TUESDAY 29 FEBRUARY QUEENSTOWN
Yes, a Leap Year!
We woke early, to the alarm. Left camp at 7.45am to drive to Strahan, getting there at 8.30.
Stopped at the bakery, so I could buy us focaccia rolls for lunch, as we had decided not to pay the extra fee for the lunch provided on the cruise, thinking it would probably be fairly ordinary.
We were able to get a window seat on the cruise boat, opposite a couple from NSW. The seats were each side of tables, so some people faced forwards, some back. The Wanderer III was a big boat which took over a hundred people at a time. We found it quite comfortable. There were some tour groups on the boat, mostly older people.
Departure was as scheduled, at 9am. We cruised down Macquarie Harbour, then around to Macquarie Heads and the narrow Harbour entrance – Hells Gates. This name came from the convicts when Macquarie Harbour had a penal settlement, 1822-33. To them, it was the entrance to Hell.
The boat proceeded past the small light houses on Bonnet and Entrance Islands the guide through the channel – narrow and treacherous – and on out into the open sea. We could see the convict-constructed rock wall along the channel near the entrance. The commentary explained the scouring effect of the channelling, to keep the entrance clear, and pointed out the Cape Sorell Lighthouse.
We could just see lots of wild, western mountains in the misty distance – a lovely outlook.
We were followed through Hells Gates by another, similar, cruise boat.
After our little look about out there, we motored back into the Harbour. The Hells Gates entrance was, thankfully, very docile today. I guess there are plenty of times when the cruise can’t go outside, as we did.
Our next destination was Sarah Island, down the Harbour, about 25kms from the entrance, passing some Atlantic salmon fish farms in their circular cages, on the way. This was the site of the penal settlement. There, we went ashore for a guided tour. This was done by actors based at the Visitors Centre, in Strahan, and was excellent, interesting and informative. Despite the large group, it was all audible. At one stage, an actor went into the water (in a wet suit) to explain and show the existence of the old slipway timbers and jetties.
Much research seems to have been done about Sarah Island. Conventional wisdom has long had it that Macquarie Harbour was a dreadful place of punishment and that the penal settlement here was eventually abandoned in favour of Port Arthur because of the difficulty of supplying the place from Hobart (by ship). However, on the tour it was suggested that it was actually a very successful, calm and hard working establishment, where there was little trouble and the convict population took pride in the ship building and support works. Not all of the convicts were those being punished for further crimes committed while under sentence elsewhere; some were those who had opted to go there in return for a remittance of their sentence. Thus, the tour suggested, it was abandoned because it was not punishment enough!
The hour of the presentation flew by. I would have liked some time to browse on the island independently, which we did not get. I think that only having supervised groups may be part of the preservation tactics.
Back aboard, the boat headed further down the Harbour, to the entrance to the Gordon River.
Lunch was served on the boat at this time. I think we were the only ones who had brought our own! The boat meal looked excellent – cold meats, stacks of smoked salmon, salads. I think we made a major misjudgement there! Still, our focaccia was nice.
We progressed slowly up the Gordon River – there is a low speed limit, to protect the river banks from wash from the tour boats.
Thick forest came right to the water’s edge. There were brilliant reflections in the dark river water. The river was wide and tranquil.
We passed a yacht tied up at Fishermans Landing.
The commentary on the boat told of the protest blockades of the early 80’s, over the proposal to dam this river, downstream of the junction with the Franklin River, that would have impacted hugely on both rivers. It described all the arrests that were made – including of Bob Brown, a leader of the Save the Franklin movement, who went on to become an Australian Senator and Greens Party founder and leader.
The rivers were saved, after the intervention of the newly elected Hawke ALP government, and High Court decisions about federal powers and World Heritage Area rights. All history now!
We went ashore at Heritage Landing for a 15 minute rainforest walk, with commentary. The forest here, ironically, was nowhere near as good as that we’ve seen in other part of Tasmania. There was one huge Huon pine tree – falling down – and we took photos of that.
Back on the boat and back down the river and across the Harbour, to Strahan. One does not really realize how big Macquarie Harbour is, until you do something like this.
We spent some of the time on deck and some inside, watching a scenery video they showed – brilliant. Many of the older, tour bus people slept.
It was a pleasant trip back down the river and up the Harbour, but blowy when the boat went fast.
We docked at 3.45pm. The trip, at $44 each, was excellent value.
We then went to the pine mill here – Morrisons – and John talked to the owner, who seemed to remember him. This is where John bought the Huon pine he used to make our bedroom furniture, in early 1993. He did the timber buying whilst I was laid up in Queenstown Hospital with a ruptured disc in my lower back; he enjoyed that time much more than I did! The pine was shipped across for us.
There were lots of round pine turning blanks, some sassafras ones too. The prices seemed good and John got a price list. He was given the advice to keep such pieces in plastic, to season it and prevent cracking.
At the bakery I bought two more focaccia rolls, for tomorrow’s lunch.
The drive back to our Queenstown base, in the late afternoon sunshine, was enjoyable. We were in time to collect the papers for the last two days.
Tea was potato salad and coleslaw and a tin of pink, smoke flavoured salmon. Seemed fitting and was nice.
This was the last day of summer – and an excellent way to spend it. I was so pleased that the weather forecast had remained accurate, and that we had a clear, sunny day for this trip.
We decided to extend the stay here until after the weekend, as there are still things we want to do.