Southern Island Hopping in Australia: a Bruny Experience from The Tree House.
We had left the big island of Australia for the smaller island State of Tasmania and then left its shores for the littlest island of Bruny. Hardly little, though, for Bruny is made up of two islands stretching over 100 kilometres north to south and joined by a narrow ‘neck’ of land no more than 100 meters wide. The island is reached by car ferry.
Once we disembarked, it was a winding 30-kilometer drive to our temporary and very habitable abode – The Tree House – at Alonnah on the northwest side of South Bruny Island. The Tree House is a pole house that sits under the brow of a hill surrounded by ragged, twisted eucalyptus and the house commands a view to the Southwest, straight across the historic D’ Entrecasteaux Channel that separates Bruny from mainland Tasmania. In the distance across the channel stands the impressive 1200-meter jagged spine of the Hartz Range on the mainland, resplendent in late September snow.
From the Tree House we set out each day on sorties into the various realms of Bruny. Our first sortie was to Adventure bay, on the Northeast leeward side of the south island, a perfect ear-shaped, wide bay with an inner sheltered cove. It gave refuge to many seafarers in the past and still does today. Captain Cook, two centuries ago, weighed anchor here before setting off on his fateful journey to Hawaii where he was bludgeoned to death.
The Tree House has a generosity of spirit about it. The owners Rob and Jolanda give you a free run of the condiments and every known utensil is at hand. There is a modern kitchen, cozy lounge with sound system and TV with great reception and two double beds – with one upstairs via the unique internal wooden ‘poopdeck’ ladder. The ‘Coonarra’ wood stove gives steady warmth on brisk evenings and is well supported by ample provisions of cut wood close to hand.
Chris, the owner at the Alonnah General Store, warned us of the strong winds that can whip up around the Cape Bruny Lighthouse, but he should not have feared, we were blessed with a perfect sunny and calm day at this outpost of humanity on the island, built in 1836 by convict labour. We met an echidna on the ledge, snuffling in the grass, its spikes echoing the ragged spiky basalt stacks of the precipitous point.
Taking advantage of the calm weather we trekked the short circuit (2 to 3 hours) of the nearby Labillardiere Peninsula, named by D’Entrecasteaux in honour of the great French traveller-naturalist on board his ship during his voyage to Tasmania in search of the lost expedition of La Perouse. The peninsula offers sweeping vistas of the D’E Channel across the tops of casuarinas trees, the male trees at the time in full flourish of their long rusty flowers.
A drive to Cloudy Bay was a dramatic contrast, for here on this semi-circular bay, some kilometres wide, the sea pounds in uninhibited from Antarctica, and the forest of giant kelp that lies off-shore is stripped from its deep anchorages and churned by the relentless surf, so that the water of the bay is stained a deep wine-red color.
Like coming and going is as much fun as arriving, Bruny Island is as much about wending one’s way through the landscape as actually arriving at a specific place. On a visit to the north island we crossed the Neck and collected two-dozen fresh oysters for $6AU a dozen from ‘Get Shucked’ at Great Bay. We got a flat tyre on the road to Bull Bay. No problem – we discovered the tyre lever has other functions and used it at Barnes Bay to bash off the fringes of the oyster shells so a trusty blade could open them up to reveal their plump bodies for adding to lemon juice shooters.
At Bull Bay we get the best view across to the south arm of the Derwent and the Tasman Peninsula further east. This is the stunning view that observers of the Sydneyï¿½Hobart yacht race’s final stages get from Bruny. On late afternoon after cruising through the little coves and towns of North Bruny we return across the neck in hope of sightings the fairy penguins, but we are too early – for we see none of the little tuxedo-dressed birds.
We climb what seemed like several hundred steps and look across both sides of the narrow strip of land, the inner calm waters of Isthmus Bay in dramatic contrast with the pounding surf of Adventure Bay. It is more about the unexpected in travel that lures one on – no penguins were seen, but rather we get a sunset to rival any other as the sun appeared to struggle to get down through heavy clouds to the west. The light across the neck was that deep amber-yellow light of spring, where greens and reds glow intensely and the whole of Bruny to the south were bathed in an almost Dali-like surrealistic light. It was a symbolic moment, for our time on Bruny had almost come to an end and it turned on a farewell of magic proportions.
We are content that we had absorbed some of the soul of Bruny, but we are determined next time in a summer season to take the new eco-boat trip (starts late October) from Adventure bay, around Fluted Cape to the giant kelp forests off Mangana Bluff, and go as far south along the east coast to the Friars to view the seal colonies.
Bruny has more for us to discover. We look forward to returning to the big island on which we live, enlivened with memories of a littler island called Bruny off the coast of Tasmania, south of Hobart – keen to visit its shores again in anticipation of a mixture of both solitude and stimulation.