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  • Writer's picturePaul Monaro

Bass Strait Kayak Crossing Feb 2024

Updated: Jun 11


Kayaks at Spike Cove. Photo Graham

This is a day-by-day, blow-by-blow description of the Bass Strait kayak expedition by Graham Brown, John Hutchinson, Rachel Twomey, and myself.


On 12 February 2024, I joined my three paddling companions at Port Welshpool, to the northeast of Wilsons Promontory, Victoria. Our plan was to launch from there on or soon after 13 February, for our intended Bass Strait crossing. This had been in the planning for over 12 months, and our training had intensified over the previous 3 months to ensure we were ready for some longer distances and consecutive days of paddling.


The forecast for 13 February looked great, with clear weather during most of the day, and a strong northeasterly wind that would help to push us down the coast of Wilsons Promontory to our first destination at Refuge Cove. However, there was a severe storm warning for late in the day, so the consensus decision was that it was not worth the risk,

particularly if the storm was to hit earlier while we were still on the water. So, we delayed our departure until the 14th. This ended up being a good call. The storm didn’t come early, but when it did it was severe, and the subsequent destruction led to blackouts over the entire southern part of Victoria. We were well protected in our cabins at Port Welshpool.


Thanks to Graham for the photos supplied from Port Welshpool.


Crossing Day 1, Wed 14 Feb, Post Welshpool to Refuge Cove: Winds 15-25kn SW; Swell 1-2m W-SW. Distance 43km.


If things went to plan our Bass Strait crossing would involve 9 days on the water and 8 camping locations. The duration of the camping stops would be entirely weather-dependent.


The forecast for launch day was for clear skies, but unfortunately, there was also a moderate south-westerly wind blowing. We prepared to punch into a headwind for at least the first third of our journey, and a possible lively exit from the bay due to strong currents and wind against tide. Some fishos warned us the going would be treacherous.


We departed a little before 8am and had a very energetic paddle out of the bay, and then around the northeast peninsula of Wilsons Promontory. The wind along the coast of the

Halfway down the Prom

Promontory averaged 10 to 14 knots and was headwind for most of the day. Added to this, our navigator Graham was having trouble keeping water out of his boat. On regular paddles with his kayak unladen he usually experienced greater than average water ingress, mainly into his cockpit. Here, with it fully laden (weighing up towards 85kg) and sitting low in the water, he spent most of the day with his cockpit more than half full of water. Rachel referred to his boat as the 'yellow submarine'. So, we had a longer-than-anticipated day on the water. We covered 43km in just under 8 hours.


We unloaded our gear on the beach at Refuge Cove and hauled our kayaks up to our campsite so they wouldn’t be washed away overnight. Then we set-up our tents for the first night away from civilisation. We hadn’t left the mainland yet, but our journey was underway, and the first leg completed.



Thanks to Graham for the photos supplied, including of our launch and our campsite at Refuge Cove.


Crossing Day 2, Thursday 15 February: Refuge Cove to Hogan Island. Winds W-SW 5-10kn; swell 1-1.5m SW. Distance 53km.


We set off just before 9am for our first crossing, finally leaving the mainland, and facing the second longest paddle we would encounter. Because it is so distant and a low-lying island, you can’t see Hogan when you set off. I spotted its faint bump about 11km out from Refuge.


Spot the dolphin? Photo Graham

The direct line distance from Refuge Cove to Hogan Island is just shy of 50km. But with cross-currents which would shift direction during the day, our distance could have been substantially longer. Fortunately, our navigator Graham (“The Professor” as he came to be known) did an excellent job with his first challenge. Our crossing ended up being 52.5km.

Photo Graham


What was greater than expected was the time it took us - close to 9 hours. On departure, we had a forecast of a moderately helpful tailwind. This didn’t eventuate. And the current running against us was stronger than expected. We averaged less than 6km/hour over a day that ended up being a bit of a slog. But Hogan was waiting for us with clear weather and plenty of daylight left to dry ourselves and settle in for our first rest day.


