Voyage Log: Coastal Treks of Tasmania
Hobart to Hobart | 17 January 2023 – 27 January 2023
Guest Lecturers: Tom Collis, Michael Hermes, David Williams & Dale Williams
Our home for the next ten days would be the wonderful Coral Discoverer. She had just come in after a circumnavigation of Tasmania. For a day there had been a storm of activity for the crew as they had to transfer stores, including, most importantly Tasmanian wine and delicious food. Meanwhile, we checked in at the cruise terminal on Macquarie Wharf where we were greeted by Expedition Leader Dave before going through the necessary process of form filling and Covid RATs. Eventually, we were invited aboard the ship and welcomed by Captain John. After tea, coffee and freshly baked scones we checked in with Purser Katherine and were shown our cabins by the cruise attendants. We had a little time to get familiar with the layout of the ship before heading to the bridge deck, lifejackets in hand, for a safety briefing and an introduction to the crew. Katherine briefed us about the hospitality team on the ship. Expedition Leader Dave introduced the expedition team, Assistant Expedition leader, Luke and Guest Lecturers Michael, Tom, David and Dale. After a delicious seafood dinner, we retired to our cabins for a welcome rest full of anticipation and excitement for our next day of the expedition.
During the night we steamed north along the east coast of Tasmania to our first destination, the Freycinet Peninsula. Just before breakfast we dropped anchor in Promise Bay which is located near the Hazards and Mt. Freycinet. It was beautiful and we were eager to get ashore and do some walking in Freycinet National Park. We boarded the Xplorer for our first excursion and on the way to Hazards Beach we stopped to look at an Australian Fur Seal that was resting on the rocks on Refuge Island. We also saw a large flock of Black-faced Cormorants and several other seabirds on nearby Promise Rock. Once onshore we headed off for a walk across the isthmus to Wineglass Bay on the other side of the peninsula. Recent rains in the normally dry area had replenished the freshwater lagoons on the isthmus. Pobblebonk Frogs (also known as Banjo Frogs) could be heard calling from the lagoons and several species of birds were also heard and seen. The wildflowers were prolific with lots of tea-tree flowers, banksias, melaleucas and several orchids along the track. We walked across the isthmus before returning back along the track. Another group of walkers tackled the stairs on the heart-pumping track to the Wineglass Lookout where they were rewarded with a magnificent view of Wineglass Bay. We returned to the ship for lunch and prepared for our next excursion on Schouten Island.
After lunch, Captain John moved the Coral Discoverer south to Schouten Island where we anchored in a sheltered bay on the northern side of the island. The island is popular with Tasmanian small boat owners and a dozen or so yachts were anchored in the bay. The island has an interesting history of whaling, mining and fishing and we went ashore to investigate some of its interesting past. Xplorer driver Dan provided us with a ‘dry landing’ on the beach in Crocketts Bay (so we didn’t get our shoes wet!!). We walked across a small hill through some beautiful vegetation to Moreys Bay. On the way, Michael (our archaeologist / historian guest lecturer) showed us the location of some old whaling pots and a tramway to the beach. Tom pointed out some interesting plants such as the Coastal Trigger Plant and the beautiful blue fruits of Dianella. We walked along the beach in Moreys Bay where we met one of the volunteers who lives for short periods on the island doing weed control and other tasks in the national park. The volunteers also maintain an interpretive display in a small hut behind the beach. There were several whale bones (ribs and vertebrate), baleen and a display of various shells and other beach flotsam. We walked further to the shafts of an old coal mine that was operational in the 1880’s. The coal was transported south to Maria Island where it was used as fuel in a cement factory operated by an Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi.
We returned to the ship and steamed south past Maria Island to our overnight anchorage in Spring Bay near the township of Triabunna on the main island of Tasmania. The seas were a little rough but that did not deter us from enjoying Captain John’s complimentary drinks in the bridge deck lounge. After dinner some of us watched a documentary about the Tasmanian coast while others went to bed early after a busy but enjoyable day.
We steamed out of Spring Bay before breakfast to Maria Island where the ship was anchored for the day. Today two different walks were on offer; a strenuous 6 – 7 hour hike to the twin peaks of Bishop and Clerk on the northern end of Maria Island or a shorter moderate walk to the Fossil Cliffs. As we approached the island in the Xplorer it became clear that this was a special place. We went ashore via a jetty at Darlington, now a World Heritage site in recognition of its significance as the most intact example of a convict probation station in Australia. Both groups of walkers gathered in the beautiful 1825 Commissariat Store where guest lecturer Michael gave us some background about the layers of history on the island (from the original Palawa people to whalers, sealers, convicts, the entrepreneur Bernacchi, free settlers, wildlife refuge and eventually World Heritage site). The island is also an important refuge for disease-free Tasmanian Devils and from the original twenty-eight Tassie Devils released on the island in 2012 there are now well over one hundred in a few short years.
