South Arm Peninsula: Goat Bluff, a fundamental question and a couple of secrets

Goats Bluff and Betsey from Calverts (1 of 1).jpg
Goats Bluff and Betsey Island from Calverts Beach

… what is beauty? This is one of the most fundamental questions, it is not superficial, so don’t brush it aside. To understand what beauty is, to have that sense of goodness which comes when the mind and heart are in communion with something lovely without any hindrance so that one feels completely at ease – surely, this has great significance in life; and until we know this response to beauty our lives will be very shallow. One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead.

~ J. Krishnamurti

A Google Earth image of  Goats Bluff to the north of Betsey Island. Calverts Lagoon behind Calverts Beach (right) was largely dry when this image was taken.

On Being a Goat

It may seem strange that I’ve included Krishnamurti’s quote at this point in my blog, because the bluff is unassuming, easy to hurtle by without noticing, and yet it has a certain sense of poise gifted by its location in the landscape between two capes so that, had Krishnamurti, a great nature writer, found his way here, I’m sure he would have taken his seat and looked out at ‘all the marvellous earth’, the hills and the valleys interleaving themselves, and perhaps, while contemplating this magnificent coastline he might also have reflected on human nature – how we are so often goats, with at times, a certain poise, when we make the effort.

Those who appreciate beauty come here at night to star gaze and to wonder at the auroras.  In daylight hours, as the sky’s moods play out over the landscape, colours shift transferring the mood of the sky.  At this  junction of ocean, land and lagoons the biota is rich, the birds are various, the native coastal vegetation still reasonably intact. Surfers carve the breakers; below the cliff to the east is a break called Rebounds. Goats and Wedge are breaks to the west.  And from these 30 m high sandstone cliffs you can walk west along Hope Beach (aka Roaring Beach) to Cape Direction or you can go east down Goat Bluff’s flank to Calverts Beach for the walk to Cape Contrairety, or angle slightly inland to circumambulate Calverts Lagoon, binoculars around your neck, field guides in your rucksack.

Goats Bluff cliffs (1 of 1).jpg
The bluff’s ramparts with Betsey in the distance

The bluff also provides access to the north. Just cross the road and go west along the isthmus – but think seriously about this – the birds love this thin strip of beach beside the bitumen so it’s unkind to intrude.  Perhaps rather choose the meandering track (far more rewarding) along its eastern shore.

Or simply play it like Krishnamurti and  make your mind like the sky by lingering on the bluff with its sense of poise drawn mostly from the fact that it is the divide between the Arm End beaches and the sweep of coastline to the east.

In other words, don’t think for one moment that Goat (also known as Goats) is an isolated bluff simply there as a carpark, or a dislocated remnant scrap of reserved native vegetation. The road behind assumes more importance than is warranted. Instead, imagine that you are Nuenonne, that slash of bitumen not there yet and see instead Colin Springs Hill descending gracefully down to the bluff’s sandstone rampart, uninterrupted.  Before you there’s a valley, drowned by the ocean that extends down from that rampart and out to Betsey Island, with a dune trapped lake to your right behind Hope Beach, the drowned valley that is Ralphs Bay behind you to the north, a pooling of water in Calverts Lagoon and Pipe Clay Lagoon at Cremorne behind you to your left.

Goats Bluff.  A small band of Nuenonne.  Shearwaters wheeling on the night sky, and then the aurora.

Goat’s Secret, Hope’s Secret and Betsey’s Secret

Goat Bluff has two secrets.  

The first is a beach (T412 (Short, 2006)).

Short describes it as ‘a 60 m long pocket of rocks and sand set in a gap in the centre of the bluffs and immediately below the lookout. The beach consists of high tide cobbles and boulders against the base of the cliffs, then a sandy 100 m wide bar with rock outcrops that fill the gap. Waves are lowered to 1 m at the bluff owing to sheltering by the island and rocks and break across the bar with a weak rip usually flowing out against the western rocks.’

He says there is no safe access to this beach. To try would be dangerous.  So please don’t.

