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.
Seven Mile Beach (T397)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
We were walking amongst eucalypts and she-oaks following what is really pretty much a contour path with a lovely sandstone bridge.
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.
A Different Sense of Direction: the intimacy of Sea and Soil
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.
The moon had given us a low tide and with a slender window between cold fronts Cathy and I whipped on our walking gear to continue our saunter along the coastline.
We paused on Goats Bluff to look across the long expanse of Hope Beach before making our way down the narrow path through native bush to the beach. The last time I’d come here it had been 25 degrees and people, heavily tattooed, were lounging under umbrellas beside the sedimentary cliffs. Today was crisp but sunny. Ever since the geo and I had driven off the ferry after a couple of weeks spent in shorts and t shirts on the mainland, Tassie had been lashed by a bout of wild, wintery weather, so this was a brilliant reprieve.
Calverts had been our ‘go to beach’ when we first came to Tasmania. Every time I walk it I remember a tiny kelpie x border collie puppy from the Stirling Ranges in Western Australia. Along with two of his siblings he’d been bundled into a box and on to a plane in Perth. Several hours later I plucked him out of that box at Kununurra Airport in the Kimberly region of WA and for the next two years he enjoyed field camp living with us. The creek, the waterholes, the fishing expeditions and the parties in the annex, the walks down to the chopper to meet the guys returning from another blisteringly hot day doing mag anomalies. Two years in a caravan in boab country, living small. Two years in a tiny field camp in all that wild, vast inaccessible space. We were lucky though, because sometimes, in the chopper, we got to explore caves rich with rock art and canyons with verdant microenvironments that felt way off the map, far from roads or even a track, that you wouldn’t know were there unless you could spot them from the air.
This puppy, born of working stock, climbed trees (sort of). His acrobatics intrigued children. His speed was astonishing and Calverts was a beach he raced along, trying unsuccessfully to round up seagulls. He drove around Australia, squeezed on top of a mattress that was wedged on top of a motorbike, that weighed down the already sagging boot of our Holden station wagon.
Cathy and I walking along discussing economic conundrums, saw a spout of water off Betsey Island, just as two birds lifted into the air close by. Further down the beach a lone man stood on the sand dunes assessing the swell on this rip-prone beach. Behind him, the dunes sloped down to Calverts Lagoon, a change in the vegetation and a quieter sort of environment.
We reached the opposite headland. This is where the geo and I have always turned back, but had occasionally noticed people making their way down it and had puzzled over where they were coming from. Cathy was the person who let me in on that secret, but before we set off up that path we explored the rock platform that slants upwards around its base because another beachwalking friend had told me that if you climbed to the end of it and peered around the corner you could see a little cobbled beach. But what we saw when we reached the end was the narrow shape of a gulch that at low tide probably did leave cobbles and rocks exposed. While I stood there musing, Cathy bounded up the daunting cliff face and when I looked up I could see her standing on the headland enjoying the view.
I followed slowly up that steep side. There was only marram grass to grab hold and it looked rather puny. Besides, it’s hostile and I wasn’t wearing gloves. I surveyed the big drop beneath me and the hard faced rocks. Those I was clambering up were damp and my shoes lacked grip. One up to Cathy, I decided, and slithered slowly down to a more welcoming ledge before seeking out the little path further back along the headland.
From the top we could see Calverts Lagoon, fingers of land and stretches of sea. The best was yet to come, because on the other side of the bluff lies a hidden beach, outstandingly beautiful. I’d been here once before, pretty much as soon as Cathy had told me about it. It had been a hot day and our party had disturbed a lover’s tryst. ‘Beware the snake,’ the man had yelled at us, jumping up to shoo us away. We had clearly destroyed their moment because it wasn’t too long before they were trailing us back along Calverts.
Smugglers Cove (Beach T 410)
We descended through soft sand, stepping over dead birds and a dead sheep to reach Smugglers Cove. It’s seriously lovely and is cupped by the steep headlands of Cape Contrariety. It’s also seriously private and intimate even though it’s spacious enough to accommodate several parties of beach goers. Two eagles wheeled above us and a pied oyster catcher stood on the rocks regarding us.
After a while we followed a fence line up the bluff on the other side, keen to reach the other end of the Cape. I’d tried hunting down the owner of the private land without any luck, so we didn’t like our chances. There were mutton bird burrows. There were sheep, happily alive. We followed their tracks until we reached a fence that crossed our path.