Thanks to Rachel and Graham for the photos provided. In particular, this amazing underwater shot of the dolphins under Rachel's boat was taken by her at the start of our crossing. The fuzzy surface shot of part of a dolphin is my best contribution to the day's photo gallery.




The last few pics show us approaching, then landing on Hogan; our course over the day; and the view from Hogan out to our next destination.


Camping on Hogan Island, Thursday 15 to Saturday 17 February


We had planned to paddle on the Friday, but after our big Thursday paddle the ‘veteran’ Johnny Hutch made the call that a rest day would be a good idea. (John had done the crossing 8 years ago). It ended up being a good call. We not only recharged the batteries, but we also got to spend a day looking around an island that is somewhat maligned. It is known in some circles to be barren and uninteresting. The Hogan Island group is located on the border between Victoria and Tasmania. The vegetation is low-lying scrub. From at least the middle of the last century, it was used for grazing cattle and sheep. This was banned in the last decade due to the damage to the vegetation. Fencing and cattle pens are still



visible.


We walked to the top of the hill (116m above sea level) and were greeted with spectacular views. The island is home to a species of blue-tongued lizard, of which we saw many. And walking along the rocky foreshore was an experience. The water was crystal clear. In the rocks were crevices that were sharp and sometimes deep. I took on the challenge of trying to walk quietly to creep up on the crabs, of similar size to blue swimmers, so I could have a good look at one. I never succeeded. They darted away in a flash and were only ever a brief image in my peripheral vision. I didn’t see any penguins, but they were present, as evidenced by Rachel’s intimate photo.


There is a fisho’s hut on Hogan, and visitors are welcome to use it for cooking and shelter. Even gas, tinned food, and water were available, courtesy of previous visitors who have made donations. As we were the only visitors at that time, we had it all to ourselves. We signed the visitor's book and found past entries from fellow Bass Strait kayakers, some of whom are well-known to us.


We had two nights on Hogan Island, using the hut for most of our meals and camping close by. The weather continued to be kind - clear, sunny, and mild.




Thanks to Rachel for the wildlife, 'pebbles', and some of the other pictures provided, and Graham for the photos inside the hut and of the night sky.


Crossing Day 3 Saturday 17 February: Hogan Island to Deal Island. Distance 46km. Winds W-WNW 5-15kn; Swell 1m



This was to be a moderately long crossing, and wind and current forecasts suggested that an early start was desirable. We were on the water before 6.30 am. This ended up being an engaging crossing, with beam winds from the northwest that gave us reasonable assistance and kept us ‘on our toes’. With the sails up for the entire journey, the cross-wind made it necessary to weight shift and regularly adjust with subtle changes of direction. And a sizable swell for the last couple of hours made it even more exciting.


After a 46km journey, and an average 7.1km hour speed, we arrived at Winter Cove on Deal Island, the jewel in the Bass Strait crown. We negotiated a moderate surf landing without incident and set about preparing our campground for what would be our longest stay on any of the islands.



Thanks to Graham for the stills taken from his GoPro footage.


Deal Island, Saturday 17 February to Thursday 22 February. Part A


Graham had been looking forward to exploring Deal for years since he had heard the glowing tales from some previous expeditioners. It was with smiling satisfaction that he and John informed us that weather forecasts dictated we would be ‘stuck’ on Deal for at least four days. It ended up being the highlight of the trip. The scenery is spectacular, as can be seen from the photos. You could easily spend a week or more looking around Deal and the secondary islands, Erith, and Dover.


The rescue chopper wasn't for us, and that's a whole other story. Photos Rachel

Deal is teeming with wildlife, and some creatures are overly intrusive. As soon as we arrived at our campsite, so did the wallabies. They would hop right up and virtually into your lap, and firm discouragement was required to move them on. They eventually got the message, unlike the possums that couldn’t be told no. Some of us took to storing our food in our kayak hatches because they got into everything, including Graham’s tent. They even chewed through sealed silicone bags in search of food. Many of them were overly fat, which was clear evidence that they were regularly fed by visitors. It was a good reminder of why you don’t feed the wildlife.


