Every year a group of 50-something-year-old friends get together for a break from the routine and head down to the island state of Tasmania in Australia. On the tenth anniversary of this undertaking of walking, climbing, camping, throwing our backs out we looked for something a little bit different ... a week in the south west wilderness on sea kayaks. Sometimes the best preparation is no preparation, and this was our plan. We met at Hobart airport and with our guide from Roaring 40ºs Kayaking boarded a Cessna, piloted by a confident and good looking young pilot, about the age of our children. Once airborne, we were soon flying low over the Dolerite Peaks and tarn lakes that dot the eastern half of Tasmania. Head south and the next land mass is Antarctica. Head west and we would hit Argentina (we are south of the tip of Africa).
Melaleuca airstrip was our destination - the shortest commercial airstrip in Australia. A dirt runway, a few sheds and a web cam are the homage to the 21st century, the rest is the artwork of nature most recently transformed post glaciation 12,000 years ago. Melaleuca is the gateway to the southwest wilderness of Tasmania. The Aboriginal people left little to mark their presence and a few hardy tin miners and rugged pioneers left tracks and the occasional cottage and headstones.
We ensconced ourselves in the six kayaks thatRoaring 40ºs keep permanently down there and after a few instructions and safety briefing, paddled off confidently into the sunshine and perfect calm. We started in a placid creek which soon opened up to vistas of low mountain ranges and endless brooding skies. The waterway lead on to Bathurst Harbour, then the Narrows which funnel the westerlies (they are not called theRoaring 40ºs for nothing) and finally Port Davey, a semi open waterway exposing us to the challenging ocean swells and on occasion, furious storms.
The sea swells and winds are exhilarating but initially a little intimidating. The rewards are stupendous. Stunning red sunsets, low mountains adorned with swirling clouds, empty beaches, fresh water streams you can safely drink from, rocky capes to flirt with from the kayaks and small islands with crashing waves to avoid. Nothing beats effortlessly racing along on days with the current and wind on your side. Nothing is worse than driving rain and headwinds with sea spray and a ferocious bull ant in your tent.
Our guide was entertaining and professional, trained in all that was required including emergency medicine. We asked what happens if someone has a heart attack: the answer was rest and aspirin and hope that a helicopter could land if the weather allowed and our emergency satellite phone had reception. Fortunately our worst injury was an avulsed toenail (sorry, was that too much information)!
Over the week we enjoyed fine expedition food (including a birthday cake cooked on a camp oven), kayaking on placid tannin-stained waterways and oceans that were just a tad angry, beach-combing, climbing the surrounding low ranges and the joys of isolation in wilderness never knowing what the next day would bring, but whatever it was would be “interesting”.
Our admiration went out to those whose foresight resulted in the creation of the 1 million acre South West Wilderness, a refuge from the 21st century.
Words by Emil Martin & Photographs by Angela Terrell