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After waiting six days for gale force winds to abate, they did. As we left Recherche Bay the seas were calm and there was NO wind. We raised our main and motored sailed for ten hours along spectacularly beautiful coastline. We were periodically joined by seals and dolphins playing in the water and jumping up to get a good look at us. It seemed like no time before we were heading into Port Davey, a true wilderness area. Part of the Southwest National Forest, which covers the southwest quadrant of the state, the area is accessible only by boat, small plane, or a 100 mile walk along the trail from Recherche Bay. And given that you need good weather conditions to get in by boat or plane, it is not a good choice for anyone on a tight time schedule. But if you do make it here, you will be well rewarded with some of the best scenery in the world.
Our first night, Feb 24, was spent in Spain Bay where we had arranged to meet Matthew with our fish. He called right on schedule but said he was not coming into the bay for the night so asked if Ron could bring the dinghy out to pick up the fish as he passed by. Soon Ron returned with a beautiful, large Trumpeter, the first of that variety we have had. It was delightful, light and delicate with a wonderful taste. After a peaceful night, we awoke the next day ready to explore. I wanted a chance to experiment with my camera, Bradley was recovering from a stomach bug, and Ron wanted to go fast, so we all set out in different directions. I took a tiny but beautiful trail across to a place called Stephen's Point with a nice sandy beach, mountains rising right up out of the ocean, and dazzling rock formations. Best of all, not a person or a boat in sight. Along the beach there was a skeleton of a baby whale, first the head and a little further down, the tail. All in all a great place to spend a couple hours experimenting with the camera. Anyway, it was a great walk and when we returned to the boat we found we had been joined in the anchorage by an abalone boat. Two of the divers came for a visit and asked if we wanted a cray (lobster) to which we replied "of course!". They handed one over and then asked if we like abalone. We replied that we did so they said "wait here, we'll be right back" whereupon they zipped back to their boat and returned with four large abalone. Abalone is not that popular in the U.S. but it is considered a real delicacy in Asia, especially in Japan. Many Americans are familiar with the shell, which has a rainbow of colors on the inside and is used in making jewelry and other things. Abalones have a shell which covers a large, muscular inside with a big suction cup on the side opposite the shell. The suction cup is used to hold on to rocks where they live. They are harvested by divers. Although we have had abalone before, we did not know how to get it out of its shell. These divers gave us a quick lesson and Ron soon had the hang of it. First, you slice through the muscle that holds the shell on, then remove the shell, trim away the outer flap, then slice the meat into small steaks. Before cooking, you need to bang the meat with a mallet, otherwise it can be tough. We invited the divers on board for a drink and talked over various abalone recipes and also learned quite a bit about their lifestyle and the economics of abalone fishing. Our dinner was superb and we marveled how, though we are in the most remote wilderness we've ever encountered, we have managed to have dinner delivered to us three nights in a row!
Next morning we moved to the mouth of the Davey River which we planned to explore by dinghy. It is purported to have stunning scenery and beautiful reflections in the morning sun. We were not disappointed! We slowly covered the five miles to "The Gorge", a large canyon with sheer rock cliffs on either side. Besides the scenery the river is also heavily populated with black swans, beautiful birds that seem meant for floating on water but not well designed for flying. We began to feel bad each time we approached them and made them fly away. It seems like so much work for them to get airborne! Their wings flap and flap as they flail their legs violently along the top of the water until they finally begin to rise. Their necks are so long and their wings so far back that they look very ungainly as they fly. These ones are so unaccustomed to people that it is very difficult to even get close enough for a photo.
After the river cruise we moved on to the next anchorage at Bramble Cove, just a few miles away. Soon we were snugly anchored and ready for some more exploration. We decided to tackle the short hike up Mt. Milner, a small peak with more spectacular views. Another workout for the camera I'm afraid. Digital cameras are great, but in a place like this you end up taking hundreds of photos, most of them good ones. Having to pick just a few to include on this website is a real challenge! The next morning brought misery. Mt. Misery that is. A rocky peak rising 1500 feet, it was our morning activity. It was quite a stimulating climb as the trail was more or less straight up and the higher we went, the better the views got. Soon Shear Madness was just a speck below us. Too bad it wasn't a sunny day or the camera would have had as much of a workout as we did. We met some kayakers who were camping on the nearby beach. There were four of them in two-man expedition kayaks. They fly into the small airstrip and carry everything the need for a week in their kayaks - food, water, clothes, camping gear. They paddle about 20 miles every day and camp out every night. A great way to see the area, but given the weather patterns here, I think I like being on Shear Madness better!
