The evening before we’re due to take a day trip on the new Spirit of the Wild vessel in Strahan, we take a slow wander along the waterfront to check it out as the sun sets. An imposing charcoal grey and reflective glass structure, the boat was purpose-built to take passengers across vast Macquarie Harbour and down the glassy Gordon River. It’s an impressive sight and we’re now excited to board in the morning.
We arrive bright and early at 8am and quite a crowd have beaten us there. Our tickets are for the Premium Upper Deck – a luxurious space with leather recliner seats, private viewing platforms and snacks, meals and Tasmanian wines, beer and soft drinks to the heart’s content all day. We’re shown to our seats and offered coffee and pastries while we disembark.
Just to get technical for a minute, the Spirit of the Wild is a 33.8m catamaran that was constructed in Hobart by Richardson Devine Marine. It features twin diesel engines but also runs twin electric engines which allows for almost silent cruising when needed. As we race across Macquarie Harbour with all engines on full blast, it’s a comfortable ride, even on the choppy, rainy day that we’re experiencing.
We near Hell’s Gates, the narrow passage that all boats in and out of the Harbour must pass. It’s easy to imagine the terror that would’ve been felt by convicts who had been sentenced to life on Sarah Island, a small island penal colony in the middle of the harbour, as the boat passes through the chop. Patches of fog dance across the dense forest that lines the shore and an icy cold wind whips at us as we brace ourselves on the outdoor deck. Back inside, the stories of the prisoners, pioneers and protectors of this area are brought to life on the screens in the cabin, which further sets the scene.
We set a path for the Gordon River. Once we hit the lower reaches, the almost black water starts to become glassy and reflective. It’s at this point I realise how incredible the electric engines actually are. Practically silent, all you can hear are birds in the distance. We glide through UNESCO Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area and moor at Heritage Landing to follow a short boardwalk track to see ancient Huon pines, some being several thousand years old.
Back on board, lunch has been prepared – think Tasmanian salmon and steamed trout, delicious salads and frittata, followed by dessert. Lots of couples are having celebratory bubbles, with at least one anniversary and one honeymoon being celebrated among the group. I nip downstairs to check out their buffet, and it looks great too with lots of cold cuts, smoked salmon and salads.
Our last stop of the day is a guided walk on Sarah Island. From 1821 the tiny windswept island was used as a penal settlement where convicts laboured under the harshest conditions in the rainforest, felling Huon pines for boat building.
We glide back into Strahan six hours after we left. Even though the day went quickly, I got a real sense of the vastness of Macquarie Harbour, the extraordinary wilderness of the Gordon River and an appreciation of the harshness of the penal years in the area. All while sipping fine Tassie wines and eating delicious food from the comfort of my seat or viewing area. ■
More information and bookings at gordonrivercruises.com.au