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Ship: Coral Discoverer
Dates: 08 to 15 January 2019
After boarding Coral Discoverer (CD) at around 16:00, we were shown our cabins and began to become acquainted with the ship that would be our home for the next 7 days. Captain Nathan pulled CD away from the wharf and we were on our way into the Derwent River estuary and the awaiting Tasmanian coast. As we slipped down the estuary, it was easy to see why Hobart is recognised as one of the best locations in Australia. The Derwent River is a magnificent backdrop to a remarkably historic city.
Our initial activity was a muster drill, where we had a demonstration of the ship’s alarm signal and donned lifejackets followed by a roster call. Udo, our purser, then gave a safety briefing and introduced the hospitality crew. Dave, our Expedition Leader, greeted us and introduced the Guest Lecturer Tim and the Expedition crew – Steve and Alex.
As the sun slowly set we headed for the Bridge Deck Lounge for Captain Nathan’s welcome drinks and a briefing about tomorrow. We then enjoyed a great seafood buffet, and retired to our cabins for a peaceful night’s sleep, but with eager anticipation for tomorrow.
After an early breakfast and a short briefing by Dave we embarked on our first excursion. This was our first real experience of how the Tasmanian excursions operated. There were 2 walks organised. For those of us eager for some exercise there was a circuit walk that included the ascent to the Wineglass Bay lookout, followed by a descent to the beach, a swim for those brave enough to endure cold water and a walk across the isthmus to a pick up by the Xplorer. As this walk was the longer of the 2 planned, the first group set off early. Today was the first time we were to experience the Xplorer, the vessel that was to be our transport for the many shore visits ahead. Dave gave the first of what was to be many ‘15 minute calls’ on the PA and we boarded and headed across to the sandy foreshore of Coles Bay. An hour later, the second group departed on the Xplorer for a landing on Hazards Beach and a more casual walk across the beautiful isthmus to Wineglass Bay, and a chance to brave the cold sea.
Both groups rendezvoused on the beach at Wineglass Bay and we had the chance to chill-out surrounded by the stunning scenery that the bay is famous for. Eventually, we had to pack up towels and both groups headed across the isthmus to the waiting Xplorer and a short trip back to the CD for lunch. Whilst on the beach we noticed a lot of empty mollusc shells, mainly oysters, that were also embedded in the sand dunes behind the beach. This area has several middens, an indication of how productive this area was and how it sustained a healthy population of indigenous people before European intervention.
This morning had provided a delightful start to the trip and gave us an appetite for what was to come. The afternoon saw us anchored off Schouten Island and the choice of 3 options: a long walk with Dave and Alex up to Waterfall Lookout, a short walk with Steve to the old coal mines, or a chance to go kayaking with Tim. Several of us even managed to do the short walk and some kayaking. The setting was a beautiful small cove backed by a lovely beach and Casuarina trees. We all departed for the beach together and the walkers set off. The longer walk to the Waterfall Lookout was an interesting challenge, with a variety of track conditions including boulder hopping, tree scrambling, streams and different inclines. Those kayaking, the little cove contained some beautiful seaweed beds that were worth the effort to get to. The water was crystal clear and it was easy to see the different types of seaweed, including giant kelp and several different species of wrack.
Once back on board the CD we upped anchor and headed to our next destination, but on the way we went up close and personal with the amazing spectacle of Ile de Phoques, with its colony of Australian Fur Seals and Black-faced Cormorants. The seals gave a great display of noise, smell and gymnastics. As we approached many slid into the water and swam out to the ship. There was a lot of camera clicking and laughter from the guests. At pre-dinner drinks Dave gave a briefing about tomorrow. Then it was time once again to eat, and dinner was tucked into. A showing of Coast Tasmania featuring this marvelous part of Australia followed. An excellent first day.
The CD had been anchored in a sheltered inlet opposite Maria Island, so at 06:00 the anchor was weighed and we sailed across to a new anchorage adjacent to the island. Breakfast was at 06:30 because today the hardy walkers were going to tackle to the twin mountains of Bishop and Clerk, a tough ascent to a peak of 599 metres, and a total walk time of approximately 5-7 hours dependant on speed. This group set off with Dave and Alex in the Xplorer at 07:30 for a drop-off at the jetty in Darlington Bay. The rest of us enjoyed a more leisurely breakfast and departed with Steve and Tim for the jetty on the Xplorer at 08:30.
