D’Entrecasteaux Channel: Lunawanna-allonah (Bruny Island)

Tasmanian Beaches of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel

I’d planned to limit myself to the Tassie mainland on this blog, but if you have feet, a bicycle, a kayak or a yacht, Bruny Island’s beauty exerts so strong an allure that it’s impossible not to acquiesce to it. And so, just as I’ve allowed myself to be distracted from the coastline by rivulets, the Derwent River and its beaches, I’ve done it again. Bruny, a substantial part of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, as its name implies, just has to be included.

Of Waterways and Islands

The D’Entrecasteaux Channel, or ‘The Channel’ for short, is a magnificent but fickle waterway – just ask any sailor. It feeds into the Derwent River and is separated from Storm Bay and the Tasman Sea by long, thin Bruny Island, making it a sheltered waterway, a definition it is keen to dispute, because stormy weather can make sailing it an adrenaline pumping experience on dark, wind fuelled nights when it whips up waves and gales gather strength as they hurtle through the tunnel formed by the island and the Tasmanian mainland. On calm, sunny days, it’s a completely different experience. Light breezes might arrive from unexpected directions and you may be rewarded by visits from penguins or dolphins as you enjoy the views, all sails up.

Bruny Island

The island’s original name is Lunawanna-allonah, named by the Nuenonne, who over thousands of years came to know this island intimately. Its name is so musical and redolent with eons of past history that I wish we’d restore it.   Instead, it was given a pseudonym; named again after Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, who visited in 1793 and made some judicious observations about the coastline.

This island off an island off an island, apart from being much loved because it’s so undeveloped, ensures you never go hungry. As you cycle along you can stop for coffees, buy local cheese and wine, make a meal out of the oysters farmed offshore or fill your pannier bags with local fudge and cherries. The population on Bruny is small and seems smaller still because so many properties are tucked away behind hills and forests. What you particularly notice if you are sailing, is that Bruni D’Entrecasteaux was right; there are stunning anchorages, and these are often bays within bays.

There are also coves and headlands and although on the D’Entrecasteaux side of  the island the beaches are low energy, on the ocean coastline the surf gets up. On the channel side it’s adorned with islands (Satellite and Partridge) and on the outside it has The Friars, part of the Actaeon Island Group, a popular haul out for seals. It also has a beautiful peninsula with a fabulous name – the Labillardiere Peninsula, which lies within the South Bruny National Park.

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Satellite Island off Bruny Island, D’Entrecasteaux Channel

North Bruny Island

It takes the best part of a day to cycle around North Bruny and longer for the south. The ride takes you past quiet bays (like the Duckpond and North Simmonds), Dennes Point with its jetty and Nevada beach, which has beautiful cliffs at the southern end, and then, if you choose the ocean route, it’s up a climb from where you can look out over Bull Bay and across Storm Bay to the Iron Pot lighthouse in the Derwent, to Betsy Island and Frederick Henry Bay, and further to the east, Norfolk Bay and the Tasman Peninsula. It’s a long time since I did this ride, but it was unforgettable and these days there are bicycles for hire, which makes it that much more accessible to cyclists.

More recently we sailed into Bull Bay, then explored the coastline a little way south, getting a feel for Samos’s liking for a big ocean swell. Getting the view from water level as opposed to high up a hillside felt a privilege because you need a boat to enjoy this otherwise hidden perspective.

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Dennes Point, North Bruny Island from Pierson’s Point on the Tinderbox Peninsula

The Neck

North and South Bruny,  362 sq km in all, are tied together by an isthmus (the ‘Neck’), home to penguins and shearwaters, and sitting out on the dunes beneath the moon and stars, watching them return home is exhilarating. The ocean beach is lengthy; I’m looking forward to walking it. The channel beach is quiet with vast stretches of sand exposed at low tide and limitless shallows on the high, making it popular with waders of the avian variety.  The road across is a narrow strip at the base of the dunes and there’s not height separating it from the beach itself.

