December 7, 2021 | By Graeme Kemlo

Robert Pennicott circumnavigated Australia in a 5.4m inflatable dinghy in 2011 enduring “waves as tall as telegraph poles” and getting smacked in the head by flying tuna and mackerel. He successfully navigated 18,000km in 101 days raising $300,000 for charity. His latest nautical venture was stopped dead by bushfires and COVID and has cost him about the same money.

Pennicott Wilderness Journeys’ latest venture is a unique tour to the southern-most point of the Australian mainland, South Caper, off Wilsons Promontory in Victoria.

He’s spent nine years researching and building three world-first amphibious vessels for 30 passengers to enable him to take visitors into this national park where no infrastructure – such as, for example, a jetty – is allowed.

Employing expertise from Western Australia and New Zealand, the company designed the boats with retractable wheels to drive off the road onto a beach and into the water to carry the 30 passengers in safety and comfort.

When the multi-award winning tourism business expanded from Tasmania into Victoria in September 2019, up to 18 percent of his passengers were international visitors, and he also had a growing business events market, both for incentive experiences and team building.

Buses would often drive from the RACV Inverloch Resort 90 minutes away to deliver participants to Pennicott’s Tidal River base. After the summer bushfires of early 2020 and with the ongoing pandemic, he has just managed to return to full operation in early November.

“With three vessels, we can provide 180 participants with a cruise and wilderness walking experience over about five hours,” Pennicott says.

Highlights include a cruise into the waters of the Bass Strait and the marine national park to explore marine life including 10,000 fur seals, features such as The Glennies, Anderson Islets and Anser Island and the prehistoric boulders of Mount Oberon.

But he says one of the key attractions is Skull Rock, a granite monolith sculpted by waves and weather. One side of it features a giant open cave – “you could fit the Sydney Opera House inside it – it is about 150 metres long and about 40 metres high…they found cannon balls inside it that were apparently left by the Portuguese,” says Pennicott.

While he looks forward to the return of his international market and getting the business back in the black, Pennicott has patience.

“I am in no hurry at all…I would like to make sure that Australia is under control of COVID before we open the doors too quickly.”