Orford to Kingston around Tasman Peninsula Feb 2011

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Orford to Kingston around Tasman Peninsula – Feb 2011 – By John McCausland

Participants: Pete Wylie (leader), Jim Taylor, Jeff Jennings, Dave Slowitsky, Cynthia Schaap, John McCausland

Sunday 19 February 2011. A policeman pulled up in the boat ramp car park and watched us packing for a couple of minutes. 9 sea kayakers, their craft and the associated gear for an expedition. Chatting to me thru his window, friendly & cheerful, he managed to get in all the important questions: Where are you going? (Kingston). Are you carrying EPIRBS? (about ½ of us are). Do you have safety gear? (yes). Do you know what you’re doing? (yes, we do this sort of thing a lot). Have you checked the weather forecast? (yes). “All right then, have a good trip”.

We cruised out of Orford around 10am, sailing in the light westerly and heading across Prosser Bay to Point Home. As we approach the point the wind rises. At the point we look across to the northern tip of Maria Island and Il du Nord, there’s white caps all across Mercury Passage and the gusts are lifting spray off the water. I’ve heard a few stories of people getting caught out across here, I’m not sure what to expect and I’m concerned that we don’t have the strength in the group to rescue Cynthia (the least experienced paddler in the group) if thing got pear shaped. This wind came up within minutes and it could build further. Pete, the trip leader, makes the call and we slog back to Windlass Bay to take stock. The smell of some of Tasmania’s finest woodchip reaches our nostrils as we’re directly downstream of the Triabunna woodchip mill.

We lunch on the beach then walk up to Home Lookout, still whitecaps everywhere we look. The wind hasn’t built, and I reckon I could do it OK, but I wouldn’t like to try a rescue in this weather and we can’t really tell what’s happening at Maria Island, there’s more fetch over there and the passage is shallow so the waves will be short & steep & breaking. It’s a good decision not to go on, but we’re 5km from Orford and feeling frustrated.

The next day (Monday 20 Feb) we’re up and on the water by 7am. The aim is to try and get some paddling in before the forecast south westerlies kick in. We’ve abandoned the planned trip to Maria. We’re already 2 days behind schedule as Saturday it rained heavily all day and blew easterly at around 20 knots. We head down the coast, pausing briefly in Emerald Bay to chat to Grant, Jamie & Anthea who paddled down to Earlham yesterday then back to here to camp, and they’ve got work tomorrow.

There’s a lovely little surf break on Sandspit Point but as we cross to Earlham grey clouds roll across the sun, the temperature drops and a squall spits in our faces. We stop on the beach for 2 minutes then continue on, hugging the coast for wind shelter. At Cockle Bay Dave finds the narrow inlet to the lagoon and we paddle across to the shack. It’s a beautiful spot, sheltered and the sun is out again and the shack has a veranda perfect for lunching on. We’ve only come 20km and although we’re frustrated by our slow progress and would like to continue on, it’s 20km into a cold headwind to the next landing/camping spot and not everyone’s keen.

We walk up to Whalers Lookout and have a good look around, it’s a great spot for a view of Maria Island and the coast. We wander on and have a bit of a look around the lagoon then head back to the tents and sample one of Dave’s cookies. Then it’s a stroll up Cockle Bay Creek to visit a small humpy and explore. Snacking out with a few beers, lolling in the sun and watching the silhouette of Jeff in his tent pumping up his Exped mattress provide the late afternoon entertainment.

On the water shortly after 7am (Tuesday 21 Feb) and we have to walk our boats down the lagoon outlet, which is now more of a creek as the tide’s out. I jump in and paddle out thru the swell, once clear of the cobble beach I put in a power stroke and catch the paddle blade on a rock. Hey! My paddle’s not working properly! I glance down and see 2/3 of the right hand blade is busted off and flopping around. I quickly stow it on the front deck and grab my breakdown paddle. What a battleaxe! It’s the first time I’ve actually used it and its heavy aluminium shaft and plastic blades are quite dissimilar to the full carbon fibre jobby I’m used to. Luckily about 15 minutes later I convince Cynthia to lend me her very nice carbon fibre breakdown paddle and I feel much better.

Hellfire Bluff looks very spectacular and we cruise along the coast. The wind is light but forecast to build from the south west again so we opt to go around Marion Bay rather than across. We opt to give the Tasman Monument & Vischer Island a miss as we’ve seen them both before and soon we’re crossing North Bay. North Bay is in my list of most boring sea kayak crossings in Tasmania, it’s not really that bad I think it just suffers from the psychological effect of being directly after a very spectacular bit of the Forester Peninsula – Cape Fredrick Hendrick.

We land in Lagoon Bay, cart our stuff up past the sign saying PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO CAMPING and settle in. The customary after lunch walk then a wine with dinner. 27km today.

