Frederick Henry Bay: Renaud and Primrose Points

In the Late Afternoon Sunshine We Went Walking

Renaud and Primrose Points. (Source: Google Earth)

At the eastern end of Primrose Beach there’s a two pronged point. The western tip is called Renaud Point, the eastern one is Primrose Point and between them lies a cobbled beach. I didn’t know this at the time because our walk was unplanned. We were here after one of our failed attempts at Carlton Bluff and had decided we’d explore this headland instead. It seemed more modest in proportion and couldn’t have been easier to access.

Renaud Point: down on the rocks. Carlton Bluff in the distance

Renaud Point

We took the rocks as far as we could go before taking an idle, conversational walk along the clifftop in front of the houses, where we found a path which we followed down to the thin, dark shore. In one particular cove, quiet and shadowed, absent locals were nevertheless a presence because of things they’d left there. An old seat. Boats. Other bits and pieces of fishing gear. It was a small domesticated spot where serenity pooled that late afternoon in the low, cold sunlight.

Matisse exploring. Twenty years old and not phased by rock hopping

This isn’t the kind of place I’ve ever heard anyone suggest for a walk and yet it was a pleasure discovering this unfamiliar corner of Hobart’s outer lying environs. Invariably walks in guide books are easy choices but we were certainly finding enjoyment in straying into less visited places and discovering sparks of magic.

Small delights along the way

We continued along the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs, manoeuvring slowly towards a cobbled beach that had come into view. Two men stood on it, deep in conversation, looking at the sea then turning at times to observe our futile attempts to trump geology. I was excited to reach it and discover what lay behind it.

But a buttress of rock rose between us and that beach and while possibly two of us might have made it over the top it would have been too onerous for our canine companion. Turning back, defeated now by both ends of Primrose Sands, we agreed we’d try to reach this spot again. Next time, we agreed, we’d begin further up the coast and walking east to west.

Frederick Henry Bay: Carlton Bluff and Primrose Sands (T391)

Previous post

Unexpectedly Rebuffed

From Carlton Beach the bluff had looked inviting.  We were even sure we we could see a track, but from the beach  at Primrose Sands it showed us a different face.  There was a little bit of suburb on that side of the slope but not enough to domesticate it because although we explored all its roads, we found no access to a promising track.

At Carlton River mouth
Carlton Bluff viewed from Carlton Beach

It’s the norm in Hobart for suburbs to have tracks and trails through the bushland that backs or interweaves with them, but the Sorell Council seemed to have not yet  done Primrose Sands this favour. Still,  their lack of action protects the bluff and no doubt about it, the people who live there  have millionaire views over Norfolk Bay and the Tasman Peninsula, Sloping Island and Frederick Henry Bay, as well as west towards Bruny Island.  One day property here is going to boom, but on our visits it seemed as though everyone had evacuated.  Later I read in The Mercury that the place has unfortunately been plagued by arson and there were depressing signs of this.

Carlton Bluff Take One

It was a perfect summer day when we first set off to meet the bluff, leaving our shoes behind us.  This meant  that when we reached the far end of the beach we couldn’t continue around the bluff by way of the rocks.  A young mother and her badly mosquito bitten children were swimming in the sea.  There was a house right there, just above the high tide mark and a light smattering of shells caught our attention.  Offshore, a boat lay anchored.  It was an invitation to dawdle and admire the almost 2 km stretch of beach between the bluff and Renard Point.  It’s a moderately exposed beach.  Short (2006) explains that the low waves this beach gets are refracted and work with the fine sand to shape and maintain cusps along its extent, as well as a low tide terrace.

Boat moored at Primrose Sands.jpg

We walked back passed undercut foredunes topped with marram grass and a male ray lying dead and mutilated on the sand.   We stopped to talk to a local who assured us it was definitely possible to circumnavigate the bluff by way of the rocks on a good low tide.

Dune at Primrose Sands.jpg
Undercut dunes

Eagle ray.jpg
Male ray (I think a southern eagle ray)

We  decided to come back another day and explore the rocks with our shoes on.  We agreed that it would be a short and easy stroll with a bit of rock hopping, but  I should have known by now that headlands present all sorts of challenges and it really doesn’t pay to underestimate them.

Carlton Bluff Take Two

When we returned a month later we noticed a plaque freshly glued into the rocks, a small memorial for a lost daughter and so we paused for a quiet moment.  The tide was low but not low enough and having reached a point where we could see around the corner into cobbled bays with further rocky points beyond, we agreed we were unlikely to get any further around with our tiny four legged companion and so we called it quits.

Carlton Bluff Take Three

We three tried again some time later, exploring various roads beyond the dried out wetlands, climbing the urbanised stretch of  the bluff in search of a path.  We could find no access point so yet again we returned to the beach to tackle the rocks.   We took off our shoes and rolled up our pants  to get over a little gulch.  We lifted Matisse up and set him down over those obstacles too vast for tiny poodle legs to manage, but pretty soon they were too great for us too.  Sea urchin shells lay about quite densely at the point we reached.  In fact, it looked like it could be a midden.  Some boys in a boat were fishing and diving offshore. Everything looked serene but I was rueing the fact that we kept missing the better low tides.

Despite the pretty good conditions that day, it was Bluff 3 and us zero.  And so decided to abandon our efforts  and continue on our way around Renaud Point.

Carlton Bluff Take Four

On another day, further down the coast, we met a man of Dutch descent, who had lived in the area for thirty odd years. He told us that to walk Carlton Bluff you take the path between houses off Midden Street and  so encouraged by this new information, we rushed off to try again.

It was 23 November 2017.  Hobart was experiencing its longest stretch of continuous days over 27 degrees since records had started 140 years before.  That day it was 29 degrees C, a day better suited for swimming than walking, because in Tasmania that sort of temperature is sharp and dry and can feel like needles boring into your skin.

We found the gap between the houses and followed it down to the banks of the Carlton River.  In the stratigraphy of the river’s banks there were hints of meals consumed hundreds if not thousands of years ago.  We also found an abandoned pair of thongs and several bits of plastic litter and the clear turquoise waters of the river were marred by blooms of what I took to be baggiota  floating along the edges.  Despite the brutal heat we felt a sense of achievement looking across the river to where we had walked some time before.  This time, for sure, we were going to round that bluff.

Carlton River Mouth.jpg
Estuary of the Carlton River

Eventually we discovered a narrow path above us and clambered up the slope to reach it.  Now that we had a path this would be a cinch, we thought, but pretty soon we chose to go back down to the rocks again  because we wanted to enjoy the water and we   figured that there less chance of encountering snakes down there.  We could feel the heat coming up through the soles of our shoes in a most uncomfortable manner and the going was slow.  At various points we had to clamber back up, seeking out the path again, picking our way through tussocks of marram and copses of casuarinas, in search of shade for small snatches of cool respite.

