Derwent River: South Arm Beaches – A two cape walk

Looking for Deliverance, Direction and Hope

Calverts Beach
Source: The List

No Place Safe Enough

South Arm is Calvert country. The name is everywhere and at the eastern entrance to the river the Calverts once had fruit orchards on a farm called Pleasant View.  In  September 1939 they sold it to the army and in 1944 the army built Fort Direction.  The military base extends across both Cape Deliverance  and Cape Direction.

Even down  at the bottom of the world, the idea of falling to the enemy made people jumpy.  That’s why, from 1804, shortly after the colony was established and on into   WWII, a network of batteries and bunkers was built down both shores of the Derwent to where in Storm Bay the river merges with the Southern Ocean.  Standing right at the river’s mouth, Fort Direction and the Pierson’s Point battery were the first line of defence against enemies arriving by way of the Southern Ocean (Tasmanian Times, 25 Feb 2011).

Seacroft Bay and Fort Beach

On one of summer’s more perfect days, Cathy and I set off on a walk along Fort Beach, Seacroft Bay’s only beach.  It was low tide and our ambition was to walk across both capes and on to Hope Beach.  But the army had not responded to my request for permission to traverse military land and we anticipated that our walk would be a brief one that would end abruptly where the beach gave way to military land.

The low dunes backing the beach are infested with marram grass and the river had been nibbling away at them.  Blessington Street runs behind them and the houses here enjoy superb views over the estuary. We chose to walk along the swash, stopping to consider an outcrop of rock emerging from the sand and remarking to each other that we had finally reached the last beach on the Derwent River’s eastern shore.

There was a woman with a dog quite a distance ahead of us.   Beyond her a man took a path up from the beach and disappeared into the bush on to what had to be military land.  If he’d gone that way then so would we.

The dog owner had stripped down to her bathers and was about to plunge into the perfectly transparent water by the time we reached her. We got chatting and she told us it was possible to continue on via the rocks, or alternatively by way of the path the man had taken.   We quickly decided that the rocks would be more adventurous and walked on, undeterred by the sign we saw on the beach.

There be toxic matters here.jpg

Passing four pied oyster catchers, I wondered about the impact of toxic waste on the birds who call by and unwittingly spread toxicity further afield and on those birds who make their summer residence here and possibly bury into it.

Cape Deliverance

The rocky platform at the base of Cape Deliverance was beautiful, the pools rich with kelp and seaweed. It was tessellated in places and there were dropstones and small formations that the geo later suggested were probably remnants of an earlier rock platform.

Soon we came to the kind of risky gulch that has you wishing you’d remembered to bring a first aid kit along, just in case.  A little later we walked around a point and were elated to see the Iron Pot lighthouse right ahead of us, at the end of the low lying reef.

Remnant from earlier times and the light.jpg
The Iron Pot light and the possible remnant from an earlier rock platform now weathered away

Pot Bay

This was not the only surprise.  In Pot Bay, tucked between the two capes, there was another beach.  While Fort Beach gives every impression of being the last beach, this secret beach appeared to hold that honour.  Obviously I hadn’t been too observant when sailing passed this area, perhaps because it’s not possible to sail between the capes and the Iron Pot.  There’s that dodgy reef and sometimes there are cray pots off it, so it pays to have ample sea room.

Marram grass hadn’t made as much of an inroad on this beach’s dunes. Native vegetation still owned them. Cathy pointed out that we were not the first to have visited that day. There were footprints: human, dog and bird.

Tucked away beside the dunes we found a structure made from driftwood and plastic debris and after enjoying it  we carried on walking along this largely litter free beach.

Pots Bay and its beach.  The Derwent, Hobart and kunanyi in the background.

Pot Bay hideaway.jpg

The Last Beach on the Derwent

Beyond Pots Beach we found another, even smaller beach (T 414, Short 2006).  Although little more than a 80 m cove below Cape Direction, it is the beach that actually has the honour of being the last beach on either side of the river.

The last beach on the eastern shore.jpg
The last beach

Tackling Cape Direction

That small beach was so protected we couldn’t get all the way around the rocks because of a fairly dramatic drop off and so we decided to do like mountain goats and scramble up the cliff. I was still picking my path upwards when Cathy disappeared from view. Although I was sure I’d have heard her if she’d fallen over the edge, I tried peering over the edge to make sure she wasn’t spreadeagled on the rocks below. I called her once and then I called her again, this time a whole lot louder.

She appeared above me and said she’d found a path. Trusting that no snakes were sunbaking in this vicinity, we made our way through tall grass and scrub to a path that led around the headland, taking cover when we noticed a Toyota 4×4 heading towards us.   Behind us, and way up on Fort Hill, there are Defence Dept buildings and houses. The Toyota must have seen us but as no one accosted us we continued on our way.

