2002 Feb 6 – 22: Cruising the West Coast of Tasmania

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Before leaving Tasmania, it was imperative that we visit the west coast of the island. Most visitors to the South-West National Park World Heritage Area must hike in, carrying all provisions and equipment for at least a week. There are no roads or facilities for visitors in this huge wilderness area which covers almost one quarter of Tasmania. The story behind the preservation of this unique region involves Tasmanian state governments toppling, enforcement of international treaties by the federal government, and the formation of the Greens Party and the Wilderness Society. We wanted to see what all the fuss had been about, and we could take our luxurious accomodations with us. The environmental turmoil of the 1960’s and 1970’s was over the Hydro Electric Commission’s flooding of Lake Pedder, the most beautiful in all of Tasmania, and already supposedly protected as a national park. The environmentalists succeeded in preventing damming of numerous other rivers in South-West Tasmania.

A weather window opened for us, so on Wednesday, Feb 6, 2002 we departed Hobart for Recherche Bay, the customary overnight anchorage for cruisers preparing to round the southwest corner of Tasmania heading for Port Davey. The weather forecast called for ‘variable winds to 15 knots today, ENE 5-15 tonight, with inshore afternoon sea breezes. Seas 1.5metres on a SW 1.5 metre swell. Friday: NE 10-20 knots variable over the west tending SE-SW 10-20 , increasing to 25 in the west as a trough crosses Tasmania.’ Our plan was to be snugly anchored in a protected cove before the arrival of the trough on Friday.

Thursday, Feb 7, 2002, we departed Recherche Bay and arrived in Port Davey. Our navigation log entry for 9:15 AM was:

‘South East Cape to STBD, altered course for passage between De Witt Island and Flat Witch Island (north of Maatsuyker Island). The SE swell was joined by a 1.5 m SW swell. A few small fishing boats were working Recherche Bay this morning, and a few larger ones were traveling towards the west along this shore. Mt. La Perouse, Lune Sugarloaf and Adamsons Peak were beautiful to the north. ‘Rain showers to the south. Sky clearing along the coast where we are. Outbreaks of sun. Cormorants and Australasian gannets. One fairy penguin sighted west of South Cape.’

Port Davey is the only safe haven with an easy all-weather entry on the entire west coast of Tasmania. The opening between Hilliard Head to the south and Point St. Vincent to the north is almost 8 km wide with numerous clearly visible outlying islands. There is only a single lighted navigation aid for 60 nautical miles up and down the coast, and it is well inside the harbor at Davey Head.

The Australian charts of this area are not corrected for satellite-derived positions (GPS), but Steve was able to observe and calculate a correction factor which he entered into our electronic navigation system. Our large scale charts are annotated with respect to which areas have been surveyed for depth, and which areas remain ‘Unsurveyed’, which are considerable. The northern half of the outer harbor has received a ‘Reconnaissance or inadequate survey, sounded by lead line, with an accuracy of soundings of 3 feet’, most recently in the year 1899. The outer harbor was ‘Sounded by Echo Sounder’ as recently as 1974. The inner harbour where we were to make our entry into Bathurst Channel has received a ‘Controlled Survey, Sounded by lead line’, to an accuracy of 2 feet, in the years 1902-1922.

We entered South Passage, following the advice of our cruising friends in Hobart, in the best weather we could have asked for, passing south of aptly named Breaksea Islands, and towards Mt. Misery. A sharp right turn at Sarah Island where the popular Bramble Cove lay to the north, and we had entered Bathurst Channel, and by the way, The South-West National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. As we entered Tasmania’s largest park and one of the wildest and least accessible, we found ourselves at the feet of 500 to 1500 foot high mountains on either side. We kept to mid-channel, as the GPS correction had not yet been applied to our charts, and noted each headland, outlying reef, cove and inlet as we passed. Waterfall Bay where fresh water can be collected for a boat’s water tanks, Schooner Cove where caves and middens of Aborigines can be found, Joe Page Bay and Ila Bay, stretching away to the north, whose northern reaches are unsurveyed. As we passed through the 300 foot wide entrance to The Narrows, we could see the row boats on shore used by trampers following the Port Davey Track to cross the channel. We discussed which of several anchorages would be suitable for Adagio in various wind conditions, including Clyte Cove, Frogs Hollow, Starvation Bay, and perhaps the tiny Iola Bay. Platypus Point. at the base of 1285 foot high Mt. Rugby which dominates the skyline, marks the entrance to land-locked Bathurst Harbour. Measuring approximately three nautical miles north-south and five nautical miles east-west, average depth twenty feet, this small inland sea is fed by several streams and small rivers, one in each of its four corners.

