Walking the Sandy Bay Rivulet From Source to Estuary Part 1

Part One:  Being Random

Because I live in the Sandy Bay Rivulet’s catchment, it seemed symbolic that I should kick off my beach walks by strolling the Sandy Bay Rivulet from its source at The Springs (about half way up the mountain) to Short Beach where it enters the Derwent.  I looked at the spurs high up near the summit, figuring out the catchment zone.  I read reports and discovered some conflicting facts about where its source is believed to be.  I did some sleuthing, discovering it here and there as it meandered through its urban reaches.  I made an astounding discovery – or so I thought.  It’s the rivulet that flows beside my favourite forest track.

‘You’re going to walk the what?’ said my friends.  It seems that even if you live in its catchment, on the landscape it has made, the rivulet is out of sight and out of mind.

While vacuuming one day, it occurred to me that it must flow through Turnip Fields.  I cut that chore short and went to explore this little known spot.  From the road I saw new houses with names like Mystic Way, and the Derwent, like a heart-shaped lake, captured by the foothills.  I saw the reservoir at Waterworks and down on the valley floor, blocked by private property, I saw the forest it must surely run through.

The one thing I didn’t do was consult a map.

Confident I now knew its route, I told the geologist I would follow the rivulet that slips down beside ‘the leech path’ to Jackson’s Bend on Huon Road.  There’s a steep, forested valley on the lower side and I imagined I would slither down into this copse with my sailing boots in my rucksack in case I had to slosh my way down the rivulet itself.  Over drinks the geologist explained that I would need a compass, that the bush would be dense, and quite possibly impenetrable over the rivulet.  He told me it was even conceivable I could fall over a cliff and die.

I was disbelieving.  The copse is narrow but it’s true the slope is steep.  I had thought of my descent into the valley as a drop into an unknown world – old memories of the Famous Five had stirred, awakening my inner George.  ‘Forget it,’ said the geologist, and told me of his efforts to push through horizontal and the achingly slow progress he had made.  ‘Only masochists will go into that stuff.  There’s too little reward.’

I was unconvinced but I didn’t like the idea of encountering old bones (that cliff!) or trespassing and encountering a landowner bristling with weapons, as occurred to some others in a 4×4 recently.  And so I agreed to begin at The Springs and to follow a more conventional way down to the river.

From the Springs to the River: Radfords Track
From the Springs to the River: Radfords Track



One Christmas when I was new to Hobart, my friend and I rode up the mountain, a long slow ride that kept me at eye level with some of its passing features and wobbling as I got distracted by the silencing view beneath us.  The plants, the water dripping through the sliced soil at the road’s edge, the tall forests of eucalypts and rainforest species, the fragrant air and then in the alpine zone the sculpturally stunted snow gums and cushion plants, were hard and breathless work to get to know.

A rest at the summit, the chill, the distant view of the South West, the disorientating landscape of peninsulas and islands, most of south eastern Tasmania spread out about us, and then the exhilaration of sweeping back down its long flank on the narrow road, all the way back to the city.

The first beaches I’m exploring lie beneath the mountain, the usual term Hobartians use to name it up but when one day not so long ago I turned on to the summit road and saw the new kunanyi / Mt Wellington sign, I thought, quite simply, ‘YES!’

I’d almost forgotten Uluru was once Ayer’s Rock and frankly, for a massive mountain to be bequeathed the name of a mere mortal in a distant land, is an archaic notion. The mountain, through the Ice Ages and the Holocene and past the date of European settlement, carried many names (Unghanyahletta, Pooranetere and others), because there were different languages and dialects spoken here but in 2013, at a ceremony on its summit, the government announced its new dual naming nomenclature policy, a late acknowledgement that this land once had other more authentic and richer names than it currently carries.


The mountain rises above the city like Table Mountain over Cape Town and although the foothills disguise this fact, kunanyi is actually the taller of the two. In February 1804, dissatisfied with the initial settlement at Risdon Cove, a small party landed at Sullivan’s Cove on the western shore.  In a letter that month the Governor said  there ‘there is a run of clear fresh water, proceeding from a distance and having its source in a rock in the vicinity of Table Mountain…’ (HRA 3,1 p 223 Collins to King 29 February 1804).  Clearly a similarity between the two mountains, the way cloud snags on their summits, had been noted.

We think 100 years a lengthy span.  Kunanyi took the Permian, Triassic and Jurassic ages to achieve its character.  Geologists look at it and see a horst.  For a sailor or explorer, like George Bass, who noted it in 1798, it’s a most significant landmark.  The early settlers appreciated its water but took to soiling it immediately, used as they were to the sewers and drains of cities like London.  Kunanyi had been seen as sacred, the relationship non-duelist, totemic, but Europeans put a higher value on utility and took its timber, stone, wildlife, plants and water.  Non-duelist myself, I can’t begin to imagine the pain that those clans, pushed out of their own home, felt as they watched the earth they belonged to desecrated so wantonly.  Had the new arrivals not been so Cartesian in their perspectives, words like threatened, endangered and extinct would, just maybe, not apply to Tasmania’s natural wealth like it does today.

Mountain fires, floods, landslides, eras, climates and species come and go and despite the  recreational, weather and telecommunication structures on its summit, it’s still magnificent, sometimes so solidly present, sometimes ethereal, and occasionally in humid weather, like a dreamtime serpent, a long ribbon of cloud  slithers through the valleys and wraps itself around the mountain, creating an atmosphere of mystery.

It has a secret night life, most denizens being nocturnal – the chorussing frogs, the sugar gliders, the wallabies, the boobook owl – and it has a diversity of plants, is criss crossed with paths and rivulets, studded with huts and waterfalls. In 1906 the mountain got a little more breathing space from people when it became a park.  When you go walking, its best to be prepared because like so many mountains, it’s wild and can be tempestuous and even today has the capacity to snatch up lives.

This has been a cold winter and most unusually there has been snow on the summit almost every day.  I’m looking at those snow flecked cliffs, the Organ Pipes, up at the peak.  I know that around the corner The Lost World is also under snow.  I’ve been sailing the river and walking the beaches, and making my plans to follow that rivulet whose catchment I live in, (with its tendrils starting above our home, behind it, in front of it and below it)  from its accepted source at The Springs down to the beach at Sandy Bay.

And in walking the rivulet, I’ll also be walking kunanyi.

kunanyi sunset
kunanyi viewed from the Eastern Shore