Ahead we could see signs and a small concrete building. Later I read that:

‘The naval command [lived] on the hill at Fort Direction. These men had to carry out watch over the entrance to the harbour. A small weather board building of four rooms was constructed on the top of the hill with the adjacent flag pole for the raising of signal flags. A watch was maintained 24 hours a day from 1940 – 1945.  As many as fifteen naval personnel lived in quarters just below the top of the hill.’ (Potter, RSL website)

The signs warned about asbestos in this vicinity but beyond them there were cliff top views to die for, so as a vague protection I held my phone in front of my nose. The sea breeze hadn’t yet roused itself and we figured any asbestos left on the surface was dormant today and must surely have been blown far and wide by now, or was beneath ground lining shearwater burrows. It was easier to simply not think about the other nasty chemicals we might be exposing ourselves too but instead to focus on the quite dramatic views of the Iron Pot and Bruny Island from this high vantage point. They were heady, and so we lingered.

As we searched around for an onward path we discovered that there were middens up and a steeply plunging cliff face on the north eastern side with a pebbled cove beneath it. We could now see all the way along the cliff line to Hope Beach.  Hope looked so close yet so unattainable.

Headlands are tricky for walkers because the way can be barred by private land, but being military land we didn’t want to find ourselves in the middle of an explosives test.  There were fences and box thorn and no doubt moon bird burrows, and although it was conceivable we might find a way, we decided on balance that we would turn back.  I wondered about kayaking the capes and then I remembered one particular time I’d sailed them.

Cape Direction cove east.jpg
Midden in foreground.  Beneath the cliff the cobbled cove.  Hope Beach in the distance


The Capes by Sea

The fleet stretched out ahead of us one balmy Saturday on the return leg of a long distance race around Betsey Island.  We were towards the back of the fleet, the conditions favouring lighter yachts and we were sailing excitingly close to the surf break off Hope Beach.

We were off Cape Direction when we observed that the boats out ahead of us had heeled dramatically.  The big blue Beneteau liked rough weather.  When lighter yachts heeled, she’d barely lean, but this southwesterly was intent on causing havoc.  Much earlier in the day the frustration had been a long period becalmed  while the rest of the fleet sailed a sneaky breeze.

We hadn’t even considered reefing before the wind whammed into us and the yacht heeled like I’d never experienced her heel before.  Suddenly the cliffs and the Iron Pot, on what was now a lee shore, seemed exceedingly close and the normally laid back crew leapt into action with alacrity.  There was a cacophony of yells to ‘down traveller!’ ‘main out!’ and  ‘reef!’  And where there were usually one pair of hands on a line there was now the urgency of many, some at cross-purposes.

As we made it around both capes and the Iron Pot with sufficient sea room to keep us safe, the wind swung behind us, the crew grew animated with unanticipated hope and the yacht, now sailing in far more favourable conditions, began to power up steadily through the fleet.

Iron Pot the reef and Bruny Island 2 (1).jpg
The Iron Pot, the reef and Bruny Island in the distance. Beach T414 below.


Making Like a Ghost

Cathy and I  turned back (but If you’re planning to walk further than us  then see below for a couple of tips.)

This time we took the path that ran along the cliff top passed the shearwater colonies and in so doing bypassed the Lone Pine Memorial where a dawn service is held each  ANZAC Day. At various points we tried short cuts but we didn’t want to damage burrows and the hollows behind the dunes roared ‘Snakes!’ at us and so we kept out.

There was something quite old time about taking the neat path we found over a fully mown hill as though we were on a clear road to somewhere, like walkers between villages in the olden days. The sweep up Fort Hill was devoid of people until we crested a rise and saw not very far away from us the same white Toyoto we’d seen earlier. Three people were bent over, working silently at some incomprehensible task, apparently just as eager to ignore us, while we, trying to avoid them, searched again (but more frantically) for a short cut off military land and on to the beach.

They were only about 10 metres away from us anyway, and we were beginning to feeling foolish.  Tired of feeling like ghosts we called out, ‘are you conservation volunteers?’

‘Army,’ they said, avoiding eye contact, and turned back to fencing a tiny tree (a lone pine?) behind a small monument while we stood about a metre away photographing the little memorial in front of the tree with its engraving of the Dardenelles. Then, feeling as though we had transformed into ghosts again, we carried on down the path back on to Pot Bay Beach.

Au revoir, timtumili minanya

We had stood at the mouth of the Derwent (known before settlement as timtumili minanya to at least some of those living along its banks).  Ocean beaches and headlands stretched out to the east.  Our walk had included two capes and and had taken us from the river to the meeting place on the eastern shore of the Derwent River, Frederick Henry Bay and Storm Bay with three of the Betsey Island group of islands – Betsey, Little Betsey (hidden from our vantage points) and the Iron Pot just off shore. From this point on we’d be walking ocean beaches all the way to the mouth of Pittwater Lagoon, but we thought we might just have a go at seeing if we could walk Cape Direction from the Hope Beach side.