Anticipating the arrival of a cold front and brisk winds, we made our way to the farthest southeast corner of Bathurst Harbour and entered Moulters Inlet for our first anchorage. We passed carefully through a 100 foot wide entrance at the north end of the inlet and anchored Adagio in the center of a tear-drop shaped mirror. The reflected peaks of the surrounding mountain ranges pointed towards us like the teeth of a shark into whose maw we were falling. At sunset the teeth were decorated with pink candy floss.

With no history of habitation by Europeans, no access by track or road, this 1-1/4 nautical mile long by 3/4 nautical mile wide landlocked lagoon is visited by only a few boats each year. Averaging only 2 metres deep the flat bottom of the inlet was invisible, as the water was dyed a dark golden brown by the tannin dissolved from the humic material which has formed on the poor soils of the distant boggy plains. A river valley lay to the south, and 1630 foot high Mount Fulton loomed above us on the western shore. In the southwest, the knife edge ridges of the Bathurst Range formed multiple diagonals which marched off into the distance. Beyond Kroanna Hill to the east, the horizon was festooned with the undulations of a dozen round-topped mountains of the Ray Ranges. Shaped by the Pleistocene glaciations, the landscape was filled with cirques, scooped valleys and terminal moraines. The thawing of the glaciers 12,000 years ago resulted in the drowning of the river valleys which have since that time filled to a relatively shallow depth by further erosion.

Enjoying the sunrises, rainbows, wind, small hail and brilliant sunsets, we stayed in our private, pristine inlet for several days to catch up on boat tasks and sleep. We would have to leave this lovely anchorage if we were to see any more of the Bathurst area.

Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2002

With a verbal ‘letter of introduction’ from our Hobart cruising friends Margaret and Gordon Gowland of S/V Bird of Dawning, we made our way by dinghy from where we left Adagio at anchor in Clyte Cove to visit Barbara and Peter Wilson at their alluvial tin mine at the head of the Melaleuca Inlet.

We crossed paths with a Melbourne couple on their ketch Sea Trek as we were leaving Clyte Cove. Our invitation to them to come in the afternoon for a visit was declined, as they had plans for traveling westward. Several kayakers were enjoying the calm waters and bright sunshine as we made our way eastward in the Bathurst Channel.

Yesterday we had poked Adagio’s bows into the Melaleuca Inlet as far as Woureddy Bay where the channel narrows, and decided that Adagio’s width was too great for a safe passage in the mother ship. Adagio’s depth sounder is located in the port hull, and her maximum beam is 27 feet. In the winding, narrow channel of the inlet, her starboard hull would most likely be in the nearby shallow water. If we she were to get stuck, we would have to back out as there is not sufficient width for us to turn her around.

Today our sprightly dinghy Allegro was perfect for the 6 km journey from the Celery Top Islands in the southwest corner of Bathurst Harbour to the dinghy pontoon landing south of Melaleuca Lagoon. Halfway up the Melaleuca Inlet, several series of rustic stakes marked the presumed location of the 2 to 4 metre deep channel which wound sometimes sharply in great arcs from left to right, then from right to left. Allegro’s depth sounder was put to good use. Only once did we get into the shallows.

The shores are composed of peat which forms a delicate veneer over the glacial gravels and slick granites of this area. Lush, billowy forests grow above rows and rows of pointed white granitic rocks, formed from strata which have been tilted vertically, edging the shoreline with a pallisade-like rock formation. These white vertical rocks are several metres high where they form the Celery Top Islands, and are topped with tufts of green vegetation, thus the islands’ name. The water around us was so flat calm that the scenery duplicated itself perfectly, upside down, until our dinghy wake turned the lower image into graceful ribbons of light and dark.

We found the 1997 edition of the Melaleuca 4219 1:25,000 series topo map to be a better representation of the land forms than the Australian navy navigation charts and cruising guide. At the end of the winding inlet, we found two sets of vertical and horizongal pilings, chained to each other and to the shore, each with a sign reading ‘Welcome to Melaleuca. Public Mooring’. If we had tied Adagio to one of these ‘berths’ she would have mostly blocked the channel. A tour boat was tied up to one of the sets of piles, and a square-rigged sailing vessel named Rallinga was tied up to what appeared to be a private pole wharf.