This was as far as we figured we could go. From there we could see the spot we’d reached on an earlier expedition, when we’d attempted to cross the Cape from the Clifton side (see next blog post), so that long slope separating us from that point near the top was frustrating. We knew there was a nature reserve along the tip of the cape and that another beach (T409) was down there too.
On the Beachsafe site its described as ‘a 150 m long high tide cobble beach located along the western end of the cove, with a sand and rock low tide terrace. Waves averaging about 1 m break across the 50 m wide bar and surge up the cobbles, with the steep slopes right behind. The 4 ha tip of the cape is a private wildlife sanctuary.’
We’d been defeated but the walk back was uplifting. A yacht was crossing Norfolk Bay, a north easterly filling its sails. That whale breached and blew again. We saw Little Betsey Island tucked away behind Betsey Island, Black Jack Reef and the great sweep of Hope Beach beyond Goats Bluff. We saw the Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent and snow on kunanyi and the Snowy Range. And as we clambered back down the path to Calverts there were seven surfers in the swell beneath us, where originally there had been only one. You’ve got to have ichor coursing through your veins to take on Tasmania’s winter ocean. I lack even a single drop and just the sight of them had me zipping up my down jacket.
This walk: 1 September 2017. If you’ve walked this cape or know the contact details of the farmer, please let me know so we can try again.
… what is beauty? This is one of the most fundamental questions, it is not superficial, so don’t brush it aside. To understand what beauty is, to have that sense of goodness which comes when the mind and heart are in communion with something lovely without any hindrance so that one feels completely at ease – surely, this has great significance in life; and until we know this response to beauty our lives will be very shallow. One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead.
~ J. Krishnamurti
On Being a Goat
It may seem strange that I’ve included Krishnamurti’s quote at this point in my blog, because the bluff is unassuming, easy to hurtle by without noticing, and yet it has a certain sense of poise gifted by its location in the landscape between two capes so that, had Krishnamurti, a great nature writer, found his way here, I’m sure he would have taken his seat and looked out at ‘all the marvellous earth’, the hills and the valleys interleaving themselves, and perhaps, while contemplating this magnificent coastline he might also have reflected on human nature – how we are so often goats, with at times, a certain poise, when we make the effort.
Those who appreciate beauty come here at night to star gaze and to wonder at the auroras. In daylight hours, as the sky’s moods play out over the landscape, colours shift transferring the mood of the sky. At this junction of ocean, land and lagoons the biota is rich, the birds are various, the native coastal vegetation still reasonably intact. Surfers carve the breakers; below the cliff to the east is a break called Rebounds. Goats and Wedge are breaks to the west. And from these 30 m high sandstone cliffs you can walk west along Hope Beach (aka Roaring Beach) to Cape Direction or you can go east down Goat Bluff’s flank to Calverts Beach for the walk to Cape Contrairety, or angle slightly inland to circumambulate Calverts Lagoon, binoculars around your neck, field guides in your rucksack.
The bluff also provides access to the north. Just cross the road and go west along the isthmus – but think seriously about this – the birds love this thin strip of beach beside the bitumen so it’s unkind to intrude. Perhaps rather choose the meandering track (far more rewarding) along its eastern shore.
Or simply play it like Krishnamurti and make your mind like the sky by lingering on the bluff with its sense of poise drawn mostly from the fact that it is the divide between the Arm End beaches and the sweep of coastline to the east.
In other words, don’t think for one moment that Goat (also known as Goats) is an isolated bluff simply there as a carpark, or a dislocated remnant scrap of reserved native vegetation. The road behind assumes more importance than is warranted. Instead, imagine that you are Nuenonne, that slash of bitumen not there yet and see instead Colin Springs Hill descending gracefully down to the bluff’s sandstone rampart, uninterrupted. Before you there’s a valley, drowned by the ocean that extends down from that rampart and out to Betsey Island, with a dune trapped lake to your right behind Hope Beach, the drowned valley that is Ralphs Bay behind you to the north, a pooling of water in Calverts Lagoon and Pipe Clay Lagoon at Cremorne behind you to your left.
Goats Bluff. A small band of Nuenonne. Shearwaters wheeling on the night sky, and then the aurora.
