Saturday 10 November 2012


[Blue gum blossom on the shores of Fortescue Bay, Tasmania]

Australians are a famously coastal people. 85% of us live within 50km of the ocean. We’re also notoriously irreverent. So when our national anthem celebrates our land being “girt by sea”, we’re more inclined to take the piss than hold our hands on our hearts.  The 1970s comedy The Aunty Jack Show, for instance, had a spoof anthem for the coastal city of Wollongong, rejoicing that it was “girt by sea on one side”.

I’m not sure that Germans have quite the same sense of the ridiculous, but I do love it that they have a single word for “girt by sea”, namely “meerumschlungen” (literally “sea-embraced”). It's a beautifully logical, Meccano-esque language. Need another word? Just bolt it on! I dare say that if I were to find myself surrounded by cheese, I could be "kaeseumschlungen".

Ambulatory rhythms have a way freeing the mind to play. That at least may explain my mind wandering into this linguistic territory during a walk out to Cape Hauy on the Tasman Peninsula. It is a classic coastal track that I had somehow missed in my thirty plus years of bushwalking in Tasmania. With a new, much-publicised track to the cape, and the Show Weekend weather finally turning friendly, it was time to try it.

[On the new track, looking towards Cape Hauy] 

The track first. While it has not yet settled into its environment, I must say there is a kind of Teutonic logic – not to mention beauty – to the new track. Close up the stonework is precise and artful, more Lego than Meccano, though in weathered earth tones rather than primary colours. And it looks ready to last the next millenium. Some re-routing has been done to avoid the steepest slopes and the boggiest sections, such that “dry boot standard” might almost be true of the 4.7km track.

But the walk is quickly about so much more than the track. We are very soon umschlungen, if not quite girt, by sea and wind; wildflowers and wings. To our left is Fortescue Bay, a wide, deep blue embayment, white-capped in the keen wind. And as we climb above the bay we are soon surrounded by wildflowers: boronia, banksia, pultenaea and pimelia, among others, all close to full bloom.

[Lemon boronia blossom along the track] 

The assault on the senses increases as we pass the track’s high point. From it Cape Hauy comes into view, looming straight ahead as a series of massive, slanted dolerite bluffs backed by the Tasman Sea. To our right is the next cape south: the prodigious Cape Pillar, with the mass of Tasman Island disguised behind it.

[On the track, with Cape Pillar behind] 

The whole coastline has the feel of a disputed frontier. Some think it may mark a torn edge of the former landmass of Gondwana. Indisputably its huge dolerite cliffs are the result of the igneous upwellings that occurred in the Jurassic (around 170 million year ago), and ructions that continued into the Cretaceous (around 85 mya), as Gondwana slowly broke into separate land masses.

I imagine the slow wrestle that led to this dolerite staying here when it could just as easily have “sailed off” to Antarctica, where matching dolerite is found today. As we near the final bluff, the wind and wuthering continue, like an echo of that struggle. Waves carry on the argument, pounding and foaming at the base of the vertiginous cliffs.

[Dolerite cliffs near Cape Hauy] 
But further out masses of short-tailed shearwaters, dark and low to the sea; and a few isolated gannets, broad-winged and angel white, move over the waters like more peaceful spirits. We walk into the lee of a bluff, and the wind drops, allowing us a quiet lunch with a priceless view. We’re as glad as we would be reaching any mountain summit, perhaps gladder. Few summits are quite as girt as this.


Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

As an ex-Taswegian, it's lovely to revisit via your blog!

Nature Scribe said...

Lovely to have you visit Rosemary. And Tassie is still as beautiful as ever.