Shipwrecks of Tasmania
With an appeal approaching the mystical, shipwrecks seem to belong to the realm of distant legend more than modern-day holidaying. But a veritable fleet of these relics lies scattered around Tasmania's coastline – each ship harbouring an intriguing, sometimes chilling tale.
Thanks in part to the region's notorious 'roaring forties' winds, an estimated 1,000 vessels have been lost in Tasmanian waters over the years. While many of these wrecks can only be reached by experienced divers (and many more have never been found), there are plenty of rusting hulks and decaying wooden skeletons lying on shores and in shallows, ready to be inspected by landlubbers.
One of Australia's oldest shipwrecks, the Sydney Cove, lies at Preservation Island in the state's north. After springing a leak on its 1797 journey from Calcutta to Port Jackson, the ship ended up grounded – so all its passengers were saved, although many of them perished during subsequent trips to the mainland on the ship's liferafts and longboat. The Sydney Cove lay undisturbed for 170 years before being rediscovered in 1977. Timbers and artefacts (including glazed Chinese porcelain) can be found at Launceston's Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.
Rather than ending their careers by accident, some boats are deliberately beached and dismantled. One of these, the Otago, is famous for having been captained by Heart of Darkness author Joseph Conrad. Since 1931 she's rested on the eastern shore of the Derwent in what's now called Otago Bay. Though thoroughly stripped for scrap metal, the vessel's bow still lies on the shoreline – close to the similarly melancholy remains of the steamship Westralian.
For divers, the southeast coast's islands and bays offer sheltered (and not always freezing) exploration sites. The most famous wreck in this area, the SS Nord, lies 42 metres under the surface near Tasman Island. Battling heavy seas one evening in 1915, the 88-metre steamer tried to head for shelter at Port Arthur but hit a submerged pinnacle and started taking on water. The crew was able to evacuate but the Nord headed straight for the seafloor, where she's remained (perched strangely upright) ever since.
Deep by scuba standards, the Nord can't be reached by amateur divers, but a little way north, off the coast of Maria Island, the Troy D is an ideal exploration spot for beginners. This 55-metre hopper barge was scuttled (a sailing way of saying deliberately sunk) in 2007 to create a diving reef. It's already teeming with marine life and visitors are welcome to swim right through the engine room.
For more than 150 years post-settlement, sea and Strait voyages were Tasmania's only connection to the world, and this seafaring history has been marked by many tragedies. Australia's worst civil maritime disaster was the wreck of the Cataraqui, which claimed the lives of 400 people off the coast of King Island.
They can be thought provoking and often sad, but the stories of submerged vessels – lovingly retired or desperately abandoned – are a defining part of the island's heritage.