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  • Writer's pictureKaia Colestock

Voyage to Tasmania

Updated: Jan 6

It’s time to get out on the ocean. Our final destination: the only island state of Australia - Tasmania. One ship carries passengers across the Bass Strait between Devonport on the island and Melbourne on the mainland. The “Spirit of Tasmania” is an Australian-owned ship constructed in Finland. Over 600-feet long, it can carry 1,400 people and 500 vehicles. While we considered taking the campervan, vehicle occupancy was booked solid for some time due to slow recovery from Covid restrictions. So we boarded as pedestrian passengers. The rest we’ll figure out as we go.

Spirit of Tasmania I (of II) is a comfortable vessel, and certainly the largest one on which we‘ve ever been - large enough to risk skipping seasickness medication. The risk paid off, and although the Bass Strait is a rough-and-tumble place, the boat didn’t get kicked around in the swell like a little dive boat. If you’re feeling extra daring, it’s possible to kayak your way to Tasmania, island by island, starting with the southern end of Wilson’s Promontory National Park. Locals claim you can see the next island at each one as you move south. Until we have superhuman fitness, for now we are contented with a 10-hour ferry ride.

Three hours into the trip, we rounded the bend of “Indented Head” (Australian have a good sense of humor), and exited Port Phillip bay between a lighthouse and Fort Nepean. (Side note: the first Australian shots were fired from Fort Nepean in both World War I and II. In 1914, a German boat attempted to escape Port Phillip. Within minutes of declaration of war, Australian military fired a shot across the bow and arrested the crew).

There was no substantial swell in the bay, so it was difficult to get a sense of what was going on out in the Strait. While Elias has a stomach like a rock and sturdy sea-legs, I get vertigo if I spin fast in the standing position. If it was going to be anything like the east coast, I was in no hurry to see an angry ocean.

As soon as the boat hit the point where the bay tide exited into the ocean, we started to pitch. It was worth the gale-force winds, which howled on port side and hit the ship perpendicular to our direction of travel. The winds closed the entire port side deck. We huddled on starboard and enjoyed a gentle breeze and a tiny bit of sea spray. The winds ripped through the Strait and brought in incredible birds - white-faced storm-petrel, Hutton’s and fluttering shearwater, fairy prion, and our favorite, white-capped albatross.

The swell was low enough that we could have a spotting scope set up on deck without worrying it would fall over. A luxury in the world of pelagics! We watched short-tailed shearwaters “shear“ the water side by side with us for hours. They would fly the exact same speed as the ship.

The state of Tasmania encompasses the mainland and 1000 surrounding islands. It’s also the least-populated state, with a little over half a million people, nearly half of which live in the Hobart region on the southern ocean. Aborigines inhabited the island for 40,000 before the British showed up. Separation from the mainland was thought to take place 11,700 years ago. Tasmania has 12 endemic birds, and several endemic frogs and mammals, including the Tasmanian devil.

We pulled into port at Devonport just after sunset. A group of gannets flushed into the sunset as we motored by. We really just wanted an excuse to get on the ocean. The official “land” tour will ensue later in the trip. But we had a couple evenings and one day to explore the north shore and parks around Devonport.

Here are a few highlights of our quick excursion to Tasmania…

An endemic Tasmanian pademelon (sounds more like a rare fruit than a mammal) is in the same family as kangaroos and wallabies, and like other marsupials, they carry their young in a pouch. Unlike their relatives, they developed bushier and heavier attributes. Tasmanian pademelons are nocturnal, solitary, and remain in heavy vegetation during the day. We were lucky to stumble into one while walking a track in the Don Reserve near Devonport.

We ended the trip with an evening at the Mersey Bluff Lighthouse. Sitting on the rocks next to the lighthouse, I looked to my left and noticed a small, nondescript grave marked with a few modest assemblages of flowers and momentos. A plaque lay nearby for a 27-year old who had died while saving his friend from drowning, just off the point below our feet. The grave was tucked in among the shrubs, almost out of sight. An air of love and sadness hung over it. Little birds flitted around it, still promising to carry on life. While I thought about who the young man might have been, and sent peace to his family, a woman behind my left shoulder began singing quietly in another language I didn’t understand. Another passerby paused, reflecting silently. We all looked out at the waves and quietly paid tribute to loved ones, past and present.

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