Our map showed the entrance to a creek on the right hand side, and a sign reading ‘Public Pontoon’, pointed in that direction. Following an even narrower winding channel, we came upon a new, well-maintained small metal floating dock to which several metal boats were tied. An engine mechanic was working on one of the boats, and a representative of a small tour plane operation was walking the docks. We followed a new board plank walkway to a short, gravel airplane landing strip where small, single-prop planes bring sightseers in for a landing, after what must be a very impressive aerial view of the coastline between here and Hobart.

We followed the signs to the ‘hide’ where one can view the rare and endangered Orange-bellied parrot. Only 200 of these brilliant emerald green robin-sized birds remain. In flight they flash a yellow breast and orange patch on their belly. The leading edge of the wings and a band on the forehead are deep blue. Several ornithologists and volunteers are monitoring the nesting boxes placed in the trees nearby, and recording sightings of banded birds. But we saw none through the windows of the comfortable small building. The ‘hide’ was outfitted with spotting scope, binoculars and educational posters explaining the life cycle and migratory patterns of the parrots, as well as the importance of periodic fires to maintain the vegetation required locally during the nesting season.

We continued across the landing strip and found a sign marking the beginning of the South Coast Track. The track took us to an area of small mounds of mine tailings (actually the remains of washed gravel). A metallic blue helicopter was perched on top of a rise, and several people were standing next to a small shack. Spread out below the rise were elevated fat black irrigation hoses coming and going, and conveyor belts for moving gravel up to the top of what must be the washing equipment. A woman in red trousers and two men greeted us as we approached. In response to our inquiry, ‘Are the Wilsons around today?’ the woman and one of the men pointed amusedly to themselves and smiled at us. The other man was introduced as the helicopter pilot who was saying his farewells before taking off with his group of tourists to fly on to Strahan and Macquarie Harbour to the north.

With the departure of the helicopter, Peter and Barbara Wilson gave us their full attention. Probably in their early 60’s, rugged and healthy, they were pleased to receive our greetings from Margaret and Gordon. After a few minutes of conversation, we walked with them back towards their home, and they invited us to spread our picnic lunch out on their dining table, while they enjoyed a hearty salad from their vegetable garden. Outside their windows were the Orange-bellied parrots, feeding on the ground and at the long plank of a bird feeder, flying from clothes line to tree, making quite a display. We also spotted several ‘Beautiful Firetail’ finches. Barbara told me that the parrots don’t like helicopters, explaining why we had seen none from the hide. We took photos and videos, and watched the birds through the spotting scope.

Lunch conversation turned to tin mining, which the Wilsons have been doing in Melaleuca for the past 27 years. Barbara plunked down a heavy can half filled with a black sandy substance — a sample of the tin ore that they had washed from gravel. A man named Denny King established the original mine many years ago, and his home has been preserved nearby by the park service.

Twice a year the Wilsons take the tin ore to Hobart in their sailing vessel Rallinga, and return with a load of supplies. They smelt some of the ore for the metal works near Victoria Dock. Peter was a cray fisherman before becoming a miner, and still enjoys fishing and collecting crays and abalone for personal consumption. Powered by a wind generator and solar panels, the house is comfortable and spacious. Peter collects firewood for tin smelting and the wood-burning stove in the living room. Water is collected behind several small dams. Apple trees line the narrow road and cluster around the house. Not far from their working mine, they are restoring the vegetation to some old mining sites for the government. Saturday they will take several backpackers and the two ornithology volunteers to Schooner Cove aboard Rallinga.

Peter went back to work after lunch and Barbara showed us the footpath leading to the walk up to the top of 230 foot high King’s Knob for a grand lookout over the area. There is no formed track, so we picked our way through the scrub and over the heathland community which is the vegetation covering much of the plains between the mountains in this national park. The plants are adapted in various ways which prevent them from freezing and enable them to withstand conditions of low temperatures, cold wet soil and exposure to wind. Clumps of Button Grass were all around us. Underfoot were tiny, red Forked Sundew plants, Drosera binata, equipped with long sticky hairs for trapping insects. The purple Fairies’ Aprons, Utricularia dichotoma, are small solitary flowers straight out of the movie Fantasia. The Bladderwort called Swamp Melaleuca in the myrtle family displayed its bright pink-purple spherical clusters of flowers. We passed hillsides covered with the skeletons of two foot high Tea trees which had been killed by last year’s fires. The ornithologists say that the fires provided new vegetation growth that has resulted in a larger than usual number of juvenile Orange-bellied parrots this year. We found several clumps of spagnum moss in the wetter areas.

