An intimate expedition vessel offers unrivalled access to Port Davey in Tasmania’s wild and remote south-west.

Story Briar Jensen  Photo Jimmy Emms

Mid-morning sun glints off porcelain-white quartzite cliffs on Breaksea Islands in Port Davey, within Southwest National Park, Tas. Jagged rocks jut skywards like vertical razor blades, their fractured edges mimicking city skylines.

Fleshy bull kelp sways with the swell as owner-skipper Pieter van der Woude aligns Odalisque’s tender with a crack in the cliffs, guns it between swells and glides into a cave. 

Rock walls centimetres either side of the tender plunge into water so clear you can see crayfish clinging to crags like red bakelite brooches. It’s unexpectedly quiet, just sea sloshing against rock and hull. Scooting out the end into the Southern Ocean, normally reserved Pieter whoops with excitement. “You guys are so lucky,” he says. “We only get to do this 4 or 5 times a year.” 

Days earlier surging 3m swells smashed into the Breakseas, hence their name, sending whitewater frothing skyward and flinging bull kelp like hula skirts. Even today’s minimal swell powers a blowhole that explodes like rogue fireworks. Still, it’s hard to imagine the mammoth waves that sometimes crash over a 12m cliff defoliating it of native pigface and poa grass.  

That’s the drama of the south-west, where the weather can be as temperamental as a teenager. But whether it’s saturated in sunshine, moody and monochrome, or wet and wild, it’s always cinematically stunning. Guest Steph Ball, farmer and photography enthusiast from Warooka, SA, agrees. “Cruising the still waters of the harbour, the wild ocean and the rugged scenery of Port Davey is indeed a special experience,” she says.

“We tailor experiences to what the weather lets us do,” Pieter says of the 4- and 6-night cruises aboard boutique expedition vessel Odalisque III, which is based in Port Davey from January to May, with guests flying in by light plane from Hobart (soon to be seaplane). It’s a challenging location for a charter business, but Pieter’s in his element. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #150

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2023