Mostly we were off a path rather than on it and the paths we found became confusing – they could well have been made by animals.  Our definite preference was the rocks and we started taking every opportunity we could to take off our shoes and sit with our feet in the rock pools, marvelling at their health and the diversity of the seaweed, so different from the D’Entrecasteaux Channel where I’d been sailing and kayaking the week before, observing stressed reefs in the vicinity of the fish farms that I have come to hate for the damage they do to the natural environment and for the impaired lives of the fish entrapped in them.

We had not actually made it to the end of this side of the bluff when my friend remembered an arrangement she had made to see a movie – and so again we turned back.

Four to the Bluff, zero to us.

I still think it’s perfectly possible to walk around the bluff – two locals have said so – but if you plan to do it, start on Midden Road, stay true to the path, choose a cool day and allow ample time.  As for kayaking the bluff (something else I considered) sharks enjoy loitering at river mouths, so maybe I will and maybe I won’t. And as for sailing it, that was on my to do list  that last summer we owned Samos, but we ended up doing more  boat maintenance than actually sailing – and an entirely different adventure was lying in wait.

It’s Getting Pretty Hot Down Here

Today, in Jan 2019 as I publish this post, the island is on fire.  Wilderness has been consumed and houses lost.  There is a ‘100 year deluge’ in Queensland and North America is experiencing record low temperatures.  It’s becoming predictable for temperatures around the globe to break records, year after year, season after season.

And yet the faux president of the USA, whose connection to nature apparently extends no further than a golf course claims there is no climate change, a notion that was beginning to sound silly and uninformed back in the 1980s.    His is the most stark,  most shocking, most dangerous expression of wilful ignorance I believe I’ve ever heard.  It illustrates the Great Disconnection that has placed our ecosystem at such dire risk.

On a small island like Tasmania multiple sizeable fires are an indication of how quickly the world as we know it can be irrevocably changed.  The air that we breathe, the ground we walk on.  The water we drink.

On a beach, a rock pool, deep and vibrant with life one week can be obliterated by sand the next as the beach replenishes itself.

You would not know, as you walk over it, that it had ever existed.

 

 

 

Frederick Henry Bay: The Dodges Ferry Coastline – Spectacle Head to Carlton River

 

Previous Post:  Tiger Bay Beach to Spectacle Head

Spectacle Head

Spectacle Head.jpg
Spectacle Head view

By means of the path and the road we reached the summit of Spectacle Head.  It was arguably the most perfect day of summer and we visually wallowed in the landscape about us.

We walked passed the ceramic whale that is a feature of this headland and took a track beneath the casurinas that  border the houses (friendly residents, curious dogs) to another clearing.  Beneath the cliffs we saw a rocky shoreline interrupted by cobbled beaches.  Two 80 year olds drowned off here in the summer of 2017, caught out by rough weather while checking their craypots.

The land was fairly clear of trees on the eastern side of the point and again we lingered, enjoying looking down at the surfers and the long view out along Park and Carlton beaches, with the Carlton river entrance tiny in the distance and Carlton Bluff a heft of shoulder on the far side  looking every bit an island and blocking from our view our onward passage.

The track down the cliff face looked too risky, although locals do use it and we ventured some way along it before turning back.  A lone Pacific Gull perched on the sharp, narrow edge of cliff.  There is no barricade and it would be easy to take a tumble but I liked that it was unfenced and up to individuals to keep themselves safe.

When we got to the bottom by way of  the tamer path, the first thing we did was try to get as far around the headland as we could via the rocks.  If I’m right this was dolerite, jointed and sandwiched in vertical and horizontal directions that created  something of a floral pattern in some areas.  That day, we didn’t get far at all.

Pebbles below Spectacle Point.jpg
Assemblage of pebbles below Spectacle Head

Park and Carlton Beaches (T392)

View of Park and Carlton Beaches from Spectacle Head.jpg

Park and Carlton, popular Hobart surf beaches,  merge into each other with no natural division between them.  Really, it’s a single beach approximately 3 km long IMHO, facing south and copping  the southerly swell.  With the tide reasonably low we wandered barefoot along the swash enjoying the light, offshore breeze and the long ripple lines left behind in the sand.

At the time I did this walk a friend  was keen to buy a place behind the beach while it remained relatively undiscovered and we’d discussed beach erosion and done some Google Earth exploring. The beach is backed by a narrow strip of coastal reserve. But what looked like a single line of dunes online was broader than I’d anticipated when I set foot on the beach.   Marram grass cloaked the incipient dunes in front of taller, older dunes that had been undercut by waves at some point and   it was interesting to try to figure out beach processes here.  Just after this walk a local told me some guinea pig refugees have made a home in these dunes.  She also told me she’s given up fishing.  Apparently the flathead Emmett said were bountiful are not so bountiful anymore.

Dunes near Carlton River.jpg

Carlton River

We reached the Carlton Park Surf Life Saving Club and walked on by.  We rounded the bend at the river mouth where clear green water was streaming out into the bay, swirling around this year’s sandbank, and not far away there were some surfers and people on SUPS.   We were nicely protected from the sea breeze now and walked along in the water with tiny fish swirling around our legs.  Exploring the river mouth made me feel exultant.  My only prior contact with the river had been further inland, crossing it by way of the bridge and following some of its bends along the road.  The modest proportions of this river appeal to me.  In size it’s much like the rivers around the town I grew up in.  I was eager to return with my kayak.

Carlton River with seagulls.jpg

Carlton Bluff, liberally dotted with casurina’s, rises on the other side and someone was walking a path up there.  Behind the dunes the river broadens to form a wetland with houses on the inland slopes.

Carlton River

Pied oyster catchers walked ahead of us, gulls gathered near a fallen tree and a pair of swans were off in the distance, paddling out from the wetland where they seem to like to gather.  I tried to imagine what the river looked like untouched, full of the birds that should have been there but weren’t because of habitat loss –  the great flocks of earlier days now reduced so dramatically the world over.

Carlton River (1).jpg
Carlton River shallows

At Steele’s Island resort we again encountered friendliness and stopped for a while to chat to the owners, who were enjoying the fine day beside the river.  They talked about its shapeshifting tendencies and how they become an island several times a year when the river water rises and fills the wetland and the dry river bed at their entrance.  We walked a big circle around their property, enjoying the birdlife.  There was a  deepness of large shells beneath our feet and in the stratigraphy of the river banks.

Carlton River (2).jpg

The day after this lovely walk, the friend who was hankering after property here asked if I’d come back to explore with her and so I showed her the circuit around Steele’s Island.  This time the tide was higher.  A dozen swans looked at us hesitantly across the vast mudflats and so we kept well away from their territory.