I was surprised to discover another secret on the On the Convict Trail blog: ‘Nearby [to Piersons Point] Goat Bluff was also the location of further underground tunnel systems [associated with the Derwent’s system of battery defence].  But Goat Bluff isn’t near Piersons Point, which is on the western side of the Derwent’s mouth (although distance is relative, I guess) and so I was sceptical until I saw this fact repeated on the South Arm History site.  The Fort Direction page by Maurice Potter states ‘at Goat Bluff there are still the remains of underground trenches that were built at that time’ [WWII] and I also discovered on this page that ‘as many will remember, most of the beaches and the hillsides of South Arm were covered with barbwire entanglement and this remained so for some years after the end of war.’ (Potter, n.d.)

Betsey’s Secret

Sitting on the bluff contemplating the landscape you might naturally suppose that Betsey Island is made off the same stuff as the bluff, but you would be wrong.  Black Jack Reef and Goat Bluff are sandstone / siltstone but Betsey declares its difference by being Jurassic dolerite (Leaman, 1999).  It shares another secret with Hope.

Hope has even more compelling secrets

And as Goat Bluff overlooks Hope here they are.

The first is the precise whereabouts of the wrecked ship, the Hope, that gives the beach its name (Leaman, 1999).

The next secret really belongs to the general vicinity near Hope because between Betsey and the Derwent Light mysterious compass deviations first noted by Mathew Flinders are now assumed to be caused by volcanic necks on the sea floor – and according to Leaman (1999) may possibly have caused the Hope to wreck in the first place.

But here’s the best secret.  Eons ago the complicated Derwent entered Storm Bay through the South Arm isthmus, which now blocks it.  The best part of this secret is that it seems to have done so through ‘a gorge [now] filled with more than 200 metres of clay, sandy clay, sand and gravel [that] lies hidden from our view…’ (Leaman, 1999).

Hope Beach from Goat's Bluff.jpg


A mountain.  A river. A bluff.  They may seem so enduring, but I think all nouns are simply verbs in disguise and everything a process.



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

Short, A.D. 2006. Beaches of the Tasmanian coast and islands. Sydney University Press, Sydney.

Derwent River: South Arm Peninsula Walk: Arm End Walk

10 May 2015

Mr Gellibrand’s Temporary Tenure

Conditions: SW wind about 15-20 knots, tide going out.

Clarence Map
The walk we did is in the area that is red on the map

After our impulsive breakfast decision to head out to South Arm Peninsula (see previous entry), we gathered up the dogs and set off knowing only that there was a walk at the end of the peninsula but not much more about it.  We supposed it would take a mere 30 minutes to walk that stretch of coastline.

The peninsula forms the southern end  of the Derwent River’s eastern shore, on the far side of the low lying isthmus at Lauderdale, a suburb at the eastern end of Ralphs Bay.  Somewhat uncertainly, and without consulting a map, I’d thought this might be where I’d choose to start my coastal walks from.

There are no real suburbs on the peninsula, just a couple of communities, farmland and conservation areas.  South Arm Peninsula has many varied beaches – some coastal, some on the Derwent Estuary and quieter ones in Ralphs Bay.  If this was a day  in the last interglacial (about 125 million years ago) we’d be climbing in a boat and heading out to a series of islands and as there is evidence of current sea level rise this will eventually be the case again.

We crossed the isthmus and then we were on to the peninsula and turning right for Opossum Bay.  There’s a small collection of homes and beach shacks here, many with their foundations right on the diminishing strip of beach itself.  There’s a corner store and not much more.  It’s quaint, it’s quiet and from this part of the peninsula looking north there are the most riveting views across the Derwent River back towards Hobart and the mountain. Looking south you can see the western shore receding south to Storm Bay and Bruny Island.

We crossed the equally low lying but skinnier isthmus called South Arm Neck and continued through Opossum Bay and on to what was once pastoral land but is now, south of the recreation reserve, giving way to a subdivision of new homes and that’s where we parked our car.  A sign right there announced the start of the  Arm End walk.

