Fear and Freedom on Bruny Island

In the days leading up to the boat trip, I kept a slow burn of nerves simmering below the surface.

On the eve of our sail, even as my sickness subsided, the nerves turned up the heat. I woke up already saturated with fearful anticipation. It was a 7am wake up, and yet I couldn’t even get through a cup of coffee. I didn’t want to intensify the jitters too much.

Of course, it begs the question: why go on a boat trip at all?

The answer is, firstly, it was the only thing Rich wanted to do.

I know that, because he said to me “If we don’t get to do anything else but this, I’ll be happy.”

At the airport I collected informational leaflets for the excursion. Phrases like “passionate crew” and “up close to nature” were resounding themes strengthened by their main accolades:


10x winner of Tasmania’s BEST TOURIST ATTRACTION


6x winner of EXCELLENCE IN SUSTAINABLE TOURISM


…things like that.

So I relented to going, not without Fear by my side.

As we set off for the day, Fear remained relatively quiet. Even on the ferry ride over the water, I was able to keep the tension and nausea at bay. It really wasn’t tremendously hard at that stage in the day. The ferry felt familiar, not much different than the Staten Island Ferry (minus the beer bar), one of the only boats in history I was capable of enduring.

All other boats I’ve been on, the boat won.

Me, glaring out over the ocean as if to say: “so we doin’ this??”

We successfully disembarked this brief ferry ride into a land far more magical than Staten Island. We drove across fields of green and alongside calming ocean views. We saw a pair of eagles feasting on carrion. At one point we passed a sign with a cartoon koala, seemingly made as a grade-school project:

“Let’s keep Bruny Island litter-free.”

Save for one discarded box of KFC I noticed, Bruny Island was brilliantly clean. Our route revealed that to us in spades. Eventually, we came upon the opportunity for a lookout. We stopped here and climbed a stairway to heaven that gave miles-wide views over the most pristine ocean scene I’d ever faced. The serenity of the place was enough to keep my nerves in check, but I knew I’d have to square with them soon.

It wasn’t long now until we set sail.

Back in the car and on the road, we made visual confirmation of my reward for the day: an oyster restaurant awaiting me during our return trip. The sight of that restaurant gave me the strength to say to myself, “alright, let’s do this.” So I swallowed my anti-seasick pills and we forged ahead.

The clouds parted when we arrived at the meeting place, giving way to a warm sun. It was so warm that we weren’t sure that our multi-layered ensembles were appropriate for the trip.

We asked the receptionist inside the informational centre if our spring layers were enough, to which she vehemently replied “NO.”

“You’re not going to be sitting on the deck all day, you’ll be in open water,” she said, eyes wide.

Okay, I thought, so now I’m again nervous about the drama of the trip and that I’m ill-equipped for the cold.

Actually, the words she used were “FREEZING COLD.” We headed back to the car to redress–skin-tight under armour, hats, gloves, sweatshirts, AND jackets–then headed back in to join the tour group. 

On top of our many layers, we were provided with red floor length ponchos. 

“You don’t have to take one,” a new sure-of-himself guide told the group, “but we can guarantee you’ll wish you had within 30 seconds of getting on the boat.”

Point taken, with a dash of additional nerves.

We were then lead down a path to the boats, where I could feel anti-seasickness tablets I took starting to kick in.

My land legs, once steady, were already swaying like we were at sea. “I’m feeling a little….” I told Rich with a wobble. Having pill-popped himself, he said “yeah, me too.”

When we finally reached the sight of the rocking boats, my vision seemed to be in sync with them. We gathered all together on the dock, where we were given the choice between boarding the boat on our right, captained by a guy named Hugh or the other, to our left, crewed by Liz and Mike. 

The seaweed is stuck at the base of this rock, unwilling to detach. The birds have much more flexibility.

I went for Liz and Mike on the premise that, in the event of my sea sickness, a woman named Liz was likely to be helpful and understanding. They probably also got subconscious bonus points for sharing the names of my late grandparents.

They handed out ginger tablets as we got on, letting us know the conditions were mild, but, “there may be some turbulent waters on the way back in.” I helped myself to this pill, too. I was taking no chances. 

And with that, we were off. It didn’t take long before Fear subsided and made way for something else. The more the tour guides talked to us in their minted Aussie accents, I could feel myself overcome with something I can only describe as Wonder. 

Jetting along the coastline, they pointed out some of the most unique and wondrous sights I could have imagined. We saw a cave in its infancy–A breathing rock that sucked in water and blew it out with such force that, in about 100,000 years from now, boats will be able to pass through it. 