At Carlton River.jpg
Carlton River wetland

Each walk along rivers and beaches throws up new delights.  I studied the layers of shell in the undercut bank, the same shells we were walking  over and tried to imagine the landscapes further down the stratigraphic layers that had once had their time to emblazon this world with beauty.

Carlton River (5).jpg
Circuit path

Feb 2017

Frederick Henry Bay: The Dodges Ferry Coastline – Tiger Bay Beach, Red Ochre Beach, Blue Lagoon Beach and Spectacle Head

Previous post:  Lewisham to Dodges Ferry (Okines Beach)

In 1952 E.T. Emmett wrote, ‘From Sorell to Hobart you have the choice of keeping to the main road which strikes Bellerive at fourteen miles, or of doubling back to Lewisham, ferrying across to Seven Mile Beach, and walking through Rokeby, a distance of something over twenty miles.  I chose the latter.

Lewisham is another old-timer, for this was once the route to Port Arthur, and Pittwater was crossed at Dodge’s Ferry.  Since then three causeways have been built … Lewisham’s main fame today is based on the good fare at the hostelry and the fat flounders in the bay.  The iron bars at the windows of some of the outhouses explain what the buildings were used for a century ago.’

Tiger Bay Beach  (T395)

Emmett travelled south through a different time and landscape.  Our  walk took us north out of Lewisham and along  Tiger Bay Beach, which lies in the lee of Tiger Head between Okines and Red Ochre Beach.  Short (2006) refers to two Red Ochre Beaches, but the locals seem to call the last beach along Blue Lagoon Beach.

The tide we thought would be low was  high, the vast stretches of sand gone.  We picked our way along the water’s edge and around the eroding cliffs of friable sandstone at Tiger Head.  We found a seat, trees with spaces between their roots and the dune, and the visible signs of human concern – tiles and branches once again heaped there to hold back the ocean’s rising intentions.  This beach has boat sheds, there’s a boat ramp and jetties and several boats were moored off the beach.

Red Ochre Beaches 1 and 2 (aka Blue Lagoon Beach)

We encountered a sandstone outcrop here with lovely patterns and strange little indented circles.

SandstoneRedOchreBeach.JPG

Further along we found more boat sheds and this time a significant effort being made to hold back the sea because the path now ran along the top of  carefully placed boulders, yet still the sea was winkling out the fill and the sand.

Red Ochre Beach

We climbed up onto a thin concrete strip on the side of someone’s garden, clutching on to their fence in order to continue.  But returning on a  low tide occasion I found I could walk the sand beneath the boulders with ease.

The Ferry Man

This was a nautical walk, because on Blue Lagoon Beach we found ourselves amongst more boat sheds, moorings and jetties sheltered this time by the bulk of Spectacle Head.

Ralph Dodge called the land he bought at Dodges Ferry  in 1830 Ferry Farm.  It seems he swapped his house in Goulburn Street for these 300 acres and this bit of history still stands, because the house he built can be found at the end of Fourth Avenue, (Southern Beaches Historical Society, 2019), pretty much opposite Sandy Point .

He was a man with an eye for business, because he took the opportunity to establish a ferry service and standing there with the sea breeze filling in, it required no imagination at all to imagine him rowing his neighbours over to Sandy Point on the other side.  If only all rivers had their Ralph Dodges walking coastlines would be easier and a lot more fun.  Imagining Ralph Dodge I remembered an alpine river in Lesotho where the ferry man challenged his wooden boat with generous loads of locals and read the swirls and rapids with consummate skill while those precariously balanced stayed perfectly silent and perfectly still.  In another lifetime perhaps I’ll aspire to being a ferry woman and spend my days napping under a shady tree in a warmer climate, waiting for occasional travellers to come my way.

Spectacle Island

Spectacle Island, one of the Sloping Group of islands, and a mere 3.5 ha lies just offshore.    A small number of pied oystercatchers, 600 pairs of little penguins and 8000 pairs of short-tailed shearwater had burrows on the island when Nigel Brothers surveyed it (Brothers, 2001).  It belongs to the birds, so respect them by kindly staying away.

IMG_0704.jpg

A seagull observed us from the boat ramp as we discussed continuing along the rocks or taking the path we could see heading up Spectacle Head behind the boat sheds.  We observed the tide and chose the latter.

Spectacle Point

Walked Feb 2017

Sources:

Brothers, Nigel. 2001. Tasmania’s offshore islands. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart.

Emmett, E.T. 1952.  Tasmania by road and track. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Short, Andrew (2006)

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Frederick Henry Bay: Lewisham and Okines Beaches

Walking with Matisse

Sundra and I had decided to walk from Lewisham to Dunally and for these walks her best friend, Matisse, invariably came too.  Despite his venerable age he always kept up with us and chose to stick with whoever might be lagging, although sometimes he’d set off alone to find a different way around an obstacle.  And ever polite, he accepted us picking him up and passing him over hazards he couldn’t manage alone.  He’d pick up his dignity and continue lightly finding his way.

Rest in peace, gentle Matisse.

Dodges Ferry and Lewisham:  Sharing a Magnificent Landscape

Long ago I met a writer who lived at Dodges Ferry. It was considered an odd choice by my friends, all better acquainted with Hobart than I was at that time, but walking this area I realised the writer was prescient. Its proximity to  vast Pitt Water Lagoon, quiet coves, a string of sheltered beaches, a magnificent headland, beautiful surf beaches and a photogenic river give it an enviable natural richness.

Lewisham consists of a thin string of houses that extend along the eastern shore of the inner entrance to Pitt Water Lagoon just north of Dodges Ferry and so it isn’t physically on Frederick Henry Bay although its watery landscape is intimately connected to the bay.  It strikes me as an under rated place, perched as it is above the water with access  to some lovely beaches via a rambling path.

Dodges Ferry and Lewisham probably don’t want their natural wealth proclaimed to the world less the financially obese rush in and take over.  For the moment laid back Dodges in particular still has enough shacks and rutted roads to keep it feeling like an authentic holiday village.

It’s about a 35 minute drive from Hobart to Lewisham and Dodges Ferry and it’s rich with water views  if you choose to take the Lewisham Scenic Drive turn off.  It’s my firm belief that one should always take the scenic route and  for this series of walks it was such a no brainer that without fail we did.

Walking the Lewisham Reef

There’s a boat ramp at Lewisham and moorings offshore, and the spit that is Five Mile Beach with its bright white dunes  backed by pine forest forms the opposite shore.  Water flows in and out of the lagoon to Tiger Head Bay and larger Frederick Henry Bay through a narrow channel at Sandy Point on the Five Mile side and Dodges on the northern, and responds to the lay of the land by swirling and rippling in interesting ways.