Short describes it as ‘a 60 m long pocket of rocks and sand set in a gap in the centre of the bluffs and immediately below the lookout. The beach consists of high tide cobbles and boulders against the base of the cliffs, then a sandy 100 m wide bar with rock outcrops that fill the gap. Waves are lowered to 1 m at the bluff owing to sheltering by the island and rocks and break across the bar with a weak rip usually flowing out against the western rocks.’
He says there is no safe access to this beach. To try would be dangerous. So please don’t.
I was surprised to discover another secret on the On the Convict Trail blog: ‘Nearby [to Piersons Point] Goat Bluff was also the location of further underground tunnel systems [associated with the Derwent’s system of battery defence]. But Goat Bluff isn’t near Piersons Point, which is on the western side of the Derwent’s mouth (although distance is relative, I guess) and so I was sceptical until I saw this fact repeated on the South Arm History site. The Fort Direction page by Maurice Potter states ‘at Goat Bluff there are still the remains of underground trenches that were built at that time’ [WWII] and I also discovered on this page that ‘as many will remember, most of the beaches and the hillsides of South Arm were covered with barbwire entanglement and this remained so for some years after the end of war.’ (Potter, n.d.)
Sitting on the bluff contemplating the landscape you might naturally suppose that Betsey Island is made off the same stuff as the bluff, but you would be wrong. Black Jack Reef and Goat Bluff are sandstone / siltstone but Betsey declares its difference by being Jurassic dolerite (Leaman, 1999). It shares another secret with Hope.
Hope has even more compelling secrets
And as Goat Bluff overlooks Hope here they are.
The first is the precise whereabouts of the wrecked ship, the Hope, that gives the beach its name (Leaman, 1999).
The next secret really belongs to the general vicinity near Hope because between Betsey and the Derwent Light mysterious compass deviations first noted by Mathew Flinders are now assumed to be caused by volcanic necks on the sea floor – and according to Leaman (1999) may possibly have caused the Hope to wreck in the first place.
But here’s the best secret. Eons ago the complicated Derwent entered Storm Bay through the South Arm isthmus, which now blocks it. The best part of this secret is that it seems to have done so through ‘a gorge [now] filled with more than 200 metres of clay, sandy clay, sand and gravel [that] lies hidden from our view…’ (Leaman, 1999).
A mountain. A river. A bluff. They may seem so enduring, but I think all nouns are simply verbs in disguise and everything a process.
Leaman, David. 1999. Walk into history in Southern Tasmania. Lehman Geophysics, Hobart
Short, A.D. 2006. Beaches of the Tasmanian coast and islands. Sydney University Press, Sydney.
Hope Beach spreads itself from Cape Direction in the west to Goats Bluff in the east, a distance of about 5 km. It is backed by dunes that are quite large by Tasmanian standards. The beach forms the southern shoreline of the South Arm isthmus. Ralphs Bay is contained behind the dunes and this large embayment of the Derwent River provides a sheltered habitat for shorebirds.
Betsey Island lies offshore and between the island and the beach lies Black Jack Reef, notorious for snaffling the boats of the unwary.
Although we had come to Hope (driving through farmland then walking in along the dune top path) we weren’t sure we were done with Cape Direction. I stood beneath the cyprus pines that grow on the dunes in this western corner of the beach and contemplated its shaggy slope. Cathy energetically sought a path and although it was possible a way existed, the dense scrub made it uninviting. So we decided to tackle the rocks instead.
The reef at the base of the cape was an equally unlikely route around to Pot Bay but we gave it a go, timing breakers. It defeated us within metres but presented us with a great view westwards towards the Iron Pot Reef.
As we set off along the sand a lone surfer stood on the dunes assessing the surf. A pied and sooty oystercatcher were chilling together, and later we spotted six more of the pied variety, along with a dozen hooded plovers – a great sight, given they are endangered.
It was only when we’d reached the eastern end (where the beach unexpectedly curves and broadens) and had climbed up Goats Bluff that we saw that those sand dunes, a bulwark against the ocean, were being sand mined.
We could make out Black Jack Reef where one of the Incat ferries, Condor 11, ground to a halt on a trial run in 2011. But it is only the most recent shipwreck in this area. The best known one gave the beach its name.
