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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 foretaste 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