After considerable discussion we began our walk at the boat ramp and chose to go boulder hopping in preference to taking the path a sailing friend had told me hugged the shore.  Sundra’s miniature poodle, Matisse, hopped from one lichened rock to the next with a grace and dexterity that belied his venerable twenty something years.

Lewisham reef and lichen with S and Matisse
Along the reef at Lewisham: Sundra and Matisse

 

The lichens, in various hues, indicated the highest reach of the tide.

Lewisham reef and a paler lichen

As well, there was dolerite weathering in interesting ways.

Lewisham rock formation along the reef

 

Quiet place on Lewisham Reef
Quietitude along the reef

Boat Houses

Eventually we climbed up to the path and discovered that one of the particularly  enjoyable aspects of this walk is the number of boat houses tucked into the cliff, each quite idiosyncratic.  Boats lie about on the shore, silently emanating the richness  of their mysterious lives, and jetties are also stop-and-enjoy features along this varied track.  Just like on the Derwent and the D’Entrecasteaux, casuarinas (she oaks) fringe the shore, providing light shade and there are three or four ‘covelets’ depending on how you want to define stretches and pockets of sand divided by man-made features or natural indentations.  Where these exist, so do the boat houses, which in many cases look to be tiny weekend beach shacks.

Lewisham and the view broadens
The tide was not yet out when we reached this vantage point

Lewisham, boat house and boats
After the jetty we came across this  cove.

Lewisham Beach  & Okines Beach (T396)

The path led us  to a beach that a passer by told us was called Lewisham Beach. Sundra was struggling to pronounce the word ‘Lewisham’ and so we agreed that we’d call it the Hamlet of Lewis, which made the place feel pleasantly foreign. I’d thought this particular beach was called Okines but one thing I have discovered about walking beaches is that both they and their names can be transient and confusing.  Sorell Council refers to a Lewisham and an Okines Beach and they should know.  Short (2006) doesn’t reference a Lewisham Beach.  I expect they simply segue into each other and did so without us noticing.

As the tide receded the landscape transformed into vast stretches of sand  interleaved with shallow fingers of water, leaving a deep channel over on the Five Mile Beach side of what a little earlier had been a single stretch of water.   A few groups with fishing rods  had strolled over there  and tiny clicking noises emanated from the entrances of a million tiny tunnels as the more permanent inhabitants of this  sweep of fabulousness, the soldier crabs, began popping up everywhere and marching off together across the watery stretches of sand like endless pink ribbons.  It was hard to find any vacant land on which to place our Gulliver-like feet.

Lewisham Beach and cloud street
Cloud street over Lewisham beach

Lewisham Beach and clouds, shells and water

Transcient Landscapes

We looked at the ripple marks in the sand, practising our reading of tide and current. There were other clues to the life of the beach.  Groins indicated local concern about beach loss and the wrack line showed that this was valid.  It was right up against the base of the dunes and we wondered whether the marram grass and the houses themselves had affected beach replenishment.  Sundra exchanged pleasantries with a landowner industriously chucking branches down to the base of the dune to join the others strewn there in an effort at holding back the weight and determination of water.

We met some walkers who told us they’d seen a large fish head with a protruding tongue and odd curls on its face and although they told us where to find it we never encountered it, just a hoard of jellyfish patiently waiting for wind and water to carry them back out to sea.

Sometimes the weather and a beach are so compelling that it pays to dawdle and lose yourself in the interesting lives of crustaceans, invertebrates, boulders and curly faced strangers from the watery depths.   We idled and we lingered until at last we reached the rivulet.  We had taken hours, but Dodges Ferry and Spectacle Head were still simply a distant view. and so we agreed we’d come back  on the next good low tide.

 

Lewisham Beach coastal erosion
Beach erosion at Lewisham

Lewisham Rivulet
Lewisham Rivulet

Okines Beach History

I discovered a little  history on the Southern Beaches Historical Society website.

There’s a natural spring and a wetland behind the beach, which would have once been handy for the Moomairemener who had been pushed out of their country by the time Ralph Dodge, born on Norfolk Island (and one of the group of settlers who came to Van Diemen’s Land in 1807/1808) was granted this land in 1864.  He and his wife Charlotte called it Lagoon Farm and in time it passed to their youngest son, Robert, who with his wife Harriet raised nine children here, before selling the farm to the Crown for the new Soldier Resettlement Grants Scheme that was set up for the soldiers back from World War I.

Ernest Okines was the lucky recipient and as with many beaches the foreshore’s name became linked to the owner.  Today the Dodges Ferry Primary School stands on this land – the old homestead was demolished in the 1990s.

 

 

 

 

 

Tasman Peninsula: Lime Bay – Losing the Plot on Lagoon Beach

Lagoon Beach (T 343)

When a new friend said she felt like an all day walk I translated that into somewhere easy, somewhere short and somewhere straightforward because I had no time to plan  and I had a leg that had become the arena for lightning bolts of pain.  I figured we were sure to find a track that met these criteria on the Tasman Peninsula somewhere.

The peninsula was green and resplendent after rain and we were lured down the road to Lime Bay.  I’d camped there once, years ago, and expecting to see no one there we were amazed by all the tents, activity and music at the campground.

Sundra was immediately hungry and while she ate an early lunch I read the sign that described the route to Lagoon Beach, then returned to the  car to photograph the relevant pages of my guidebook.  Soon we were heading off along the hot track to Lagoon Beach through coastal scrub and beneath a shady canopy.  We were talking enthusiastically and were inattentive to our surroundings.  We paid little heed to the dry lagoon at the base of the palaeodune  we clambered up, but I did recall it from last time.  We did not look back to register our surroundings or to note the way we’d arrived on the beach, because coming over the top of the dunes we were enthralled by the view of the  sea and the  fingers of land all about us.  We should have brought bathers.

First view of Lagoon Beach
Lagoon Beach

Except for three couples sun baking and a yacht anchored in the lee of the southern headland the beach was empty and so, with no regard to the pages I’d photographed we walked south, thinking that a track might possibly take us over the southern headland. There, beneath the cliffs we found a wooden seat and a sand castle, and after eating a second lunch and admiring a couple of pied oystercatchers, our cursory search produced no evidence of a track, although I later discovered there is one.  And so we meandered slowly back up the beach, enjoying walking barefoot in the water.  And that, I felt, was enough of a walk for my grouchy leg.  Sundra, energetic and adventurous, felt the day had barely got started.

The couples were gone.  The marker she’d had the foresight to place in the sand where we’d entered the beach had been kidnapped by the rising tide.  For well over an hour we wandered up and down the dunes, trying to trace footsteps – anybody’s footsteps – that would return us to the track.  How weird to be lost on a beach, I thought, squinting at the pages I’d photographed to my phone.  I was pretty sure the best plan was to head directly back to camp and that if we headed for the trees we’d surely find the path, but our memories didn’t coincide.  Meandering about on the dunes we  had by now utterly confused ourselves, creating patterns of circuitous footsteps that now overlaid anything that had been there before.

