Sometimes it’s the unplanned experiences that you remember best, long after your holiday. Wandering along Fisherman’s Dock at Stanley in far north west Tasmania with my teenage daughter, we see a Stanley seal cruise boat – the Sylvia C. Unplanned, we rashly climb aboard the departing boat joining a couple of other passengers, with no idea what to expect. A seal or two would be good.
Having spent the night in this striking historic village nestled at the base of The Nut, a sheer-sided, 152 metre high circular bluff, we’ve already been treated to fairy penguins emerging from the sea, making their way past our motel window last night.
They briskly waddled through the car park and over to The Nut, which is a fun Tasmania walk everyone who visits Stanley should do, where they are nesting.
As we leave the dock for our 75-minute cruise, Captain Darryl and his wife Heather, tell us we’re about to see more than 500 seals.
I raise my eyebrows.
As the 12m Sylvia C makes her way around The Nut, the sharp ocean breeze and the view is exhilarating. Darryl has let my daughter take the wheel.
It’s winter and the sun is breaking through a stormy sky.
As we cruise past The Nut, the old-world town and the farmland extending to the white-beached shoreline etched by ocean-eroded caves is bathed in a bluish-purple translucent light.
Our destination is Bull Rock, just 500 metres past The Nut and 600 metres from the beach. Darryl says it’s a popular seal haul out, and because it’s a non-breeding ground, the seals are not aggressive ─ they’re just here to rest.
“The fur seal is the most common seal in Tasmanian waters and breeds from October to January on rocky outcrops from King Island in the north west to Tenth Island in the north eastern corner,” he says.
“Hunted almost to extinction last century, it’s now fully protected. These are the largest and fourth-rarest seal species in the world and their recovery has been slow.”
As we approach the tiny rocky outcrop, Bull Rock, we are transfixed.
Daryl wasn’t kidding.
Turns out, this is one of the best places in Australia to see fur seals.
There are hundreds of seals covering the rock – from big bulls and adult females with large heads, thick necks and chests, slender cows with shiny, grey backs and creamy chests to young pups with chocolate bellies.
Myriad seabirds, large and small, are sharing the space.
As Darryl edges the boat quite close to Bull Rock, some of the seals watch us curiously, but unconcerned.
They are sprawling and slipping over each other, heads are lazing on companion bellies and some are comatose while others are frolicking in the water.
Some have been injured – more than likely caused by shark bite.
We circle the outcrop several times.
I’m torn between snapping as many photos as I can and putting the camera down to watch more intently.
This chance cruise has made our trip.
There are several choices of hotels, cottages and B&B’s in Stanley.
Stanley Seal Cruises has several wildlife cruises, where you’re highly likely to see Australian fur seals.