The Loss of the Hope
The Hobart Colonial Times May 1827
We have the painful duty to report the loss of the barque Hope, which vessel was wrecked on Sunday morning last, on the long Sandy Beach, between Betsy and Iron-pot Islands. It appears she was on her way from Sydney hither, with about 100 tons of freight, and the following passengers: Ensign Barcley, 40th Regiment; Mrs. Bisbee and Mr. Bisbee (wife and brother of Mr. Bisbee of Hobart Town who came as passengers in the ship Elizabeth from England to Sydney); also Mrs. Westbrook mother of Dr. Westbrook. Of this place, another passenger per the Elizabeth, and three others, among whom is Mr. Edmund Johnson, nephew of Mr. Joseph Johnson of the Green Ponds.
The Hope made the Heads on Saturday afternoon; and took on board, off Cape Raoul, the pilot, Mr. Mansfield, the same evening, shortly before dusk. The Hope at this time was being towed in by two of the ship’s boats; but the pilot having taken charge of the vessel, told Captain Cunningham, that he could safely bring her up the river, without the assistance of the boats; from which, in consequence, she parted.
The Captain, however, wished the vessel might be towed in; but the Pilot observed, that his long experience in the river Derwent would enable him to bring her up in safety otherwise. The Captain was perfectly aware of sufficient room being afforded in the Derwent for any vessel to be brought up with almost any wind, and therefore acquiesced with the Pilot’s wishes; and, leaving the charge of the vessel in his hands, retired to rest, where he remained until awakened by the vessel running on shore.
The wind light and variable, and the vessel proceeded up the river but slowly. The night was rather dark and rainy; and about 4 o’clock on the morning of Sunday; about two hours before day break, she, by some means, we can scarcely conceive how, ran ashore, on the long sandy beach, in Shoal Bay, as above stated.
Although the night was rather dark, the wind was not violent, but the surf was running tremendously high. On the lead line being thrown, she was discovered to be in seven feet of water, while her proper draught was fifteen. The moment she struck, the consternation and terror became general; and the scene is described as truly terrific.
The Captain raving at the pilot like a man distracted, the latter standing in mute dismay— females just left their beds— sailors not knowing which way to turn, to relieve the creaking vessel, which was expected to go to pieces every moment, as she already leaked like a sieve— the heavy surf rolling over her, adding horror to the scene— while the dismal half hour guns of distress seemed to signal the death knell of all on board. Daylight at length appeared and discovered to the sufferers their truly perilous situation.
About 10 o’clock of the Sunday morning, two whale-boats, of Mr. Lucus’s fishing party, which had been laying off Bruny Island, came up to the wreck. They had heard the proceeding evening the signal-gun nfor the Pilot, which drew their attention and induced them to bend their steps thitherward.
They immediately lent their aid, with the ship’s jolly boat, in getting out the ship’s bower and kedge anchors; but the attempt proved fruitless, for one of the whaleboats (the property of Mr. Kelly), was stove, having her head absolutely dashed off, and the crew narrowly escaped with their lives. Captain Cunningham then jumped into the jolly boat alone, which parted from the other boat, and nearly fell a sacrifice to his eager promptitude, to save the vessel. Finding every other hope lost, to all the lives they could became their chief object.
The venerable Mrs. Westbrook and Mrs. Bisbee were safely conveyed on shore, after a state of most dreadful suspense for four hours. All this time, the rolling of the vessel almost precluded anyone from keeping their feet, while the state of the two females was most dreadful; overcome with weakness and terror, and fatigue, they could not stand without support, which was kindly afforded by a Mr. John Elliot and some other Gentlemen passengers. With the Ladies, Mr. Clarkson, charterer of the Hope, came up to Hobart Town by the whale-boat in the course of Sunday, bringing the fatal news to Town, leaving the other persons on board. Immediately on learning the fate of the Hope, the Agent (Mr. Behune), dispatched the sloop Recovery, a small craft, in order to bring away a portion of her cargo, in which she succeeded, having returned the following evening with as many tons of goods as could be thrown on board from the wreck.
But to return to the ship. On Sunday night, between 11 and 12 o’clock, the rudder gave way, and the upper part of her stern was driven in. At this critical hour of the night, it was every moment feared that the stern post would give way or be driven in also; in which case the vessel must soon afterwards have foundered, and every soul on board perished as the surf was still running mountains high. The other passengers who did not come up on Sunday safely arrived in Town on Tuesday – till which period all hands were employed at the pumps, in imminent peril, every moment in danger of being washed overboard. When some Gentlemen who left the wreck on Tuesday, who had visited it on Monday, the sea was gaining on the vessel every hour, her main mast had been cut away, and all hopes of saving her were given up. Some casks of spirits, which were on board, were ascertained to have been damaged by the salt water; and the tea and sugar, which also formed part of her cargo, must inevitably be destroyed. We understand, that among the persons who had merchandise on board is Mr. James Lord, owner of the Marquis of Lausdown.—- We are not aware whether the vessel is insured or not.