Tips:  If you don’t want to sail or  kayak the capes, you can  actually walk all the way around to Hope Beach.  According to Greg Faull’s blog post it’s possible.  The Pandani Walking Club website also discusses this option but indicates that it can be precarious:

‘Thu 17 Aug South Arm to Cape Direction Grade: Easy Map reference: Blackmans Bay 1:25k Book by: 8:00pm Wed 16 Aug Start at: 10:45am at car park opposite South Arm War Memorial Group limit: 20 Bring: The usual daywalk gear This is an easy walk from South Arm to Cape Direction opposite the Iron Pot Lighthouse along a newly made track and the fore shore. We will do it `out and back` rather than as a circuit, avoiding the steep box thorn and mutton bird burrow ridden climb up from the western end of Hope Beach and precarious cliff top walk to the cape. It is an easy 4 hour walk with time for coffee at `The Sand Bar` on the way home. There are magnificent panoramic views, especially from the cape.’

* This is an Aboriginal name for the Derwent River, found in the Tasmanian Aboriginal gallery at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.  Interestingly, the spelling for the people living along the western shore is given as Muwinina, which is different to the spelling I’ve found in other sources.

Walking Cape Direction

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.


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.



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.


Glenvar Beach.jpg
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.


Glenvar beach boatshed.jpg
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.

Glenvar Beach heading around to Pigeon Holes.jpg
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.

Pigeon Holes cliffs.jpg
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.

View from Half Moon Beach of South Arm.jpg
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





Derwent River Beaches: The Missing Link – Taroona to Taronga Road

Walking the Western Shore of the Derwent River: Taroona to Taronga

Eucalypts II

(This is a continuation from an earlier post)

‘There’s a new bit of track on the Derwent River,’ a friend told me earlier this week. ‘It hasn’t been open long at all and the council hasn’t advertised it yet.’

I realized that the trail she was talking about was the much needed link between Hinsby Beach and Taronga Road and so as soon as I had a moment, I went to see for myself.  And it was true. The track now leaves Hinsby Beach, involves a short walk along Wandella Avenue, then ducks down into a stretch of forest before emerging at the Shot Tower, where the vegetation is compromised by weeds but the path enlivened by river views across to South Arm.  This is a stretch I’d chosen to cycle because walking on major thoroughfares at a distance from the river is an unrewarding experience.

Ship off South Arm from Alum Cliffs

Walked in Feb 2017 after Sundra advised me about this new track.
The Shot Tower, Taroona

A steep stretch of downhill comes next, and then an equally steep stretch of uphill. It’s actually not too much of a slog at all and I sat at the table at the top with the geo, enjoying the views before walking along the cliffs, then turning back and doing it all again from the other direction.

Walked in Feb 2017 after Sundra advised me about this new track.
The steep section of the track

There’s a clue to why this short piece of track may have taken so long to come into being and my guess is that landowners needed encouragement. ‘Private Property – Keep out’ signs – even one ‘Bloody Keep Out’ sign, line the fences on either side, a small sadness really, when contrasted with the UK and some other European countries where rights of way across private land are well established, well accepted and enrich communities… and I speak as someone with a right of way across our land – it’s never been an issue.

Until you reach the bottom of Taronga Road where this track links in with the Alum Cliffs walk, it feels rather disconnected from the water. But it does provide continuity with other paths and coastal strips and so it is fantastic that someone  with initiative on the council has managed to work with the community to create this short but pleasant path.

The path crosses two rivulets, but these participators in the making of this landscape had vacated their beds. The shapes of tiny waterfalls were visible on one, and the rivulet it flows into was napping in a few residual pools.

Walked in Feb 2017 after Sundra advised me about this new track.

Walked in Feb 2017 after Sundra advised me about this new track.
A stroll in the forest between Wandella Avenue and the Shot Tower

Derwent River: The Tinderbox Peninsula

A Different Sort of Tasmanian Beach: Hard, hidden and hostile

Whole sign Tinderbox Hills
Tinderbox Hills Trail: signage delineating the peninsula

The Tinderbox Peninsula, approximately 5.5 km long, points south east and rises steeply from the water.  It’s forested with eucalypts that make their living on hungry soil and its cliffs make the Alum Cliffs look positively inviting.  What’s more, they shoulder into at  least three bodies of water:  the Derwent, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and North West Bay.  I think it’s reasonable to add a fourth because water pays no heed to lines in the sand. Storm Bay is supposed to come to a halt a tiny bit south at Dennes Point, North Bruny Island but I think it exercises free will in this regard.  Tinderbox is not outside its orbit.

If you take the lovely walk along the Tinderbox Hills Trail (see sign above), following the backbone of the peninsula the views of all this water – all the same water really – are pretty spectacular.

Looking across the Derwent, South Arm Peninsula and Ralphs Bay to Frederick Henry Bay from the Tinderbox Hills
Tinderbox Hills looking se
The south west view to Tasman Peninsula from the Tinderbox Hills

South Africa (once my homeland) has one vast and  magnificent peninsula, the Cape Peninsula, which is justly famous.  There, mountains plummet into the sea. But Tasmania is an island of water bodies, peninsulas, isthmuses, mountains, lakes and islands. And there is quite a lot that is special about this particularly scenic peninsula.  The white gums and blue gums that push their roots deep into the usually dry ground provide a livelihood for the forty spotted pardalottes, green rosellas and swift parrots.  These trees are an endangered habitat and it makes for endangered birds.

