Derwent River: Alum Cliffs

No Business of Yours

They were mine for paddling, and kayak along these cliffs I did, before discovering sailing and long before embarking on this humble little project.  Now, standing on Hinsby Beach gazing south along their tall and shadowed extent, I wondered about the possibility of actually walking along their base.  I’d once assumed the Alum Cliff track that begins at the bottom of Taronga Road  on Bonnet Hill was the only way.  Now I was not so sure.

Alum Cliffs
Alum Cliffs from the path above Hinsby Beach

The coastline south from Hinsby Beach to Kingston  is  known as Alum Cliffs; the hill’s abrupt and perpendicular descent into the river.  There is no beach at its feet, just rocks and boulders, as well as a rocky platform containing fossils beneath Taronga Road (a cul de sac that runs from the Channel Highway down to the edge of the cliffs  not too far north of the point where the highway – in reality a narrow semi rural road – begins descending down to Kingston Beach).

Perhaps this is the rocky platform you can reach from Taroona?
Rocky platform, Alum Cliffs

I knew about this fossilised platform from chats with locals on Hinsby Beach and from Sue Mount’s article.  They said that once it was possible to reach it on foot  but a local landholder had built a fence that now excluded the public.  Did they mean from their beach, or, in hindsight, did they misunderstand me and mean from Taronga Road?  Exactly how you accessed this platform wasn’t too clear but I was determined to try.

Many years ago, when I was deeply into archaeology I walked the Brickfields Track (also accessed on Bonnet Hill) with the Tasmanian Archaeology Society.  The Taronga Road area has mudstone, dolerite and a patch of quality sandstone along its ridge and is strewn with evidence of early colonial activities.

On that walk we came across remnants of the Brown’s River Probation Station (1840s) where over three hundred predominantly road building convicts once lived.  There were the remains of a kiln used for brickmaking.  Bits of the station are scattered through local gardens now and there’s a house with a  swimming pool built into the old quarry. As the years have unfolded some of the bricks once part of structures or left lying about have been removed and incorporated into new structures or lost altogether.  Some have no doubt ended up in the river.  On my earlier walks I’d encounter red bricks remoulded into satisfyingly round and textured shapes by water.

On the Channel Highway, close to Taronga Road, there is still evidence of an old convict built wall.  Some of that high quality sandstone (by Tasmanian standards) from the Taronga Ridge became the Shot Tower, locally famous for being the last remaining circular standstone shot tower in the world, built in 1870, almost twenty years after the probation station had become redundant.  It, too, eventually became redundant but in its heyday was used for producing lead shot.

Kayaking, you can get much closer to the cliffs than when you’re on a yacht, although it can be unpleasant when the waves rebound strongly off them.  On a yacht it’s best to leave a little seaway, especially along a lee shore, and when I pass by Alum Cliffs these days I’m usually sailing, observing these dark cliffs rising from the water, more wildness in the city precincts, topped as they are by communities of trees and shrubs forming a satisfying stretch of bushland.

There was a strong north westerly wind blowing on the first day I first set off to uncover a route along the cliffs from Taroona itself and I was feeling uncharacteristically despondent, in need of an activity to blast that mood away.  Sue Mount’s article  seemed to be a hint that the Alum Cliffs track had once started at the right of way onto the beach at lllawong Crescent.  I’d looked at other brochures and I’d looked on Google Maps.  None of them show it starting at this point.

But still I searched.  I returned to the start of the Hinsby Beach track at Wendell Crescent.  I walked down it and saw that there was in fact a path to the right that went along the very edge of the cliff, somewhat steep and slippery.  I got as far as a patch of escaped daisies from the garden above.  They were growing over the track and to proceed I had to grab hold of vegetation to pull myself upward.  It wasn’t clear that the path continued on the other side so I decided that as I was alone and the path a tenuous, unused one so hazardously close to the edge, I’d best go up to Taronga Road and see if I could meet up with it by heading north.

I was enthused by the discovery that I could indeed head north to Taroona on the Alum Cliff track but I  was not far along it when I met a local walking her dog, one like  Ash, and so we got talking.  She confirmed what I had already learned: that once it had been possible to take a path down to a large rock platform at the base of the cliffs hereabout and continue along towards Taroona, but it had been closed off by a landowner.  If I continued along this path I’d reach the Shot Tower.

‘And it’s steep,’ said a man I encountered a little further along, and he was right.  I came to a point where I had a clear view of the path heading downhill and then up the other side.  My focus is on beaches and the stretches of coastline between them, and with these beaches it’s on the river itself, particularly (but not only) where it interfaces the land.

I declined the path’s feeble invitation and turned back.

On the rocks below Alum Cliffs
On the rocks below Alum Cliffs

This was back in June 2015.  Since then, I’ve gone back to Hinsby Beach on five or six separate occasions, all on the most promising of low tides, sometimes in winter but also at the supermoon’s low last month (9 March), when, unfortunately, the seabreeze worked against me, hurling waves at my knees in a quite malicious fashion as I tried to negotiate a watery gap in the rocks close – very close, I feel – to the little turn the cliffs take as they head to the area beneath Taronga Road.  You’ve no business to be here, I felt they were saying. You people have made your track, now walk it.

But that day beneath the supermoon, I sat for a long time enjoying my splendid isolation, looking back towards Hinsby Beach, marvelling at seeing the cliffs with so much more of their base exposed, and enjoying their powerful presence at my back.  They are not the only cliffs in the world.  They are not even spectacularly tall but all the silence of the ages they contain gives them an undeniable aura in which I basked while deciding that, feeling personally rejected by the cliffs and the river, reaching the rocky platform and climbing up to Taronga Road wasn’t going to happen.  The track above the cliffs is there for a purpose, I could only agree, and it affords a different vantage point from my watery stamping grounds.  I decided with regret that I’d be satisfied with that.

And so that walk along the top of the Alum Cliffs from Taroona to Kingston is the subject of my next entry.

Sailing: The Wind that Builds the Beaches Floats my Boat

Like Birds on the Breeze

Sailing Samos
Sailing Samos in a light following breeze

 

Several years ago I went on a weekend course to learn to sail. There were four teachers: the skipper, the yacht, the wind and the river. I made some good friends and the wind, which until then I’d abhorred, was one of them. ‘Learn to feel it on your face,’ the skipper said and I realised that the wind was really a stranger to me, in part because I struggled to tell west from south and north from east.  The wind also presented a very different personality depending on what quarter it emerged from.