The long hike to Bishop and Clerk proved to be an epic and entertaining walk, but the reward of standing on the rock platform at the top and having breathtaking views across the sea to Freycinet and Schouten Island, and the expanse of Maria Island including the famous Fossil Cliffs, was well worth it. The walk was tough with the ascent of a large scree slope thrown in for good measure. The more leisurely group on the lower walk meandered past the old cement works, took in the sight of old machinery in a large brick barn, complete with its resident wombat, and took a look at the old cemetery. This was followed by a casual stroll to the Fossil Cliffs and a descent to the platform that abuts the cliff. The cliffs are the site of the old quarry used to mine limestone for the cement works that once operated on the island. The rock is packed with marine fossils over 250 million years old and is listed as of world importance. We then headed along the path that took us into the historic Darlington penal settlement.
Many of the buildings at the settlement have been restored and are used by hikers coming to the island. Maria Island is a popular destination and during the summer booking a bunk needs to be done at least 6 months in advance. The settlement buildings also contain artefacts from the convict era, with one building restored to a fully furnished home. On the path back to the jetty the Ranger station houses a display about the fascinating history and flora and fauna of the island, including the establishment of a resident population of Tasmanian devils. Those of us on the easier walk returned to the CD and awaited the return of the Bishop and Clerk pioneers. A very tired but happy band.
Following lunch, Tim gave the first presentation about the convict settlements in Australia, entitled Crime, Convicts and Crawlers. Here we learned about the early European explorers to Australia, the reasons why there was an urgent need to find a solution to the rising crime rate in Britain, and the ‘race’ to colonise Tasmania by the British who were worried that the French might claim the island.
We headed up to the Bridge Deck Lounge for well-deserved pre-dinner drinks. We cruised past the magnificent cliffs of the Lanterns, Candlestick and Needle, and then on to Tasman Island, Cathedral Rock and Cape Pillar. All around the boat a pod of dolphins repeatedly surfaced, dived, leapt and entertained us. The scene of cliffs, dolphins and a surging sea was bathed in the light of dusk giving a tremendous brooding atmosphere. Dave gave a briefing about tomorrow and we then did battle with yet another gorgeous meal. After dinner there was a showing of the documentary Terrors of Tasmania but many of us retired to our cabins, happily worn-out by the walking and aware that the sea was becoming quite rough. Best place was bed.
This morning we anchored in the shelter of Bathurst Harbour, a part of Port Davey. This area is difficult to get to and is very weather dependent. But the day was clear with blue sky and warm temperatures. Magnificent mountains and rugged cliffs surrounded us. Because it had been a rough night we anchored later than planned so the itinerary was changed. The walk originally planned for the afternoon was postponed until tomorrow. The more relaxed plan for the day was welcomed.
At around 09:30 we departed for a beautiful cruise on the Xplorer to Melaleuca. The destination was Melaleuca to see the Orange-bellied parrot, but despite the wind-chill the cruise up the small backwaters was a treat in itself. The tannin-rich waters, calm conditions, and blue sky created perfect ‘reflection shot’ conditions. All around us the scenery was beautiful and constantly backed by the huge and vast mountain ranges. On disembarking at the jetty the group split to do the Needwonnee Walk, a delightful pathway that not only took us through beautiful scenery but also taught us about the local Aboriginal culture and history. At strategic places there were huts made of foliage, a canoe made of bull rushes, and various recreations of Aboriginal life.
This area is also famous for the exploits of Deny King, a tin miner and pioneer who lived in this remote area for 60 years with his wife and children. It is due largely to Deny that this area is a conservation area and the Orange-bellied parrot is now heavily protected as he did a lot of the original observation and raising of awareness about its plight. We were lucky enough to see 2 of these rare birds feeding. The centre at Melaleuca has a bird observatory, staff huts for volunteers and an airstrip that provides another way to enter the area. Whilst we were there 2 Par Avion planes landed and numerous tourists disembarked for a water trip around the area. The interpretation boards at the centre gave a glimpse of a life that was remote, tough and improvised, whether you were tin-mining, crayfishing or wood cutting. On returning to the jetty we found that morning tea had arrived. We heartily tucked into (and completely finished-off) the banana cake and Lamingtons, washed down with tea and coffee. A great place to have morning tea.
Back on board the CD we had lunch and then some of us departed for another excursion in the Xplorer, whilst several of us retired to our rooms to read a good book or have a nana nap (or both). Those of us who went on the Xplorer had a beautiful cruise towards the mouth of Port Davey to see the Breaksea. Looking back from the Xplorer the view was dominated by the magnificent bulk of Mount Stokes. Swirling giant kelp beds, with the large lazy fronds swaying backward and forwards with the sea surge, surrounded the islands near the mouth. A local traditional cray fishing boat was sighted and we headed across to look at the craypots on the deck. It had just arrived and hadn’t yet started to fish, so we could see how heavily laden it was with craypots.