This is a coastline I’ve mostly sailed along, both in calms and in gales.  When you’re sailing along these Tasmanian beaches and the wind is from the west you can find yourself in a wind shadow along here.  Conversely if it’s whipping across from the east beware this lee shore.  One wintery night stands out.  We’d been becalmed and then, passing Blackmans Bay  a sinister, warm wind flowed over the beach and curled around the corner,  a portent that as a rookie with a pretty sketchy knowledge of winds and landforms I noted with unease.  We were becalmed again off Tinderbox, left far behind by the rest of the fleet, but what, two of us had been wondering, might be awaiting us in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel when we emerged from the shelter of the cliffs beside us?  It had to be, and it was, total pandemonium.

Birngana long distance race off Tinderbox
Birngana off Passage Point, Tinderbox Peninsula

Conversely, on the day this photo was taken I wasn’t on Birngana, the boat I was crewing on some time later. I was at Boat Sales, finalising the purchase of Samos, but after that was done I drove along the Peninsula to see how the long distance race was panning out.  Birngana was in the vicinity of Passage Point, heading for home and an easy win.  We were well positioned to win the whole series but a week or two later disaster struck and there would be no more racing.

On board they could see the cliffs and the beaches, which from the road aren’t visible at all.  They could see the cliff top houses in their spacious grounds – although, focussed on victory perhaps they were not looking.  And there was one building that would  certainly pass unnoticed, no matter how hard they looked for it.

Some people build themselves castles (even in Tasmania) but a South African millionaire decided to build himself  ‘a boozy bunker’ – a tunnel and a cave worth millions, behind the cliffs – as you do.  A place to party, to drink and to feast.   There’s a door (disguised by a veneer of  sandstone) that opens on to a rocky platform.  You’d never know it was there.

And here’s another thing.  For a long time it was supposed that the waters of the Derwent feed the D’Entrecasteaux Channel but actually, it’s mostly the other way around – channel waters predominantly feed the Derwent.  (This is something Christine Coughenowr, Manager of the Derwent Estuary Program) explained to members of the Cruising Yacht Club of Tasmania at a meeting recently.)

Another observation from sailing this shoreline – as you enter the relatively small opening to the channel between Tinderbox and North Bruny Island, the depth decreases quite dramatically, just briefly.  Imagine a different geography, with Tinderbox and the island connected. During the last Ice Age you could have strolled across to Bruny Island, rather than paddling your canoe.  Bruny would have been a long, ‘isthmused’ extension of the Tinderbox Peninsula.

Along the Derwent River side of the peninsula the Tinderbox beaches are mostly inaccessible, mostly cobbled.  They are my kind of beach – the type you have to go searching for.

And so I did.

Derwent River: Blinking Billy to Hinsby Beach – Part 4

Sandy Bay’s wild side

A selection of photographs from Sandy Bay’s hidden shoreline.


Cement waterfall
Blinking Billy Beach 3. Disturbing structure


Once were steps
Steps to nowhere. Blinking Billy Beach 3 section


Another lonely boathouse
Another lonely boat shed
Detail with red brick
Detail, Blinking Billy Beach 3, southern end


Parties held long ago
Blinking Billy Beach 3


Blinking Billy 3 section old rails
On the Blinking Billy Beach 3 section


Boat on platform


Over the pebbles, over the sand, back to the reefs

Stepping down to the river

Private access, southern end of Blinking Billy Beach 3


Geology, Blinking Billy beach 3, southern point
Unconsolidated cliff.  Blinking Billy beach 3, southern point


Blinking Billy 3 from the south
Looking back at Blinking Billy beach 3 section


Gulls and yacht
Near Mitah Crescent;  yacht with the spinnaker


More steps
Before Mitah Crescent – structures on Blinking Billy Beach 3 southern end


View over my shoulder
Blinking Billy Beach 3


On the other side
Looking back at the beach shed and boulder at Mitah Crescent


Last Sandy Bay stretch pink deck
Mitah Crescent to Taroona section



South towards Taroona
After Mitah Crescent





Blinking Billy to Hinsby Beach – Part 2: Geography Bay Beaches

 Into the Volcano

June, 2015

I woke with a huge sense of anticipation about this next walk, keen to get going, but  the aroma of coffee filled the kitchen, scrambled eggs were on offer and the woodheater warmed the house.  The flame robin in the garden seemed an auspicious omen and so I breakfasted at home in preference to stopping by a Long Beach cafe.

I saw yachts sailing  before a light northerly breeze as I approached my starting point. The sky was a milky dome of cloud and the landscape was quiet and dreamy.  It stayed that way all day and the  mountain was hidden from view except for occasional glimpses of forested flank through small gaps in the clouds.

There were plovers on the beach and a lone cormorant fishing as I set off down the path from Long Beach and soon I was swinging around Blinking Billy Point into Geography Bay, the old lighthouse on my right pressed up against the houses, past the old search light and the Charles Darwin Cliffs and down on to Blinking Billy Beach, the small waves breaking on the pebbles and little sand evident because the winter river had drowned the beach.

I had not always known this was the case.  I thought it’s disappearance indicated climate change, but the Salty Seadog had once told me it went submarine in winter.  On rough, wintry days the beach makes music, the cobbles rolling in the waves. The  Salty Seadog writes music and plays music so I guess it’s her kind of beach.


