Sea Canoeist, Vol 3 1980
Scribe Tony Gaiswinkler
Islands, particularly Maria Island, seem to have a special magic about them. Maybe it’s because they are remote and offer us an escape from the rush and bustle of our normal life.
This trip was planned as such an escape to explore and circumnavigate the northern end of Maria Island. On checking with the Weather Bureau I was advised that conditions for the trip were very favourable.
We arranged to leave Hobart on Friday afternoon, drive to Rheban Lagoon and be packed and ready to start the 6km crossing of the Mercury Passage by 7pm at the latest. (This was in daylight saving - ED.) On the way down the coast to Rheban I noticed the Passage was being whipped into a mass of whitecaps by a strong SW wind.
By 7.20pm we were finally packed and seal launched off the bed of sea grass piled up on the shore. As the channel is comparatively shallow strong winds create a steep short chop and once out of the lee of Point des Galets we got quite a surprise at the size of some of the waves rushing menacingly at us. Conditions worsened as we progressed across the channel and approaching Point Lesueur the wind gusting to 30 knots was breaking the tops of most of the waves giving us plenty of valuable experience at bracing.
Eventually we rounded Edina Point and surfed into the sheltered waters of Chinamans Bay, landing on the rocky beach just on dark. Two young weekend fishermen surprised by our arrival at such a late hour in these testing conditions eagerly assisted us with the laden canoes and kindly offered us the use of their fire. Our canoes looked frail in comparison to the six metre outboard runabout they had securely anchored a short distance off shore. When we compared provisions for the weekend, our supplies although ample sounded spartan in comparison. They had four roast chickens, 3 loaves of bread, two cartons of tinned food and six dozen cans of beer just for the weekend. I helped them consume a couple of cans to the accompaniment of some soul stirring “Country & Western” music they chose from a case full of cassettes and played on a powerful stereo cassette recorder. This was really getting away from it???
Les was first up next morning and stirred the fire into action while Mike walked to the brow of the hill to check the wind and sea conditions. Mike reported sighting a couple of yachts which were competing in the annual Hobart to Maria Island yacht race. They had made a lot of distance in last nights heavy conditions and were just off Point Lesueur. Incidentally this was the fastest Maria Island race for approx 50 years.
Conditions had eased this morning and the wind, 15 - 20 knots, had swung more southerly. After a quick breakfast we paddled the short distance across Shoal Bay to the narrow isthmus that separates the northern and southern ends of the island. A 500 metre portage over a low scrubby bank and we were ready to launch into a 1 1/2 metre surf in Riedle Bay. With a moderate long SE swell on our beam we paddled across the bay towards Cape des Tombeaux (Cape of Tombs) so named by the French explorer Peron for the number of cone shaped, grass aboriginal burial mounds he discovered there. On approaching the bold granite cliffs of Little Raggedy Head the sea became very confused as the incoming and reflected swells competed for our attention. It was an exciting stretch of coastline all the way to Mistaken Cape. Cecily, Les and Mike preferring to stay a little further off shore were treated to an aerial display by a number of Albatross and Gannets, both varieties quite prominent today. A large number of these magnificent birds inspecting us at quite close range.
On rounding Mistaken Cape in the lee of the wind and swell the conditions were very calm. Paddling through magnificent kelp beds we slowed our pace to enjoy the spectacular scenery, the imposing red granite cliffs colourfully covered with bright orange lichen vividly contrasting with the deep blue of the sea. At a leisurely pace we slowly progressed along the coast checking out all the inlets until reaching Beaching Bay where we landed on a beach of large round boulders for a very welcome lunch break.
After a bite to eat I set about to explore the area as a suitable campsite as we had planned to spend the night here on a previously aborted trip. There is a good stream of water flowing in a small rocky creek but not finding any suitable tent sites along the steep rocky foreshore I explored further up the creek gully and after a 500m rock scramble I came to a spectacular waterfall. The water tumbling 20m over a sheer cliff into a small shaded pool around which sprouted a profusion of ferns in stark contrast to the dry forest vegetation on this coastline. There are no tent sites as such but plenty of comfortable spots for a bivvy bag on a night under the stars.
On rounding the first headland out of Beaching Bay the cliff formation changed dramatically from red granite to dark vertical dolerite cliffs, which were riddled with sea caves into which the waves would thunder in a big sea. In the calm conditions we were able to paddle into many of the larger caves, some of them vast chambers entering 50m into the cliffs. The view of Bishop and Clark Peaks from sea level was dramatic as the sheer dolerite columns rise vertically out of the sea to a height of 630m.
Passing Fossil Bay we marvelled at the white vertical fossil cliffs of this expansive bay which forms the northern end of this incredible island. On reaching Cape Boullanger at the extreme northern tip we struck out for a small islet (Ile du Nord) about 1km off shore. Here we went ashore for a rest, inspecting the small navigation light and helipad before continuing on to Darlington. The sun was glistening on the white sandy beach as we paddled into Darlington Bay, the small village of convict buildings and ruins nestled against the hillside looked enchantingly tranquil in the soft afternoon sunshine. The ranger permitted us to camp under the pines by the side of Bernacchis Creek so it was an easy chore to drag the canoes 20m across the beach and then paddle right up to our campsite.
The evening was spent being entertained at a slide show and talk on the island’s scenic spots, fauna, flora, and history, by the rangers. On returning to our tents we were gently lulled to sleep by the cry of the native hens which sound something like the braying of a donkey with a large fish bone stuck in its neck.
Sunday morning we rose for an early breakfast before beginning the popular walk to Bishop and Clark, a dolerite peak 630m high forming the northern extremity of the islands highest mountain ridge. Cecily was amused when I informed her that in Tyrone Thomas’ book “100 walks in Tas” he described it as a walk on which not to take Grandma. Obviously he doesn’t know our Cecily. From the peak we could view most of the island, Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island, as well as a large area of the east coast of Tas. The walk is made even more rewarding because of the large number of native fauna such as the Forester Kangaroo, Wallaby, Cape Barren Geese and Emus which abound on the island and are extremely tame. Midday saw us back at camp and after a quick lunch we packed ready for the return journey across the Mercury Passage.
With an overcast sky and a strong NNE wind of 20 - 25 knots we made good speed surfing the white horses to Lachlan Island where we stopped for a brief rest before continuing on to our original point of departure and our cars.