A few years ago I was thinking about my first major expedition. Being a keen sea kayaker and living in Tasmania, the choice was pretty obvious, paddle from mainland Australia across Bass Strait to Tasmania. This was 2011 and I was 55 years old so I decided I needed to get cracking and plan the paddle before I got too old, it’s a long paddle!
I invited a few other experienced paddlers along and it all started to come together. We intended to not only cross Bass Strait but also to explore the main islands along the way, spending a few days on each of them.
In March 2011 6 Tasmanian paddlers carried their kayaks, fully loaded with 30 days supplies, down to the water’s edge at 5am. We were at Port Welshpool on the southern Victorian coastline and it was dark as we excitedly slipped into our kayaks and pointed our bows south.
Late afternoon saw us landing at Refuge Cove after 40 odd kilometres of fairly easy paddling in fine weather. A good start!
That evening I sat down with my little laptop and sourced information online from a company called Tidetech. They supplied daily data files that gave complete tidal information for all of Bass Strait so I could plan the next day’s course. Because Bass Strait has significant tidal movement, just pointing your bow towards your destination is a recipe for disaster. On our first major crossing from Wilson’s Promontory to Hogan Island we had to point our bows towards an imaginary point 26km east of our final destination to compensate for the tidal flow, an odd feeling but it worked a treat. We left well before dawn and paddled towards an empty horizon. A faint glow expanded into a spectacular sunrise and and after a very long day paddling into headwinds 6 tired paddlers landed at Hogan Island, 55 kms from Refuge Cove.
Sitting on the water in the middle of this crossing and looking at a clear horizon for 360 degrees is something that few sea kayakers experience. No land in sight….. anywhere.
Hogan Island is an absolute jewel. Treeless, windswept, covered in long green grass and as isolated as hell, it was a fabulous place to camp. We stayed 2 nights as the weather was “exciting” the next day and to try to cover the 46km to the Kent Group would have been suicidal. A feature of Hogan is the population of native rats (velvet furred rat). That night I watched a little lump work its way across my tent floor as a rat ran across underneath the tent :)
My tent for this trip was a Mont Moondance EX. My relationship with Mont was already well established and I enjoyed using their well designed tents.
We eventually left the charm of Hogan and set off south towards the Kent Group. What a fabulous place that was. It was like being in the tropics without the heat. Just beautiful.
After a few days spent exploring the 3 main islands of the Kent Group, Deal, Erith and Dover, we decided it was time to tackle the largest crossing between the Kent Group and Flinders Island. This is a 62 km step with only 2 lumps of rock on the way. Wright Rock and Craggy Island, both were steep sided and unlandable, but they marked the 20km and 40km points so at least we had something to measure our progress by.
The day before the big crossing we moved camp around to the southern side of Deal Island, the closest point to Flinders Island. Climbing up to the top of the now unused Deal Island Lighthouse we were faintly able to see the Flinders Island coastline through the haze far to the south.
I had been receiving daily, very accurate forecasts from a fellow in Israel that specialises in forecasting for sea kayak expeditions around the world and his advice was to leave tomorrow or stay for at least another week due to forecast bad weather. The forecast for tomorrow was for 20-25 knot SSW winds, not ideal but it was the best we were going to get for awhile.…
The next morning we stood on the beach looking at the horizon, clearly seeing the jaggedness of significant waves spiking in the dawn light.
It was a nervous group of paddlers that pushed off from the beach that morning. The next couple of hours were exciting, nervous and exhilarating as we watched the world around us writhe and contort. Sitting in my 5.2 metre kayak I watched the ever changing sea scape around me. Everything looked big, the waves, the underlying swell, the distance. Everything that is, except for 6 insignificant paddlers in little fibreglass kayaks bobbing about in a vast and mobile seascape. It’s hard to convey what I felt looking at that scene at the time, but believe me, it was impressive! Unfortunately, no photographs were taken until the seas had started settling down….
Eventually, as forecast and perfectly on time, the wind dropped out, the seas began to settle and Flinders Island floated out of the haze on the southern horizon. 10 hours after launching from Deal Island we drifted in on small surf at Killiecrankie Beach on the NW of Flinders Island.
The sense of achievement was strong as we had now put the 3 long crossings behind us and essentially Bass Strait was in the bag….almost.
The next few days were spent working our way down the western side of Flinders Island, camping at some exquisite secluded campsites on the way. We were rained on, tossed around on choppy seas, blasted by squally winds and baked under sunny skies. It was a smorgasbord of weather..
The final hurdle for any Bass Strait crossing is the last step to the Tasmanian mainland across Banks Strait, theoretically the most dangerous part of the whole crossing. Strong tides flow through the relatively narrow and shallow Strait and timing is critical to avoid meeting huge, washing machine seas or being flushed out of the Strait in the wrong direction towards New Zealand.
Our timing was perfect and we made a very satisfying landing at Little Musselroe Bay in the late afternoon, 23 days after leaving Port Welshpool in Victoria.
That was an adventure to remember. Fabulous!
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