Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bruny Island - Day 2 Labillardiere Peninsula

Bruny – Day 2 Labillardiere Peninsula
Ranger time 5 hours according to the original sign, 6.5 is probably for normal bushwalkers. My time - around 7 hours, not counting the false start
I stayed at the Jetty Beach Campground in the far south of South Bruny overnight. It’s lightly timbered and sheltered from the sea. Even the long drops are light and clean, don’t smell and have a little tank and tap at the back so you can wash your hands. They have come a long way from those that were on the Franklin, but one of the tanks is already empty and there are no bins. Rumour has it that this year there were 200,000 visitors on the island, though many of them were probably day trippers.

Wild seas and rocky headlands are the order of the day
The wind howled and the forecast said as it had for the past two weeks, “Possible morning shower.” There is no specific weather report for Bruny and there is no signal here so what I had was issued two days ago. It seems that the Weather Bureau has been having a bet each way lately ,”50% Chance of showers,” appears quite frequently, so they can’t be accused of being wrong. There had been no rain for two days before I left and it was sunny that morning – that was until I got to the ferry terminal.  Now it’s raining again so I read a while until the weather started to clear and a cheeky scarlet robin started doing acrobatics in front of my windscreen.
There are two walks here – the two and a half hour Luggaboine Circuit or the 6.5 hour Labaillardiere Circuit which covers the whole peninsula. Labillardiere was  Bruni d’ Entrecasteaux’s naturalist  on his search for La Perouse. He collected many specimens of plants and animals and produced the first comprehensive work on the flora of Australia. I have no idea who or what Luggaboine was.

Someone asked me recently if I was a fast bushwalker. I am definitely not that – not even a good bushwalker, more in the category of dogged - a heroic plodder. The description says, “Long but easy.” Now that’s my kind of walk. What’s more since both walks covered the same ground initially, I could see how things went, and if the weather turned nasty I could take the shorter one and come back.
I made it to a bend where I caught my first seaview. Then bam, I was slapped in the face by a blast of hail. Raincoat on and thermal underneath, I started racing back to the campground. I was almost there when the sun came out again as if nothing had happened and I felt a piker for having given up. I turned around again and kept going, despite the frequent changes that followed. I got wet. I dried out. Put the sunhat on and took the thermal off. Then it was on again, off again. We are used to changeable weather in Tasmania, but I have never had to change that often before.

Ten foot waves hammer the cliffs. They look so impervious, but then I remember how London Bridge and one of the Ten Apostles, a series of imposing coastal landforms in Victoria, fell down in my lifetime
 The fierce wind which was driving all those changes made for spectacular seascapes with the spray  spilling high over rocks and headlands.The walk  progressed through coastal vegetation – mostly low banksias and teatree  huddled, rather cowering together against the wind. Down the track went into dips and then up over the headlands. Flowering plants were small and few, but I did see two echidnas and one long thick black snake, mercifully heading off into the bushes. Whenever the sun came out I was accompanied by pretty brown butterflies.

Towering waves and boiling seas
 Towards the northern end of the peninsula, the rocky outcrops were punctuated by beaches which would no doubt have been lovely in better weather.  As I was running across them to beat the onrushing tide and before I was dashed against the rocks, I tripped on a rock and landed face first in wet sand. Not much damage. A few bruises perhaps. Wet clothes.Ugh! There was no option but to keep going.

Seaspray is whipped up over 10 metres
 In the more sheltered bays at the tip of the island, there were oyster beds and fish farms and the trees gained more stature. As I turned south, I was cheered by the sight of a rainbow. The pattern of hillocks and dips continued, but now they were more richly clothed – some native cherry, she-oaks and ferns filled out the understorey.  While I was relieved to be out of the wind, I could still hear it roaring overhead, lashing the branches of the trees which groaned and moaned and creaked, making me pretty uneasy. We may have snakes and crocodiles, sharks and poisonous spiders, but falling tree branches probably claim more lives than all those put together.

As I walked I kept wondering what was making all these holes - rabbits? Bandicoots? Snakes?
Here's the culprit - one of two echidnas I saw, busily digging for ants
I also saw a dead stone fish. Their spines are poisonous even when dead. Another item to add to the list of things which can kill you in Australia

Fish pens dot the horizon in the more sheltered portions of the bay
A rainbow brings small comfort as I finally turn south
I was almost dry now, but the weather had the last laugh. Just as I passed the junction with the Luggaboine Circuit, there was a final squall which drenched me to the skin and filled up the pockets of my raincoat. Luckily I was on the home straight now and not too far from the campground. Apart from  an Asian couple whom I met when I was turning back and whom I remet as they turned back, I saw no one else for the entire seven hours it took me to complete the walk. I was very relieved to be back at Jetty Beach though I still don’t understand how I could walk up the western side and back down on the east and then come out on the far side of the beach to the west of the Campground. I would  like to see a detailed map of that.