South Arm sign
The walk begins

We were rugged up against the cold and across the river the mountain loomed, snow still on its peak from the big dump the previous week.  These were some of the observations we made to each other as we walked along the track above the coastline:

~ There are an awful lot of different weeds invading this landscape.

~ This is a fantastic walk to do with dogs.

~ This walk is going to take us more than 30 minutes.

~ Are we doing this right? (This was me.  I was beginning to realise that a plan written on a finger nail was no plan at all.  I now saw that many compromises might.  For instance, we were enjoying following the path that made its way over grassy paleo dunes, but the actual shoreline was hidden beneath us.  I wanted to walk along the edge.

We thought that, if you put to one side the knowledge that you were not going to stumble upon a village, strike a lane or happen across a pub the walk felt a bit like rambling through the countryside in England.

Beginning of the path

The path reached the cliff edge. Peering over I saw that the option of rock hopping the shoreline in between sauntering beaches was clearly not realistic.  And when we came to our first beach, a dark, cobbled and fairly short one (I discovered later that this was the western end of Mitchells Beach), I failed my first test.  I wanted to go down and put my feet on its sand but the slope looked friable and what might have been a slithery exercise for me was potentially ruinous for the slope.

Mitchells Beach

’Do that one on the way back,’ the geologist suggested and on we walked.  My first beach – opportunity missed!  But from this view another beach to the east (further back along our path) was also evident, possibly separate, possibly the eastern end of Mitchells. We came to a radio transmitter station at White Rock Point and this view up the Derwent River (see below).


There are some perspectives from this area where the river looks like a gigantic lake with small settlements, the city and single households spread across the hills, a known geography strangely altered.  I sail along this coastline, but now, looking down at the river from a new vantage point, and seeing this lovely sailing ground spread out all about me, it felt good to be enjoying the water from a different perspective.

Looking north to the entrance to Ralphs Bay

We hopped through compromised vegetation (weeds and litter) and down the eroding dunes, marram pelted, on to the beach at Mary Ann Bay.This is a bay that’s a popular day anchorage and it can get  crowded with yachts.  It’s where I once let myself down by reversing far to fast on someone else’s boat while we were anchoring.  Now I could see (at least with the tide we had) that it’s a slender beach, quite enigmatic, darkened by dolerite, and there’s a lot of litter among the belt of cobbles that lie at the base of the cliff.  We realised most of it would be swept this way from the city when the wind is blowing from the north west and the tide is running out. (I made a mental note to include rubbish bags as part of my beach walking equiment from now on.) Although I know the winch handle that we accidentally dropped overboard last summer would most likely have ended up on Bellerive Beach, I scrutinised the debris on the off chance it had circumnavigated the Derwent.  I didn’t find our winch handle but I did find a small yellow super ball and claimed it to save a bird from swallowing it.  So here’s a shout out.  Mary Ann needs friends! She’s being strangled by Hobart’s litter.

Mary Ann asphyxiating under litter


Mary Ann: Looking north
Mary Ann Bay: Eroding semi-consolidated cliffs

We walked along Mary Ann and at the end scrambled up the cliff to where the caesurinas grow.

Caesurinas, cliffs and rocky shores above Mary Ann

I also discovered a small reef, clear and precise amongst the white caps off Mary Ann.  I think it’s the two tiny black dots that are noted on the nautical chart but are very easy to overlook or to miss altogether on a higher tide when you’re sailing along chatting with friends and not paying sufficient attention.

Looking north along Mary Ann under variable skies

The next beach along the route is still Mary Ann, I think, but I was fast discovering that beach identification is a bit of an art.  There was a sign that said Gellibrand Vault on the map I found later online (see link at top) but at the time we walked along it I assumed it was the northern part of Mary Ann.  We discovered the vault itself and climbed up the slope to take a peek.  Mr Gellibrand was the first land owner in this area.  I later read he loved to sit in this spot to enjoy the view.  The words testify to his good nature and it does have a fabulous view but it’s likely that in the fullness of time the dune in which his body rests may slide inadvertently into the river.