It’s definitely worth stopping to climb to the viewing platform because the sight of the isthmus and the coastline beyond is mesmerising.

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South Bruny Island

From the ferry, it’s a longer cycle around South Bruny Island and as you head down North Bruny towards the isthmus it’s worth taking a break at Great Bay to sample the oysters and cheese before you reach the isthmus.

South Bruny is the larger end of the island and if you keep heading south down the quiet road, your bike ride will take you to a T-junction. Cycle to the left and you’ll reach Adventure Bay with its rich exploration and whaling history.  It’s a picturesque choice.  There’s a lovely beach walk to be had, the opportunity to take a boat trip to The Friars (I did this as an annual pilgrimage before getting my own boat) and  there’s another lovely walk out along the headland with its whaling history and the opportunity to encounter a white wallaby or two.  Bruny is rich in wildlife.  At night it’s a kindness to travel as slowly as you would in a national park – 40 km, IMHO.

Cycle to the right and more vistas will open up as you ride through a number of tiny communities, like Lunawanna and Alonnah. It’s a steep ride up to the lighthouse with its fantastic views. I haven’t actually ridden up there, but the views are definitely worth the uphill haul. Alternatively, there’s Cloudy Lagoon and vast, wild Cloudy Beach, and the Labillardiare Peninsula. Or hoist a tent at Lighthouse Jetty beach with its more protected waters.

It’s a lovely but brief kayak trip from Tinderbox on the mainland to Nevada Beach at Dennes Point, but you can kayak across from any point on the mainland side of the Channel, depending on the type of distance and conditions you’re up for.  If you possess courage, stamina and kayaking expertise, you could consider  kayaking the Bruny coastline in a day – or go the whole hog and kayak the entire coastline of Tasmania like these kayakers did.

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At The Quarries, Great Taylor Bay, South Bruny Island

I visit the island mostly by yacht these days, with a kayak on board.  It’s a great way to explore stretches of coastline that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Here’s a creation story from the Nuenonne of Lunawanna-allonah and here’s more info on Bruny Island.

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Lighthouse Jetty Beach, Great Taylor Bay, South Bruny

Tasmania’s North East Beaches: Bay of Fires: Sloop Lagoon by Kayak

Sloop Lagoon by Kayak

Of Swans and Leaches

 

Sloop Lagoon seen from the rocks above Sloop Reef Cove over Taylors Beach
Sloop Lagoon viewed from above Sloop Lagoon Cove

 22 Sept 2016

It was almost impossible to squeeze into my wetsuit. It slowly dawned on me that it wasn’t mine at all but an old one belonging to my daughter. Kayaking in a teeny size 8 would feel like I’d been swallowed by a snake and so I wore it legs up only, and layered thermals  over that.

I had decided to kayak around the circumference of one of the dune trapped lagoons along The Gardens Road and decided in favour of Sloop. The morning was overcast and there was a little bit of breeze by the time we reached the lagoon, somewhat later than planned.  I felt a little mournful, as I always do, when the breeze is fooling with the surface tension, marring the glassy water I like so much when kayaking.

The geo helped me launch and our one dog followed, peeping unhappily. She’s the pack leader and path finder. She likes to keep us together and on off lead areas will always come back to collect me if I’ve lingered behind.

I was aiming for the bridge that goes beneath the Gardens Road and paddled swiftly across the tannin water, eventually dropping her. On the other side I found a narrow channel, closed off at its mouth. This lagoon was saline and sometimes black beneath the clouds.

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I idled here.  Frogs were being vocal in the rushes, a surprise to hear them in such a salty environment and I wondered if the many flood events this year had altered the salinity level.  The surf boomed on Taylor Beach. It was peaceful floating and listening to the soundscape.  I drifted down to where the lagoon meets the beach.

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And then I turned around, headed back beneath the bridge and set off to circumnavigate this dune trapped lake.

