Friday, 6 March 2015

Magnificent Port Davey, Tasmania

Our boats at anchor in Clayton's Corner.
We're back from the Port Davey World Heritage Marine Park.  It's taken us a couple of days to make the journey around the formidable South West and South East Capes, from there up the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, Derwent River and back to our little marina berth.  But it will take the remainder of my life for the magnificence, sheer beauty, and reverence of the experience to leave my mind.  There were so many times that we said to ourselves and out loud, "words cannot describe this .. and photos won't begin to do this justice".  But let me try ...

The trip from Recherche Bay to our first anchorage inside Port Davey's Bathurst Harbour took 10 hours in our boats ... we sailed in company with friends Peter and Debbie on board their yacht 'My Way 2' for the (almost) 2 week adventure.  It was very special having friends along to share the experience ... and some of the difficulties as well.  We were more than delighted they joined us, the place is so vast and the remoteness so confronting at times, it's best shared. 

As we rounded South East Cape first, the scenery opened up into a mystical fairy tale landscape of distant mountains.  Probably the most apt description is it looked like Tolkien's Middle Earth.  We could imagine lands of Elfs and Orcs and Hobbits locked in mystery behind the distant peaks.

Sailing up the  remote South West coast of Tasmania.
The weather wizards were kind to us on the trip around.  We had little to no wind and, instead of the feared wild westerlies and big seas, we had a pleasant sunshine blessed cruise.

Approaching the turn into Port Davey .. you have to navigate around 'The Pyramids' .. large mountainous rocks marking the beginning of the end of the journey. 

Turning to start the run into the large Port Davey area and then the enclosed Bathurst Harbour is deceiving.  The marine chart and the boat's GPS plotter clearly indicate an opening behind the island called 'Breaksea' (named because that's just what it does - it stops some of the potential wild seas from entering the natural harbour).   BUT as you sail towards the turn it's hard to believe the opening is there ... all you can see, or believe, is that you're driving the boat directly at a cliff wall.  Then, just as you think, "hold on, maybe we're in the wrong place", the passage opens up and reveals a wide open sheltered bay at the foot of a mountain called Mt Misery.

Turning into the south passage towards Bramble Cove at the foot of Mt. Misery.
That's Mt Misery straight ahead.
No roads lead to this rugged area.  Access is only by boat, small aircraft or on foot.  Once you've made it there through one of these methods there are many walks up hills/mountains and at the summit of each there are views to die for.  Our guide books gave us an indication of where to find the paths ... none were particularly easy to locate but easy to follow once found.  The paths are narrow tracks - some just described as wombat paths - through the button grass.  Often there was just enough room to put one foot in front of the other hoping to find good footing as we pushed upwards through dense scrub and then break through into the tall button grass again.

Approaching the first summit on Mt Milner .. looking back over Bramble Cove - our first anchorage.
At this point in the climb there were still 2 more summits to walk/climb before the top.
Our two boats are in the top right hand corner of the photo ... you can barely see them in the distance.

At the top!  With a great photo bomb by Debbie!!
Climbers are rewarded with a 360 degree view stretching for miles up & down the coast and across the mountains inland.
In front of us is a little cairn we found at the summit.  It's tradition for visitors to add their own rock to the cairn to mark the achievement.  
Before we left for Port Davey some people told us that the place wasn't as "perfect" as it used to be .. that it was a popular cruising ground with quite a few boats.  Especially this time of year.   Certainly our first week there we didn't find it that way.  There were a few other yachts but not enough to take away our "alone" feeling.  In fact the ruggedness of the area and the sheer size of each natural panorama left me - and each of us - feeling a sense of humbled solitude.  I'm not an expert, but even a general awareness of our world tells me that places like this where the environment retains its untouched majesty and we humans are an insignificant minority are - sadly - getting fewer and fewer.  We started to see more people and boats as we moved to the popular area of Claytons Corner which is, I suppose, most travellers destination for the area but we never felt that the place was at all crowded.  Having said that there is a need, I believe, to remain vigilant to keep the area as pristine and untouched as it is now forever if at all possible.

Anyway, back to the scenery!  Regardless of where we travelled and anchored as we moved down Bathurst Channel there were views of mountains and sea that just made you shout, "Wow!". 

The view from Balmoral Hill and our anchorage at the mouth of Horseshoe Inlet.

