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There’s a moment, as the sun finally sets over Bramble Cove, when it feels like I have found the end of the Earth. Aside from my fellow travellers – only 11 other passengers share my accommodation – and the Odalisque III crew, we have this pocket of Tasmanian paradise all to ourselves. That is if you don’t count the pair of white-bellied sea eagles that glide overhead and the orchestra of cicadas and frogs that somehow keep time.
Earlier in the day we had spotted wombats, wallabies and the footprints of a Tasmanian devil while hiking to mountain-top lookouts. For all the fine details, it’s hard not to imagine giants yawning when they created these cavernous waterways, hemmed by precipitous cliffs and cloaked with ancient forest. Being here is humbling – being here in style is truly life-changing.
This remote hamlet tucked into the southwest coast of Australia’s Apple Isle is nature writ large. And the only way to see it is if you are on foot, in a plane or on a cruise. On a five-day Odalisque III journey, I have the privilege of experiencing all three modes of transport.
Departing Hobart, our plane glides low over the jagged mountain ranges that carve the coastline of Tasmania’s vast Southwest National Park. Roads and phone reception quickly fade away to thick forest, quartzite peaks and pummelling oceans topped with a toothpaste-white froth.
Aside from the putter of the plane, not a single sound greets us when we land at the entrance to Port Davey, primed to embark the brand new Odalisque III. The next week aboard this sleek new luxury catamaran – the brainchild of ex-abalone diver Pieter van der Woude and and his daughter Alice – will be spent enjoying a mix of adventure and indulgence.
Day one: we hike to Mt Milner for horizon-bending views over the Bathurst Narrows, the entrance to Port Davey. Superlatives utterly fail to describe just how pretty this part of Australia really is – the stuff postcards are made of. Mere hours later, boots off, we sit down to briny Tasmanian oysters and sparkling wine – this far south, the sun doesn’t set until well after 9pm, so our appetisers extend as long as the daylight. Later, our chef crafts a menu that heroes just about every local producer imaginable. I envy the night owls among my cohort.
The following days are a blur of soul-salving experiences. One occasion, we wander through button-grass plains and tea-tree forest before emerging onto the untracked sands of a wild Southern Ocean beach. From here, nothing stands between us and Antarctica. It feels like we’ve made a discovery, but Tasmania’s Aboriginal community was here long before us – our guide points out some of the largest middens in the Southern Hemisphere, these sacred Indigenous grounds among the earliest conservation stories on the planet.
Every itinerary here is fluid, taking into consideration the conditions – which can change at the drop of a hat – and the wants of guests. This might mean itineraries that take in Stephens Bay Beach or the beautifully calm and warm waters of Hannant Inlet, a favourite nesting site for swans and waterfowl, and a nice spot for a swim.
Other days Odalisque III spends lazy hours winding up the Huon-pine-lined bends of the Davey River, floating past ancient rainforest and navigating narrow walls of a towering rocky gorge, so close I can almost touch both sides.
When not dining on board, we enjoy shore picnics. In our company are avid environmentalists and ecologists who tell us about the rare and endangered species we spot en route, among them the orange-bellied parrot – only 140 such birds remain in the wild. We hike to look out for views over Bathurst Harbour, Melaleuca Inlet, the Celery Top Islands and Mt Rugby. And just to stretch sea legs a little further, we climb Mt Beattie and enjoy expansive scenes of the waterways and surrounding peaks.
But like all experiences aboard Odalisque III, our excursion selection is completely bespoke – hike if you want to, or chill out in your cabin, replete with every trimming. Neither choice distracts from the real eye-candy outside – framed through picture windows and reproduced in photos above the bed.
This celebration of all things local extends from botanical amenities – fused with kelp and a rare flowering holly only found in the southwest – to the library of glossy Tasmanian tomes, to pervasive artworks by talented local creatives, and a bar stocked with cool-climate sparkling wines and award-winning pinot noir.
Meanwhile in the dining room, a taste of place is guaranteed from the moment you pull up a chair – plates, bowls and cups have been especially crafted for the ship by a local Tasmanian ceramicist. The menu changes daily, depending on what’s in season. I sit down to a pescatarian feast of crayfish, oysters and abalone, prepared to perfection thanks to Chef Courtney Drew’s in-depth knowledge of the produce that stars in this part of the world. Alternate choices include slow-braised beef cheek with chocolate and pinot, and pan-fried quail with quinoa, berries and balsamic. Wallaby shanks with roast pumpkin, bitter greens and jus. Spring bay mussels in white wine with leeks and smoky bacon… It’s a wonder I can – and am willing to – make it back to my cabin after food this good.
A week from embarkation, our time has drawn to a close. I remain thoroughly spoiled for choice of cuisine, spoiled by luxury of amenities and spoiled by seaborne immersion in one of the world’s grandest, and least spoilt, landscapes.
Custom-built for On Board, Odalisque III will make her maiden voyage in January 2023. Book now at onboardexpeditions.com.au