Monday, March 23, 2015

The Beginning Of An Epic: Friendly Beaches To Wineglass Bay By Sea Kayak

After escaping the next trough, cold front, deep cyclonic low, whatever the f**k the BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) was calling the next system of wind, rain and general shitty weather moving across Tasmania when we hustled our butts out of Pelion Plains, we drove east to the very popular (and scenic) Freycinet Peninsular about midway down the east coast of Tasmania. Apparently, this is the part of Tasmania that has the "good" weather. Less rain, warmer temperatures, and, could we hope for less wind? 

We arrived around midday on Thursday, in the middle of yet another northerly blow, and spent the afternoon getting maps organised for our next planned trip - a sea kayak circumnavigation (as much as one can circumnavigate a peninsular) down the exposed east coast of the Freycinet Peninsular and back up the more sheltered west side. Our obsessive weather forecast checking was somewhat hampered by lack of mobile telephone reception, but we did manage to get some sketchy forecasts and tentatively planned to begin paddling on Saturday. Friday would be spent hiking up Mount Amos, packing gear, and locating launch and landing sites. 

 Looking down on Wine Glass Bay

On Friday we packed gear and food for five days before heading out to hike to the top of Mount Amos, an easy 1.5 to 2 hour return trip, where we had a wonderful view of the gorgeous Wine Glass Bay. After that we began to check out details of the kayak trip. We could launch from the boat ramp in Coles Bay, but there was no where to park our car and caravan for multiple days, so we struck that off. Next, we checked out Muirs Beach where there is a nice sheltered sand beach to launch from but again scant parking. It could work, but was not ideal. Then we drove into Freycinet National Park and asked the Rangers where to park. They suggested the overflow parking, so we trundled down to check that out. It would work, but there was a disconcertingly longish carry to get all our boats and gear to the water - possible, but longer than ideal. 

Finally, over to Sleepy Bay where we anticipated pulling out at the end of the trip. From Sleepy Bay, we figured we could walk three kilometres back along the road to retrieve our car. Sleepy Bay, however, is not the nice little sand bay with easy access that you imagine. Instead, it is a half kilometre narrow windy track with many steep stairs to a tiny pebbly beach where the surge sucks in and out. Carrying our boats and gear back to the car park would be very unpleasant. 

 Cape Forestier and Lemon Rock

We were feeling the effects of decision fatigue as we sat on some boulders in Sandy Bay and looked at the map to find another pull-out spot from which we could retrieve the vehicle. The only possibility seemed to be either Bluestone Bay (which has a reputation for "ripping the guts" out of 2WD cars) or Friendly Beaches. Bluestone Bay was within (long) walking distance of the overflow parking, but Friendly Beaches was not (20 to 30 kilometres). One of my Canadian friends, has always said "you never know until you ask" so, we decided to drive back to Coles Bay (again) and ask the local sea kayak tour operator if he could shuttle us back to our vehicle at the end of the trip.

We found Nathan, who owns FreycinetAdventures, working on a new patio in his yard and he was so helpful giving us some local tips and agreeing to shuttle us and our boats out to Bluestone Bay in his 4WD. Our greatest difficulty was deciding which day to start paddling as, the usual Tasmanian weather scenario was prevailing. We had planned a four day trip, but had only a one day weather window. The next day was forecast to be sunny with light winds, but then there were three days with strong wind warnings forecast, a fourth day when the weather might be okay (BOM only forecasts three days), then another deterioration in the weather. 

For some reason, I suspect decision fatigue, we allowed ourselves to be convinced that Monday (when a 30 knot wind was forecast) was a good day to begin paddling down the exposed east coast from Bluestone Bay to Wine Glass Bay. We would then likely have to sit out Tuesday (strong winds from the south forecast) and might get a break on Wednesday to paddle the remaining 24 km along the east side of Freycinet Peninsular. Planning any trip on the ocean in Australia is hampered by the fact that the BOM never forecasts more than 72 hours in advance. 

 Getting ready to launch from Friendly Beaches

On Saturday, I got up early and wandered along the beach for an hour struck by how calm it was. For the first time in days the sun was shining and there was only a light wind. We had planned a day paddle around Bicheno, and, at 10 am, were up at Bicheno about to launch the boats when Doug came up with another seemingly audacious plan - drive back to Friendly Beaches, launch the kayaks with all our food and gear for 5 days, paddle from Friendly Beaches to Wineglass Bay and camp the night. Leave our kayaks and gear at the campsite, walk out the next day to Coles Bay and (hopefully) get Nathan to shuttle us back to our caravan (at Friendly Beaches), wait out the two days of strong winds on land, then walk back in to start the kayak trip on Monday or Tuesday (depending on the BOM forecast). 

It took us all of five minutes to decide that this strangely round about, but, possibly highly sensible solution to the problem of weather windows that are too short for planned trips, could work. By noon, we were on the water at Friendly Beaches after launching through a small swell. 

 Paddling past Boot Rock in ideal conditions

The 20 km paddle south down the east side of Freycinet National Park has to rank of one of my best days paddling ever. The first half hour, was along the white sand Friendly Beach on aquamarine water that is some of the clearest anywhere. At Friendly Point, the coastline becomes rocky and steep granite slabs, rocky islets, sea caves and wave washed slabs covered with waving forests of kelp provide a backdrop as you paddle south. A seal swam under Doug's boat near Boot Rock as we paddled between this tiny rocky islet and the cliff-lined shore. 

Just north of Cape Tourville, we paddled through the Nuggets, another cluster of rocky islets and into the currents racing past Carp Bay. We shot through a small passage between some tiny rocks off the prominent point south of Carp Bay on a tidal overfall, crossed the head of Sleepy Bay to the orange slabs of Mount Parsons, and, as the wind was rising behind us, paddled into Wine Glass Bay and a sheltered landing site tucked into the eastern corner of the bay. 

 Near Carp Bay

That evening, I wandered along the white sand beach where sea birds were resting for the night, and watched as a fishing boat bobbed at anchor waiting for morning. The northerly wind was blowing strongly again, and the ocean was full of white-caps and waves. A tenacious possum spent much of the night trying to gain entry to our tent (and ripped a hole in the mesh) and would not desist until Doug punched it between the eyes where upon it slunk off, but returned with a half dozen mates and assaulted our kayaks which were covered with black possum prints the next morning. 

On Sunday morning, we ate a sturdy breakfast anticipating a long day ahead which might (if we were lucky) include a lift out to our car at the Friendly Beaches with Nathan, but, could just as easily turn into a long tedious road walk. We wandered along the beach to the Wine Glass Bay track, and hiked over The Hazards and down to the car park. We were unable to raise Nathan on the telephone so began to walk out to Coles Bay. We had only gone about 10 minutes when a very kind lady gave us a ride into town where we found Nathan once again working on his patio and happy enough to shuttle us out to Friendly Beaches. By noon, we were drinking tea, scavenging lunch from our rather empty fridge and fighting decision fatigue as we pored over inadequate weather forecasts trying to either predict the future, or at least make a reasonable decision (or two, three, or dozen). 

Sunset at Wine Glass Bay

Note:  All pictures courtesy Doug

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