A three-day cruise around Bathurst Harbour, in Tasmania’s remote southwest wilderness, takes you into a wondrous world far removed from everyday life.
Where is Bathurst Harbour? I had to look it up on a Google map when I first heard about an upcoming cruise there, and discovered it is part of the Port Davey Marine Reserve, in Tasmania’s vast Southwest National Park. Hardy hikers know the challenging 85-kilometre South Coast Track that runs between Cockle Creek and Melaleuca, but Tasmanian Boat Charters’ seaborne eco-adventures is a first for the region.
We arrive at Melaleuca’s white quartzite landing strip on a 10-seater plane after an hour’s scenic, if occasionally bumpy, flight from Hobart’s Cambridge Airport. The company’s guest guide, Peter Marmion, who will accompany our trip, greets our group of six journos plus a top Melbourne chef.
Before we head up Melaleuca Inlet to meet our boat, Odalisque, Peter takes us on a walk through button-grass plains dotted with purple melaleuca flowers to a bird hide that was made by the same man who built the landing strip, the late Deny King. We spot a couple of the endangered Orange Bellied Parrots that King was so passionate about protecting, while Peter fills us in on King’s extraordinary life as a tin miner, explorer and environmentalist in this largely uninhabited wilderness.
We board a jet boat at the tiny jetty and Odalisque’s owner and skipper, Pieter van der Woude, whisks us along the inlet to a sheltered spot in Bathurst Harbour where our vessel awaits. The 20-metre Odalisque has three double cabins plus single bunks and sleeps up to 10. There’s a light, spacious open saloon/dining area, big galley (where chef Zac Shearer produces some truly magical meals) and three large outside decks for sightseeing, photography or sunset barbecues. There’s even Moo Broo on tap, along with supplies of excellent Tasmanian wines.
Three days of exploring Bathurst Harbour – which is three times the size of Sydney Harbour – is an otherworldly experience. The weather can, and does, change by the minute (it’s not called the Roaring Forties for nothing). Rugged mountain ranges are reflected in tranquil, tannin-rich waterways and the sense of isolation and absolute quiet is profound.
Every day there are bracing hikes up windy peaks – Mount Beattie, Balmoral Hill, Mount Milner – as well as beach walks and bird-watching trips in Odalisque’s tender boats. The birdlife is astonishing; Piet and two journalists who are avid birders identify hard-to-spot green rosellas, honey-eaters, thrush shrikes and beautiful firetails. Great cormorants, sea eagles and black swans also make their presence known.
Local human history is equally fascinating and Peter Marmion is a font of information. We see Aboriginal middens and cave drawings that date back some 35,000 years, wander around the restored cottage of pioneering 20th-century residents Clyde and Win Clayton and hear the tragic story of would-be hero Critchley Parker Junior, whose grave we visit at a lonely spot beneath Mount Mackenzie.
Over drinks and dinner in the evenings, Peter and Piet regale us with more ripping yarns. Piet’s colourful career is worthy of a fat biography. He was involved in marine search and rescue for the police for 12 years before leaving the force to become an abalone diver and skipper for 25 years. He now works on Antarctic supply ships when not running Tasmanian Boat Charters.
Odalisque’s itineraries are intentionally flexible, governed by the weather and tides or requests from full-boat charterers. Luckily for us, the seas are calm on the day we sail through Port Davey into the Southern Ocean. We pass the aptly named Breaksea Islands on the way to drop anchor off Maatsuyker Island, home to Australia’s southernmost lighthouse. Hundreds of fur seals live among the rocky inlets and we spot elephant seals relaxing languidly among the busy, barking seals.
You can climb Maatsuuyker’s steep cliff and pay a visit to the island’s volunteer caretakers, who spend six months there in splendid isolation, monitoring the weather and maintaining the buildings and bush. This seclusion is not for everyone, but having enjoyed a taste of unalloyed freedom from the noise and relentless pace of city living during this three-day cruise, I now understand the appeal.
HIGHS: Glorious scenery, a knowledgeable, enthusiastic skipper and guide, fabulous food – and having no mobile phone access.
LOWS: You wouldn’t really want to share a cabin other than with a partner or close friend.
BEST SUITED TO: Nature-lovers, boaties, bushwalkers and birders.
STAR RATING: N/A
PASSENGER CAPACITY: 10
TOTAL CREW: 4
PASSENGER DECKS: 2
ENTERED SERVICE: 2014
FACILITIES: Three private cabins, two with ensuites, entertaining and dining area, and three spacious outside decks.
BOOKINGS: Odalisque sails four-, five- and seven-day cruises in Port Davey between February and May. Fares start from $4,800 and include return flights with Par Avion between Hobart’s Cambridge Aerodrome and the Melaleuca airstrip. tasmanianboatcharters.com.au