Pirates Bayѡ distance of around 18 kilometres. This stretch of coastline confirmed that the Tassie trip was going to provide us with some memorable moments. It wasn’t long before we had the first of the many seal encounters we would experience over the next fortnight. A gentle swell and virtually no sea allowed us to paddle close to kelp-fringed cliffs, underneath arches, inside stacks and deep in to sea caves.

Our passage through Pattersons Arch provided us with a weird sensation. It seemed as though we were paddling up a steep hill of water to get in to it. The need to do a sharp right hand turn and then negotiate our way around a rock plonk in the middle added to the challenge of exiting this magnificent feature with boats and bodies unscathed. We paddled deeply in to the narrow 60 metre cleft known as the Devils Kitchen and poked our noses in to Tasman Arch and the blowhole at quaintly-named Doo Town. A landing through small surf at Eaglehawk Neck rounded off a very sweet day’s paddle.

The next day was to be more of a challenge in terms of distance: around about 37 kilometres from Fortescue Bay and back in to Port Arthur. Again we were blessed with conditions that would allow us to savour a stunning coastline.

A short time after exiting the bay we were approaching Cape Hauy (pronounced Hoy) and The Lanterns. The time-saving passage through the narrow gap where the famous Candlestick towers out of the sea beckoned. From a far distance it’s a very imposing sight; up close it’s even more impressive. A pod of fur seals was basking on a rock shelf at the entrance as if anticipating that we would come to grief if we dared take the challenge that the short cut offered. But this was rite of passage stuff so it had to tackled. There was enough white water in the passage to ensure that the adrenaline was pumping as we charged through.

Munro Bight separates Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar. Our research had revealed that the tall dolorite cliffs that border the bight (and claimed to be the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere) are studded with some great sea caves. We resisted the temptation to explore them because of time restraints. Besides, this stretch of coastline is dotted with shipwrecks dating back to the 1850sѳomething which tempered any sort of cavalier attitude we may have had.

Once past the fluted ‘organ pipes’ of Cape Pillar we crossed the channel to Tasman Island for more fur seal encounters at a busy haul-out. Our arrival coincided with that of a local sightseeing boat (a purpose-built rigid-hull inflatable with a bank of powerful outboards mounted on the stern). It was interesting to observe that the seals were not disturbed by the comparatively noisy tourist boat yet our presence seemed to spook them (perhaps they knew something about the history of our boats).

Tasman Island is over a square kilometre in size. Its cliffs rise 300 metres above sea level. The dilapidated state of the cargo handling structure perched above the haul-out and the wooden-railed carriageway leading up a steep incline from it indicate that the island would have been a harsh place in which to live and work. Its lighthouse, said to be one of the most isolated in Australia, has been unstaffed since 1976.

Beyond Tasman Island, the paddle in to Port Arthur continued to impress. The height of the cliffs and some of the geological formations made us feel very humble as we passed beneath them.

Our fourth day on the water was from Safety Cove in Port Arthur around the southern shoreline of the Tasman Peninsula and then northwards along its western side. Approximately half way up we entered Wedge Bay and pulled out at White Beach where Maggie was waiting for us. The highlight of the 35 kilometre paddle was Cape Raoul, a fascinating multi-fingered dolorite rock formation rising steeply out of the sea. A popular destination for rock climbers, the cape offers climbing challenges such as the Finger of Blame, Jihad, Pole Dancer, Poleaxed and so on. It was at Cape Raoul that we had another encounter with a big pod of fur seals. This time they seemed unperturbed by our presence and we were able to drift in amongst them as they lolled about not far from their haul-out (not a pleasant place of which to be upwind).

The next day we left the Tasman Peninsula behind us and drove north to the bustling tourist village at Coles Bay to prepare for our first multi-day paddleѡ circumnavigation of the Freycinet Peninsula.

In near idyllic conditions and with kayaks packed for a two-day paddle, we departed Coles Bay. This was Day Six of our Tasmanian adventure. A strong wind warning had been issued for later in the day but it was going to be aiding our progress rather than hindering it. Our paddle southwards was dominated by Mount Freycinet with its 620 metre high peak shrouded in cloud. Our first stopover was on the white sands of Cook Beach for morning tea. By the time we were back on the water the strong blow forecast from the north-east had kicked in. Bruce was scooting along under full sail hardly needing to paddle. I was working flat out to keep up with him, appreciating the good rides I was getting from the wind-generated waves.

We camped on Passage Beach on the inside of the peninsula and near its southern tip. Rain started falling as we were setting up camp and was to continue off and on throughout the night. Despite the rain, we were blessed with a magnificent sunset.

The next day we entered Schouten Passage, the channel that separates the island of the same name from the peninsula. A local kayaker had told us this was considered to be the most dangerous passage along the east coast of Tasmania, however, our journey through it was uneventful.

The east coast of the Freycinet Peninsula is markedly different to that of the Tasman Peninsula. The cliffs are not as high nor are the gradients as steep. The moody-grey dolorite which dominates the south-east of the Tasman Peninsula is replaced by a lighter-toned granite, sometimes in the form of massive rounded boulders which have tumbled down to the shoreline.

We explored a couple of sea caves and stopped to admire some cascading waterfalls generated from the rain of the previous night. An attractive feature witnessed for the first time on the trip was the rusty red lichen that covered many of the rocks and boulders along the shoreline.

