30 March - 3 April 2006 Sea Kayaking at Bathurst Harbour, Tasmania Photos
Maps: The marine chart of the area is a requirement for paddling, but Melaleuca 4219 1:25000 and Rugby 4220 1:25000 topographic maps cover the area

It was great to be able to fit a trip to Tasmania in between other commitments.  Roaring 40's Ocean Kayaking advertised in Wild magazine no 98, late 2005.  I'd done a half day paddle with them from Kettering on 27 Nov 02 and flown in to Melaleuca with Par Avion on 16 Aug 98, so had an idea of what was involved.  A couple of emails, an EFT-ed deposit, a couple of internet plane tickets and some accommodation was quickly organised.  The payback (hours of gardening for my wife) will take longer.

In early March I ran into a mate who had just opened a gym under the Weston Club near Cooleman Court.  I gave him 4 weeks to make something of my weak upper body, so visited him a few times a week around 6am in preparation for the trip.

Some anxious moments on Tuesday afternoon as the weather forecast worsened.  It was no, yes, stop, go via several phone calls until it was organised to insert us on Thursday evening rather than Friday morning.


Day 1: Thursday 29 April Fly Canberra to Hobart; Cambridge to Melaleuca

A lazy time flying Canberra to Sydney, then Sydney to Hobart.  After that, the day became a little more exciting.

Kim, the owner of Roaring 40's Ocean Kayaking, met me at Hobart airport and drove me to the Par Avion base at Cambridge airport.  All action from that point on, as gear was transferred to dry bags and extra booties, fleece, spray jacket and life jacket collected.  Met Toby and Tim, our guides; Emma who was helping out; and Rob and Julie, Greg and Rob, my fellow adventurers.  So our party was 8 strong.  Our gear was loaded into the back of a 10-seater Par Avion plane (an Islander, specifically designed for short takeoff and landing, so a Missionary Aviation Fellowship friend tells me) and I quickly put my hand up to share the driving (hands off, knees out of the way) with the pilot.

The weather forecast was not good and deteriorating, hence the rush/good fortune of extra time to get us in.  We flew in the usual route over Hobart and Mt Wellington, past Mt Picton, with views to the distant S to the back of Precipitous Bluff, to the awesome cut in the Arthurs.  They certainly have some hills in Tasmania.  We flew over Federation Peak (see photo 1), probably the closest I'll ever get to it.  Fabulous views along the Western Arthurs on my side of the plane.  Then down the New River to Bathurst Harbour, with a left turn towards Melaleuca and banking over the South Coast Track as it heads across the plain to Cox Bight.  A roar of engines and we were down, the airstrip being just the right length (not too much to spare!).

It was about 6pm, so after unloading our personal and group gear (see photo 2), we loaded it all into a cart and wheel barrows and headed to the public walkers huts.  We had the place to ourselves.

There was time for a poke about the area whilst our faithful guides turned chefs.  I revisited the bird hide (no orange-bellied parrots at this time of the year), the King's 'Melaleuca' property (an upright piano to be seen through the window of their home; a beautiful Huon Pine in the centre of the buildings; the boathouse with the clever pulley and weight system to keep the large dinghy steady no matter what tide; the studio with a nice painting on an easel; the jetty on Moth Creek); down to the public jetty on Melaleuca Creek; back to the airstrip and the signage to the start of the Port Davey Track at the NW end and the South Coast Track at the SE end (I wonder if I'll ever get to walk those?).

And so to the first of a series of culinary delights - camembert and biscuits greeted us, and a modicum of red wine to be taken from 500ml insulated mugs, each of a different colour, which were to be ours for the adventure and the rest of our lives.  Then quiche and salad, followed by date cake and cream.  Coffee and a little more red wine.

To bed on very comfy plastic covered mattresses - a cut above the bunks in the huts on the Overland Track.

Day 2: Paddle Melaleuca to standing camp; Celery Top Islands; Claytons

It rained and blew during the night, setting the scene for much of our trip.  We rose at 7am to showers (from the sky, not hot for the body).  Our good guides must have been up earlier, as we breakfasted on fresh fruit, muesli, fruit toast and plunger coffee.