Lagoon Beach
When everything starts looking the same

But at least there was wifi. ‘Lost,’ I texted back  home.

The pages I’d photographed were no help, especially when read with an increasingly distracted mind.  I did a Google search and found a helpful blog that talked about exiting the beach at the northern headland  with a picture helpfully included.  There was red tape up there.  If you followed it, it would take you across the headland (Green Head, apparently) to another smaller beach.  This blogger had then turned back.  Noting the sun’s position in the western sky I was all for turning back too.  I was still reasonably confident that if we returned to the forest behind the dry lake we’d easily reach the campground again.  A nightmare I’d had of being lost on the peninsula began to haunt me.

We returned to the northern headland we’d previously rejected as a possibility and scrambled up the steep slope that definitely did not look like it led to a path and after a bit of searching we found some red tape dangling from a branch.  We walked a little further and found just enough tape to keep taking us forwards.  We went down to explore the  beach referred to in the blog (Lagoon Beach North) and then went back up on the cliff again and followed the red tape until in the middle of nowhere no more tape was to be found.  From here the bays and inlets and fingers of land still confused me.  I had no idea what we were looking across the water at and thought that late in the day though it was, we were still better retreating than trusting to the traces of path that might be ahead.  Little did I know that the cliff tops here are shallow overhangs and considered dangerous (Leaman, 1999).

Sundra impressed me with her relaxed ‘ever onwards’ attitude.  When the red tape ceased again we ended up walking in different circles in search of  the oh so faint trail that often looked animal made.  It seemed that the trees our red bread crumbs had been attached to had relinquished their hold during storms of long ago or the tape had simply blown away in gales.

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View from the cliff top

Keeping in visual contact with the shore while Sundra’s voice receded further away I tried to figure out our position on Memory Maps and Navionics and every other app I had available but nothing gave me the precise, localised information we needed – a clear track back to camp – a Lime Bay for Dummies kind of instruction.  I cursed myself for leaving the relevant map at home.

‘Still no idea where we are,’ I texted home, to the concerned enquiries.  No idea where Sundra was either.

The afternoon was softening into evening.  I suspected we would be sleeping out.  From somewhere far away Sundra called out.  Tramping around energetically, she’d found a tiny remnant of red tape, enough to lead us forward a little further but in what to me looked like an inauspicious direction.

Each tag seemed to take longer to find but we held on to a blind faith that we would arrive somewhere sometime.  On two or three more occasions we lost the  little red tapes seemingly forever and it was with some trepidation that we cut away from the cliffs to enter a thicker section of forest.  We walked downhill away from the coast and with a hefty sense of relief found at the bottom (incredibly, disbelievingly) the track we’d walked out along hours earlier.

There was the coastline we’d passed on our way to Lagoon Beach, one or two children still swimming in the water.  We had never been that far away we now realised.   I thought admiringly of sailors who navigate themselves across oceans.  I clearly couldn’t navigate myself across a pyrex bowl.  And I’m obviously imminently capable of getting lost in a backyard copse of trees.

Dadirri is an Aboriginal word for deep listening to others and to the landscape.  It’s used in both the Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri, languages from the Daly River region a couple of hundred kilometres south of Darwin.  Feeling lost in the bush, that still, quiet awareness was hard to come by that day.  Sundra had long ago finished her water and we were sharing the little I had left.     We had no GPS and the battery on my phone was getting low.

Dadirri  also refers to the awareness of ‘where you’ve come from, why you are here, where are you going now and where you belong.’ We’d done a lot of talking that day about just those topics.  I thought that night was likely to teach us about “the quiet stillness and the waiting” aspect of dadirri (Ungunmerr-Baumann)  and provide us with long hours to pick apart our mistakes.

Instead, as we travelled home after what had ended up being a six hour walk, we laughed as we reviewed the day and agreed that there was scope to do more walks together, perhaps with a bit more preparation.

But then again, without a map you really feel like you are more properly exploring!  (I am not recommending this though!)

If, one day, lost on Lagoon Beach, this is the blog you discover then be aware that the densely vegetated headland to the south is called Lobster Point and Sloping (Slopen) Main beach lies some distance away on the other side. The 1.6 km stretch of sand  that is Lagoon Beach lies in the lee of Sloping Island and it’s wise not go tramping about on the 15m high foredunes and their blowouts, particularly for their sakes. Take careful note of Sloping Lagoon which links the beach to the rear end of western Lime Bay beach.  There’s also a smaller lagoon at the northern end of the beach.

And perhaps, rather than following the disused and apparently closed track we were on – we did this walk in 2016 so this may have changed –  take your bike and go cycling around Lagoon Beach using these comprehensive notes on cycling in this area from Tassie Trails.

If geology is your thing there’s a dyke on Lobster Point and apparently on Green Head we were walking over all sorts of interesting volcanic and sedimentary geology which that day we were blind to.  Those dunes we came over – they’re interesting too. Grab a copy of Walk into History in Southern Tasmania by David Leaman and he’ll illuminate the geological wonders for you.  And go on the low tide – that way you can walk around the base of Green Head staying safer and not getting lost.

 

Frederick Henry Bay: Seven Mile and Five Mile Beaches

Most of the sand on the world’s beaches consists of two minerals, feldspar and quartz.   They are particularly stable and that makes them especially durable.  Take a peek at sand through a microscope and you’ll see that the grains look like tiny pebbles bigger than silt, smaller than gravel, many hued, transparent quartz, weathered smooth, pulverised and polished over the millenia.  They form the unique, mobile fingerprint of the beach, created by the swish and swash of waves, tides and seafloor shape, gradient and cover.  They may wash more or less straight up on to the beach or away from it, or be carried there by longshore drift, arriving at an angle, a part of the shifting sediment carried along by the coast-shaping sea.  

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Seven Mile Beach (T397) 

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Acton Creek meets Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach, mostly southeast facing, is 15 km from Hobart and is pretty much the closest surf beach to the city.  The waves aren’t usually much more than a metre here, but they’ve travelled across about 20 km of Frederick Henry Bay to break on this seven mile long beach backed by homes at the western end and a beach reserve further east.  There’s a road behind the dunes and the reserve.  It’s dirt up the eastern end, bitumen down west.

One of the most obvious features of this beach is the unhappy pine plantation that extends behind it and encroaches on the dunes but if you’re standing on the beach it’s the great sweep of sand and the views across Frederick Henry Bay that are the most compelling.

What’s not so obvious when you’re on the beach itself is that it is a massive ‘sand spit that traverses the axis of the eroded Coal River Valley rift’ (Leaman, 1999), where once back in time there were twenty active volcanoes.  In this valley early settlers found skinny seams of coal, enough to inspire hope that quickly collapsed into disappointment.

