Bays of Dismay 4: Storm Bay – a threatened seascape

Iron Pot the reef and Bruny Island
Storm Bay viewed from the South Arm Peninsula

Greed’s Heavy Footstep

The view from Goat’s Bluff is splendiferous and uplifting, but it’s a threatened vista because the toads are coming.  I didn’t know if such a term (threatened vista) for endangered beauty existed but then I found literature on seascapes and this, right here on a Tas government site:

‘The condition of scenic landscape values is important for Tasmania for a variety of reasons… landscape values often have an association with environmental and natural resource values – the values that people appreciate in a landscape may often also be important ecologically.’

Tasmania. Dept of Justice. 2003. State of the Environment report recommendation 2.9: Scenic and Landscape Values.

And the report goes on to recommend that ‘… scenic landscapes and areas of consistent and recognisable landscape character be recognised in local and regional strategies in relation to beneficial values including  natural resource management; open space and recreation; vegetation management; catchment management; and coastal management.’

Which brings us to the messy issue surrounding Storm Bay

Storm Bay is bound by North Bruny Island, South Arm Peninsula, the Tasman Peninsula and the tip of the Tinderbox Peninsula, which means that there are any number of brilliant perspectives from which you can view this tempestuous bay.

Storm Bay.png
Google Earth image of Storm Bay

It’s the wilds – right there, where the Derwent River and the D’Entrecasteaux enter it in company and sometimes a gale blowing across the bay can bring that sense of the menacing wild right up the river and into the city.

Storm Bay has a few anchorages along the exposed coastline of Bruny Island for yachts seeking sanctuary from foul weather.   Samos has hung out in Bull Bay off North Bruny enjoying this environment distinct from the river, where the movement of the swell and the surf hold warnings and the feeling of being out here is unique from the river and Channel.

Let’s Not Forget the Voiceless

It’s not just people who are vested in the bay. It provides feeding grounds for the migratory shearwater and other shorebirds and seabirds. It is traversed by dolphins and whales, penguins and seals. Life flourishes on its reefs and I hope you’ll agree that seaweeds have a right to the good life too.

Storm Bay is the magnificently scenic entry that stops people’s hearts when approaching Hobart by sea, the you and me as well as those Sydney-Hobart sailors and passengers on cruise liners.  And rounding the Iron Pot, as you sail down the Derwent marks the point, both mental and physical, at which you finally feel you are sailing the ocean, albeit coastal.

It is the aquatic commons of the whole glorious multiplicity of us  and its moody beauty is deeply loved. Even on a fine day you know its mood can change in an instant and with too much sail out you are quickly humbled.

Goodbye to All That

Storm Bay is about to change into an industrial zone. The three Tasmanian fish farming companies – Tassal, Petuna and Huon Aquaculture – are encroaching massively on our aquatic commons and while their heady expansion plans are good for the economy in the short term, the public’s interest and that of other sentient and non-sentient communities stand to be sacrificed by government complicity. There are fish farm leases planned for Storm Bay and they’ll be visible over vast distances, all around the lovely shoreline. The relaxing high and sense of connection that Nature gifts us will give way to further despair.  The scenic vistas will be destroyed.

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Hello Solastalgia

We have already lost grand views and the sense of desolation many of us feel when we try to navigate through multiple leases or view bays and waterways taken up by ugliness reflects the all consuming loss felt by the people we replaced when their hunting grounds and sacred sites became no go areas and disappeared under pasture and houses. This time, buried in that same greed and disdain lies self mutilation.

Navigating Storm Bay, especially in gales, will become more dangerous. The plastic pollution, the exceeded nitrogen caps and the damage to reefs that the companies have caused in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Macquarie Harbour will happen here too. These companies are bringing along that same disdain for the commons, those same bad habits. For example, so often they’ve been advised that when towing pens they need markers on their lines because the distance can be such that other vessels could accidentally cross between with dire consequences. This week, in the Channel, we again noticed a tow underway without markers. It’s disrespectful, it’s frustratiang and it’s downright dangerous.

The weight of the farms on top of visible climate change impacts worries a lot of us down this part of the world. After all, we are a climate change hot spot.

It’s beyond disappointing that the companies said they were heading offshore then chose to plonk themselves down in this significant coastal bay – to plonk themselves down in the magnificent entrance to the Derwent. And rather than deep ocean – just take a lead from this, guys – they’re heading for the coastal zones of our offshore islands, those last bastions of the birds. There, amongst sparsely habited islands they can get away with environmental savagery. But on King Island some are beginning to cry foul.

In the future, Petuna’s leases just south of Betsey Island are going to marr the Goats Bluff view. Tassal’s will probably be visible too. You’ll see pens from Bruny and that’s why the locals are concerned there too. Friends of North Bruny, the Bruny Island Community Association and the Bruny Island Environment Network have joined forces to call for a moratorium on this alarming expansion of fish farms into Storm Bay.

Almost everyone wants these companies to really be clean and green and to excel at that, as opposed to dirtying the waterways they’ve encroached into. But that means upping their standards and appreciating the limits to growth, respecting the public and their customers.  Unfortunately, it still doesn’t seem to be something they’re in any rush to do.

We only have one planet. Let’s stop hampering its efforts to nourish us.

For more information:

Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania. [2016] Salmon Farming Proposals in Storm Bay

DPIPWE. 2017. Sustainable industry growth plan for the salmon industry. Hobart.  The Dept.

Guarnieri, G et al. 2016. The Challenge of Planning Conservation Strategies in Threatened Seascapes: Understanding the Role of Fine Scale Assessments of Community Response to Cumulative Human Pressures. PLOS. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149253

Derwent River: South Arm Beaches: Johns Point, Half Moon Bay

Johns Point and its Beach (T417):  The minuscule, the long and the vast

Johns Point walk top

There is a great sweep of rock platform with cracks and tessellations that curves around Johns Point at the western end of Fort Beach and then narrows as it wanders north along  the base of the cliffs.  We’d planned to walk out of Half Moon Bay south onto Fort Beach, but we ended up doing it the other way around because sometimes its okay to be contrary.

The Minuscule but Long

Invertebrates in their tiny rock pool worlds live their quiet watery lives along the reefs here, grazing and hiding out in the variegated forests of seaweed, while beside them the river and Storm Bay sweep one into the other. There’s an altitudinal order on the reef.  When the tide recedes some barnacles, periwinkles and  limpets will sit out the dry period while other reef species make sure they’re fully immersed.

Many of these tiny beings know more about the river than we would imagine and between conversations with Cathy as we walked along beneath the cliffs that sunny day I was contemplating barnacles in particular, those small hermaphrodites in their calcareous huts that choose to stand on their heads, that relative to their size have the longest penises* in the world (it’s true – move over, elephants!), their wispy little cirri feet swaying in the water but who look to be as sessile as trees. Why move, when the river brings endless meals of assorted meats and veg in the form of phytoplankton and zooplankton, right on to your calcareous  plates and your perfectly adequate cirri spoon them into your mouth?

Only, if these arthropods were really that sedentary I wouldn’t find them seeking trips on Samos’s hull, so what’s going on?

What’s going on is the exploratory tendencies of all of us who are either young or young at heart.  After being brooded by their parent they become travellers in the body of water they find themselves in, swimming free in their naplius one-eyed larval stage, part of the great planktonic realms of the river. These little crustaceans are in their cyprid stage by the time they’re ready to settle down.  Brushing up against a boat’s hull, they choose it.  Landing on a rock, that’s where they stay.  Shoved against a jetty paling, their little feet cling to it or,  more adventurously, they hitch a ride on a passing whale**.  The cement they exude from their antennae is so powerful science is trying to mimic it and Charles Darwin, who walked this river paying deep attention to its geology and life forms, had a particularly fascination for the not so humble barnacle — he knew of its achievements, both physical and chemical.

