Melaleuca Inlet

Saturday March 7
Course: Clayton’s Corner to Melaleuca
Wind: 5 to 15 knots

Earlier we had made plans with the fellows on Alpine that they would follow us up Melaleuca Inlet. We had been there before on our last trip and knew the location of the hidden rock (by experience, though thankfully not a too damaging one) and besides, we draw more water, having almost two metres of boat below the waterline. As we were about to leave Clayton’s Corner the other wooden boat, Vardo, upped anchor and headed up the inlet ahead of us. We followed at a safe distance and hailed him as we reached the end of the inlet – where Melaleuca Creek, Lagoon and Inlet all meet. Fortunately there is enough depth to turn the boat around here – and as long as the wind isn’t against you it’s an achievable manoeuvre. I won’t detail what happened during our last visit, suffice to say we had trouble turning around and a comedy of errors ensued, involving me, the dinghy and a long rope…

Anyway, it wasn’t long before all three boats had rafted up together with Vardo lying against the old wooden pylons and tied up to trees on the shore, and all crews exchanging pleasantries. I rang Par Avion to check on Fiona’s flight and was told the plane had just left Hobart and would be arriving in twenty minutes or so. Fiona grabbed her stuff and we climbed into the dinghy and hurried up the creek to the airstrip in driving drizzle verging on rain. As we waited in the wooden shelter that serves as an airport lounge the weather closed in, with low cloud obscuring most of the landscape. We waited for nearly an hour wondering how they could possibly land before we decided they weren’t coming. In our haste we had forgotten to bring the satphone and when we got back to boat – wet and bedraggled – we rang them again. Yes unfortunately the weather report had been wrong and the plane had had to turn around. They will try again in the morning. So Fiona is stuck here for another night with us, poor thing.

We turned the heater on and dried off as best we could then played a mega game of Catan with all the options and Fiona won. I baked rolls and scones and we invited the crews of both our neighbouring boats over for afternoon tea/sundowners. All four gentlemen (retired or semi-retired) had a long history of boat ownership, building and sailing with which to entertain us.

Sunday 8 March

The day began clearer than Saturday, which meant the planes were flying. According to my trusty friend at Par Avion, three planes were due in at around ten o’clock in fact. We hied it up to the airstrip again, which this time was a hive of activity. Two tour groups arrived in the first two planes, with the third offloading a bunch of fresh and eager walkers, and taking Fiona on board along with four tired and dispirited walkers who were heading out. We chatted to two, who had walked in from Cockle Creek. they had had a miserable trip, getting caught in bad weather on the Ironbounds and having to make emergency camp there, then further on being held up for a day at a swollen river while they waited for it to abate. They were looking forward to getting home. So was Fiona.

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We waved her off and then walked to the bird hide. One orange-bellied parrot was feeding at the table amongst three beautiful fire-tail finches.

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We whispered to a birdwatcher who was camped out in the hide, and thrilled to be watching one of these critically endangered birds. Then we sneaked a peak at the tin mine workings – Denny King’s now derelict and rusting equipment, and the more serviceable elaborate workings of another local family. We were unsure if it was still in operation. The house nearby looks occupied, with wind and solar generators on the roof. We mused at the tenacity required for someone to make a living at this work, and contentment and simplicity of lifestyle it could induce.

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We walked back to the airstrip, passing a couple of the newly arrived walkers just heading out on the track looking energetic and optimistic. I hope they enjoy their walk more than the other pair! There is a new short walk circuit around the point between Melaleuca Creek and Lagoon – the Needwonne Walk, with interpretive signs, a dreaming story pictogram and replica shelters and artefacts.

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We enjoyed the short stroll then returned to the dinghy to head back to the boat with the supplies Tim sent in for us by the plane – rather a lot of cheese and lollies, plus eggs, bread and milk. All were slightly warm, having spent the past twenty-four hours awaiting the plane unrefrigerated. We’re not sure what state the milk and cheese will be in.

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We found our raft reduced to two boats – Alpine had already left. So we untied and headed back up the inlet. At one point we grounded in the soft mud, and only unstuck when I employed the rocking the boat tactic – standing on one side, leaning out and jumping up and down – yes, you should have seen it!

When we arrived back at Clayton’s Corner we discovered the advance party of the VDL Circumnavigation fleet – referred to by our friends Michael and Bruce as the Spanish Armada – had already arrived and dropped anchor.  We anchored in the middle of the bunch and lunched on fresh bread, tomatoes and the suspicious cheese – hoping we don’t pay for it later!

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