Two days ago I had the joy of sharing a day with Rob Pennicott in Tasmania's south west- recently named Australian Tourism Legend. It's easy to know why after spending a few hours in his presence. He loves this place. I thought it was timely to share a little of his story....beginning in his early years....
You can just picture it – a young boy version of Rob Pennicott gazing through his mask in search of sea urchin, abalone or crayfish along the coast of the River Derwent. When most young boys were handed an afterschool apple by Mum, Rob was busily shucking oysters and popping them straight down the hatch. He lived the paddock-to-plate movement before it was on trend.
Some people design their profession or study for years to inform a career path; for others it’s simply innate. Rob loved the water and he loved to fish. Naturally he became a fisherman, but he was one with a difference. Yes it was work, but he was moved to share his office. He’d take friends and family out – soon realising they too were astonished by some of the highest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere, migrating whales, sea caves, fur seals and the raw beauty of the coastline.
It made sense for Rob to do more. He transformed into a fisherman-come-tour-guide (he’d never leave fishing) and launched his first tourism product – Bruny Island Cruises in 1999. As time passed he excitedly came into Tourism Tasmania, showing off his Antarctic-style head-to-toe ‘smocks’ that he’d dress his guests in to keep them cosy. He knew he was onto something special.
Not everyone thought he was sensible – introducing rigid inflatable boats where his guests had no protection from the wild Southern Ocean seemed a bit nuts. But for Rob, this was the whole idea. He wanted these visitors to feel the sea spray, to taste salt on their lips and feel the rush of wind through their hair. It wasn’t about protection, but about an intimate meeting with his watery playground.
He didn’t stop there. He wanted to do more. Rob not only wanted to show off his backyard in all its rugged glory but he wanted to conserve it for his children and theirs. So as his tourism products developed, so did his drive for sustainability and conservation. No wonder he was one of National Geographic’s Traveler of the Year recipients for 2012 – an award for ‘world-shaking people on innovative missions.’ This man was special.
Fast forward to 2015 and his achievements are beyond what many could conquer across three lifetimes. Rob now has five hopelessly popular experiences on offer across his Pennicott Wilderness Journeys collection – Bruny Island Cruises, Tasman Island Cruises, Bruny Island Traveller, Iron Pot Cruises and his very latest addition, Tasmanian Seafood Seduction. Now, the young boy who scoured rocks to shuck his own oysters is serving them up to travellers from across the world.
What Rob also understood was that the paths he showcased daily were also incredibly fragile. He set up the Pennicott Wilderness Journeys Nature Conservation Fund and works diligently on sustainability, conservation and humanitarian projects. This fund has been responsible for the complete eradication of feral cats from Tasman Island. Rob also hopped in a little yellow boat and travelled for 101 days up the coast of Australia, raising $300,000 toward the eradication of Polio worldwide. He may have stayed in his own neck of the woods, but this man thinks globally.
If you get Rob on your boat, you’ll realise he’s still that young boy at heart. He’ll point out the house he grew up in and where his parents still live. He’ll show you his version of a former cubby house – a cave overlooking his cherished water. He may be all grown up but the story will go on. Sometimes when he heads for the podium, he takes his own flock with him. Young children who smile proudly onstage, looking an awful lot like their salty-haired father who has just walked away with five national golds and two hall of fame inductions. pennicottjourneys.com.au
Words: Alice Hansen
Image: Courtesy of Tourism Tas
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