Thanks to her majestic mountains, pristine beaches, and her vast and little touched bushlands, Tasmania is earning her ranks as a world-renowned holiday destination. She is a glorious island, and for many the joys of visiting her are awe-inspiring – but limited to what can be seen from land. Beyond her shores there is much to take in. The waters that surround us here in Tasmania are teaming with life, and what better way to appreciate it than up close and personal form the deck of the lovely Lady Eugenie? Well I can’t think of any…
Today we are making the passage from Maria Island to Schouten Island, the southern tip of Freycinet National Park. After a stimulating day exploring all that Maria Island has to offer on land, including her rich history, geological phenomena and, of course, mountain top views, it seems fitting that today we are trading soil for sea. As our boots wait patiently tucked away in the boot box, we lather on the sunscreen and pull out our wind breakers, we are going sailing!
It is not long into the sail when I hear the familiar joyful cry of ‘dolphins!’. Within moments all of us are at the bow of the Lady Eugenie watching the most spectacular acrobatic display by these beautiful and intelligent mammals. Thanks to the perfectly transparent waters we can see the colourings and movements of each animal as they dart about taking turns playing in our bow wave. It’s hard to decide whether to attempt for the perfect picture, or to simply enjoy the moment.
After a round of hot drinks and bickies for the guests, I am taking the opportunity for a quiet moment on deck. The Lady Eugenie has a gentle movement, happily handling the stiff breeze that has picked up. The yacht has quietened down now too, some taking the opportunity for a nap, others snapping shots of the albatross and petrels that are playing in the wind. I notice a fin and quickly consider whether I should rouse everyone for another dolphin show, but then I notice this one is not diving but carving an S through the water… it is a shark! I’ve heard many ocean sailor’s tales about sharks circling yachts (always at the most unfortunate times) but after thousands of miles of sailing I have never seen one from this perspective, and I’m excited! But of course, I have now missed my chance to point it out to everyone and I am left spinning the tale of ‘how big my fish was’, 2, 3, or was it 4 meters?!
Soon the familiar stench of Ile des Phoques (French for ‘Island of the Seals’) comes wafting over the Lady Eugenie. This is always a highlight - once you get use to the smell. Ile des Phoques is an important breeding ground for the Australian fur seal. Looking at it today, it is hard to believe that last century the seals were hunter nearly to extinction. From our view, the large granite rock appears to be inundated with seals, generally making a ruckus and joyfully sliding into the sea. The big and aggressive males bark and puff their chests out at each other while others seem to be completely unperturbed, sprawled out and sun-baking. If I was a hungry shark this is where I would hang out.
We ‘round the corner of Schouten island and take advantage of the calm waters by serving up freshly baked pie and salad for lunch. We are in no rush, but by now the beautiful bare boulders of Bear Hill are tempting us to stretch our legs again. We’ve ticked off quite a variety of sea-life on today’s voyage, and as we lace-up I am excited to see what we find ashore…
Shortly into our walk up the hill, we stop at a lookout and are surprised at how far we’ve climbed. We look down from our bird’s-eye view to the Lady Eugenie floating serenely in the twinkling crescent bay, framed by the Hazard Mountains behind her. Picture perfect. At that moment, I realise exactly what we have found ashore; another perspective to take it all in.