"The mountains which presented themselves to our view in this situation, both close to the shore and inland, were amongst the most stupendous works of nature I ever beheld, and it seemed to me are the most dismal and barren that can be imagined. The eye ranges over these peaks, and curiously formed lumps of adamantine rock, with astonishment and horror."
How awesome is that quote?! That’s how Mathew Flinders described the South West coast of Tasmania when he and George Bass passed it during their circumnavigation of Tassie in 1798.
Dismal, barren, horrific – exactly what you want out of a cruising destination, right? Hehehe. Well of course Port Davey, and its neighbour Bathurst Harbour, is also dramatically beautiful, virtually untouched by man, has a fascinating indigenous and European history, and provides safe – indeed tranquil – harbour from the ferocious Southern Ocean at its doorstep.
We decided to make the dash around to Port Davey quite late in the season, but figured as long as we chose our weather carefully and were prepared to get stuck there for up to a month, it would be a great opportunity to explore this wilderness area pretty much on our own. It really paid off as we saw only a handful of boats the first few days (they must have left during the good weather that we sailed in on), and then only a few fishing boats late in our stay. The only time we shared an anchorage was during the last week when the Police launch Van Diemen surprised us by anchoring adjacent on the far side of Schooner Cove. The only people we spoke to in person were a pair of hikers we met at Melaleuca airstrip – they had just been dropped off by light aircraft to trek back to civilisation along the South Coast Track.
For much of the time we had the unique and somewhat eerie feeling that we were the only people for hundreds of kilometres. There could have been a zombie apocalypse and we would have had no idea!
The weather was … challenging. Cold and rainy apart from a couple of sunny days. We weathered one big storm in the remarkable comfort of a little hideaway called Casilda Cove (nearby Maatsuyker Island recorded gusts over 75 knots). We spent many rainy afternoons baking bread, curries and casseroles to keep the cabin warm! There was blood, sweat and even tears as we challenged our bodies (and our sanity!) hiking seeking lofty views. We met swans and cygnets, sea eagles, mutton birds, freshwater lobsters, southern rock lobsters, wombats, wallabies, frogs and leeches (could have done without that last one…) We learned all about the incredibly tough families that eked out a living by mining tin and fishing in years gone by.
Yet every day we would sit up in bed, look out the window and be completely blown away by the breathtaking beauty just outside. We feel like we only scratched the surface of exploring this pretty special place, which is fine by us because it gives us an excuse to come back one day Thank goodness the area is protected and World Heritage listed – hopefully it will remain unchanged until we return!
Here is a summary of our time in Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour – which of course doesn’t do justice to the grandeur of the place, but will hopefully give a sense of it.
Our passage to Port Davey started with a bang ... or should I say "crunch". 3am we weighed anchor at Recherche Bay. Totally black and flying blind - imagine driving your car using only the GPS - I didn't follow our track log and ran up on a rock. I quickly put the boat in reverse and got free and motored out into the bay incident free. Thank god for steel boats. It was only a little bump, but I never want to experience that feeling again. There is a saying in sailing circles that there are two types of sailors - those that have run aground, and the liars. I guess by posting this I cant be accused of lying!
Anyway, thankfully the start was not indicative of the rest of the passage. Sunny skies, low swell, light winds, 12 1/2 hours and we were in Port Davey! It actually felt a bit like cheating - a little too easy. We have friends that absolutely copped it during this passage, so we couldn't help but be amazed at our luck as we had a pretty perfect passage (Sorry Captain Silver!).
A shot of the infamous Maatsuyker Island - off the Southern coast of Tasmania - our friend John from Three Hummock Island said "that's where they make wind and send it down the West coast". Look at that swell. Killer. ;o)
The entrance to Port Davey, Mt Misery in the distance.
Our first anchorage at Lourah Inlet. It was such a warm, sunny day we could hardly believe our luck. We were on such a high after such a great passage. This anchorage was described in our guides as having "questionable" holding, but we didn't find that at all and returned there twice more during our stay.
Eagle over Lourah Island
We then moved into Bathurst Channel. This is a photo of the narrow entrance, Mt Misery in the centre. There is an "embarrassment" of calm, protected and picturesque anchorages within the Channel to choose from.
Sunset view of Munday Island from Wombat Cove
Mt Rugby reflections from Iola Bay
We hiked (or should I say "scrambled") from Iola Bay up to the peak of Mt Beattie with a rainstorm chasing our tails. We really should have chosen the marked path from nearby Clayton's Corner. Although in the photos the country looks like low-cropped grass, it is actually knee-high buttongrass and completely sodden peat. Its so wet that thousands of freshwater lobsters live hundreds of metres up. For a drought-ridden South Australian, that much water just seems... well, wrong! I very nearly had a nervous breakdown on this hike (I slipped 5 times I think, busted up my hand, and did I mention the leeches??) but maaaaaaan the views were worth it!!