Blinking Billy Beach 1: the view from the north
Blinking Billy Beach 1: the view from the north

I’d walked this coastline by the time I discovered Lena Lencek’s  book The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth (2009) as an audio recording on Scribd, my new favourite app.  She’d spent her childhood in Trieste, enjoying the Adriatic coast and then her family moved to the USA and she got to know vastly different kinds of beaches.  Listening to this book at night, speakers in my ears, I learned about pocket beaches, and the landscape I was walking fell into place.

A pocket beach is normally a fairly thin, crescent shaped beach nestled between rocky headlands. It’s possible to find strings of them along coastlines – beach, headland, beach – and although they are sedimentary (the sand, shell and pebbles laid down in beautiful layers by water)  the headlands, and the rocky platforms at their feet, isolate the beaches from each other, and that means they can be subjected to different types of beach making and breaking processes, like the angle of waves and higher tides in winter which often cause them to disappear.  (And if, like me, you’d forgotten that tides are higher in winter, it’s because the sun, like the moon, has an influence on tides and in winter we’re tilted further away from the sun and so it’s gravitational pull is much slacker and the tides aren’t drawn back quite as much.)

I was so excited by this concept of pocket beaches that I just had to enlighten the geologist.  ‘I’m sure Blinking Billy is a pocket beach,’ I enthused.

He looked at me bemused. ‘We’re surrounded by pocket beaches,’ he said. ‘There are heaps of pocket beaches along the Derwent.  Name any one.  Chances are it’s a pocket beach.’  And thus began a second lesson in all things pocket beach and Derwent River.  I listened, but at the same time I was hatching a plan  to subvert the concept – each beach in my pocket.  I ordered vials off Etsi and began to gather each beach’s signature, it’s fingerprint in these tiny bottles.  Because this is the thing – the sand on each beach is different and after all, one day these beaches will really drown.

It’s a short walk from one end of the first Blinking Billy beach to the other but a little longer when the sand is submerged and you’re walking on cobbles.  At the far end I made a voice memo: ‘I’m about to go where I have never been before’.  That was because I’ve always been here with dogs, and I’ve always stopped obediently at the sign commanding no dogs to go any further because of seabird habitat.

Blinking Billy Beach 1: view from the south
Blinking Billy Beach 1: view from the south

I may never have been here but I knew that Darwin had.  He’d sailed into Hobart  on the Beagle in 1836 and been pretty unimpressed with the town initially but this changed as walked about.  He headed up the mountain, guided by the Sandy Bay Rivulet (my first recorded walk), he walked along the river’s eastern shore where I’m currently spending a bit of time  and he walked this coastline too.  I felt he was a suitable companion in spirit because he had the observant eye I lack and was able to make sense of the Derwent’s complex geology in a way I could not.  He’d named kunanyi/Mt Wellington Table Mountain, after another mountain I have lived beneath and his grandfather Erasmus and my sister both made Lichfield their home.  If he was up for a little idle chatter, conversation should flow. And there were moments on this walk when the landscape felt so timeless I felt I could well have encountered him contemplating pebbles and stones on some of the wilder sections.

Such was his observant eye that on his fifth day here he found volcanic rocks near Blinking Billy Point on his walk from Battery Point to Sandy Bay and realized that the cliff revealed two lava flows and that volcanic rocks lay strewn about. ‘Hah!’ was his reaction (or something like this).  ‘I’m standing in the eroded heart of an ancient volcano!’  He figured this out way back then yet many locals are unaware of this even today.

I’d stumbled into the heart of the volcano often and unknowingly, oblivious to the story the Charles Darwin cliffs were telling, more concerned about the smelly water that seems to be deposited straight onto the concrete path from a house above the cliffs and so the fact that Hobart is situated on the remnants of a volcano was news to me when, after this walk, I tried to make sense of it all.  The reef extending out to the John Garrow Light is an old lava flow and fault lines abound through this area.

I rounded the point at the end of the beach.  There, before my eyes, was another beach – Blinking Billy Beach 2, according to Short or Half Moon Bay, according to Leaman (1999).  In the distance, a man in a red jumper was throwing sticks for his dog.  I navigated a bit more reef and cobbles then stepped on to the sand.

The reef between Blinking Billy Beaches 1 & 2
The reef between Blinking Billy Beaches 1 & 2 (aka Half Moon Bay)

A cockatoo flew overhead, yelling for its mob.  And then again more pebbles and then another sandy stretch and another six private stairways down onto the beach.   I noticed a rivulet.  This is poor little Folder Rivulet, according to Andrew Short, emerging out of its drain into sunlight, unloved and disregarded, too tiny to matter.  (I watched this little rivulet being bulldozed unceremoniously into its drain, back in the day.  It looked so wrong it hurt.  And recently I returned to its valley to try to discover how much of it can still be seen above ground.  Not much.)  We communed, the rivulet and I, and then I took photos of beautiful conglomerate rocks and and made another voice memo:

I’m on another sandy cove with some interesting old beach structures. It’s quite a long sandy cove with a rocky reef in the centre of it.  As I walked along the second stretch of sand a white speed boat came up river and the yacht I’d thought was leading the race (they rounded the buoy at Nutgrove all bunched up) has proceeded on down the river with its spinnaker up… this is such a lovely walk.’