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It’s a quiet world in amongst the boobiala, rushes and ti tree.  As I kayaked around the edge of the lagoon I spotted two swans’ nests in the reeds but there were four couples in total that came gliding out from among them at various points and moved away from me, honking small warnings.   In fact, despite my best attempts to be non-intrusive, one took off heavily in front of me, half running across the water – we had not seen each other until the last moment.

I’d last seen black swans on the Thames, near Kensington Palace.  That was a surprise too, but apparently a small number have acclimatised there.  Far better to see them in a habitat that’s natural to them.  They’re migratory, but their pattern of migrating is opportunistic and erratic and they plan their travels according to what the weather’s been serving up.  The oddest swan behaviour I ever saw was one that flew over to a bay and paddled out to sea.

Don’t believe those stories of them being loyal to one partner for life.  They’ve been found out.  Swans cheat; sneaky affairs take place in hidden corners of the rushes and so watching these partnered birds gather in the middle of the lagoon, I wondered about the layers of their relationships and whose eggs were whose in those nests in the shallows.  I didn’t check the lagoon’s depth, but swans like shallow water so that they can bottom feed without diving, one way to tell.

Down at the far end, near the quarry, I found a small stream and seeking out the glassy patches where I’d be more protected from the south easterly, I found a crane staring attentively into the water.  There were also full throated frogs around the lake from time to time, and small lunettes that doubtless hold evidence of camping and feasts from the eras before colonisation.

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The lagoon held one final surprise for me.  This is what we saw when we went to load the kayak – a huge leach with a foot that could have competed with kelp for grip.  A leach so huge it could suck a swan dry.

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North East Tasmania: Bay of Fires ~ Binalong Bay

Binalong Bay ~ To Where we Keep Returning

View of Binalong Bay from Cosy Corner
View of Binalong Bay and Humbug Hill

The Bay of Fires from Humbug Point northwards is an exhilarating stretch of Tasmanian coastline.  There’s just something about the white sand, the lichened granite boulders and the crystal clear water that combine to make it particularly awesome and peaceful at the same time.  In summer, when it’s warm, the bush camping along The Gardens Road is the loveliest we’ve found in the state and in the cooler months there are plenty of beach houses available for hire.

Binalong is a small settlement on the northern slope of Humbug Hill, backed by a great reserve and with wonderful views.  It has a tiny permanent population of about 200 people and is a mix of small shacks, large mansions and modest beach houses.  There is no shop but there is a small cafe with a good menu and expansive views.   Behind the bay  and at the foot of  the hill  lies Grants Lagoon, wonderful for birdwatching or kayaking.

The complexity of the landscape – the casuarina forests, the photogenic rock formations and the dune trapped lagoons combine with the beaches to make this area totally compelling.  Apart from cycling, swimming and kayaking, there’s a surf break at the northern end of Binalong Beach and at the southern end there are a number of beautiful coves separated from each other by massive boulders.  There’s a gulch that forms a tiny harbour of sorts and these days  an ecotour leaves from here and heads out by boat along the coastline as far north as Eddystone Lighthouse.

Harbour at Binalong Bay

This spot hasn’t always been called Binalong Bay.  It was once Boat Harbour but as there is also a Boat Harbour in the North West, it cast off name confusion and opted for something more indigenous.  The Bay of Fires was known as Larapuna by the  people these days known as the North East nation. There are believed to have been seven clans in all (Johnson & Mcfarlane, 2015) , roughly totalling about 500 people* who willingly granted seasonal access to the Ben Lomond nation, probably for reciprocal rights, enabling them to benefit from the area’s rich pickings.  It was a meeting place and as the climate was mild, it could well have been where most Tasmanians chose to live in earlier periods of the Holocene.

The current name of the Bay of Fires was provided by Tobias Furneaux, who captained the HMS Adventure (part of Cook’s Great Antarctic Expedition of 1772-1775).  He and his expeditioners noticed many campfires burning in this area at night, and aboriginal stone formations, seal traps, burial sites and middens still exist, so treading lightly and respectfully needs to go hand in hand with leisure and enjoyment when visiting this area.

