Wednesday, 26 Feb 2020

Tasmania. Southwest Coast

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- A man with a seven-inch (18 cm) penis may proudly compare his organ to the average man’s five to six inches (12-15 cm) but be intimidated when learning another wields an eight-inch (20 cm) rod.

“The southwest coast of Tasmania is a true wilderness,” Mark Grundy began. “There are no roads, no settlements, and very few hiking tracks. It can be a harsh environment. Heavy trade winds—the roaring forties—blow through, bringing many heavy storms in the winter. This has discouraged modern human development. However, the winds begin to dissipate in late October, and by December, the waters here calm down and can be navigated by kayak. The landscape is dramatic in a stark sense. There are fantastic quartzite schist formations; in [some] places, 2,500-foot mountains drop straight into the ocean. In other places, the landscape allows long, unimpeded views—Tasmania’s version of Big Sky country. Taking all this in by kayak allows you to really appreciate the grandeur. And if you’re there in the early part of the season, you’d be hard pressed to see another person beyond those in your party.”

Tasmania. Southwest Coast. The Australian state of Tasmania rests some 150 miles south across the Bass Strait from Melbourne; it’s sometimes called “the island off the island.” It’s not the Australia people imagine based on tourism brochures of the mainland. For starters, it’s considered the most mountainous island of its size in the world. Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area covers nearly a fifth of the total area of the island, including Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Clair National Park, home of the famous Overland Track. The central island boasts some of the best-preserved temperate forests left in the world, not unlike what one might encounter in New Zealand or regions of South America. The coast line is stunning, with myriad coves, bays, beaches, estuaries, and spectacular cliffs. It’s home to many of Australia’s unique mammals, birds, and alpine plants.

Tasmania. Southwest Coast - photo 1

 

Tasmania. Southwest Coast.

 Tasmania. Southwest Coast. There are three ways to reach Melaleuca, Mark’s starting point for paddle explorations of the southwest Tasmanian coast: a five-day hike, a long boat ride, or a fifty-minute flight. Mark opts for the flight. “The chance to fly over the Wilderness World Heritage Area is a unique facet of the adventure,” he continued. “The pilot maneuvers through the rugged mountains or, if they’re clouded out, along the coast. The swells are uninterrupted from Antarctica or South America, and the power is formidable. Before we begin exploring Bathurst Harbor and pushing out to more open waters, I like to hike up Mount Rugby. It’s a steep hike to an elevation of over two thousand feet, but the reward is the best view in Tasmania coast, in my opinion. Bathurst Harbor is fed by several rivers, and where the tannin-stained freshwater meets with the salt water, there’s a halocline. [With a halocline, the freshwater layers on top of the salt water. As a result, next to no light permeates the salt water, and this gives a variety of sea life—especially invertebrates—the impression that they are residing in water that’s hundreds or thousands of feet in depth.] The western edge of the harbor is guarded by the Narrows, two peninsulas that squeeze in. Beyond the peninsulas are the Breaksea Islands, which form a natural breakwater for the harbor.

Tasmania. Southwest Coast - photo 2

Tasmania. Southwest Coast.

 Tasmania. Southwest Coast. “Once you’re out beyond the Breakseas, you’re in Port Davey, which opens up to the Southern Ocean. Sometimes it’s like glass; sometimes large swells are pounding the shore. We might cross Port Davey [it’s really an inlet partially shielded from the open sea by Davey Head, not the American notion of a port] and head north up the Davey River gorge. Another option is to head south along the exposed coastline—true Southern Ocean paddling—on to Stephens Bay. Here, I like to visit the site of one of the largest Aboriginal middens on Tasmania. Many people don’t realize that Tasmania was joined to Australia ten thousand years ago. As the ice receded and the sea levels rose, Tasmania was cut off. The Aboriginal people who lived on Tasmania were of the same lineage as those people on the mainland. Evidence suggests that humans have habituated Tasmania for thirty-five thousand years. This midden (or refuse area) still holds shellfish remnants that have been here for millennia.”

Though the scenery is dramatic, you can’t count on encountering Australia’s totemic mammals along the coast in southwest Tasmania. “Thanks to the poor quality of the soil—due to the quartzite schist—the land just doesn’t support that much fauna,” Mark explained. “The flora is mostly button grass and low-lying melaleuca shrub, both very hardy plants. The same is true of the aquatic life, due to the infusion of freshwater in the area.” While mammalian life is sparse, much of the region is considered an Important Bird Area, providing breeding ground for short-tailed shearwater, fairy prion, little penguin, and orange-bellied parrot, one of the world’s rarest birds. Tasmania. Southwest Coast.

Tasmania. Southwest Coast - photo 3

Tasmania. Southwest Coast.

 Tasmania. Southwest Coast. “One of the highlights for me of any southwest paddle is a trip to the Breaksea Islands off Port Davey,” Mark said. “The western shore of the islands faces the ocean, and it can be fairly rough out there, but the eastern coast is usually quiet. By the time we reach the Breakseas, we’ve had four days together as a group. Normally, I try to get the group out there in the early evening, when it’s still light enough to take in the huge landscape before us. Five minutes away, around the island, there’s the fury of the roaring forties. But we’re bobbing in a quiet, sheltered place, looking through the Narrows onto a mountain range. Sometimes it takes people thirty seconds, sometime five minutes, before it dawns on them that we’re the only people there, the only people for many miles. No one else in the world is looking at what we’re looking at. And we couldn’t have gotten there without one another.”

Mark Grundy and his wife, Jenny, operate Roaring 40s Kayaking and offer multiday sea kayaking adventures in the remote Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, day tours around Hobart exploring sea cliffs and watching for wildlife, and kayak instructional lessons. He is passionate about kayaking and the Tasmanian natural environment and loves sharing the area with guests. Tasmania. Southwest Coast.

Tasmania. Southwest Coast - photo 4

Tasmania. Southwest Coast.

 If You Go to Tasmania, Southwest Coast:

Getting There to Tasmanian Coast: Trips begin and end in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, which has regular service from Sydney and Melbourne via several carriers, including Virgin Australia and Jetstar. A charter flight will take you to Melaleuca, where you’ll begin paddling.

Best Time to Visit Tasmanian Coast: Winds and temperatures are mildest December through April.

Guides/Outfitters: Roaring 40s Kayaking leads several different trips along the southwest coast of Tasmania.

Level of Difficulty: Exceptional paddling skills aren’t required, but visitors should be comfortable in a rugged outdoor environment.

Accommodations: Discover Tasmania lists lodging options in Hobart.

“Fifty Places To Paddle Before You Die” 

Chris Santella

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