We are island folk down here. We live on an island state, of an island country that is also an island continent. Around our little island home are some other small islands dotted about the coast. While travelling further afield is still not on the cards, we’ve been exploring our own patch a little more and having a look at Tassie’s smaller islands – first Maria, then Flinders and now with some free days up our sleeve, it was time to check out Bruny Island. The third instalment of our island trilogy beckoned.
We choofed off down south, through Hobart and down to the little hamlet of Kettering, where we had a quick, friendly and easy roll on to the ferry, that was just about to leave, for the 15 minute chug across the Channel. We rolled off on Bruny Island and hit the road towards our accommodation with “Penelope” our friendly British voiced SatNav lady, guiding us along the way.
“In four hundred metres turn left onto Bruny Island Main Road,” Penelope, with the first class navigational skills, gently directed us.
I kept my eye out for the sign and just as I saw it, Penelope chimed in again with the direction to turn, so turn we did.
“Well, you’ve gotta love that,” I said, “it’s Bruny Island Main Road and it’s gravel.” Despite Bruny being a pretty solid tourist destination, I was hoping this was a sign of things to come, that we may have found ourselves in another relatively undeveloped corner of our state, with a laid back, “take us as we are” vibe. Steve meanwhile, was just stoked to get some dirt and dust on the new Subaru.
“I get to take the Soobee off road!” came the Big Fella’s delight. Well, not exactly off road, but not asphalt and good enough to add a “this is a fair dinkum 4WD” layer of dust to the shiny bodywork.
We found our accommodation, which was a little “pod” type cottage, tucked into the bush and right near the water’s edge. A little haven of peace and tranquility and just right for us to settle in, ready for a couple of day’s exploration.
Day two gave us a magic day of sunshine and we took off to explore the island by water, with a boat tour.
“Make sure you’ve got layers, yer can’t have too many of ‘em!” said the smiling lady who gave us our tickets. I already had on three more layers than Steve, with various items of fleece and puff encasing me, but nevertheless I added an extra long layer of puff, as I squeezed myself into yet another coat and pulled on my beanie and gloves. On top of that, I donned the bright red jacket handed out to all of us, as protection against the ocean spray that would be an inevitable part of our open-boat experience. I waddled like the Michelin man, with joints that wouldn’t quite bend in their cast of layers and hopped into the small craft that would take us even further south. Well, like the lady said, you can’t have too many layers and we were heading into water where the only thing south of us was Antartica!
“We’ve got a top day for it,” one of our extremely smily, friendly and all round charming guides told us, “but we could always get a bit of swell, so we’ll be coming around with some ginger tablets, that’ll help with any queasiness.” It would only take some minor tilting and bobbing and I knew my stomach would be gone for all money, so I held out my hand, downed that pre-emptive strike and just hoped it would do the trick.
The three hour tour was fantastic. The two young fellas in charge were great, with the information that rolled off their tongue not so much rehearsed repetition, as a genuine interest and enjoyment in sharing what they knew about this special patch of Tasmania. We bobbed past soaring cliffs, “oohed” and “aahed” at the blow hole, sucking in waves of water and then shoving it out again under enormous pressure with a WOOOSH of jet spray soaring into the air. We eased our way past seal colonies, with Neil and Lucille and their multitude of family and friends sunning themselves on the rocks, sliding into the water or hauling their enormous waistlines out of the waves and back onto the rocks for another round of dozing.
Then the real magic happened. There were a couple of cries of “Look!” and pointing fingers from fellow passengers as a dorsal fin was spotted in the water. Our guide then informed us we were approaching a pod of dolphins. I heard him on the radio, talking to the other boat carrying the rest of the tour group, “No, we won’t go through, there are too many little ones.” I was pleased to hear he wanted to be careful not to upset them and told us there were little calves amongst the pod that were only about a week old.
“They love the boats though, so we’ll make some waves and give them some fun,” our engaging guide, Ben told us, as he revved the engine and headed away from the pod. He then proceeded to take the boat in a huge circle to create a wave and if we could have seen their mouths, I have no doubt those dolphins had enormous grins because they absolutely flew through the waves. They surfed and jumped and, pardon the pun, had a whale of a time! When we eventually headed off, the pod followed us, surfing the bow wave, swimming alongside the boat and generally just enjoying the entertainment the boat was providing. It was a huge pod, with dozens of dolphins and they happily cruised alongside or in front of the boat for ages. That was special.