Following the cruise and back on board the CD, the pre-dinner drinks took a different arrangement. Tonight was a great chance to sample some of the Tasmanian produce and wines. Udo, the purser had selected a range of local wines and produce and we had a ‘Taste of Tasmania’ experience. A great idea for a location that is famous for the quality of its agriculture. Dinner was followed by a showing of the documentary Wildness about 2 of Tasmania’s most famous photographers.
Today we completed the original itinerary from yesterday. This meant 2 morning walks: an easy one and a more difficult one. We boarded the Xplorer once again and headed into Bathurst Harbour. Our landing site was a place called Clayton’s Corner, named after Clyde Clayton and his wife, Win (who was Deny King’s sister). A jetty ensured we had a dry landing and just behind the jetty was the old hut that the Claytons lived in. It now belongs to the Tasmanian government and is protected. It has been extensively restored and upon entering it we saw the original stove, beds and chairs etc. It gives a good idea of what it was like to live here – a delightful location but a very frugal existence. Near the hut were several Huon pine trees. Although they looked tiny and thin they were at least 60 years old, a timely reminder of how long it takes these iconic trees to grow.
The 2 groups of walkers split, the longer walk going to the summit of Mt Beattie (267m elevation) whilst the other group went to TV Hill. Both walks took us through rainforest and open-heath mountain flanks. The weather was blustery but the rain held off. It had rained during the night, which meant that the track was boggy in places but underfoot, the peat soil was fairly dry. From the peak of Mount Beattie we had a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding land and seascapes- stunning mountain ranges and inlets and islands. Because of the windswept nature of the area the plant life on the exposed mountain sides is traditionally ‘alpine’, with short stunted trees bent over by the constant buffeting of the wind, and a plethora of wildflowers. It is tough up here and only the hardiest plants survive. Although we did not see any wombats their tell-tale scats were everywhere. Melaleucas dominated the lower area of temperate rainforest, with every patch of sunlit soil containing plants desperately striving to survive.
Following lunch we upped anchor and departed from this unique and stunningly beautiful part of the world. As we headed into the open sea, Senior Fleet Master Gary gave a talk entitled Sailing with Tasman about the exploits of early European explorers, including Abel Tasman, after whom the island of Tasmania is named. Previously, Tasmania was named van Diemen’s Land by Abel Tasman after the leader of the Dutch East India Company, who was based in Batavia (now called Jakarta) in Indonesia. Gary also gave a presentation about the new ship joining the Coral Expedition’s fleet, the Coral Adventurer, and some of the fascinating trips planned for that vessel.
On exiting Port Davey we were met with swell and strong winds, but the wind was on our tail as we turned east so we were not punching into the waves. The winds and sea conditions are dominated by the huge expanse of the Southern Ocean. It is sobering to realise that the next piece of land encountered heading south is Antarctica! We do not always manage to get to Port Davey because of the sea conditions, so we were fortunate to have spent 2 days in this lovely part of the world and the rough sea passages have been well worth it.
During pre-dinner drinks and dinner we continued to sail towards our next destination, Bruny Island. Following dinner a David Attenborough documentary entitled Tasmania was shown in the Bridgedeck Lounge, but many of us went to bed and hunkered down to sleep-out the rough conditions and to be ready for the next part of what is already a superb trip.
We awoke to a perfect day; the sea was calm, the air was still and we were anchored in Adventure Bay at Bruny Island. Adventure Bay was named after Tobias Furneaux’s ship. Furneaux was the first recorded European to land on the island in 1773. The name Bruny comes from the French explorer Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, who was here in 1792 and established that it was an island. The name was changed to Bruny in 1918.
The routine of a longer walk and a shorter walk continued for today’s activities. So, at 08:30 we departed on the Xplorer for a beach landing. Those doing the longer walk headed off on the Fluted Cape trail. This trail was not too demanding and at the summit, there was an amazing view over Storm Bay. The more sedate walkers headed towards Grassy Point and the remains of old whaling stations. Whaling was carried out here during the 19th century by British, Australian and American whaling ships, and several whaling stations were created between 1826 and 1846. All had closed by 1850, but whaling vessels continued to anchor in the bay until the latter part of the 19th century. Now the area is known for its marvelous colours, seabirds and albino wallabies.
