Friday, May 1, 2015

A Quick Visit (By Kayak) To Bruny Island

Planning The Trip:

Doug, who makes a habit (almost a vocation) of studying weather charts identified one more weather window approaching that would give us a few days to paddle out to Bruny Island, one of Tasmania's isthmus islands that lies off the far southeast coast if we were prepared to yet again cross the entire length of Tasmania to capitalise on a decreasing swell, light winds, and little chance of rain. Bruny Island is about 55 km long, but only 15 km wide, and, like all these east coast islands, the really interesting paddling is on the exposed eastern side not the protected western side. 

Southport Beach launch site

The best trip, which has been done in one push, is a complete circumnavigation launching from Tinderbox Bay on the mainland, a distance of roughly 200 km. As we are strictly average paddlers, we could expect such a trip to take us a week, providing we had conditions favourable to paddling every day. We had exactly one week until we were due at a house-sit north of Hobart, and, we were a full days drive from the launch site so a full circuit of the island was not really possible. 

We tossed around various other options, the most promising of which, at least initially, seemed to be launching from Middleton and paddling into Isthmus Bay, hauling our boats across the Isthmus, relaunching on the eastern side of the island and paddling down to a camp somewhere near Grass Point. We could then, our reasoning went, circumnavigate the southern half of the island, and, if we were lucky, we could get the whole trip done in four days. 

 Southport Island in the distance behind Doug

This all sounded fairly reasonable. We would have two long stretches (36 km and 26 km) around the exposed cliffs and headlands on the south and eastern sides of the island where landing would not be possible, but we had done similar days around both Maria Island and Freycinet Peninsula. The only problem was in order to paddle these exposed sections with light winds we would have to start paddling while the swell was running at a forecast four to six metres If we waited for the swell to decrease we would miss the period of calm winds; and herein lies one of the essential difficulties of sea kayaking, whether you are out for a day, a week or a year, you can almost never line up wind direction, local and tidal currents, your direction of travel, and available landing sites to have entirely favourable conditions. Up until the night before, we were still prepared to give our first plan a try, but then we realised that we would likely not be able to get off the beach at Adventure Bay with a four to six metre swell running. 

More studying of weather forecasts and charts, more plotting over our maps, and we finally came up with a new plan and, while not really our first choice (circling the island completely) we had concocted a trip that we had a very good chance of being able to complete, no matter what the weather conditions. 

Launching off Butlers Beach

Our first plan really suffered from too many unknowns, a couple of which were deal breakers - with large swells running would we be able to launch from the Isthmus and would we be able to land at Cloudy Bay? Finding out we couldn't do the former was a lot less committing than finding out we couldn't do the latter as we would have to turn around and paddle 36 km back north along the exposed coast a second time. I've never paddled 70 km in a day, and frankly, testing one self on the wild east coast of Tasmania in the chill of early autumn did not seem all that sensible. As usual, it was the uncertainty of the trip, rather than the technical difficulty which seemed hard to deal with. If we had more time in hand, I would have considered taking the vehicle ferry out to Bruny Island and driving around (very painful for someone who abhors driving) to check out all the key sticking points on our first plan, but, we just did not have the time for that. 

Our new plan was quite relaxed and, perhaps fitting as we were both beginning to feel somewhat weary from so many adventurous trips crammed into a short period of time. Launching from Southport, we would cross to Bruny Island and camp near the northern tip of Labillardiere Peninsula. One day, we would walk the Labillardiere Peninsula Circuit track and the next we would paddle down to Cape Bruny. On the fourth day, the last day with a solid weather forecast, we would paddle back to Southport. Wind and rain were forecast to begin the day after. 

 Calm morning in D'Entrecasteaux Channel

Southport to Butlers Beach (Bruny Island) And Around Partridge Island

Southport is virtually deserted outside of summer, most of the houses are second homes and only about one in ten seemed to be occupied. There is, however, a pleasant sheltered beach right at the end of Highway A6 and on a sunny but cold (4 degrees Celsius) morning we launched the kayaks and paddled out of Southport Harbour. We paddled east to Rossel Point and Stack of Bricks which was breaking in the rolling swell. There are short cliffs along the coast to Burnett Point where we left the shore-line and paddled across D'Entrecasteaux Channel towards the Labillardiere Peninsula. There was supposed to be a west wind but it felt quite northerly across the Channel. 

 Doug at the entrance to Southport Harbour near Stack of Bricks

Once through Partridge Channel the water was calm and we paddled along Butlers Beach looking for a campsite. Nothing really good presented itself so we paddled back to Partridge Island and had a look for a campsite on the southern end. There was a rough spot available, but we did not like that either and as we had plenty of time and would be staying at the same camp for three nights we felt justified in poking about to find the best site. Before heading back to the Peninsula to look further for a campsite we decided to paddle around Partridge Island. There is a dilapidated jetty at the northern end (east side) of the island and with some difficulty we went ashore. At some point in time there was an old building (likely an old farmhouse) but only a cement pad remains and blackberry bushes seem to have reclaimed most of the island. We gobbled up all the available ripe blackberries that were easily accessible and then finished our tour round the island. The northerly wind had switched to southerly and the seas were piling up on the west side of the island steeply enough to break a few waves over us and drench our torsos. 