If it blew from one direction it blew consistently, right? But no. Focus on it against your face and you’ll see how much it flickers around, how much its strength can vary. A prevailing wind is not a single tone; there are plenty of other notes in there too and there’s no better guide than the windvane (aka masthead fly). When you sail you spend a lot of time looking up because the wind on your face and the wind at the top of the mast might well be behaving differently.

I learned that what the wind is doing above the Tasman Bridge might be different from what’s happening further down the estuary. It messes with the northerlies rampaging down (and vice versa the southerlies heading up). Betsy Island, the South Arm Peninsula and the Eastern Shore contrive to block the south easterly but wind spills in through the valleys. I learned from the geo that landforms can bend and twist the wind, spread it, funnel it (North West Bay is notorious) spin it, like in Sullivans Cove, deflect it, like at Sandy Point, block it as does Pierson’s Point so that suddenly the sails flap and you’re pooling around in a wind shadow.

There are the winds caused by the big weather systems, like the prevailing westerlies  that cycle eastwards in these middle latitudes and then there are more local winds like the sea breeze that arrives in the afternoon on those summer days when the island has warmed enough, and it sometimes arrives gently but often it barges in with its muscles flexed. It may stall for a while at the entrance to the Derwent – you watch that dark blue line of indecision, and then the wind rushing across the water towards you, it’s speed and power influenced by the ‘fetch’ as it begins to fill in and in so doing it might ‘knock’ you inconveniently or give you a ‘lift’ to where you are headed.  One thing is for sure, on the Derwent the wind takes a different guise diurnally, a different speed depending on where it happens to be (stronger in the wider zones, milder in sheltered bays) and it differs depending on the season.  Katabatic winds prevail, blowing in from the NW and the temperature inversion that takes place as wintery cold air sinks to the valley floor gives rise to the Bridgewater Jerry  that moves magnificently south down the river, a beautiful white snake of a cloud, its belly down low on the water and awfully cold to be stuck in.

You and your yacht become that pivot point between the wind and the water, their dance made manifest. You learn to read the wind in the water. It might be barely perceptible where you are, about Force 4 on the Beaufort scale for instance, but further away those yachts all heeled over to starboard? The wind is coming your way and it means business. And so you reef because two of the arts of sailing are observational skills and, as my partner on Birngana’s big mainsail used to say ‘Anticipation’.

There are other skills to be learned by the wind out on the Derwent. There’s patience when it deserts you and there’s staying grounded when it thrashes you, so that you’re all heeled over, hanging on and staring directly down into the water, the boom dragging through it, the headsail ripped, the person on the winch knee deep in the river coming over the coaming.

True wind is the wind au naturel. Apparent wind is when the wind made by motion combines  with true wind to change its angle and speed. The more you speed up, the more the apparent wind slips ahead of you, streaming through the ‘slot’ between your mainsail and your headsail and powers you along.  In effect, it’s your yacht’s most local wind.

When you’re close hauled and the wind is strong, the sails in tight, it’s a bouncy ride, sometimes tense, maybe exhilarating and then when you come about and the wind slips behind you, you can spread your sails out wide, kick back and relax, and the breeze that seemed to have it in for you when you were up against it, becomes a friendly zephyr following behind you. Yet it’s the same breeze and the way you experience it depends on the way you approach it – much like life.

By the same token, it’s easy to let your defences down and wonder why others have their life jackets on when you’re reaching for your bikini because its glassy out there and your boat is going nowhere. But it could be into a vacuum like this that the south westerly roars, attempting to break its own speed record, taking you and the Met Bureau unawares.

Glassy conditions on the Derwent
Glassy conditions on the Derwent: barely a  breeze

The wind lifts sand from dunes and spreads it along beaches. It might take from one beach and deposit elsewhere. It may work with a high tide to push waves harder and higher up dunes and cliffs, or it may lose its territorial battle and be shoved aside by an opposing, more powerful wind from another quarter.

The interplay is dynamic and affects you whether you’re walking, kayaking, cycling or sailing and the Derwent is a brilliant playground to learn all about it’s subtle idiosyncrasies and its full and merciless fury.  While conscious of the wind that fills the sail there are other breezes far higher in the atmosphere that pass overhead unregistered. Aeolian drift in the highest reaches carries tiny beings – small spiders, for instance – as well as seeds over vast intercontinental and oceanic distances, making a mockery of quarantine services. And out on the ocean birds, like sailors, yearn for a favourable wind to support their trip or exhausted from flying head on into stormy conditions, might hitch a ride on a yacht, trying to regain the strength to carry on.

On the river in the bleakest of weathers, the world becomes magical, the rain in one’s face exhilarating, the shoreline intoxicating as powered by that beach making and breaking wind we make our way.

Sea breeze coming in
Wind over water (Ralphs Bay)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Derwent River: Up Against It

The Birds And the Beaches

Last October I was at Eumarrah, Hobart’s oldest wholefoods shop, when I bumped into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in quite a while. It so happens that we are both interested in the environment, and birds in particular have been a long and avid interest of his.

I was keen to find out his take on my observation of low bird numbers around the Derwent’s shores, be they on the western or eastern side or in Ralphs Bay, that beautiful low energy embayment near the mouth of the Derwent, these being some of my current stomping grounds. I had also walked ocean beaches with this concern uppermost in my mind and actually, it was while writing this now in my little mountain study, that it dawned on me that  there used to be a flock of seagulls that flew over our ridge en route from North West Bay (we used to assume) to the tip in South Hobart. ‘ When had this stopped?’  I asked the geo. ‘The sight and sound of them used to be part of the daily rhythm up here.’

‘I reckon they stopped flying over about two years ago,’ he said.

Two years for us to notice a pretty obvious change in our environment.  That’s sobering.  The only large flock I’ve seen since I started my walks has been at the dirty little mouth of New Town rivulet but perhaps I have not been focussing on gulls sufficiently because today, sailing Samos into Sullivans Cove just as the cold front arrived with a blast, I noticed a fair number perched on the roof of the new Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies building and there was also a small flock at the Wrest Point casino.

