It all started with a quiet cup of coffee in Hobart’s Fullers Bookshop back in March this year (2015) when Brunyfire stumbled across the following ‘call to arms’ in the Mercury newspaper……
WANTED: three outdoors-loving females – age unimportant – to accompany an all-women group on the Tasmanian kayaking trip of a lifetime, all in the name of charity.Caroline Thomas, (3rd from left) has lived with type-1 diabetes for the past 17 years and is a powerhouse at raising funds in support of Diabetes Tasmania and Life for a Child, the latter of which supports kids in developing countries who would otherwise die from diabetes and its complications. Thomas refuses to let her own condition rule her life and has accomplished numerous challenges over the years that have included marathon running in Paris, cycling through Sri Lanka and kayaking in Fiji – as fundraisers.
On this occasion, she had persuaded a number of her friends to accompany her to Tasmania’s South West with the fabulous Roaring 40s Kayaking company and Par Avion, both companies acting as generous sponsors to the effort – but there was a three person shortfall to make up the all women, 10 person team.
At a few moments after 9am, and anxious that it might already be too late, Brunyfire rang in an effort to claim a spot and was delighted to meet Thomas moments later to be ‘checked out’. Having passed muster, and getting in some escape practice a week later (albeit in a warm swimming pool), plus being taken under mate Retro Kay’s kayaking wing for a couple of weekends – the completed team of intrepid women met on Sunday 15th November 2015 at Cambridge aerodrome and took to the skies……..(Back row from left: Catherine Nicholson, Lisa Brazendale, Pip Taplin, Annette Levis, Natalie Nelson, Gerwyn Wright. Front from left: Caroline Thomas, Liz Darvelle, Bronwyn Crean and Brunyfire).Hunkering down in the little plane……..…….our young Par Avion pilot, Hugh, took off and headed over Hobart city’s river Derwent and the Tasman Bridge………….towards the Arthurs Ranges and into Tasmania’s South West Wilderness World Heritage Area on a perfect early summer afternoon…….……to land us on the tiniest airstrip in the world – or so it seemed.This little life saver was actually constructed by Deny King, a small scale tin-miner in 1955. Melaleuca airstrip at Bathurst Harbour is made of white quartzite gravel and sparkled its greeting to us in the afternoon sun. We had flown in with one of Roaring 40s guides, Tory Stewart and were greeted on arrival by our second guide, Tom Keith who had arrived earlier with the kayaking gear. This was all carted down on the well appointed boardwalks to the jetty at Melaleuca Lagoon in wheelbarrows to our awaiting kayaks. Once fully loaded with all the camping gear, food, clothing and water bladders – the kayaks were ingeniously launched by sliding them down the carpeted ramp on the end of a rope one at a time and easing them gently into the water.
(Brunyfire in the brand new Rainbow Warrior partnered with Tom)
Then it was an easy paddle up Melaleuca Inlet to our base camp at Forest Lagoon. This comprised of a series of very comfortable canvas yurts on raised platforms set within the rainforest and connected with boardwalk pathways that led to a main kitchen/dining area and bush loos. Roaring 40ºs Kayaking (established in 1996), is widely regarded as Tasmania’s premier and award-winning sea kayaking operator and is the only kayaking company with permission to operate in this unique and special place. Run by owners Reg, a Tasmanian local, and Jenny Grundy, an Enviromental Manager and Ecologist, the pair exude their passion about kayaking and the wilderness and are totally committed to sustainable and responsible environmental practices.
Their guides all share their enthusiasm, and in the case of Tory and Tom, proved themselves to be equally qualified in the culinary arts. That evening the pair whipped up the hungry group a delicious dinner………..………..that started with a fresh sushi entree………………..followed by salmon, creamy herb laden mashed spuds and green beans accompanied with a glass of red.After a comfortable first night, the group set off after an early breakfast from Forest Lagoon, around Claytons Corner and into Bathurst Harbour……………then into the Bathurst Narrows, stopping to form a raft to share out the lolly jar at Starvation Bay.The weather was perfect with flat seas, sun and a light breeze, and with Mount Rugby in the background……..…….the group made good time to the next stop at Balmoral Beach for lunch.
