Another Tasmania Report: Macquarie Harbour, Part One (Tasmania, Australia)

Jan – April, 2017

Macquarie Harbor isn’t held with quite the same reverence as Port Davey, but it should be. It, too, is on the dreaded west coast of Tasmania, but more towards the northern end. Unlike Port Davey, it’s an area lush with rainforests.

Macquarie Harbour is large, nearly 20-miles long and 5-miles wide. On the west side is the pretty town of Strahan (pronounced “Straun”), and at the southeast end is the entrance to the Gordon River. In between are several nice anchorages and big fish farms. While this harbor has lots of good reasons to visit, the main tourist attractions are Hell’s Gates and the Gordon River. Below is an interactive map showing where the key points are, including some popular anchorage areas.

Hells Gates
Gordon River
Kelly Basin
Farm Cove
Birchs Inlet
Elizabeth Island

Hell’s Gates is the entrance to this harbor, mostly very shallow, with only one narrow entrance having sufficient depth for vessels to pass through. All that water coming and going from the ocean can make for a pretty wild current. Since we could only enter and exit at slack tide, we never witnessed this big tidal show and wondered what all the fuss was about. Friends who’ve seen it have since assured us it’s really impressive when it’s flowing. Below, a few photos from our ride through Hell’s Gates. As you can see, it wasn’t all that hellish.

Once through the entrance, the first stop for a yacht is generally the town of Strahan. It’s quite small and lies along the waterfront at the base of a hill. It has a few historic buildings, a nice pub, fishing boats, a couple of restaurants, and it used to be a center for logging the Huon pine used to build wooden ships. The pines are no longer cut down but instead old logs are dug up, the wood still good because it pretty much lasts forever in any conditions. In spite of the peaceful and quiet feeling of this little town, it has a fair amount of tourists passing through because it’s the hub for the Gordon River tour boats.

Below, a few photos of Strahan. (Click to enlarge and scroll through any of the photo galleries in this post.)

We rode out a weather system in Strahan, both on a mooring and tied up to the dock, before setting off to do more exploring. What a lovely, pleasant place! One of our favorite things here was the heavily forested walk to Hogarth Falls, not nearly as well publicized as it should be, but I guess the Gordon River overshadows it. Alas, we didn’t spot any of the local platypuses who live in the river, but we did enjoy the beautiful walk and the waterfall. Below, a few photos from the walk.

After a few days, the weather cleared, and we set out explore the Gordon River, which will be the subject of the next Tasmania post. –Cyndi

Two Dives on the Coolidge

August 17, 2017

The SS President Coolidge is one of the most famous wreck dives in the world. Since we’re moored only four miles from the wreck site, we thought we’d take the opportunity to dive it. Here’s some of what we saw…

The water wasn’t as clear as it looks in this video. The clear water was thanks to editing in Photoshop. That’s right. Photoshop will edit videos and you have access to all your favorite photo editing tools.

The video was taken with a really, really crappy first generation GoPro with the lens refocused for underwater use and no color filter. Not bad, huh? I think it’s time for us to get a new UW video camera. Maybe a new-fangled GoPro? Maybe one with an LCD so you can see what you’re shooting?! -Rich

Still (mostly) Out of Touch

August 7, 2017

We’re still mostly out of touch as far as internet goes. This morning, we’re motoring up the east coast of Malakula and we have some internet as we pass by a tower on shore. I thought I’d take this opportunity for an update.

We are having a blast and I am so in love with Vanuatu. We’ve been traveling among beautiful islands and meeting wonderful locals. We’ve had fresh lobster, fish, and wonderful fruit to eat – the fish we caught but the other stuff mostly bought from locals for very little money.

We’ve attended shows and feasts and festivals at island villages and watched the native dances. My favorite was this “audience participation” small nambas dance…

Do you recognize one of the dancers? More soon. -Rich

Out of Touch

July 28, 2017

We’re out cruising in Vanuatu in places without much internet access. We
have just enough internet rays to send and receive email (if we wait a long
time!) but not enough for a real blog post.

Currently, we’re in Lamin Bay on Epi Island. We love it here. It’s
beautiful and the people are wonderful, but we could say that about every
place we’ve visited so far in this amazing country!

More when we find better internet. -Rich

More Cruising Hardships

July 17, 2017

Cyndi soaking in the pool (with a drink) while she thinks about what to write in the blog post below about Port Davey in Tasmania. So much thinking! So much remembering!

Iririki Resort about 100 meters from where we were moored in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Our Next Tasmania Report: Port Davey (Tasmania, Australia)

Jan – April, 2017

As I mentioned before, Port Davey is considered the jewel in the crown of cruising Tasmania. Its remote location is considered really difficult to get to. Aussies in general consider Tasmania a wild and dangerous place for a boat, while Tasmanians themselves consider the trip to Port Davey a wild and dangerous place for a boat. Thus, making the trip to Port Davey is considered, danger-wise, like doing a great white shark dive without a cage.

The reality: this can be a nasty piece of ocean, but if you make the trip in the dead of summer and wait for a good weather window, even the Little Girls on Legacy can manage it. We motored to Port Davey in calm seas, little to no wind, on a warm sunny day.

My initial expectations about Port Davey had been formed by the remarks of other people, saying it’s a wild and remote place. I pictured giant trees and thick rainforests, but I was wrong. Although it does have forests, much of it is rather tundra-esque.

It’s definitely an exotic place, featuring a 7-mile long channel that runs, fjord-like, amid hills and mountains. The far end of the channel opens up into a large body of water called Bathurst Harbour which is much like a lake. Off this lake is another very narrow channel, about 3 miles long, which leads to Melaleuca, a large flat area of land with an old homestead, a small airstrip, and rare Orange-bellied parrots. Below, an interactive map of the area.