Both groups walked through the avenue of Monterey Cypress Pines planted there in 1822, a hundred years ago, before spending a little time looking at the historic buildings in Darlington. We all stopped to take photos of a very tame wombat and a family of Cape Barren Geese (with four goslings). The long walkers continued on for their trek to Bishop and Clerk. Meanwhile, the second group headed for the Fossil Cliffs, a huge deposit of ancient fossilised seashells laid down in a great extinction event 290 million years ago. Unfortunately, recent rains had washed out access to the main site but there were several fossils on the ground nearby and Dale, our guest lecturer geologist explained how these fossils had formed. Many parts of the landscape were like a manicured garden with large expanses of lawn grazed by wombats, Tasmanian Native Hens (Turbo Chooks) and Cape Barren Geese. On both walks we had great views north as far as Freycinet Peninsula. We also stopped at a historic cemetery that had some interesting headstones, including one of a Maori Chief Hohepa Te Umuroa, a political prisoner who died on Maria in 1847. His remains have since been repatriated to his homeland in Wanganui, New Zealand. The long walkers had fabulous views from the rocks at the summit of Bishop and Clerk. Assistant Expedition Leader, Luke, a keen herpetologist was delighted at the number of almost tame skinks he photographed on the hike. They returned to the ship mid-afternoon, tired but happy after the long haul up and down the 620m mountain.
In the afternoon guest lecturer Dale gave us a very interesting presentation called the ‘Amazing Rocks of Tasmania’. Dale explained the interesting geology of Tasmania giving examples of the sites we will be visiting over the next week. During her presentation Dale enlightened us about the unique journey Tasmania took when it separated from Antarctica millions of years ago.
Just after dawn Captain John weighed anchor and we steamed out of Spring Bay heading north for Schouten Island. The cloudy skies of the previous day had cleared and we were delighted with a perfect Tasmanian summer day – blue skies all around. As we were heading to breakfast, Dave made an announcement that a large pod of dolphins were close by. Dozens of common dolphin with their distinctive ‘hourglass’ colour patterns leapt and surfed in the ship’s wake. It was a welcome sight to start our day.
The Coral Discoverer anchored near Schouten Island and we went ashore for a walk to a waterfall. Expedition Leader Dave announced that this walk had just been cleared by National Parks volunteers. This was an exploratory walk and was the first time Coral Expeditions guests had been offered this walk. It turned out to be a moderate to hard climb up to the waterfall but it was, by all accounts worth every bit of effort to get there. Some guests enjoyed a swim in the deep waterholes while others were delighted by the fauna (several lizards and an unusual frog were seen). All were rewarded with great views of the Schouten Passage and Freycinet Peninsula. Several people stayed on the beach with Dale and Tom and enjoyed learning about some of the geology, marine creatures on the beach and coastal plants.
We returned to the ship to continue our trip south along the coast. Shortly after lunch Tom gave us an informative talk on the birds of Tasmania and made us laugh as he spoke about “Tassie Birds, Twitchers and Turbo Chooks.” We headed south towards Eaglehawk Neck on Tasman Peninsula, where Michael explained about the ‘dog line’ – a line of savage dogs kept on the narrow isthmus called Eaglehawk Neck to deter convicts from attempting to escape from Port Arthur. Further south, Captain John moved the ship close to the coastal cliffs near Pirates Bay so that we could see the huge wave-cut cliffs featuring names such as Tasman’s Arch, the Blow Hole, Devil’s Kitchen and Waterfall Bay.
We cruised past Fortescue Bay where Michael and Tom showed us some of the towering Jurassic dolerite cliffs. We were amazed at the ‘Candlestick’ and the ‘Totem Pole’ – isolated stacks of dolerite, named by the daring rock climbers who regularly scale these vertical cliffs. We continued on to Cape Hauy – named by the early French explorers after Rene Hauy, the geologist who first identified the rock dolerite.
We enjoyed an early dinner so we could watch Australia’s highest coastal cliffs (over 300 metres) on the Tasman Peninsula. Captain John manoeuvred the ship through a very narrow channel between Cape Pillar and Tasman Island. Hundreds of Shearwaters skimmed over the surface of the waves joined by the occasional albatross. As the sun went down, we steamed across Storm Bay to our next destination, Great Taylor Bay on South Bruny Island.