That afternoon, we moved on to King's Point near Melaleuca where the airstrip is located. We took another scenic dinghy ride to Melaleuca to see what was there. There is a gravel airstrip just barely long enough for a small plane to take off (we watched one and he got airborne with about 20 yards of airstrip left), a small shelter which is a combination air terminal, information station, and walker registration area, and a small container of equipment for the Tasmania Police Helicopter rescue service. A short walk away is a bird observation hide, small building which is primarily devoted to monitoring the endangered orange-bellied parrot. There are less than 200 of these birds left and we were fortunate enough to see one of them. They are a migratory bird that winters in Victoria and South Australia and comes back here to breed. It's habitat here in Tasmania is just fine, but development on the mainland has threatened its existence there. Right now, the population is holding its own, but due to its low numbers, it is greatly at risk. Volunteers come here for two week stints to monitor the birds and we met the current residents who live very primitively in the nearby ranger station during their stay.
There were several people at the airstrip waiting for a plane, including a few guests and one crew from the local "cruise ship" the Southern Explorer which can hold up to eight guests, and two guys from Sydney who had spent a week backpacking along the South Coast trail from Recherche Bay. We had seen the Southern Explorer in our travels and had passed them in their dinghy on our cruise up the Davey River and waved at them a couple times. We learned they still had two guests and two crew on board so after a nice visit with the folks at the airstrip we stopped on our way back to the boat to introduce ourselves to those still on board Southern Explorer. Soon we had been invited on board for drinks and chance to make some more new friends. As darkness approached, we said goodbye and headed home.
That night (Friday), we listened to the weather forecast in order to begin to plan our departure from Port Davey. It looks like Monday will be the day to leave and Sunday is predicted to be nasty weather, so Saturday will be the best chance to climb Mt. Rugby, a 2500 foot peak often covered in clouds. Saturday morning indeed looked like a good day to give it a shot. However, I was the only one who really wanted to do it. Bradley was still recovering from his stomach bug and the previous day's climb up Mt. Misery and Ron was without climbing shoes as his sole pair had fallen apart the previous day. We decided that I would take a GPS and handheld radio and do the climb on my own, checking in every hour and relaying my position. It was a good plan with just one problem. We had a vague idea of where the trail was, but after more than half an hour searching for it by dinghy, we could not find it. I wasn't quite up to the challenge of climbing Mt. Rugby alone without a trail, so we went to plan B, which was for me to hike the overland trail to Melaleuca. We could clearly see that trail rising up over a hill, though we were a bit uncertain where it began. After exploring a couple possibilities, we found a cove with what looked like a clearly marked trail. Bradley went ashore to give it a look and said it appeared to be the main trail. However, he had almost stepped on a snake and said "you can walk it if you want, but be careful of the snakes". There are only four or five types of snakes in Tasmania, but all of them are venomous. Undaunted, I set off with plans to check in by radio every hour and to be picked up at the other end of the trail, which ends at the airstrip. I found the trail which led through the woods past a campsite and into an opening on the other side where it then - ended! Just as I heard the dinghy leaving, I realized I had been dropped off at a campsite with just a little local trail, not the main trail. I could still clearly see the trail I wanted, but it was across knee high buttongrass filled with tricky foot placements, and of course poisonous snakes! Here I was, literally alone in the wilderness without a trail to follow. It was slow going and I took care to make as much noise as possible to make sure the snakes knew I was coming, but after 40 hard minutes of sometimes having to backtrack and start over, I made it to the main trail. From there, it was another three and a half hours to the airstrip. It was an interesting trail and gave me a good feel for the terrain which was boggy, almost swampy in places. Several times, innocent looking little puddles would give way, leaving me ankle deep in thick, ugly mud. Other times, the trail, which isn't much traveled, was difficult to follow, but never so difficult as to disappear entirely. I did not see a single snake. In fact I saw very little wildlife. The most interesting was a couple of ground parrots, a rare bird, but not an endangered one. All-in-all, it was great fun as instead of viewing the scenery from a mountaintop, I actually had the chance to walk across it and get a much better feel for the terrain. Having no idea how long the trail was, I checked in each hour with Bradley until finally I could see the airstrip and give him an ETA.
Bradley wanted to do a short walk to we agreed to meet at the airstrip and to proceed a short way along the South Coast Trail. But after about twenty minutes the weather turned decidedly nasty and the rain began to fall. We headed back to the airstrip and stopped in at the shelter where we met our friends from Southern Explorer waiting for their plane. After a brief visit with them, we headed back to the dinghy for the return to Shear Madness. The 20 minute trip was completed in driving rain and whistling winds. I was glad to get back on board for a hot shower and a steaming mug of hot chocolate!