Vast

I knew from my earlier walks that across the Derwent, just inside the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, there were other rock platforms with a similar species richness and that just as the barnacle’s home looked like a tiny volcano, Charles Darwin had discovered deposits from an extinct one off Taroona. I was beginning to see how the vast geology of Tasmania reveals itself if you put on your walking shoes – fossils in siltstone and sandstone on either bank, similar weathering, layers of shell in the South Arm stratigraphy. We were enjoying the patterns unfolding in the rocks when unexpectedly we arrived on a little beach. Cathy pointed out a line of houses on the cliff top. My attention had been on the tiny secrets the rocks and pools were unveiling and I was somewhat surprised to see civilisation above the blue sweep of the river that was filling the hollows and depths of the drowned rift valley spread about us.

Beside the jetty we stood on the sand for a moment contemplating the scope of Half Moon Bay and relishing the fact that we had now walked its entirety, avoiding pesky roads.  But beaches are transient landscapes.  They change every day, and incrementally so do we. Some events marked in the sand – the small wanders of a plover, for example – get extinguished by wind or water.  Some traces and tracks get sandwiched by sand, perhaps even fossilised.  That’s one of life’s lessons you can read on a beach, the nature of memory.

We could not claim to know the beaches we had walked so far.  In human terms, our meetings with beaches were no more than briefly meeting someone’s eye at a bus stop, but this walk around the reef, and the pleasure of discovering a beach was a completely fulfilling way to while away an hour at the end of a longer walk.

*This Californian Academy of Science video is worth a watch.

** A whale washed up on a NZ beach carrying some stupendous barnacles.  A video worth watching because it also demonstrates the respect of the local maori for the whale.

To read more see the website Life on Australian Seashores

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Derwent River: South Arm Beaches: Opossum and Half Moon Bays

Mitchells Beach the view of kunanyi south end
View of kunanyi from Mitchells Beach

Clarence Beaches: The South Arm Peninsula

Lauderdale, an outer suburb about a forty minute drive east from central Hobart, is situated on the isthmus where the South Arm peninsula officially begins.  Carry on through it and there are two routes you can take to reach the Arm End beaches that are on the far side of a second more southerly isthmus.  Of the two options, I like taking  Rifle Range Road.  It wanders along the western slope of Mount Augustus and continues onto Collins Springs Hill.  There are tracts of dry sclerophyll forest, views west across Ralphs Bay to kunanyi, views east over Calverts Beach and lagoon and finally a spectacular view of the Iron Pot and Betsy Island.

 

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Source: Tasmap. 2007. Tasmanian map book: south region, Hobart. (Scale: 1:50,000)

Opossum Bay Beaches

Opossum Bay stretches its 1.5 km length west to southwest.  It harbours three beaches,  although, if you’re not a local, its easy to make the mistake of thinking that there is one beach only. Opossum Bay beach is easy to find while the other two are easy to overlook, unless you are  paying close attention to the landscape.

I pretty much started this blog here, with my first walk around Gellibrand Point, accessible from this point.  Now I was back here with my friend Cathy.  We’d set ourselves the goal of walking the coastline to the end of Seven Mile Beach and we’d planned to do it on low tide days over the coming months.

T 422 Mitchells Beach: in the shadow of its middle sibling

Mitchells Beach the view behind
Looking north along Mitchells Beach

The tide was out on Mitchells Beach and it seemed lighter and more gracious than when I had been here last.  On that day a  band of cobbles barely separated the winter sea from the eroding slope at the western end of Opossum Bay and the stone percussion in the roll of the swell had been audible to us some distance above it. But the day Cathy and I had chosen had begun with a big frost.  Now the sky was blue  and on the far side of the river there was snow on kunanyi.

We turned our backs to the mountain and walked east along the pale terrace of sand the low tide had exposed, in the long gone footsteps of family bands of the Moomairemener, believed to be members of the Paredarerme (Oyster Bay tribe).  They called the land along the eastern shore of the Derwent River Nannyelebata and they were people of both the coast, the river and the lagoons that are to be found on this diverse peninsula, a peninsula  largely in kunanyi’s rain shadow with few hills.  As there are no real makers of rivers around here (save Den Hill, Jim’s Hill and Blatherwick Rise – all rather too lowly to whip up a creek) their water sources were springs and the freshwater that collected in the dunes, as well as their freedom to follow the seasons further up the river and to cross it in places.

Mitchells is a reflective beach of about 850m, the longest in this bay, and stormy weather can invigorate the waves that are eating away at the weed infested slope. We stopped for a moment because I wanted to try to understand what the stratigraphy was saying about this beach’s past.

Still catching up on each other’s news, we reached the rocky platform and headland  that separate this beach from Opossum Bay Beach, embraced with so much enthusiasm by the locals that houses literally perch on the wrack line.

T 421 Opossum Bay Beach: houses as rampart

Opossum Bay Beach.jpg
Opossum Bay Beach: looking south

We walked along sharing the memories it has given us. Cathy knows it far better than me and she mentioned that we had the option of a footpath between here and South Arm.  I’ve viewed its houses, boatsheds and slender sweep of sand on windy days from heeling yachts and also when, becalmed,  there’s been ample time to absorb the view more fully.  The beach houses and shacks on their bluff are the rampart the rising river meets and the views are of the estuary widening.

There’s a difference between walking and exploring, and concluding that today at least we fitted in the latter category, we shunned the pathways on the headland above us at the eastern end in favour of the shoreline and clambered around the headland with its jetty by way of the rocks.

Opossum Bay Beach jetty.jpg
Southern end of Opossum Bay Beach

T 420 Glenvar Beach: The Secret Beach

We crossed a boat ramp and walked into the more hidden part of the bay.  Too often I’ve been that sort of beach walker who stops at the end of a stroll along the sand without testing its boundaries.  That’s why I’d never found Glenvar Beach.   Recently a friend had told me that she’d rented a beach house at a Gellibrand Beach.  She described where it was and spoke about the lovely way the swells sometimes swept into the bay from three different directions.

 

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Glenvar Beach

Glenvar is definitely the smallest and most crescent shaped beach in the bay.  Here, the houses also show an inclination to cosy up to the water, but held more tightly between two headlands, the feeling is more intimate.  I figured this had to be my friend’s ‘Gellibrand Beach’.  Cathy and I lingered on the rocks before beginning our walk out of it, admiring all the things large and minuscule about it – the nautical things like boat sheds, the sea walls in places, the features in the siltstone – fossils included – a feather or two along with shells and the vibrant seaweeds of the reef.

 

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Glenvar boat shed

I came back here the other day after a storm.  Kelp lay washed up on the beach.  This time I walked the lanes between the houses on on the headland seeking out a path to the beach.  That’s the way to arrive on Glenvar.  Not by directions but by following the lean of the land until you arrive on the sand.

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Rock platform at the southern end of Glenvar Beach

Pigeon Holes

Blatherwick Rise* stops Glenvar Beach. We set off along the rock platform at its base.  The siltstone here has been sculpted by the winds and rain so that its stippled with   hollows.  I was pretty thrilled to have reached this spot because once, crewing on the big blue Beneteau in a long distance race, a buoy was placed off here and we’d had to check the chart, none of us precisely certain about where the mysterious Pigeons Holes were to be found.

It’s a favourite spot with the cormorants, perhaps because there’s quite a variety of fish here.  I counted twenty one of the birds taking in the long view and apart from a gull or two, they were the only members of the avian nations that we saw on this walk.  We also discovered the remnants of a battered metal boat lodged on the rocks.

Rock white and orange dropstoneRock white and orange

Seaweeds and rockpool.jpg

Our rock hopping had warmed us.  We took off our jackets and explored the platform with its  mollusc rich rock pools fringed with red and green seaweeds. Beneath the water where the rocks give way to sand the stingrays and the flathead lie camaflaged  and all these are reasons why divers like this spot.

