Waterfalls, sea caves, and wildlife. Tasman Island cruises have it all. Get off the walking trails and onto the water for this unique experience!
The Tasman Peninsula is a spectacular place. If you have four days, you can get a great view of it on the Three Capes Track. You could drive between lookouts and take in the dramatic coastline. But, for a completely different perspective, you can’t beat the view from the water.
The chance to get right up close to giant waterfalls, sea caves and towering cliff faces was too much for us to pass up. We also love spotting wildlife and the waters around the Tasman Peninsula are a great place to see everything from whales and dolphins to albatrosses and sea eagles.
This is not a ‘cruise’ cruise
Don’t be fooled by the name of the tour. If your idea of a cruise is calm water and a slow moving boat, you might be in for a bit of a shock.
First, there are the boats. They are fast. If you worry about your hair getting messed up, it’s best you take the necessary precautions. The boat comes to a stop at points of interest but between times, hang onto your hat!
Speaking of hats, even if you aren’t concerned about your hair, you will want to bring a hat and other layers to help keep warm. That’s the next thing about this tour. It goes out in all weather. There is a roof over your head but otherwise its open air all the way. You will need protection from the chill of the fast moving boat.
There is also the chance you could get wet. Even if it isn’t raining, the open boat exposes you to sea spray. You don’t have to bring waterproofs. They are provided for you in the form of full body, bright red ponchos. Not only do they keep you and your camera dry, they provide another layer of warmth.
Just as cool, wet weather won’t stop the boats going out, neither will the conditions on the water. So, when I say the Tasman Sea can throw up some interesting conditions, the choice of words is not wholly accidental.
Sea sickness is a horrible feeling and the crew are expert at helping you avoid it. Where you sit on the boat will help. Sit towards the back if you want a less bouncy ride. When the complimentary ginger tablets get passed around, don’t be shy in accepting them. This is one time when the expression better safe than sorry is accurate.
Don’t let anything about the conditions put you off this cruise – it all adds to the fun. The crew, who are amazing, are never going to put you in harm’s way so embrace the conditions as part of the Tasman Peninsula experience.
All that said, we set off on our tour under blue skies. It was cold but there was only a couple of metres of swell. For the Tasman Sea, that is as close to glassy conditions as you are going to get.
With our red raincoats fitted, ginger tablets taken and our itinerary for the morning explained, we rocketed across Pirates Bay. In the distance we could see Waterfall Bay. But first there were caves to explore.
The boat slowed down and turned in the direction of an opening at the base of the cliff. The sun lit entrance to the cave had bands of brown, pink and grey rock. Turquoise water surged into the opening. Suds of white foam disappeared deep into the tunnel well past where we could see.
There was a lot to take in. Put aside the fact you’re in a boat at the base of a cliff pointing into a cave. There was the contrasting colour of the sea and rocks, the movement of the boat on the waves and the sound of the water deep in the cave echoing back at you.
The nose of the boat edged inside the opening. It was a tantalising view. You want to go in a little further, then a little further again to see what lies ahead in the darkness. It was the sort of setting that inspired a desire to explore.
Even from a distance the waterfall at Waterfall Bay looks impressive. A steady, thin stream of water appears at the top of the cliffs. As it drops down the face the stream broadens to a curtain of water before meeting the sea below.
The great thing about this cruise is that you don’t only get a panoramic view of the coast, you get up close. After a minute or two sitting back from the falls to size them up, we headed straight for them. When I thought the view couldn’t get better, we got closer still.
The sound of the falling water got louder and louder as we approached the drop zone. A fine mist of spray created a little rainbow where the water fell into the bay.
It’s exciting getting so close to something so big. The perspective you get from the water is unlike anything you get from a lookout. Being metres from where the water hits the sea or, for that matter, being inside a sea cave, is like a wildlife encounter. You really feel like you’re experiencing something a little bit special.
The Candlestick and Totem
Next, we set off for more views of the coast. The main feature is the volcanic dolerite cliffs that rise 300 metres above the water. It is not only their height that is amazing. The dolerite forms as elongated columns making the cliffs look like a giant pipe organ.
One of the most famous features of this part of the coast are two sea stacks – the Candlestick and Totem. Rock climbers come from around the world to scale these two pillars. They stand at 110m and 60m respectively.
Besides their near vertical face, they are also surrounded by rough water. We looked on in disbelief as our guide described how climbers access the rocks let alone climb them. Seeing them from the boat was quite enough for us.
Another feature of the cruise was the wildlife. What appears will depend of the time of year you are on the water and a bit of luck. We missed out on whales but there was still plenty to see.
The ledges at the base of the cliffs are home to Australian and New Zealand fur seals. Once again, we were able to get quite close to them. At one stop, seal pups were playing in the water. When you see something in the water, you realise how clear it is.
We also spotted some dolphins and a distant school of feeding bluefin tuna. We could make out their distinct shape as they leapt clear of the water in a feeding frenzy.
The wildlife highlight of our trip was seeing an albatross circle the boat for a few minutes. Shy albatross – that’s their name, not their personality – inhabit the Southern Ocean but only breed on three Australian islands. For the few minutes it circled us, it flapped it’s wings no more than a couple of times. Otherwise, its seven foot wide wings stayed still as it glided just above the surface.
The final stop before returning to shore is Tasman Island. Made of the same towering dolerite columns as the mainland cliffs, it is hard to believe it was once inhabited. A lighthouse keeper and their family used to call this remote place home.
The island rises around 300 metres above the sea so getting to the top has its challenges. During storms, the residents attached themselves to ropes to move between the buildings. This was so the gales didn’t blow them off the edge of the island.
It is one of those places where all you can do is scratch you head in amazement. How they ever managed to construct a lighthouse and homes on top of this seemingly impossible to access island is beyond me. There were no helicopters back then! It is a great monument to the ingenuity of past generations, and it was fitting end to the cruise.
Tasman Island Cruises – must do!
We can’t recommend this experience enough. The staff are fantastic. They are knowledgeable, relaxed and focussed on making sure everyone has a great time. If it is a unique view of the Tasman Peninsula and its wildlife you are after, this experience will not disappoint.