It’s easy to assume that these birds, long considered the rats of the sea, are safe from our abuse of the environment… but what if something sinister is going on right under our noses that we are not aware of? And what if the seagulls are not as robust as we once thought? Of course, there could be some perfectly simple explanation. Down at the tip they might have introduced a management practice to stop scavenging seagulls from spreading toxic debris along the shorelines. Certainly, some councils have waged war on them (see links below).

Gulls and cormorants are also regarded with trepidation by those sailors who have boats on moorings. I have a couple of friends who have been most unhappy to discover a seagull after party mess on their yachts.  Some people resort to nautical scarecrows, profiles of eagles, plastic bags and webbing. Take your eye off your yacht and this is what happens.

Seagull Central
Seagull central: it’s our palace now

 

Seagull payback

Anyway, this man so knowledgeable about all things avian, was kind enough to let me record our talk and so here are some of the points he made during the course of our long conversation.

Shorebirds are in decline. Some natural causes include high tides washing away nests. When you think about the more volatile oceans and weather we’re getting with climate change and the way dunes are being hammered by sea level rise, this would be headline news if birds like little penguins and short tailed shearwaters produced newspapers. Native fauna like quolls prey on birds too.

I could add my own examples: go out to Chappel Island in the Furneaux Group off Tasmania’s north eastern coastline and you can barely put one careful foot in front of the other without stepping on the snakes that prey on the short tailed shearwaters that have their southern summer burrows there.

He cited more examples and based on what he had to say I suggest we all go and peer at ourselves in the mirror because the main cause is our lack of restraint in the way we behave around beaches.  Some locals  walk straight through the plastic fences that councils erect on dunes to safeguard both nesting birds and eroding dunes. People camp on beaches, dunes, or just behind them. Radios blare, kids race about on quad bikes and dirt bikes. Adults in four wheel drive vehicles mistake dunes for playthings, crush nests and mess with the role of dunes as a barricade against the sea.

‘When this sort of thing is happening on remote ocean beaches,’ he said. ‘You know there’s no haven.’ And he mentioned a researcher dissecting a bird on Lord Howe Island, (a tiny speck in the ocean 600 km off the Australian coastline) and finding it chock full of plastics.

‘ And over fishing, acidification of the oceans, the warming seas,’ I said.

‘Dogs,’ he said. ‘Horses on beaches.’

‘Seven Mile Beach,’ I said.

‘Marion Bay Narrows,’ he added.

He had begun talking about birds, like oyster catchers and the endangered hooded plover that choose to nest in the tiny scrapes they make in soft sand. Instead of limiting themselves to the hard sand close to the watermark, people and their dogs trample all over the beaches. It’s possible to stamp on a nest oblivious to what you are doing. ‘You may think your dog is doing no damage, but these nests are hard to see.’ And dogs, he emphasised, run all over the beaches. ‘It’s bad enough when they’re leashed. They still scare birds away.’

He told me about the annual gull count that is run over the June long weekend and includes the Derwent River.  On Bellerive Beach, for example, ‘there’s a veritable passeggiato of dogs and their owners and so there’s no chance for a bird to make use of it’, he said.

I began to feel uneasy.  I have two beautiful canine companions, fellow adventurers where their presence is allowed. I thought of all our lovely beach walks. It seems to me that even people walking quietly and carefully down a beach with no dog at all disturb birds and even scientists monitoring or researching bird behaviour and lifestyles have that same effect no matter how careful they try to be. Birds nestled over their eggs leave their nests, for instance, when they see that most dangerous of all mammals (us) looming, albeit with a scientific title. But mostly I was thinking about the consequences for me in raising my awareness about this issue. My dogs! The beach! Were they two incompatible loves? And what was more important? Shorebirds, or the delight of seeing my happy dogs enjoying the surf?

‘And boats too,’ I said with a heavy heart.

‘Yes,’ he said. And he told me about a particular reserve on the Derwent River, a little one, just a handful of hectares. He’d recently gone there to do a survey and he explained how its done. You spend twenty minutes on each hectare noting the birds you see and hear. ‘That’s how the atlas [Bird Atlas of Australia] was done, right across Australia. But in those twenty minutes there was a jet ski out on the river in front of me, jets from the display squadron from the RAAF – two went up the river, a helicopter going up the river, a fixed wing aircraft directly overhead at low altitude, there was big earthmoving equipment on a block just up the road from me and somebody was using a brush cutter the whole time I was there. So how am I to rely on my ears to do the survey?’

And, I wondered, how do birds communicate against so much mechanical volume.

I walked out of that shop with a lot on my mind. Shorebirds are up against our way of life. To be a migratory bird travelling the Asia-East Australian Flyway the odds are getting steeper. Will there be water in a particular wetland or will  a new housing development have put paid to that refuge?  Will weeds have covered your burrow or stifled a food source when you arrive? And let’s not even talk about hunters.

It seemed to me that if I was going to walk the birds’ beaches then I had to do it with even more care, in a way that gave more than it took.  But how?

I tried to think of communities that live with restraint. Apart from the locals of North Sentinel Island, denizens of the deep Amazon or the San still sort of clinging to a Kalahari lifestyle, I could only think of the Amish.

But on the bright side, a friend  is elated to discover that ten Little Black Cormorants have come to hang out with the Pied Cormorants living on Cormorant Rock off her home (see here).

And on a really world changing scale, Boyan Slat, a teenager from Holland, has come up with an idea, now crowdfunded, backed by the scientific community and at pilot study stage, for cleaning the oceans of plastics within a ten year period. Impossible? His Ted Talk is here.  See what you think

 

More About Gulls in Hobart

 Seagulls and the Sorell causeway

Tasports cull gulls

2015 winter gull count

Derwent River: Blinking Billy to Hinsby Beach – Part 10 – Conclusion

Sleuthing Around Taroona

Pebbles make a foot

 

‘There is much heaving related to water conditions and light structures are moved with the changes’ ~ David Leaman (1999)

I was on such a high after completing that walk that I couldn’t return to those beaches fast enough. The very next day I was back, sleuthing around behind the beaches, particularly the Grange end of Dixons Beach as well as Crayfish Point.

There, in the shade of the canopy behind the boat sheds at Grange Avenue, was the bed the rivulet had made for itself and heading south was a clifftop track.

