This morning we trotted on down the hill to the harbor for breakfast. It’s our first day off from cycling and we’ve planned a cruise up the Gordon River. The boat, a double decker 100 foot cruiser with an additional viewing platform on top, is named Lady Jane Franklin. Just three years old, the engines were quiet and the boat traveled very smoothly as we moved out into the harbor. Macquarie Harbor is the second largest harbor in Australia and at 20 miles long and five wide, it is six times larger than Sydney Harbor. We headed out Hell’s Gate, the narrow entrance to the harbor just for a feel for what a ship may endure in rough seas. It was a nice calm day for us but the reefs on each side still cause short chop. Gliding back in we headed up towards the Gordon. This ship cruised around 55 knots so we moved right along except when viewing specific aspects of life.
Soon we came to a group of fish farm pods. There were 16 of these mesh covered pens each holding about 40,000 fish which grow to about 11 pounds each in 18 months. They raise salmon and sea trout here. We saw several other farms as we moved up towards the Gordon. The little town of Strahan had now disappeared from view. We are in rainforest now and the dense lush vegetation receives over 16 feet of rainfall each year. It was raining lightly to begin our cruise but soon let up. The Huon Pine found along the Gordon grow at a rate of only 1 mm in girth per year. This extremely slow rate makes this species very strong. Our guide pointed out one he said was about 500 years old. He also said there are trees over 3000 years old along this river. Logging was once the basis of the economy in this sparsely populated area but now it is a World Heritage site and largely protected. As we slowly cruised along this winding slow moving river, the lushness and density of the rain forest covering the steep hills and mountains was quietly amazing. We saw a sailboat and a couple of adventurous kayakers plying the waters but that was all. The air here has been tested and found to be the cleanest in the world. The fresh water coming from the Gordon lays on top of the sea water entering the harbor through Hell’s Gate.
On our return we stopped at the former Sarah Island Penal Colony. Infamous for its brutality, this colony began in the early 1820’s. It was here that the triple cat o’nine tails was developed. This cruel lash was used frequently and incorporated small lead pellets to tear open men’s backs when whipped. There was an average of about 500 convicts and prison personnel living here during the twelve years of operation and many attempted escapes, very few successful. One famous prisoner, Alexander Pierce, escaped three times taking a fellow convict with him on each occasion. When it was discovered that he was killing and canabalizing his partners, Pierce was hanged. After some fallen Huon Pine washed up on the island, the prison personnel started building boats using convict labor on this small island. This enterprise grew rapidly, eventually becoming the most productive shipyard in the Southern Hemisphere. Administrative problems led to the colony’s closure but not without one last great story. The 10 convicts remaining who were completing the last ship built here commandeered it and sailed 8000 miles to Chile where they lived for several years till four where discovered and brought back to England for hanging. The other six lived out their lives as free men.
We returned to the wharf and spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sunshine that had burned away the misty clouds of the morning.
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