I once had a friend who died far too young of breast cancer and sailed away to where the starfish are always pointing. Here’s to you, Vicky, the first woman I knew to buy her own yacht. Groundbreaking is difficult work to do.
As for me, I walked down the mountain one day last year, following the course of a small rivulet that not many Hobartians seem to know much about and wandered south down the western shore of the Derwent and around the corner into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. It may seem a sequential endeavour but it hasn’t been, because over this period I’ve also walked north along the river and across it and explored the eastern shore, reached Fort Direction and gone out along the ocean beaches of South Arm Peninsula. I’ve gone alone, with friends, family and my dogs. I’ve spent a lot of time, thanks to my baggy old sails and the masthead fly, looking up at sky and clouds and birds, and at stars at night in quiet anchorages. I’ve also spent a lot of time looking down from Samos at water, it’s ripples and waves and bioluminescence, from cliffs to rocky platforms, from mud and sand into the earth’s crevices, at leaves and moss and lichen and under rocks, and in the pools where the communities of starfish live, their tiny pointers creating a lattice of directions.
I’ve strolled some North West Tasmanian beaches and responded loyally to the magnetic lure of the Bay of Fires and on the way back home I’ve reconnoitred the East Coast, pondering logistical difficulties for coastal exploring that’s still to happen.
Then just the other day I met a man who has nearly finished walking all the beaches between the Tamar River and the Freycinet Peninsula and I’ve heard of another who has walked the entire Tasmanian coastline thinking hard about birds and their diminishing habitat.
It seems to me an empty exercise to tick off beaches although each time I find one that hasn’t been noted by Andrew Short* I experience a small thrill. Actually, whether it’s kayaking, sailing, walking or cycling I particularly enjoy it when it provides an opportunity to listen to the land and the water, learning to read them, losing myself in them, enjoying the whole unfolding of the coastline, the patterns that repeat, the intrusions, the formations that mystify, the dropstones, colours and hues.
Without exception I’ve returned home from every small local exploration seeking answers to a new question or mulling over a new observation. I’ve often gone back to some part of the coastline again and again, because I felt its call, or because I wanted to clarify something, or because I was seeking replenishment.
A beach is a shapeshifter. The beach you visit one day is never the same the next. All you can ever be reasonably certain of is it’s location and that is sometimes shockingly transitory too. That’s why a top 10 beaches is meaningless to me. Ultimately each one has it’s charm but the best is the one you know the most deeply; it’s moods, the way it changes through the seasons and the years, the way the elements combine to recreate it and the beauty that coastal wanderers leave behind them – adornments like shells patterned into something new and strange, zen cairns and the tipis made of sticks, so easy to miss inside the coastal forest. Sometimes they’re the abandoned shell of some small being or the delicate bones and feathers of a bird. That beach you know best is usually the beach that most changes you, and you it.
Before I record more D’Entrecasteaux meanderings I’m pausing to cover some of the other coastlines I’ve been exploring.
First to a beach on the Forestier Peninsula.
And that on account of the birds.
* Short, A.D. 2006. Beaches of the Tasmanian coast and islands. Sydney University Press, Sydney.