I bumped into two locals who’ve live behind the beach (Grange, or Grange end of Dixons, take your pick) for decades. I knew the one – she’d taught my daughter. The man and I soon discovered a common connection, this being Hobart. They were happy to share their knowledge about what to expect from the nearby tracks, set me right about the location of Cartwright’s Point but could not identify Beck’s and Retreat Beaches. ‘My dear, I have not been down to the beach for years,’ she said.

The dogs and I pondered the rivulet and the bed it has made for itself then wandered along the cliff top track – and, just for the record, we’ve been back many times since then, accessing it most often from Uitekah Crescent on the southern side of the rivulet. The cliffs are unstable (which is why, for some years, it was closed to the public) and to avoid broken limbs and worse, there’s a wire fence along the edge. There’s also the option, further along the walk, of taking the steep steps down to the shore (where Dixon’s Reef lies wide and exposed on a spring tide) or continuing through a lane, along roads and through bushland down to the beaches at Taroona High School. On this section from Grange there are beautiful views of the estuary through the fringe of casurinas on the cliff edge. On the other side of the path are gardens and the sounds of the suburb.

Clifftop bridge

Sue Mount’s article on bushwalking tracks in Taroona explains that there’s been a path running along the foreshore a long time before the Apex Club upgraded it in 1972 and I like the idea that this was Mouheenener made. I haven’t found anything to suggest that it was but there’s a human tendency to take the path of least resistance and so there would have been a big attraction to following in earlier footsteps. This might seem a long way from Taroona, but in his book Lost trails of the Transvaal (1965), T.V Bulpin says the ox wagon trails of the Voortrekkers often followed already existing tribal pathways through Southern Africa.

Sue Mount also writes in such a way that makes it sound as though the track continues along the Alum Cliffs to the south. I was intrigued – did a path linked with the Taroona beaches run all the way to Kingston or did she mean that you walk along the rocks to Taronga Road and clamber uphill to join the Alum Cliffs track there? This blog heads there next. I made a note to self: find out!

The view from Taroona

I so wanted to show the geo my new discoveries but when, late one evening, I finally got him to walk the garden path with me down to the beach at Grange, malicious little waves were hammering at the steps and the cliffs.

‘It’s gone!’ I gasped, my disappointment profound. You would not have known a beach had been there. For a moment he looked unimpressed but then he turned to watch the wave action on the cliff with growing interest. ‘It’s being undercut,’ he said and we turned and walked back to the car talking beach erosion. And so, perhaps, I took him there in what were for him, ideal conditions after all, but I felt that I had lost my friend, the beach.  (Later, on more long walks, I was to realise that just like Lord’s Beach in Sandy Bay, this beach expands into long and impressive proportions along which there are many instances of beach art.)

The dogs came with me to explore Cartwright Creek too. We followed it from the base of Mount Nelson, across the road and down the grassy bank to the reef below. We visited on high tides and low tides, the expanse of reef exposed and one fine day, with my cycling friend, we walked from Lamberts Rivulet to Cartwright Creek. The creek does have friends. The Friends of Truganini group apparently attempts to make headway against the riot of weeds beneath which it is largely hidden and at this point it does not look as though they are winning the war, at all.

The Sandy Bay beaches inspired me to look into history to make sense of their current shape and appearance but Taroona, with the cone of its volcano beneath the Alexander Battery (Leaman, 1999)  and the squiggles in the roads indications of multiple repairs, lured me into burying beneath the surface to try to understand the variable geology of the beaches

zen

Going along for the ride

The land here is unstable, the soils expansive. The schools and many Taroona streets and houses are travelling on the back of a slow moving landslip down towards the river, and yes, on some cliff tops, their tenure could be precarious! Cracks in walls, roads and soils, hummocky earth and gutters, contorted trees and sudden shifts in slope angle are some of the clues as to what’s lying beneath, as are the inclinometers that track it’s incremental journey.

For those with a short attention span for matters geological, I promise  I’ll be brief!

Simon Stephens is a geologist who has focused his attention on Taroona and he writes that it is ‘a complete microcosm of the geology of the Derwent Valley’, pointing out that the geology determined the way settlement and construction happened in this area. But long before the explorer’s ships anchored, long before the Mouheenener attuned themselves to this land, and at that point in time when the Permain and Triassic rocks had laid themselves down, Tasmania was a part of Gondwanaland, and was a large basin of accumulating sediments, at other times a shallow sea or lowland flats with icebergs visible offshore. Transformed again, a slow river meandered across ‘a vast riverine plain’ (Stephens). I forget dates fast, so I’m not noting the chronological dimensions of eons here – I’m more interested in the different climates and landscapes that have taken a ride through Taroona.

Today, for instance, there are hard, older rocks on the hills and softer rocks, somewhat younger, on what Stephens refers to as the ‘coastal apron.’ The oldest rock is the Grange Mudstone (Permian) and Fern Tree mudstone also occurs here, sometimes with drop stones in it, as well as worm castings. It smells of sulphur if you strike it – but I haven’t, and I’m not going to run through all the different rock formations either, as there are lots, so instead I’ve linked to relevant resources. Also, because my little project has led to geological conversations at home, I’ll put up the geo’s take on the Derwent and D’Entrecasteaux too, I think perhaps after Pierson’s Point where the view to starboard is of the channel, the view to port the river and Storm Bay.

There are glacial scratches on some rocks that I found along this shore and those stones that have dropped into the mudstone (when it was still mud) have probably dropped out of icebergs and I think that is amazing!  It’s actually no wonder that these kaleidoscopic landscapes have led to such a confusing shoreline.

In short, according to Stephens, the climates in which the rocks were laid down varied from Northern Siberian conditions to the sweltering heat of the African Rift Valley. Taroona, (and okay, the island) has had long drawn out climactic moods.  But we’ve had our impact too.  Here’s a conglomerate of ‘anthropocite’!

Anthropocite conglomerate

Clinging to the cliff
After Blinking Billy 3

Taroona’s fault

There are many fault lines in Tasmania and Taroona has it’s very own (although Sandy Bay has more.)  It’s about 60 million years old and when the land subsided and formed the Derwent Valley this fault started opening up, quite possibly as a result of Australia breaking apart from Gondwanaland. Stephens says it runs from close to the Grange quarry (Truganini Reserve), across the Channel Highway and south to the top of Taroona Crescent where it turns and travels out to sea near the southern end of Hinsby Beach and not far from Alum Cliffs. That steep gully I thought so pretty as I came down the wooden steps on to Hinsby Beach? It’s an exposed part of this fault.

