Derwent River: Tinderbox Beaches: Fossil Cove

On Foot to Fossil Cove: The Past Laid Bare

When it came to Tinderbox, it was deja vu.  Like Sandy Bay and Taroona, when I scrutinised the maps and the nautical chart we keep aboard Samos I couldn’t quite place where I’d been.  This was the downside, yet again, of exploring spontaneously then trying to superimpose where I’d been over paper.   For example, if you have a sewage plant called the Lucas Point Sewage Plant then logically it’s at the spot named Lucas Point on the map.

Or is it?

When I looked at the map something still seemed awry.

Fossil Cove was a cinch though.  The geo knew it well but I had never been there.  And so, after a morning spent on boat maintenance we decided to see if it was dog friendly, and it was.

It’s a short walk from the bottom of a cul de sac at the top of the cliffs but it makes you work for your rewards.  We stepped into a beautiful dry sclerophyll forest (white gums on starved soil) with epacris impressa in tiny pink blossom down near our ankles.  Our dogs were in high spirits, intoxicated by a vibrant palette of smells, but taking dogs down the long steep steps and declines on a lead was tricky – it’s uncomfortable being  dragged.  The trail makes use of the gorge carved out by the little rivulet which was was hidden beneath dead blackberries, only shyly flashing a small pool every now and then.  There are ferns and other water loving species with wet roots and an umbrella of shady foliage (eucalyptus regnans, I think) overhead.

Fossil Cove rivulet ravine
Small rivulet crafts a beautiful thing

And then I emerged with a sense of astonishment into a beautiful pebbled cove, all sedimentary pinks and ochres with intrusions of darker dolerite, and allowed myself to indulge in a sense of wonderment at the very big – the beautiful sea arch you can walk through on to another strip of beach at low tide (only there was water swirling through when we were there) and then the vastness wrapped up in the very small.

Sea Arch at Fossil Cove
The arch at Fossil Cove with Soldiers Rocks visible to the north

Here’s some advice: come on a low tide with a magnifying glass in your pocket.  An unrushed state of mind is imperative.  Within moments you’ll find hours, minutes and seconds evaporate and that timeless feeling that’s such a quality of scuba diving expands about you.  Beneath your feet and in touch with your hand, you’re part of the Permian and that’s when this area was a cold and shallow sea and icebergs and glaciers abounded.

Parents with small children obsessed with dinosaurs – this may be nirvana!  I found no dinosaurs but the cove is dense with fossils and once everyone is through with  imagining past environments draw their attention to the fresh piece of plumber’s downpipe just visible in a small space behind the cliff’s facade.  How did it get there and what is it for?  It’s lodged in tight.  It can’t be moved.  If looks like it has been bored down from the top to provide a wastewater outlet and it could not be more incongruous or jarring.  It must surely contravene the local planning scheme because this is a site of geological significance.

Apart from that niggle – or maybe because of it – it’s the sort of cove that would have had Enid Blyton reaching for her pen, or Mr Garth and his cronies scheming and because it feels so very secret it was a surprise when a couple arrived and set a camera up on a tripod.  We got talking.  He said he came here frequently, especially early in the morning, obsessed with trying to capture the spirit of the cove through images.

We stood a while longer on the raised bed of cobbles (how deep is it, I wondered) looking through the arch  up the coastline to Blackmans Bay and beyond, and also out across to the Iron Pot harbour light and the ship anchored over near the eastern shore.  It is all about the rock here, I thought, the fossils, the many coloured pebbles and the beautiful layers of tilted stratigraphy with an intrusion running through it, and the square jointing, some broken up, perhaps by brittleness in the rock.  I could not stop looking.  I could not stop wondering.  I could not stop taking photographs.

The wave cut platforms and the water swirling and sweeping over the kelp and the reef offshore, clear and as intoxicating as gin, are just as compelling.  They’re tessellated and layered and as information stacked as the pages of a book. It’s the same when you look up.

Fossil Cove looking up
Looking up through the eons at Fossil Cove

As we left I paused to acknowledge the rivulet, locked from the sea by the pebbles at its mouth.  It has not reached beyond youth; it has no flood plain but its story is surely wrapped up with the Derwent – not just a drowned river valley but a rift valley too, many of these small rivulets in their steep gorges evidence of the ripping that happens as a rift widens in the earth’s skin and the western and the eastern shores of the river move further apart… and also the way water likes to inhabit the depths and seeks out soft spots in which to make its bed as it pursues its descent.

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