NZ Herald – 11/01/2021
Australia travel: A cruise to Tasmania for wildlife, hiking, history and more
Tiana Templeman enjoys Tasmania’s untamed places on a luxurious expedition cruise
Coral Expeditions’ 10-night Coastal Wilds of Tasmania cruise holds the promise of stunning scenery, crystal clear waters, superb hiking, and the chance to explore one of the state’s most pristine wilderness areas, Port Davey.
This rugged section of Southwest National Park is one of the most remote and most renowned Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Areas. As we approached Bathurst Harbour at daybreak the following morning, it was easy to see why.
Dolphins frolicked in the ship’s wake as we sailed past the jagged silhouette of the Breaksea Islands and the sky changed colour like a kaleidoscope. The captain dropped the anchor and everyone gathered on the top deck to take in their surroundings.
Getting to Port Davey usually involves a 70km four-day hike in changeable and often harsh weather conditions and less than 250 people attempt the walk each year. Coral Expeditions is the only mainstream cruise line with permission to arrive by sea. With a maximum of 72 passengers, this journey feels more like a house party with well-travelled friends than a cruise. Add experienced guides, gourmet food and wine, and a luxury expedition vessel and you’ve got the makings of a memorable and very comfortable adventure. Provided the weather plays along, of course.
With an ample supply of ginger tablets and a couple of wines at the Captain’s Welcome Drinks, I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be. Aside from a few hours spent hanging on to the bed so we didn’t get tossed on the floor one night, it was all smooth sailing and sunny skies for most of our cruise.
After everyone had enjoyed a gourmet breakfast, the Xplorer tender slipped away from the ship and cruised along secluded waterways that rippled like midnight blue silk. It was silent except for the whisper of the water and birds calling to each other to herald our arrival.
We disembarked at Melaleuca jetty for an easy walking trip with superb scenery, multiple sightings of rare orange-bellied parrots, and a stroll along the 1.2km Needwonnee Interpretive Walk which tells the story of the area’s traditional owners.
After returning to the ship for lunch it was time to test our legs with a walk to the top of Mt Beattie, the first of many superb hikes on this nature-focused trip.
One look at everyone’s well-worn gear and walking poles made me wonder if I had overestimated my hiking experience but there was nothing to fear. Each day there was a choice of two walks (one “easy” and one “hard”) and usually other activities as well depending on where the ship docked. Much to my surprise, the easy walks were often as good, if not better than, the harder ones.
Some passengers opted for a challenging hike up Mt Milner the next morning while others chose a scenic cruise around the Breaksea Islands or a kayaking excursion. After yesterday’s hike, my legs told me to choose the boat. The conditions were so calm that the skipper was able to circumnavigate all of the islands, instead of just cruising past a few.
Short-tailed shearwaters and silver gulls soared overhead as we peered into sea caves, kept an eye out for penguins and got our cameras ready to capture a blowhole shooting water into the sky.
Our next destination was Maria Island, famous for its wombats, which amble around the grassy hills like they own the place. These native Australian animals are usually nocturnal, but Maria Island’s lack of predators means the wombats are free to roam during the day.
The island operated as a penal station between 1825 and 1832 and many of the convict ruins remain intact. At the end of our tour of the island with one of the ship’s guides, we spotted a mother wombat and her baby grazing outside rough-hewn stone buildings where convicts once laboured. Like the rest of the wombats, these two were oblivious to our excited “oohs” and “aaahs” and snapping cameras.
After several days of walking, wining, dining, and kayaking, dark skies threatened to break our good run with the weather when we arrived at Wineglass Bay. Grey clouds cloaked the tops of Freycinet’s granite mountains, creating a moody backdrop for the handful of passengers who braved the chilly waters of one of Australia’s most spectacular beaches. Their joyous squeals drew the attention of a wallaby, which hopped down to the beach to watch the swimmers and keep our group company while we chatted, took photos and soaked up the scenery.
The next day we landed on the beach near Tasman National Park and hiked to Cape Hauy where we gathered on top of one of Australia’s highest sea cliffs for a group photo. This 9.4km return walk has more than 2000 stone steps which wind up and over 180 million-year-old dolerite sea cliffs, like the spine of an ancient beast.
Fresh sea air tinged with the scent of eucalyptus and wildflowers tickled our noses as we waited for an echidna to finish snuffling for ants in the middle of the path. It stayed just long enough for each person to take a photo then ambled into the undergrowth. A lone albatross rode the air currents as we revelled in the rhythmic wash of the ocean, ate our gourmet packed lunches and tried not to think about the walk back.
I was feeling every one of those 2000 stairs as I climbed the staircase to Coral Discover’s bridge the following afternoon. The ship’s open bridge policy meant passengers could take a seat and chat to the captain and his crew while keeping a lookout for dolphins, seals and albatross from the best seat in the house.
Or perhaps the second-best seat. Coral Discoverer doesn’t have a theatre but playful dolphins entertained us each evening by leaping alongside the dining room windows. I’ve seen lots of glamorous cruise ship shows but our nightly entertainment on this cruise will be hard to beat.