We walked the shoreline, sometimes scrambling, wondering where above us the  house owned by Brian Ritchie (Violent Femmes) happened to be.  According to the website for the tv series Sandcastles that featured it, he left the Big Apple seeking the serenity of The Apple Isle and bought this land from Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil and ex Labor MP).

At one point we found a narrow path beneath casuarinas and sauntering along this cliff top path we heard voices below us.   The water seemed unusually blue just there.  Two heavily tattoed men on a motorboat, oblivious to our presence, were getting ready to dive. We regarded them silently  before continuing on, coming to a small beach neither of us expected to encounter.  Its beauty was marred by the litter it was assiduously collecting.  (Later I checked Short’s inventory but it isn’t noted there.)

We filled our bags with plastic bottles and styrofoam and then clambered over more rocks and down on to another  beach in the next bay along.

 

Half Moon Bay

Like Opossum Bay, Half Moon Bay  has three beaches within its 3 km extent and it also faces west across the Derwent’s estuary, which  is vast here, the swells and waves from Storm Bay flow directly into the river, merging with the water from the D’Entrecasteaux on the other shore.  Humans may demarcate the boundary with a mark (the Iron Pot in this case) but the moon and the weather determine where and how the waters mingle.

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Rock formations at Pigeon Holes.  Note the jointing in the rocks – there are some beautiful examples here.

T 419 Half Moon Bay Beach and its smaller sibling

This beach (T419) we found ourselves on was known to Cathy but not to me.  Robertson (2008) calls it Half Moon Beach and Short (2006) calls it Pigeon Holes Beach .  It’s about 150m long and  on a summer’s day it would be a lovely place to come to with a beach umbrella and a good book.  But if you were a bird, that’s what you’d be dreading.  Your eye would be on making a nest here and beach umbrellas play havoc with that.

The smaller beach we’d stopped to spring clean is in effect a little  companion tucked into the long headland that is Blatherwick Rise, so seemed to me to be not quite Opossum Bay and not quite Half Moon either.  Unrecognised, it’s without a Beachsafe number (unless my beach interpretation is shaky here and I’m suffering from beach confusion).

Pigeon Holes beach.jpg
The little west facing beach beneath Blatherwick Rise.
View from Half Moon Beach.jpg

The view from Half Moon Beach: straight down the D’Entrecasteaux on the other side.

T 418 South Arm Beach

A quick clamber over the next lot of rocks and we were on South Arm Beach, the long, generous curve of sand backed by dunes.  We increased our pace because we were fast running out of time.  Sometimes we walked below houses.  We exchanged waves with a couple on a sundeck toasting their mountain view with glasses of wine.  I found an enigmatic layer of shell in the dunes.   It could have been a midden, but one of Ralphs Bay’s most intriguing features are the dense layers of shell.  This lovely embayment lies held in the crook of the peninsula’s skinny arm and I thought I might be seeing an exposed part of that layer.

We walked passed boat sheds.  We passed the conifers.  We reached South Arm (no more than a village or a far-flung Hobart suburb, take your pick) and as we turned to walk over the headland by way of the roads, we eyed out the rocks below  Johns Point. We’d hoped to walk around and complete Half Moon Bay but we had run out of time.

If we’d taken the South Arm to Opossum Bay trail that runs close to the road,  we’d have done that 4.5 km walk in less than two hours, but we had chosen to scramble over rocks instead and we had dallied  on beaches. The school bell chimes at 3 p.m. though, and one of us could not be late.  That last Half Moon beach would have to wait until next time.

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The sweep of South Arm Beach in the distance  and the village at the far end.

* According to Place Names Tasmania, this name was ‘advised by Mr G. Calvert and Mrs B. Gellibrand; family by this name lived for many years in old days at top of rise on South Arm Road.’  Locals also call it Blatherwick Hill.

** They also record this information about (The) Pigeon Holes: “Pigeons as we know, favour ledges for nesting and roosting. Mr Cramp recalls that pigeons used to nest on a cliff face at Opossum Bay, South Arm. There was a considerable number of them, and the ledges were—“.

 

Walked on 24 August 2015

 

 

 

 

Bays of Dismay 1: North West Tasmania – Cowrie Point, Sawyer Bay

COWRIE POINT

Beaches T 996-998 (Short, 2006) 

 Embedded map:

Once, several years ago, bound for Stanley across Sawyer Bay, an open, 25 kilometre long coastline, I sailed passed Port Latta in a fast diminishing gap between gales.  While the skipper took waves in her face with the broadest of grins, my friend and I tucked up under the dodger and watched the coastline go by. I was identifying old landmarks I hadn’t seen in a while – Rocky Cape, where this bay begins, and then the long jetty of Port Latta. Behind that jetty there’s Australian Bulk Mineral’s large, grey processing plant that belches smoke and in its shadow there’s a cluster of houses. Looking at them from out at sea, I felt for the people who had to live there and knocked it off my bucket list.

***

The holiday home had a couple of books on local history and an outstanding view along the coastline of the bay all the way to the volcanic neck that is The Nut, standing elevated above the landscape at Stanley, but I had not realised until we arrived that Cowrie Point was the site of those homes I’d looked at through the rain from that bucking yacht all those years before.

I went down to the inviting beach to stick my feet into Bass Strait’s waters.  The high tide had piled seaweed high along the wrackline and the beach was backed by both feral and native plants over to my right.    The rocky platforms of what I took to be a point, and the pebbles that I found, were unexpectedly stunning. They looked like agate with volcanic intrusions but when the geo went to take a look he said no, they’re Precambrian sediments with iron oxide deposits in the joints and sometimes in the bedding plates. There were stratigraphies laid on their side with sharp edges, long thin columns with longitudinal jointing, tessellations, pale colours, burnt ochres, swirls and speckles. Neptune’s necklace flourished in some of the rock pools but others seemed entirely empty.  Cowrie Point, he said, was actually a tombolo.

Cowrie Point-2
Cowrie Point. The view from the tombolo of T 996 and T997

On the eastern side of the tombolo I found another beach (T 997), this time a half crescent curve of about 100m, rather narrow, that backed onto the beach I’d just come from. Again, but that bit closer, there was a view of the jetty and the looming plant, the white smoke dense in the sky, sitting improbably with the lovely proportions of the quiet beaches. Occasionally there was a low industrial rumble.

Just passed another outcrop of rock was a third beach (T998) and beyond it a stretch of rocks and then the industrial works. There was a lone house above the rocks of T998. Two men stood below it with a dog. I was strolling slowly, looking at the differently shaped  sponges that had washed up, but eventually I turned and walked away.

Later, when one of the men came around to the Coral Point Beach with his dog, he told us his family’s story of Port Latta.

He was barely school age when his family built their Cowrie Point home and it predated the refinery which was built in 1967/68.  It’s the terminus of an 85 km pipeline that starts at Savage River mine on the West Coast. What runs through this pipe is a slurry of crushed ore. When it reaches Port Latta it’s transformed into marble sized pellets that are baked at 1000 degrees C, which then travel via a conveyor belt along the jetty to the ships that take the pellets away to Port Kembla and China.

The refinery, he said, spoiled everything and devastated the shack owners. Thirty seven homes were razed so it could be built and for the first twenty years  they’d been unable to use their house at all. The plant was so loud and noisy, the smoke terrible. When they hung up their washing it turned black. Worse, the chemicals that leached into their water burnt them, but the company didn’t want to know.   The conditions were so intolerable and depressing that those who could moved away.

‘There weren’t any greenies back then,’ he said, as though that might just have made a difference, and expanded on how beautiful this stretch of coastline had once been, the ways they had enjoyed it and just how much it had been spoiled. He said more recently the processing plant had changed to gas and it wasn’t so bad anymore but as we stood there white smoke was dense in the sky and the whole place began rumbling.

