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.
As I kayaked towards the next headland I couldn’t see a thing beneath the water because of the sea state and I was trying to angle the kayak against the uppity swell. Walking, a path may take you away from the shore. In a kayak, the sea state can keep you at a distance from it too. I was having to focus harder and unlike when I’d kayaked the Tinderbox Peninsula’s eastern shore with numb legs, this time I’d adjusted my pedals too far forward, so the only purchase I was getting was with the tips of my toes. Meanwhile, the fetch was increasing, the water was darker and deeper and the white crests were getting more numerous. There was a small beach, only accessible by boat, on the northern side of the headland. Waves were breaking on it. I’d come back and explore it another day, I decided, because I did not want to risk capsizing.
Snug’s Coastline on Foot
Snug is another place on the Channel Highway that I’ve habitually driven through en route to other destinations, except for once, when we’d walked up to Snug Falls in the forest behind the town one wintery day. Not once when driving did I bother to imagine what it was like when this area was the domain of the South East Tribe or what impressions D’Entrecasteaux, Bass, Flinders and their crews formed on those early expeditions as they made the acquaintance of this part of the bay, comfortably secluded beneath the Snug Tiers and fed by the streams running down from them. Not for a moment had I stopped to imagine a fishing fleet operating out of Snug or small freight ships visiting in the early 1800s. In fact, I had never even connected Snug with the coastline.
In the 1820s timber cutters did business here and farmers took up land. A tiny settlement began to grow, but bushfires destroyed it in 1854, and returned again on 7 February 1967 to repeat the performance. There’s a monument in remembrance of those who lost their lives.
It was only more recently, with my attention increasingly focussed on Tasmania’s coastline, that I decided on a whim one day to turn south off the highway to see if I could reach the shore of North West Bay. I didn’t notice that the road was, in fact, called Beach Road.
It took me to the Esplanade and I found a caravan park, a footy field, a beautiful beach and and a peaceful little river. I was immediately won over by the way it curved around some lovely cliffs and quietly nosed its way into the bay between beach and headland. A little footbridge crossed it, providing access to the headland and so, without hesitating, the dogs (on their leads) and I bounded up it. There was a light drizzle. I soaked up the beautiful views. With Bruny Island at the opposite end of the bay it looked like an enclosed lake. There were a couple of yachts on moorings, the water was somnolent and a small motor boat puttered across it.
Snug Beach (T477)
Landcare have been doing careful work here and the beach was almost (but not totally) devoid of litter. It’s a lean beach and I think of it as green hued because of the green river and the thin strip of overlapping vegetation separating it from the road. There are no dunes, so to compensate there are neatly laid sandbags suggesting to the sea that it keeps back. Blackwoods grow right down to the beach. Of course, as the sea is swelling, there is coastal erosion because Snug is on a soft sediment plain cupped by sandstone slopes and there are rockfalls on the beach’s southern headland (Sharples & Donaldson, 2014)
Walking Snug Rivulet
It was a foul day. Snow had fallen and then settled overnight, but been washed away by rain in the early morning, and apart from being bitterly cold the waterladen sky sagged. Grey misery pervaded the landscape.
‘I think this is a great day to go to Recherche Bay,’ said the geologist.
My preference was to sit by the fire with a book, but I was also curious to revisit rivulets, now in flood. As we visited previously dormant streams now grown powerful and active, I recalled the Snug River. This was the perfect day to walk its banks.
We started at the coast and walked upstream around a leisurely bend. The tannin water, the reeds, and the river widening peacefully further upstream made for a pleasant stroll. There is a little wetland area with native grasses and reeds and a white faced heron and a large egret were enjoying the mudflats. We counted 22 hooded plovers there too and there was pink epacris in blossom, prickly moses, leptospermum lerigium, acacia dielbata, banksia marginata, eucalyptus amygdalina and sag. The multiplicity was greater than my botanical knowledge.
We passed two black pipes, side by side entering the river close to where I was now picking up litter – a dummy, plastic bottles and a cardboard drink container.
Where the river narrowed there were rapids and somewhere along here the path left the wetland and we had to walk along the side of a road. There were signs about dog control – dogs on the loose have been destructive. The river is in close proximity to houses and it isn’t fenced. It’s not just dogs, it’s people too. The litter up here was disappointing.
A native hen swam the river, making use of more rapids further upstream, and as we walked along the bridge on the Channel Highway I saw two tiny black ducklings in the reeds below but could not see their mother. There was a track on the other side of the bridge that followed alongside the opposite bank and then meandered up a hill. It was the old main road, we figured, closed off now to vehicles. We were high above the river flats with a filtered view through eucalypt forest but still we were picking up litter – more and more plastic, more and more styrofoam, all heading incrementally down to the waterway and on out into North West Bay.
At the top there was nowhere to go. We didn’t realise we were in the area allocated to the Electrona Industrial Park. There were houses and a path in the forest nearby had broken bridges. Old car parts were strewn through the undergrowth giving it an abandoned, somewhat hostile appearance. There was no incentive to explore; we returned the same way and when we got back to the beach we crossed the footbridge and did the headland walk the dogs and I had done before, only this time we carried on walking alongside a seafood factory, wondering exactly what it was. We came to its entrance. A notice proclaimed ‘Ralphs’ [Tasmanian Seafood Pty Ltd]. There were piles of abalone shells, a bad smell and a lot of litter.