Just Past Blinking Billy beach 1
After Blinking Billy 3

Tropical Taroona

Sometimes Taroona exposes its more tropical self in the form of clay soils and fresh water sediments from when it basked beneath a torrid sun. Stephens says that in the area around Karingal Court ‘the sediments are much finer with clay layers which sometimes contain impressions of leaves and other plant matter.’   A friend of mine recently spent time in Coffs Harbour and couldn’t get over all the turtles she saw swimming around in a lagoon. If we could time travel back to when Taroona was (sub)tropical, we could sip on gin and tonics while watching the turtles, rather similar to the Murray River turtles, swimming around our feet in Taroona. It’s true; there’s evidence in those sub-tropical chapters of the rocks.

 

BLACK SAND AND ZIRCONS

After the last glacial period the sea rose to today’s level. Dolerite from the hill tops weathered and fell into the sea, releasing heavy minerals like magnetite. There is black sand on Taroona beach and well as magnetite you can find zircons here.

So that’s all I’ll say about reading rocks to discover Taroona’s hidden personality and life experience, but the geo has assured me of the need to look at the big picture and not just the local details and so I tasked him with scoping the Derwent River Valley and the D’Entrecasteaux.  I think Pierson’s Point is the right place to point that particular telescope starboard up the channel and port side to Storms Bay and the Derwent River valley and in the meantime there more places to go and people to see.

Bibliography

Leaman, D. (1999). Walk into history in southern Tasmania. Hobart, Tas: Leaman Geophysics.

Mount, S. ([n.d.]). More walking tracks. [Hobart], Tasmania: Dept of Sport and Recreation.

Stephens, S. (n,d,). Introduction and early history. [Hobart].

the face

Derwent River: Blinking Billy to Hinsby Beach – Part 3: To Mitah Crescent Cove

I Know You, Boulder

The walk continued…

At the end of the beach I had to hop onto rocks and make my way between the river and a concrete wall.  Around  the corner  a wooden boatshed looked as though it might end my walk but I found a way around it and although my walk felt seamless this is where I regard the Blinking Billy Beach 3 section as beginning.   Just look at this picture.  Who’d think there was a city here?

Boatshed marking beginning of BB3
As you turn the corner at the point at the southern end of  Blinking Billy Beach 2 (aka Half Moon Bay) you see this structure.

The same subjects preoccupied me as I walked along – the geology, the history, the structures – and, specifically, locating myself on this piece of shoreline.  I kept changing my mind as to where I was in relation to the road above me but I wanted to do this walk without the help of Google Maps so that I had a real sense of (urban) adventuring into the unknown.

Blinking Billy 3 wild coast
As you turn the corner at the point at the southern end of  Blinking Billy Beach 2 (aka Half Moon Bay) you see this structure.

In  wild weather this would be a windswept stretch of rocky coastline with views north to town, south into Storm Bay and across the river to more loveliness along the southern section of the eastern shore.  On the day of my walk these lonely stretches felt pensive, secret and self-contained, and I felt myself more likely to encounter a nineteenth century smuggler along here than back at Red Chapel Beach or Blinking Billy Point.  At the same time I felt as though the shoreline was as aware of me as I was of it.

I figured I was out of Geography Bay and this new perspective of the river renewed my feeling of exhilaration in the landscape and perplexity about ourselves – that we Westerners have been here since the beginning of the 1800s and yet, so close to the city centre, the nomenclature is still so sparse as to be mostly non-existent and so slippery where it is there at all.   Many of us know more about London, Paris and places overseas than we do the intimate nooks and crannies of the river, the mountain and the great rifted catchment.

A few months after this walk I had a debate with a friend over just this issue.  He’s a man that does real adventuring and exploring – the further off the beaten tracks of this world and out of communication the better.  He is against nomenclature.  He wants the earth’s places (mountains, rivers) left untainted by names but is prepared to compromise on a latitude/longitude co-ordinate.

I feel differently.  As I walked along this stretch of coast wondering about the original aboriginal names for the places and features I was passing – names that over 30,000 years just have to have been rich, dense and redolent with mythology – it struck me like an epiphany, the extremely serious and overlooked disconnection we have with the earth.  A shrieking Disconnection.  A Disconnection so profound we’re trashing the planet beyond redemption and losing ourselves.  No names – no recognition. No relationship.  No honouring.  No sense of gratitude. I looked at the magnificent, powerful river that I love so much, as much a goddess as the Ganges, and wished ‘sacred’ had not become a disparaged word because if anything felt sacred it was the animation I perceived in this river and its shoreline, so dynamic and timeless despite our culture turned beautiful parasite glued to its side. At the most profound level this existential disconnection is manifesting in more damaged psyches as each generation becomes less connected to the earth because how do you honour yourself if you can’t relate to and stand in awe of the greater entity you’re part of?  As I wandered along the rocks, pausing to ponder their origins, diversity and beauty, I felt so utterly enthralled at the profligate beauty about me and a real grief that so many other compelling distractions have made it difficult for us to immerse ourselves in a landscape unfettered by human notions of time as was the case before our cultural evolution careered us away from hunting and gathering.

I had begun to pay more attention to my thoughts and less to the landscape when a sloping and strangely familiar boulder blocked my route.

Boulder and yacht
Hello, Boulder.

About two feet of estuary rose and fell about its base.  I didn’t want to take off my shoes and wade, the river’s temperature making it somewhat untouchable.  On the other hand, my first strategy for climbing up the boulder’s side was hampered by the fact that a few weeks before I had dislocated and fractured my little finger while working on the boat with our mechanic, who I think of as being to engines what Leonard Cohen is to music.

I put my hands on the sloping rock.  ‘I know you, Boulder.’  We had not met for a Very Long Time.  Looking up I noticed a huge house with enormous windows.  Now that was new to me.

When we were a whole lot younger we had come to  look at a  house – a beach shack really – at the bottom of Mitah Crescent.  The owners walked us through their cacti and succulent garden down to a large boulder.  The river lapped around its base but they assured us there was sand when the tide went out.   We desired that boulder and that river access but knew that once we had paid for the property we would not be able to afford renovations for a while to come and so we sadly and stupidly decided not to make an offer.