After an early breakfast we had a couple of options for exploring the areas around Great Taylor Bay. Some opted for a 4km walk on the Labilliardiere Peninsula whilst others opted for a leisurely walk on the beach. Both groups enjoyed a pleasant morning here, with a light drizzle quickly clearing to a warm day – and the sea was glassy – almost unheard of.
Guest Lecturer David gave his first presentation of the trip on our return, which he had titled “Don’t Stop Til You Drop”, an inspirational talk on his marathon running career. It was exhausting thinking about all those incredible endurance races!
After lunch we headed up the Huon River and visited the Huon Wooden Boat Centre and Frank’s Cider House. Peter at the boat centre was an enthusiastic member of the team there, and he gave us a fascinating window into the building of boats out of Huon Pine and other Tasmanian timbers. The enthusiasm of the two speakers today [ Guest Lecturer David and Boat Builder Peter] was infectious [ in a good way!].
Outside the boat centre expedition staff member Luke, a keen herpetologist, managed to find a She Oak Skink, a beautiful little lizard somewhat akin to a small Blue Tongue Lizard, although the two are not closely related.
First thing in the morning we awoke to find the Coral Discoverer coming into the dramatic Port Davey mouth, past the Breaksea Islands. After an early breakfast we headed east on the Explorer to Melaleuca Lagoon and the Orange Bellied Parrot bird hides. Some headed there via the Needwonee Boardwalk which told the story of the Palawa people of the Southwest Tasmanian region. Others headed straight to the bird hide and then enjoyed the boardwalk so that everyone got to enjoy both aspects of this truly memorable destination. And most of us got to see the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot. The weather was glorious today and we all got terrific reflective photos of the mountains on the placid waters of Bathurst Harbour.
In the afternoon,, we headed back to the upper reaches of Bathurst Harbour [after a wonderful fish and chip lunch, for most of us I think!], in order to do one of the walks on offer out of Claytons Corner. Some did the challenging walk to the summit of Mt Beattie across the buttongrass plains. Others took the easier but equally interesting option, exploring the Claytons cottage and the TV Hill nearby. It was the only opportunity to see a specimen of the iconic Huon Pine tree, which Win Clayton had planted many years ago.
The wind picked up a little in the afternoon, but the Southwest is rarely this calm and picturesque.
After coming back out of a very tranquil Bathurst Channel from Pim Point first thing in the morning, we were spoiled for choice for activities after breakfast. Some chose kayaking around Bramble Cove, and some did the challenging walk to the summit of Mt Milner up through the buttongrass plains and banksia woodlands. Others took the easier but equally interesting option, exploring the Breaksea Islands on the Explorer with Tom and Dale. The conditions were perfect for kayaking – even a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins enjoyed the conditions. On the Mt Milner walk, we were rewarded for our efforts with unimpeded views of the Breaksea Islands and the Southwest coast of Tasmania. The calm conditions on the water enabled Dan the Explorer driver to head up toward the James Kelly Basin – a place we rarely get the opportunity to explore.
Later in the morning, Guest Lecturer Mike gave an informative, if tangential, presentation on the history of Tasmania in 30 Objects.
In the afternoon we steamed east toward Bruny Island, our destination for that evening. On the way, we got an opportunity for a close look at the remote Maatsuyker Island lighthouse and the many bird species in these waters, notably the Shy Albatross and large flocks of short-tailed shearwaters aka “mutton birds”. The Southern Ocean was truly kind to us here with a swell of only 0.5 metres – many of the crew are more used to 3 to 5 metres through this exposed leg of our expedition.
Adventure Bay Bruny Island
The crew had an early start, with the Coral Discoverer heading to Adventure Bay on Southern Bruny Island. Once again we had calm seas and beautiful sunny warm Tassie weather. After breakfast, two options were offered for the morning’s activities – a 2 hour return (4km) moderate walk to Grassy Point or a more difficult longer 5.5km circuit walk to Fluted Cape.
Grassy Point Walk
Mike and Dale led a group of enthusiastic hikers along the track, past the remains of the past whaling operations, surrounded by blue gums, she-oaks and beautiful grasses. The group spotted a Bennet’s Wallaby, various seabirds and several huge pink jellyfish before heading back to the Xplorer.
Fluted Cape Track
This morning we were divided up into four groups as we set out on an anti-clockwise route. After an easy start we began to climb (and climb!) on what became a fairly “technical” (ie rocky and rooty) trail. We climbed up through some grand stands of beautiful old gum trees, hopping over fragments of sandstone rocks scattered around us.
It was a warm morning but in the shade of these tall trees we could enjoy a few drink breaks along the way, before we arrived at the edge of the high cliffs where the Fluted Cape was below us. Only as we descended on even more technical downhill parts could we get glimpses of the Dolerite columns that make up the Fluted Cape. These Dolerite columns are (as Dale tells us) are over 180 million years old and were originally intruded into the older sandstone and mudstone layers that eventually fractured and eroded away. As we reached the lower levels we could see the rounded rocks on the shore that formed the Dolerite scree that had been eroded.
