Accessible only by boat, aircraft or on foot, this region must surely be one of the most magnificent landscapes on the planet. Gold-green ranges, with bony quartzite ridges, rise sharply from the southern ocean and the broad interior waterways of Port Davey. Four major rivers and numerous creeks cut through gorges and snake across open plains, draining their rust-coloured waters into the Port Davey Marine reserve.
This area is the only large estuary in southern Australia without road access or significant human impact. Apart from two small tin leases near Melaleuca Inlet, no development has occurred. A very unusual marine environment has been created by a deep layer of dark red-brown, tannin-rich freshwater, which overlies tidal saltwater.
Of the region, explorer Matthew Flinders said: Port Davey: Matt Flinders recorded: “The mountains… the most stupendous works of Nature I ever beheld… are the most dismal and barren. The eye ranges over these peaks with astonishment and horror.”
Little was known of the Port Davey/Bathurst Harbour Estuary until the Hydrological and Ecological Survey of 1988 – 1989. However, even if nothing had been known, this area would have been described as unique, because it is the only large estuary in southern Australia without road access or significant human impact. Apart from two small tin leases near Melaleuca Inlet, no development had occurred. At the time of the survey, the area’s permanent population consisted of three tin miners, and during summer months, a daily transient population of about one hundred fishermen, bushwalkers, sailors, and airborne tourists. A very unusual marine environment has been created by a deep layer of dark red-brown, tannin-rich freshwater, which overlies tidal saltwater.
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The French navigator Marion du Fresne was the first European to record the inlet now called Port Davey, in March 1772. On the 13 December 1798, when Flinders was off the West Coast, he mentioned Marion’s small chart of the area, and tried to take the Norfolk in closer to investigate the opening marked on Marion’s chart. That opening was clearly marked on Flinders’ first map of “Van Diemen’s Land” Published in 1800. James Kelly has always been seen as the first to discover Port Davey – However Kelly would have seen Flinders’ maps and may have had them with him.
In the 1800s, a small piners settlement and boatyard was located on Payne Bay on Port Davey’s north. The settlement remained until the 1900s when the Huon Pine trade ceased. Another temporary settlement was located at Bramble Cove behind the Breaksea Islands to serve the whaling industry in the early 1800s. Nothing remains of the site except for a few huon pine headstones from an old cemetery.