On the way out of Lagoon Bay (Wednesday 22 Feb) I duck between Kelly Islands and crunch my rudder on the shallow rocks. Can’t see what damage I’ve done but it still seems to be working OK. We stick close to the coast as this is a really speccy and beautiful bit of coast here. There’s lots of bits to explore but by Cape Surville Jim & I are getting restless. We need to get to Kingston by Sunday (the others have the next week off whereas we don’t) and at this pace we won’t get there by then. We paddle on ahead to Deep Glen Bay but the swell is too big to get thru the cave – in fact it’s big enough to make just poking our noses into the entrance exciting. We set out across Pirates Bay to the Doo Town boat ramp and have lunch, the others are only 10 minutes behind and Pete immediately goes in search of the infamous ‘pie van’ and returns with a serve of fish & chips. Others follow suit and eventually I succumb too. Calling it a ‘pie van’ is a bit of a stretch as you can’t normally get oysters or lobster or other gourmet seafood at a pie van but the food is excellent!

We all head off and again explore the spectacular coast. Waterfall Bay is lovely to look around but soon Jim & I have itchy feet again and cruise on ahead. At Thumbs Point the tourist boat stops to chat briefly before roaring off (1400 horsepower!). We duck into Bivouac Bay and chat to a couple of campers – backpackers walking the Tasman Trail and living cheap while waiting for the apple picking season to start. Then it’s across to Fortescue Bay, half way across we see the other 4 come around the point so we raise our sail to make sure they know where we are. Fortescue is a beautiful camp and we pitch tents and boil the cuppa then fit 6 of us into Cynthia’s 5 seater dual cab and head for the Fox and Hounds in Port Arthur for a counter meal. We’re in good spirits and have finally made a bit of distance (37km).

Another 7am start (Thursday 23 Feb). This is an exciting day, the forecast looks like a landing on Tasman Island may be possible. At Cape Hauy we decide to go around due to the occasional big sets coming thru the Lanterns But Jeff times it and makes the gap (with seconds to spare _). I haven’t ever explored Munro Bight and it really is a lovely bit of coast. I pick a few gaps and go into a few caves but the occasional set means you have to keep your wits about you. I watch one narrow gap for a few minutes then pass by, too hard to get over the rock in the entrance. The next gap looks better and I push in, a wave breaks and the surging wash pushes me towards the cliffs, I go to ram off with the paddle and with a flash remember that it’s Cynthia’s not mine, so instead I put my hand on the face and lean in to stop boat colliding with rock. After ?? caves we head straight across to Cape Pillar, there are hundreds of seals hauled out along the base of the cliffs. Occasionally a few splash into the sea if we get too close.

Around Cape Pillar the swell is definitely larger than I’d like for a Tasman Island landing, although the direction is right. At the landing spot it looks like it just might be possible and Dave – the only one with a plastic boat – is nominated to try. After half a dozen tries he gives up, the swell is too big and sucks down too far, he can’t hold the kelp enough to stop his laden boat sliding back down the landing rock when it recedes.

This is where the group parts company. Jim & I are going to keep heading west, the others will go back to Fortescue as it suits their plans better. We say our goodbyes and head in our respective directions. Going thru Tasman Passage I begin to wonder what we’re in for. The wind is close to a 20 knot headwind, there’s a confused 2m sea rebounding off the cliffs and a 4m swell rolling in from the south west. After a kilometre or so the funnelling effect of Tasman Passage recedes and the wind is more like 5 to 10 knots and the swell 3m. The confused rebounding seas stay with us though and after an hour Jim becomes sea sick. He perseveres, with an occasional spew when it all gets too much. Although it feels like forever we’re in the calm and sheltered waters of Safety Cove in a little over 2 hours. We snack out and enjoy a cup of tea. 30km.

It’s a 5km walk into Port Arthur and we take the back track into the historic site. Although I come here often I don’t do it as a tourist so it’s a good chance to look around. We finish off our tour with a beer at the Port Arthur Tavern, where we’re soon joined by the others who’ve driven from Fortescue. Unfortunately (fortunately?) the tavern is fully booked for dinner so we head back to the Fox and Hounds to get a feed and a few more beers. Cynthia kindly drops up back at our camp at the end of the evening.

It rains in the night and at 6:30am we’re about half way thru packing up wet gear (Friday 24 Feb) when my father in law Leo turns up with hot bacon and egg rolls a thermos of tea and a cut lunch for each of us! We chat and enjoy the hospitality but Leo doesn’t delay us, he knows we’re keen to make the most of the morning before the wind comes up and we’re on the water before 7:30. At Cape Raoul the swell is big enough to make for some confused rebound and we don’t go in too close. But it is a lovely bit of cliffs and well worth a visit. Ship Stern Bluff then past Tunnel Bay and cruise the coast to Low Point opposite Wedge Island. I managed to catch an excellent (for a sea kayak) point break here, and probably could have carried it another 50 – 100 metres if I’d been game enough to get closer to the rocks.

After lunch and a cuppa at Low Point we head across to Roaring Beach and deliberate about where to head for. In the end we pass Outer North Head and head for Betsy Island. The northern end has some rocky beaches and we could land, but it looks like penguin country and quite a hike to find flat ground for a camp. We head to Iron Pot, again it’s probably possible to land on the rocky slabs but the island has a large cormorant population and really stinks! We head into Pot Bay and find there’s a nice little couple of spaces to squeeze in a tent or 2 and we can finally camp (60km day!). It’s 6pm and I lie back with my last beer as Jim cooks dinner. Jim organised with his brother Bruce to meet us at 9am at Kingston so we’re on the water by 7 and coast past South Arm and on a little before cutting across to Kingston Beach. 12km. Trip complete!