We continued to head south, past another seal colony and enormous rock formations caused by erosion and rocks falling into the sea, creating arches and columns rising out of the water. Apparently, the tour the day before had spotted whales, but none on show for us today, so Ben turned the boat around and headed back to land. Man-o-man did the layers come in handy then. Steve even borrowed some length from my coat to wrap around his hands, because going full tilt in a little open sided boat, with freezing ocean air blowing from all sides, certainly dropped the temperature and we were feeling the chill! It was great fun though, bouncing along the waves, with the fresh ocean air and the coastline and open water for magic scenery. An absolutely top trip!
Back on land, we sat out on the deck of the restaurant where the tour left from, to have a drink and were soon joined by a local. Tasmania is certainly not short of wildlife wherever you go and a wallaby happily hopped up onto the deck, did a reccy to see if there was anything interesting about, gave us the stare for a while and then hopped back into the bush. Then a couple of little wrens jumped down onto a nearby table to peck at some crumbs left behind and then the day was complete. We’d had the full compliment of feathers, fur and fins!
Our third and final day was a day for a bit of history and exploring the southern part of the island. First stop was a visit to the historic Quarantine Station, which seemed a very fitting place to explore in our current times. It was a really interesting place to visit and I could certainly think of worse places to be quarantined, with a waterside setting and open space, trees and bush surrounding the area. It began as a maritime quarantine station from 1884-1908 and was used to quarantine crews, such as from the HMS Diamond who had 31 crew members quarantined with typhoid and then in 1897 five cases of small pox were transferred from the Nineveh to quarantine. From 1856-1902 it was home to the Cox family with their eleven children and then when war broke out in 1914 it was used to house prisoners of war until 1915. After the war, it was a quarantine station again for the outbreak of influenza in 1919. All troops returning from the war had to quarantine there too and it must have been so tough for those young men, who’d spent so long away from home, through the most horrific of experiences, to be so close to home and family again, only to have to wait a little longer. They spent a week in quarantine before being released to finally return home. Then from the 1950’s to 1986 it was used for plant quarantine, for any plants or cuttings arriving into the state, to be quarantined and checked for disease before being released for use and planting. We wandered around the site, through the original old buildings and despite the pleasant surroundings, seeing the original morgue building was a reminder of what the station had been prepared for. The only thing missing, which unfortunately is all too common in Tassie when visiting historic sites and that was information and stories about the First Nations people whose land it was. There is always lots of information about our colonial story, but a sorry absence of any explicit recognition of the pre-European societies that walked the land on the sites we visit. It was a matter of imagining how those people would have lived and used the land and water. The lack of development on this patch of the island helped us see what those communities would also have seen, those many thousands of years ago.
After our dose of quarantine history, we headed further south, crossing “The Neck”, which is the small strip of land connecting the north and south parts of Bruny Island. We stopped to walk up to the viewing platform which gave a spectacular view down the beach and across the island.
Then onward-ho and we headed off for the historic Bruny lighthouse. The scenery on the south part of the island and around the lighthouse, reminded us a lot of our visit to Mizen Head in Ireland, with the cliffs jutting out into the water and green hills. It was another top spot, with glorious views.
It had been another day of magic weather, despite being winter, with sunshine and lovely, brisk air, to cap off another spot of exploration in our own “backyard” of Tasmania.
“Do you reckon you’d cycle here?” I asked Steve.
“Too many hills,” came the speedy reply, closely followed by, “but we need to embrace the hills!” Yep, there sure were a lot of hills and corners and unsealed roads on Bruny, but that was part of the charm. That, and so much open space. As we drove around, there was just space and more space and it was nice to see such a sought after location still maintaining a degree of underdevelopment.
Maybe we’ll be back. Maybe we’ll take to two wheels again, while our options for wheeling outside our borders remain limited. Hills, shmills, we can learn to love the hills. Well, not love them exactly, but maybe just complain a little less, at least on the outside!
So, travel may have shrunk for now, but we aren’t complaining one little bit, because we’re lucky enough to live where we live and, at the moment at least, freedom to explore that special little island called Tasmania.
No travel? No worries mate, we’ve got awesome right here!