Deal is the largest in the Kent Group National Park. It has been previously inhabited and home to grazing animals. Historic buildings on the western side of the island are evidence of the small village that once existed there. On the southern end is the old lighthouse. Built in 1848, it is the highest in the southern hemisphere. Its height means that at times it is lost in the clouds and not clearly visible from the sea. Hence, it was deactivated in 1992.


As well as great walks and spectacular scenery we met the caretakers of the island who were soon to finish their 3 months as volunteers. They gave us some of their fresh produce from their veggie garden and filled us in on some of the history and recent happenings on the island.



Thanks, Rachel for the collage, and her and Graham for the wildlife pictures.


Deal Island, Saturday 17 February to Thursday 22 February – Part B


As soon as we arrived at our campsite on the edge of the beach at Winter Cove, John busied himself forming discarded planks and logs into a picnic table and chairs. This came in useful. We had five nights and four full days on Deal Island. Strong winds kept us at bay – even making a local paddle to explore Erith and Dover Islands a difficult assignment. That wasn’t a concern. There was enough of Deal for us to explore on foot from where we were.

It is a vigorous walk up the hill to get to the historic village and to sightsee the other bays and mountains. We did this walk or part of it daily just to collect water. There is a system on the island where the caretakers provide clean drinking water for any visitors, particularly campers. They deliver these by ATV as needed. Two full 20-litre drums were always available



for us.


The four of us walked to the village and some of the main lookouts on our first full day. Then Graham and I did the walk to the lighthouse a few days later. Rachel went exploring every day, covering pretty much the whole island. She took literally hundreds of magnificent photographs so that the rest of us could share in her adventure. If only I could display them

Photo (& impressive cooking setup) Graham

all…


On one of our less energetic days, Graham managed to catch fish for our dinner – a whiting which we shared for entrée, and an Australian salmon which we made into a very nice fish curry. On that same day, a pod of dolphins appeared in the bay, only a couple of hundred metres from our campsite. To his credit, Graham swam out and took some nice photos, including underwater shots that rivalled Rachel’s from a few days earlier.


Mobile phone reception was present on the island, but only in a few select locations. We could walk from our campsite to the other side of the bay to the ‘Telstra Rock’ that had a clear sight of Flinders Island. And, from the historic village, you could walk ten minutes down the hill to the ‘Telstra Chair’ that faced back towards the mainland. Or you could do the long and steep walk to the lighthouse. It was on this day, with reasonably good reception and access to his various apps that the Professor was able to look at the weather and tide/current data for the next day and crunch all the numbers in

The over 60's on the Telstra Chair. Photo Graham

his head to formulate our plan. We were readying to depart early the following morning.


Easterly and north-easterly swells had been running for a couple of days. Unfortunately, this can bring a big swell into the beach at Winter Cove. We had the prospect of favourable winds and weather for our big paddle to Roydon Island, but first we had to get off Deal. It could have been my imagination, but the waves crashing all night before we set off seemed



considerably louder than they had the previous nights.



Thanks, Rachel & Graham for many of the great photos in 'Deal Island Part A & B'.




Crossing day 4, Thursday 22 February: Deal Island to Roydon Island. Distance 63km. Wind NNE 10-15knots, and 20knots NE later in the day. Swell 1-1.5m ENE.


For distance, this was to be the big one. As the crow flies Winter Cove to the landing point at Roydon Island is 61km. But currents, winds, poor luck, and miscalculations can make it a 75km+ crossing.


First, we had to deal with a launch through moderate surf, as the ENE swell meant it was coming almost straight into the beach. We timed our charge as best we could, and launched one at a time, the others assisting those ahead. Part of the trick with launching through waves is keeping your kayak pointing straight until you deem the time is right, with no large sets coming in. This was the job of those assisting, as well as to give an encouraging push on take-off. We got Rachel away first in a nice lull. Once she was out the

Help from the Deal Island caretakers, Ali & Apanie, also seen to the right in the top collage photo

back of the breakers it was Graham’s turn. He got hit with one moderate wave that turned him sideways, but undaunted he braced, kept his balance, straightened up, and paddled out to safety. I punched out next without too much trouble. John (the veteran) launched last, with the help of the island’s caretakers who had kindly walked down the hill to help us get off the beach safely.