Another astute business man and this time an Italian migrant success story (if you’re the human and not the piscean abalone predators) because this company had its beginnings when Ralph Caccavo, a prominent Tasmanian businessman, began exporting live abalone to China in 1996. It is now the world’s largest supplier of live abalone caught in the wild, exporting more than 500 tonnes per year out of a total Tasmanian catch of approximately 2,600 tonnes. Ralph’s also owns government-issued abalone catch quotas in Tasmania’ (Company website).
We strolled up to the factory again more recently. The abalone shells were all neatly bagged up and there wasn’t quite as much litter lying about the hillside.
Abalone fisheries are in decline and several areas have been closed this year. In the D’Entrecasteaux, there’s a belief that at least some of the reason is because of fish farms. If a generous proportion of those 2,600 tonnes were still in situ, I wondered, would there be more birds? Would the ecosystems be more intact? One of those self-evident questions, really.
Surfing a Following Sea
I rounded Snug Beach’s southern point and turned into the next bay, rather muddy looking and quite triangular, with Snug Creek entering at its northern end. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a concrete post looking like a monument in the water, but actually just part of a substantial jetty that was now a ruin and maybe a reminder of the days when fishing was more active here. This was another area I wanted to return to because, also out of the corner of my eye, I saw an appealing boatshed on a thin muddy shore. But the swell pushed me, this time from right behind, and I was surfing down a following sea, the kayak’s prow burying itself in the wave ahead. It was getting to be far too full on for my liking and so I turned to face these swells rolling in from the D’Entrecasteaux because at least that way I could keep my eye on them and there was less chance of them knocking me over.
I left Wingana behind me and drifted on down the bay, feeling elated. I was discovering coves that weren’t evident from the road. Their beaches were private affairs, apparently enjoyed only by the people living in the houses directly above them and given that the tide was high, they were merely thin lines of sand, often covered in the red seaweed I’d seen earlier and sometimes there was no beach at all, except that I’d be floating over expanses of sand that on the low tide were probably exposed. In one small cove a pair of horses stood staring at me. I passed a green shack and glided over its beach. I paused beneath a house on a cliff to inspect the rocky shoreline. There was a party happening up there and they had no idea I was drifting along savouring their bay. In the water tiny fish were jumping and the grey heron that had been leading me down Ranggoerrade flew off again as I drew closer.
I loved discovering boat sheds along the edge of the bay. I hadn’t realised there were quite so many.
Around 10.30 am I came to a change in the cliffs. They looked, to my ignorant eye, to be a dolerite intrusion and I discovered a picturesque grouping of boat sheds close by.
I was now nearing the moorings and a man, knee deep in the water, had one hand on his tender, and was about to head out to his yacht. He greeted me, and that was the start of a long, interesting boating conversation. It turned out we belonged to the same sailing club and that we both had Catalinas. It turned out that unlike my local, small scale adventuring, he had just returned from cruising the Pacific. We talked about yachts and our boats’ pointing capabilities. We talked about the bay and the midweek races and then I kayaked away towards the next cove. ‘Perhaps I’m getting close to Stinkpot Bay,’ I was thinking, when I was actually right in the middle of it, wondering where I was, and looking up at a house I should have recognised instantly. It just goes to show how different a place can seem when you approach it from the water… and when you are thinking about what it would be like to cruise the Pacific yourself.
Stinkpot is a bay with character and its shared by three houses. A small rivulet flows into it and the beach seems to be uncertain as to whether it wants to by sandy or muddy. This makes it popular with crabs, who walk it on quietly clicking legs, but difficult for humans to avoid squashing the inhabitants in their underground bunkers.
There’s a short walk from the road to Stinkpot Point. It’s all of 5-10 minutes, but once you’ve sat on the rocks at their furthest extent, it’s easy to become transfixed for a long, long time. The sandstone cliffs show off their beauty here too and the view of the moorings, the bay and the surrounding hills is pretty idyllic. As for how it got it’s name, Placenames Tasmania records it to be ‘from the smell of rotting seaweed.’ But Stinkpot is also a term of endearment and an alternative name for the Southern giant-petrel, and as it’s definitely a stinkpot if you’ve grown up here and that lovely bird is having a hard time of it when it comes to long-line fishing and the ingesting of plastics, I prefer a combination of both these alternative facts when it comes to this particular Stinkpot’s nomenclature.
Walking the Western Shore of the Derwent River: Taroona to Taronga
(This is a continuation from an earlier post)
‘There’s a new bit of track on the Derwent River,’ a friend told me earlier this week. ‘It hasn’t been open long at all and the council hasn’t advertised it yet.’
I realized that the trail she was talking about was the much needed link between Hinsby Beach and Taronga Road and so as soon as I had a moment, I went to see for myself. And it was true. The track now leaves Hinsby Beach, involves a short walk along Wandella Avenue, then ducks down into a stretch of forest before emerging at the Shot Tower, where the vegetation is compromised by weeds but the path enlivened by river views across to South Arm. This is a stretch I’d chosen to cycle because walking on major thoroughfares at a distance from the river is an unrewarding experience.
A steep stretch of downhill comes next, and then an equally steep stretch of uphill. It’s actually not too much of a slog at all and I sat at the table at the top with the geo, enjoying the views before walking along the cliffs, then turning back and doing it all again from the other direction.