Mr Gellibrand’s Vault
Walking Mary Ann

This beach does in fact have friends.  There are new plants in green plastic casings.  They are trying to stabilise the dunes.  Like Mary Ann, it’s beauty is also marred by litter.  It’s narrow too, and at the end, where a cliff barricades the way, someone had placed a vertical series of small round cobbles along a ridge of rock.  It made me pay attention.  I enjoyed a moment contemplating my surroundings.  I looked across the river, trying to imagine what it was like to be Moomairremener because this was their domain and I have no doubt the land would be happier if that was still the case – just ask Mary Ann.  I imagined the suburbs gone and the forests on kunanyi’s foothills still pristine, the smoke rising from the fires made by the Mouheneener tribe on the western shore, their known world ending and another about to assume its place, the first omens the ships, the second their settlement at Risdon Cove.

Landcare trying to stem the damage
On the Gellibrand Vault part of the beach, looking south
Looking across the river to kunanyi / Mt Wellington
Looking south back the way we’d come

It was an easy walk the rest of the way to Gellibrand Point but we were definitely taking more than 30 minutes.  When we got there, and stood looking back the way we’d come, across the water westward to the mountain, north to Droughty Point and even further upriver where rain was falling north of the bridge, we had a decision to make: continue the circuit or backtrack along our route, visiting the beach(es) we’d missed.  On the off chance that somewhere we could cut across and do a figure of eight I agreed to continue and I’m glad we did although we didn’t cross back over and Mitchells has been put aside until another time.

Looking north to Ralphs Bay under darkening skies
Gellibrand view north
The view from Gellibrand Point into Ralphs Bay

There was long grass on either side of the track and periodically the sudden dark blur of a mouse, perhaps native antechinus, disappearing into the undergrowth,  and flocks of birds on the slender spit extending into Ralph Bay’s still waters.  Far away to the south I could just make out a catamaran against a background of  trees.

Small wetland and The Spit: tranquility in the lee of the peninsula

We saw the radio transmitter on the far side of the point and then it was lost again behind a low hill in the centre of the nature reserve and shortly afterwards we reached a corral we guessed was designed with sheep in mind.  We descended down to the boggy edge of Shelly Beach.

Towards the stockyards
Native flora (epacris impressa?)

It was so sheltered and so shallow and the bottom glistened with white shells.  We paused to consider a surprising discovery – a  dense layer of shell sandwiched between layers of dark soil in the bank behind the beach, meandering delicately the extent of the bank.

‘I’ve been here before,’ said the geologist.  It had been a field trip with an archaeologist we know, to consider whether this was a vast kitchen midden or a natural deposit eons ago.  They’d decided it was too extensive to be a midden and there was not enough evidence of fire in the layer with the shells.

The shallows (Shelly Beach)
The shallows (Shelly Beach)
Shelly Beach

Stratigraphy at Shelly Beach

As we began to see people again – a lone walker, a jogger with her dog, a family group – I was reflecting that I had to be better prepared – things like consulting maps, doing research, checking the tides and the moon, the weather forecast and distance to be walked. It struck me that there was a stark difference between looking from the water, where all I’d only ever noticed about Mary Ann was her unprepossessing cliff face, whereas walking her slender length, the cliff becomes intriguing, you notice the dark sand and the  wind and wave working dynamically to reshape her.  Windswept, and beneath an overcast sky, the beach had been sombre but beaches are many faced and on a sunny day with a low tide Mary Ann might be more light hearted.

Shelly, on the other hand, was quiet and reflective, openly spilling secrets, providing a long view into history.  I imagined a sunny day, a beach umbrella and a book, toddlers splashing in the shallows.  Personally, I was tantalised but the curve of sand I had not walked, that curled like a thin white line all the way around to the other side of Ralphs Bay.  I wanted to return, both on foot and by kayak.

It was a great kick off to walking the rest of the South Arm coastline and the beaches – Mary Ann, the most sombre and littered beach, so different from others I’ve encountered in Tasmania and Shelly with its clear water and amazing soil profile, so different in character – had given me a lot to think about.

Gift from Mary Ann, litter from Hobart
Gift from Mary Ann, litter from Hobart