Blinking Billy Beach 2 from the north
Blinking Billy Beach 2 from the north

And it was true; I felt elated, thrown back into childhood recollections of The Famous Five and their explorations which we tried to mimic on holidays on South Africa’s eastern seaboard.  I felt invigorated by a sense of adventure and discovery and on this beach there were so many new discoveries – new perspectives of the river and tiny, exquisite details.


Tiny blue periwinkles BB2

Here’s the southern end of the beach, and the man and the dog had already disappeared around the corner.

Southern end of Blinking Billy beach 2
Southern end of Blinking Billy beach 2


Blinking Billy Beach 2 from the south
Blinking Billy Beach 2 from the south

The reef at this end of the beach held my attention for quite some time.  The rocks were interesting, human debris, although depressing, also managed to look artistic and  I began to do a little bit of amateur geological sleuthing perplexed by rocks that didn’t always seem to belong together – sedimentary, conglomerate and igneous, worn red bricks, smashed and violently weathered rock, unconsolidated slopes, conglomerates of modern material – and delicate combinations of life forms were represented here or lay ahead of me.


Found on Blinking Billy Beach 2
Found on Blinking Billy Beach 2
Beach detail.
Beach detail.


When I reached the next point there was a yellow unconsolidated cliff, a wall someone had built beneath it, and a rosy coloured boulder near an intrusion.

I was seriously losing track of where I was in relation to Blinking Billy beach numbers as devised by Andrew Short (see The Book Shelf) and I hadn’t got very far at all.  I was lost in thoughts to do with defining beaches –  how much sand do you need before you have a cove?  How much before you have a beach?  Were the long stretches of boulders and pebbles actually beaches at all or just the bits in between?

And did it even matter where beaches began and ended scientifically, subjectively or according to the whimsy of the tides when I was engrossed in the landscape, entranced by the huge views and fabulous details – utterly blown away by the wild grandeur so totally divorced, below the cliffs from the houses  in some other more banal, irrelevant world up top?

This coastline is divine but also tragic because it’s along here that the mouheenener once walked with confidence, and after their lands had been taken that traumatised families would have retreated.

To be continued…


Leaman, David. 1999. Walk into history in Southern Tasmania. Lehman Geophysics, Hobart

Royal Society of Tasmania, Charles Darwin in Hobart Town, edited by Margaret Davies, Hobart, Royal Society of Tasmania, 2009.


Tasmanian Beaches: Reflections 1

MONDAY 11 MAY 2015


One the shores of the Derwent

A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. 
Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

As soon as we got home from  the Arm End walk I grabbed a coffee and began to research the Tasmanian coastline.  Someone must have written up their beach walks around Tasmania!  My sleuthing uncovered someone Walking the Derwent River, a group walking the beaches in Clarence, and Andrew Short, who has recorded all of Tasmania’s beaches as well as the entire coastline of Australia.  As soon as I saw the title of his report I realised I’d seen it before – and so I rang the geologist and suggested he visit the library.  (There is nothing like a library – the next day I had it!)

The State Library of Tasmania holds tantalising titles too, and I’m conscious at the same time that although I had to dive deep into the internet to uncover sunken treasure it’s many fathoms deep and oceans vast, and there could well be further riches down there in someone’s lost, forgotten blog.

I flipped through Short’s illuminating report.  Mary Ann wasn’t one long beach.  She did have a companion, the one apparently nameless that I’m going to personally call (serious nomenclature being one for the state) Gellibrand Vault Beach.  Down at The Spit there were two other beaches I’d either not noticed sufficiently or had failed to record.  I’m pretty sure locals must call them North and South Spit beaches.

He’d also numbered the beaches along the Derwent Estuary. I’m often on them.  How could I not include these old favourites?  I looked at my chart of the Derwent, I consulted maps.   I thought about the mountain and how it conjures up weather and serves up magic or sorcery for yachties, how when you’re out there sailing, you have to keep your eye on it so you know what might be brewing.  The river is inextricably bound to the mountain, not just through the wind but because rivulets carrying altitudinal memories and stories flow down into it, bringing their own unique chemistries to the Derwent.

The mountain’s personal space extends some way out to sea – you feel its moods, it’s muscle flexing.  How could I not take all that into account?  I looked again at Andrew Short’s incredible number, 1,067, and quickly remembered that in all things, small is beautiful. Perhaps 100 beaches was a more suitable goal.  Perhaps I should focus on a particular locale.  I decided to make my mistakes close to home and start with the beaches of the Derwent and the South Arm Peninsula, possibly even the D’entrecasteau Channel, but I didn’t dare count them.

I had walked several beaches before I realised the beginning was merely symbolic.  Exploring the beaches, laying down memories about them, began on my first visit to Tasmania many years ago.

Still, I felt that before I began on the beaches not that far from my front door, I needed to know more about that beautiful thing, the river, its currents and waves, which along with the wind shapes the shoreline, and the small but powerful rivulets that merge and become one with it.