We barrowed our gear to the airstrip shelter and whilst Toby and Emma took the group gear to the jetty, Tim issued us with skirts (neoprene oval-ly shapes hanging from braces which we wore under our shells and which watertight sealed us into the kayak cockpit when stretched round the opening and rubber ring attached - that's a pretty non-tech description); left-handed or right-handed paddles (yes, there is a difference); and gave us paddling technique and safety instructions.  With my half day, 3 and a half year back experience, I seemed to be up with the best of them!

Off down to the jetty on Melaleuca Creek (see photo 3) where we loaded our craft.  Group gear in the middle hatch and personal gear (contained in the dry bags) in the forward and rear hatches.  I gladly accepted being paired with Tim and was happy for him to take the rear - engine room and rudder - seat where he had to keep in time with my irregular paddling rhythm. Our home on the water was the lovely purple model (see photo 4).  The decks of the kayaks were variously festooned with pumps, sponges, maps, towing kits, deck bag and water bottles - things both necessary for immediate safety reasons and comfort (!!), and stuff that didn't fit anywhere else.

The 2-person kayaks are surprisingly stable (no-one fell in or capsized) and we all soon felt quite at home as we paddled down Melaleuca Creek and out into Melaleuca Inlet.  I actually didn't take any snaps on this day, as the weather was pretty foul and I didn't want to ruin my camera.  But many photo ops were missed and I had it with me on the other days.  A paddle of around 6 km saw us at the Roaring 40's standing camp on the shores of Forest Lagoon.  It was the same area I'd visited on 16 Aug 1998, now owned by Roaring 40's rather than Par Avion.  We landed at the beach and, after unloading group and personal gear, quickly went to our allocated tents - palatial affairs (see photo 5) with full height standing room set up for 2 occupants.  Our group dynamics left me with the luxury of single accommodation, so I made a pigsty of the place.

It was great to change into dry clothes and enjoy lunch in the marvellous kitchen/dining shelter.  The whole standing camp is excellent - sheltered, with accommodation tents, beach area, landing (for larger craft), dining shelter all joined by boardwalks to protect the environment.  (Once the tents are pulled down for the off-season, even the platforms are lifted and stored in the permanent dining shelter to allow the vegetation a chance to recover.  And not a plethora of animals around the kitchen - the company is very careful of scraps and does NOT feed the wildlife.)

But we were here to paddle despite the weather, so it was back into wet clothes (well, my shorts and bottom of my shirt - by osmosis, skirt, shell and booties) and off to visit the Celery Top Islands (see photo 6).  Around 8km, with every season in the afternoon.  Rainy and sunny, but mainly windy and wet.  We were nearly surfing in the kayaks at one stage.  The islands are unique, in that they have not been burnt.  We landed at a little beach on the largest island and waited whilst a fierce squall with hail came over.  A walk of a few tens of metres to see a large Celery Top pine which, because of its size, would be up to 600 years old.  We saw sea eagles during the afternoon, as well as black squalls and a few sunny patches.

We then paddled across to Claytons Corner and visited the Claytons hut, originally built by one of the pioneers of the area and now maintained by a volunteer group.  It had recently had a facelift, with interior ply walls still smelling of freshly applied Lindseed oil.  Dressed in my booties, skirt and lifejacket (as well as Gortex shell) - to keep me warm, we walked a short distance to Spot Height 37 (that's the shortest SH I've ever 'climbed'!)  for excellent views over Bathurst Harbour and to the Celery Top Islands we just circumnavigated and S to Forest Lagoon.

Back to camp and a change into warm, dry clothes and a cuppa.  Dinner was bikkies and dip, calamari, rice and freshly prepared salad, baked fruit pie and cream.  There was enough red wine for all, a little port and real coffee.  The kitchen is all stainless steel - sink fed from a rain water tank and draining into a pit beneath the concrete floor, benches, oven, gas rings powered by a large gas cylinder - a great workplace for guides cum chefs!.  As we sat in the Perspex-covered dining area, eating with stainless steel cutlery from white china plates, lit by battery powered lanterns (as well as mood candles), the hail, rain and wind continued outside.  I think I was the party-pooper and went to bed at 8.45pm - to my stretcher with Therm-a-Rest mattress, having cleaned my teeth in supplied bottled water, in case the harmless wrigglies in the tank water offended me.

We had certainly bonded as a group by this stage - whether it was the red wine or the egalitarian participation or the excellent facilitation by our guides or the shared labour of paddling or the sore muscles, I don't know.

