It was with some apprehension that I planned this journey, knowing that first we’d have to deal with the notorious conditions of Bass Strait, and then master the potentially huge rolling waves of the Southern Ocean in addition to the winds of the Roaring 40s.
We sailed out of the heads of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay on a glorious summer morning, surrounded by patterns of delicate circles that form on the surface between the tides. On clearing the entrance into Bass Strait, a pod of bottlenose dolphins swam and played alongside the yacht as if to wish us well for our journey across the Strait.
We reached Cape Grim on Tasmania’s far north western coast as darkness fell. This is where the freshest air in the world blows, straight from Antarctica, with nothing in its way to taint it.
Tasmania’s west coast is sparsely populated and at times harsh and unforgiving. We spent the night tacking down the coast in almost complete darkness, with the exception of an occasional lighthouse beacon ora surprisingly bright light that we later discovered was a boat fishing for squid. At the first light of morning, we spotted 20 or so holiday houses and shacks – welcome to Granville Harbour, one of few towns on the west coast.
The entrance to Macquarie Harbour on the central west coast is notoriously shallow, narrow and tricky to manoeuvre. It was named Hell’s Gates by convicts aboard ships transporting them to the penal colony of Sarah Island located in the harbour. We passed through on an appropriately cold and cloudy morning at sunrise, eager to get to Risby Cove near the charming town of Strahan.
After a hearty meal at the local pub and replenishing our supplies, we motored 30km up the Gordon River to the Sir John Falls. For the next few days, we enjoyed almost exclusive use of the landing there and explored the upper reaches of the Gordon and Franklin Rivers. At night, the silence was only broken by the occasional distant birdcall. The mornings were misty and cold, clearing to reveal magnificent reflections on the water.
Continuing from Macquarie Harbour down the mountainous south-west coast, we anchored in Port Davey, near the Davey River entrance in the World Heritage Area. Here, we motored in the inflatable up the Davey to the spectacular first and second gorges, at times having to lift the tender over the shallows that separate them. Our only travel companions were flocks of black swans that would take flight at the first sight of us.
We also spent a few days exploring Bathurst Channel and Harbour, Melaleuca and Moulters Inlets and went for a trip up Old River. The landscape here is dominated by Mount Rugby and reminded me of the Scottish Highlands.
Leaving several days later before dawn, we passed the East Pyramids, headed into the Southern Ocean and rounded Southwest Cape by breakfast time. Sailing along the southern-most tip of Tasmania with a large 3-4m swell and a gentle breeze behind us, we passed between islands with Dutch names like Maatsuyker and De Witt. By late afternoon, we had rounded South East Cape and anchored in the protected waters of Recherche Bay.
For us, the highlights of the south-east coast were the beautiful D’Entrecasteaux Channel, with its numerous protected bays, the west coast of Bruny Island and the little towns of Southport, Dover and Kettering.
We experienced the wild and rugged coast from Cape Raoul to Port Arthur on Tasman Island, then sailed north past Fortescue Bay and some of the highest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere. There was a magical moment near Maria Island in which we were accompanied by dozens of dolphins and a flock of shearwaters – a flock so large that it took 20 minutes for them to pass over us. From there, we sailed to the fabulous Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island, where we anchored in the incomparably pristine waters of Wineglass Bay. This area offers truly one of Australia’s great sailing experiences.
On the last leg of our journey around the Apple Isle, we sailed up the east coast past Bay of Fires and on through Banks Strait.
As we sailed once again into Bass Strait, the forecast changed from fine to strong and then to gale force. After nearly being washed ashore at Trousers Point on the south-west coast of Flinders Island, we took refuge at sheltered Killiecrankie Bay further north on the island. Running low on fresh water, but with a 3kg crayfish and our supply of wine holding up, we waited for the gale-force winds to pass before re-stocking our supplies, including some wallaby and scallop pies from the local bakery.
The beautiful and isolated Kent Group of islands is located between Flinders Island, to the north-east of Tasmania, and Wilsons Promontory on the southernmost point of the Australian mainland. Rising 300m out of the water, the Kent Group is the tip of a range of mountains from a long-submerged land bridge to Tasmania. Deal Island, one of the three main islands in the group, has the highest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere, although it was deactivated in 1992.
The journey from the Kent Group to the entrance of Port Phillip Bay presented one last challenge: the mouth of the bay at Queenscliff. Here, one must navigate the forceful rolling waves by surfing them down and across before entering the calm and safe waters of the bay.