There’s a clue to why this short piece of track may have taken so long to come into being and my guess is that landowners needed encouragement. ‘Private Property – Keep out’ signs – even one ‘Bloody Keep Out’ sign, line the fences on either side, a small sadness really, when contrasted with the UK and some other European countries where rights of way across private land are well established, well accepted and enrich communities… and I speak as someone with a right of way across our land – it’s never been an issue.
Until you reach the bottom of Taronga Road where this track links in with the Alum Cliffs walk, it feels rather disconnected from the water. But it does provide continuity with other paths and coastal strips and so it is fantastic that someone with initiative on the council has managed to work with the community to create this short but pleasant path.
The path crosses two rivulets, but these participators in the making of this landscape had vacated their beds. The shapes of tiny waterfalls were visible on one, and the rivulet it flows into was napping in a few residual pools.
The holiday homes of Binalong Bay spread up the northern slope of Humbug Hill, but behind them the original vegetation remains considerably intact, protected inside the Humbug Point Nature Recreation Area. This reserve spreads across both Humbug and Bald Hills. It’s mainly dry sclerophyll forest (although it has its boggy bits) with a diversity of plant, wildlife and bird species and a spectacular coastline that makes for a wonderful walk. There are various free camping spots that have a more enclosed, bushland feel than the coastal camping sites along the road to The Gardens, north of Binalong Bay, and until our last visit, we had relied more on our car than our feet to take us exploring in this area.
I wondered how this area got it’s current name, given that in northern Australia ‘humbug’ is an Aboriginal term for placing unreasonable demands on family, but according to the Tasmanian Nomenclature Board, it’s first shown on an early diagram (1/386 Dorset) as Point Puzzle. They say it was named by a certain J. H. Wedge, because of the frustrating difficulties experienced in running stock there. Thylacines took his sheep and lambs, apparently, so perhaps farming there was in fact humbug as far as his family was concerned. They themselves were bigger humbug by far for those families, bands and tribes who had lived more lightly and longer on this particular country.
The board also notes Top Bay (AMG608 x 5426), which I hadn’t spotted on any maps, as one of the small features west of Humbug Point (as advised by Jack Mallinson and Alf Barnett of Binalong Bay, January 1977). Possibly this is the spot where we found an unexpected beach.
We made an impulsive decision one Monday lunch time to head north. We threw some clothes into a bag, bundled the dogs into the car and headed up to the Bay of Fires for a couple of days of down time. Our first walk was going to be to Dora Point and back to Binalong Bay along the Skeleton Bay Track, but in the end we did it over two walks. One of us was sick on our first attempt and we also failed to take enough water for our canine companions. For September, it was surprisingly hot although for most of this walk the weather was overcast, going by my photos.
Binalong Bay Coves
We lingered in the Binalong Bay coves just to the south of Boat Harbour Cove / Binalong Gulch. The sand was still free of footprints and it was all so idyllic. It was the kind of morning for snorkelling, for settling in comfortably with small children still excited by the prospect of sand castles, for putting up a beach umbrella and losing oneself in a book. We observed the lichen’s low level mark – perfectly straight – and the pelicans near the boat ramp. I imagined these coves long ago, small campfires burning, Larapuna bands hunting through the scrub and diving for shellfish in the translucent waters of the bay. The gulches make perfect pools for those who like to keep their feet grounded. The boulders never cease to fascinate. You can lose yourself in the view north for hours and while there are pockets of sand in the gulches that one could kindly call ‘covelets’, there is in fact a high tide, white sand beach with lovely boulders and tidal pools, about 100m wide, according to Andrew Short (2006), who numbers it beach T90.
T91 Skeleton Bay (or South and North Skeleton Coves)
There’d been a full moon by night and all day a big swell had been flowing into the bay, with a huge surf crashing against the points visible to the north from our cottage on the hill, but the water in the coves was comparatively gentle. Eventually we left Binalong Bay, walking around the corner into wild and much smaller Skeleton Bay, the real start of the walk. It has two coves, North and South, with small Skeleton Rivulet feeding fresh water into the sea after rain falls. There was a ‘don’t mess with me’ surf smashing in here too; water in a hurry. Kelp lay strewn along the wrack line, big pieces, their feet intact, testifying to the strength of a past storm, and I started to pick my way over the coarse, white sand while the geo stuck to the road above. Almost immediately I found myself walking into a cloud of the small, flying invertebrates usually attracted to rotting seaweed and the pungent treasure that contains. I fled their avid interest by escaping through the bush back up to the road. The walk could only get better.
We crossed the rivulet and began the walk to Skeleton Point and, just offshore, walk- stopping Skeleton Rock. The meandering track follows the coastline with beautiful views its entire length and I had the strong sense of this being, under the thin disguise of a modern path, a Larapuna track, whole eras old. Granite underpins the vegetation, she-oaks extend behind the boulders and the path is densely covered in their curls when walking through copses. Boobiala and kunzia were in flower. Every so often paths lead down to places where wonderful views give way to the spectacular. That day there were two other parties of walkers enjoying the track, and we met both in the vicinity of Skeleton Point, but we seemed to be the only ones intent on walking through to Dora Point, about 4 hours return.
The day became overcast after that bright sunny start but each time sunshine burst through, we sweltered and kept a sharper look out for snakes.
We reached Grants Point. Offshore to the south are Grants Point Rocks.