Bathurst Harbour
Bathurst Channel
Bathurst Narrows
Port Davey, Outer Harbour

This area is ruggedly beautiful, but what makes it most special is the water: very clear and very dark–black where it’s deep and amber in the shallows because of the high tannin content (which leaches into the water from the area’s vegetation).

The dark tannic fresh water sits over a layer of clear saltwater. Some marine species that normally live deep in the ocean are also able to live here because of the layer of black water above. This is the only place in the world like this. The other thing the dark water does is beautifully reflect the mountains above it. When it’s still it creates a remarkable mirror image.

I will mention I wasn’t completely convinced ahead of time that we’d love this place as photos don’t really capture the feeling of it. It looked very rugged and remote, almost barren in some areas. Being here, though, has a feeling peace and beauty that doesn’t come through in photos. We spent about a week there, and it definitely lived up to the hype.

While being here on a boat is fantastic, it’s also possible to take a package tour, flying in by small plane, then getting to ride in one of the small boats they use to show visitors the area. They also offer dive trips that go under the black water layer to see the very strange marine life. Or, after you fly in, they can drop you at one of the hiking trails. Bottom line: you don’t need to have your own boat to experience Port Davey. Below, a few photos from our time here (click to enlarge/scroll).–Cyndi

More Cruising Hardships!

July 14, 2017

Today’s hardship: Having to wait in the VIP lounge for the movie to start…

Tane Cine’ Lounge

And having to choose from all the available recliners!…

Tane Cine’ in Port Vila, Vanuatu

At least we had wine to help us through the indignities…

All kidding aside, we really like the theaters we’ve found in the South Pacific with VIP seating. This one was kind of expensive (about $37 US for the two of us) but it’s a well-worth-it break from real life.

We saw the new Mummy movie with Tom Cruise. It was good entertainment, especially with a glass of wine! -Rich

A Long-Overdue Tasmania Report from Cyndi (Tasmania, Australia)

Jan – April, 2017

Someday we’ll do in-depth blog posts about Tasmania, but for now I just wanted to do a few general posts for anyone who’s interested, to give an idea of what cruising Tasmania’s like and why we loved it. I’ve done one post so far touching on some of the east and south coasts, and a bit of Hobart (here).┬áNow, finally, here’s the next one (two or three more will follow).

After three wonderful weeks spent sightseeing and eating our way through Hobart–the pizza! the burgers! the seafood (damn)! the bread (that good)! the cheese (France has nothing on Tasmania)! the beer (Moo Brew and Denzel Frothington are big faves)! the wine (Tassie makes excellent ones)! the produce (including eating fresh wild blackberries picked from bushes that grew alongside sidewalks)!, the Asian noodles!, and other foods to numerous to mention–we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from this beautiful, historic city and garden of culinary delights.

Sightseeing highlights in and around Hobart were many, including touring wineries in Coal Valley, visiting beautiful Mount Field national park, going to the top of impressively-high Mount Wellington overlooking Hobart, and seeing the MONA museum which exceeded our expectations (and is one of maybe two museums in the world that hasn’t bored the heck out of Rich).

After Hobart, the next phase of our trip began when we traveled down the 25-mile long D’Entrecasteaux Channel. It’s a waterway that lies between the southeast coast of Tasmania and a long, hilly island called Bruny Island.

For those who live in Hobart, this well-loved cruising ground is the go-to place for boating trips. It’s well protected from sea conditions, has lots of anchorages, pretty towns, the lovely Huon River, and it benefits from Hobart’s pleasant summer climate: warm, sunny and rather dry. Between the green and mountainous west side of the channel and drier, hilly and grassy Bruny Island, there’s something for everyone.

Tasmanian House of Whiskey
Sykes Cove
Quarantine Bay
Get Shucked Oyster Bar
Bruny Island Cheese Company
Port Cygnet
St Imre Vineyard
Recherche Bay
Southwest Cape
Bruny Island
Huon River

We’d planned to spend about 12 days in the area, but along came a weather window to Port Davey (our next destination) that we couldn’t refuse. Our 12 days became five, but we made the most of them, enjoying warm sunny afternoons sampling the incredible oysters, cheese, sourdough bread (even better than Hobart–which is saying a lot), and beer on golden-grassy Bruny Island, going up the Huon River to pretty Port Cygnet, wine tasting in the charming and pretty little seaside town of Dover, and taking in the remote beauty of Southport. Finally, we spent a day in the beautiful and remote Recherche Bay before making the jump to the west coast of Tasmania. Above, a map showing our stops, some of which were just for an hour or two.

Below, a photo gallery of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel area, Dover, Southport, and Recherche Bay. (Click to enlarge and scroll through photos.)

It was a shame to have to blow through this area so quickly, but the clock was ticking, not only on our visa but also for summer weather on the west coast, notorious for its potentially windy winter (including late fall and spring) conditions. We looked forward to seeing the jewel in the crown of cruising Tasmania: Port Davy, accessible only by boat or small plane.

And so we set out from Recherche Bay, down around the SW end of Tasmania and up a portion of the west coast. One local guy, hearing our plans, said, “Wow, that’s a dangerous trip!” Many others had seemed to wince at the idea of our going up the wild and wooly west coast. It seems a long history of boats ignoring or not knowing weather forecasts (and needing to be rescued as a result) has permeated the consciousness here–so many people seem terrified of this area of the ocean. As you can see from the photos below, being willing to wait for an appropriate weather window can result in a long day of motoring in calm seas, much preferable to sailing in gale conditions. Our main concern was having enough sunscreen.

Here, a photo from rounding the dreaded Southwest Cape of Tasmania.–Cyndi