We saw towering cliffs of dolerite rock, hundreds of millions of year old remnants of volcanic activity. This ancient evidence circled the coast and jutted from the sea. This is rock so strong, so durable, that it’s two notches below diamonds on the Moh’s Hardness Scale. 

By this point, I was starting to feel somewhat comfortable. The boat was a’rockin’ but the drugs were a’knockin’. I was at the bottom of the world,  but I felt on top of it. I was so comfortable, in fact, that it was me running to the edges of the bouncing boat as Liz called out points of interest.

Gateway to Antarctica.

First it was a soaring wedge-tailed eagle high above the cliff. We watched it fly far out over the ocean, in an air assault against another big bird of prey. They became nothing but dots in the distance before we moved on to the next attraction.

Our guide introduced us to seaweed stuck so hard on the rock that NASA is looking to use this adhesive material in building rockets. We explored the perimeter of the island in this way for a while before Mike said the magic words: “Now let’s go see some seals.”


The boat roared into action and I could feel the freedom these guides are surely addicted to; that feeling of being out in the water, untethered to the shore, with a front-row seat to the sea creatures who truly do live in another world. 

We saw a rainbow on the horizon, and Captain Mike swung to an angle that placed it perfectly between two rocks.

“If you carry on straight through those rocks, you’ll hit Antarctica,” he told us.

Feeling confident in conquering my own queasiness, I let myself fantasize about what that would really be like…

But where I was, in the moment, that was a fantasy in itself. We saw seals in their comfort zones: some lounging with disinterest in us, others curious and inquisitive. We saw babies suckling their mamas and puppies playing in a rock pool. 

“Seals are most closely related to dogs,” the guide told us. It’s something I didn’t know already, but seemed almost completely obvious when you see them here in their element. They’re a little bit lazy, a little playful, and undeniably adorable.

The seal’s territory brought us about 75 kilometers from where we had left, marking the farthest we’d go. After spending some times visiting with the seals, it was time to turn back. 

The captains cautioned us to keep an eye out for potential whale spotting. For me, this was exceptionally exciting news. My very own Ahab moment. I’ve stood in awe of whales from the shore several times. The next step for me was to see one out here, on their turf. 

Unfortunately, my Moby Dick moment is still yet to come (in the absence of harpoons, of course), but the universe sent a fair tradeoff. We saw dolphins. 

At first it was a few. And then, in our top-speed sailing back to port, the number grew. 

The captain was honest in the beginning about the water being more or less flat that day. The only real waves and ripples were a result of the boat stirring the water. And it was exactly this that got the dolphins so excited. 

You could see them racing beside us, eager not to miss a beat. Captain Hugh’s boat was in the vicinity as well, helping ours make a wide-spread swell of man-made waves. 

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a gathering of animals let alone such a large pod of dolphins. 

We got back to shore just in time for grey clouds to roll in. The vibes were clearly good to attract all those fun-loving fish. I could feel the smile slapped across my face. 

After we stripped off our protective red outerwear, we snacked on packed sandwiches and headed off for oysters. 

In most instances I, like many, consider oysters a delicacy. You can imagine my surprise when we showed up to the restaurant complete with an unpaved parking lot and the option to drive-through, which makes a little more sense when you consider the name of the place is “Get Shucked.”

But appearances matter not when you’re spending $20 for a dozen of the best oysters of your life. I was well-situated back into my land legs, but these oysters were swoon-worthy. They were the biggest oysters I’d ever seen. Succulent, but not overly-briny. You could test the fresh clean taste of those Tasman waters with Antarctic influence. It was like tasting a glacier in the form of a jelly.

We split a tray of them, but it wasn’t enough. I ordered another six and a commemorative sticker, just for myself, to really help the memory stick. 

That night at the mountain nest, I sat outside with my journal relishing the day, reflecting on it as magic in so many ways. When the host and her dog past my patio perch for an evening walk, she asked: “how was your day?” 

Without skipping a beat, I told her, “we had the BEST day.” I think even she was surprised.

With Fear so present at the beginning of the day, I had no idea I’d be ending it in the company of much warmer feelings. The initial fear made way for excitement. As the day wore on, this excitement made way to a contented happiness. Sitting outside that evening drinking a local beer, wading in thoughts of seals and dolphins, all felt right.

3 comments

  1. Rainbows follow you wherever you go, always a good sign..As we all know there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and you reveived not one but TWO pots of riches! Amazing adventure! .So happy you were able to enjoy it fully…… Thank you Rich….<3

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