A few days later we headed to Clayton's Corner at the mouth of Melaleuca Inlet. We tied up to the wharf to celebrate my Birthday (thanks for the chocolate cake and pirate candles Mike!) and explored the house and garden which had been built by pioneers Win and Clyde Clayton in the 1960's. The house is now managed by Parks and Wildlife.
We were pretty thrilled to be one of the first members of the Clayton's Corner Yacht Club (CCYC, established 2012, annual membership $2)
The next day we took dingy for the half day trip down the still waters of the inlet to the settlement of Melaleuca. Melaleuca is taken from the Greek - mela = black and luca = white, which describes both the contrasting black and white rocks that line the banks, and the native trees that hug the waterline.
One of the hiker's huts at Melaleuca. It was fun reading the visitors book - glad to see I wasn't the only one to experience the joys of a leech attack.
The airstrip at Melaleuca. We got buzzed by a light plane dropping off a couple of hikers heading down the East Coast Track. We were pretty surprised that they had no idea that some pretty serious weather was coming in a day or two.
Bass Voyager has performed flawlessly on our trip thus far - through big seas and various grounding incidents - ! - so something had to give eventually, I guess. Naturally it happened in the wilderness, hundreds of kilometres from anywhere. A tiny pin in our anchor winch decided to finally snap - 25 years after installation, which is pretty fair in my book! Thankfully BV has its own resident mechanic who tore the old girl apart, diagnosed the problem, realised there was no hope and rigged up a very clever manual override to get us through till civilisation. I love my clever husband! Glad I'm a good cook or I'd bring nothing to this relationship! ;o)
OK, this post is getting really long, so I'll try and speed up... try...
On the 4th May we dragged ourselves out of bed at Frog Hollow to be met with a total white-out. After having brekkie, cleaning up the boat and doing the dishes the mist still hadn't risen, but we decided that our radar, the still conditions, plus the fact that we hadn't seen another boat in over a week, meant we could saftely move back out towards Pt Davey. It was completely surreal travelling through the mist- a lot like sailing at night, except everything was bright and beautiful. There was no wind, but we knew there was a bright blue sky above because the air around us glowed! We slowly glided out of the clouds into the bright blue morning. So memorable.
We didn't have much luck with the cray fishing (or any fishing actually). We caught three, two of which were under size, which is evident from the look on Michael's face ...
A sea eagle. We started to think the isolation was getting to us when we started to name local wildlife after 1980's action movie stars. This guy was called Steven Sea-egal, there was also Dolpin Lungdren ... ah-hem.
Police launch in Schooner cove - our only neighbours for the whole trip. They kindly gave us the weather report. VHF Radio is definitely not adequate for Pt Davey.
On our last day we hiked over to beautiful Stephens Beach from Spain Bay to check out the ocean conditions and stretch our legs. This is pretty typical of the path - we love our waterproof Keens!
The slipperiest, moss-covered bridge-of-death.
Windswept, ocean-pounded Stephen's Beach
Wombat footprints! So cute!
Bass Voyager in Spain Bay, Pt Davey
The next day we called Coast Radio Hobart on our satellite phone to get the weather for the next few days, which looked very promising for a departure after three weeks in the wilderness. Our mates Jim and John, who we met at Partridge Island, had suggested that if weather allowed we should break the trip by stopping at New Harbour on the South Coast, and as we had three days of Northerlies forecast we decided to go for it. It was a bit "sloppy" with 2-3 metre swell, but the winds were under 20 knots so it wasn't too bad. We fully expected a rolly night in New Harbour, but were amazed by the tranquil waters, tucked behind a little headland at the far North East corner of the bay. It was a real thrill to be somewhere that not many people visit except fishermen. Would not want to stop here in Southerly weather though.
Beautiful New Harbour
How funny ... the first day of our trip to Pt Davey we ran aground. The last day of the trip ... yup, we ran aground! Like neat little bookends ...
We had a negative low tide (!) and bumped the sandy bottom on the way out of our anchorage at New Harbour - no worries- our powerful 70 horsepower engine got us out of the shallow water. Oh well, we've decided that running aground is actually good luck for us as, just as on day one, we had a dream run back to the D'Entrecasteaux Channel with 2-3m swell from behind and 15-25 knots from the N-NW. We dropped anchor at Partridge Island just as the last light faded.
So here we are, two days later, back in Hobart on a mooring in New Town Bay - courtesy of Jim and John on Sea Slug and Sea Lion who live here and have offered to put us up for the next few days. We've caught up on our laundry, done our reprovisioning, and are looking at heading North as soon as the weather allows!
View from our mooring at New Town Bay
Sea Slug and Sea Lion near the shore.