After the European invasion, sheep farming, fishing, forestry and the transporting of these commodities grew in importance and on our last visit we discovered the tracks of what had once been a local railway.  It follows a contour, then ends at the gulch, where today there’s a jetty and boat ramp.

We’ve been to the Bay of Fires three times this year.  First we camped and then we brought some of our overseas family here.  The mad keen cyclist promptly headed for the Blue Tiers track while the rest of us, being of more idle dispositions, merely rode from Binalong to the The Gardens, did a bit of Humbug Point exploring and had a pleasant amble along Binalong Bay Beach, the white sand soft underfoot.

It was only when we were at the farthest end of the beach where the big boulders begin, that we realised the cyclist had taken both sets of car keys.  He was expecting us to meet him in Derby later on that particular day but his mobile had no Australian reception, so while he  waited and wondered what had happened to us, we tried to relax into the knowledge that there was nowhere to go and nothing we could do except soak up the sun and admire the sublime view from the beach house.

The geo and I came back again shortly after our Hong Kong to London train trip.  This time we focused on exploring with a little bit of kayaking thrown in for good measure.  We met a local artist and had some long chats with a new friend who is walking the beaches from the Tamar to Freycinet.

Binalong Bay beach is a  poignant beach for me.  A good friend, who loved this spot too, had a heart attack on an early morning stroll along the sand and although he recovered, did not see out the year, dying on my birthday.

Binalong the coves

*Given the fact that European invasion of Tasmania caused numbers to collapse quickly and dramatically, this number is a best guess by some of those working in the field.

References:

Johnson, M & I. McFarlane. 2015.  Van Diemen’s Land: an aboriginal history, UNSW Press, Sydney.

 

Derwent River: Kayaking the Tinderbox Peninsula

Smacking Down Fear with a Paddle

It’s a little known fact but upstream of Dennes Point, just across the water from Pierson’s Point, there’s a shark refuge and the men in grey suits and the freezing water in which they undertake business were on my mind as I climbed into my kayak to paddle the Tinderbox coastline.  I would have liked company but I had no takers and so I’d decided to go alone.

On a fine day.

With the water like a mirror.

And on a low tide.

‘We’ve kayaked it before,’ the geo had said. ‘You don’t need to do it again.’

I could not remember kayaking the whole length of Tinderbox, and if we had done so it was back when I thought of Tinderbox as one long stretch of formidable coastline with no discerning features other than cliff face and rocks. Now I knew better and had reached the conclusion that the best way to get to know the peninsula was by kayak, right up close to the rocks, in part because I didn’t want to be that kayaker who made the headlines through being snaffled in the Derwent.  After all, Hobart is full of sea kayakers who paddle this stretch and think nothing of it.

But I wasn’t one of them.  I simply had a little goal to achieve and a mystery to solve: where was the door to the underground tunnel behind the cliffs?

‘Sailing is all about anticipation,’ my friend M, used to remind me and it’s perhaps more so with kayaking. I checked the Bureau of Meteorology site and chose my day – swell beneath 0.5 m and north westerly winds below 10 knots turning variable later in the day. It sounded perfect.

A small wave splashed over my map as the geo pushed me off and even before I’d made it out to Flowerpot Point, kayaking through the moored yachts in the southern corner of Blackmans Bay, I could tell the river was intent on being a trickster. Because the water was in fact lumpy, and so another fear assailed me.  If I fell out, it would be mere moments before I died of the cold and much as I love the river I did not want its bed to be my last one.   As I rounded Flowerpot Point I felt threatened by swell coming at me from all directions, no doubt lingering from previous bad weather. The surf breaking on Soldier’s Rocks a couple of hundred metres away looked downright intimidating.

I stopped.  ‘Too rough… poor visibility,’ I advised myself and I wobbled into the little cobbled bay (T468) that I thought I had befriended on one of my earlier walks only to find it fractious and lumpy, the water disconcertingly black.  I began to reach for my mobile (geo, come back!) but I didn’t feel steady enough to use it.

