We’re on the Arthur Highway from Hobart to Port Arthur. What a grand aventure is ahead!
The first stop along the way is Dunalley, a quiet fishing hamlet. Imlay Street on the left near the school takes you to the Abel Tasman monument, recording the explorer’s carpenter’s planting of his nation’s flag across the bay on 3 December 1642 and claiming this land for the Netherlands. A claim which, of course, the English ignored. But the land Tasman claimed was a small island he thought was part of the mainland.
The lively history of Dunalley is presented in a shelter in the town park by the Denison Canal. This canal was gouged over three years from 1902 as a safer and shorter route for boats going between the East Coast and Norfolk Bay rather than going around the Tasman Peninsula. A pioneer Irish named the town after Baron Dunalley in 1838.
From Dunalley we continue on Arthur Highway and 20km later, at the top of a rise, we turn left on to Pirates Bay Drive for a marvellous view of the Tasman Sea, Pirates Bay and Eaglehawk Neck from the Seacliff Coast Lookout.
Little bears are most distressed that they are not dressed appropriately for Pirates Bay. How can they pose for photos when they are not wearing their pirate costumes?!? Well, they can’t!
So from the Seacliff Coast Lookout we continue on Pirates Bay Drive to access the Tessellated Pavement – a naturally occurring intertidal rock platform formed by unusual geological conditions resulting in a rare, tiled rock formation.
In geology and geomorphology, a tessellated pavement is a relatively flat rock surface that is subdivided into more or less regular rectangles, blocks approaching rectangles, or irregular or regular polygons by fractures, frequently systematic joints, within the rock. This type of rock pavement bears this name because it is fractured into polygonal blocks that resemble tiles of a mosaic floor, or tessellations.
The Tessellated Pavement on the shores of Pirates Bay is the most well known example of a tessellated pavement and consists of a marine platform. This example consists of two types of formations: a pan formation and a loaf formation.
The pan formation is a series of concave depressions in the rock that typically forms beyond the edge of the seashore. This part of the pavement dries out more at low tide than the portion abutting the seashore, allowing salt crystals to develop further; the surface of the “pans” therefore erodes more quickly than the joints, resulting in increasing concavity.
The loaf formations occur on the parts of the pavement closer to the seashore, which are immersed in water for longer periods of time. These parts of the pavement do not dry out so much, reducing the level of salt crystallisation. Water, carrying abrasive sand, is typically channelled through the joints, causing them to erode faster than the rest of the pavement, leaving loaf-like structures protruding.
A little south along Arthur Highway, we reach a narrow isthmus connecting the Tasman Peninsula to mainland Tasmania, the once notorious Eaglehawk Neck.
Locally known as the Neck, the isthmus itself is around 400 metres long and under 30 metres wide at its narrowest point. It forms a natural gateway to the peninsula. Eaglehawk Neck itself is a tie bar made of sand carried by currents and waves from the floors of Pirates Bay to the east and Norfolk Bay to the west.
Governor Arthur chose the peninsula for his main penal settlement because it was an isolated virtual island with handy access by sea from Hobart. Convicts were told the waters around here were thick with sharks, ready to eat escapers who tried to swim to freedom. So their only land passage to liberty was by Eaglehawk Neck. To discourage this, a row of kennels was installed from the seashore, across the isthmus and extending on anchored floats well into Eaglehawk Neck Bay to the west. At every kennel was a fierce dog. They were on chains just short enough to prevent the hounds fighting one another. Day and night nearby were soldiers with muskets.
An enterprising convict named William Cripps was sentenced to the lash for selling on the black market flour he stole from ingredients he cooked. So he took off from Port Arthur, evaded his hunters and, one night, arrived at the Neck’s dreaded dog line.
Cripps walked up to the canine cordon to be greeted by an array of wagging tails. The dogs knew and liked him. For William was a former Eaglehawk dog handler. He let two dogs loose. They followed him past the soldiers’ shed and into the forest to the north.
