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.

Binalong the coves
Down amongst the gulches of Binalong Bay

T91 Skeleton Bay (or South and North Skeleton Coves)

Skeleton Bay.jpg

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.

Grants Point rocks.jpg
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.

Boulder at Grants Point.jpg
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.

Dora Beach.jpg
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.

Cash's Beach.jpg

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.

Beach2 on Dora - Grants walks.jpg
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.


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.


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


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.


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.





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.


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