We were anticipating some assistance from the wind. Our course was generally SW to SSW, and we had an NE to NNE wind. The swell was light. Due to the wind, Graham’s navigation, and determined pace setting from Rachel, we made excellent progress. The last couple of hours were particularly enjoyable when we had a beam wind that strengthened to around 20 knots and at times pushed us along at over 10km/hr.


We battled a moderate headwind for the last 30 minutes due to local conditions around Roydon, but all-in-all we arrived feeling we still had some fuel in the tank. And thanks to our navigator, we only had to paddle 63km, an extraordinarily ‘short’ distance considering the cross-currents we had to contend with.



Thanks to Rachel and Graham for their photographic contributions.


Roydon Island Thursday 22 February to Saturday 24 February


Roydon is a small uninhabited island almost within a stone's throw of Flinders Island. It has one tallish rocky bluff but is otherwise fairly flat. Away from the rocky shore it is covered in small trees (a little over head-height) and low prickly shrubs. The attraction with camping on Roydon is there is a large fisherman’s hut (which I named Don’s hut), fresh water, and shelter from the wind.


Don's Hut, "over the hill in the trees he waits..." Photo Graham

When we landed, we were immediately set upon by scores of March flies, which could easily bite through even our thicker layers of kayak clothing. The only come-back was they were slow and easy to swat. But their sheer numbers forced us into a quick unload and race up the hill in search of Don’s hut. Fortunately, the flies seemed to congregate around the beach and didn’t follow us to our shelter. We set up our tents around the hut (other than ‘elder statesman’ John who was granted the luxury of the double bed inside) and settled in for a two-night’s stay.


The day after landing was promising 40knot north-westerly winds and large swells, so once again we were forced to relax and treat ourselves to a rest day and exploration of the island. Some of the group went for a swim (a very quick dip for me), with the water temperature in the bay being a climatically concerning 21 degrees/C.




The nights were interesting. The island is home to many penguins, and they make a racket, generally from around the time you're starting to drift off to sleep. Their crying sounds almost like human babies. You couldn’t get annoyed though because they are such cute little critters. The one in the photo spent a lot of time wailing just outside my tent.



Most photos courtesy Graham


Roydon Island Friday 23 February, lay day.


Our day off dawned clear but with gale-force winds blowing from the northwest. I was up in time to see the sun rising over Flinders Island and reflecting in the bay that was somewhat protected from the wind.


Graham and I decided on a circumnavigation of the island, a not-too-daunting prospect as it would be likely to take less than a couple of hours. However, I don’t know what I was thinking when I set off in a pair of thongs. And Graham was soon rueing not wearing long pants. We had to walk through many shrubs that were sharp and prickly. And the rocky terrain was rough and uneven. We had to take a slow and cautious approach but made it without any mishaps.




We took some video footage of the lively sea. There were a few interesting features on the island which we also photographed. John had set off behind us – in trousers and enclosed shoes – and caught up when we were rounding the last headland back towards the bay and

beach below Don’s hut.


Then it was a leisurely afternoon back at the hut and out of the wind. As she often did, Rachel set off on her own adventure, which included exploring the whole island and climbing to the top of the bluff. No doubt she would have welcomed having her abseiling equipment to make it a worthwhile challenge, but she had to settle for what the island could provide.



All these amazing photos courtesy Rachel


My Audax that I used for the trip is one of the kayak models designed and built by Rob Mercer in NSW. As well as being probably the best all-round expedition kayak in the world, it has amazing storage capacity. As far as we know, no one has previously taken a guitar with them on a Bass Strait kayak expedition. But, along with around 60kg of gear, food, and water stored in the generous compartments, the rear hatch was able to accommodate my Martin travel guitar, and it stood up to the journey with no problems. It came out of its bag most nights, with Rachel and me taking it in turns to bang out a few tunes. And it was the perfect companion for afternoons like this. Nothing on the agenda, sitting in the sun, no time constraints, no interruptions. This is what it’s all about. And plenty of time to compose a little ditty called ‘Don’s Hut’.