‘It rumbles when they’re tweaking the mix,’ he said.  ‘Wind’s northwesterly.’  We stood in silence, happily upwind, listening to the plant before saying our good byes.

Cowrie Point
Port Latta processing plant and jetty

I couldn’t find anything about Cowrie Point’s social history but I did find out  that there is a landfill at Port Latta that accepts general and hazardous material and this has resulted in groundwater contamination.  I also found out that ABM holds the Savage River Project through its indirect subsidiary, Goldamere who in 1996, entered into an asset purchase agreement with the State Government of Tasmania.  Goldamere would purchase the Savage River mining operation assets as well as the Port Latta pelletising and shiploading facilities for a deferred payment of Aus$13 million.  As well as that,  the government agreed to indemnify them against all liabilities, both pre-existing and on-going, caused by environmental pollution or contamination that have resulted from past operations.

Port Latta to the east, The Nut rising above a faint sea mist to the west, and Cowrie Point perched on the edge of the Little Peggs Beach State Reserve.  There were spectacular sunsets and lovely beach walks and Stanley not that far away.  It was all exquisite, as long as I kept looking west.

Go there.  Definitely go there.  Explore the exceptional beauty.  Discover what it’s like to think you own paradise and then to have hell settle in beside you.

D’Entrecasteaux Channel: North West Bay: Snug Beach and Rivulet by kayak and on foot

Not Snug Enough for a Landing

Snug-3
Snug River enters North West Bay

As I kayaked towards the next headland I couldn’t see a thing beneath the water because of the sea state and I was trying to angle the kayak against the uppity swell. Walking, a path may take you away from the shore. In a kayak, the sea state can keep you at a distance from it too. I was having to focus harder and unlike when I’d kayaked the Tinderbox Peninsula’s eastern shore with numb legs, this time I’d adjusted my pedals too far forward, so the only purchase I was getting was with the tips of my toes. Meanwhile, the fetch was increasing, the water was darker and deeper and the white crests were getting more numerous.  There was a small beach, only accessible by boat, on the northern side of the headland.  Waves were breaking on it.  I’d come back and explore it another day, I decided, because I did not want to risk capsizing.

Snug’s Coastline on Foot

Snug is another place on the Channel Highway that I’ve habitually driven through en route to other destinations, except for once, when we’d walked up to Snug Falls in the forest behind the town one wintery day.  Not once when driving did I bother to imagine what it was like when this area was the domain of the South East Tribe or what impressions D’Entrecasteaux, Bass, Flinders and their crews formed on those early expeditions as they made the acquaintance of this part of the bay, comfortably secluded beneath the Snug Tiers and fed by the streams running down from them.  Not for a moment had I stopped to imagine a fishing fleet operating out of Snug or small freight ships visiting in the early 1800s.  In fact, I had never even connected Snug with the coastline.

In the 1820s  timber cutters did business here and farmers took up land. A tiny settlement began to grow, but bushfires destroyed it in 1854, and returned again on 7 February 1967 to repeat the performance.  There’s a monument in remembrance of those who lost their lives.

It was only more recently, with my attention increasingly focussed on Tasmania’s coastline, that I decided on a whim one day to turn south off the highway to see if I could reach the shore of North West Bay.  I didn’t notice that the road was, in fact, called Beach Road.

Snug-4
Footbridge across Snug River

It took me to the Esplanade and I found a caravan park, a footy field, a beautiful beach and and a peaceful little river.  I was immediately won over by the way it curved around some lovely cliffs and quietly nosed its way into the bay between beach and headland.  A little footbridge crossed it, providing access to the headland and so, without hesitating, the dogs (on their leads) and I bounded up it.  There was  a light drizzle.  I soaked up the beautiful views. With Bruny Island at the opposite end of the bay it looked like an enclosed lake. There were a couple of yachts on moorings, the water was somnolent and a small motor boat puttered across it.

Snug Beach (T477)

Landcare have been doing careful work here and the beach was almost (but not totally) devoid of litter. It’s a lean beach and I think of it as green hued because of the green river and the thin strip of overlapping vegetation separating it from the road.  There are no dunes, so to compensate there are neatly laid sandbags suggesting to the sea that it keeps back.   Blackwoods grow right down to the beach. Of course, as the sea is swelling, there is coastal erosion because Snug is on a soft sediment plain cupped by sandstone slopes and there are rockfalls on the beach’s southern headland (Sharples & Donaldson, 2014)

Snug beach viewed from the south Y
Snug Beach: the view north
Blackwoods indicate erosion

Evidence of coastal erosion: trees losing their foothold

Walking Snug Rivulet

It was a foul day. Snow had fallen and then settled overnight, but been washed away by rain in the early morning, and apart from being bitterly cold the waterladen sky sagged. Grey misery pervaded the landscape.

‘I think this is a great day to go to Recherche Bay,’ said the geologist.

My preference was to sit by the fire with a book, but I was also curious to revisit rivulets, now in flood.   As we visited previously dormant streams now grown powerful and active,  I recalled the Snug River. This was the perfect day to walk its banks.

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Snug River’s estuary
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The river broadens

We started at the coast and walked upstream around a leisurely bend.  The tannin water, the reeds, and the river widening peacefully further upstream made for a pleasant stroll.  There is a little wetland area with native grasses and reeds and a  white faced heron and a large egret were enjoying the mudflats.  We counted 22 hooded plovers there too and there was pink epacris in blossom, prickly moses, leptospermum lerigium, acacia dielbata, banksia marginata, eucalyptus amygdalina and sag. The multiplicity was greater than my botanical knowledge.

We passed two black pipes, side by side entering the river close to where I was now picking up litter – a dummy, plastic bottles and a cardboard drink container.

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Rapids on the Snug River

Where the river narrowed there were rapids and somewhere along here the path left the wetland and we had to walk along the side of a road.  There were signs about dog control – dogs on the loose have been destructive.  The river is in close proximity to houses and it isn’t fenced.  It’s not just dogs, it’s people too.  The litter up here was disappointing.

A native hen  swam the river, making use of more rapids further upstream, and  as we walked along the bridge on the Channel Highway I saw two tiny black ducklings in the reeds below but could not see their mother. There was a track on the other side of the bridge that followed alongside the  opposite bank and then meandered up a hill.  It was the old main road, we figured, closed off now to vehicles.  We were high above the river flats with a filtered view through eucalypt forest but still we were picking up litter – more and more plastic, more and more styrofoam, all  heading incrementally down to the waterway and on out into North West Bay.

At the top there was nowhere to go.  We didn’t realise we were in the area allocated to the Electrona Industrial Park.  There were houses and a path in the forest nearby had broken bridges.  Old car parts were strewn through the undergrowth giving it an abandoned, somewhat hostile appearance. There was no incentive to explore; we returned the same way and when we got back to the beach we crossed the footbridge and did the headland walk the dogs and I had done before, only this time we carried on walking alongside a seafood factory, wondering exactly what it was.   We came to its entrance.  A notice proclaimed ‘Ralphs’  [Tasmanian Seafood Pty Ltd].  There were piles of abalone shells, a bad smell and a lot of litter.

Another astute business man and this time an Italian migrant success story (if you’re the human and not the piscean abalone predators) because this company had its beginnings when Ralph Caccavo, a prominent Tasmanian businessman, began exporting live abalone to China in 1996. It is now the world’s largest supplier of live abalone caught in the wild, exporting more than 500 tonnes per year out of a total Tasmanian catch of approximately 2,600 tonnes. Ralph’s also owns government-issued abalone catch quotas in Tasmania’  (Company website).

We strolled up to the factory again more recently.  The abalone shells were all neatly bagged up and there wasn’t quite as much litter lying about the hillside.