We were also treated to seeing the remains of the historic whaling station before we got back onto the Xplorer. Back in the early 1800’s they were harvesting Southern Right Whales. On nearby Penguin Island there were lots of black-faced cormorants as well as quite a few silver gulls. A juvenile kelp gull sat on a buoy to watch us sail happily back to our floating home.
After lunch Mike gave a talk “Who on Earth was Louis Freycinet?” describing some of his favourite French explorers and opening our eyes to their important contribution to science and art – OO la la!
Then we all clambered aboard the Explorer to have a look at the iconic Fluted Capes Dolerite from the sea. The calm seas allowed Alex to take us close to Penguin Island and beyond. Tom pointed out the assorted seabirds and Dale explained more about the formation of fabulous Jurassic Dolerites that are so important to Tasmania. We tried not to disturb the two sleeping seals as we floated past.
Later we all journeyed over to the Bligh Museum and Adventure Bay Beach for a quick look.
After a quiet night in Norfolk Bay and a hearty breakfast, we all headed off the Fortescue Bay (via the Xplorer to Taranna Jetty and then a comfortable bus) where we had a choice of 3 different walks.
Those who opted for the shorter easy walk with Dale spent the morning exploring the lower portion of the iconic Cape Hauy Track past Mill Creek, the scene of a timber mill in the early 1900’s. Once again the amazing rounded dolerite boulders caught our attention as the waves washed them about. There was time for a beach walk and for more adventurous – a swim.
Tom and Cory led a group on the moderately hard return walk to Canoe Bay, where they spotted some pied oyster catchers with a chick, walked through beautiful bits of rainforest and got heaps of great photos of Canoe Bay.
The largest group of walkers – all hearty souls- decided to tackle the moderate-hard Cape Hauy Track (9.3km), ably guided by Dave, Luke, Mike, David, Jeremy and Joshua. This is one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks and also one leg of the Three Capes Track. 32 walkers set out to conquer this challenging hike, which has 3600 steps made of magnificent granite. We passed through some great bush that provided good shelter from the sun but we eventually found our way up and down a series of ladder steps. It wasn’t long before we could see our final goal in the far distance but determined walking brought us out onto the tip of the Cape where the views were truly magnificent. Coming back required a concentrated effort but we all made it in time for a quick snack and a cup of tea or coffee before climbing back onto the bus for the next leg of our adventure.
When all the walkers were reunited, we boarded our bus for a quick trip to see the Tasman Arch and Blowhole. The highlight of the late afternoon was the visit to the Lavender Farm where a considerable quantity of ice cream, chocolate and coffee was consumed! A contented group of weary walkers headed back to the Xplorer to get ready for dinner.
Tom’s Terrific Trivia Quiz was a great way to finish off the evening. Seven teams competed, with the “Six of the Best” team taking out the honours.
Following a peaceful night moored at Port Arthur we started the day with some tours of the ship’s bridge and engine room before embarking on the Xplorer to enjoy the Commandant’s tour of the old convict settlement. It was named after George Arthur, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land. Port Arthur started as a timber station but is best known for being a penal colony. We were entertained by a guide with a terrific explanation of the prison’s history and its context in the English colonial system. After the tour we were able to enjoy a quick visit to the gift shop before heading back “home” for lunch.
After lunch we climbed aboard the Xplorer for our final cruise around Port Arthur. Alex took us past Point Puer to the Isle of the Dead as well as Long Bay and Denman’s Cove. Mike’s talk about the history of those islands was, as always, of great interest.
Back on board the final bridge and engine room tours were held before we enjoyed Dave’s presentation of future cruise itineraries. Then it was up onto the Bridge Deck for the final time to enjoy the Captain’s Farewell Drinks and have a chat with Captain John and the Expedition Team. We all swapped stories about the cruise. After dinner the hospitality and catering crew joined us to say farewell. It was great to have the chance to thank them all for providing such a fantastic expedition experience. We then gathered for Luke’s slide show of photos taken over the last ten days. Very impressive indeed! The presentation will provide us all with so many great memories.
We finally sadly said goodnight for the last time, ready to complete our packing for tomorrow’s disembarkation.
Coral Discover arrived at Macquarie Wharf 2 in Hobart after breakfast. We all disembarked, thanking the Coral Discover Crew and Expedition Leader Dave and his assistant Luke for such a great trip. Also, Thanks to Tassie for the great weather! Then we all headed for home.