In this vicinity the path is on a higher contour and after passing boulders with big auras all gathered in an area backing the point, there’s a truly massive one with a particularly looming, mysterious presence. This rock definitely has to have a dreamtime significance but it’s meaning and name are lost in time, unless perhaps you’re Larapuna, and if it has a modern one that’s hard to track down too. It seemed reasonable to suppose that the day use/camping area close by might once have been a place of significance to the original inhabitants who lived in communication with this land.
We stopped here for a while, enjoying the view and the ambience created by the boulders, then contemplated the wisdom of going on. I felt both relief and failure when we turned around. This time I was determined to walk the full extent of Skeleton Cove but again we were assailed by insects and fled off it in a rush, through yet another band of insects, this time mosquitoes.
Dora Point Beaches (T92, 93, and one unidentified)
Take Two began at the other end of this walk, on Dora Point Beach (T93), just within the northern headland of Kunarra Koona (Georges Bay) and huge breakers were rolling in over the sand bar. I turned sailor, not liking what I saw, and we had a long strategising conversation as we walked to the start of the track, about bars and stormy weather, crossing sandbars at slack water and the history here of dredging and the current breakwater developments we could see taking place at the far end of the beach. Once, when we were being hammered by a ferocious northerly gale just south of here, both yacht and crew compromised, seeking refuge in Georges Bay had been considered. I’m glad the skipper quickly dismissed this option.
This is also the kind of beach to enjoy from an aesthetic point of view and if you’re a fisher it’s a good place to cast a line, given the piscean through-traffic. But leave your bathers at home. A big body of water enters and departs through a narrowe entrance and the current isn’t to be taken lightly, although that’s how it would surely take you. This great lagoon spreads inland to St Helen’s. The sandbar gets dredged to keep the mouth open and there’s a breakwater that’s led to a beach blossoming on the southern side of the entrance.
Dora Beach is quite a wide, curvaceous beach with soft white sand and seawater pooled that day in the hollows the outgoing tide had left behind. It’s especially beautiful as you walk north across it to the start of the track. A density of ti tree forest creates an intimate feeling in that corner of the beach, well protected from northerly winds out of both quarters, but I felt it was keeping secrets and when we reached the track we saw it hid a shelter, made from fallen branches, beneath its canopy. These are surprisingly common on coastal bush walks.
We started on the path and rounded the headland and it was not long before we reached a beach divided by an outcrop of boulders into a northern and southern half. Someone had put a sign saying Cash’s Beach above it; a new sign. (I think it’s T92, Dora Point North in Short’s inventory) We wondered at its significance and later, talking to a local beach afficiando who knows this area extremely well, his bemusement was much the same as ours.
We took a relaxing stroll through casurina forest on a beautiful track, at times through muddy puddles and ti tree groves, and over a small marsupial meadow, scats in abundance and small tunnels in the undergrowth, the boom of the surf and the serenading frogs, so tolerant of the ocean that they also sung from puddles in the granite boulders, where, on closer inspection, we saw tadpoles and mosquito larvae.
We crossed a little meadow. We walked through boobiala thickets. The vegetation ranged from dry loving plants to thirsty plants. There was sometimes moss growing on the granite and lichens on branches, and it was an easy, thoroughly satisfying walk, no significant ups and downs. We passed Grants Rocks, we passed a beacon and we came again to the boulder at Grants Point, where again we sat for a while, gazing out to sea, trying to decipher the memory of the big boulders behind us that we’d past the previous day. It was a Wednesday. There was no one else on the track.
Our return walk held two surprises apart from the usual one of the return walk always seeming so much shorter. The geo spotted two more beaches, small and tucked away, difficult to see from the path if you weren’t especially looking and when I checked Short I was satisfied that we had again discovered a beach that was not on the inventory. The last one we found was Dora Point (T93), which we’d passed without noticing on our way north. I spied a pair of pied oyster catchers on it and a white buoy that had drifted up on the tide. I carefully snuck down and claimed it for Samos, the pied oyster catchers so intent on foraging that they were none the wiser to my presence, a bit of a coup on an island where the birds are usually jittery.
The Bay of Fires from Humbug Point northwards is an exhilarating stretch of Tasmanian coastline. There’s just something about the white sand, the lichened granite boulders and the crystal clear water that combine to make it particularly awesome and peaceful at the same time. In summer, when it’s warm, the bush camping along The Gardens Road is the loveliest we’ve found in the state and in the cooler months there are plenty of beach houses available for hire.
Binalong is a small settlement on the northern slope of Humbug Hill, backed by a great reserve and with wonderful views. It has a tiny permanent population of about 200 people and is a mix of small shacks, large mansions and modest beach houses. There is no shop but there is a small cafe with a good menu and expansive views. Behind the bay and at the foot of the hill lies Grants Lagoon, wonderful for birdwatching or kayaking.
The complexity of the landscape – the casuarina forests, the photogenic rock formations and the dune trapped lagoons combine with the beaches to make this area totally compelling. Apart from cycling, swimming and kayaking, there’s a surf break at the northern end of Binalong Beach and at the southern end there are a number of beautiful coves separated from each other by massive boulders. There’s a gulch that forms a tiny harbour of sorts and these days an ecotour leaves from here and heads out by boat along the coastline as far north as Eddystone Lighthouse.