Continuing up into Bathurst Channel and heading towards our destination for the night at Schooner Cove, this was our first big day and to say we were all a bit buggered was probably an understatement. But true to its name, there was indeed a yacht moored in the cove. Later in the evening, we met its skipper, the charming Alan who brings us nibbles to accompany our well earned nightly alcohol rations, as we basked in the last of the evening sun while our trusty guides whipped up another delicious meal. The following morning, again early, we all packed up camp – by now, the routine was getting easier and we were all getting more efficient at packing the kayaks…….……..and getting out onto the water again. Day 3 was to prove another humungus but exhilarating day. Starting off from Schooner Cove (Alan had already left), and given that the weather forecast continued to be in our favour, our sights were set on getting into Port Davey and as far as Berry Head. But first, a stop to refill the water bladders from an ingenious little set up at Watering Bay. First set up back in the 1970’s apparently, the water from the natural falls above has been channelled into a black plastic container dangling from a series of ropes attached to the rock face and then is fed into a tube that snakes down to the water’s edge, where we fill our water containers.
Venturing further north and past Breaksea Islands, we stop in a small cove to stretch legs and relieve bladders before embarking upon a daring surf ride between Kathleen Island and Mavourneen Rocks.After a heart stopping surge between the rocks, riding 2-3 metre waves and paddling as if our lives depended on it, Catherine (in front) tells Brunyfire (in rear) that Mavourneen means ‘my love’ in Gaelic – sure felt his presence! Feeling pumped, the group rounds the corner of Ashley Point and ride the waves some more……. ……before gliding into Wallaby Bay for a leisurely lunch.After lunch, we head up to our northern most destination for the day, Berry Head and check out the caves, practicing our backward (as in reversing) techniques………….and then head back to Bramble Cove where we set up for the night. It rains overnight, but so far, the weather has been kind and let us put up and dismantle our campsites without getting wet, and so we all sleep well with the promise of a lie-in in the morning and a later start to the day.
After pancakes and maple syrup for brekkie – time to warm up for just a morning’s paddle – Tom leads the warm up routine – which has become a daily ritual……The morning is momentarily suspended when the hatch cover on Tory and Liz’s kayak flips off and promptly sinks to the bottom of the reef. Undaunted, Tory strips off and dives to retrieve it – whose says there are no such creatures as mermaids……Heading out to Breaksea Islands, we surf the high swells into 15-20 knot headwinds and into relative calm by sticking close to the face of Breaksea’s rock face – a great name for this barricade which provides some protection from the boiling waters beyond in the Southern Ocean. The weather turns against us and we battle our way back through the North Passage, and just as we get past Turnbull Island, it chucks it down – paddle sailing the last bit for some respite, we note the cruise ship from the night before is still in the Bay.Hauling the kayaks onto the beach at Bramble Cove and feeling invigorated once more, the weather is again considerate – it stops raining and we’re able to get dry and warm. After lunch, we explore Tonguers Beach, finding remnants of the whaling industry that took place here during the 1800s in the form of glass gin bottle shards. The whales being hunted during this time were the black, or bay whales (or the right whale) so named because they were slow swimmers, came in close to shore and remained afloat after death. Thus they were easy targets for the shore-based whalers – but competition was fierce. On a siting, the men would rush for their fully laden, ready charged boats and race out to sea with hand held harpoons.
Not surprisingly, these were hard men – with a thirst for the grog…..It was a welcome relief to have the chance to explore the bush; to scramble over rocks or just sit in idle contemplation. Much of the South West Wilderness area is impressive because of its scale – its isolation – its grandeur and that sense of awe when one encounters nature in the wild. But sometimes it’s good to take the time to check out some of the more modest gems – like the orchids that were tiny and perfect and had to be sought out.
(Pink fingers Caladenia Catenata and the Common Bird or Ant Orchid Chiloglottsis Gunii)
Or the pleasure in the spontaneous execution of a smooth turn carried out in unison…….……..or the kindness of small gestures that spoke volumes…….…….like the orange and poppy seed cake that Tory baked up in her bush oven and presented to us on the beach on a perfect evening.During those seven days, we not only improved our kayaking skills, we forged friendships, tested our mettle, trod lightly.