Cruising on the Gordon River
[Early Spring, here in Australia and a good time to visit Tasmania. Ah, memories of travels with my husband (Mr. K), his brother (P1), and cousin from Switzerland (P2), to the West Coast of Tasmania; a brilliant and beautiful destination to explore.]
An early start, just what the K-Team love. We were to board the Wilderness Cruise Boat by 8.45am. Not as early as the last time I took the cruise. Then, in 2011, I journeyed with my mother (Mrs T), for whatever reason, the ship departed much earlier than 8.45am. Fearing we’d miss the boat, Mum and I rose at the crack of dawn and ate our breakfast at a hotel opposite the wharf while watching the sun rise on the calm waters of Macquarie Harbour; an oil painting in hues of gold and pink with ducks on the jetty. Mum’s breakfast of Eggs Benedict was less than perfect; uncooked, runny and the “whites” not white. She’s never had Eggs Benedict again. I guess there had to be some compensation for the ideal weather we had that August day in 2011.
Not so for the K-Team in 2016. A perfect mix of personalities, no conflicts—apart from some initial altercation between my husband’s phone GPS navigator and the Kluger’s Pandora navigational system. Now that was something out of the box, so we packed away any semblance of pairing our phones with the car’s computer system and relied on the navigational system God had given us—our brains…and some forward planning with Google Maps. So, instead we had the weather as our thorn-in-the-side member of the K-Team. At least someone up there, I mean God, had been looking after us.
When we booked our cruise, the lady asked us, ‘Do you want to go on the ABT Railway up to Queenstown?’
‘How much?’ I asked.
The lady showed the prices.
‘What time does it get back?’
‘Nah, we’re meeting my cousin at 4.30pm. So, we’ll take the cruise.’
A narrow escape. We heard that night while dining with my cousin, Kiah who runs the Strahan Visitors Centre, that fallen trees on the railway track had stranded the tourists on the train for several hours. They arrived back in Strahan at 8.30pm. The next day, on the cruise, Kiah overheard some girls who had been on the train trip say they were going to write a reality TV show about bored kids.
The cruise, definitely not boring. First a ride out through the narrow heads and into the full force of the roaring 40’s and rough seas; P2’s highlight of the Tassie Trip. My husband was surprised I didn’t get seasick. I’d remembered to take my ginger tablets.
Then, after returning back into the safety of the harbour, a tour of the salmon farms; big netted rings full of fish.
Kiah and her team would be our guides on Sarah Island, the worst penal colony in the whole British Empire in the early nineteenth century. We spent an hour or so on the island touring around the various sites, the tour guides giving lively and entertaining accounts of Sarah Island’s history.
Walking up the gangway, I studied the wilderness mountains jutting above the forest lining the harbour and detected the vague outline of Frenchman’s Cap, clouds shrouding it from a clear view.
As we raced up the river, the Captain rabbited on about Sarah Island’s convict history and then he said, ‘While we travel up the river, think about what it would’ve been like living in those times on Sarah Island as a convict.’
I recalled the play we’d seen the night before, The Ship that Never Was; the political climate and social conditions of nineteenth century Britain that created the huge gap between the rich and the poor, unemployment and homelessness, and the solution to send shiploads of social rejects (the convicts) to Australia—the worst offenders to the most remote place on earth, Sarah Island. Yet, in all of that condemnation and hopelessness, redemption. Some of these convicts, when they received their ticket of leave (freedom), became leaders in the colony; their skills not going to waste. Treat people like they matter, give them a chance. This is how I understood David Hoy, Master Shipwright treated the convicts. I could go on, but best if you ever go to Tasmania, go to Strahan, do the cruise and see the play.
And while we were there, clutching the mini hot water bottles loaned to us for the duration of the performance, and waiting for the play to start, the tour group we encountered the previous day, joined the audience. Some of them ended up participating in the play. So did P2 helping the ship (just a pile of wood, really) sail to close to the coast of Chile…before it…well, you’ll have to see the play to find out what happened.
After a tasty buffet lunch of smoked salmon, cheese, bread and salad, we had a half-hour walk in the rainforest. Amazed at the variety and abundance of plant-life and how plants grow out of tree trunks and stumps. The old Huon pine stump that had been struck down by lightning a decade or so ago, was now a garden of seedlings, native laurel, moss, lichen, and ferns.
Then the race back to Strahan. In all we had travelled 140km on tour of the Macquarie Harbour, some way up the Gordon River and then back to Strahan.
P1 disappointed with the cloudy weather said, ‘How can I get good photos when there’s no sun?’
‘They’re mood photos,’ I replied. Cheeky, I know, since in 2011, the sun shone on Mum and me, and I had dozens of chocolate-box photos of the Gordon River like glass reflecting perfectly vivid green forest trees. Oh, well. We were blessed that day in 2011. The western wilderness of Tasmania gets on average around 4000mm of rain a year. So more likely to get cloudy rainy days on a cruise than sunny, I guess.
Besides, did P1 in 2016, have an Eggs Benedict like my mum had eaten that morning in 2011?
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016; updated 2019
Feature Photo: Catching the Mood and Tour of Sarah Island © L.M. Kling 2016
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