Our view from the top of King’s Knob showed us the South Coast Track winding its way across the buttongrass plain, towards the southeast, where the blue sea at Cox Bight appeared between Mt. Counsel and Mt. Melaleuca. The Bathurst Range was in its full glory to the east, as was the Melaleuca Range to the west. In the distance to the north we could see the Melaleuca Inlet and Bathurst Harbour. Not a bad view for a short, easy uphill walk.

We said our goodbyes to Barbara and Peter, and invited them to join us for a meal aboard Adagio, to be arranged at a later date, given their busy schedule. We would communicate via email to the Gowlands in Hobart who can reach the Wilsons by satellite phone, and then back to us by email. It sounded like a good plan. Our mobile phone reception had ended about two hours travel south of Hobart, so there was no chance of it working in this remote area.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Another sunny morning after a night of brilliant stars. A cold front was approaching from the west, so while the tracks were still dry, it was time for us to stretch our legs and tackle the climb up the ridge towards the summit of 2520 foot high Mt. Rugby. This peak with its polished granite crags dominates the west end of the Bathurst Channel, as its slopes fall steeply into the water. Allegro carried us to the first cove to the east of Starvation Bay where we anchored her safely and changed out of our jelly sandals into our hiking boots. We did not see the faded pink ribbons tied to shrubbery on either side of the entrance to the formed track, and began our climb through the virgin coastal heath, unavoidably tredding on Forked Sundew plants and pushing aside Pink Swamp Heath plants in full bloom. Happily, this detour gave us a better view of the local wildflowers than was visible from the formed track which we joined about half way up the ridge. The track skirted a steep canyon filled with a Dr. Seuss form of tall tufted eucalyptus trees, and climbed steeply at times through a scrub of Tea trees and Banksia, with the beautiful white Heath blossoms all around us. The views of the Bathurst Channel and Harbour spread below us and challenged our photographic abilities. Adagio’s mast first appeared from behind Eve Point, and as we approached the top of our track, was in full view swinging at anchor in Clyte Cove, appearing very small among the hills and mountains. At about 1575 feet we were ready to make our way back down, as the track had become very muddy and slippery. We have admiration for the hikers who carry full packs as they travel along these trails.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

The weather had warmed, so we planned to make our own breeze by traveling in Allegro on an exploratory trip up the Spring River, at the north end of Joe Page Bay. Our topo map and cruising guide showed a meandering channel, but we were unable to follow it, running aground several times in one foot of water. We made our way far enough up river to enjoy the forest views, but returned to Adagio disappointed. We felt better that afternoon when two kayakers told us that they, too, had grounded trying to find the channel. They also told us that a better channel was to be found going up Old River in the northeast corner of Bathurst Harbour.

There was a magnetic anomoly to the northeast of White Point in the SW corner of Bathurst Harbour where Barbara and Peter had anchored Rallinga and dinghied ashore to cut firewood. We left a bag full of wheat-free ingredients for Barbara on board. Barbara had explained her allergy to wheat during our lunchtime conversation.

Two kayakers from Hobart, part of Andy’s Kayak Crew, came to ask for assistance contacting Morrie on the fishing boat La Golondrina. They asked us to tell him over VHF radio that the kayakers will be waiting for him to pick them up at Bramble Cove as soon as weather permits. The kayakers’ VHF radio was low on batteries so not turned on. After trying unsuccessfully to raise La Golondrina on the VHF radio, I sent an email to the Gowlands to pass the message via Tasmar Radio. Margaret and Gordon replied that they knew Morrie well, and had communicated the message.

Friday, February 15, 2002

We returned to beautiful Moulters Inlet to wait out two cold fronts associated with deepening lows which were passing to the south of Tasmania. We felt comfortable anchored in 2-1/2 metres of water, far from the shore. The winds blew in the 30’s when the first front arrived, possibly stronger because it was accelerated over the top of Mt. Fulton to windward of our position. The winds settled down and changed directions numerous times, accompanied by rain over night. Our log entry reads: ‘Wind steady 30’s, with gusts near 40. Some rain beginning. Brown waves all around.’

