2 March 2016
There is light overcast this morning. In the dim light we make our way down the hill to the harbor. We have booked a cruise around the harbor and up the Gordon River, with a stop at Sarah Island. Our ship is the Lady Jane Franklin, II, a stable-but-sprightly catamaran, very comfortable.
Embarkation is orderly. Our seats are at the back of the main cabin, a nice couch for four with a table. The galley is just behind us. The Lady Jane takes us first to the mouth of the harbor, called “Hell's Gate”. It is a very narrow entrance, marked by a lighthouse. Waters on the other side of the light are too shallow to navigate. Once again, convicts who arrived here were convinced they were being consigned to hell.
We are told the sad tale of a lighthouse keeper's family who perished in a shipwreck. Their ship from Hobart ran aground in a night approach when it encountered a rogue wave. The Captain issued the abandon ship order. Unfortunately the life boats were capsized by yet another rogue wave. The keeper found the bodies of his family washed ashore on Ocean Beach the next day.
Now we speed southeast down the length of the Macquarie Harbor, and it is a long harbor, to the Gordon River.
On the way we pass the fish farms – mostly Atlantic salmon – a huge cash crop. Fingerlings are raised in hatcheries on the high plateau, where fresh water is available from the several lakes. The fingerlings are sucked up into milk trucks, barged out to the pens, and pumped out.
The fish are fed mackerel pellets three times a day – these are sprayed into the pens from a feed boat to get even coverage. In a couple of years, when the fish are 3-5 kilos, they are harvested in the same manner as the fingerlings were harvested – sucked up into a tanker, and trucked north for processing. Very tasty, as I can testify.
At the mouth of the Gordon River, we reduce speed to combat erosion of the banks. This is a very eco-conscious region. Plans for a new hydroelectric plant on the Gordon stirred up huge protest; the dam was scrapped. On our way up the river, we pass a 2700-year-old Huon pine. This one is scrubby and gnarled – not suitable for shipbuilding or construction. Thus, it lives.
We take a short nature walk through the rainforest, where we see a fallen Huon tree some 2300 years old next a young one. On the young, relatively short one, it is easier to observe the fine, droopy foliage and the striations in the bark.
When we return to the boat, lunch is served, buffet style. The attendants direct traffic, so all is orderly. There are delicious salads (greens, beet salad, greek salad), smoked salmon, smoked trout, chicken wings, wholemeal rolls and butter, and sauces. I scarf down a huge plate, and wrap the extra roll I took in a napkin for later.
Our next stop is Sarah Island, where, famously, convicts built boats. There are several guides waiting for us, so each one takes a group. These are actors – they perform in a play called “The Ship That Never Was” in Strahan at night, and guide by day.
Today is warm and calm. One can only imagine what it must have been like on most days (it rains 340 days a year here). The first thing the convicts were ordered to do was to cut down all the trees. After all, who knows when a convict might escape into the trees or use a branch as a weapon?
As a result, the colony had no protection from the westerly winds. The convicts used the felled trees to erect a 12-meter-high fence instead.
During its short existence, Sarah Island evolved from a hellhole for the worst of the worst to a productive shipyard, building and launching an astounding number of boats, some of the quite large. For more details, read here.
Our stop is short, but somehow the atmosphere of the place seeps into one's pictures and one's consciousness. Today the trees and plants have recovered, and green grass carpets the open areas. The ruins are picturesque. The stories our guide tells are amusing, although I think being here as a convict was not at all amusing.
Back on board, we speed back to Strahan. Debarked, we four wander the waterfront, souvenir shopping and stopping at the woodcarver's and the sawmill. I collect gifts for those back home, and Bob and I buy a couple of projects for him and for John Z.
Once back at our motel, we venture out again to shop for this and that at the local IGA, and to recce the seafood buffet. We see, and book for tomorrow night.
Next we stop at Hogarth Falls. We make the short walk to the falls, and … behold … we spot a platypus! Hurrah!
One of the women here before we were tells me it climbed up the rocks from the still pool below, where surely its burrow must be. Here at the foot of the falls it swims and dives, eating its dinner.
After the magical platypus sighting, we gather for more smoked salmon and trout, cheese, crackers, and wine. What an interesting day we have had.