Abalone fisheries are in decline and several areas have been closed this year.  In the D’Entrecasteaux, there’s a belief that at least some of the reason is because of fish farms.  If a generous proportion of those  2,600 tonnes were still in situ, I wondered, would there be more birds?  Would the ecosystems be more intact?  One of those self-evident questions, really.

Surfing a Following Sea

I rounded Snug Beach’s southern point and turned into the next bay, rather muddy looking and quite triangular, with Snug Creek entering at its northern end.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a concrete post looking like a monument in the water, but actually just part of a substantial jetty that was now a ruin and maybe a reminder of the days when fishing was more active here.  This was another area I wanted to return to because, also out of the corner of my eye, I saw an appealing boatshed on a thin muddy shore.  But the swell pushed me, this time from right behind, and I was surfing down a following sea, the kayak’s prow burying itself in the wave ahead.  It was getting to be far too full on for my liking and so I turned to face these swells rolling in from the D’Entrecasteaux because at least that way I could keep my eye on them and there was less chance of them knocking me over.

Coningham was now not far away.

 

Bay of Fires: South Taylor Beach to North Cosy Corner

Losing Our Way

T 81 Sloop Reef Cove

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Sloop Reef Cove, Bay of Fires

Back at the cottage after kayaking Sloop Lagoon, I was flipping through Marianne Robertson’s book From Petal Point to Cockle Cove over a well deserved cup of tea, and discovered a beach that I hadn’t been aware of before.  Tucked away behind the big boulders at the south end of Taylor’s Beach was apparently another small cove called Sloop Reef Cove, also known as South Taylor’s Beach.

It was time to go searching – and so we went immediately.

But we couldn’t find a path.  Instead, we four, two of us canines on leads, scrambled up enormous boulders and searched around when we got to the top.  Faint trails sometimes led to dead ends but we finally found a vague track that led on to a better formed path through the casuarinas and finally dropped us down to a secluded campsite where two men with a van were stoking a fire.  Down on the tiny north facing beach four people were enjoying a picnic while the surf pounded in.  It’s an intimate cove; we felt we were invading and so we sat only momentarily on the rocks discussing the undercut dune behind the beach.  The cove sloped; the surf that day rolled in and and streamed out, deflecting around the corner.  We saw the back of the waves as they raced onwards to east facing Taylors.  There is a permanent rip here.  Swimming in the cove or the southern part of Taylor’s beach looks pretty dodgy because of the criss cross waves you get here.  It was a most unsettled sea.

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The boulders of Sloop Reef Cove

To Sloop Point

We knew Sloop Point well, or so we thought, but yet again, finding a trail from Sloop Reef Cove that would lead us there took a bit of effort.  We considered giving up – and considered this several times more during the course of this walk – but eventually the trail we found joined a well made contour path, which I later discovered was an old tramway track.

But why would you have a tram way here?  What sort of tram?  What was the purpose?

The walking was soft; layers of casuarina curls lay on the ground.  We passed beautiful boulders near a point with a sign that read Sloop Rock Jetty and stopped here, contemplating the dreamtime stories that would once have been associated with these powerful formations.

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The path came out at the parking place for Sloop Point.  Four of us, plus the two canines, had come here on a warm  April day and meandered down the path to the massive sheets of lichened granite that make up the point .  It has a fantastic rockpool, deep and clear and private, suspended above the ocean and claimed that day by a travelling couple in their twenties.  This is the sort of place that’s probably seen a lot of people rip free off their clothes to skinny dip and enjoy the sun au naturale.  It’s a highly risky business as others coming after can be as surprised as those caught cavorting in this spectacular rock pool  above the sea.

Offshore were the Sloop Rocks, the bay’s most fascinating feature and visible over a vast distance.  I call the most spectacular the Sitting Buddha but it probably has many names.  I have a friend who calls it the Witch’s Hat.

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Rock pool at Sloop Point
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Sloop Rocks

T 82 Seaton Cove

No amount of searching in the bracken revealed an onward path and so we took the dirt road down to Seaton Cove, another spot we’ve overlooked on our many visits to Bay of Fires.  It was astonishing to come to a tiny, rather suburban looking enclave in the coastal forest after wandering through the bush, sometimes on paths and sometimes not. A camper van had settled in here  (there is a little bit of camping space) but he was close by a short row of about five houses that looked like they’d lost their way to Launceston.   Like Sloop Reef Cove, this is tiny and the boat drawn up on the sand, with only one motor, must rely heavily on good weather, particularly for its return trips, because there isn’t much room for error.  It’s rocky here, both above and below the waterline and what beach there is has coarse granite sand and much kelp strewn about.  I found some sea glass and a beautiful quartz pebble well polished by the sea.

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But a well defined path led on past the bottom of the gardens, following the fence line, and back into the peaceful casuarina forest.  Again the path grew uncertain.  We’d lose the trail then find it again.  Finally we found ourselves in a patch of sand surrounded by boulders and apparently isolated from the sea.  Even here, so close to the sea, frogs serenaded near the small soaks in the rocks.

We had been walking along the top of these massive sloping granite platforms and boulders for some 500 m but they were getting to look familiar.  Sure enough, we soon saw people on top of the huge boulders we know well – we’d made it to Cosy Corner.

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We lingered here, feeling triumphant and wondering whether to head for the main road.  It was getting on for 4 pm.  This seemed an unadventurous option and so we turned around and walked back across boulders and through the bush to Seaton Cove.  I was surprised on this visit to notice the beach was longer than I’d thought before, rocks dividing the cove into a north (hidden from the road in) and south side.

Bay of Fires Seaton Cove
Looking south over north Seaton beach.

 

Again we debated resorting to the road we’d walked down before but there was a clear path we could see now, heading around the northern side of the cove at quite a height above the shoreline.  We followed it, but it let us down and we got lost in bracken and fallen trees, just pleased it wasn’t snake weather.  We could see the tree line along Sloop Point and so we clambered down on to the boulders then bushbashed up the other side when a gulch seemed impassable.  Our trusty path finder took the lead.  She invariably chose a route better than the ones we selected but she’s  getting on and occasionally needed a helping hand over the trickier fallen logs.

This time our choice was clear – buoyed by our progress, we took the beautiful contour path we’d walked before.  We reached a dirt road descending to Sloop Reef Cove but noticed the path continued across the road, above a few houses nestled in the southern corner of Taylors Beach.  Orchids grew along here, pale purple and unassuming.  It wasn’t long before we met the Gardens Road just above Taylors Beach and Sloop Lagoon.

This is the kind of walk I find the most exhilarating – a walk where the way is unknown and sometimes hides itself, demanding a degree of perseverance to continue, but offering up surprises – like another of those branch shelters that we’ve seen at Tinderbox, Dora Point and a few places elsewhere.

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North East Tasmania: Bay of Fires: Humbug Point Nature Reserve: Boat Harbour Cove to Dora Point

Puzzling Over Humbug Point

Closing in on Grants Point
Humbug Point Recreation Area.  Grants Point (left).

Map and further info about  Humbug Point Nature Reserve

The holiday homes of Binalong Bay spread up the northern slope of Humbug Hill, but behind them the original vegetation remains considerably intact, protected inside the Humbug Point Nature Recreation Area.  This reserve spreads across both Humbug and Bald Hills.  It’s mainly dry sclerophyll forest (although it has its boggy bits) with a diversity of plant, wildlife and bird species and a spectacular coastline that makes for a wonderful walk.  There are various free camping spots that have a more enclosed, bushland feel than the coastal camping sites along the road to The Gardens, north of Binalong Bay, and until our last visit, we had relied more on our car than our feet to take us exploring in this area.