This project was proving to be as shapeshifting as the beaches themselves.

Detail, Grange Beach section

Derwent River: South Arm Peninsula Walk: Arm End Walk

10 May 2015

Mr Gellibrand’s Temporary Tenure

Conditions: SW wind about 15-20 knots, tide going out.

Clarence Map
The walk we did is in the area that is red on the map

After our impulsive breakfast decision to head out to South Arm Peninsula (see previous entry), we gathered up the dogs and set off knowing only that there was a walk at the end of the peninsula but not much more about it.  We supposed it would take a mere 30 minutes to walk that stretch of coastline.

The peninsula forms the southern end  of the Derwent River’s eastern shore, on the far side of the low lying isthmus at Lauderdale, a suburb at the eastern end of Ralphs Bay.  Somewhat uncertainly, and without consulting a map, I’d thought this might be where I’d choose to start my coastal walks from.

There are no real suburbs on the peninsula, just a couple of communities, farmland and conservation areas.  South Arm Peninsula has many varied beaches – some coastal, some on the Derwent Estuary and quieter ones in Ralphs Bay.  If this was a day  in the last interglacial (about 125 million years ago) we’d be climbing in a boat and heading out to a series of islands and as there is evidence of current sea level rise this will eventually be the case again.

We crossed the isthmus and then we were on to the peninsula and turning right for Opossum Bay.  There’s a small collection of homes and beach shacks here, many with their foundations right on the diminishing strip of beach itself.  There’s a corner store and not much more.  It’s quaint, it’s quiet and from this part of the peninsula looking north there are the most riveting views across the Derwent River back towards Hobart and the mountain. Looking south you can see the western shore receding south to Storm Bay and Bruny Island.

We crossed the equally low lying but skinnier isthmus called South Arm Neck and continued through Opossum Bay and on to what was once pastoral land but is now, south of the recreation reserve, giving way to a subdivision of new homes and that’s where we parked our car.  A sign right there announced the start of the  Arm End walk.

South Arm sign
The walk begins

We were rugged up against the cold and across the river the mountain loomed, snow still on its peak from the big dump the previous week.  These were some of the observations we made to each other as we walked along the track above the coastline:

~ There are an awful lot of different weeds invading this landscape.

~ This is a fantastic walk to do with dogs.

~ This walk is going to take us more than 30 minutes.

~ Are we doing this right? (This was me.  I was beginning to realise that a plan written on a finger nail was no plan at all.  I now saw that many compromises might.  For instance, we were enjoying following the path that made its way over grassy paleo dunes, but the actual shoreline was hidden beneath us.  I wanted to walk along the edge.

We thought that, if you put to one side the knowledge that you were not going to stumble upon a village, strike a lane or happen across a pub the walk felt a bit like rambling through the countryside in England.

Beginning of the path

The path reached the cliff edge. Peering over I saw that the option of rock hopping the shoreline in between sauntering beaches was clearly not realistic.  And when we came to our first beach, a dark, cobbled and fairly short one (I discovered later that this was the western end of Mitchells Beach), I failed my first test.  I wanted to go down and put my feet on its sand but the slope looked friable and what might have been a slithery exercise for me was potentially ruinous for the slope.

Mitchells Beach

’Do that one on the way back,’ the geologist suggested and on we walked.  My first beach – opportunity missed!  But from this view another beach to the east (further back along our path) was also evident, possibly separate, possibly the eastern end of Mitchells. We came to a radio transmitter station at White Rock Point and this view up the Derwent River (see below).


There are some perspectives from this area where the river looks like a gigantic lake with small settlements, the city and single households spread across the hills, a known geography strangely altered.  I sail along this coastline, but now, looking down at the river from a new vantage point, and seeing this lovely sailing ground spread out all about me, it felt good to be enjoying the water from a different perspective.

Looking north to the entrance to Ralphs Bay

We hopped through compromised vegetation (weeds and litter) and down the eroding dunes, marram pelted, on to the beach at Mary Ann Bay.This is a bay that’s a popular day anchorage and it can get  crowded with yachts.  It’s where I once let myself down by reversing far to fast on someone else’s boat while we were anchoring.  Now I could see (at least with the tide we had) that it’s a slender beach, quite enigmatic, darkened by dolerite, and there’s a lot of litter among the belt of cobbles that lie at the base of the cliff.  We realised most of it would be swept this way from the city when the wind is blowing from the north west and the tide is running out. (I made a mental note to include rubbish bags as part of my beach walking equiment from now on.) Although I know the winch handle that we accidentally dropped overboard last summer would most likely have ended up on Bellerive Beach, I scrutinised the debris on the off chance it had circumnavigated the Derwent.  I didn’t find our winch handle but I did find a small yellow super ball and claimed it to save a bird from swallowing it.  So here’s a shout out.  Mary Ann needs friends! She’s being strangled by Hobart’s litter.

Mary Ann asphyxiating under litter


Mary Ann: Looking north
Mary Ann Bay: Eroding semi-consolidated cliffs

We walked along Mary Ann and at the end scrambled up the cliff to where the caesurinas grow.

