Voyage Log: Coastal Treks of Tasmania – Coral Discoverer
Hobart to Hobart | 8 March 2021 – 18 March 2021
This trip diary was compiled by: Michael Hermes
8 March 2021
We began boarding the Coral Discoverer at 1600 on a cool autumn afternoon. After being shown to our rooms we had a chance to explore the ship and find our bearings. Soon before 1700 we were on our way steaming down the Derwent.
As we headed south towards Quarantine bay on Bruny Island, we had our safety briefing from Purser Arron and met the crew. Afterwards we met Damon the expedition leader with his expedition team and learnt about the exploration side of the trip. Soon after we enjoyed Captain Josh’s Welcome Aboard drinks, followed by a delightful meal. By now we were steaming down the D’entrecasteaux channel for our overnight anchorage at the northern end of Bruny Island.
9 March 2021
After breakfast we headed on shore at Adventure Bay, South Bruny Island, most of us to do the long but rewarding walk up Fluted Cape. The weather was threatening but we fortunately only had to endure a few spots of rain, and the views across Storm Bay to Tasman Island were spectacular. We checked out the old whaling station at Grassy Point and then did the climb. Mike the Guest Lecturer showed us a flint off an old flintlock pistol laying on the ground there, which had been lost on the site in the 1840’s – amazingly still there after almost 200 years.
We caught sight of a flock of Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos – truly a beautiful spectacle. Other birds sighted included wrens and honeyeaters.
In the afternoon we headed over to the Bligh Museum hosted by volunteers Barb and Barry [and Charlie the dog volunteer], who have been working there for the past 16 years. This was an amazing collection, collected by an enthusiastic William Bligh devotee, John Hamilton 40-50 odd years ago. Some flowering gums in the main tree of Adventure Bay Township were hosting a range of honeyeaters and Eastern Spinebills.
10 March 2021
In the morning many of us chose to do the challenging 9.5 kilometre walk along the Cape Huay track out the point, [ a part of the Three Capes Walk] and saw the remarkable Totem Pole. Mike told us of the story of Paul Pritchard who was climbing the Totem Pole in 1996 with his wife when a piece of rock the size of a TV fell from above him and fractured his skull. The remarkable story of his rescue by his wife and his recovery was truly inspirational. We were blessed with great weather for the walk – cool and clear.
Others chose the less energetic but equally spectacular option of a cruise around this rugged coastline. The climbers got to see the Explorer from the approximately 150 metre vantage point on the headland.
In the afternoon we all enjoyed viewing the Tasman Peninsula and Tasman Island from the comfort of the CD. We heard some remarkable stories about the lighthouse keepers of Tasman Island and the cat eradication program there which allowed for the protection of this important seabird breeding area – particularly for shearwaters, Prions and Penguins.
11 March 2021
Before breakfast we enjoyed sunrise over the Breaksea Islands at the mouth of Port Davey. Albatross and mutton-birds [or Short tailed Shearwaters] were in abundance in these waters. The mutton-birds were sometimes found in floats of several hundred, ie they were sitting in the water resting in great numbers. The weather overnight had been calm and the day proved to be relatively warm and with gentle breezes.
After breakfast we ventured up the Melaleuca Channel to the Lagoon and on to Melaleuca Inlet where we broke into two groups to explore the area – one group to the Needwonee Boardwalk where we learnt about the Traditional [Palawa] way of life before the arrival of the Europeans, and the other group went to the bird hide and learnt about the program to save the endangered Orange Bellied Parrot. Then we swapped over, so that everyone learnt about all aspects of this special place. Unfortunately, we missed out on seeing the endangered parrot. We did hear the calls of two endemic species here – the Yellow Throated Honeyeater and the Tassie Currawang only found on Tasmania.
After enjoying morning tea on the jetty at Melaleuca we cruised back down the inlet stopping in Bathurst Harbour to enjoy the magnificent reflections before arriving back the Coral Discoverer.
In the afternoon, we headed to Claytons Corner, where some chose the long walk to Mt Beatty, and others explored the area around the Clayton’s cottage – a place from a simpler time in Australian history – the former home of Clyde and Wyn Clayton. They had made their home there as Clyde was a Cray fisherman and so Wyn could be closer to her brother Deny King, a tin miner at Melaleuca. We all got to see the Huon Pine growing in this enchanted corner of the South West Wilderness.
One of the more remarkable animals of this landscape is the burrowing crayfish, which lives in the peaty wet soils of these mountains. We saw their burrows in numerous places along our walk.
11 March 2021
In the morning we continued to enjoy some truly spectacular weather in the South West wilderness. Some did the challenging but beautiful walk to the top of Mt Milner, and we were able to overlook the mouth of Port Davey and the West coast north toward Macquarie Harbour.
Others enjoyed a beach walk at Bramble Cove and a short cruise with Shane around the mouth of Port Davey on a remarkably calm morning sea. On the cruise we saw a pair of White Bellied Sea Eagles and Shane pointed out the location of an ancient red ochre quarry, significant to the Palawa history of the area.
In the afternoon we made our way around the south coast, past Maatsuyker Island and the southern capes. We all saw many bird species here, including large rafts of Mutton Birds [Short tailed Shearwaters] floating on the sea surface and diving for fish, and also Albatross, Gannets and Pied Cormorants. And the Australian Fur Seals made an appearance near Maatsuyker also.
Before pre dinner drinks, Shane provided a presentation on the South West Tasmania, filling in some gaps in our understanding of this remarkable corner of Australia.
