Diving (and Walking) in Southwest Tasmania

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Tasmanian Southwest Park is about as remote as you can get in Tasmania. The 84km South Coast Track runs from Cockle Creek, accessible by road at the eastern end of the park, to the airstrip at Melaleuca on an inlet from Bathurst Harbour in the west. Most walkers walk from Melaleuca to Cockle Bay because flights are often cancelled due to bad weather so going in that direction means you won’t get stuck waiting for the weather to clear.

Out walking▲ Walking back from the coast to Bathurst Harbour

This wilderness area is justifiably popular, but I wasn’t walking in or out. I’d joined a group from Environment Tasmania to look at another attraction in the Southwest: scuba diving.

The waters of Bathurst Harbour, which flows out into the Southern Ocean at Port Davey are stained dark black from tannin.

Sea pen Port Davey - 270

Submerging into this freshwater is like diving into ink, you can’t see your hand in front of your face. But get down about five metres and things start to clear up, you’re getting in to the saltwater flowing in from the sea. Sometimes there can be a sharp division between the dark water above and the clear water below. Diving here, however, is not like night diving where it may be dark, but the water is still clear. Here even in the clear water below it’s always dark, the tannin-soaked water above cuts off the light.

◄ As a result you find marine life which likes the dark and is normally only found at much greater depths. You might see something at 10metres which normally lives at 100metres. Like seapens, a curious animal (it is an animal, not a plant) which only appears earlier in the day. They look rather like an old quill pen but in the afternoon seapens disappears below ground.
IMG_6951 - Odalisque in Bathurst Harbour - 540cold Tony▲ The three days I spent on Bathurst Harbour were on board the Odalisque. Thank you owner and skipper Pieter van der Woude.

◄ Ah, yes, the water was cold, around 15ºC (59ºF) – I look well chilled don’t I? But as usual in a good wet suit there may be an initial icy trickle down your back, but you soon warm up. Our divemaster was Mick Baron from Eaglehawk Diving. I shouldn’t forget to thank Rebecca Hubbard and Laura Kelly of Environment Tasmania as well. Food came courtesy of Stuart Williams although Stu was only moonlighting as the cook, normally he’s busy designing and making unique furniture and lighting. Plus there were three others who, like me, came along for the ride (and the diving)

IMG_7010 - Bathurst Harbour, view from Mt Beattie - 270▲ Of course we didn’t only dive – or eat and drink – there was also time for walking including up to the top of Mt Beattie from where we could look down on Odalisque, the dot off to the left of the picture. We also took the tender out through the opening to the sea where, fortunately, the Breaksea Islands sheltered us from the full fury of the Southern Ocean. We were dropped off on the coast and bush-bashed our way back to Bathurst Harbour.

IMG_7016 - Clayton House - 540▲ Our climb up Mt Beattie started from the former home of Win and Clyde Clayton, Southwest pioneer who lived here for 14 years.