20 December 2011
After topping up food, fuel and water, we boarded the vehicular ferry at Kettering for the trip over D'Entrecasteaux Channel to North Bruny. The ferry's name, 'Mirambeena' (Aboriginal for 'welcome') was an apt introduction to Bruny.
Only 3km inland, a warm welcome awaited us at Bish (Bruny Island Smoke House) Bistro. At 11am we weren't ready to taste local wines, but Bish's oven-smoked breads, salmon, trout and quail samples were delicious. Eventually we settled for quail and – because we're putty in temptation's hands – some local fudge.
Further east, we turned north into Missionary Road to Duck Pond bush camp, Barnes Bay. Another camper had hooked a flathead for dinner, but we like the certainty of shellfish – if you can see 'em, you can catch 'em! After lunch, at low tide, we gathered oodles of mussels and huge oysters for a campfire stir-fry to follow smoked quail on crackers with sundowners. Luxury!
Next morning we passed through Barnes Bay hamlet to Killara Road. A cautionary note: this gravel route is narrow and winding. Caravanners might consider unhitching at Duck Pond and re-hitching after circuiting the island's northern tip.
Driving west and then north, we passed through pastures to Bligh Point, named after the 'Bounty' captain. At low tide, a walk from there to Nebraska Beach reveals natural sculptures in sandstone cliffs, but that's not Nebraska Beach's sole claim to fame. The sailing ship 'Hope' foundered here in 1827 while delivering garrison troops' wages. Allegedly, the coin chest was off-loaded and buried on the beach. Although Nebraska is Tassie's most fossicked beach, nobody has found the treasure – yet.
There are new 'treasures' now at nearby Dennes Point. For decades, Dennes Point comprised a handful of holiday cottages. These are now augmented by a café, shop and gallery complex. A café and shop have long been needed in North Bruny and the gallery is a beauty. Paintings and sandstone carvings predominate, and novelties include unique locally made clothing, such as a stylish dress made of sailcloth.
Historically, Dennes Point was management central for Bull Bay's whaling activities, but migrating whales now tug at human heartstrings, not harpoons.
South we joined the three-hour (return) Cape Queen Elizabeth walk east, but walked it only as far as Moorina Bay – named after 'Queen' Truganini's sister who, according to folk law, was abducted by a sealer in 1828 and taken to Bass Strait, where she was accidentally shot. It's a scramble from the heath-fringed path down to Moorina Bay, but its wind-chiselled rock formations are outstanding.
Later, crossing The Neck to South Bruny, we stopped at Highest Hummock Lookout, and were glad we'd saved some puff for the 270-plus steps to the top! Glorious 360° views over the Tassie mainland, D'Entrecasteaux Channel, north and south Bruny made every step worthwhile.
A memorial to Truganini graces the top deck. This 19th century identity, daughter of Mangerner (chief of Bruny's Nuennone clan), helped George Robinson create an ill-fated Flinders Island settlement for Aboriginals. This was meant to protect them from European persecution. However, many died of introduced diseases from which they had no immunity.
At the lookout base, a boardwalk crosses dunes to Adventure Bay, where Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) rangers conduct nightly fairy penguin viewings in summer. A ban on flash photography and lights precludes memory shots, but most folk are content to see dozens of adult birds waddling ashore to feed their raucous chicks. Sometimes, in late afternoon, people manage to snap chicks outside their burrows awaiting their parents' food deliveries.
Our second night was spent in the free Neck Reserve campground at the southern end of the isthmus. This sheltered camp has a picnic shelter with fireplace (BYO wood) and there are long-drop toilets. Bonuses include proximity to the lookout and a prime swimming beach.
Day three saw us heading south and then west to Alonnah. This administration hub holds government agencies and a history room. Australia's most southerly hotel sits slightly south. A few clicks further on, Bruny Island Premium Wines also qualifies for a 'southernmost' tag and is a magnet for cool-climate wine lovers.
Continuing south, we took the good dirt road (C629) down to Cape Bruny Lighthouse, giving way to a wallaby en route. This historic (1836) structure overlooks rugged cliffs, coves and the vast Southern Ocean. A popular PWS camp is at nearby Jetty Beach on the opposite side of this national park peninsula.
After backtracking to Lunawanna, we did a virtual U-turn to follow the C644 down to Whalebone Point on Cloudy Bay. Here, Prices Lookout overlooks a beautiful crescent of surfing beach where elegant Pacific gulls and other seabirds strut. Some 4WD travellers do a low-tide beach run south to Cloudy Corner camp. Instead, we tucked into The Pines, half a kilometre back from the lookout. Sites in this bush camp are sheltered from winds and pit toilets are provided.
The next day, we again backtracked towards Lunawanna, but stopped short at Lunawanna Link General Store for bread and milk before turning east onto an extension of the C629 towards Adventure Bay. This route through Mt Mangana Forest Reserve runs through lush eucalypt and manfern forests, with picnic areas, walks and a lookout along the way, but the road is steep and narrow. Most caravanners prefer to drive back through Alonnah to Adventure Bay and leave the van there while they sightsee inland.
Adventure Bay is Bruny's prime holiday strip, with a store, ATM and fuel facilities. Captain James Cook Memorial Caravan Park, on Main Road, also operates Ol' Kid Fishing Charters. We stayed at Adventure Bay Holiday Village not only because it's pretty, but also because it has direct beach access and its amenities building features a grisly but historic collection of whale bones. Primarily, we wanted to see snow white wallabies!