This spot hasn’t always been called Binalong Bay. It was once Boat Harbour but as there is also a Boat Harbour in the North West, it cast off name confusion and opted for something more indigenous. The Bay of Fires was known as Larapuna by the people these days known as the North East nation. There are believed to have been seven clans in all (Johnson & Mcfarlane, 2015) , roughly totalling about 500 people* who willingly granted seasonal access to the Ben Lomond nation, probably for reciprocal rights, enabling them to benefit from the area’s rich pickings. It was a meeting place and as the climate was mild, it could well have been where most Tasmanians chose to live in earlier periods of the Holocene.
The current name of the Bay of Fires was provided by Tobias Furneaux, who captained the HMS Adventure (part of Cook’s Great Antarctic Expedition of 1772-1775). He and his expeditioners noticed many campfires burning in this area at night, and aboriginal stone formations, seal traps, burial sites and middens still exist, so treading lightly and respectfully needs to go hand in hand with leisure and enjoyment when visiting this area.
After the European invasion, sheep farming, fishing, forestry and the transporting of these commodities grew in importance and on our last visit we discovered the tracks of what had once been a local railway. It follows a contour, then ends at the gulch, where today there’s a jetty and boat ramp.
We’ve been to the Bay of Fires three times this year. First we camped and then we brought some of our overseas family here. The mad keen cyclist promptly headed for the Blue Tiers track while the rest of us, being of more idle dispositions, merely rode from Binalong to the The Gardens, did a bit of Humbug Point exploring and had a pleasant amble along Binalong Bay Beach, the white sand soft underfoot.
It was only when we were at the farthest end of the beach where the big boulders begin, that we realised the cyclist had taken both sets of car keys. He was expecting us to meet him in Derby later on that particular day but his mobile had no Australian reception, so while he waited and wondered what had happened to us, we tried to relax into the knowledge that there was nowhere to go and nothing we could do except soak up the sun and admire the sublime view from the beach house.
The geo and I came back again shortly after our Hong Kong to London train trip. This time we focused on exploring with a little bit of kayaking thrown in for good measure. We met a local artist and had some long chats with a new friend who is walking the beaches from the Tamar to Freycinet.
Binalong Bay beach is a poignant beach for me. A good friend, who loved this spot too, had a heart attack on an early morning stroll along the sand and although he recovered, did not see out the year, dying on my birthday.
*Given the fact that European invasion of Tasmania caused numbers to collapse quickly and dramatically, this number is a best guess by some of those working in the field.
Johnson, M & I. McFarlane. 2015. Van Diemen’s Land: an aboriginal history, UNSW Press, Sydney.
Blackmans Bay: just south of Kingston Beach between Boronia Hill to the north and Flowerpot Hill to the south, is a long curve of pale sand surrounded by suburb. A rivulet enters the beach at each end and the presence of a stormwater outlet defiles an otherwise beautiful beach. Yachts moor beneath Flowerpot Hill.
Blackmans Bay Beach
We sat in the Beach Cafe looking out over the river on a cold, bleak day, talking about memory. Afterwards I stepped outside and surveyed the beach. There was still time enough for some exploring and so I walked the extent of the beach. The traffic has been slowed, native vegetation has been planted, the community has crafted tiles and inserted them into the pavement. They’ve beautified the esplanade and when I was here last week (May 2016) approximately 200 silver gulls, an oyster catcher and a pacific gull had the beach to themselves.
Boronia Hill: The cliffs, the rocks and the blow hole
Boronia Hill gifts Kingston Boronia Beach with its little penguins and gifts Blackmans Bay a blow hole. I’ve walked the cliff top path between Powell Street and the beach on more than one occasion, gazing out over the river, peering down in search of this blow hole thinking I was drinking everything in.
Actually, I wasn’t.
On a warm, blue day I walked the rocks. Surfers were taking the clear, cold breaks and small parties of people were spread across the accommodating boulders enjoying a champagne Saturday. My walk north towards Boronia Beach was stymied by a gash too wide to jump. On the other side a group of girls were scuba diving off the extensive rock platform I’d seen from above.
This had to be where the blow hole was – and so I headed up to the wooded cliff top again, past the bird kindly signs reminding that ‘the sniff of a dog can snuff out a family’. So can human feet, I thought, attempting to stick to the path. This time I was alarmed to discover a man sitting on a precarious outcrop of rock on the wrong side of the safety fence. Worried about his intentions, I engaged him in conversation and was relieved when he climbed off his rock (‘just enjoying the view’) to come and show me the blowhole.
‘It’s right beneath your feet,’ he said and, puzzled, I walked a short distance into the remnant bushland with him. Maybe this was why I’d never noticed it from the water?
I don’t know that it’s actually a blow hole anymore. It’s more of a sea arch (the bit I’ve walked on several occasions) and behind it is a long drop down to the tiny cobbled beach building up inside it. Having found it, I then became aware of the signage pointing to it off Blowhole Road.
When I returned to this area the other day I discovered that the corners of this beach hold their secrets close. I found a little rivulet here, a muddy little trench running through grass below a eucalypt canopy of black gums that I’d overlooked on previous walks. This small trail through the Mary Knoll Reserve has a minty fragrance and it’s the teensiest remnant of Blackmans Bay’s native vegetation, a mere 1 km long stretch available for the endangered swift parrot to attempt to sustain itself in this Hobartian suburb. Understandably, with so much of its habitat logged and cleared around the island, it’s having a hard time and has just been added to the endangered species list. The interpretive signboard announced that the ‘reserve frames one of the last natural watercourses in the Blackmans Bay area’ but it never calls this shy and tiny rivulet by its name.