We’ve come to this beach when the tide has been so high it’s been right up to the marram infested, undercut dunes and there’s been insufficent beach for a walk.  We’ve come on extreme lows when the beach’s width and a sunny sky has made it particularly inviting and horses, dogs, swimmers and beach umbrellas have given it a festive air. You don’t want for space here.  This beach allows everyone to disperse along its generous length.  Some people seem to make use of the dunes to disperse with clothing altogether, but in Tasmania the sun has a sharp edge and can end up being a painful experience for delicate extremeties.

This is a go to beach for cycling at low tide when the sand is hard and you can fly along its length all the way out to Sandy Point where Pitt Water, a 3,500 ha barrier estuary spills into the bay and Seven Mile Beach and Five Mile Beach meet.  This beach system they’re both a part of has actually built out 1 to 2 km seaward, according to Short (2006), ‘as a series of more than 50 low foredune ridges which have subsequently been transgressed by dune activity that increases to the east.’  It’s on this barrier land feature that the pines were planted and Hobart’s airport built, so a particular Seven Mile Beach experience is planes landing and taking off low overhead.  Pitt Water-Orielton Lagoon is one of Tasmania’s ten Ramsar wetlands and provides refuge for threatened species, both avian and botanical.

Sandy Point and Five and Seven Mile Beaches
Looking across Pitt Water to Sandy Point where Seven Mile and Five Mile Beaches meet.  Photo taken on  Tiger Head Beach, Dodges Ferry

From Sandy Point you can see Lewisham on Pitt Water’s eastern shore, a skinny community of houses that traces the shoreline of this estuarine lagoon with the community of Dodges Ferry at the mouth. Looking west to the far end of Seven Mile Beach where the walk around Single Hill ended is actually the best known part of the beach.  The hill, the houses and Acton Creek give it an intimacy the rest of the beach lacks.  The thin western finger of the small township broadens out eastwards and the houses start extending inland across that ancient but shallow barrier dune system.

Seven Mile beach from the Sandy Point or eastern end
Ripple marks on Seven Mile Beach.  The darker lines are caused by heavier minerals or organic matter trapped in the shallow troughs

Five Mile Beach

This is no beach for a bike.  As a Ramsar site it’s the domain of shorebirds.   I came here with the geo on a spring low tide that hadn’t receded as much as we’d have liked. There’s a track behind the beach that meanders through pine forest, then turns to follow the Pitt Water coast.  True forests uplift and Tasmania has magnificent ones that provide this kind of experience, but plantations cast a desolate atmosphere both sad and disturbing.

In his book The hidden lives of trees: what they feel, how they communicate – discoveries from a secret world, forester Peter Wohlleben  discusses the various ways trees suffer in plantations. Communicating via electrical impulses and chemical messages with various fungi as support networks the lives of trees is worth getting to know about.  A monoculture isn’t healthy and doesn’t make for happy, healthy trees.

Five Mile Beach on Pittwater Lagoon, looking towards Sandy Point
Five Mile Beach on Pittwater Lagoon, looking towards Sandy Point

We didn’t complete this walk.  I hadn’t read this book yet, but the atmosphere was so unedifying that it stilled conversation and dampened our mood.  At a certain point we stopped and reluctantly agreed that we found the damaged dunes and miserable trees (upended in places, and ravaged by the sirex wasp)  too disheartening, particularly when we imagined what the dune system was like before human interference.

We found a way on to the beach via a pathway through the eroded dunes and because the tide had receded further out by then we could walk along the shallows enjoying the occasional presence of a few shorebirds.  Crabs beginning to emerge from their burrows and apart from the sad sight of  trees that had fallen with the collapsing dunes the view of Pitt Water was a whole lot better.

A combined Seven Mile and Five Mile Walk: CCC brochure

Tip:  If you’re planning on walking Five Mile Beach, wait for a spring low tide.

Frederick Henry Bay: Lauderdale’s May’s Point to Seven Mile Beach along Roches Beach and Single Hill

Roches With Gritted Teeth

We couldn’t have chosen a worst day for our walk.  It was snowing on the mountain, raining in town and the best the temperature could manage was a measely 7 degrees centigrade.

Cathy reminded me that we had stoic Scottish blood coursing our veins; I kept secret my preference for a sauna.  Our hardiness extended only so far and we agreed to leave one car at Seven Mile Beach.  That done we sought out a Lauderdale cafe to psych ourselves up for the miserable walk ahead.

Our cafe on the western side of the suburb had a view across Ralphs Bay on the Derwent River  to the city and the mountain and from the table we’d chosen beside the wood heater we looked out at water chaotic with white caps.  Kunanyi, normally dominating the western horizon, had vanished,  the wind was loud and I was pretty damned glad I wasn’t sailing.

‘We had hardy ancestors,’ said Cathy firmly.

‘There might not be much beach to walk on,’ I suggested in a faint voice.  It looked to me like the conditions had whipped up a higher than usual tide.

Lauderdale is a largely low lying suburb that takes in the isthmus where the South Arm Peninsula begins and straddles Frederick Henry Bay in the east and the Derwent River in the west. Back in the early 1900s there had been enthusiasm for a canal that would reduce the distance to Hobart for the shipping of farm produce, much like the Dunally canal further north saves yachts the trip around the Tasman Peninsula today.  But work was hampered by the First World War  and when they got down to business in 1924 storms made it apparent breakwaters would be needed on Roches Beach to prevent silting.  Too expensive, the decision makers concluded and the project was abandoned, leaving a 1 km canal that doesn’t quite reach the beach and is hardly visible at the Ralphs Bay end (Alexander). Later I discovered that the layer of sand in this area is skimpy.  It covers over two hundred metres of clay, sandy clay and boulder beds that filled in the ‘eroded, ancient rift valley landscape as sea level rose.’ (Leaman, 1999).

The two most significant bumps in its landscape are Richardson’s Hill with May’s Point below it at the southern end of Roches Beach and Single Hill to its north.  Our walk was to begin below the first and take us around the second – but the weather was so truly terrible that we prevaricated by driving slowly up Richardsons Hill and then slowly back down to Roches Beach, slowly parking the car close to May’s Point and slowly donning extra thermals and wet weather gear before braving the lashing rain.

We began walking down the beach in a most unhardy manner.  The tide was indeed high, the work of the stormy south westerly, but at least the wind was at our backs. Slowly our Scottish blood began exerting itself and snug in all our layers we got our stride up and congratulated ourselves for defying the weather.