Day 3: Paddle Bathurst Narrows; walk the flanks of Mt Rugby

It rained and blew pretty hard during the night.  However 8am we were breakfasting on pancakes and maple syrup and hot, fresh stewed fruit with brewed coffee, and muesli.  Toby used the satellite phone each morning to obtain the weather report (and no doubt report that his clients were all alive and had not yet mutinied).  Today's report was for wind gusts to 30 knots.  We believed him, as it was still raining and windy, even in the sheltered camp site.

We changed into our wet gear and were advised to pack our sleeping bag and a change of clothes into dry bags, in case we were marooned during the day.  We paddled away from the beach across Forest Lagoon, heading around Nixson Point (see photo 7) into the Bathurst Narrows and towards the dominant land feature of the area, Mt Rugby.  There were brief patches of sun, but lengthy periods of wind and rain.  The best squall whipped up the water in sprays a metre high.  We had a brief stop as we turned into the Narrows, then paddled on to Farrell Point on the north side of the Narrows.

Farrell Point is the northern crossing point of Bathurst Harbour for the Port Davey walking track.  A tiny beach lies on the sheltered NE side of the point and houses a dinghy on the top of a slipway.  A similar dinghy is housed 150m across the Narrows at Joan Point.  I certainly wouldn't have attempted the crossing in the conditions today, even allowing for working out the logic of 3 crossings to, as the signage says, "Important Please leave one boat on each side of crossing".  Toby and Tim told us of instances when both dinghies have been left on the one side (necessitating a swim) and of them happening (by chance, during a kayaking trip) on walkers who were not strong rowers, drifting in strong conditions several hundreds of metres away from the crossing, and requiring towing/ferrying via kayak to their destination!

However, today we moved the dinghy temporarily aside, erected a tarp and enjoyed lunch (only plastic plates and cutlery when away from camp) of soup followed by ham, salami and salad, with tea and coffee.  We also walked a few tens of metres from the sheltered site towards Spot Height 20 to enjoy fabulous views W towards the entrance to Port Davey.  A paddle of around 7.5km to this point, making the day around 15km.

We next headed E back up the Narrows to Starvation Bay (we couldn't understand that nomenclature!).  It contained a little isle-let (see photo 8).  Our aim was to land and climb towards Mt Rugby and some grand waterfall drops which were visible on its flanks.  Our first attempt was aborted as the heavy tea-tree vegetation prevented us penetrating more than 50 or so metres.  We paddled a little distance around the shore and headed on foot towards Spot Height 2 (!).  It was open heath-land ridges from here and a track led us NE then NW up to around 200m for a distance of 1 km.  It was incredible to encounter hundreds of fresh water crayfish holes in the wet soil.  They live in the burrows, where at bedrock a few cm down, they encounter the water table in this moist climate.  We saw one (which its discoverer dropped before I could photograph it).  Toby also pointed out Club Moss, a tiny little plant which, in the time of the dinosaurs, grew 20m high.  Absolutely fabulous views (see photo 9).  Mt Rugby behind us to the N, the Bathurst Channel and Bathurst Narrows running to Bathurst Harbour in front of us from W to E, Melaleuca Inlet to the S and the Celery Top Islands to the SE.  Our guides pointed out the forested areas - usually concentric rings with tea-tree on the outside, then eucalypt, with temperate rain forest in the middle.  The open heath areas are due to fires - natural and Aboriginal burn-offs.  It is thought that much of SW Tasmania might return to temperate rain forest - within thousands of years.

We returned to water level and our kayaks and paddled towards home against the wind.  Two boats ran aground in the fast flowing shallow water of Gull Reef and Tim had to alight to push them off.  A long, hard slog home.

It was nice to stand up, stretch and change into dry, warm, layer upon layer of clothes.  Even nicer was the camembert, smoked salmon and biscuits and Freycinet Peninsula Spring Vale merlot (courtesy of Rob and Julie who had been travelling Tasmania the days prior to our adventure).  Dinner was a hot sausage and spiced couscous, with warmed beans in peanut sauce.  With cask red following the merlot, I forget what the dessert was!  I was wise and retired early.