I wondered how this area got it’s current name, given that in northern Australia ‘humbug’ is an Aboriginal term for placing unreasonable demands on family, but according to the Tasmanian Nomenclature Board, it’s first shown on an early diagram (1/386 Dorset) as Point Puzzle. They say it was named by a certain  J. H. Wedge, because of the frustrating difficulties experienced in running stock there. Thylacines took his sheep and lambs, apparently, so perhaps farming there was in fact humbug as far as his family was concerned.  They themselves were bigger humbug by far for those families, bands and tribes who had lived more lightly and longer  on this particular country.

The board also notes Top Bay (AMG608 x 5426), which I hadn’t spotted on any maps, as one of the small features west of Humbug Point (as advised by Jack Mallinson and Alf Barnett of Binalong Bay, January 1977).  Possibly this is the spot where we found an unexpected beach.

***

We made an impulsive decision one Monday lunch time to head north.   We threw some clothes into a bag, bundled the dogs into the car and headed up to the Bay of Fires for a couple of days of down time.  Our first walk was going to be to Dora Point and back to Binalong Bay along the Skeleton Bay Track, but in the end we did it over two walks.  One of us was sick on our first attempt and we also failed to take enough water for our canine companions.  For September, it was surprisingly hot although for most of this walk the weather was overcast, going by my photos.

Binalong Bay Coves

We lingered in the Binalong Bay coves just to the south of  Boat Harbour Cove / Binalong Gulch.  The sand was still free of footprints and it was all so idyllic. It was the kind of morning for snorkelling, for settling in comfortably with small children still excited by the prospect of sand castles, for putting up a beach umbrella and losing oneself in a book.  We observed the lichen’s low level mark – perfectly straight – and the pelicans near the boat ramp.  I imagined these coves long ago, small campfires burning, Larapuna bands hunting through the scrub and diving for shellfish in the translucent waters of the bay.  The gulches make perfect pools for those who like to keep their feet grounded.  The boulders never cease to fascinate.  You can lose yourself in the view north for hours and while there are pockets of sand in the gulches that one could kindly call ‘covelets’, there is in fact a high tide, white sand beach with lovely boulders and tidal pools, about 100m wide, according to Andrew Short (2006), who  numbers it beach T90.

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Down amongst the gulches of Binalong Bay

T91 Skeleton Bay (or South and North Skeleton Coves)

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There’d been a full moon by night and all day a big swell had been flowing into the bay, with a huge surf crashing against the points visible to the north from our cottage on the hill, but the water in the coves was comparatively gentle. Eventually we left Binalong Bay, walking around the corner into wild and much smaller Skeleton Bay, the real start of the walk.  It has two coves, North and South, with small Skeleton Rivulet feeding fresh water into the sea after rain falls.   There was a ‘don’t mess with me’ surf smashing in here too; water in a hurry.  Kelp lay strewn along the wrack line, big pieces, their feet intact, testifying to the strength of a past storm, and I started to pick my way over the coarse, white sand while the geo stuck to the road above. Almost immediately I found myself walking into a cloud of the small, flying invertebrates usually attracted to rotting seaweed and the pungent treasure that contains.  I fled their avid interest by escaping through the bush back up to the road.  The walk could only get better.

We crossed the rivulet and began the walk to Skeleton Point and, just offshore,  walk- stopping Skeleton Rock. The meandering track follows the coastline with beautiful views its entire length and I had the strong sense of this being, under the thin disguise of a modern path, a Larapuna track, whole eras old. Granite underpins the vegetation, she-oaks extend behind the boulders and the path is densely covered in their curls  when walking through copses. Boobiala and kunzia were in flower.  Every so often paths lead down to places where wonderful views give way to the spectacular. That day there were two other parties of walkers enjoying the track, and we met both in the vicinity of Skeleton Point, but we seemed to be the only ones intent on walking through to Dora Point, about 4 hours return.

The day became overcast after that bright sunny start but each time sunshine burst through, we sweltered and kept a sharper look out for snakes.

Grants Point

We reached Grants Point. Offshore to the south are Grants Point Rocks.

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Grants Point Rocks: there’s surely a myth attached

In this vicinity the path is on a higher contour and after passing  boulders with big auras all gathered in an area backing the point, there’s a truly massive one with a particularly looming, mysterious presence.   This rock definitely has to have a dreamtime significance but it’s meaning and name are lost in time, unless perhaps you’re Larapuna, and if it has a modern one that’s hard to track down too.    It seemed reasonable to suppose that the day use/camping area close by might once have been a place of significance to the original inhabitants who lived in communication with this land.

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Base of the large boulder at Grants Point, Humbug Point Reserve

We stopped here for a while, enjoying the view and the ambience created by the boulders, then contemplated the wisdom of going on. I felt both relief and failure when we turned around.  This time I was determined to walk the full extent of Skeleton Cove but again we were assailed by insects and fled off it in a rush, through yet another band of insects, this time mosquitoes.

***

 

Dora Point Beaches (T92, 93, and one unidentified)

Take Two began at the other end of this walk, on Dora Point Beach (T93), just within the northern headland of Kunarra Koona (Georges Bay) and huge breakers were rolling in over the sand bar. I turned sailor, not liking what I saw, and we had a long strategising conversation as we walked to the start of the track, about bars and stormy weather, crossing sandbars at slack water and the history here of dredging and the current breakwater developments we could see taking place at the far end of the beach.  Once, when we were being hammered by a ferocious northerly gale just south of here, both yacht and crew compromised, seeking refuge in Georges Bay had been considered. I’m glad the skipper quickly dismissed this option.

This is also the kind of beach to enjoy from an aesthetic point of view and if you’re a fisher it’s a good place to cast a line, given the piscean through-traffic. But leave your bathers at home. A big body of water enters and departs through a narrowe entrance and the current isn’t to be taken lightly, although that’s how it would surely take you. This great lagoon spreads inland to St Helen’s. The sandbar gets dredged to keep the mouth open and there’s a breakwater that’s led to a  beach blossoming on the southern side of the entrance.

Dora Beach is quite a wide, curvaceous beach with soft white sand and seawater pooled that day in the hollows the outgoing tide had left behind. It’s especially beautiful as you walk north across it to the start of the track. A density of ti tree forest creates an intimate feeling in that corner of the beach, well protected from northerly winds out of both quarters, but I felt it was keeping secrets and when we reached the track we saw it hid a shelter, made from fallen branches, beneath its canopy.  These are surprisingly common on coastal bush walks.

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Dora Point Beach (T 93): pausing to read the ripple lines

We started on the path and rounded the headland and it was not long before we reached a beach divided by an outcrop of boulders into a northern and southern half. Someone had put a sign saying Cash’s Beach above it; a new sign.  (I think it’s T92, Dora Point North in Short’s inventory)  We wondered at its significance and later, talking to a local beach afficiando who knows this area extremely well, his bemusement was much the same as ours.

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We took a relaxing stroll through casurina forest on a beautiful track, at times through  muddy puddles and ti tree groves, and over a small marsupial meadow, scats in abundance and small tunnels in the undergrowth, the boom of the surf and the serenading frogs, so tolerant of the ocean that they also sung from puddles  in the granite boulders, where, on closer inspection, we saw tadpoles and mosquito larvae.

We crossed a little meadow.  We walked through boobiala thickets.  The vegetation ranged from dry loving plants to thirsty plants. There was sometimes moss growing on the granite and lichens on branches, and it was an easy, thoroughly satisfying walk, no significant ups and downs. We passed Grants Rocks, we passed a beacon and we came again to the boulder at Grants Point, where again we sat for a while, gazing out to sea, trying to decipher the memory of the big boulders behind us that we’d past the previous day. It was a Wednesday. There was no one else on the track.