Lauderdale takes its name from Ann and Robert Mather’s Ralphs Bay farm, Lauderdale Park.  They were early settlers and their inspiration was Lauder, Robert’s birthplace near Berwick-upon-Tweed in Scotland. When it comes to hardiness Ann totally put us to shame, ‘raising her children and managing an unwilling convict workforce’ on this isolated farm (Clarence City Council).  By the 1950s settler hardiness had given way to hedonism and holiday shacks began filling in the landscape.  These days it’s suburban homes fronting up to the dunes along this 3.5 km section of the beach, their gardens spilling out into the public reserve.

Shells on Roches
Beach assemblage both human and natural

The narrow beach sloped steeply that day and the waves were slapping at the dunes in some places, undercutting them and threatening to saturate our ankles, so we decided to see if we could find a track behind the beach and for a while picked our way through undergrowth and escapee plants. This high sea also had us discussing Lauderdale’s vulnerability to storm surges and sea level rise, much like its southern neighbour, Cremorne.  The isthmus isn’t much above sea level and the small dunes along Roches are already compromised by human impacts.  We also spent considerable time discussing whether we were walking one beach or several and what, if anything they were called. Later I referred to the guru, Andrew Short, who in his inventory referred to Roches Beach as a 5 km stretch of increasingly wider beaches lying between Mays Point and Single Hill, although actually 3 and 4 narrow again, we found. For the record, he called them Roches Beach and then Roches Beach North 1, 2, 3 and 4 but the locals probably have different names for them.

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The beach makes another curve at Bambra Reef and begins to broaden

We passed Bambra Point and its reef as the weather began clearing and reached the part of the beach that Cathy most loves because it holds memories of regular visits with her children when they were little.  She pointed out the shelter provided by the trees and Epping Park Reserve behind the dunes and took me up there to take a peek at Lauderdale Yacht Club, the base for catamaran sailing in Hobart.  Later, reading David Leaman’s Walk into History (1999) I learned that there are some brilliant examples of Permian rocks in this area.  Also, right at this point on a low tide you can see the irregular roof of the main Jurassic dolerite intrusion.  (If you want to know why the dolerite in this area is great for giving you an idea of the gigantic intrusions dominating central and eastern Tasmania  pick up a copy of this book and take a stroll here – it’s definitely worth it.)

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Not just any old rock.

Single Hill and North Roches Beach (T 398)

We passed the sailing club and the boat ramp and took the path leading up Single Hill, that singular landmark as you fly into Hobart. Initially we walked below big houses I hadn’t known existed and at the base of the hill Roaches Beach (N3) aka Short’s T399, a narrow 50m ribbon of sand and rock, that is a continuation of Roches Beach N2 aka T400 was being bashed by waves.

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On Single Hill with Richardson’s Hill, Cremorne and Cape Deslacs in the distance and the Tasman Peninsula in the distance

We were walking amongst eucalypts and she-oaks following  what is really pretty much a contour path with a lovely sandstone bridge.

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Walking Single Hill

Cathy pointed out the most northern beach below us (T398). There were steep steps leading down to it but we continued on around the hill, stopping every now and then to take in the sweeping views of Frederick Henry Bay and the Tasman Peninsula.   But if you’re keen on geology this little beach is definitely worth a visit because according to Leaman the Permian rich siltstone here is rich in fossils.  Far away over the bay we saw enormous waves breaking on a point we struggled to identify. Eventually the path turned towards Seven Mile Beach and we gradually descended on to the sand.

T 397 Seven Mile Beach (southern corner)

There are shacks clustered in the corner beneath the hill south of where picturesque Acton River enters the beach.  A small flock of ducks were enjoying it as we crossed the wooden bridge.

The walk had taken roughly 3 hours but I was enthralled by it and so the next Saturday I was back with my friend Rosemary White, who had sore knees and wanted an easy walk.  This time, with an impeccable blue sky and far kinder weather we walked it the other way around, from Seven Mile to Launderdale.

Again, the beautiful creek at Seven Mile, and again the expectant flock of ducks.  Walking this way there were points where it seemed we were trailing the edge of a great bay with a relatively small opening.  Identifying landmarks was difficult but our geographic guesses were confirmed by a local we encountered, walking alone with his radio tuned in to the racing.

Reaching Roches we turned and walked Roches N3, pausing to examine the small butterfly shaped shells that had washed up everywhere on the sand.

Kayaking Single Hill

Still not done with this area  I brought others to walk it and keen to explore Roches N4 I paddled around Single Hill from Seven Mile Beach to Lauderdale.  It’s a short paddle but (small confession) when the wind came up my enthusiasm for paddling to May’s evaporated and I pulled in early.

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Calm moments off Single Hill and Roches Beach N4

 

Frederick Henry Bay: Cremorne Beach to Lauderdale

Walking Swathes of Yellow

There are homes on the low dunes backing Cremorne beach and behind them the small community stretches across the flat land in the elbow between the beach and Pipeclay Lagoon.  These reaches of Moomairemener land were first reshaped into farmland by the McCauley family who arrived in 1804 and ran cattle and sheep.  They also grew potatoes, barley and beans.  These days it’s a small community of permanent residents and holidaymakers; a place unspoilt by the inappropriate development that marrs so many other beachside villages although there is currently a developer who would really like to try.  I for one hope this community holds out against greed.

Cremorne Beach looking south
Cremorne Beach with Pipeclay Lagoon in the distance

Pipeclay Lagoon

Cremorne benefits from Pipeclay Lagoon, an enclosed, tidal body of water  that separates it from Clifton to the south.  I discovered, when I kayaked it, that it is shallow and that I’d chosen the perfect way to enjoy its serenity. There are oyster farms here and along its margins there are 45 ha of saltmarsh wetlands, protected to some extent by coastal reserve and the attentions of the Wildcare Deslacs Group, but also threatened by changes in tidal flows, habitat disturbance, unmanaged tracks and roads, ditches and litter.

One of the first farms on the banks of the lagoon was Waterloo Farm, owned by Captain Busby and his wife Mary.  When John Morrisby bought it from Mary he developed orchards of apples, pears, apricots and cherries and grew peas and root crops between the rows, enriching the alluvial soils with seaweed.  There’s a rare eucalypt (Eucalyptus Morrisbyi) that grows in this area and it takes its name from this farming family, who eventually sold, the subdivided land along the waterfront and lagoon giving way to weekenders.

Today, on the Cremorne side of the lagoon there is a narrow road squeezed between backyard fences and the shore.  It runs down to a tapering of beach beside the lagoon’s channel to the sea.  Four dolphins came through this channel earlier this year and stranded but for walkers it’s a good place to begin exploring the short, narrow beach.

Cremorne Beach (T405)

The beach has a domesticated feel because of the houses on the low dunes, but this is deceptive. When there are storm surges such as there were in 2010 and 2011, the waves have been known to undercut sections of the dunes and there have been a number of dramas at sea off this coastline.