Our lunch break was on the beach in the World Heritage-listed Wineglass Bay. From the water, the landing looked as though it would be simple. In reality, it proved to be difficult as we probably chose the worst spot on which to land. There was a pesky one metre shore break created by a steeply rising sea floor. Our landings were text book except that we were too slow getting out of our boats and we both ended up getting caught in some vicious suck-back. Given that the boats were carrying a fair bit of camping kit and other gear, they were pretty heavy. Flooded cockpits made matters worse. Bruce’s kayak ended up back in the surf as I struggled to get mine out of the danger zone. Ultimately, order was restored but we both suffered some embarrassment as the proceedings had been witnessed by a sizeable crowd of tourists.

Our circumnavigation of the peninsula (approximately 50 kilometres) was completed when we pulled out at Sleepy Bay later in the day. What then followed was an energy-sapping portage clambering over rocks and uphill to the car park where Maggie had the Kombi waiting for us. It was nearly two hours from the time we arrived at Sleepy Bay to when we had the kayaks tied down on top of the Kombi and all of our gear stowed.

Bruce decided after the Freycinet circumnavigation that he’d had enough paddling for a while. We rejigged our plans so that I could continue on my own and we agreed to rendezvous in Hobart in a week’s time. The plan to paddle to Maatsuyker Island was put on the backburner as I wasn’t prepared to do the trip solo.

We had a rest day in the nearby fishing port of Triabunna where I restocked with food and other essentials for the next part of the trip. The town has a memorial to ships that have perished along the east coast of Tasmania since the early days of settlement. There must have been more than 100 plaquesѡ timely reminder to me of how dangerous the area could be.

Bruce and Maggie waved goodbye to me at Rheban, a small settlement just south of Triabunna, and headed off to attend to family matters and explore the deep south-east coast of Tasmania in their Kombi.

Maria Island was my next destination. With the Nadgee loaded for a seven-day trip, I paddled across the Mercury Passage to Encampment Cove on the north-western fringe of Shoal Bay. Three kayakers from Hobartъeremy, Chris and ThomasѨad arrived not long before me and I was happy to take up their invitation to join them in a circumnavigation of ‘Southern’ Maria Island the next day.

From 1825 to 1832 and from 1842 to 1850, convicts were housed on Maria Island. It was a pleasant evening walk from my campsite to the extant ruins of convict cells built in 1845 and abandoned in 1850. Constructed of hand-made bricks, the ruins are in surprisingly good shape. The paltry size of the cells remains easily distinguishable. Another feature of the walk was a plethora of large kangaroos enjoying an evening graze and the occasional wombat scurrying over the heath land. That night I was joined at dinner by a little pademelon probably hoping that I would toss him a morsel or two.

The 27 kilometre paddle around the southern portion of Maria Island was very enjoyable. Again we were blessed with conditions that allowed us to take full advantage of what was on offer in the way of sea caves and gauntlets. The 250 metre two-man/two-boat portage across the isthmus of low dunes that link the northern and southern sections of the island proved easily doable. This was the first time that my paddling partners for the day had done the trip and they, too, rated it highly.

The following day I was on my own again as I did the 15 kilometre crossing from Maria Island to Cape Frederick Hendrick at the top of the Forestier Peninsula. Because of a stiff breeze and a following sea, this was the first and only time during the fortnight that I chose to deploy the rudder.

With the crossing and a stopover for lunch and a swim on a small beach in beautiful Lagoon Bay completed, I set off with great anticipation along the stretch that Jeff Jennings refers to as Tasmania’s Sea Cave Coast. I was looking for one cave in particularѴhe Deep Glen Bay cave featured in a couple of Jeff’s DVDs. I don’t think I found it but there were plenty of others that I was able to explore. Because I was on my own and in a fully-laden kayak, I was cautious in my selection of the caves to enter.

Such was the pleasure I was getting from this stretch of coast I tended to dawdle along it. The consequence of this was an arrival at Eaglehawk Neck rather late in the day, leaving me little time to find a suitable campsite.

A scout around determined that I would have to do the portage across the neck (about 150 metres) if I was to find a campsite where I could expect a decent night’s sleep. The portage route coincided with the ‘Dog Line’, so named because it was the place that savage dogs were used to round up convicts escaping from the penal settlement at Port Arthur. It took me about an hour to unpack the kayak, portage it and all my gear across the isthmus, repack and get back on the water. Daylight was fading fast and I was lucky to find a good campsite around 200 metres into the sheltered waters of Eaglehawk Bay.

It took me another two-and-a-half days in easy conditions to get to Hobart. I camped overnight at Lime Bay at the north-western corner of the Tasman Peninsula and on the small beach (shared with a group of students determined to jam all night despite some heavy rain) in Mary Ann Bay on the Derwent River. From there the rendezvous point with Bruce and Maggie at Sandy Bay in Hobart was only nine kilometres away.

I completed the last leg of the trip in drizzling rain and in a reflective moodѮumerous encounters with little penguins along the way a simple but effective reminder of the how wonderful paddling in Tasmania can be.

After 12 days on the water and close to 300 kilometres of paddling, I had seen some stunning coastlineѭaybe the best experienced in terms of rugged beauty (where, in NSW, the Beecroft Peninsula is the closest comparison I can make). We were lucky (some might say our planning helped) with the weather, able to paddle every day we had planned, experiencing only a few days of rain, with mostly a gentle swell and a benign sea. Sure, things didn’t go entirely to planѷe didn’t get to Maatsuyker. That can wait for another day. Even so, I would have to rate this trip as one of the most enjoyable I’ve done. I intend to get back there, soon (with the Nadgee, of course).