There were few people in the campground but it was hard to find a spot without overhanging trees. The wind hadn’t abated and as I lay down listening to the clashing branches, the van shook. After  a while I realised that the ground was shaking because the wind was trying to tear the trees out by the roots. I would not have wanted to be in a tent that night or in a boat at sea. By that time though, I was too tired to care and drifted off to sleep, glad of dry clothes at last, some food and to be out of that wind..

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bruny – An Island’s Island

Waiting for the ferry. It's drizzly but the excitement is palpable

You could say I went overseas this week. OK, not far - only twenty minutes by ferry, but it was a different world. The ferry leaves from the little seaport of Kettering, about an hour south of Hobart. It's not too expensive at around $38 return for cars and it's free for passengers, but there was still that little frisson of excitement.  When I think about Bruny, being an island of an island State and that Bruny itself has islands, it makes me think of Matryoshka dolls or boxes within boxes, bracketed equations or something which quietly does my head in.

Couldn't help noticing this spider on the car in front
The bumper sticker seemed very apt
  Bruny, named after French explorer Bruni D'Entrecasteaux who mapped the Channel in 1792 and 1793, sprawls along the coast between Kettering and Cockle Creek, almost as far South as you can go for about 100 kilometres. It is in fact two islands marginally attached by a long narrow isthmus known as the Neck. In some ways it is a microcosm of Tasmania, combining many of its key features – physically, historically, culturally, in a more compact space. It also has a few quirks of its own which I will come to later.  

Classic view of the Neck
And these are the stairs you have to climb to get it. Just left of centre on the beach is the bird hide where you can watch the Fairy Penguins come in at dusk
As far as the landscape goes, Bruny (permanent population approximately 800), is hilly and windy with precipitous sea cliffs interspersed with pleasant beaches and farmland. The vegetation varies from coastal heathlands, through grassy plains fringed by straggly eucalypts to sheltered heights, where rainforest flourishes beneath an upper canopy of tall blue gums.  Thirteen of Tasmania’s 14 endemic birds can be found here as well as large numbers of fairy penguins and short -tailed shearwaters which can be seen at the Neck at dusk. 
There is also a memorial here to the Nuenonne people who originally occupied the island. One panel is dedicated to Truganini, the last full blooded Aboriginal and the daughter of a chief. Traditional industries such as forestry, fishing and farming remain  important  but are now complemented  by tourism,  vineyards, fish farming – both oysters and salmon, and  specialty food producers such as a cheesemaker, a whisky distiller and a berry farm.

In common with the rest of Tasmania, the sealed road does not extend far beyond the main population centres and there is little connectivity between them. Because driving is such hard work – slow because of the hills and bends and even more so on the unmade roads, it feels and takes a lot longer than it would appear by looking at the map. I also believe that there’s another factor at work. I think your sense of scale changes in accordance with the size of a place. I noticed that first when moving from Victoria to Tasmania. Perhaps you absorb it from the locals. When I said in Alonnah that I was going to take a look at Dennes Point  that day and  might come back to stay the night, the lovely woman I was talking to said, “But that’s 33 kilometres away, you won’t want to come all the way back here.”  I used to drive that distance to work every morning in Melbourne, but as it turned out, she was right.

Also in common with “the mainland” (Tasmania, I mean), the tyranny of distance means that cost of freight and transport makes most things more expensive. For example, fuel which was a remarkable $1.21 per litre when I left home, was $1.59 per litre on Bruny and Cuppa Soup which can be bought for around $1.00 on special in supermarkets on “the mainland,”  was up to $3.30 in Adventure Bay. Water is at a premium as everyone relies on tanks rather than a central water supply. This means that the campgrounds run by National Parks and Wildlife provide only a very limited amount and this must be boiled before use, unless you are staying in more formal and much more expensive accommodation. 

There are no cash machines on the island though more up -market establishments will accept cards and may on rare occasions give a little cash out with purchases. I found the Post Office at Alonnah particularly helpful in that regard. Parks and Wildlife do accept online payments in lieu of cash, but I only had a signal in one place on the island and that wasn’t anywhere near the National Park. Apart from the three Campgrounds run by Parks which are a long way from the population centres, and the Caravan Park in Adventure Bay, there is nowhere to pitch a tent. If you have an RV which is completely self -sufficient including your own toilet and water, Alonnah permits parking in the paddock behind the pub for $5 per night.