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Isolated  beach, Humbug Point Reserve

Our return walk held two surprises apart from the usual one of the return walk always seeming so much shorter. The geo spotted two more beaches, small and tucked away, difficult to see from the path if you weren’t especially looking and when I checked Short I was satisfied that we had again discovered a beach that was not on the inventory.  The last one we found was Dora Point (T93), which we’d passed without noticing on our way north.  I spied a pair of pied oyster catchers on it and a white buoy that had drifted up on the tide. I carefully snuck down and claimed it for Samos, the pied oyster catchers so intent on foraging that they were none the wiser to my presence, a bit of a coup on an island where the birds are usually jittery.

 

 

 

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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Frederick Henry Bay: Pittwater Nature Reserve: Penna Beach

Touching the Land of the Moomairremener Band

Map of Pittwater

Penna Beach

When you fly into Hobart’s airport, peninsulas of land and bodies of water spread out below.   One of these watery stretches is the large, relatively shallow estuary/lagoon that forms Pitt Water Nature Reserve and Orielton Lagoon (east, and just off this map).  The Coal River, Penna and Iron Creek pour freshwater into it.

This striking body of water is  crossed by McGees Bridge and the Sorell causeway, both tethered to a suburbanised headland in the middle of the lagoon called Midway Point. It enters the sea between Seven Mile Beach spit and Lewisham.

I love the view coming in to land, love crossing the causeways, the seagulls hanging in the sky, the salt spray… but it’s not an area that I’ve ever explored.  I last flew over it a few weeks ago, returning from a postponed yacht delivery in Queensland.  This time I went to the map to find out more about it.  The names of the places surrounding Pitt Water intrigued me – Shark Point Road, Penna and Frogmore Creek.  It was clearly time to go adventuring in the lands of the Oyster Bay and Big River tribes.  The Moomairremener band in particular, spent a lot of time around Pitt Water.  Their presence is there in the middens and quarries they left behind.

At Midway Point we turned right along Penna Road and quickly found ourselves in countryside with the water to our left. Then we turned left along Shark Point Road.

This road runs along the northern shore.  There’s a row of houses, some beautiful, others not, but if you don’t mind the sight of traffic crossing the causeway in the distance, then the northern shore is a secret gem.    The dirt road takes a corner and heads north, up into farmland, home to Highland cattle.

Shark Point Road, it turns out, gets its name because this estuary is much loved by sharks, including the gummy shark.  They come here to forage and to breed.  It’s the nursery for their babies and while they’re unlikely to nibble a kayak I may put on hold indefinitely my plan to paddle its perimetre.  In recognition of its importance to the sharks it was declared their refuge and no-take area in 1995.  There has to be something in this for people, right? These sharks are fished commercially.

We turned around and sought out Penna Beach on this northern shore and found that it’s in a part reserve, part dog exercise zone.  We walked down to it through tussocks and an astonishing diversity of weeds, including box thorn and boneseed.

White shells clad much of the beach and they’re there again in the soil profile behind the beach, along with a thin trail of pebbles denoting an earlier landscape.   We figured this is the same shell layer that is visible at Ralph’s Bay, that beautiful embayment on the Derwent River.  Strolling along its full, extremely skinny extent we also noticed that the rising sea had nibbled into the soils behind the beach so that only the roots of the tussocks and a depth of about about 10 cm of loam defended the land from the fluid invader gaining might millimeter by millimetre.

As we walked along we discovered some lovely  little salt marshes and wetlands behind the beach, although some had an algal infestation.  We didn’t see the little blue butterfly that forages here but we heard some brief birdsong emerging from the tussocks.  I thought the area could have provided a wonderful habitat for nesting birds but I suspect there’s far too much human disturbance for them to make a go of it. It was only later that I discovered that this area is renowned for its salt marsh diversity and rare plant species.

 With an oyster farm tucked into a corner of Pitt Water at Barilla Bay, as well as at Woody Island and Shark Point, along with other human encroachment, such as homes and causeways, water quality has taken a battering.  At least forty different types of fish, including eels, seahorses, pipefish, sharks and rays have been known to glide beneath the surface, some enjoying the seagrass once prolific in the quiet shallows.
There’s a man who, between 1975 and 1995, came to know this area, it’s plants and animals well. Geoff Prestige watched as the banded stingaree, southern conger eel, shot-headed eel, rock ling, pipefish, soldier fish, rock flathead, king barracouta, weedfish and smooth toadfish, once prolific, became rare or vanished completely.   He also observed snails and worms and molluscs, along with other invertebrates quietly vanish.

Once at least seven types of migratory birds flew here from Alaska to enjoy Tasmania’s summer.  This estuary, since 1982, has been a RAMSAR site – in fact, the southernmost site on the East Australasian Flyway but given our interconnected world and development across both hemispheres, this hasn’t stopped numbers plummeting like a distressed stockmarket.

One little known fact about Pitt Water is that it is the home of a tiny, rare  orange seastar (Parvulastra vivipara), one of very few anywhere that gives birth to live young.

People like to fish on the seaward side of McGees Bridge and they like to bird watch at Sorell Causeway and the Waterview Sanctuary.   Levees have messed with the tides that supported Pittwater although there’s a bit more flushing happening these days. Farmers have spread fertiliser on their fields, fostering algal growth in the lagoons.  Dams on the Coal River have stymied freshwater flow.  Seagrass has withered.

This area really symbolises the way we are hammering the lovely world but here’s a small plus.  On all the slender extent of Penna Beach I only found two pieces of plastic litter, and I thought that a small solace.

 

Sources:  Pitt Water and Orielton Lagoon Ramsar site and in particular, the NRM South Report to the Community (2012)  

 

Penna Beach

Penna Beach tussocks and pigface

Wetland behind the beach

Tussocks and erosion

Forestier Peninsula: Lagoon Bay and Two Mile Beach, Bangor

Map Two Mile Beach Bangor
Map: Bangor, Forestier Peninsula  (Source:  Tasmap. Tasmanian map book: southern region, 2007)

Careful With Your Feet Now

Lagoon Bay Beach (Forestier Peninsula)

As I’d walked the Geography Bay beaches it had dawned on me that I was seeing very few birds. When I shared this observation with my friends most would think a little, then remember a couple of birds they’d seen on a rock the day before, or noticed on a beach they’d visited, or comment on seagulls that had been pesky down at the wharf.

This is very different from the year 1798, when Matthew Flinders estimated that there were at least one hundred million short tailed shearwaters within a single flock sighted in Bass Strait. They’re still Australia’s most common seabird but their numbers are nothing like that these days because of habitat loss and predation – especially by snakes and humans. (This Parks and Wildlife brochure explains more about these birds and their challenges.)

My friends’ answers perplexed me. I wondered if we’d normalised the low bird numbers we were seeing. Most of us don’t notice the loss of a particular birdsong from our garden because we don’t know the calls in the first place and we’re barely aware of our disruptive presence on birds when we wander along a beach.

One day earlier this year a notification arrived in my intray. Birdlife Tasmania was going on an expedition to Bangor, a well known farm on the Forestier Peninsula. There would be a beach walk and they’d be monitoring seabirds. I decided that this was a great opportunity to see a magnificent farm with 35 km of beaches and to learn more about shorebirds from those in the know.

And so I went along.

We were a group of about thirteen that hot day. A warm  wind was blowing from the north east and then, in the afternoon (when we were at Swan Lagoon) the sea breeze filled in as is its wont from the south east, bringing a refreshing change.

Matt Dunbabin, the owner, met us and filled us in on the history and environment of the farm, telling us about the damage sustained in the bushfire two years ago and then we set off in convoy, travelling slowly over the farm tracks beside water, across Blackman Plains and through dry sclerophyll forest. We stopped regularly, safari style, to observe birds, to listen to their calls against the backdrop of silence. I felt humbled by everyone’s enthusiasm and knowledge knowing my own to be pitiful.

