The day after we arrived in Strahan we were booked on a Cruise to ‘explore the World Heritage wilderness of the magnificent Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour’. So we had an early breakfast in a bakery called Banjo’s (strange name for a bakery!), and were on board the Lady Jane Franklin II by 8.15am. The Lady Jane Franklin II (hereinafter to be called LJF) is a 70 tonne catamaran, 32 metres long and 9.5 metres wide. The LJF can carry up to 212 passengers, and although it wasn’t yet holiday season, I reckon that we were almost full by the time we left at 8.45am. She was built in Tasmania, and was launched in Nov 2003, and she was immaculately clean. With a cruising speed of 27 knots and top speed of 30 knots, we were soon well out into the Harbour and cruising along the 3km ‘training wall’. This was a fantastic feat of engineering, designed and built in the 1890’s. It was designed to speed up the tidal flow, creating a giant funnel that scours out the sand, making the channel clear and safe for shipping, but without the need for dredging. Train tracks were laid right up to the water’s edge, then the train pushed rock off the end into the water, and the gaps were filled in by hand. Then the train track was laid over the new bit of wall, and more rock was pushed of the end. This was repeated and the wall was gradually extended. It took 300 men 2 years to build the wall, but without it Strahan would not exist. In some places, twisted lengths of train track are still visible on top of the wall.
Then, almost before we realised it, we were approaching the Macquarie Heads, or Hells Gates as it was later called by convicts arriving at the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station on Sarah Island. It is a treacherous channel, where the harbour ends and the Southern Ocean begins, and where waves battle with river currents. The passage is barely 20 metres deep and we were told it was 80 metres wide, although I have since read reports that state it to be anything between 20 metres and 200 metres wide! (It was definitely more than 20 metres!) There was a sea swell of about 6 metres as we edged our nose (if catamarans have a nose) out into the Southern Ocean, although seas can be known to run at over 20 metres high. The air was fresh and clear, and it was strange to think that there was nothing between us and Antarctica to the south and South America to the west. The wind was brisk, and we pitched and yawed as we turned and retreated through Hells Gates to the safety of Macquarie Harbour.
On our way up the coast towards the mouth of the Gordon River we passed some fish farms, where Atlantic Salmon and Ocean Trout are raised, and seagulls perch hopefully!