Quiet cruising in UNESCO Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Some may say the Gordon River is a spiritual place. I’m with them on this. So it’s fitting Gordon River Cruise’s new vessel is named Spirit of the Wild. When RACT invited me to join a photo shoot on the new boat ahead of the public launch June 16, I replied with a spirited yes! We hopped on a little Par Avion plane beneath the stars Monday night and were on our way.
The Gordon River has the power to move. Through its stillness, majesty and silence. For some, it’s that mind-shifting moment when reflections confuse up from down. For me, it is gliding nose-close past a 500-year-old Huon pine. Across 23 cruising kilometres there are moments where this ancient river pulls time to a standstill.
Come June 16, trips will depart 8.30am for 6 hours of cruising, set to deliver a new level of luxe to the region. The boat is a beauty. It’s slick and oozes with style. Like a small child I head straight for the Premier Upper Deck. The plush wide leather seats line either side, angled with anticipation of what’s to come. It whispers of first class airliner comfort but with the tannin-stained waters of Tasmania’s wild west coast in place of clouds.
The boat itself is a diesel and electric powered wonder – a first of its kind in Australia for this specific engine designed by German company MTU. When I draw myself away from the ‘top shelf’ with its Hydrowood communal centre tables (the timber reclaimed from the depths of Lake Pieman) I ponder the international chats that will occur over this Myrtle. After all, the West Coast draws strangers from the world over, some becoming new friends....Don't let me mislead you - the main deck is gorgeous too.
Ours isn’t your typical cruise. It is shoot day and the crew busily set about capturing all manner of still, video and drone footage as we leave the Strahan docks behind. In days to come, guests instead will be charmed with what hospitality consultant David Quon describes as a “cocktail party in the wilderness.”
When Skipper Paul Brown enters the Gordon River’s calm, petite cups of pink eye potato and leek soup topped with parmesan crumbs shall emerge. The seasonal menu is all about fresh, wholesome, local fare. The steamed local ocean trout is straight from the harbour and served with lemon myrtle butter sauce.
As we glide up the river, silence overcomes all. The majesty commands us so. We’re enveloped by a world largely unchanged for millennia. Dark waters meet a shoreline crowded with impenetrable green. Not just any green but species not found elsewhere on the planet. Huon pine, my all-time fave and one of the oldest living organisms on earth, humbly appears on a bend. It’s been hanging out there some 500 years according to a guide whose enthusiasm is contagious. Its close neighbours include everything from Sassafras, Leatherwood, Celery top and Southern Beech myrtle.
About 11 kilometres up the river we come to Heritage Landing. Here, we walk through the temperate rainforest, breathing in air that deserves bottling. It’s cool, crisp and pure. I’m stopped by fungi clinging vibrantly to a mossy trunk. It’s tiny. Perfectly formed. Strikingly beautiful. It’s another moment of pause.
Heading back to the boat, wafts of that fresh ocean trout call. It is look don’t touch for us though, as photographers swarm to the delicately-presented plates. Mixed grain and char-roasted vegetable salad, smoked Macquarie Harbour salmon and a rustic tart gather with freshly poured Tasmanian reds and whites. Afternoon sun streams in as we motor near-silently across to Sarah Island.
The island has its fair share of harsh convict tales. Speaking of, the cat of nine tales was an enhanced version known as the Macquarie Harbour Cat, complete with lead beads. What’s more, each windowless solitary jail cell had the same dimensions as a grave. Intentionally. Let’s just say it was nice to walk off the island rather than swim like an early, desperate escapee. It seems at odds with the idyllic beauty of this tiny patch.
Next stop, Hell’s Gates. A place of grief for so many sea captains, the name dates back to early convicts who saw the narrow 80 metre stretch as the ‘entrance to hell.’ Today in its relative calmness it’s hard to imagine the many lost lives as we start on a cheese board.
After an about-turn we sink into our lush leather comfort and head for Strahan. It’s a time for quiet reflection, just as the river gave us earlier. This is a place where beauty and tragedy collide; where charm and harshness drift side by side. Today the weather is golden. Tomorrow it will be in another mood. Unpredictable like yesterday. It’s the wildness and rawness that captivates me.
The sun begins to sink on our rare blue sky day, as I chat to the captain. It is only now he speaks of his connection to place. He talks of his love of Huon pine. I nod in agreement at our shared awe. Only thing is, I don’t have a son named Huon after the species. We laugh that one day he may just be the mayor.
Hop aboard Spirit of the Wild today. FIND OUT MORE
Upper Deck: $265
Main Deck: $135 ($165 for window recliner)
Words & images: Alice Hansen
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