Caesurinas, cliffs and rocky shores above Mary Ann

I also discovered a small reef, clear and precise amongst the white caps off Mary Ann.  I think it’s the two tiny black dots that are noted on the nautical chart but are very easy to overlook or to miss altogether on a higher tide when you’re sailing along chatting with friends and not paying sufficient attention.

Looking north along Mary Ann under variable skies

The next beach along the route is still Mary Ann, I think, but I was fast discovering that beach identification is a bit of an art.  There was a sign that said Gellibrand Vault on the map I found later online (see link at top) but at the time we walked along it I assumed it was the northern part of Mary Ann.  We discovered the vault itself and climbed up the slope to take a peek.  Mr Gellibrand was the first land owner in this area.  I later read he loved to sit in this spot to enjoy the view.  The words testify to his good nature and it does have a fabulous view but it’s likely that in the fullness of time the dune in which his body rests may slide inadvertently into the river.

Mr Gellibrand’s Vault
Walking Mary Ann

This beach does in fact have friends.  There are new plants in green plastic casings.  They are trying to stabilise the dunes.  Like Mary Ann, it’s beauty is also marred by litter.  It’s narrow too, and at the end, where a cliff barricades the way, someone had placed a vertical series of small round cobbles along a ridge of rock.  It made me pay attention.  I enjoyed a moment contemplating my surroundings.  I looked across the river, trying to imagine what it was like to be Moomairremener because this was their domain and I have no doubt the land would be happier if that was still the case – just ask Mary Ann.  I imagined the suburbs gone and the forests on kunanyi’s foothills still pristine, the smoke rising from the fires made by the Mouheneener tribe on the western shore, their known world ending and another about to assume its place, the first omens the ships, the second their settlement at Risdon Cove.

Landcare trying to stem the damage
On the Gellibrand Vault part of the beach, looking south
Looking across the river to kunanyi / Mt Wellington
Looking south back the way we’d come

It was an easy walk the rest of the way to Gellibrand Point but we were definitely taking more than 30 minutes.  When we got there, and stood looking back the way we’d come, across the water westward to the mountain, north to Droughty Point and even further upriver where rain was falling north of the bridge, we had a decision to make: continue the circuit or backtrack along our route, visiting the beach(es) we’d missed.  On the off chance that somewhere we could cut across and do a figure of eight I agreed to continue and I’m glad we did although we didn’t cross back over and Mitchells has been put aside until another time.

Looking north to Ralphs Bay under darkening skies
Gellibrand view north
The view from Gellibrand Point into Ralphs Bay

There was long grass on either side of the track and periodically the sudden dark blur of a mouse, perhaps native antechinus, disappearing into the undergrowth,  and flocks of birds on the slender spit extending into Ralph Bay’s still waters.  Far away to the south I could just make out a catamaran against a background of  trees.

Small wetland and The Spit: tranquility in the lee of the peninsula

We saw the radio transmitter on the far side of the point and then it was lost again behind a low hill in the centre of the nature reserve and shortly afterwards we reached a corral we guessed was designed with sheep in mind.  We descended down to the boggy edge of Shelly Beach.

Towards the stockyards
Native flora (epacris impressa?)

It was so sheltered and so shallow and the bottom glistened with white shells.  We paused to consider a surprising discovery – a  dense layer of shell sandwiched between layers of dark soil in the bank behind the beach, meandering delicately the extent of the bank.

‘I’ve been here before,’ said the geologist.  It had been a field trip with an archaeologist we know, to consider whether this was a vast kitchen midden or a natural deposit eons ago.  They’d decided it was too extensive to be a midden and there was not enough evidence of fire in the layer with the shells.

The shallows (Shelly Beach)
The shallows (Shelly Beach)
Shelly Beach

Stratigraphy at Shelly Beach

As we began to see people again – a lone walker, a jogger with her dog, a family group – I was reflecting that I had to be better prepared – things like consulting maps, doing research, checking the tides and the moon, the weather forecast and distance to be walked. It struck me that there was a stark difference between looking from the water, where all I’d only ever noticed about Mary Ann was her unprepossessing cliff face, whereas walking her slender length, the cliff becomes intriguing, you notice the dark sand and the  wind and wave working dynamically to reshape her.  Windswept, and beneath an overcast sky, the beach had been sombre but beaches are many faced and on a sunny day with a low tide Mary Ann might be more light hearted.

Shelly, on the other hand, was quiet and reflective, openly spilling secrets, providing a long view into history.  I imagined a sunny day, a beach umbrella and a book, toddlers splashing in the shallows.  Personally, I was tantalised but the curve of sand I had not walked, that curled like a thin white line all the way around to the other side of Ralphs Bay.  I wanted to return, both on foot and by kayak.

It was a great kick off to walking the rest of the South Arm coastline and the beaches – Mary Ann, the most sombre and littered beach, so different from others I’ve encountered in Tasmania and Shelly with its clear water and amazing soil profile, so different in character – had given me a lot to think about.

Gift from Mary Ann, litter from Hobart
Gift from Mary Ann, litter from Hobart