This scene hasn't changed much since Cook and Furneaux obtained water for their ships from the Resolution River named after Cook's ship
 Historically Bruny was the place where all European ships crossing the Pacific called to fill up on wood and water after the long haul from the Cape of Good Hope. Famous visitors included Abel Janzsoon Tasman in 1642, Marion du Fresne in 1772, Tobias Furneaux in 1773, Captain James Cook in 1777, Captain Bligh in 1788 and 1792, Bruni D’Entrecasteau in 1792 and 1793, Bass and Flinders in 1798 and Nicholas Baudin in 1802. There are many commemorative signs and markers along the beach at Adventure Bay, named after Furneaux’s ship. The first specimens of Eucalyptus were gathered here by Joseph Banks and Adventure Bay is regarded as the place where European involvement with Australia began. After the explorers came the whalers, the timber -getters and the coal miners.

I learned much of this at the quaint Bligh Museum which contains a wealth of charts, pictures and information about those swashbuckling seafaring days. It's also a great place to cool your heels while waiting for the morning's" possible shower" to disappear

You fully expect to see tall masted sailing ships here, but there's only a 14 person cruise ship

Today it is tourists. They numbered around 74,000 in 2010/11 and easily swamp the small population of permanent residents. You can understand them getting a trifle snarky about tourists complaining about the modest facilities or the prices, particularly if they themselves are not the ones profiting from the influx or they may have moved here for the peace and quiet. 

While Adventure Bay being more sheltered, has become Tourist Central and has the only petrol bowser on the Island, Alonnah  a quiet little village on the western side  has  the only medical centre, a pharmacy, the Police Station, a Post Office, a school and the only hotel. Its general store takes a while to discover being set back on a side -street off the main road. Lunawanna, a little further on, is smaller still, but boasts a winery, a boat ramp and toilet facilities. 

Entrance to the South Bruny National Park - a fretaste of what was to come - wild seacliffs, roaring surf, bizarre rock formations
 After a quick look around all three villages, I head to the South Bruny National Park. It's late in the day now and the weather isn’t exactly kind, but the scenery is spectacular and I have a feeling that this probably presents a truer picture of what life is like here much of the time. The Bruny Lighthouse looms large in the distance. Until Bass and Flinders discovered Bass Strait in 1798 in their epic whaleboat circumnavigation of Tasmania, all shipping between the Atlantic and the Pacific had to pass this way. There were many shipwrecks, leading to the building of this light in 1830, the third in Australia.

Sharklike rocks on approach to the lighthouse
I would have preferred the clouds to part - Cecil B. De Mille style for this shot of the lighthouse, but perhaps this presents a truer picture. The views are spectacular

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Leaving the Wild, Wild, West – Day 5 Victoria Valley Falls and the Central Highlands

Early Morning at Dee Lagoon - the smoke haze hasn't diminished
I turn right towards Ouse at the T-junction with the road to Liena and shortly after there’s a sign pointing to the Victoria Valley Falls. This is rarely shown on any tourist map and it doesn’t take too long to find out why.  It says carpark 200m, but when I get close it is not clear which of several wide spots in the road is the car park. I end up at the bottom of the hill, where a bridge has either been washed or burnt out at some stage. There is no indication of which way to go, but by chance I walk back up the way I have come first, rather than continuing over the creek and up the hill.
I would say neither party has been here since these signs were erected
As it happens there are two signs in the bush which I didn’t see from the car. One says “Victoria Falls Walking Track 20 minutes return.” The other says this is "A joint project between Forestry Tasmania, Parks and Wildlife and Wildcare." So far so good, though judging by the undergrowth on the track – lots of sedges and bracken, bark and fallen trees, none of them has been here since they put up the sign. Still, I should be able to do this little walk before breakfast. 

At least you can still see that there is a track here
The track is fairly clear until I come out on a huge amphitheatre of rock that overlooks a lightly wooded valley– it must be spectacular after rain, but today there is not a trickle to be seen. It has been a very dry year. There is another sign here that says “Victoria Falls Lookout, 10 minutes return,” so I head off in that direction, but the track quickly loses itself in scrub. 