‘You miserable little coward,’ admonished the chorus in my head.  I could already see Passage Point and North Bruny Island and they didn’t actually look that far away. We’d figured it would take me three hours (based on my dawdling on previous paddles) and certainly sailing along here sometimes takes a goodly length of time. And so I pointed my kayak south again, put my head down and paddled briskly towards my first waypoint, Soldiers Rocks, adrenalin ratcheting up my heartbeats. My seat wasn’t properly adjusted; my legs were already going numb.   This was affecting my balance.  No ways was I going to reach for my camera.

I burned passed Soldiers Rocks, keeping a distance between us because of the toothy break and  reflective swell,  and my compromised ability to use the pedals I could no longer feel. The Lucas Point Sewage Plant now seemed more friend than foe. I could see how in this little bay the beaches from the water seemed a single beach rather than two or three, but I was not game to reach for my iPhone.

There was no going back now.

Because of the slop I couldn’t get near the shoreline  and so I had to put a big fat cross through the image I’d had of myself, drifting along a feet or two from the cliffs, trailing my hand along rocks from time to time (hello, rocks!  hey, sea anemone!) imprinting the geography in my head,  scrutinising the cliffs for the hidden doorway.

My next waypoint was Fossil Cove and I could see the arch ahead of me.  The geo and the dogs were going to walk through it to the part of the beach on the northern side and I’d said I might see them here but little did I know, they were way behind me.   (And little did they know I was ahead.  They waited here a long, long time.)  Ahead, closer to the eastern shore, was a ship at anchor. There is often a ship at anchor, presumably waiting to proceed upriver but they are like ghost ships. Sailing past, you never see crew. Back when Sandy Bay was barely populated, the ships at anchor often had clandestine grog on board that was collected by smugglers under cover of darkness.

A smaller ship came around the Bruny Island coastline and headed down the D’Entrecasteaux just as a boat came roaring out of it, headed my way.  Fishers, I thought, but no.  They began to reverse their boat into an extremely narrow gulch on the southern side of Fossil Cove.  Neat!  And what a clue!  They’d been invited to lunch!

To keep my mind off sharks I contemplated the cliff top with its magnificent view, far more alluring IMHO, than an underground dining room but I guess diversity is the spice of life.

Lucas Point came and went.  Before I knew it I was past Passage Point where, in the wind shadow, the water lay down. The tide was more resistant here but I was quickly through the gap between Dennes Point on North Bruny and Piersons Point on the Tasmanian mainland and in the channel flat water with a quiet lattice of ripples welcomed me. Beneath me, arrow squid, australian salmon, barracuda, pike, flathead, whiting and silver trivially glided, but I was unaware of them. Beneath the cliffs a seal lolled in the water, one flipper up. I paddled past the two little cobbled beaches, the tiny gulches and the sea cave and made it on to the beach before the geo and dogs arrived to give me a lift home.  I hadn’t managed to explore the beaches but, chased ever onwards by imaginary sharks snapping at my stern, I did do this leg in 1 hour flat!

Cobbled beach, Pierson's Point
Cobbled beach, Pierson’s Point and quieter water

 

The day I kayaked from Blackmans Bay
Cliffs at the start of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel

 

Taken the day I kayaked from Blackmans Bay to Tinderbox Beach.
Moorings off Tinderbox Beach.  Bruny Island (left).

 

Introduction

Walk with Cathy
Seven Mile Beach

The Plan

I initially set myself the impossible goal of exploring all of Tasmania’s beaches and coastline by either walking, cycling, kayaking or sailing.  I’m exploring some alone, but I’m also hoping to have the company of friends, family and dogs from time to time.  The dogs don’t need encouragement but friends and family may need to be bribed and I may need to bribe myself as this progresses.  So far the biggest challenge has been the time required and  the easiest has been revising down this goal into a more manageable size… to simply walk as many beaches as I possibly can in the time I have available.