THE WIND WALK­ERS

Sail­ing and walk­ing Tassie’s east coast.

Australian Traveller - - Contents - WORDS STEVE MADG­WICK

TWO FEET, ONE YACHT, and the in­fi­nite wild beauty of Tas­ma­nia’s EAST COAST; a unique jour­ney of SAIL­ING AND BUSHWALKING of­fers the BEST OF BOTH worlds.

BAFFLINGLY, THEY VANISH, one by one. In­evitably, I will be next. Only two hours into the jour­ney, I lay prone in­side the Lady’s womb-like quar­ter­deck. En­ergy lev­els at nada, it takes me, too. Fade to black… Dazed, di­shev­elled, I paw away a pool of drool from a ran­dom jacket that I’ve req­ui­si­tioned as a pil­low. My fel­low pas­sen­gers re­ma­te­ri­alise on deck, one by one, with new­born eyes, in the same order they left. We all be­come Miss Marples and Her­cule Poirots to solve this per­plex­ing who­dun­nit: ‘The Mys­te­ri­ous Case of the Syn­chro­nised Pow­er­nap’. Ah-ha, mon ami! It was the gin­ger (anti-sea­sick­ness tablets), we de­duce. And he would have got away with it, too. Gin­ger had some ac­com­plices, though: stir in a pinch of jet­lag, a dash of se­dat­ing sea air, and a (few) bub­bly toasts to Lady Eu­ge­nie, our 23-me­tre lux­ury float­ing home for the next four days’ ‘sail walk­ing’. Turns out we won’t need the tablets any­way. Not where we’re go­ing.

THE DE­CI­SION

“It’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble,” says cap­tain Jamie Mitchell. He screws up his face into an ironic prune, barks a soli­tary laugh, like a hyena hic­cup. It’s not a wa­ter­tight ‘no’ from the man who will nav­i­gate the yacht around Maria Is­land’s some­times surly shores – more like a cap­tain’s call frocked up as an op­tion. Us land­lub­bers take the hint. The cruel sou’wester cur­rently thrash­ing the north of Maria Is­land could mur­der our mirth. Plan B? Head di­rectly south from Tri­abunna and around Maria’s feet in­stead of her head, and up the open-ocean side of the is­land. This de­tour, how­ever, comes at a cost: there’s no time to an­chor near his­toric Dar­ling­ton Pro­ba­tion Sta­tion (given we only have four days to get back to Ho­bart); our chance to trek the 630-me­tre-high do­lerite tow­ers Bishop and Clerk flut­ters away with the tem­pest. Mer­cury Pas­sage’s giv­ing swell, which rocks Eu­ge­nie like a first-time mother, grad­u­ally dis­si­pates my barely con­cealed dis­plea­sure at miss­ing the sail walk’s hik­ing high­light – its moon land­ing, if you will. The sails ren­der the en­gine’s grind re­dun­dant; a spo­radic main­sail flap and oc­ca­sional metal­lic wire ping the sooth­ingly sparse sound­track. Lee­side, a black-faced cor­morant re­peat­edly dive-bombs for brunch. Does she shut her eyes tightly, I won­der, as she crashes through the sur­face of the wa­ter? She must.

CAP­TAIN (ONLY) KID­DING

“I’ve never sailed this way,” says Jamie, sport­ing a faux lost-at-sea ex­pres­sion. His sea­far­ing-dad-joke per­sona cun­ningly cam­ou­flages high-seas cre­den­tials. He was, quite lit­er­ally, born for this. “My par­ents were on a big sail­ing trip when they stopped off in Dur­ban [South Africa], and made baby me,” he says. “They put a few books aside, made a net for me, and just kept sail­ing to the Caribbean.” This young old salt learnt sea craft the au­da­ciously hard way; he lived on the open ocean for months at a time, sail­ing from Africa to the Caribbean and then across the Pa­cific to Aus­tralia. Jamie has faced 10-me­tre waves (aboard an eight-me­tre boat), and been robbed by pirates at shot­gun-point off Venezuela. I think we’ll be okay. We shel­ter briefly un­der the grand columns of Haunted Bay on Maria’s south-east cor­ner, where the un­sym­pa­thetic ocean surges onto smooth tan­ger­ine-lichen-coated boul­ders: this coast’s in­for­mal tar­tan.

