April 4 – 11, 2017
With summer turning to autumn, it was time leave Macquarie Harbour and head back to mainland Australia. This would be a big trip entailing an overnight passage just to reach the north coast of Tasmania, then a long journey over the top of Tasmania and up to the southeast corner of mainland Australia. From there, it would be another 30-miles north to a place called Eden. To make a trip of this magnitude we’d need a great weather window, and luckily we seemed to have one. Below, a map including our intended route (in blue) plus the one we actually ended up doing (in yellow).
We left early in the morning of April 4, and after the current spat us out through Hells Gates at 9 knots, we had a calm sea and easy motoring conditions. This lasted all day and into the night, but around midnight the wind started to come more from ahead of us. Rich checked the weather and saw the latest forecast. It seemed the winds were shifting more from the north, and we needed a change of plan.
We had a couple of Plan B stops in mind but both were on the south coast of mainland Australia which would have us going into the wind–not acceptable. I remembered reading about a town on the north coast of Tasmania called Stanley. In my cruising-guide research, most towns on the north coast of Tasmania had gone into the “No” folder, generally because they were too shallow for us or didn’t sound all that interesting.
In the end, Stanley had been possible but didn’t sound worth the effort. The impression I’d gotten of Stanley was that of a small town with a harbor so full of fishing boats that we’d have to hunt for a temporarily vacant spot to tie up (and be ready to vacate should the owner return), or maybe anchor in a less protected spot. I knew it had a rock monolith that was popular to climb (called the Nut), but even that didn’t sound all that interesting. I pictured a small dreary fishing town where we’d have to switch places as they became available. No thanks. But now in our current situation, I had to give it a second look. I soon realized it would be a good haven for us, dreary or no, until another weather window appeared.
It turned out that all my impressions were way off (a reminder not to rely on cruising guides for info about the look or feel of a place–that’s a job for Lonely Planet). The town of Stanley lies tiered along the base of a steep-sided, flat-topped rock mountain, flowing out onto a relatively flat grassy isthmus and peninsula that connect it to mainland Tasmania. Even as we approached from a distance, we could see this place was fantastic looking. The boat harbor did indeed have fishing boat pens, but there was a huge back wall that was long enough for several visiting boats to tie up. Below, a satellite photo of Stanley’s town including Stanley Boat Harbour.
The rock monolith rises straight up from the boat harbor to a height of 470 feet, a rather astonishing sight. Below, a few photos of the harbor. (Click to enlarge/scroll through any of the following galleries.)
The hillside area of town is a short walk from the harbor, the street leading to it lined with charming cottages dating back to the 1800s, all restored with beautiful woodwork and gardens, with views of the shoreline and isthmus below. The center of town is full of cafes and shops in historic buildings. There are enough residents and tourists here to support a these cafes and a very good seafood restaurant. Down on the isthmus is what I call the “live and work” section of town, with modern buildings, modest houses, and business that serve daily life that don’t fit into the cottage theme of the upper area of Stanley
Climbing the Nut, it turned out, was nothing to sneer at. There’s a path for those who want to walk up, and a chair lift for those who want to ride. We opted to walk up, then take the rather long loop track around the top. By the time we’d done all that, already stiff and sore, we needed the chair lift to get back down.
We ended up spending a few days in Stanley waiting for another weather window and enjoyed each day. The walk from the harbor to the main part of town took about 10 minutes, but the changing light over the views of the shoreline, the isthmus, and the lower parts of town made it seem new each time. We also enjoyed some fabulous food and met some very nice people. We’d been sad to leave Tasmania; so this felt like a reprieve, one more chance to experience Tasmania’s exceptional food and scenery.
Of course after our Stanley experience, I wanted to give all the towns along the north coast a second look in my research. It turns out they each have something special to offer. We already plan to come back to Tasmania to see things we missed, including some of the national parks and the river city of Launceston, and now it seems we may want to try anchoring in some of these intriguing north coast towns if we’re brave enough to dodge some shallows and sand bars.
In the end, another great weather window came along, and we set off early in the morning of April 11 and over the course of 4 1/2 days made it all the way to Sydney. We have so much we enjoyed during this season’s visit to Australia, but Tasmania definitely stands out as extra special. So special, in fact, that we’re already planning a return trip sometime in the future.–Cyndi