Following lunch we had the option of 3 activities. A cruise along the picturesqure shoreline to the Fluted Cape, a visit to the Bligh Museum and Cook Monument, and kayaking. Those going on the cruise embarked on the Xplorer once again and headed across the bay. They were rewarded with the astonishing scenery at Fluted Cape; vertical pillars of rock, multi-shades of green and yellow of the swirling kelp beds, and the deep greens of the crystal-clear water. Meanwhile the keen kayakers hopped into the inflatable kayaks and paddled to the rocky shoreline to take a closer look at the amazing colours.
Following the cruise on the Xplorer those going ashore alighted on the beach to visit the Bligh Museum, a small but fascinating building containing memorabilia of the region’s maritime history. Several of us bought souvenirs, and all money goes towards the upkeep of this little gem of a museum. Following our visit to the museum, named after the infamous but misjudged Captain Bligh who visited this bay, we wandered along the shoreline to the Cook Monument, a reminder of another famous visitor to these waters. The site was originally where Captain James Cook carved his name into a tree. Unfortunately the tree was destroyed in a bushfire in 1905. Too soon it was time to return to the CD for a shower and a chance to hear Tim’s second part of the history of the convict era in Tasmania.
During pre-dinner drinks CD sailed through the gap between the mainland and Tasman Island and we had a chance to see the precarious gantry on the vertical cliffs that the early workers and lighthouse keepers used to get to Tasman Island. Huge cliffs that drop vertically into the sea dominate this section of coastline. Following dinner, to round-off what has been an incredible day the famous Tassie Trivia quiz took place. This was a light-hearted test of our knowledge of the information we had learned on the trip. Some of us managed to get our brains into gear and the winning team was declared.
We had anchored in the sheltered bay immediately in front of Port Arthur penitentiary: a tranquil picturesque anchorage. Today was going to be a long one, with a 5 hour hike in the morning and a visit to the World Heritage Port Arthur in the afternoon. Breakfast was at 06:30 and those going on the hike to Cape Hauy boarded the Xplorer for a short run across to Stewarts Bay. Here they boarded a bus for a quick ride to the start of the walk. This walk is part of the famous Three Capes Walk and takes in some of Tasmania’s most dramatic scenery. Unlike most of the other walks we have done, which were mostly up a track and back down, this walk was an undulating path, with a lot of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, that wended its way along the coast. A good bit of exercise in a beautiful setting.
Those not on the hike sauntered down for a more leisurely breakfast and then boarded the Xplorer at 08:30 for a scenic cruise around the bay past Point Puer, Safety Cove and Standup Point. Point Puer was the site for the ‘childrens’ prison’ where child convicts were sent. Here they were encouraged to become better educated and not only were they taught to read and write but also several crafts in the hope that they eventually became valued members of society. The bay also has the ‘Isle of the Dead’ where many of the people from Port Arthur were buried. The scenery around the penitentiary was very different to what we had been amongst for much of this trip, with evidence of roads and buildings. The cruise took in some gorgeous sedimentary cliffs covered in lichen and guano, cormorant perches, some dazzling kelp forests and several booming caves. It even got to the small bay, bordered by volcanic headlands, that contained amazing huge sand dunes with penguin footprints. A happy group returned to the ship at 10:15 and after morning tea Tim gave an informal talk that took in a variety of historical and marine topics. This was more like a conversation round a dinner table and was a pleasant relaxing interval. Meanwhile the hikers had completed the 9 km trek and arrived back on the ship tired, happy and hungry. Lunch was greatly appreciated.
The afternoon saw us going on a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of Port Arthur penitentiary. This site is a gold mine of convict history, from the establishment of the Separate Prison, the manufacturing that the convicts carried out and the eventual use as a sort of residential hospital for the last transportees to Tasmania. The penitentiary eventually closed in 1877 and fell into disrepair. A fire caused further damage. We were taken in small groups by two guides and as we wandered around the site gazing at the remarkable buildings and listening to the tales of the penitentiary in its prime, we got a better understanding of this era of white settlement in Australia. Port Arthur was a delightful end to our adventures on this trip and reluctantly, with a pang of regret, we took our final trip on the Xplorer to head back to the ship for our last night aboard. We headed to the Bridge Deck Lounge for Captain Nathan’s Farewell Drinks where Dave outlined departure procedures for tomorrow, and we then tucked into our final delicious meal.
Tomorrow we dock in Hobart and depart the CD for the last time. Goodbyes will be said, last minute packing will be finished, and all too soon we will step ashore to go our separate ways. But the Tasmanian coast and mountains have shown us their very best and we will have great memories, fantastic photos and new friends. And it was a lot of fun!
Compiled by: Tim Harvey (Guest Lecturer) Expedition Leader: Dave Keech Expedition crew: Steve Cox, Alistair Kent