LAND AHOY

The Lady edges to­wards Riedle Bay, its isth­mus so waifish that it seems a set of rogue waves would dis­sect Maria north to south. The con­cave beach ra­di­ates an in­tense light that the English word ‘white’ fails to ex­press; per­haps the Inu­its could lend an apt ad­jec­tive. Eu­ge­nie’s rub­ber ducky flops ef­fort­lessly over Riedle’s imp­ish swell, rest­ing her nose on the beach’s crust of oblit­er­ated seashells. There’s not a plas­tic bot­tle in sight, just sea­weed and cu­ri­ous gulls pos­ing cu­ri­ous ques­tions. We boot up, a sun-bleached drift­wood tree our bench. We brush off the im­pec­ca­bly fine sand from our bare feet, lest it be our mor­tal neme­sis af­ter a few hours’ wan­der, and start along the sand past plen­ti­ful puffed-out puffer fish, scat­tered like big beach bindy-eyes. Each wears a pe­cu­liar post-mortem sur­prise on their face. Up onto Maria’s torso, along the coastal wetlands, frogs pop like bub­ble gum. Umpteen rav­en­ous blonde wom­bats graze wild grass into a sprawl­ing vil­lage green. The diminu­tive lawn­mow­ers swivel their heads rak­ishly on ap­proach, throw a ‘blue steel’ for the cam­era then trot off, plump lit­tle butts wav­ing a mar­su­pial ta-ta. Guide Ange Cun­ning­ham spots an anom­aly among the wom­bat ‘mar­bles’ we maze through; it’s Tassie devil scat. Maria is a re-re­lease area for the en­dan­gered mar­su­pi­als. Eyes re­main peeled; dev­il­lessly, re­gret­tably.

FOL­LOW THE LEADER

Sherpa-like Ange car­ries an In­spec­tor-Gad­get-spec back­pack, twice the weight of mine. A Tup­per­ware con­tainer of fresh car­rot cake mirac­u­lously ma­te­ri­alises; each treat looks just plucked from a patis­serie shelf. This con­sum­mate out­door­swoman has twigs, rocks and leaves in her DNA. “I loved go­ing out on big ad­ven­tures in the wild with my dad,” she says. “But mum never re­ally came along; she just couldn’t stand camp­ing.” We ghost past the relics of failed at­tempts to tame Maria: convict ru­ins and French’s Farm, agri­cul­tur­ally aban­doned in the 1970s. Back on Eu­ge­nie’s hand­some teak deck, a saucy salted caramel choco­late brownie and a warm­ing Tasmanian red make for a bal­anced sugar high. I tuck my­self into the cosy bot­tom bunk. The shel­tered bay only oc­ca­sion­ally re­minds me I’m sleep­ing on a yacht, with a sploosh noise through the brass-rimmed port­hole.

IT’S FINE… ONCE YOU’RE IN

Pen­cil div­ing off the side of a sail­boat into the vi­va­cious Tas­man is un­sur­passed as a wake-up rit­ual (in­vol­un­tary squeal on en­try manda­tory). Three brisk min­utes’ swim out­shines the finest sin­gle-ori­gin cuppa. For­tu­itously, for non-swim­mers, ‘Dave’ is on­board; the shiny Rocket espresso ma­chine pumps eye- and taste­bud-open­ing fresh brews, pi­loted by the Tasmanian Walk­ing Com­pany’s pre­co­cious young crew: can make a mac­chi­ato, can cook, can guide, can sail, can per­form CPR, if needs be. Bloody show-offs. Yet Dave only sur­faces spar­ingly, be­cause life on a sail­boat in­evitably re­quires a de­gree or two of com­pro­mise. Af­ter all, espresso ma­chines like Dave guz­zle pre­cious en­ergy needed else­where. Fresh wa­ter is an­other ex­am­ple; so while a hot shower aboard “doesn’t need to be one minute, they can’t be an hour, ei­ther”. Fear not, you’re not set adrift on a sea of com­pro­mise; just don’t ex­pect su­per-yacht-moored-in-Monaco su­per­fluity. This is lux­ury Aus­tralian-style: prag­matic, no­madic yet with plenty of bells, whis­tles and lo­cally sourced meal op­tions. It doesn’t have to be the con­ti­nen­tal or cooked break­fast; it can be and, if your belly so de­sires. By all means, fol­low the fruit salad with a bean-and-sausage com­pote, and feta and herb muf­fin. Glut­tony is guilt­less when you have hours of wilder­ness walk­ing in store.