We came to the airstrip. On a hill behind the headland forming the southern end of Lagoon Beach there was a small wooden house and between this headland and its northerly, forested neighbour, but hidden by scrub, lay Lagoon Beach. It’s possible to camp here and people were. In fact, they’d been coming here regularly for the past 30 years.

The beach was irresistible and while the group broke up and went off to various spots to observe birds I set off to walk it. I was dismayed by the extent of the litter. ‘It’s the worst we’ve seen here,’ said the campers, stopping on their way back up the beach to talk about it. ‘No doubt those storms we had brought this mess in.’  I went back to get some bags and soon the group from WildWays, also a part of the group that day, were also picking up litter.

The campers certainly had a point. There had been storms and in fact 2016 has brought odd weather to Tasmania. When I drafted  this blog post last summer, fires were still burning in the South West World Heritage Area and water storages had fallen beneath a mind boggling 12% through drought, mismanagement and a broken undersea cable that transports hydro electric energy to the mainland.  Then, astonishingly, the north of the state was beset not once but several times by extremely damaging floods.

I saw oyster catchers, Pacific gulls and two hooded plovers as I walked along, sticking as close as possible to the water’s edge. The tide was up and the sand was mostly quite soft. The endangered hooded plover, a tiny, well camouflaged bird that makes its nest in a barely noticeable scoop of sand, breeds here and is susceptible to being wiped out by misplaced human feet, the sniff of a dog or a storm event.

Bangor Lagoon Beach
Lagoon Bay beach

The beach was different from those I’d recently been walking. It was quite wide and apart from plastic bottles with Japanese print on them and other assorted plastic debris that hinted at fishing boats being the source,  I saw an abandoned eggshell that testified to a new bird somewhere in the vicinity. There was a heap of kelp and sometimes the bones of fish, bird and possibly a marsupial. Growing over much of the beach was a prostate, four petalled plant, which I tentatively identified as  sea rocket, a plant with an interesting back story. It seemed to be beach building, shaping the sand into slight dips and hollows and it was being thoroughly serviced by the bees – a bumble bee, honey bees and a small native bee were collecting nectar from its tiny flowers with quiet assiduity.

Bangor Lagoon Beach

There is a small rivulet at the southern end of this beach, running along the bottom of the hillside. The campers had noticed discoloured water around here and a bad smell.  Standing beside it I noticed a fairly empty Hills pesticide container (5l), the potential culprit. It seemed sadly ironic that this beach that would otherwise be so pristine, cared for as it is by environmentally aware owners, suffers, because of human carelessness, in this case probably coming from boats offshore.

It was on this beach that the difficulties posed for beach walkers by private land and rugged shorelines  really hit home. TheList indicates land tenure so that bit is easy. Identifying owners is not, so private land poses an access problem for those of us keen to access hidden beaches, headlands and rocky stretches.

Bangor Lagoon Beach sea rocket.jpg

PART TWO

Two Mile Beach (Forestier Peninsula)

Two Mile Beach Bangor - first peep

‘Two Mile Beach (T 299) is a gently curving 3 km long northeast-facing sandy beach located in 3 km wide North Bay … The bay is bordered by the prominent Cape Paul Lamanon and Monument Point in the north and 138 m high Cape Frederick Hendrick to the east. The beach receives refracted waves which average about 1 m at the shore and maintain a 50 m wide low tide terrace, cut by up to 12 rips during periods of higher waves. It is backed by a continuous foredune, which has a series of blowouts along the northern and central sections, some extending 200 m inland. The dunes are backed by 200 ha Top and Swan lagoons and associated partly drained wetlands, with Swan Lagoon draining out via a small creek at the southeastern end of the beach. Farmland borders and backs the lagoon, with vehicle access to Parrot Point at the southeastern end of the beach.’

Source: https://beachsafe.org.au/beach/tas/sorell/marion-bay/two-mile-beach

I regrouped with those bird watching near the campsite and we were reminded of the importance of not going up into the dunes because of breeding birds. More soberingly, I discovered that the breeding season extends over spring and summer. Human summer holidays happen at absolutely the wrong time of the year for the birds and as for me, I mused yet again about how best to limit beach walking to autumn and winter.

If we were a kinder, less self indulgent species we would quarantine beaches, or at least a goodly number, so that birds are still capable of breeding, nesting and fledging their young. Our presence on beaches is a huge reason for breeding failure.  There are beaches completely exempt to dogs or sometimes limited to particular times of the day but we put no restraints on ourselves.

About nine of us decided to walk up through the dry sclerophyll forest and down to Two Mile Beach. I had the most uncanny sense as we walked there of having been here before, on the wide track up through the forest, and I remembered how once long ago I’d gone with a keen birdwatching friend on a university ornithological weekend. Where the zoologists had placed a mist net back then had been so similar to where we were walking  that just possibly it was in fact the same spot, given that we’d also gone to count shorebirds at Marion Bay, not that far from here.

Two Mile Beach was a vast, impeccable curve of sand – an irresistible walk. Far away it curved and ran out to a point. You could see the surf breaking on the rocks. But we didn’t walk it. We sat on the rocks, some of us in shade, some in the bright, hot sun and ate our lunches and talked, and I discovered that the youngest two members of our group originated overseas – one from Nepal and one from Canada.

A ‘tin dish’ that had been bobbing out in the bay came and anchored close to where we were sitting and the sole occupant began scuba diving along the peaceful reef.

Two Mile Beach Bangor

As we began walking down the beach we noticed a few more things. Litter had been collected, and stockpiled in the corner. Fissure Island – it has a huge fissure separating its two sides one from the other – became visible around the headland.

Looking at the beach profile I think I figured out why dunes on this beach are also building and not receding. The kelp washes up. The sea rocket is nourished by it. It, in turn, nourishes secondary species, of which on this beach there was a profusion – the dunes were healthy and although marram grass was washing up it did not seem to be taking much hold… so many dunes around Tasmania have been damaged by the deliberate planting of marram grass, considered an asset back in the twentieth century.

In single file, out of respect for the birds, we walked carefully across the dunes to Swan Lagoon, brown and brackish. There were more bird species here – black swans, for one. There were  hooded plovers on this beach, some juveniles too, and we counted and identified dead shearwaters – mostly Fluttering Shearwaters, recent arrivals from NZ, I learned, and increasing in numbers, as well as fairy prions and a little penguin. A juvenile Pacific gull with a damaged wing walked ahead of us, doing a short glide each time we got too near. On the way back, as we approached the end of the beach and it feared being cornered, it took fright and managed a longer flight out onto the water where it sank down amongst some other gulls.

It arrived and they departed and I thought it must have drowned because I did not see it leave with them and doubted its strength to do so in any case, and soon there was no evidence of any bird at all on that clear blue water. This passed without comment.  My observation of declining bird numbers was taken as a given, the reasons well known.  We discussed loss of habitat in places like China – either before or after this expedition I heard a man weep on Radio National because of the almost total loss of habitat for migrating birds along China’s Yellow Sea coastline.  I was yet to experience the literally birdless skies I saw from the train as I traversed Asia and Europe by train and yet to read a report from Pakistan about the Indus Flyway (International Migratory Bird Route Number 4).

Again we sat on the rocks while the less heat tolerant members of our group ran across the sand and into the water for a skinny-dip – it was the kind of day and the sort of place that made a swim most compelling.

Bangor has a lovely restaurant, built  after the bushfire, but we were all so engrossed  in enjoying the lovely surroundings, both in and out of the water, on the beach and in the bush, that our progress out was slow and by the time we reached it, it was closing.  I made a note to come back some other time to sample the wine and enjoy the oysters, at that particular moment in time being devastated by POMS up and down the east coast, just another unusual event down here in Tasmania and linked perhaps to the East Australian current flowing so much further south than usual.

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Slideshow:  Two Mile Beach and Swan Lagoon.