The final leg of our road trip from Brisbane took us to the island state of Tasmania. We took the red eye ferry from Melbourne that left at 9pm and got us to Devonport on the north coast of Tasmania at 6am the next morning. We’d had quite a hectic weekend in Melbourne and were exhausted by the time we found our seats on the ferry. In hindsight maybe a cabin with actual beds would have been a good idea but we decided the cheap seats would be fine. We arrived in Tasmania at dawn and decided to take the scenic route to Hobart, where we were diving the next day. To cut a long story short we were totally exhausted, I mad a micro nap at the wheel but luckily on a long straight road so didn’t crash! We pulled over and napped in a school playing field!
After finally arriving in Hobart, and sleeping the clock round, we were raring to go out diving. I had been in contact Sue Wragge from Underwater Adventures Tasmania about diving with Spotted Handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus). She is based out of Hobart, where these rare and unusual fish are found. Sue plays an active role with researchers in the area who work on the conservation of these critically endangered fish. Unfortunately our timings didn’t allow us to go out with the recovery plan scientists but Sue was very knowledgeable about the handfish and other species in the area. I definitely hope to return and dive the area again. We saw six handfish all in all as well as sea robins, a huge skate (that scared the life out of me) and I was lucky enough to see an elephant fish. They are related to sharks and rays, being a cartilaginous fish also known as Chimera, and apparently it is exceedingly rare to see them so shallow. The handfish were amazing, and much more colourful than I expected.
I guess it’s not that surprising but the water’s cold in Tasmania, with the next stop being the Antarctic! We had slowly been acclimatising on our journey south from Brisbane but the Tasmanian water did take your breath away. I can’t really remember my dive in the kelp, which is sad, as I was so shivery and chilled to the core I couldn’t really concentrate on the underwater forest. Luckily Sue was on hand with hot water to coax us back into our frigid wetsuits after the surface interval. I’m a firm believer in getting out of wetsuits between dives, otherwise I’m immediately freezing as soon as I get back in the water. As much as I’d love to go right back to Tasmania and dive right now I definitely don’t think I could braze the single figures in a wetsuit. I do plan to do a dry suit course later in the year though so hopefully that will broaden my horizons to more cooler water diving.
After the handfish expedition we headed further south to the Tasman Peninsula, around Eaglehawk Neck. The topography here is really amazing, with steep cliffs and crashing waves. You really get the feel of the southern ocean around here. We did a couple of days diving with my main objectives being the giant kelp forests, draughtboard sharks (Cephaloscyllium laticeps) and the colourful weedy seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) that are found around southern Tassie. The kelp was great, but as I said, I was too cold to concentrate and it went by in a blur 🙁 Next though we saw quite a few weedy seadragons, which after seeing the Melbourne population, really were more vibrant in colouration. We even saw a pregnant male which is quite unusual so late in the season. Sadly another change to the ocean here is the reducing size of giant kelp forests. Changing currents appear to be warming the water and changing the ecology of not only the kelp but also the herbivores other animals in the food webs that regulate their growth. Only one small patch of kelp remains accessible from eaglehawk neck, down from huge areas only a decade ago.
After a day of relatively benign conditions in the kelp forest we did a couple of more challenging dives around the headlands. We dived a wall to the edge of kelp tolerance at 30m at the interface where sessile invertebrates such as sponges and soft corals take hold. Then we dived the huge Cathedral Cave, which is an enormous cave system that has both large and small openings. We went through the areas big enough to drive a bus through and then through a smaller section that required some squeezing! Tasmania was a great end to our dive trip and a place I definitely want to dive again. Next time I’ll try and be a little better prepared for the cold water.
The gallery of images for the Tasmanian leg of our road trip can be seen by following this link.