Afternoon wildlife shows open with multi-coloured ducks waddling through sites. Blue wrens and red robins act as 'extras', supported by a cast of ultra friendly Tasmanian bush hens – known as 'turbo chooks' for their speed in zooming from one food source to another. Enter the stars. Fluffy white wallabies, resembling cute little stuffed toys, emerge from neighbouring bush to graze on the lawn. They'd be a hard act to follow.
Our next day began at the highly recommended Bligh Museum. It holds priceless original charts and details of Bruny visits by Dutchman Abel Tasman (1642), English captains Tobias Furneaux (1773), James Cook (1777), William Bligh (1788, 1792, 1808) and French Admiral Bruni D'Entrecasteaux (1792). Surprisingly, visitors may handle some of the precious exhibits.
There is a memorial to James Cook in Coolangatta Road and other marine explorers are commemorated in Bruny (originally Bruni) place names.
Bruny Island Berry Farm, at Adventure Bay's northern end, has its share of history, as well as a fine reputation for fresh strawberries and ice-creams. Occupied by the same family since 1880, the site is where Captain Cook replenished his water supply from the property's creek in 1777. Captain Bligh later named this 'Resolution Creek' after Cook's ship. The creek enters the bay at Two Tree Point, a breeding site for terns and hooded plovers.
Heading back to Adventure Bay Holiday Village, we succumbed to temptation – again – visiting Oz's most southerly chocolate factory, Hiba. Arabic for 'gift', Hiba's shop offers many gift ideas: chocolates, truffles, fudge or local crafts. The property's outstanding feature is a turreted chateau housing the Original Tasmanian Fudge Co.
Before returning for a white wallaby encore, we stopped around the corner from the holiday village to book on the next morning's three-hour Bruny Island Cruise, which should be on every traveller's bucket list.
First, the practicalities. The purpose- built 12.5m Naiad boats are each powered by three 300hp supercharged four-stroke outboards. The boats' sleek design enables them to manoeuvre into sea caves and ultra close to coastal features. An overhead canopy and top-to- toe waterproof jackets protect passengers against any wind-borne spray.
Now, the fun bits. Within minutes, crew members were indicating a point of interest – a spot where Captain Bligh planted Australia's first apple trees (which flourished) and grape vines (which curled up their toes). After rounding majestic Fluted Cape, features came thick and fast as we skimmed alongside South Bruny National Park. Albatross dotted the ocean surface, while gannets, shearwaters and sea eagles swirled overhead. We skirted Australia's tallest sea cliffs and learned that some were basalt while others were Jurassic dolorite. The skipper nosed the boat into an impressive arch, circled sea-stacks, slid between cliffs and a stunning 'Monument' formation and drew alongside an unusual blowhole known as the 'Breathing Rock'. Between the sights we watched for dolphins, but it must have been their day off.
None of us felt deprived, especially when we reached The Friars – rocky islets where the Tasman Sea and Southern Ocean meet. Idling past, we got up close to a colony of Australian seals that obligingly displayed their two speeds – sluggish on their sun-bathing ledges and supercharged in the sea as they rocketed around, showing off their aquatic acrobatics. A cluster of New Zealand fur seals were less extroverted (few courted the cameras), but they were definitely the prettier species.
On our 2pm return, we (over) indulged on lunch at the cruise company's licensed café and decided not to rush for the ferry. Instead, we returned to The Neck campground so we could have an early night – we thought! At happy hour we were joined by others from the cruise. We all prattled away, sharing impressions of Bruny in general and the cruise in particular. Someone suggested a shared dinner, followed by a nightcap. Before we knew it, it was 10pm, but who cared? The evening had been like a celebration of the wonderful time we'd had on Bruny Island.
The Spirit of Tasmania operates regular passenger/vehicular services between Melbourne and Devonport. For seasonal schedules phone 13 20 10. After touring from Devonport to Hobart by your chosen route, take the A6 south to Kingston, then the B68 south through Margate to Kettering for the ferry to Bruny.
There are 10 return trips a day. Peak season return fares for vehicles (and their passengers) are: less than 5m long $33; 5-6m long $42; 6-10m $55; 10-15m long $80; 15m and over $104. Phone: (03) 6272 2322 or visit www.brunyislandferry.com.au
WHERE TO STAY
Adventure Bay Holiday Village, southern extremity of Adventure Bay Road, Adventure Bay, 7150. Powered site $20/night/two people, unpowered $10/night/two people. Showers $1/five minutes, washing machine $3, BBQs $1/16 minutes. Phone: (03) 6293 1270
Bruny D'Entrecasteaux Visitor Centre, Ferry Terminal, Ferry Road, Kettering. Phone: (03) 6267 4494 email: email@example.com
Parks and Wildlife Service, South Bruny National Park. Phone: (03) 6293 1419
Bruny Island Cruises, 915 Adventure Bay Road, Adventure Bay, South Bruny Island, 7150. Phone: (03) 6293 1465 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Climbing Highest Hummock for 360° vistas. Beach, bay and rock fishing. Beach, bush and cliff-top walks ranging from short and sweet to long and laborious. Fairy penguin viewing.
Mussels and oysters at Duck Pond, Barnes Bay. Camping at Duck Pond, The Neck, Jetty Beach and The Pines. Roadside, unsprayed blackberries February-March. Tasting oven-smoked produce, cheese, berries, chocolate, fudge and wines. Close encounters with white wallabies and Tasmanian bush hens.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY GORDON & PAMELA MAY, ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRUNY ISLAND CRUISES AND TOURISM TASMANIA