The weather situation was reported as: ‘A weakening cold front embedded in a west/northwest airstream is moving east/southeast at 30 knots away from Tassie A second Low of 982 lies to the southwest and is moving east at 30/35 knots, bringing 30/45 knot winds from SW/NW with its associated cold front.’
The weather forecast was: ‘Gale warning for a region to the SW of Tasmania, which will approach the SW corner of the state during the day, bringing possible strong winds late Sunday or early Monday.’

The weather faxes that we had been studying over the past few days showed a pattern of westerlies settling in, reinforced by upper level winds. Consequently, a series of cold fronts was traveling on the westerly winds like a magic carpet, bringing a long period of windy and rainy weather. We decided to make our way out of Port Davey, around the South West Cape and as far up into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel as we could before the next cold front arrived. Doing so now would give us the opportunity to continue on north to Hobart when the weather eased. Otherwise, we could find ourselves ‘stuck’ in the beautiful South West wilderness area for several more weeks, and we were running low on fresh produce. Also we had several appointments in Hobart next week, that we did not want to miss.

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2002

We raised anchor in Moulters Inlet at 0800 hours, and motored across Bathurst Harbour, the full length of Bathurst Channel and out into Port Davey. The easterly winds ranged from 15 to 20 knots, and the SW swells turned to SE as we passed through the Maatsuyker Island group. So we found ourselves bashing into easterly winds and swells. At 1640 hours, Steve made the following log entry:

‘TWS up to 24/25 – slamming into wave backs every 3 or 4 minutes, wing slams every 10 min. Glad Adagio is a dry boat!’

After listening to the 7:45 PM weather report from Tasmar Radio, we notified them that our present location was abeam of Recherche Bay and would put in to Port Esperance for the night. We arrived after dark, and carefully made our way to an anchorage south of the fisherman’s wharf for the town of Dover, setting our anchor at 10:30 PM. Bless Adagio’s radar! It had been a long day, and we were pleased to have good protection from the forecast westerly winds.

Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002

The morning weather report was: ‘A deepening low lies to the SW of Tassie sending a fast moving front towards the west coast.’ The weather forecast was: ‘Tasman I. to SE Cape: Gale Warning: northerlies 20 to 30 knots, reaching 35 knots offshore. 15 to 25 knot southwesterly change later in the day, 20-30 tonight.
‘Derwent: Northerlies 15-25 knots, turning northwesterly mid-day, reaching 30 knots at times tonight.
‘Storm Bay and Channel: Gale warning: northerlies at 15-25. 30 knots in open waters. Northwesterlies 15-25 mid-day, 20-30 tonight.
‘Thurs: westerlies 25-35, 40 in the north, 45 in the south
‘Fri: SW 15-25, 30 in the south and SE as a ridge approaches.
‘Swell forecast: SW coast 5-7 metres.’

Over the next two days, a vigorous southwesterly airstream continued over the area, bringing Gale Warnings to most of coastal Tasmania. Storm Warnings were forecast for the north west coast and for the area north and east of a rapidly deepening low pressure system that was approaching from the southwest and sending a vigorous cold front towards the Tasmanian west coast. The enforced isolation gave us time to complete the editing of some of the videos we have made over the past year and a half. We watched a wicked looking roll cloud make its way up the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, just two nautical miles to the east of where we were anchored, as the strong cold front arrived. Full rainbows appeared several times each afternoon forming an archway over the entrance to the Bay.

Friday, Feb. 22, 2002

This morning’s weather forecast was for the swells to decrease and the winds were forecast to be from a southerly direction, so we decided to leave our sheltered anchorage in Port Esperance and poke our bows out into the Channel to have a go at getting back to Hobart before nightfall. ‘Esperance’ means ‘hope’ in French, and the three islands we passed as we exited the bay are named Faith, Hope and Charity.

The seas in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel were on our quarter until they went flat as we passed the entrance to the Huon River. The land to the southwest gave us shelter from wind and seas and a comfortable trip. We were tied up at the Motor Yacht Club of Tasmania in Lindisfarne by 4:00 PM. It was good to be back in Hobart, with our computer full of new photos and our minds full of fond memories of the awesome Tasmanian wilderness.

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