LATER, MARIA

The sails rise again (me­chan­i­cally winched, a lit­tle un­ro­man­ti­cally) and Maria grad­u­ally re­treats into the sea. We plough north­wards, along whale mi­gra­tion paths to­wards Schouten Is­land, a dis­creet par­adise that would be a megas­tar if lo­cated a lit­tle closer to ‘civil­i­sa­tion’. In­fected by the land­less hori­zon, the con­ver­sa­tion frees up. We dis­cover shared in­ter­ests de­spite our cos­mic dif­fer­ences in salaries and ge­og­ra­phy – ob­vi­ously, we share a clin­i­cal in­fat­u­a­tion with walk­ing in re­mote spa­ces but, not so ob­vi­ously, a veiled Abba-bal­lad ad­dic­tion too. English empty-nesters Roger and Janette are on the third leg of their South­ern Hemi­sphere trekking odyssey, al­ready lean and tanned from re­cent jaunts on Vic­to­ria’s Great Ocean Walk and New Zealand’s South Is­land. They gig­gle at each other’s jokes. They walk for hours, days, but con­ver­sa­tion never runs dry. Most im­por­tantly, they still make each other blush. Oh, Roger. Oh, Janette.

SUD­DENLY, FROM THE DEEP

Fins bee­line for Eu­ge­nie’s star­board. A pod of (un­fairly la­belled) com­mon dol­phins shies away at the last mil­lisec­ond, straight into the bow wave. They surf with the en­ergy of red-cor­dial-af­fected chil­dren. We take turns to sit on the bowsprit, alone with the dol­phins and our thoughts. Their squeaks and clicks mes­merise and heal. An af­ter­thought of dark rock, Ile des Pho­ques, pokes its head from the deep; ful­some waves burst into vapour on its crags. It’s an un­in­hab­it­able deep-sea anom­aly; walked on by no one, it seems alive, it moves. Aus­tralian fur seal flip­pers wave clumsy hel­los. They roll over, flop into the wa­ter, re­turn on the next set, ut­terly obliv­i­ous of what our an­ces­tors did to their an­ces­tors here.

DOES A BEAR…

Like many Aus­tralian land­marks, the in­vaders ig­nored the lo­cals when nam­ing Schouten Is­land. In­stead of a rel­e­vant and po­etic moniker from the Oys­ter Bay Tribe, this is­land was shack­led with the sur­name of a Dutch East Indies Com­pany ad­min­is­tra­tor (even­tu­ally hung for ‘sodomy’) who had no real vis­ceral con­nec­tion to Tassie at all. Sim­i­larly, a quaint sea-blue sign on Schouten touts ‘Bear Hill’ walk­ing track, but I don’t come across any stray koala (even though they’re not strictly bears), griz­zly or po­lar bears on the three-hour switch-back­ing loop through blue gum for­est to the (bare) gran­ite-capped is­land.

The un­sym­pa­thetic ocean surges onto smooth tan­ger­ine-lichen-coated boul­ders: this coast’s in­for­mal tar­tan.

