Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River 29 March – 1 April 2010

After re-provisioning the boat for the next 3 weeks we departed Strahan and sailed to Sarah Island on the southern shores of Macquarie Harbour. Sarah Island is the site of a convict settlement where second / habitual re-offenders were sent to serve out their time. We took the dinghy ashore to explore the remains of the settlement. A useful map of the island is available at the jetty which helped us to identify building and work sites including a large ship yard where the convicts built ships using the beautiful timbers growing in the river valleys, including Huon and King Billy Pine, Celery Top Pine and Tasmanian Blackwood. Some of the convicts were hired out to the local farmers and loggers during the week then returned to stay at the Island for the weekend. We met a group of archaeologists working on a dig site on the island. They were excavating the site of a house and had removed many bricks from collapsed walls to establish their site where they had found the remains of buckles, nails, broken glass, pottery and timber. They worked on the island during the day and returned to a camp site on the Gordon River each night. Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service Officers were assisting with the project. We anchored overnight in Birch’s Inlet then set off the following morning in misty rain for the Gordon River. We were followed into the river by one of the large tour boats which stops at Heritage Landing about 5 miles upstream, this is the limit of their park permit. Here a well signposted boardwalk guides visitors through the different river side habitats and identifies many of the trees, mosses and ferns growing there. We are lucky to be able to travel much further upstream and motored up through gorges and bends in the river to Sir Johns Falls landing, where seaplanes land and tie up at a pontoon with a short walkway along the creek into the bottom of Sir John Falls. As we motored up the Gordon the skies cleared to a brilliant blue and Huon Pine spotting became a bit of a sport, as we were not too sure what the young trees looked like. Pat was able to identify some and this was confirmed when we later met up with Parks and Wildlife Service officers at Sir John Falls landing. Chris (PWS) was able to name some of the trees that we had observed and share his knowledge with us. He had the workers from the archaeological dig on Sarah Island with him and they were enjoying their first day off in over 2 weeks.

After lunch we put the dinghy in the water and motored up river through fast running rapids to the point where the Franklin River joins the Gordon River. At times like these we are thankfull for a good size outboard. Even with our 15Hp we were struggling to make headway against the current in some parts of the river.We were able to enter the Franklin River and motored as far as the first rocky island in the middle of the river where we went ashore. The river narrows after this point and many rapids, rocks and snares of fallen trees make navigating the river a challenge.

Crew clowning around in the Franklin River.

That evening we enjoyed a full moon over the Gordon River with clear skies, unfortunately our photos don’t do this experience justice. The following morning we woke to sunshine and blue skies and after breakfast two seaplanes landed and tied up next to us at the pontoon. Later in the day as we headed down the river one of the planes flew past us at tree height level winding down the river – that would have been a buzz. Before we departed Sir John Falls we took the explored the shores downstream and a hut that was built by the company that was going to build the Gordon below Franklin Dam. This area was the location of all the protests to stop the dam in the 1970’s. The hut is now used by kayakers as they travel down the river as an overnight stop.

We stopped at Heritage Landing boardwalk as the tour boats were not due for another hour and appreciated the work done by the Parks and Wildlife Service to provide information about the river, its history and the environment as it is today. That evening we anchored in Kelly’s Basin the site of the two towns of East and West Pillinger. The following morning we went ashore and explored East Pillinger where a former brick works and railway line terminated bringing coal from the Mt Lyall Mine. Again PWS have provided a boardwalk through the ruins of the old settlement with information boards describing the history and workings of the town. Not much remains of West Pillinger except an old railway carriage that has been converted into a fisherman’s hut and the remains of the old wharf.

After lunch we prepared the boat for departure and headed out of Macquarie Harbour north. This is one of most dangerous stretches of coast in Tasmania as it is exposed to the large south west swells with no safe anchorages until the top of Tasmania. That night we experienced strong winds 20 – 35 knots with large following seas which made for fast sailing. We had planned to stop at Three Hummock Island on the north west of Tasmania, however as we traversed Hunter Passage we checked the latest weather forecast and decided to make for Flinders Island across the top of Tasmania. As it was Good Friday we enjoyed chocolate Hot Cross Buns (purchased in Strahan). The trip to Flinders Island was not a quick as our trip up the coast and we just made it - the sun was setting as we anchored in Port Davies near large granite boulders covered in red lichen on Saturday evening April 2. The trip from Macquarie Harbour to Flinders Island took just under 54 hours and covered 324 Nm (600Km).

