Schouten Island March 2002

Elli Tappan, Laurie Ford.

Two days of easy paddling, followed by a third day paddling into a gale to get home, and watching a bit of drama unfold as other sea kayakers were rescued from the conditions.

The March long weekend isn’t the best time to go to Freycinet National Park in search of a campsite - but seeing I had one in mind that nobody else seems to know about, that wasn’t a worry. We drove into the first camp area and carried the kayaks and gear the short distance to Richardsons Beach, then parked the car in a nearby carpark.

The wind was almost non-existent, and we only raised sails now and then during the paddle down to Passage Beach. We followed the shore all the way down to give Elli a good look, thinking we might take the direct route across the bay coming home. There were hikers and walkers all along the beaches, making the most of the long weekend and the good weather. There were boats of every description scurrying along to their favourite fishing spots - maybe not as bad as Sydney Harbour, but a lot more than is seen on a normal weekend around here.

We stopped at all the regular campsites along the beaches for a look, before cruising into Passage Beach four and a half hours after starting (22km). I was a bit dismayed to see what looked like a crowd on the beach, but they were just day visitors off a couple of runabouts. Several children were playing along the beach while some of the adults were snorkelling off the point. They all departed later in the afternoon leaving us with this lovely little beach to ourselves. I consider this one of the best campsites on Freycinet Peninsula, for reasons that are obvious when you visit the place.

I have been told that there is a conflict in some of our State laws - the Tasmanian Fire Act says (basically) that if you are cold and wet and maybe in danger of exposure - then you can light a fire to warm up. The National Parks on the other hand declare certain areas to be ‘fuel stove’ only. Suffice to say that sea kayakers are generally cold and wet when they get ashore.

The campsite didn’t look as though it had been occupied very much since my last visit in ‘97. Elli lazed on the beach in the sun and read a book, while I collected some ‘fuel’, and explored along the beach.

The forecast for the next day was for strengthening northerlies so we decided to go early, counter clockwise round Schouten Island. There was almost no wind early in the morning as we leisurely paddled across to the nearest beaches and checked out the campsites (occupied) along the beach, and then walked up to the hut (unoccupied). Then it was off round the western end of the island under both sails, with a light 5 to 10 knot breeze behind us. The southern shore is all cliffs, and the small swell was breaking in close. Fishing boats were in abundance, dropping crayfish pots, trolling for couta etc. as we cruised past a long long line of craypot buoys. At the SE corner there is a deep cove where the only landing is possible, but we didn’t go in. As we rounded the SE corner we started to feel the north-east wind that was slowly increasing, and creating haphazard backwash off the cliffs. This was great for Elli, as she doesn’t want to spend every trip in dead flat water, but it was slow going as we went out round Cape Baudin and then in again to make our way through the Schouten Passage back to the beach (29km).

Horror - there were 5 kayaks pulled up on our beach (as well as two power boats), and I started to think that it would be a very crowded campsite, and was glad we had left our tent up - staking our claim. But the kayakers were just there for lunch, and were heading back to Cook’s Beach to camp. They didn’t even know there was a good campsite here. They had 2 doubles and 3 singles, and a couple of them had done a trip to Maria Island many years ago with the Maatsuyker Canoe Club. They checked out our sails, and the campsite, then repacked their kayaks to set off back to Cook’s against the strengthening northerly. Elli and I had been contemplating going back to Cook’s Beach for the night, but opted for the more secluded Passage Beach. The forecast for next day was a strong wind warning, from the NE, then going Westerly with possible thunderstorms.

The paddlers of one of the double kayaks had said they had to be back at Coles Bay about 11am the next day to get back to work at a hospital, so they probably should have made an effort to go along to the Hazards Beach campsite and get an early start from there in the morning. These people were very new to sea kayaking.

We had another marvellous night under the stars, watching satellites go overhead, and generally enjoying the warmth of the small pile of combustible material. After totally flooding the embers the next morning with bottles of sea water we left the beach at 6.45am. The wind had yet to pickup to full strength, and in fact the early morning forecast had been upgraded to a gale warning for Wineglass Bay area. We made good progress round Weatherhead Point, and then spotted the other kayaks on a small beach just south of Cooks Beach. We put our sails up in the fresh breeze to sail in to greet them, and checked out the nearby semi-permanent walkers camp set up by a commercial firm. We talked about the weather, and I mentioned that the wind was really going to be blowing out of Coles Bay.

We were still undecided whether to go along to Hazards Beach and camp for the day, and walk over to Wineglass Bay and up to the Lookout - or continue back to Coles Bay and then walk up to the Lookout. On leaving the other kayakers we found the wind seemed to have eased very slightly, so headed off straight across the bay towards Refuge Island, just near the end of Hazards Beach.

I spotted a pod of dolphins but couldn’t get close to them as they headed way inshore of me, so after a fruitless chase came back out again to where Elli was still heading straight across the bay. A chocolate and Coke stop was made on the beach, before the last final struggle round into Coles Bay. I told Elli we would probably land on the first beach we could find, and walk round to get the car. So far the shoreline had provided some shelter from the NE wind, and it seemed almost calm along the Hazards Beach. Just along from here we startled a seal basking on the surface, getting to within a few metres before it crash-dived.

But round Fleurieu Point it was howling out of Coles Bay, with steep short waves that made it difficult to get any momentum going, but we were making progress, although slowly. Hugging the shoreline we paddled almost directly under two sea eagles perched on old trees near the water. As we neared the old pink granite quarry we were slowing a bit more, and Elli thought that in some of the gusts she may have been going backwards. I offered a tow, which she at first declined, wanting to do it under her own steam, but then accepted. She probably would have made it, but been very exhausted doing so. Just past the quarry we landed on the first beach and walked up the short steep track to find a Youth Hostel, and vehicle access. This was as far as we were going, the bay just a seething mass of white-caps (22km).

We were wondering about the other group, as they were about an hour behind us when we’d stopped on Hazards Beach. We walked the 4 km to get the car, then carried all the gear, and then the empty kayaks up to the car. Still no sign of the other group, so we went off to the carpark and walked up to the Wineglass Bay Lookout - along with dozens of other tourists. The view is spectacular, but so are many others around the state that are not so well known, and harder to access.

We then drove back to the beach and sat on the rocks watching for any kayaks struggling round the point. The first thing we saw was a power boat going past with a bright yellow double kayak being held alongside. That accounted for one of them. Then minutes later a single kayak slowly came into view, then another, then the other double. One single missing, but we found out later that this had already been rescued after a capsize, and was already round on the next beach where they had launched from. Elli and I drove round to congratulate them on making it in such conditions - I had been slightly concerned that the double wanting to get back to work may have made a dash on their own. However, they had stuck together very well as a group, and rested on some rocks while making a phone call to explain they weren’t going to make it on time. They arrived two and three quarter hours after Elli and I.

I showed Elli the other launching site we sometimes use at Sleepy Bay on the outside of the peninsula, and also drove down to Friendly Beaches for a quick look before heading off home for a hot shower.

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