Pre­sum­ably, the trail it­self, which re­quires nim­ble scram­bling, is the walker’s bur­den to ‘bear’. At the sum­mit, the ar­rest­ing vista across Fr­eycinet Penin­sula to Coles Bay has a per­ni­cious his­tory; spot­ters here used to sig­nal to whalers in the coves be­low to ‘move in’. Small scars on the land also be­tray an­other failed ven­ture on these lu­mi­nous shores: coal min­ing. Back on the beach, as the Lady bobs far out in the bay, a glass of sin­gle-ori­gin An­drew Pirie Apogee sparkling pre­am­bles a can­dlelit beach din­ner ‘sur­prise’ that we all knew was com­ing. Mako cray­fish pâté, dolma, and fresh Bruny Is­land oys­ters grace the tres­tle ta­ble as walk­ers slump into Hamp­ton-es­que can­vas fold­away chairs. If a few overs of (tipsy) post-feast beach cricket with two Cana­dian lawyers is sur­real for me, it must be pos­i­tively oth­er­worldly for them. On this day, with no other walk­ers around, Schouten is our is­land playground alone.

THE BIG PUSH

Over break­fast, a to­tally dead­pan cap­tain Jamie re­cites his own bush bal­lad, Ode to a Wom­bat. Janette and Roger sur­rep­ti­tiously shrug, look quizzi­cally at each other, then at me, as if I know what the hell’s go­ing on. We spon­ta­neously and bois­ter­ously cheer in over­com­pen­sa­tion. Fr­eycinet ex­hales fe­ro­ciously, as if to re­mind us she’s not to be taken lightly, as we ten­der up to Bryans Beach for the Big One: around seven hours (our choice) on the Fr­eycinet Penin­sula Cir­cuit, des­ti­na­tion Wineglass Bay. Ini­tially, the track barely in­ter­rupts the dense eu­ca­lypt for­est and chamois-like ferns; as if no-one’s been here for a while. The canopy sur­ren­ders to the sky as we scale Mount Gra­ham’s flanks (579 me­tres), where hands come in handy to nav­i­gate the rocky-river-course-cum-trail. A cup of herbal tea brews on a camp cooker, lugged up by trainee guide Tal­bot, who tries to con­vince us that the banksia here smells like but­tered corn. Three or four snorts each later, some agree, some just get head spins. Bu­reau­cratic in­sur­ance non­sense for­bids us from head­ing to the high­est point, Mount Fr­eycinet (620 me­tres), but as a sec­ond-choice van­tage point, Gra­ham is sub­lime. From above, Wineglass Bay some­how out­shines its rep­u­ta­tion; it feels like you could roll down to the bay, like we used to roll down the grass hills of child­hood. But the hike con­tin­ues.

OPEN­ING THE WINE

We re­spect­fully walk around an­cient Indige­nous mid­dens (shell de­posits from camp­ing and eat­ing ar­eas). They feel ig­nored, for­got­ten, un­spo­ken, even though we speak about them, like an an­cient myth you read about in school. Wineglass is at once im­mense, blus­tery, beau­ti­ful and con­found­ingly de­serted, save for a pied oys­ter­catcher and a hooded plover or two, plus a swin­ishly vex­a­tious pocket of midges. Some say that Wineglass is so named be­cause it re­sem­bles one; oth­ers that the ice-blue wa­ter here used to run red as Ch­ablis with whale in­nards. As if to un­der­line this, an alabaster whale­bone sits atop a tourist sign. Many have been lured by the exquisite­ness and pos­si­bil­i­ties of this (now pro­tected) land­scape; jail­ers, min­ers, whalers, a ce­ment-plant pro­pri­etor and even an Ital­ian wine­maker, but ul­ti­mately no one wins an ar­gu­ment against this graceful, in­scrutable and im­mov­able force. But un­like those who came be­fore, Fr­eycinet does not spit us out. We floated in on the wind (mostly), walked, watched, and bor­rowed its bounty, and only for four splen­did days.

CLOCK­WISE FROM FAR LEFT: Ile des Pho­ques trans­lates as ‘is­land of seals’, and here’s why; Bear (free) Hill; Ap­proach­ing Ile des Pho­ques; Hit­ting the sand for the first time in Riedle Bay.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: The Lady Eu­ge­nie; Schouten Is­land; The view is more than worth the climb.

FROM TOP: The fa­mous beauty of Wineglass Bay; Flora on the Fr­eycinet Penin­sula Cir­cuit; A wom­bat lawn­mower.

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