South West Tasmania
Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour
By KEVIN SONGBERG
Four keen paddlers (Kevin Songberg, Simon Wilkes, Mel Kruger and Paul Black) headed to the far South West Wilderness area in Tasmania—self-guided and in for a great adventure. It was one of those trips that was just ‘good for the soul’.
So what made it such a great trip? Was it the rich and diverse landscapes, the amazing weather, the awesome crew, the food and gear—including some nice surprises, the opportunity to really disconnect, or the ability to actually get away and not have COVID throw a curve-ball? The reality was all of the above!
It’s remote county. It requires some good luck and much planning. It’s not the cheapest trip and requires good gear. But if ever you get a chance or the opportunity, and have the gear and skills, we’d highly recommend it.
What was the general route and itinerary?
Having all met up in Hobart and sorted final gear and logistics, we were ready to head for the wilderness. The kayaks with all our gear, along with Paul and Mel, arrived in the area by fishing boat—leaving from Southport for an eleven hour Southern Ocean journey around the bottom of Tasmania and arriving at Bramble Cove. A big thanks to Mel for arranging all that. Kevin and Simon were lucky enough to fly directly from Hobart to Melaleuca with perfect sunny conditions allowing for a fly-by of Federation Peak, the rugged Arthur range, and high up view of Bathurst Harbour.
Travel to Port Davey area, meet up (eventually…phew!)—Simon and Kevin flew in with minimal tiny daypacks and spent a few hours at Melaleuca contemplating what bench they would sleep on in the clothes they were wearing and how they would divide up the one muesli bar they had to share for dinner and breakfast. Unloaded the fishing boat, camped at Bramble Cove.
Short paddle, hike up Mt Stokes for a stunning view over Port Davey. Then paddled out to Port Davey and North Passage, and north through Mavourneen Rocks to Coffin Bay, camping at Coffin Bay.
Morning paddle at Schooner Point exploring all the coastal formations. Late morning and afternoon paddle along the outside of the Breaksea Islands going through most of the amazing sea caves and tunnels as the conditions were unbelievably calm and good. The best day of sea kayaking among the caves. Camped at Spain Bay.
Day walk to Stephens Bay and over to Noyhener Beach, past Aboriginal middens with stone tools and brilliant coastal scenes—then return—all guided by Mel. She was super fit for walking so it was an effort to keep up with her. She inspired the rest of us with her story of recently walking over the mountains and down to South West Cape and out to Melaleuca—we wondered if we could ever keep up with her. Stayed another night at Spain Bay. Kevin went to check out the paddling conditions in the afternoon—the rest of us enjoyed a good book.
Morning paddle into Hannant Inlet and around Lourah Island, then up the inside of the Breaksea Islands and into Bathurst Channel and paddle east. Sailing was mixed success, however we found a great hose/tap along the way. Hiked up Mt Balmoral Hill (best bang for buck), a brief beach short-cut and camping down at Platypus Point.
Mt Rugby climb in calm, clear and sunny weather plus nice temperature—Mel once again leading the charge up and back. Simon went for a relaxed paddle instead. Camped at Claytons.
Explored Bathurst Harbour and the inlets. Kevin decided to add to add a few more hours exploring up into Old River. Camped again at Claytons.
Hike up Mt Beattie, explored around the Celery Top Islands and then headed up the channel to camp at Melaleuca. Paul provided a rewarding insight to the program trying to preserve the endangered orange-bellied parrot which nests at Melaleuca.
Simon flew out to Hobart in yet another perfect sunny day flying along the southern Tasmanian coast, with amazing views inland. Mel, Paul and Kevin paddled back to Bramble Cove.
Boat trip back around the south of Tasmania to Southport. By now the swell has notably increased and when looking at the waves hitting the outside of the Breaksea Islands and surging in the caves at the southern end we appreciated how lucky we were to have paddled in there in such stunning conditions.
Did the plans change or evolve along the way?
Absolutely—to the point of being quite comical when we saw how good the weather conditions were. Taking advantage of particular weather and energy levels, a trip such as this is inevitably going to involve plans evolving along the way—all for the better in our case.
What about the paddling conditions?
This is South West Tasmania, where difficult conditions are to be expected at times. Our difficulty was coping with the virtually good conditions almost all the time. To paddle through the caves and tunnels of the outside face of the Breaksea Islands is a very rare treat. Even paddling in Bathurst Harbour in glassy calm conditions with the mountains reflected in the water was such a neat experience. We had one night of a tiny bit of shower activity but it quickly fined up early in the morning—back to nice weather. About the only real paddling conditions of note was when Kevin returned from Old River and had to cope with side winds and wind waves whilst crossing the middle of Bathurst Harbour (he claimed it was fun). The rest of us thought otherwise in the comfort of the Claytons campsite with tasty snacks, lunch and drinks.
What about gear?
Notably, the Garmin Inreach Mini proved great for picking up weather forecasts, the Jetboil inched ahead of the MSR equivalent stove, the Helinox chairs were a hit, and the marine radio proved to have great battery life.Meanwhile, the satellite phone was present but used as a weight, and the GPS with maps loaded was with us but the navigation was so easy it never even appeared out of the bag. The laminated Port Davey Marine Reserve map was a real winner. It was perfect for all the planning, plan changes, working out what we were looking at with the constant good views, finding locations and generally good dreaming for the next trip
The kayaks also worked well and we were glad we brought our own. Mel had the most luxurious comfy boat. Simon had the best overall expedition boat and felt he could have easily fitted in an extra week or two worth of food. Mel, Paul and Kevin did question him whether there was still enough room for our extra wine and other drinks but he protested about having to carry it on our behalf.Mel (especially) and Paul had a go at using the kayak sails Mel brought. Simon and Kevin just looked at them barely drifting along in the light winds and whilst impressed by their enthusiasm wondered a bit about their sanity in such pleasant sunshine.
Being a well prepared bunch we catered for poor weather but never used any of our wet weather gear or extra warm clothing. We barely touched our first aid kits.What was on the menu?We used plenty of dehydrated food and had lots of warm things to eat, but the real highlights were the desserts that Paul and Simon made—Mel and Kevin suggested they repeat them and also bring other ones for future trips.Breakfasts were either cereal or something warm. Lunches seemed to be either snacks if we were busy, or something more substantial at longer stops. Paul impressed us with his frequent appearance of stove and plunger coffee at most meal stops. The hidden extras that often appeared out of a gear bag were a frequent small delight.