Tasman Island Cruise
We recently ticked an item off our bucket list - the Pennicott Tasman Island Cruise, and what an experience it was! We pre-booked our tickets (recommended), and left The Beach Escape at 8:20am to ensure we were at the Tasman Island Cruises office in Port Arthur by 9:15am for the briefing. We would recommend that if you need to use the toilet at the office, do so before the briefing as the queue for the toilet becomes pretty long when the briefing finishes. There is also a toilet onboard if required.
After the briefing finished we walked 5 minutes to the Stewarts Bay jetty where two boats were waiting. A bus is available if needed. You can sit where ever you want on the boat however it is first in best dressed. You get an equally fantastic view from both sides of the boat.
If you are prone to sea sickness, then sit towards the back of the boat as the front (aka rollercoaster region) moves up and down more over the swells - and even on a good day there will be a swell as there is nothing between Tasman Island and Antarctica! Ginger tablets are provided so take the tablets if you're likely to feel queasy.
Two of us sat up the front and two of us sat down the back (those who suffer from sea sickness), and then we put on the supplied wet weather gear. Personally I prefer the front as you don't have a roof blocking your upwards view when you are trying to view the magnificent cliffs along the coastline.
We were very lucky with the weather, with a 20+ degree day during October, a small 1-1.5 metre swell (calm for the south coast of Tasmania) and a northerly wind coming down the coast. We were warned that on the water the temperature would drop 10 degrees, with the wind chill factor. So be prepared to rug up with warm clothes under the supplied wet weather gear. On a side note I found it easy to have a decent size camera around my neck and move it in and out from under the wet weather gear as required.
We departed Stewarts Bay and headed out past the Port Arthur historic site / Isle of the Dead towards the coast. Before we even left the bay, we enjoyed watching a seal play around. The first stop was a colony of "Tasmanian Long Neck Penguins" (as our guides called them) - or Cormorants by their real name - nesting in the sedimentary cliff face high enough up to ensure the waves didn't destroy their nests (unlike previous years apparently). Nearby were some caves carved into the rock by the power of the waves, and the boat moved in nice and close for a great view.
Next up was Crescent Bay, with its tall sand dunes that are apparently great to slide down. You can walk into this bay from the Remarkable Caves, and our guides had plenty of advice on how best to slide down the dunes and what to use. We intend to put this advice to the test and walk in and have a slide ourselves, with the aim of hitting the water off the dunes.
Just around the corner from Crescent Bay was the home of a white sea eagle. Positioned high up in the trees, we could see the head of the eagle popping out over the top of the nest. A few minutes later the eagle had moved to a tree higher up, keeping a close eye on us in the boat below. The nest was an astonishing 4m long!
We then crossed eastward across the bay and followed the coastline towards Cape Pillar. On the western side of the bay the cliffs are mostly made of sedimentary rock which is prone to erosion. Crossing over we were now dwarfed by huge cliffs made of dolerite, formed during the jurassic period 185 million years ago! This type of rock is much harder then sedimentary rock and generally you don't see anywhere near the same erosion and cave formations created by the power of the sea. The sheer contrast between the horizontal lines of the sedimentary rocks and the sheer vertical lines of the dolerite rocks is a highlight.
We came to Cape Pillar, looming 300m above us - the tallest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere. The boat was steered in close to the cliffs and we zoomed through between the cliffs and a rocky outcrop. These cliffs have mostly withstood the punishment that the sea hands out, with the near perfectly formed pillars rising majestically from the sea. There was however one cave that had been formed by the power of the waves coming up from Antarctica. Again the boat was steered frontwards in close to the cave opening (with the best view being up the front). It was awe inspiring to be looking up 300 metres from the boat through the pillars.
The boat then headed to Tasman Island. The remains of the original wharf that was used during the construction of the lighthouse still remain however parts of it had collapsed recently. The lighthouse was built between 1904 and 1906 from cast iron sections fabricated in England, and once on site they were offloaded and dragged 250 metres up the steep cliff face. Along with the lighthouse, a keepers cottage was also constructed. The lighthouse was maned until 1977 when it was automated, and then in 1991 it was converted to solar power, with the light generated having a range of 18 nautical miles out into the ocean. The structures on top of the island are clearly visible from the boat, and there is also a seal colony present that you get a nice close-up of.
Out past Tasman Island, we saw thousands of migrating mutton birds. At migration times, the sky can be black with birds. The albatross are also not shy off-coast, so you can take in their incredible wing span.
Next up it was a dash across the bay to Cape Raoul. This is another pillar formation rising out of the ocean. It isn't as spectacular as Cape Pillar however and there is a good reason for that - apparently at some point the Royal Navy used it for target practice! Again we were taken in nice and close to the cliffs, and could also see Ship Stern Bluff, the Iron Pot and Bruny Island in the distance. There was another seal colony that we were taken in nice and close to - possibly a bit too close as they were pretty smelly!
With the cruise almost over and we headed back to where we boarded the boat at Stewarts Bay. Upon disembarking we enjoyed a complimentary Tim Tam and headed back to the office. You can either walk or take the bus (it is an uphill walk however not too difficult). Overall it was a great morning and our kids really enjoyed everything we saw and the informative and at times comical commentary provided by the crew. We were certainly lucky with the weather which also helped.
We would highly recommend a Tasman Island cruise to our guests and to anyone else interested. We also have some photos from our trip in our image gallery.