Monday, May 3, 2010

Port Davey to Strahan, Tasmania March 15 - 28, 2010

We have just spent the last three weeks in some the most remote and spectacular parts of Australia. After departing the D’Entrecastaux Channel we sailed west along the southern coast of Tasmania heading for Port Davey on Tuesday 15 March. Just north of Maatsuyker Island the seas chopped up and the winds were on the nose so we ducked into New Harbour to anchor overnight before tackling South West Cape. The lighthouse on Maatsuyker Island is Australia’s most southern lighthouse and the weather station there has recorded some of Australia’s most extreme conditions. Later at anchor around 7pm we could hear voices and there were people swimming just off the shore in the kelp beds. One fellow swam over to our boat for a chat, they were bushwalkers who had just walked out to the coast from Bathurst Harbour and were camping nearby. You can imagine the water temperature and there was no hot shower to return to after their swim. Early the following morning they were back, diving for abalone – they certainly were keen.

Just after we rounded South West Cape Patrick had his first dolphin experience of the trip when a large pod of dolphins which were feeding about 400 metres away came racing over to join us. Several of them were leaping right out of the water as they raced towards the boat to bow surf with us for a while. Unfortunately we didn't capture it with our camera (although we did try) so I've scanned an image from a tourist brochure which shows in part what we experienced in this very special encounter.

We have had some incredible encounters with dolphins on our trip around Australia. If we haven't sighted them coming in they will often leap out of the water beside the boat near our cockpit to get our attention then go to the bow. On occasions when it has been raining and we haven't ventured to the bow to watch them they have come back and swam behind the boat for a while where they can see us in the cockpit.

From SW Cape we enjoyed a lively sail up to Port Davey where we anchored in Bond Bay for the night. Port Davey / Bathurst Harbour is located in the south west of Tasmania and experiences mainly cold strong winds and heavy rain along with the odd day of sunshine, blue skies and cold winds. We stayed in the area for 11 days and experienced heavy rain, misty rain, low clouds, strong winds, patches of blue and sunshine while exploring some of the more protected anchorages. Many books and magazines were read, cups of tea and coffee drunk along with the odd glass or two of red wine and cans of beer. We were able to capture on camera the many moods of this part of Australia. On the fine days we did some shore based exploring, firstly the Davey River, taking our dinghy up the river through gorges and over gentle rapids, then drifted back down the river without the engine to enjoy the scenery and reflections.

Another day we motored up Melaleuca Inlet to King’s Landing then took the dinghy up the creek to walk to the airstrip and then across to Denny King’s Bird Hide, the Parks and Wildlife Service camping area where the resident ranger Craig was in the process of building a new toilet for the bush walkers and day visitors. On our third fine day we climbed the hills behind our anchorage at Schooner Cove to enjoy views back along the coast as well as up the Channel to Bathurst Harbour. A party of kayakers camped on the beach in our anchorage at Schooner Cove. A very adventurous group they paddled in strong winds and heavy rain and they also climbed mountains and walked over hills to the ocean beaches. We also met Sam whose boat Schouten Pass was being used as a mother ship for university researchers, diving in the waters of Bathurst Harbour and Channel to observe and record the unique plant and animal life found in the tannin rich waters.

A change in the weather enabled us to sail overnight north to Macquarie Harbour. After a lumpy start the seas settled down around midnight and we made our way up the coast, rounding Cape Sorrel at breakfast time with its tall white lighthouse. We dropped the sails and motored through Hells’ Gate then around to Strahan. Fish and Chips, fresh bread rolls and a cold beer for lunch on the back of the boat – luxury!!

Luckily there was a spare berth at the fishing wharf however had to move later that afternoon as one of the local tour boats, the Eagle, was being fitted with the towing gear for the challenge to break the world water skiing record. On Sunday morning March 28 they succeeded. Pat and Cran took the dinghy to watch from the sidelines and I walked around the headland to watch from the shore. At 7am there was no wind or wake to break the water’s surface. The skiers entered the water and made their way through the early morning mist to take up their positions behind the boat. Air temp 10 deg, water temp 16 deg. In perfect conditions 126 skiers started and 114 made it over the 1 nautical mile that they had to cover in order to create the new world record, beating the Cairns effort of 20 plus years ago (100 skiers).

Strahan is a picturesque town on the shores of Macquarie Harbour with many of the older buildings restored and filled with restaurants, gift shops and accommodation for its thriving tourist industry. There are walking paths around the shores of the harbour connecting the main part of town with the Railway Station from which a scenic train journey to Queenstown departs. There is also an excellent pub at the point where we enjoyed some of the locally farmed trout.

At the far end of the wharf a working timber mill specializing in Huon Pine timber and products using logs salvaged from the local King and Gordon Rivers, washed down in the flood waters each year. The Huon Pine has an oil that makes it rot resistant and many logs lie beneath the cold tannin rich waters of the harbour and local rivers from the days when the loggers (Piners) cut down the trees for the commercial timber industry. Unfortunately the Huon was nearly wiped out with only a few of the 2000 + year old trees remaining in the wilderness areas. Many younger trees are growing along the shores of the rivers but it will be another 2000 years before they are ready for harvesting.