Looking down into the valley from the rockface - there's not a drop of water to be seen
Assuming a lookout would be highly visible, I follow assorted wallaby tracks – down to the creek, across the creek, up the creek until fallen trees block my way. There is no sign of a lookout, dead or alive, though I do encounter a small trickle of water running over some rocks. I’m on high alert as I claw my way up a pockmarked hill. It’s full of holes and this is snake country if ever there was one. The ground crackles under my feet and I can’t see what is underneath. There’s no sign of any more water or a lookout and it also feels like I’ve walked a lot longer than ten minutes.

I can't go up the creek any further
 I can’t see any track at all on the hill I’ve come down on the other side, but I’m  pleased to rediscover two rocks I’d placed on top of one another at the place where I came out on the creek. With a bit of bush bashing I’m back at a huge horizontal rock I saw on the way down.  At least I think it’s the same one and aim for it, but I’m relieved to have it confirmed by another one of my two -rock arrangements. From there it's fairly easy to pick up the original track which runs alongside this rock. Only the other day I was thinking how hard it must have been for the early explorers and prospectors to traverse this inhospitable land, especially the much more mountainous and densely vegetated west, where the weather is much more severe, though it does snow here too. Now I feel like a gutsy explorer myself, except for the EPIRB nestling in my pack. My next bit of equipment should perhaps be a light machete. That way I could at least clear the track as I go. 

If this isn't perfect snake country, I don't know what is
On the way back I come across a little boarded section perhaps eight feet long covered by leaves and bark. I didn’t really notice it on the way down as I was looking for a lookout. Perhaps that was it, though I was expecting something a bit more elaborate. I linger for a while at the top of the rock ledge overlooking the valley but my stomach is starting to growl.  So much for a short walk before breakfast! There’s a bit of bush tucker about I’m sure, but it doesn’t look as appealing as my muesli and fruit.

Is this it?  View from the little boardwalk. I suppose I was looking for a waterfall and more of a structure

The Aborigines used to make a type of flour out of these seeds, but I think I prefer my muesli
I just have to  chalk this down to experience. I briefly toy with the idea of heading up through Miena and then home via Bothwell, but eventually decide to go down through Osterley to Ouse. A fading sign outside one dilapidated farmhouse says, “God’s Country.” Then there are one or two more and some good looking farm sheds, followed by some burnt -out chimneys. This must be Osterley. I always wondered about Osterley as there are several signs pointing to it on the Lyell Highway. A  sign on a flaking hall confirms it. It’s hardly the booming metropolis I expected. Here too everything looks very dry. Not many pics as there’s nowhere to pull over. This narrow winding road was apparently the main highway westwards before the building of the Tarraleah Power station in the late 1930’s. I suspect that nothing has happened here since.
Suburban Osterley I think

The Town Centre I presume

It's dry, dry , dry as far as the eye can see
Things begin to look more prosperous as I approach Ouse. There’s a bit of tarmac on the road, more houses, round hay bales and what looks like poppies and irrigated fruit trees on the hill. I also get my first wild harvest for the season - some cherry plums which will make a nice addition to my breakfast bowl. I usually don’t like to pick from the roadsides, but so far I have only seen one other car and that's in two days.
Then I am back in the civilisation of the hamlets that dot the Lower Derwent. I briefly consider overnighting  at the free campground at Dunrobbin Bridge until I see it, then, having crossed the river I drive on  to  Westerway on the southern side, another road less travelled. It’s a fine day and berry –picking is in progress. I buy raspberries, blueberries and enormous cultivated blackberries and get a little bonus of black currants which are flourishing in the carpark. 

The free campground at Dunrobbin Bridge doesn't tempt me to stay
The greenness of the hopfields around Bushy Park is a sight for sore eyes. Though the plums have kept me from imminent starvation, I finally have my breakfast in the little park beside the river at New Norfolk which is also pleasantly green. Cherry plums are falling from the trees here, so after an undignified slide down the slope on fallen fruit, I take a few more plums for the way home. Then it’s back via the north bank of the Derwent to the city. This way is longer and slower, but it's more scenic and my van doesn’t hold up the fast moving commuter traffic.I have been warned to keep an eye out for the occasional log truck taking this route.
Tall hopfields around Bushy Park provide a touch of green at last
 When I get home, I hear on the news that eighty fires are still raging not only on the West Coast, but in the Central Highlands, especially around Miena. Just as well I didn’t go that way.

Update: 4.2.2016 . We've just had a week of heavy rain but many of the fires are still going. At the same time we have also had flooding in the North and North East, leading to several road closures there as well. Best to check with the Tasmanian Fire Service, Tasmania Police and Parks and Wildlife before setting off anywhere. Forestry Tasmania has another useful site. Can't help wondering though, what Victoria Falls might look like now.