A Coral Expeditions cruise in Tasmania holds the promise of stunning scenery, crystal clear waters, superb hiking, and the chance to spot myriad native Australian animals. However, this isn’t the reason many passengers book this cruise. For these travellers, it’s all about Port Davey. Visiting Port Davey in Tasmania used to involve a challenging multi-day hike or a private charter flight. However, now you can cruise here with Coral Expeditions, the only mainstream line with permission to visit this remote National Park. Add experienced onboard guides, fabulous food and wine, and a ship that has been designed to explore remove wilderness regions and it’s easy to understand the appeal of this unique cruise.
Expectations were high as we boarded Coral Expeditions’ Coral Discoverer for our round-trip sailing from Hobart. Ours was a Coastal Treks of Tasmania itinerary which included a daily walk or more challenging hike, sightseeing cruises in the Xplorer tender, kayaking excursions, and plenty of time to admire Tasmania’s stunning scenery. We enjoyed the mix of activities and ended up doing a little of everything during our cruise.
Coral Discoverer caters for a maximum of 72 guests, with passengers on our sailing hailing mainly from Australia and New Zealand. Tasmania cruises are offered from December to March and have a flexible itinerary so changes can be made due to weather. Each evening, the program for the following day is provided at a pre-dinner briefing and in passenger guest rooms during turndown. While it is impossible to control the weather, we were hoping it would be kind to us and for the most part it was. Aside from a couple of hours spent hanging onto the bed so we didn’t get tossed onto the floor one night, we enjoyed smooth sailing and sunny skies. On our cruise, Coral Discoverer sailed straight to Port Davey after leaving Hobart to take advantage of the good weather and calm sailing conditions.
We set our alarms and went up to the top deck to enjoy a sunrise sail into Port Davey. As we approached the islands, dolphins rode the ship’s wake and the sky changed colour every few minutes. Passengers got to know each other as they admired the scenery and shared their delight at the beautiful day ahead. The morning program included a scenic cruise on the Xplorer tender to the Melaleuca Plain and an easy walking trip which included fabulous scenery plus sightings of rare and critically endangered Orange Bellied Parrots. Studies of this species suggest there are currently less than a hundred birds in the wild so we felt very privileged to see not just one, but three from the comfortable bird watching hide.
In the afternoon, we hiked to the top of Mt Beattie which had terrific views of the National Park. Unfortunately, Trevor and I got stuck at the back of the group for this walk which had a narrow trail that made it tricky to pass people. This meant we were always playing catch up and didn’t get as much time to rest along the way or take photos as those at the front of the group. For subsequent hikes, we made sure we were positioned closer to the front and enjoyed these walks much more than the first one.
The following morning, some passengers opted for a hike up Mt Milner while others chose a scenic boat trip around the Breaksea Islands or a kayaking excursion. We decided on the boat trip after being told how rare it was for the Xplorer tender to be able to circumnavigate all the islands, instead of just cruising past a few. Conditions were excellent and the cruise was superb, but the walk and kayaking trip looked just as good.
Coral Expeditions’ open bridge policy meant we could spend time talking to the captain and his crew and keep a lookout for dolphins, seals and albatross from the bridge which offered excellent views. Coral Discoverer doesn’t have a theatre or evening shows but Tasmania’s dolphins kept us entertained during dinner by jumping alongside the ship outside the dining room windows most evenings.
Over the next few days we visited Maria Island, where we wandered around the historic ruins and tried to spot wombats in the wild. After a couple of sightings when we first got off the Xplorer, there were no more wombats and Trevor was feeling downhearted. Then, right at the end of the walk, we came across a mother wombat and her baby. Even our guides were excited as it was the first time they had seen a baby wombat.
Each day there was a choice of two walks (one ‘easy’ and one ‘hard’). The easy walks were often just as good, if not better, than the hard ones so don’t be put off booking this trip if you’re concerned about the walks being too difficult. A couple of passengers stayed onboard Coral Discoverer most days to enjoy the scenery and read on the top deck. Many passengers made their own adjustments to the daily program to suit themselves.
Grey clouds were threatening to break our good run with the weather when we arrived at Wineglass Bay. Trevor and I had hiked to the Wineglass Bay lookout before so we opted for the easier walk to Wineglass Bay’s beach. It was fantastic to see one of Australia’s most famous beaches up close with hardly anyone around. Some crazy passengers (including Trevor) went for a swim!
We also hiked to Cape Hauy where as our group gathered at the lookout on top of the sea cliffs for a photo and watched white foam encircle the jagged rocks far below. Those who didn’t want to tackle the many stairs on this hike enjoyed a leisurely ramble to Canoe Bay which was close to the spot where the Xplorer dropped us off.
On the return walk from Cape Hauy, our guide spotted an echidna alongside the main hiking path. It was more interested in eating ants than our sweaty group of hikers and stayed around long enough for everyone to take photos and ‘ooh’ and ‘aahh’ at how cute it was before it disappeared into the scrub. We also did a private behind-the-scenes tour of Port Arthur which included access to parts of the site which aren’t usually open to the public, like the bell tower. Our guide was a raconteur who knew how to tell a good yarn and he kept everyone entertained, even the passengers who had visited Port Arthur many times before.
Returning to the ship after a morning or afternoon spent hiking in beautiful surrounds, with the prospect of a hot shower, good company, fine wine and a delicious meal to look forward to, was pure bliss. Onboard it felt like a house party with well-travelled friends and we were greeting each other by name by the end of the second day, including the crew who were charming and professional but also good fun. With such a small group of people onboard, it was easy to socialise and make friends with other passengers.
Coral Expeditions cruises tend to attract mature and experienced travellers who enjoy exploring the road less travelled and don’t mind paying a little extra for a comfortable trip. Almost everyone on our journey was a repeat passenger and by the end of the cruise we could understand why.
Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of Coral Expeditions.
Looking for some more information about Tasmania? We’ve written a Hobart travel guide, a Port Davey guide and put together some tips for visiting Hobart in winter. We’ve also reviewed the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart and Saffire Freycinet, and taken a day trip to Bruny Island.