Thanks to Rachel and Graham for most of the photos provided.


Crossing day 5, Roydon Island to Whitemark on Flinders Island. 37.76km, winds 5knots N-NNW; swell bugger-all.




In mild conditions, the shelter provided by the islands to the west of Flinders Island make this leg of the journey a gentle and relaxing one, as it was for us. Being close to shore, and in no hurry, we pulled into Wybalenna, part way down the coast, for morning tea and a lie down in the sun.


North of our landing point are the Wybalenna Chapel and cemetery. This area represents a significant chapter in indigenous and early European history. From the early 1800's, conflicts

Pin indicates Wybalenna. Source Google Maps

between European settlers and Aboriginals on the Tasmanian mainland threatened the existence of the original inhabitants. By 1828, the indigenous population in Tasmania was estimated to have been reduced from around 6000 (and possibly as many as 15,000) to under 1000. From that time martial law was declared, and it became legal to shoot aboriginal people who were found in the vicinity of white settlements and farms. A bounty of 5 pounds was placed on the head of any indigenous adult, and 2 pounds for the capture of any child.


Governor Arthur and George Augustus Robinson (colonial official and preacher) came up with the plan to exile indigenous Tasmanians to some of the nearby islands to help ensure their survival. Some Aboriginals were convinced to move to settlements on Swan Island, Gun Carriage Island, and The Lagoons, near Whitemark. Later, this included Wybalenna, which opened in 1833 and became the biggest settlement. The word Wybalenna means "black man's houses". However, between 1834 and 1847, 150 of 200 indigenous exiles died from combinations of European diseases, poor nutrition and shelter, and complications related to homesickness and the trauma of dislocation from their land. Wybalenna was closed in 1847. Many of their children having been forcibly removed, the remaining Aboriginals were moved to Oyster Bay, back on the Tasmanian mainland, where the rest of them eventually died.


It is thought that 100 or more bodies of indigenous exiles are buried in the region near where Wybalenna Cemetery is today. However, unlike the European graves, where each site is marked with a grand individual headstone, a single plaque was erected in remembrance of the indigenous victims. It reads "Erected by the junior farmers of Flinders Island to commemorate approximately 100 Tasmanian Aboriginals buried in this vicinity of Wybalenna 1833-1847". [Sources for the above information: https://www.flinders.tas.gov.au/aboriginal-history; https://www.roamingdownunder.com/wybalenna.php; SBS On Demand First Australians, episode 2].


After Wybalenna, It was an easy paddle to Whitemark, the ‘capital’ of Flinders Island. We had two nights



at Whitemark. This time it wasn’t weather dictated. It was because of the presence of a pub with tap beer and hot meals. There was also a general store to restock some of our supplies. We set up camp close to the beach in a location we hoped was out of the way, so we didn’t upset the locals. (We only heard one complaint). From there it was a

Photo Rachel

short walk to the centre of town.


There is a gin distillery overlooking the water with a swanky restaurant. We tried to get in, but they were booked out. We were told the pub was our only option for dinner, but even this was looking sketchy when we arrived. The whole town had a black-out (other than the distillery which had a generator – hence the full restaurant). Some oldish local had fallen off his roof, decided he wasn’t too critical, and attempted to drive himself to a doctor. He blacked out on the way and ran into an electrical pole. (We hope he is ok). Fortunately, the beer taps work on pressure, not power, so we had a few half-pints while waiting for updates on the blackout. The local electricity workers had already been going hard at it for a few hours and the power was soon restored. We were assured the kitchen would open on time.

After refreshing we returned for dinner and a few more ales. John and I chose the wallaby salad, which ended up being the culinary highlight of the trip. The meat was served medium-rare and was as tender as an eye fillet. And tastier. It wasn’t the least bit gamey like kangaroo meat. Unfortunately, it isn’t available outside of the southern states, but I’m thinking of lobbying my local member to see if I can rectify this.