Monday 9 March
Course: Clayton’s Corner – Joe Paige Bay and the Spring River – Wombat Cove
Winds: light to 15 knots
Today was a day for adventure. Our first minor adventure was a dinghy trip to the southern shore to investigate the blue-roofed hut. This is an oddity in the landscape which has everybody talking – a pre-fab hut plonked in the middle of the heath and button-grass in the most unlikely of locales. Exposed to all the elements it doesn’t look inviting to walkers, and is highly visible from the water. Derek herd someone say it was an ‘installation’ by MONA. Was it intended to highlight the conservationist view that the wilderness should not be able to be bought by developers to build private facilities? No luxury hotels with FIFO tourists… An interesting argument which will go on no doubt. Even in the four years since we were last here there has been more development. Some might argue this has only served to protect the environment – duck boarded walks for instance – but at the same time it makes the area more accessible to more people. And with the ‘Spanish Armada’ here, as well as multiple other yachts, regular fly-in tour groups, kayak tours and bushwalkers, it is certainly a busy wilderness.
I went ashore at a marked track which led through the tea-tree and on to the button grass, but I didn’t walk all the way to the hut, for we had more adventure planned for the day. Later I read more about the project, actually intended to highlight a brief and little known chapter in the history of the area. In 1942, when the world was searching for a solution for displaced European Jews, one Critchley Parker suggested this area as a potential Jewish homeland. Sadly he died exploring the area in support of his proposal – his grave can be visited about half-way along Bathurst Channel at Parker Bay. The MONA installation is a mock subdivision – see the Mercury article here. (We didn’t see the subdivision sign; it was possibly hidden by the undergrowth).
Back at Ariadne’s Clew we upped anchor (slowly on account of the stinky black sticky mud attached to the chain) and motored out to Joe Paige Bay in the middle of the Bathurst Channel. We cautiously headed north in the bay, which is unsurveyed, shallow and dotted with rocks, to anchor near its head. We ate lunch, keeping an eye on the anchor to ensure the boat wouldn’t drag, then packed the dinghy, attached the kayak behind, and headed up into the Manheer Inlet. Our presence made the huge flock of swans nervous, and they swam away until with a flurry of wings they began to run along the surface of the water, white underwing feathers flashing against the black, then took flight, wheeling overhead.
In the middle of the inlet the water got very shallow, and without a clear channel to follow we eventually grounded. Then with a combination of poling and paddling we navigated the dinghy into the opening of the lagoon. Here we stepped ashore onto a mossy green bank, tied up the dinghy and transferred into the kayak. East and north of here the river and lagoon is a ‘non-motorised boating zone’. We paddled up river, the only sound our dip and pull on the paddles, and the occasional puff of wind in the trees. The low-lying banks were lined with green moss, reeds, ferns, heath and tea-tree. Where the ground rose higher the banks were packed with a dense understorey of banksia, tea-tree sporting spears of white flowers, and heath. Above these rose a canopy of eucalypts. All was lush and green, with multiple small creeks and streams adding to the fast-flowing tannin-stained water, that reflected the greenery all around us.
We paddled on for what felt like hours, stopping once for a break at a huge gum tree that had toppled into the water. We named it the afternoon-tea-tree.
The map showed a series loops in the river, getting tighter until about 4 km upstream we would reach a camp on the Port Davey- Scotts Peak Dam walking track, and a place where the track crosses the river. We wound our way up and up, the river getting narrower and swifter, until, several loops below the camp it began to rain. Big drops spattered our thin trousers and made percussion on the hood of my jacket. We decided we had pushed our luck far enough and turned around. The rain pocked the water’s surface, shattering the reflections, and began to drip from the trees, making bubbles on the surface.
Derek hoisted the sail to try to take advantage of the tailwind, and for a while we coasted down on the current until the volume of water funnelling down the sail into the kayak became a flood, adding to the discomfort of water oozing down the open sides of the kayak and pooling under our bottoms. We kept paddling with the current, letting the water drip down our faces as it seeped into every part of our beings until we felt at one with the green dripping wet wilderness. I recited Gerard Manley Hopkins – ‘wildness and wet, wildness and wet, long live the weeds and the wilderness yet’.
Back at the boat, several hours later, we stripped off layers of wet clothing and a leech dropped to the floor. Only one, I thought as I carefully checked my bare skin before drying off rugging up and making a nice cup of tea. As I did so I spared a thought for any bushwalkers out there trying to get dry in a tiny tent. It wasn’t until later that I found the itchy spot where the leech had sucked my blood!
We donned wet weather gear again and motored around to Wombat Cove for another night, where only one other boat was tied in along the shore.