12 March 2021
In the morning we ventured onshore at Freycinet National Park. Some of the more energetic guests did the Wineglass Bay lookout walk and they were rewarded with some spectacular views of this iconic site. Many saw pink orchids flowering amongst the granite boulders.
Others chose the more leisurely stroll across the Isthmus from Coles Bay in order to enjoy the beach at ground level. Many of us saw a Tiger Snake today, some of us two! We also enjoyed seeing orchids flowering amongst the granite boulders adjacent to the walking track.
After this walk a few intrepid swimmers braved the invigorating waters of Hazards Beach. On this beach we saw some lenses of oyster shell within the wave cut fore dune, the results of ancient meals of the Palawa Indigenous people. Brian collected up a number of shells on the beach and explained to us the numerous sources of food still available to those who have the knowledge.
In the afternoon we cruised past Iles des Phoques [“Island of Seals” in French, named during the Baudin expedition] and the islands were certainly aptly named – we saw hundreds of Australian Fur Seals here, along with White Breasted Sea Eagles, Cormorants and Australian Gannets. Mike and Shane told us of the sealers camp which was located on the top of this exposed rock in the early nineteenth century.
14 March 2021
We got to spend the morning at Schouten Island, on a wonderfully mild autumn day. Some paddled around Crockett’s Bay on the north coast in kayaks, and others strolled on the beach and learnt something of the history of the island from Shane. We inspected the old convict made tramway and historic cottages on Morey’s Beach and heard of the whaling/mining/pastoral activities, which occurred here in the nineteenth century.
In the afternoon, Michael provided a presentation introducing Maria Island, our destination for the next two days – the mix of history, geology, zoology and botany of the island will be exciting to explore on our excursions there. Damon also provided a briefing on upcoming Coral Expeditions trips, focusing particularly on the Kimberley Coast itineraries.
15 March 2021
In the morning we explored the Darlington Convict Settlement and enjoyed some up close time with the wildlife of the island. Our group were delighted to have a full day of wombats, including some precious scenes of mother and baby wombats – and since these animals are habituated to visitors, they seemed pretty much oblivious to our presence or our clicking cameras!
Later in the morning Michael gave a presentation on the Palawa history of Tasmania, looking at their culture and social organization before the first European influences started in the past 300 years.
After lunch, the afternoon was spent exploring other parts of Maria Island. Some headed to the Painted Cliffs site south of Darlington, and others had time to survey the historic buildings of Darlington settlement. Other than wombats, animals spotted this morning included the Cape Barren Goose, as well as Bennett’s Wallabies, Forester [similar to the Eastern Grey] Kangaroos and Potoroos. We also saw the scats of the Tasmanian Devil – since they are nocturnal, this is the only way for us to be aware of their presence. But the refuge population of facial tumor disease free animals is booming on the island, learning of this from Shane and Michael.
16 March 2021
Today was the day of the most challenging walks of the trip, the 6 hour plus walk from Darlington Settlement to Bishop and Clerk, a craggy mountain top made of dolerite. We set out early with a packed lunch, and although the started out overcast, by the time we got to the summit, the cloud had burnt off and we enjoyed wonderful views to Isle des Phoques and Freycinet Peninsula. Arriving back at the ship at around 3pm, we all enjoyed a well earnt sense of achievement.
Later in the day, Michael provided his last presentation of the trip, entitled ‘Tasmanian History in 30 Objects”. It was based on a British Museum touring exhibition on the history of humanity in 101 objects. Michael had a mobile museum and told a number of vignettes from Tasmanian history spanning 30,000 years.
After dinner, Damon ran the famous Coral Expeditions Trivia Quiz which proved to be a most amusing occasion, and we all learnt a lot about many things, including the distribution of marsupials globally, the birthplace of Nicole Kidman and the essentials of a stone age toolkit. A good time was had by all!
17 March 2021
First thing in the morning we found ourselves in a very serene setting, the waters of Port Arthur being remarkably still. After breakfast, Shane, Brian and Michael accompanied us on a water tour around the broader area of Port Arthur. We heard stories of Point Puer; where in the 1840’s up to 700 boys were incarcerated here, away from the experienced and cruel adult prisoners at Port Arthur, across the water. The Point Puer was deemed a success and became a model for the first juvenile justice facility on the Isle of Wight in England later in the 1840’s. [‘Puer’ is Latin for boy – where we get the word “puerile” from – no, it isn’t a typo!]
We also saw one of the oldest tidal markers notched on the bedrock on the Isle of the Dead. Michael told us of the story of John Barron, a convict who lived on the island as the gravedigger for ten years, choosing this life over the nearby penitentiary. Shane shared stories of the Atlantic salmon farms and the Tasman Golf Course, where one fairway is bisected by the ocean!
Shane provided his last presentation, on famous Convict escapes, later in the morning, and some also enjoyed an engine room tour before lunch. He told many stories on this theme, the most extraordinary being perhaps the life and crimes of William Swallow and the mutiny on the Cyprus in 1829.
After lunch we headed out on our last trip on the Explorer, landing on the jetty at Port Arthur. For many of us, this was a return visit, but everyone found something new at this iconic site, which we enjoyed in glorious autumnal weather. Specialist guides were on hand to tell us stories of the site and to allow us access to some parts of the site not generally available to visitors.
18 March 2021
This morning we packed up our things, and said our goodbyes, or perhaps au revoir, to our new friends of the High Seas, taking home some amazing memories of a wonderful expedition – the weather, the company and the setting were something truly special.