Horseshoe inlet in dawn's light.  We took a quiet dingy ride down into the inlet to see the black swans on the water in the early light ... there were hundreds of them quietly sitting on the water.  Once they were aware we were there they kicked up a loud racket and then flocks took to the sky.  The sound of their wings in the quiet of the morning was amazing!
This area was settled and opened up to fishermen, naturalist and walkers primarily by one family - the King family.  I won't go into it here but you can read about Deny King, the fascinating patriarch of the king family, in the book "King of the Wilderness: The life of Deny King" by Christobel Mattingley.  They settled in a place down one of the Bathurst harbour rivers they called Melaleluca.  The river is too shallow for deep draft boats like ours so visiting yachts stay at the area settled by Deny's sister and her husband called Clayton's Corner.  We anchored there for a few days visiting the Clayton's home, climbing the hills and taking the long dingy trip down the river to Melaleluca.

The anchorage at Clayton's corner.  The river leading to Melaleluca is at the top left.

At "home" in the Clayton's little house.
The site is managed by the Tasmanian Maritime Museum and Parks & Wildlife.  There is a small dock in front of the home's path where shallow draft boats can moor up and there is a hose for taking on fresh water. 

Visiting the King site .. beside the airstrip that Deny King built bare handed still in use today.
We visited a couple of hides to hopefully see the very rare orange breasted parrot .. and we did manage to see one!
There are small plane tours that arrive here several times a day - weather permitting - and it's a good opportunity to experience the area without committing to the boat journey.

Not ones to leave any experience undone ... over the next few days we explored the upper areas of some of the rivers.  These expeditions made me a bit apprehensive because we were absolutely "alone" while there just in our dingys with no phone or radio coverage and away from our big boats.

As far as we could go up "Old River".  We travelled up the river looking for an old stand of Huon Pines .. which we never found in spite of the more intrepid members of our group (read everyone but me) taking off into the bushland without a path looking for them.  I stayed in the dingy which I thought was relatively safe from any snakes but as soon as we moved off down the creek a snake swam across our path! 

One day we travelled out of Bathurst Harbour and up into the northern most reaches of Port Davey to explore the Davey River all the way up to the Davey Gorges.  The trip took most of the day.  We had to take both dingys the 5 miles up the river to reach the gorge and along the way we took several wrong turns and ended up bogged in the shallow water.  But just when we thought we were never going to get there we entered the first gorge.  Spectacular!
To reach the second gorge we had to leave our dingy behind because it's too deep, walk over rapids and drag Deb & Peter's dingy and then paddle through the water into the second gorge.  Our "selfie" of the journey .. not too sure what's up with George in this one?

Following our Davey Gorge adventure on Friday we moved back into the protection of Bathurst Harbour and the usual departure bay of Schooner Cove ... hoping to leave Sunday.  The weather was due to turn nasty the next day so we anchored, had dinner and went to bed.  There were 3 other yachts in the cove as well.  That night the winds and rain came with immense ferocity.  The wind blew with a strength that felt like the boat would be pushed off the anchor and blown away.  I know I've never felt wind that strong before.  The next day we heard on the HF radio that the wind strength was over 61 knots - Force 12 -  or, in normal speak, hurricane strength.  Shit.  And the forecast was not looking good for the next 5 days.  At this point I wanted to be in a marina soooo bad.

Sunday, the weather continued to present wind and rain squalls and the weather forecasts over the radio for Monday sounded bad.  In a measure of camaraderie that you get from other boats in this situation there was a lot of introductions and discussion over the radios with people in the cove .. everyone calling on friends on the mainland via sat phones to gain the best possible weather information to help us all decide on the best time to make a run for it along the wild west coast.  The decision came.  We were leaving early on Monday morning.  When we woke to a gale forecast for the Southwest coast and I was not happy but we had decided and along with Peter and Debbie and another boat we departed for Recherche Bay.  At first the waves were large and rolly because the wind had been up for a few days but unexpectedly it settled down and the weather gods smiled large on us ... we ended up motoring all the way around again in settled conditions!  Thank goodness.

On a final note .. I'm so happy we made the effort to get around to this spectacular part of Tasmania.  It is something George and I will never forget and I expect Debbie and Peter feel much the same.  But it is an area that, while so apparently wild and powerful, is in constant danger.  Visitors bring in disease to the plants in the area through root rot carried on the soles of shoes.  Boats bring in parasites through bilge water or grey water contamination. 

A dead area up the remote Davey river from root rot.  So sad to see.

The four of us were committed to taking out everything we brought in - even food scraps that may be tossed overboard for fish elsewhere were all bagged and brought back.  We washed our shoes after every walk and stayed vigilant on waste water .. and the people we met seemed to be doing the same.  But is it enough?  At a time when our economy - the world's economy - is so much at the forefront of everything .. our natural wonders get politicised and monetised.  Having seen and experienced such a special protected corner of the world I sincerely hope all of us - sailors and non-sailors alike - speak up for conservation.