Exploring Tasmania’s wild west

Port Davey Tasmania Travel. Photography Tim Grey
Port Davey Tasmania Travel. Photography Tim Grey

This five-day luxury expedition cruise through Tasmania’s World Heritage-listed South West Cape combines rugged beauty with five-star comforts.

As I emerge through the gap in the thicket of tea tree and she-oak and onto the pavement of smooth white stones that fringe the beach, the first dinghy is already speeding across the bay toward the Odalisque. Although it’s rapidly disappearing into the distance, the grins that plaster the faces of its crew are clearly visible as they wave back at me, triumphant in their imminent return to warm blankets, and presumably, a cold glass of Tasmanian rosé. We’ve just completed a four-hour hike across Tasmania’s Southern Cape, crossing the hinterland between Spain and Stephens Bays where a wombat accompanied our journey up the beach.

Momentarily defeated, I plonk down on a big bit of driftwood and unlace my muddy boots. For the past four days, we’ve been wending up the Bathurst Channel, arriving by seaplane in the harbour near Melaleuca and making our way through the jagged rock of the Breaksea Islands, sailing into Port Davey and, if the weather holds, heading out past the heads and into the Southern Ocean, where we’ll make our way up the coast. It’s an epic landscape of soaring ranges and fast-moving sky, scoured by glaciers and endless rain. With no roads in, Tasmania’s South Western corner was once only seen by travellers as rugged as the quartzite cliffs: track-cutters, cray-fishers, and hairy-chested mountain men like the legendary Deny King, who carved out a life here carting sacksfuls of tin across the button-grass plain.

Nowadays, it’s equally remote. Despite (or because of) its World Heritage listing, the only way to see this extraordinary place is to walk the Overland and continue along the South Coast Track, a 300km journey that takes about a month to complete. But, thanks to Pieter van der Woude and the crew at On Board Expeditions, accommodations have immeasurably improved.

This season, Pieter and his crew launched the Odalisque III, a custom-designed catamaran 24 metres long, with space for 12 to sleep as sweetly as they might in Hobart, each with personal bathrooms and a queen-sized bed. It’s an impressive vessel, with two decks available for communal lounging, and an open bar stocked with Tasmania’s best artisanal liquor. The grub is just as local: one night, our onboard chef served everyone a plate of Cape Grim hanger steak alongside fresh-caught cray, with crushed spuds from the Daily Pot and Ashgrove cream.

Although the comforts of cosmopolitan life are all available aboard the Odalisque, the real reason we’re here is to explore the stunning environment onshore. Our guide is the unstoppable Peter Marmion, a former schoolteacher who’s been trekking this isolated region since the tender age of 16. A raconteur with a yarn for every occasion, Marmion was apprenticed to the area by the aforementioned Deny King, whose property at Melaleuca is maintained as a museum and is central to the tour.

Each morning, guests don their lifejackets and pile into the dinghies, which the crew pilots ashore for leisurely strolls through the thick Gondwanan forest, where orchids grow on the side of Huon Pine. From within the safety of a waterproof poncho, we explore the craggy outcrops of the Breaksea Islands, where sea eagles nest in the blue gum and giant pillars of stone tower out from the surf. More adventurous travellers can tackle Mount Stokes, which rewards the sweat-effort with the stunning panorama that sweeps across Starvation Bay, out to the cape, and the chain of islands jutting out of the ocean beyond.

Today, our party unloaded from the boat onto the shore of Spain Bay, and rambled over the scrubby hinterland down to Noyhener Beach, where for thousands of years the Needwonee people made camp, constructing enormous middens of abalone and cockle shells among the dunes. Like those ancient palawa, we stopped to eat lunch by a grassy stream, then made our way back up the beach. Sitting on my log under the shade of a banksia, I’m struck by how few people have been lucky enough to gaze out across the water with the sun sinking behind the range. It’s icy, but who knows if I’ll ever get the chance again? I strip down, hang my clothes on a branch, and plunge headfirst into the bay.

Journey Notes

The Port Davey Expeditions (Dec-May) start from $11,600 per person, twin share, and the East Coast Expedition (June-Nov) starts from $10,300 per person, twin share. Expeditions include daily guided walks and shore excursions, accommodation on expedition vessel Odalisque, all meals, fine Tasmanian wines, boutique beers, and hotel transfers.

The writer was a guest of On Board Expeditions.

Share this article