 In D'Entrecasteaux Channel

Now that the wind had switched direction, Butlers Beach was fairly sheltered and we found a little site at the top of the beach that was sheltered from all but northerly winds and made camp. Later, I found what I consider (Doug disagrees) a better campsite (on grass not sand) at the far southern end of Hopwood Beach. It too was sheltered from all but true northerly winds.
We had been expecting very cold nights but the sky clouded up early and it was actually reasonably warm overnight. The only trouble we had was with a possum who came by and rustled around our water bottles. 

 Lighthouse Jetty Beach

Labillardiere Peninsula Circuit Track

All we had planned for the day was a walk along the track that traces the coastline of Labillardiere Peninsula so we were able to have a bit of a lazy morning (not packing up camp was a treat) before we wandered off. This circuit walk is around 16 km long and very easy as there are really no hills at all. There is a pretty little beach at the south end of Taylors Bay and a vehicle accessible campground. On the eastern side of the peninsula, where the coastline is more rugged, the track is mostly away from the coast so views are not as good as you might hope. It is possible, however to see down to Courts Island near Cape Bruny and near Hen and Chicken Rocks, the track runs very close to the rocky shore-line before climbing past the top of Mount Bleak. 

 Light show

I had thought about walking out to the lighthouse at Cape Bruny (in case we did not make it in the kayaks the next day) but I was so fatigued all day I could barely drag myself around the loop walk and adding a further eight kilometres, all of it on sealed road, was not appealing. I blamed my extreme lethargy on lack of salt as I eat a low carbohydrate (almost ketogenic) diet which requires a higher salt intake and I had neglected to bring salt on the trip. That night I poured a pile of salty stock granules on top of my dinner - it tasted awful, but I felt infinitely better the next day. 

 Coastline near Hen and Chicken Rocks

The early part of the night was fraught with possum attacks as one big fat old fellow with a heavily scarred visage decided he really wanted bacon, eggs and cheese (stored in a fridge bag in the front compartment of my kayak) and he spent considerable time standing on my hatch cover pounding away at the plastic. My attempts to dissuade him from destroying my front hatch were loud but largely ineffectual. Eventually, Doug, the real possum hunter (I am more of a possum whisperer) went out and chased him into the ocean. This seemed to be a sufficient deterrent and we did not see or hear him again that night. 

 Landing site near Courts Island

Courts Island

As predicted, the wind next day was light and the swell had fallen to less than 1.5 metres; apart from the somewhat gloomy skies, conditions were perfect for paddling the length of the Labillardiere Peninsula. The only issue I had on this 26 km return trip was the lack of landing sites for bladder breaks. But, characteristically, I was not worried enough to go without my morning half litre of coffee. 

Pineapple Rocks came into view as we rounded Hopwood Point. These scattered rocky islets and the jagged coastline nearby really do resemble pineapples as they are sharp, pointed and also home to many sea birds, including large sea eagles. We were able to paddle close by, weaving our way between the shore-line and the islets, in one case through a passage not much more than a paddle width wide. Further south, we passed Hen and Chicken Rocks (no resemblance as far as I could tell). Standaway Bay has a rocky rugged coastline with many sea caves in the dark cliffs. Just past Elephant Rock we passed Quiet Bay which did not seem all that quiet with the sucking surge. Courts Island at all but high tide is joined to the mainland by a rocky isthmus and ducking behind some small rocky islets we were able to land (plastic boats only) on the bouldery shoreline. 

 Courts Island and Cape Bruny

I admit I looked longingly towards Cape Bruny, less than half a kilometre away. A part of me was still wishing we had attempted to circle the island completely, or at least the southern half of the island. Sometimes, it can be so clear that you have made the right choice, but, more often than not, you can never tell even with hindsight. T. S. Elliot wrote "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." Which sounds very romantic but if the consequence is death or serious injury, how many of us truly want to find out how far we can go? 

Doug was convinced that his possum hazing the night before would keep the marauders at bay, while I was just a wee bit sceptical. Apart from one lanky possum I met while strolling down the beach after dark, we were unmolested by nocturnal visitors. 

 Partridge Island

Return to Southport Harbour

This was our last multi-day kayak trip before our house-sit and it was a bit sad to pack up the next day to head back to the real world. We stretched the paddle back out by sauntering up the west side of Partridge Island, followed by a traveling seal, then crossing over to the mainland near Tower Bay and slowly paddling down the coast, past short rocky cliffs, headlands and rocks to Southport Harbour. 

 Butlers Beach sunset

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