I  leaned my back against the boulder for a while, thinking that on this walk I’d barely noticed the Eastern Shore – I was so busy ‘paying attention’ (my current mantra) to the rocks about my feet and the all enveloping personality of the shore.  My iPhone was losing power rapidly because of happy snapping and  jubilant voice memos.  I looked back along the way I’d come.  I tested my finger’s capacity to help draw my weight up the side of the boulder.  Not looking good.

Looking back from Mitah Crescent
Looking back at Blinking Billy Beach 3 from Mitah Crescent

My options were limited – I could fall, climbing that boulder.  But if so, there was reason to hope that I’d be spotted sooner rather than later by the big windowed houses above me because at this point of the walk they had drawn closer and lower to the shore  and so I took my chances, shifted my weight from disabled finger to used-to-being-bruised knee.   Trying to be discrete, because I could not definitely recall whether the  boulder was a right of way, I crept across it, slithered down over the boat shed’s jetty and found myself in an intimate and beautiful sandy cove.  If the tide had been out when we’d viewed that house, we would both have lost our heads and hearts.

Cove at Mitah Crescent
Looking back at Mitah Crescent cove

More rocks, more pebbles, the occasional rivulet and astonishing discoveries.  I sometimes thought that paying too much attention to where I was about to place my feet I was missing out on rivulets, but in fact the way you find a Hobart rivulet is to use your nose.  As they emerge dishevelled and emaciated from their concrete prisons they bring with them a distinct smell: stale old detergent.  Yep.  The cleaner we are, the dirtier we make the environment.

Then I encountered another boulder and, with an awkward gap, a double set of rails leading from boat sheds to the water.  I slithered down to the base of the boulder and timed my scramble for a gap in the waves – and made it under the structure.

Double boatshed
Double boat shed

I was about to leave Sandy Bay and enter the suburb of Taroona. but a little way around the next corner I found some more appealing structures and to my surprise, a sphinx like rock gazing out to sea.  It’s waypoints like this that would undoubtedly have carried names earlier in the Holocene and I paused, feeling the loss of the language that once sung this landscape into being, the loss of a way of being in the landscape and interpreting the subtle nuances our less sophisticated gaze  misses.  I work with people who have dementia.  In a more holistic way I think we have robbed the landscape of its earlier identity and a significant part of its memory.

Sphinx
As you turn the corner at the point at the southern end of  Blinking Billy Beach 3 you see this structure.  In the absence of official nomenclature, my personal name for it is The Mouheenener Sentinal

 

And it was along this stretch of shore that I nagging awareness came to the fore – one huge river, but only a handful of avian wanderers.

Where the hell were the birds?

Next blog entry: Photographs – Blinking Billy to the Sandy Bay border

 

 

 

 

 

 

Derwent River: Marieville Esplanade (South)

Still Just Hanging In

Sometimes you just don’t see what’s in front of your eyes.

The cardboard sign at the start of the track gave me pause for thought ‘Snake Spotted Lying on the Path’ someone had written, and so instead of exploring new territory I headed down to the marina to do a bit of work on Samos. The dogs lay and watched me.  It’s currently the summer solstice, the day was hot, the moon  a waxing gibbous and the tide  low but oblivious to all this I was tending the engine and talking to my neighbour.

At a certain point I looked past the yachts and ducks to the houses that occupy the foreshore.

There at their base were remnants of beach.  Rather sorry looking remnants but large enough patches of  polluted sand to provide private coves for those lucky enough to live in those houses.  Not that long ago it was a longer stretch of cleaner sand and boats swung at their moorings in the lee of Wrest Point.  Now the marina’s been extended and there are new floating berths.

This view has become so familiar to me but in failing to question it I hadn’t seen it for what it really was: a beach still present enough to make a statement:  well may I go unnoticed but I’ll be back in one guise or another long after the marina and these activities are gone.

Beach at the DSS

Beach remnantsDSS Beach remnants

Derwent River: Blinking Billy Point

The Geography of Nervous Twitches

There’s a concrete path that curves around the southern edge of Long Beach and leads out past Blinking Billy Point to Blinking Billy Beach. When the South Westerly is churning up white caps on the river this path is sheltered and has a great view north across Long Beach and down to the bridge but once you step from the behind the shelter of the hill the wind is out to get you and its Antarctic breath can cause your eyes to stream.

Blinking Billy Path
The narrow way

Conversely, when the tide is high and waves are being hurried into the bay by an exuberant North Easterly, you may find yourself attacked by an encroaching wave and forced to turn back. Mostly, though, it’s a sunny light hearted sort of stroll, long enough to sniff the breeze but too short to regard as exercise.

Looking north on the walk to Blinking Billy Point
The view north on the path to Blinking Billy Point

A friend had told me there was a Sandy Bay beach where dogs were welcome any time of day but her description was vague and I had struggled to find it. Then one day, coming back up river after a weekend of sailing in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel I noticed two labradors with their people on a stretch of sand I hadn’t paid attention to before, and recognition dawned. It’s now become a favourite walk when the dogs are keen to go adventuring and I can’t quite match their enthusiasm, or I want to catch up with a friend for a coffee and treat them too.

As with most of this coast, Blinking Billy Point has changed names like people change clothes. It used to be called One Tree Point until (I’m supposing) that lone tree was no more. It was also once called Garth’s Point.

The Garth’s came here from Norfolk Island with seven children in tow and made a quick segue from the merest of shelters to owners of two land grants, the one encompassing the point and the land uphill through what’s now the Alexander Battery Reserve, and the other spread across Porter Hill.

The Garth’s were farmers by day and smugglers by night. The submerged reef below the point was called Garth’s Bank and served two purposes: fishing and smugglers’ lookout. Further uphill on their smaller Porter Hill grant, they built their smugglers’  hut and it lasted until a fire burned it down in 1978. Devon and Cornwall can move over, I think, because Tassie has a rich smuggling history too.

One fine day when we were idling past the point on a light breeze someone mentioned that long ago William Watchorn, harbour master, a man with nervous eyes, lived on the point. He lobbied for a light and he got it. Both the point and the light assumed his nickname: Blinking Billy. The light still stands and while its gaze was fixed and unblinking in its time, it works no longer and is disregarded by river traffic.

This light was rendered useless by the John Garrow Light, a navigational structure, cormorant hang out and sometime racing mark, that took its place offshore on Garth reef. For some obscure reason this light is named after a pastry chef who lived in Bath Street (Battery Point) and the pastry chef’s name was extended to Garth reef as well. It’s now known as the John Garrow shoal.