The government brig Prince Leopold, in coming from Maria Island with the remainder of the wreck of the Apollo, saw the Hope off the Heads on Saturday, and safely arrived in the Harbour the same evening. Monday she discharged her lading, and on Tuesday was immediately sent to the relief of the wrecked Hope.
There were rumours that £30,000 in silver coin had been buried on the beach by two soldiers. Captain John Laughton purchased the wreck at an auction, but in another nasty twist of fate he drowned while inspecting it (Shipwrecks of Tasmania).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
Johns Point and its Beach (T417): The minuscule, the long and the vast
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’shull, 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
* 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—“.
Coningham’s string of pocket beaches, notable for their boat sheds, are skinny, sandy and eroding. Where my kayak and I were carried ashore by a small, crashing wave I found a stormwater outlet and around it, supporting the slope and trying to buy it a little more time, sandbags piled on top of each other.
Coningham is one of Hobart’s small, outlying beach communities where weekend shacks have given way to full time homes for people willing to commute about forty minutes into the city. Because the beaches are largely backed by reserve and cliffs they aren’t that obvious from down on the sand, but higher up the slopes of Shepherds Hill there are long views across the bay to the Tinderbox Peninsula, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Bruny Island. Further off to the north kunanyi dominates the skyline.
Little penguins have a tiny presence here, their numbers much reduced now that this area is more built up, the beaches less quiet. Once, two years ago as we sailed down the Channel just off Ranggoerrade (an Aboriginal name for North West Bay), we encountered a group of about two hundred penguins. It’s not uncommon to see or hear a couple out on the water but a flock that big was exhilarating.
Where the beaches are backed by, or separated from each other by cliffs, they’re mostly composed of hard Triassic fluvial sandstones as well as some Permian marine siltstones (Sharples, 2014). I discovered, when I read this report, that Old Station Road leading in to Coningham is on reclaimed land, and that a small area of low-lying ground on the northern tip of Hurst Point ‘is the artificially lowered floor of a disused coastal sandstone quarry these days fringed by several boatsheds on the shoreline.’
During my first summer of sailing, a group of us once dropped anchor off Coningham Beach to while away some time in the sun. There were beach umbrellas and swimmers in the water and on the boat music and great company. The day felt perfect.
Then, a couple of months after my kayaking trip across Ranggoerrade from Dru Point to these beaches, I came back with a friend and we walked the Coningham Clifftop Track. This peaceful walk takes you from Legacy Beach up behind the cliffs and along the steep shoreline out to Snug Point through dry sclerophyll forest. It’s used by several endangered species, including the forty spotted pardalote and the swift parrot. There are blue gums and sheoaks, heath bent grass, gentle rush and tailed spider orchids. It’s beautifully serene until you reach the point. There’s a turning circle up there. It’s possible to peer down over the cliffs. There directly beneath is an ugly fish farm, that one that always seems to be in the way whenever we want to tack.
Andrew Short (2006) points out that Coningham’s beaches are reflective. He means that of all those beaches thrashed by waves, reflective beaches receive those waves with the least energy. The surf zone is narrow, as are the beaches, and their sand is coarse.
Here’s a quick list of the beaches using Andrew Short’s numbering system:
1. T478, (Clarks Beach, aka The Dog Beach) 150 m of north facing sand with some rock flats between two sandstone points.
2. T479 (Little Coningham Beach) with its boat sheds. It’s in the next little embayment and is a bit longer than Clarke’s.
3. T480 (Coningham Beach) is on the eastern side of Hurst Point. It’s longer than the first two (about 500m), also has boat sheds and there are houses on the slope behind it.
4. T481 (Legacy Beach) 500m west of Snug Point, backed by forested slopes. It has cliffs and rocky platforms.
Sharples, Chris & P. Donaldson (2014). A first pass coastal assessment for Kingborough Local Government Area, Tasmania. University of Tasmania, Hobart.