Flowepot Point and Beach T 468
Flowerpot Point extends 200 m east at the southern end of the bay, with beach T468 located immediately south of the point in a small rocky embayment. The beach is 200m long and consists of a steep cobble and boulder beach bordered by the point and rock platforms, together with a central rocky bluff and outcrop. Steep vegetated bluffs rising to 40 m in the south back the beach, with bluff top houses behind. ~ Andrew Short (2006).
The tide was high but I saw three figures just beyond the boathouse, a mother trailed by small children, picking their way back over the rocks below the hill and so I waited to talk to them.
They were avid beach adventurers and knew the area well and so I asked about the beaches of the Tinderbox Peninsula, further south. They mentioned Sleepo’s and one called Fisho’s and talked about a rocky beach beyond this point. After we parted company I retraced their footsteps, past the boat house and the yachts and out along the rocky point noticing some beautiful sandstone rock formations and tessellated platforms beneath the crumbling cliffs.
There was a little path up a slight cliff edge at the very tip of the point, and then a small rock formation formed an island just offshore. In company I’d have swung around the end of the point but the gap was a bit risky and if I’d fallen the tide might have collected me up before anyone noticed. I had to wait for a spring tide when the reef lay fully exposed to walk around to an exquisite cobbled beach fringed with forest. This secret beach held far more interest to me than the main beach. There were houses visible on the clifftops yet it retained a sense of quite intense quietude and mystery, as if moments before my arrival a small band of Mouheneer had disappeared around the far corner and the idea of tall ships sailing down the river was beyond the realms of possibility.
Flowerpot Hill and the Suncoast Headlands Track
When I first used to come to Flowerpot Hill it was a whole lot more rural. Friends lived in a small house full of books and art on a big block with magnificent views. Now small lanes between a mass of houses link the roadways on the hill and lead walkers on to the Suncoast Track from many different directions.
The dogs and I last came here on a quiet week day to walk the Suncoast Headlands Track again – I’d walked it with a friend long ago. We drove there taking careful note of rivulets and the catchments I knew we were passing through and the ones I didn’t. Marina Abramaviks was talking about her art on the radio, the silent hours of communing with a donkey, and long hours of shared contemplation with the people who came and sat in front of her as part of museum exhibitions. I wondered yet again – how best does a person commune with a beach?
This thin ribbon of a track is scantily bordered by remnant native vegetation – casurinas and understory species, but the path is beautiful, with expansive views of the estuary and Storm Bay and human domesticity at your shoulder. As well as the long views you can also peep down and see Flowerpot Hill’s two cobbled beaches, the one I’d visited and the next one south. At times you walk alongside fences, at other times you almost feel you are in someone’s garden. Small signs erected by a local (an avid sailor, I’m pleased to say) asked others to come and help with weed control in this vicinity.
Where the houses end on the southern slope there’s a great grassy expanse that sweeps down to a copse of casurinas through which you can glimpse the Lucas Point Sewage Plant. This charges the atmosphere unpleasantly and so we turned back.
I met a Ten Pound Pom as I returned to Blackmans Bay beach. She lives near the spot where the bulrushes grow and the dinghies lie upside down on the grass. She told me how much the beach has changed over the decades. She said it’s a lot narrower than it used to be and put it down to repeated storm damage.
Together we stood there and regarded the beach and contemplated its future.
Source: Short, A.D. 2006. Beaches of the Tasmanian coast and islands. Sydney University Press, Sydney.
I had an assignation with Mr Brown’s River and so it seemed quite appropriate to invite him to accompany me, if only in mind, on the cliff top walk above the Alum Cliffs one day late last year.
That day I’d paused at the beginning of the track, surveying the view from a picnic table above the cliffs while chatting to locals, but mainly, I was quizzing Mr Brown, a drop out medical student from the University of Edinburgh who was thinking about all things floral while his fellow students focussed on cadavers, and whose enquiring mind and botanical obsession had, with a little help from Joseph Banks, brought him here aboard the Investigator in 1801, on Matthew Flinders expedition to discover whether New Holland was one island or many.
There was a breeze, I was ostensibly alone and a single yacht had the white capped river to itself as it headed up river just like the Investigator, which spent some time in the D’Entrecasteaux and the Derwent. Accordingly, Robert Brown spent a lot of time collecting plant specimens from Table Mount (aka kunanyi / Mount Wellington) and along the river, encountering and following the course of Brown’s River in the process. These are my tramping grounds, but on the voyage out he’d visited another of my favourite haunts – Cape Town, where he climbed Table Mountain several times and enjoyed botanising in the fynbos and across the surroundings slopes, including Devil’s Peak.
Defeated by the boulders below the cliffs (see previous blog) it was a whole lot easier rambling along a well formed path that often felt more bushland than clifftop as it wove through eucalypts (silver peppermint and blue gum) and banksias, past epacris in bold red flower, with the companionable little sounds of small birds calling. It’s a sunny and shadowed path with a faintly minty fragrance in places, that occasionally deposits one at the cliff edge for filtered views across to Trywork and Gorringes Points and the long vista through the gap into Ralphs Bay as well as north and south along the river’s two shores. The Iron Pot was visible out towards Storm Bay. I had no doubt that samples of the plants I was walking amongst were included in the 3000 specimens my companion collected and that made their way back to the UK on the very damp Investigator. A conversation between Robert Brown and Charles Darwin, I decided, would have been interesting. They were both lateral thinkers with acute observational skills of the natural world, including geology who spent time here that led to new insights.