Day 4: Paddle to Claytons; climb Mt Beattie; return to Melaleuca and fly back to Hobart

We'd decided to leave our watches on old time the previous night and, with the sat phone check saying the homeward flight would leave at 5pm, we had an extra 2 hours in the day after we'd adjusted our watches for the end of daylight savings.  Breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and muesli, toast and coffee.  We packed up and cleaned up and left by a bit after 9am.

There was a longer burst of sun as we left, so we paddled the short distance back to Claytons without our shells.  Here we changed into more suitable footwear for the 2.5km and 276m climb to Mt Beattie, first through wind protecting forest, then out onto open heath land.  As we climbed higher the views opened up (see photo 10) to be as excellent as the previous day.  Snow in the distance on the tops of the Western Arthurs.  We returned to Claytons for lunch of chips, soup, ham and salad and a cuppa.  The bathroom of the home was interesting - a small tree limb lay from plug hole to rim in the bath, accompanied by a sign "Leave stick in bath for quolls to escape".

Our adventure was drawing to a close.  We packed up for the last time and paddled towards home, across Forest Lagoon, past the camp site and up Melaleuca Inlet.  The weather remained overcast, but it was more sheltered in the Inlet - excellent reflections from the calm water (see photos 11 and 12).  Near the entrance to Melaleuca Lagoon we saw the Sea Explorer, the vessel used by Par Avion for cruises in the area.  We also passed the 'Ralinga' - the boat used by the Wilsons with the tin mining lease by the airstrip.  With a little time available, we paddled across Melaleuca Lagoon and up Moth Creek to view the King's property from the water.  A last shower to remind us of the usual weather in the SW.

And so back to our starting point.  We'd heard a plane come in and with the overcast weather and low cloud base, hurried to unpack and clean the kayaks.  The smaller plane had brought gear and guide for the next Sea Explorer trip.  We barrowed all our gear to the airstrip shelter and our trusty guides packed the group gear into the smaller plane.  Whether to stir us (I think not, but it did) or as a precaution because of the poor weather, the tea making gear was unpacked, but then repacked as a larger plane landed with the Sea Explorer clients.  We stood back, not only to give them a clear run, but they were in a different (paying) class to us.  A quick load - no time for many group photos by the plane - and away around 5.15pm into the cloud and mist.  Shrouded, but magnificent, views as we flew across the S of Tasmania, then up the Channel via Hobart to Cambridge.

We sorted and repacked our gear.  Quick good-byes to excellent friends and guides, as a suggested dinner date did not get off the ground.  Kim dropped me first at my overnight accommodation - good-byes to fellow adventurers.

I must have looked and certainly smelt a bit like a hobo as I checked in.  To a nice room overlooking the Hobart docks.  What was my order of needs/wants - in the end I decide fish and chips from a punt at the docks, a brisk walk to obtain nearby liquid refreshment, a 30 minute shower and change of clothes and doze on the bed in front of the TV, waking at midnight to go to sleep.

Day 5: Fly back to Canberra from Hobart

A sleep in, another shower and shave, late checkout, wander around Hobart (including a visit to all the outdoor shops), lunch behind Salamanca Place, plenty of time to read, flight leaving 5pm and home by 8pm.  A thoughtful presso (if I do say so myself) of the Dusty Springfield original tracks for my beautiful wife who lets me wander off.

Summary:  Great Roaring 40's company, organisation, guides, setup, experience, group of people!  I'd recommend this adventure to anyone.  When I stop and think, I'm a little torn - sitting at a table, eating excellent tucker from white china plates whilst gazing into the pristine bush doesn't seem to be exactly a wilderness experience.  Yet this is really the only efficient way to get into the area and have use of the boats.  It certainly gives one a consciousness of the extreme value of conservation.  It was so sad to see the devastation of the logged coups as we flew overhead on the trip home.

1 Federation Peak fly over
2 Melaleuca Airstrip
3 The adventure starts from here - Melaleuca Creek
4 Home away from home
5 Palatial accommodation
6 Celery Top Islands Bathurst Harbour
7 Paddling by Nixson Point towards Mt Rugby
8 Bonsai island in Starvation Bay
9 View W down Bathurst Channel towards the Breaksea Islands
10 Bathurst Narrows from Mt Beattie
11 Reflections in Melaleuca Inlet
12 Is this photo the right way up
13 Hobart docks from my recovery room