Wilderness and wildlife on south Bruny Island
Somewhere in the forest of Bruny Island, birdsong floats through the morning air. I listen intently, picking out each bird’s distinct call from the relative warmth of my down sleeping bag. There’s a sudden commotion to the left, a band of strong-billed honeyeaters feasting on a blue gum, volleying shrieks and squawks back and forth as they tear strips of bark from the trunk in search of food. As I exit the tent a familiar thud resonates. The sound betrays its maker, suggesting an animal much larger than the small grey frame of a Bennett’s wallaby hopping off into the forest. It’s eerily still, as if the land is yet to wake from its deep slumber. Fog sits heavy in the gully below, while dense clusters of native pepper trees poke their tops above the mist.
The cabin’s Huon pine doors creak slightly as I slide them open, trying to make as little sound as possible. Once inside, there’s a familiar whoosh as I ignite the gas stovetop. Placing the heavy blue kettle on the flame, I pour a generous amount of coffee into the plunger – my fellow guide, Rob, verges on subhuman until he’s downed at least one cup of the caffeinated liquid. During the warmer six months of the year we take groups of people across this island and also to the Bay of Fires.
It’s March, the best time of year on “the block”, the little parcel of land nestled in native forest on South Bruny Island. It’s not just for the stable weather and mild temperatures it delivers: at this time of year, we can often sneak 15 minutes to ourselves with a coffee and watch while the ridges to our west are illuminated as the sun rises over Mount Mangana, Bruny’s highest peak.
As the furthest ridge changes from a deep green to a vibrant orange I plonk myself on the edge of the deck next to Rob, my feet dangling over the juvenile dogwood trees below. A few minutes later, the second ridge is bathed in the same glow. In 10 minutes the giant eucalypts at the bottom of the gully – some of the biggest on the island – are basking in morning light. I close my eyes as the steam from my coffee mug slowly rises. This is, without doubt, the most magical time of day in a world beyond the reach of mobile phones and wireless internet.
Suddenly a flock of boisterous yellow-tailed black cockatoos pass lazily overhead, taking up shop in one of the massive stringybarks at the top of “the block”. Screeching at each other, the mob is totally oblivious to the disruption they have caused. “Well,” I mutter to Rob, smirking, “if the guests weren’t awake before, they certainly are now.”
A week later at the other end of Tasmania, the dark blue of my pack paints a stark contrast to a mosaic of pink feldspar, black mica and white quartz in the granite where I’ve propped it. I unclip the buckles and reach in for the beaten-up Trangia stove, a resilient veteran of many battles that continues its fight against being decommissioned. Once the water’s on for tea, I strip down to my shorts. We have just entered the Bay of Fires proper in the north-east of Tasmania and have decided on a lunch spot on the beach near the Eddystone Point Lighthouse, a striking granite tower built in 1889 to prevent ships from crashing into the treacherous landmark of George Rocks a kilometre offshore. Today our lunch spot is on the leeward side of the point, a fact confirmed by the few small abalone boats anchored slightly further out. An offshore breeze floats over the blue water as waves trickle in across shimmering white sand. I rouse our guests into action, tempting them into a refreshing swim after a solid morning’s walk. “Now remember, everyone,” I say. “It ain’t a swim in Tassie unless you put your head under three times.”
I manage to persuade two of the 10 walkers I’m with – a reasonable effort. As I make a beeline for the water I’m suddenly mesmerised by a flash of white in the sky to the north. The vague outline of a white-bellied sea eagle comes into view, its motionless wings allowing the majestic bird of prey to soar effortlessly across the sky at a 45-degree angle to the wind. We lock eyes for a second – a subtle reminder that this is her territory, not mine – before the bird tracks south towards Ansons Bay. Awoken from a trance by the crashing of larger waves I hurtle into the salty water. It is fresh – to say the least – but it’s a welcome shock for an ocean child such as myself. One thing’s for sure: I can’t think of many places I’d rather have my lunchbreak.
Back at East Cloudy Head – the southern tip of Bruny Island – the weather has failed to live up to its name and we are gifted with a clarity only a day at 42 degrees south can deliver. The panorama from our vantage point encompasses the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the rugged South Coast Range, Mount Wellington in the distance to the north, and thousands of kilometres of endless sea to the south. The black waters of the Southern Ocean bash the sturdy columns of Jurassic-aged dolerite hundreds of metres below, while well-travelled swells bend and refract as they enter the shelter of Cloudy Bay. Rob points towards that dark expanse of ocean, smiling at the guests. “Next stop: Antarctica.”
In the van that afternoon, Rob cracks another lame joke as we make a minor detour on the return to camp. First stop is the self-serve “Bootique” apple shop just outside the small township of Lunawanna. The shopfront consists of the back end of an old red sedan protruding from the side of a farmhouse shed. I lift the boot to be greeted by an array of apple varieties and fresh local apple juice. It’s the juice I’m after for tomorrow’s breakfast, and I drop a fiver into the honesty tin before closing the boot and jumping back in the van. Our diversion continues, as we don’t yet have the star of tonight’s show: the 16-hour slow-cooked pork.
As we pull into Ross the pig farmer’s place we’re greeted by a dancing ensemble of children, some of whom are wearing pink tutus. Every visit to Ross’s place to pick up dinner is one to remember. Ross’s wife, Emma, greets us jovially, inquiring as to our group’s numbers before heading back into their rustic kitchen to grab what’s needed: today we’ve got “Rossages”, pork rillette and, of course, a big hunk of pork to slow cook on the barbecue. The door of the van slams shut as the dancing ensemble migrates to the trampoline, while young pigs jostle in the nearby paddock.
I pour some pinot noir into a guest’s glass. The barbecue sizzles as Rob adds the finishing touches to Ross’s pork. The cabin’s doors are wide open now. Our guests contemplate those same ridges Rob and I had been captivated by 12 hours earlier. A pair of wedge-tailed eagles circles the sky. One of our hikers looks out at the landscape through which we’ve been trekking. “I could get used to this.”
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 3, 2016 as "Bruny tunes". Subscribe here.