Blinking Billy Light
Blinking Billy Light
John Garrow Light
John Garrow Light

For a low, unassuming point, Blinking Billy Point carries a wealth of history and interesting buildings. Along with the navigation light there is the remains of the searchlight emplacement. Two spotlights, precursors to the Dark Mofo lights, but focussed on defence not entertainment, lit up the sky from 1890 to WWII, playing their role as part of the the Derwent Defence Network, which included, in this vicinity, the Alexandra Battery further up the hill and the artillery at Fort Nelson.

Searchlight
Old spotlight emplacement

There’s also an old part of the city’s sewage system – a small blue pumphouse which was built in 1919 and is deceptively pretty.

Pumphouse for blog
The pump house

People still cast a line over the smugglers’ reef on fine days, but those of us who sail know only too well the river’s violent mood swings and I’ve seen kayakers caught out here, just metres off the pointt, overturned and struggling to reach the shore.

Sources:

Nautical News: the newsletter of the Maritime Museum Association of Tasmania. Winter edition, 2002.

Goc, N. 1997. Sandy Bay: a social history, Gentrx Publishing, Hobart.

 

 

Meet Me in Tokyo

When someone you love says ‘Meet me in Tokyo,’ the temptation is just too great. I put my blog aside, abandoned social media and headed out into the world on a small adventure that involved food safaris, onsin challenges and meditative pilgrimages to shrines, both Shinto and Buddhist.  In Kyoto the leaves were turning.

Sky tree golden flame river.png
Sky Tree, the Asahi Flame and Sumida River

We took up residence for a while in Asakusa, an old part of Tokyo, where the Sky Tree towers over an already tall city and the Asahi flame, such as it is, lies heavily on its side beneath it. We were close to shrines, big and small, that honour the Bodhisattva Kannon who is intimately linked to the Sumida River.  The story goes that back in 628 AD when the area was a delta, three fishermen hauled a statue of this particular Bodhisattva out of the river.  The first shrine was made of straw.  Now there’s a complex of wonderful shrines, including Tokyo’s biggest and most visited.

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The gift of the Sumida River hasn’t saved it from all sorts of atrocities.  It may know daylight but it has concrete hips. There’s minimal habitat for river species. The Derwent in comparison is a wild eyed hippie, a moody and creative artist with a flare for change.

I didn’t notice anyone fishing in the Sumida and barely a bird apart from a lone cormorant and a tiny flock of seagulls that flew into sight beneath a bridge. In fact, with a bridge literally every kilometre along its length there’s not much river traffic either because the bridges are so low.

Derwent from the Mountain (1).png

Flying back into Hobart is a beautiful experience – that first riveting sighting of the mountain and that most magnificent of rivers, always so spectacularly stunning from the air, is riveting.

Once my feet were on the mountain and my eyes on the river, I felt reconnected to home, ready to curl my hand around the tiller, jump on my bike, lug my kayak down to the water or take another stroll along the coastline somewhere.

Derwent River: Long Beach (aka Sandy Bay Beach)

From Summer Camp to Solstice Swim

Long Beach: the view from the south
Long Beach: the view from the south

I was puzzled why anyone bothered with this popular beach when I first visited it one hot summer’s day during my first year in Hobart.  There were a lot of uncertain people sitting in their bathers on the sea wall but swimming wasn’t an attractive proposition because the water came all the way up to the steps and slapped against the concrete in a discontented manner.  I sympathise with the river now.  It was trying to build a beach and this seawall, built without understanding, impeded it.

Yet this has always been a popular beach, even when, in the 1980s, it was barely there at all.  An artificial dune was cultivated in the corner bound unnaturally with marram grass. This once magnificent beach had become a desultory shadow of its previous self and I think that those who still came here were in love with a memory.  (It’s still a lovely spot when the sun is shining on it but it was overcast yesterday when I returned to take some more photos, earlier ones being lost in the uncatalogued innards of iPhoto.)

Long Beach from northern end

Before the convict ships arrived to set up camp Long Beach was called Kreewer and the Mouheenener had a summer camp in this sheltered spot.  In those days the beach was wide and backed by small dunes.  Picture a bark kayak, exquisitely woven dilly bags full of the jewels of the sea, children playing on the sand.  The land was flat and shaded behind the beach, a great spot for huts as well as some easy hunting, and there was a handy stream.

Although the rivulets that flow sporadically down the slopes of Mount Nelson are not well known, Wayne Rivulet has a slightly higher profile because it still enjoys daylight along some of its course, beautifying the grounds of Fahan School before entering the river at Long Beach / Little Sandy Bay.  It brings with it eroded dolerite from the heights, creating a delta of clay  over which the once dense sand of the beach now sits as a thin sheen.

Having already succumbed to epidemics, the distress and fear that took hold at Kreewer is outside the comprehension of anyone who hasn’t faced the end of their world and all  they hold sacred.  The forests they tended, the trees that were their totems, were knocked down to make way for an alien landscape of farmland, divided up between fences that ran all the way down into the river.   The Mouheenener, in a state of deep existential crisis, retreated and the beach became a popular destination for Hobartians in their strange clothing, who no doubt moved stiffly in the landscape not seeing the visual detail, not taking direction from the fragrance of the bush or hearing in the calls of birds the rhythm and events of the day.   Shooting expeditions from town, well recorded by the Rev Robert Knopwood, had rendered the emu extinct and chased the frightened animals that still survived further away from European settlements.  At that point the odd little handfish that moves about on its fins and inhabits the lower bays of the Derwent, still enjoyed an easy life in this beautiful bay.

The beach was so accommodatingly wide and so beautiful (see links to early photos below), that it served as a place to promenade, socialise and relax, and to enjoy the regatta that finally found a home here, or the start of a horse race.  Enjoyment was yet again marred by disputes over right of way to the beach that reached a climax around 1910.  There were petitions.  There were meetings.  The government was persuaded, buying up  land to create the park, and a long jetty was built on the beach so that people could arrive by boat as the Tramway Company wouldn’t extend the line along Sandy Bay Road.

Francis Cotton, in 1880, noticed that the sea level was rising on Long Beach.  He asserted it was the building works happening at Sullivans Cove and Norfolk Island settlers, including Maning and Fisher, considered that the sea had risen by about 50 feet in less than three decades.