These cliffs, where Bonnet Hill abruptly meets the estuary, are unstable and prone to collapsing into the river along their fractures and faults. They’re siliceous and weather from their greenish-grey to a far paler white, patterned with hues of oranges and lemons. Sometimes oxides and pyrites stain their fractures and as they’re composed of Fern Tree Permian siltstone they occasionally bear fossils. I sauntered over all this rich geology not much thinking about it except to wonder, as I walked by the junction of the Brickfields Track, whether the alum they hold ever found its way into the tanneries that used to line the Hobart Rivulet and made it whiffy back in the early years of settlement. Robert Brown came from Edinburgh, that cold city of stone and so it’s not surprising that geological samples, the substrate on which plants grow, and which moss, a favourite plant of his, is prone to nibble, were among his samples too.
I crossed three small rivulets by way of wooden bridges and passed a few other people out walking that day but otherwise had the friendly solitude of the forest all to myself until, quite unexpectedly, I was out of the forest and crossing a broad and sunny expanse of grassy reserve with lovely views from the bench down to the beach where people walked their dogs oblivious to the fact that they were being observed from up on high. I clambered down the steep steps to the beach. I had left Taroona behind and was now in Kingston, originally known as the Brown River Settlement.
Brown’s River, or Promenalinah, as it was named by the Aborigines who enjoyed its bounty before their lives were rudely disrupted, divides Kingston Beach into two shifting halves and although it’s really a single beach the northern section that has gone to the dogs in the best possible way (although shorebirds would disagree), is known as Tyndall Beach. This section is continuously shape shifting in the most beautiful way. There’s a small cove in the northernmost corner tucked behind a lovely rock formation, it is fringed by vegetation and eucalypts as opposed to the houses and shops along the main beach but we walk it with a heavy footstep and so there are few shorebirds.
Tyndall Beach looking north
After lingering at the cove, I chose the narrow path that winds through the strip of vegetation at the foot of the cliffs in deference to my companion. A fair number of his new discoveries from this area turned out to have been discovered already by La Billardière on D’Entrecasteaux’s 1792 expedition. The two men didn’t just have botany in common. Conversely, La Billardiere started off with botany but later qualified in medicine.
I crossed the casual parking area between park and beach. Time was against me but the northwesterly was due to swing south westerly so at least I’d have the wind at my back on the return walk. And so there I paused on the footbridge over Mr Brown’s River contemplating both it and the floodplain it has carved between Bonnet Hill and Boronia Point. The tannin in the river makes it whisky coloured. It rises on kunanyi and I’ve followed much of its course, from above Silver Falls, down to the estuary. It runs narrow and free down the slopes (although some of its water is detoured into Hobart’s water supply) and then it weaves through its floodplain.
Robert Brown found the river when Aborigines still camped here and enjoyed the river’s largess and the hunting to be had behind the beach. There’s still a remnant wetland and there’s still the remnant bush I’d walked through, but my eyes took in an urban landscape – houses smothering the floodplain, and houses on the surrounding hills with their gobsmacking views. Looking down from the Channel Highway, the clubhouse of the golfcourse is the Red House built by John Lucas way back when. He was a a member of the first settler family to acquire land here. They picked up several hundred acres of land around Brown’s River and it’s on this land that, in about 1808, Kingston began to take shape. (For a historical perspective see the photos below). He found other things to, being the first person to describe a living cell nucleus and observing the tiny random movements of miniature particles down his microscope. You learned about this in Biology. It’s named after him – Brownian motion.
I retraced my steps, trailing my companion but mingling with modern day locals using the track. With the arrival of the south westerly the river grew wilder and the forest canopy transformed into an orchestra of wind instruments. I hoped the trees would hold.
I once took a walk in Eastern Turkey with a friend. That path was the only link between two villages. It crossed a shallow river that my friend traversed on a donkey. There were caves where hermits had once meditated; the way we were walking was thousands of years old. The Alum Cliff track links Taroona and Kingston but it is purely recreational. It’s quite possible that Aboriginal feet originally made it but I don’t know this to be a fact. Even though these days the purpose of footpaths has diminished, in the same way that arriving at an anchorage by boat is so different in feeling from arriving by car, so is it different arriving at a well known destination by foot.
There are at least two suburban developments in Hobart that would have thrown Robert Brown into an apoplectic fit behind his desk in Joseph Banks’s library (he became its librarian). One is Tolmans Hill, completely natural not that long ago. The profound shock when the first house appeared up there! The dismay as the suburb grew. The other is the small enclave above Tyndall Beach that doesn’t really belong anywhere but has further eroded the landscape Robert Brown found so rich and strange. This used to be native bush but subdivisions continue to happen on Bonnet Hill and in the fullness of time the land still open land looks set to disappear.