Cathy and I came to Cremorne hoping to find a track we thought might exist at the northern end of the beach. It was a cold day, the tide was out and rain threatened but quite quickly we had walked the kilometer or so along the sand. Ahead of us was the steepish, yellowish slope of Calverts Hill, much of which was owned in the early days of the colony by Elias Grimsey, whose neighbour for a while was the  Rev Knopwood’s adopted daughter, Elizabeth.

Calverts Hill and Cremorne North (Beach T404)

We quickly found the track and walked quite easily across hillsides of tall yellow grass, coming across a small cove  about ten minutes into the walk. Beach T 404 is a short 50m pocket beach that looked to be mainly cobbles  trapped by the cliffs that are some 30m high.  It’s also only accessible from the sea and apparently at times sand fills it to form a low tide made terrace.

Most of Calverts Hill is reserve, perhaps to protect the endangered Eucalyptus morrisbyi which  is in decline, but fortunately there are people who care.

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On Calverts Hill

For a while we followed a fence line and then we descended down to the rocks and most of our walk ended up taking place just above the waterline as the path curved around one undulating hillside after another.   We idled along, discussing the rock formations we encountered.  The sea was quiet and rain was visible in the distance.  There were good views over Sloping Island to the Tasman Peninsula.

We passed five pied oyster catchers standing quietly on the rocks. We passed a couple of pacific gulls and then a shag standing very still on a pole, imbuing the mood of the day. It was hard to gauge how far we still had to walk.

Mays Beach (T403)

I was keen to reach Mays Beach because I had only ever seen it from the top of Richardson’s (aka Nobs) Hill and from there it seemed unattainable down at the bottom of the steep slope, separated from the road by private land, but as we rounded Calverts Hill on our walk the land flattened out and there before us was the beach, occupied just then by a flock of about twenty plovers.

We were fascinated to discover a small number of houses in the bush behind us, but they’re so tucked away that we couldn’t easily discern any driveways or even a road and as we crossed the beach we puzzled over their means of access – down Richardson’s Hill or from somewhere to the south?

This walk had taken about 2.5 hours and we were yearning for lunch and racing the approaching rain. Still, while Cathy explored the hillside looking for the path, I walked along the kilometre long curve of beach, crossing a spine of rock that divided it into two sections to its conclusion at Mays Point, where there is a right hand break.

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Mays Beach viewed from the point at the northern end

Richardson’s Hill

The hill is 79 m high but the good news is that the track is well made and links the beach to the top of the hill where the private road begins behind a gate.  We literally ran up it to reach the car we’d had the foresight to park at the top.  We had finished just in time – the temperature was dropping and the rain slammed down on us just as we got there.

One of us was digging about frantically in pockets but to no avail.  The car and its  keys were separated by the distance of our walk.  All thoughts of lunch in a cosy café faded.  Wildly we surveyed the landscape beneath us for a shortcut back to Cremorne but faced with what looked like a lot of private land we didn’t like our chances and so we set off back down the hill at a trot, laughing over our misadventure.

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The view from the top of Richardson’s Hill

Listen to the locals tell you what they love about Cremorne and help support them in their fight against Inappropriate Development.

Further reading:  The Cremorne community website 

Frederick Henry Bay: South Arm Peninsula: Cape Deslacs

A Different Sense of Direction:  the intimacy of Sea and Soil

Clifton Beach LOOKING TO CAPE DESLACS-2
Clifton Beach and Cape Deslacs

It seems so long ago now, but during summer, shortly after friends told me they’d seen thousands of shearwaters from their yacht as they were crossing Frederick Henry Bay, we came to Cape Deslacs one evening to watch the shearwaters return to their burrows.

It seemed to me that this, really is the best way to experience the cape – as a  refuge for these well travelled birds and so rather than wander its tracks or follow  its roads, we sought out the viewing platform.

I’d once seen  large flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris)  rafting in Port Davey and I’d seen the very first of them return one year from their long migration down the latitudes to Fisher Island, a tiny granite island in the Great Dog Island Group between Flinders and Cape Barren Islands. Those Fisher Island birds have been the subject of a longitudinal monitoring program extending back to the 1950s and because they return literally to the day, we were there when the leaders arrived.  A scratching in the soil the next morning gave their presence away.

Although I’d read that they could be seen rafting off Taroona I’d rarely seen any on the Derwent River but when returning from Recherche Bay on Samos we saw for the first time in the D’Entrecasteaux a flock of perhaps two hundred winging their way down the Channel.  I’ve been unlucky because these long winged birds are Australia’s most numerous seabirds and while there are no longer flocks of many millions, as the explorer, Matthew Flinders  in 1798 asserted he’d seen, the flocks are large enough still to create awe when you see them.

The track to the platform led through native bushland.  The day was already darkening and gradually the stars came out.  In total there were  four of us stargazing on the platform, our sense of self miniaturised by the Milky Way and the looming sky.  All around Tasmania and especially around the Bass Strait islands great flocks of shearwaters were on their way home to their burrows but when the first dark shadows flitted overhead we thought at first that they might have been bats.

Aborigines believed they wintered behind the moon.  That’s apparently how they got the name ‘moon bird’.  They make a good meal and taste like sheep and so they’re more commonly called  ‘mutton birds’. They might migrate almost the length of the globe on those metre long wings and swim proficiently with those webbed feet, and for a bird have a keen sense of smell, but they are so inelegant at landing that you swear they must sustain bruises.  They are renowned for their  excellent time management and for their magnificent sense of direction.  They set off at the end of each Northern summer from the waters off Japan, Siberia and Alaska, barely, if ever making landfall, honing in on their tiny burrow at the far ends of the earth.

They partner  for life (mostly), lay their single egg at the end of the November  and watch it crack open in January. Then they take turns minding their one and only, feeding it up until it’s double their size. Come April they fly north without it and abandoned, wandering about and testing their wings, the chicks don’t eat.  They tone down, feather up and intuitively follow their parents north a few weeks later in May.

Shearwaters are predators at sea and on land they are prey.  The snakes that inhabit some Bass Strait islands rely almost wholly on the  chicks for sustenance.  It’s a physically close and terrible relationship.  They are also commercially harvested for feathers, oil and meat and the traditional mutton bird harvesting practised by Aboriginal Australians continues.  Modern life has thrown in further difficulties.  Think gill nets and plastic, habitat loss and feral predators like cats.

That night on the cape the sky was soon awash with birds cascading down through the air.  It was awesome.  It was impossible to count them.  There was a profound sense of a community returning, of lives lived with purpose and capability, of birds bringing their oceanic experience back with them and deep down into their burrows within the earthy skin of the cape.

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There is a circuit walk you can do on the cape.

For more on Short-tailed Shearwaters and pictures of these unassuming but talented birds see:

Birdlife

Tasmania.  Parks and Wildlife Service.  Short-tailed Shearwater, Puffinus tenuirostris