There’s a more recent, curved seawall now, over which, in great storms, the sea breaks and which causes a significant wave to reflect back off it during high tides but there is a bit more beach than there used to be in the days of the old sea wall.  This area is often a gourmet adventure because there are cafes, making it, in summer, a great place for an evening pizza or a day time coffee, or a place to come on a Friday evening to enjoy the summer market.  From here you can walk north around Sandy Bay Point or south around Blinking Billy Point, the two sentinels of Little Sandy Bay and while the water in the bay is usually calm (unless the sea breeze is filling in from the south east), out beyond these two points gales frequently whip up raging white caps.

Sundown Park behind the beach was  described in the 1800s as ‘the Hyde Park of Hobart’ and it’s occasionally vivid with small flashes of colour when eastern rosellas and swift parrots  swoop between trees.  There’s a  crocquet club and a petanque piste, a playground and the playing fields.  There’s a platform just offshore that swimmers can lay claim to and that is alternatively occupied by cormorants drying their wings. Kayakers launch from here and seek refuge as well when conditions on the river turn wild.

Playground
Playground

In the heart of winter, when snow lay deep on the mountain’s summit and gardens were white with frost, the most adventurous Hobartians rose from their beds in the black pre-dawn and found their way down to Long Beach for the Dark Mofo Festival Solstice Swim.  They took off all their clothes and plunged en masse into the freezing water of the Derwent just on sunrise.

I’m sure it took their breath away.

When I arrived at the beach a good two hours after this, apart from footprints in the sand, there were no clues that this midwinter event had taken place.

I looked.  I contemplated.  I imagined the Mouheenener regarding this activity  from the ghostly forest and the sharp gasp of the Rev Knopwood.  Then I went home to a hot coffee and a warm bowl of porridge.  The frost still lingered but my kitchen was snug with the wood fire roaring.

Other people’s photographs:

Large wave striking the seawall (Sept 2009) Long Beach | Large wave, Long Beach

Historical

The closest to its natural state (post 1870)

The esplanade taking shape

Regatta at Long Beach & another (some time after 1921)

Showing the old sea wall

Before the sea wall  |  Taken from Sandy Bay Road

Jetty and sea wall, Long Beach

Sculpture, Long Beach
Sculpture, Long Beach
Blue gum tree - favourite hang out of the swift parrots
Blue gum tree – favourite hang out of the swift parrots
Beneath the blue gum tree
Beneath the blue gum tree

Further information:

Goc, N. 1997. Sandy Bay: a social history. Gentrx Publishing, Hobart

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

Derwent River: Maning Reef: A Beach Where the Rocks Used to Be

Unveiled beaches and doppelgängers

Saluting the Governor

The sailing season officially opened last Saturday, the 10th October and Hobart’s recreational sailing fleet turned out in good numbers for the annual sail by  the Governor’s vessel Egeria, moored in Sullivan’s Cove.  Some boats adorned themselves in nautical finery.  We forgot to take off our fenders but by the time we realised this we were relaxing at the rendevouz off Nutgrove Beach and having imbibed a wine or two were feeling too mellow to care that we had not kept up appearances.

The geologist and I had invited three friends along, one an able seaman of the four legged variety, our sole adornment in his coat of yellow.  The sky was blue, the sun shone and there was a breeze strong enough to fill sails.  As this was the first time I was skippering on an opening day we stayed on the edge of the fleet, detouring under the bridge, confusing ourselves over the instructions until order was established in the fleet. We snuck in towards the rear, trying our best to keep ahead of the  Beneteau and MONA cat bearing down on us as we headed into the tight conditions in Sullivans Cove, more alarming last year on a larger boat.

IMG_5795

We dropped our anchor at the back of the fleet, by now mostly rafted up together off the beach, and I lined us up with a group of large boulders off Maning Reef, clearly much loved by cormorants. The tide was low and the coastline had a surprise for me. Lords Bay had spread itself out. It wasn’t a little beach at all but a long, thin sandy beach running along the back of Maning Reef all the way to Red Chapel Beach, validating my belief that in earlier days this coastline was one long stretch of sand, at least between Short and Long Beaches, if not beyond. As we drank wine and picnicked and the talk turned to rugby, I discussed its changed appearance with E who knew this stretch in all its variations better than me.

Later I quizzed a friend who lives above this beach for a bit more information, and then, when the tide was low yesterday afternoon I went walking, hoping to find bouquets of sea tulips waiting for me on the jetty pilings.

And here’s the thing. I didn’t find a single one, but I did find numerous other little squirts who looked remarkably like pyura Doppelgangera and squirted just to show me how it’s done.

IMG_5769
Oysters and sea squirts on a jetty piling.

Despite their name they hadn’t contrived to look anything like the elegant sea tulip I was beginning to believe I’d conjured up. They’re squat, rotund, pustular and a mucky colour, probably impeccably beautiful for blending into their surroundings but a challenge for the human eye to appreciate aesthetically.  A Tasmanian native, it’s well travelled, having hitchhiked on boats since ships first came here, making a pest of itself in New Zealand and the mainland.

I walked on, from stormwater drain to jetty piling to rocky outcrop musing about what it really was I’d seen on the hull. Had it really had a stalk? Had it even been red? Chances are it wasn’t a tulip at all but one of these doppelgängers given they are particularly captivated by artificial structures, according to the literature.

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A green tongued stormwater drain.

While thinking about how dramatically we have changed the ocean and the locations of its denizens,  I located Maning Rivulet (I think) which gave me a small thrill.  As I reached the little cove I’d seen from Samos when sailing with my friend the sky filled with tiny floating seeds like small white butterflies.  They made drifts on the sand and  laced  the rock pools, and the next day, around in New Town, the same phenomenon took place beside New Town Rivulet and I saw that they came from tall graceful trees whose name I still need to find out.

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Here are some more photos of the Maning Reef section of the walk that I took with my trusty iphone 5s.

They’re in no particular order.

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One of two stormwaters very close to each other that are probably both linked to Maning Rivulet
One of two stormwaters very close to each other that are probably both linked to Maning Rivulet

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Jetty and the Casino
Looking back at the jetty and Casino
Ducks drinking from a stormwater
The consequences of our filth
Reaching the cove at Red Chapel Beach
Reaching the cove at Red Chapel Beach