Historic Photos of Brown’s River (Source: LINC Tasmania)
The eucalypt that had confused me as I approached Grange Beach a little earlier in the walk had done so because my next waypoint, already known to me, was another bleached eucalypt lying prone across pebbles and sand, supported on the tiptoes of its branches. But now, walking along south of Grange Beach I was still trying to clarify the coastline in my head. Where, really, did Grange begin and end? Why was what I was seeing not according with what I’d read in Short’s inventory?
I rounded a slight point and finally reached the eucalypt I’d encountered the previous Sunday, a day that had begun sluggishly because I’d been reading Cheryl Strange’s book Wild, about her long walk down the Pacific Crest Trail, well into into the early hours of the morning. It had made me itchy to get out and walk beaches again, especially as so much of my time had been spent on Samos, back in the water finally after a long time on the slip, but still needing new batteries and a new anchor. Down at the boat that Sunday, ready to do some work, the geo and I realised we could do nothing – the shipbuilder had one of our keys and we’d forgotten the other – and so, with just a short space in my day before heading off on a beekeeping course, I’d set off on my initial sortie into Taroona to identify beach access points.
I’d parked the car at the southern end of Flinders Esplanade and found a path that led down to the beach beside a double story house. This path followed the short, steep edge of a gully that was the home of a rivulet. At the bottom of the cliff a huge, bleached eucalypt tree stretched across the sand. On the other (southern side of the rivulet) another path ascended.
I thought initially that I was on the beach that Short calls T458 (aka Blinking Billy Beach 3 – yep, I know; I was very confused!) because he describes that as being a narrow reflective sand and rocky beach that extends along the base of 20-30 m high bluffs for 200m. Only this wasn’t that long – or then again, maybe on a different tide it was? I also thought that it might be T459 which he describes as extending south of the sloping 20m high Cartwright Point. When I read this I still thought that Cartwright Point was actually High School Point visible in the distance, so it didn’t make sense. (He says of T459 that it’s a narrow eroding beach, is backed by vegetated bluffs that rise to 20m in the south, that there are houses on top of them and steps at the northern end. Not knowing the shoreline to the north at all that Sunday, I decided for the time being that this was the one I was on, not thinking twice about the steps at Grange Beach.
Welcome to my geographically confused world!
I hadn’t had time on that Sunday visit to walk north of the eucalypt, otherwise I’d have realised then that in the absence of a firm nomenclature there are different ways of viewing the coastline. Short, it seems, has taken a larger coastal/geomorphological perspective and identified longer strips – the three Blinking Billy Beaches with the third extending to Mitah Crescent (I think), and Dixons extending south from Grange Avenue to Taroona High School and High School Point. It was only when I revisited on a summer spring tide that I saw that on this strip Grange, Karringal and Dixons really do become one.
That Sunday, I simply walked about on the shrunken sandy portion of the beach as far as I could go, which wasn’t far as the tide was quite high. It was indeed narrow here, and as you can see, there are a lot of cobbles and sand and a reef. I found a quite astonishing square rock pool carved into a huge boulder that looked at first like a boat and then like a plane. It’s at the southern end close to the geologically interesting cliff that barred my way further south on that particular tide.
So on my long walk I sauntered along knowing that at some point I’d see the bleached and fallen eucalypt below Karringal Court and when I did the somewhat longer beach thrilled me just as much the second time, although I paused with concern to reconsider the dank little rivulet trapped behind a buildup of pebbles.
From here I could see past the pebble strip I was on to how the beach I assumed was Dixon’s curves to the point at the High School and that, in fact, this wasn’t all that far away.
There is a path you’re encouraged to take as your near the high school, but I’d come back after my beekeeping course was over, and walked that then, trying to shrug off a small despair that had nothing to do with the keeping of bees. That path sometimes uses streets, sometimes paths through bush and across grassy spaces, and sometimes brings you to cliff tops and as a result I was beginning to wonder about the geography behind the beach too.
Rather than choosing this path again I continued along the pebbles beneath tall yellow, unconsolidated cliffs before I stepped onto the beach that I’d identified as the one Sue Mount refers to as Dixons, but which, on a more recent visit, some locals spread on towels told me they simply call High School beach. They did not know it had another name.
As I walked along Dixons I kept a closer lookout for middens but the evidence I found was frail and barely present. I stopped to try and make sense of a layout of rocks that brought fish traps to mind, but if Tasmanian aborigines did not eat fish from 3700 years ago onwards – there was a dietary transition at this point (Johnson & McFarlane, 2015) – then why would they have built a trap, if that’s what it is? I must be one of many who have thought about this because on that later visit one of the people I stopped to chat with on this beach had wondered the same thing and as archaeologists have visited the midden on Dixons, they must have regarded/disregarded this feature too. It doesn’t feature in Jim Stockton’s Tasmanian Naturalist article on the matter.
I rounded the point I thought was Cartwright’s, puzzled, because it was disassociated from the reserve to which it was supposed to be attached. Instead the school grounds rise behind it. Is there a school anywhere else in Australia that has such a fantastic setting – surrounded by two beaches and a third (Retreat) across the road really just artificially divided from the other two?
There was a small cluster of seabirds hanging out on the boulders at the point (not Cartwright’s at all, but High School Point, just to be clear). There nearly always are seabirds here and, buoyed by this fabulous walk, I adjusted the pick up arrangements and then I carried on walking.
(Andrew Short’s report is referenced on The Bookshelf page).
Johnson, M & I McFarlane. 2015. Van Diemen’s Land: an aboriginal history, UNSW, Sydney