Here we are. Working as caretakers and weather observers on Maatsuyker Island for 6 months. We look forward to sharing our experience with you on this extraordinary island. And by the way, we are both very new to blogging, so please forgive us as we work it all out…
Here – Maatsuyker Island
Maatsuyker Island lies about 10 km off Tasmania’s south-west coast. It is around 186 hectares (3.5 km long and 1.5 km wide), rising steeply to 278 m, skirted by cliffs and covered with dense vegetation. It is the southern-most island on Australia’s continental shelf and is home to Australia’s southern-most lightstation.
The Maatsuyker lighthouse station opened in 1891. A new fibreglass light-tower was built in 1996, but the old lighthouse remains. It is now one of only two lighthouses in Australia with the original mechanism still in place and in working order. Caretakers have worked on the island for 130 years since the original lighthouse was first built.
Together with the main caretaker’s cottage, the lighthouse sits on the south-western tip of the island. From there, nothing lies beyond except for a constellation of rocky islets directly offshore and, eventually, Antarctica.
The only cleared areas on the island are around the lighthouse, the three caretakers’ cottages, and a small track between the cottages and the old haulage way that was once used to transport stores from resupply vessels up a cliff. Today, the only access to the island for resupplying caretakers is by helicopter.
We – Ilse and David
We are both adventurers with a love of simple living, the ocean and all wild places. Caretaking a lightstation in the Southern Ocean was a compelling calling for the two of us. Following many, many months of preparations (we are required to provide all our gear, food and other provisions for the full 6 month stay), we almost didn’t make it due to COVID travel restrictions. But that is a story for another time…
Are – caretakers and weather observers
We are volunteering as part of the lighthouse caretaker program for the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. Our jobs include maintaining the cottages and lighthouse, mowing, recording wildlife and fire spotting (we are the only vantage point with an uninterrupted view of Tasmania’s south coast). Maatsuyker Island is the only permanently inhabited part of southwest Tasmania, so we can also be called on to relay messages via VHF radio to vessels and pilots.
We also record weather observations for the Bureau of Meteorology twice a day (6:00am and 9:00am). Official rainfall observations started on Maatsuyker in October 1891. An automatic weather station was installed in 1996 but manual observations still need to be undertaken by caretakers. This is because the shape of the island and height of the automatic weather station site (at 150m above sea-level) can cause inaccurate automatic readings of the winds. Gale force winds also blow rain straight over the top of the automatic rain gauge. The most important observations we log are cloud height and cover (critical to any aircraft operations in the area) and the height, direction and period of ocean swell (for mariners – it is too rough to install automatic wave-rider buoys along Tassie’s south-west coast).
It is most often wet, windy and cool. There is on average about 1200 mm of rain over 250 days every year, and the maximum wind gust ever recorded was 185 km/hour. Record wind gusts for all months of the year exceed 130 km/hour.
Life here is elemental, but it also one of the most beautiful, wild and glorious places ever imaginable. Here we are.
Ilse Kiessling and David Ellis