Iron Pot Cruises

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Call me a cynic, but I’ve never put much stock in the awards that most tourist services love to highlight that they have won. There are so many organisations putting out awards that it’s hard to take them too seriously. Every now and then though you come across a company that most definitely deserves any awards they care to claim. Pennicott Wilderness Journeys is one such business.

Robert Pennicott started the business after noticing that tourist fishermen he was taking out to Bruny Island were regularly more interested in the scenery than the fishing. He realised that the rugged landscapes around Bruny, the Tasman Peninsula and the Derwent River itself were attractions that most tourists had no access to, especially from the sea. He set up the guided tours to give people a unique view of the beautiful coastlines near Hobart.

As much as I would have liked to jump on board for one of the longer tours, time constraints led me to the Iron Pot cruise, a two-and-a-half hour trip along the Derwent River. On arrival at the Pennicott headquarters on the harbour, myself and several groups of tourists were led onto the boat, a small but perfectly suited craft that is very comfortable and, thankfully given the cold winter day, partly covered.

Our guide Hugh gave us info about the trip and the boat, and before we knew it we were on our way out of the dock, passing the harbour piers with great views of the Aurora Australis and L’Astrolabe Icebreaker ships. Hugh’s commentary was a mix of historical facts, interesting cultural items and funny stories. He spoke about some of Hobart's main sites including the always imposing Kunanyi/Mount Wellington and the school that Hobart’s royal connection, Princess Mary, went too.

Only 15 minutes into the trip a pod of bottlenose dolphins joined the tour, swimming and jumping around the boat to the delight of all on board. Not long after, Hugh, who had the eyes of an eagle himself, spotted a white bellied sea eagle perched on a tree above the cliffs. Given the remote nature of Southern Tasmania, this is a pretty regular occurrence with plenty of wildlife inhabiting the area.

After winding through and into various bays and beaches, we left the coast and pointed a direct course towards the trip’s namesake; the Iron Pot Lighthouse. Tasmania’s oldest lighthouse, and the second oldest in Australia, Iron Pot, a square tower, was built in 1832 on a tiny rocky island off the South Arm peninsula. It’s a pretty site from a distance with its distinctive white walls and red stripe, but up close the main thought that crossed my mind was, ‘Who would be crazy enough to man this lighthouse?’.

Hugh was prepared for the question and passed around photos showing a double storey building perched precariously next to the lighthouse with a happy family in the foreground. The island was manned by various families over the years, whose kids rowed across to the South Arm daily to go to school up until 1921, surviving ferocious storms of all varieties. One storm was so strong that the building moved on its foundations and kelp was found on the railings of the lighthouse, more than 20 metres above the sea. Through all this they somehow managed to keep the lighthouse going.

Next was a quick trip around Betsey Island, a small piece of land that was, at one point, used to breed rabbits for various uses until they, like rabbits do, infested the island and eventually left it uninhabitable. It’s still a beautiful and imposing site with large cliff faces below grass hills.

Not far from Betsey was Black Jack rocks, a tiny outcrop that was the scene of a famous incident in 1994 when shipbuilder Bob Clifford accidentally ran his 40 million dollar Condor II catamaran onto the rocks. Whilst an obvious disaster, the fact that the ship bore up so well ended up attracting many orders for the Tasmanian shipbuilders from ferry companies worldwide.

As we zipped back down the Derwent to Hobart, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the tour. Our guide Hugh was friendly, funny and very knowledgable, also pushing the environmental and sustainability message that is at the heart of the company's philosophy. For tourist or locals alike, it was a comfortable and fun way to learn more about Hobart and it’s surrounds and personally made me much more intrigued by the city I now call home.



By Andrew Johnstone. Originally published in Lume Magazine Issue Four.

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