The dogs helped him do quite nicely on the loose for 18 months catching and trapping forester kangaroos and wallabies. He built a hut of bark. Now and then Cripps sneaked back past the friendly dog line to Port Arthur to steal food including more flour for baking bread. He was caught by chance by a soldier who also happened to be the stolen dogs’ owner. The Imperial Government auctioned 1800 bundled kangaroo and wallaby skins found at Cripps’ hut while the errant cook copped 100 lashes. He might have gone to Norfold Island, but William Cripps saw out his days a free man in Hobart. A prominent and multi-generational family of bakers in Hobart today is called Cripps but there is no proven connection to William Cripps.
Beyond Eaglehawk Neck, along Blowhole Road, another deviation to the left from Arthur Highway,are more striking geological natural formations, the Blowhole, Tasman Arch and the Devil’s Kitchen, and a quirky little place, the holiday village of Doo Town.
Doo Town was established in the 1830s as an unnamed timber station which eventually developed into a shack community. In 1935 a Hobart architect, Eric Round, placed the name plate Doo I 99 on his weekend shack. A neighbor, Charles Gibson, responded with a plate reading Doo Me then Bill Eldrige with Doo Us. Eric Round later renamed his shack Xanadoo.
The trend caught on and most of the homes have a plate that includes the name Doo. There is also a Gunadoo, Doodle Doo, Love Me Doo, Doo Nix, Wee Doo, Rum Doo and, of course, Doo Little.
The Tasman Blowhole is an unusual rock formation carved by the sea through the sheer rock face of the eastern coast of the Peninsula and creating a tunnel through which the force of the sea causes periodic ruptures of the water which can spurt to 10 metres high.
It is best seen at high tide, but is attractive at any time.
In the Blowhole carpark you will find the Doo-Lishus seafood van that sells, among other things, the Fisherman’s Special. Filled with chips then stacked with fish pieces, calamari rings, scallop bites and a wedge of lemon, this is heaven in a paper cone. The seafood is not battered but crumbed, making it light and non-greasy – thanks also to the use of cholesterol-free rice bran cooking oil. Ice-cream, hot dogs, oysters and crayfish also tempt you from the Doo-lishus menu.
Just a short drive from the Blowhole is the Tasman Arch. It is a natural arch which is really a greatly enlarged tunnel running from the coast along a zone of closely spaced cracks and extending inland to a second zone perpendicular to the first. The roof at the landward end of the tunnel has collapsed but the hole is too large and the sides are too high to form a blowhole. The tunnel was produced by wave action.
Transformation by waves is a fate shared by the Devil’s Kitchen. This geological formation sports a lookout point a little further down the road, and shows what happens when a tunnel roof collapses into the sea. With the roof now gone, you can see how the water has shaped and enlarged the original sea cave into a huge chasm, complete with new tunnels forming. The information board tells us that this is “one of several such coastal landforms in the Tasman National Park that have developed in the Permian-age siltstone.” If Tasman Arch collapsed, it would lead to the creation of a landform like the Devil’s Kitchen.
The rocks in which the Blowhole, Tasman’s Arch and the Devils Kitchen occur are permian in age (about 250 million years old) and were deposited as silt and sand on the floor of a shallow sea. It is probably that ice floated on the surface. Most of the pebbles from the ice were dropped as it melted.
Couldn’t leave this wonderland of geological formations along Pirates Bay without a photo of the bears’ visit. Pirate costumes notwithstanding, it was a very, very windy day and a bit dangerous for little bears.
Back on Arthur Highway, 9km south besides pretty Norfolk Bay, is the old settlement of Taranna.
Australia’s very first railway run from here in 1837. It carried non-convict passengers, stores and even coal for about 7km to and from Port Arthur penal stations on wooden tracks. Most of the arriving cargo came on ships from Hobart which tied up in the sheltered bay at Taranna. And why use valuable horses or oxen to propel the wooden railway’s box cars when there was such a supply of convicts? After all, the wretches had become used to being shackled like beasts of burden to plough furrows on new fields on the peninsula. Four running convicts pushed each box car. At least they could jump on board to ride down hills.
At Taranna, you can get up close to wildlife and local flora at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park.
Isabelle and Feep were particularly thrilled at the prospect of a devilish experience 🙂
Wake up little devil, it’s play time!
Who’s disturbing my daytime slumber?
Four little bears and a Feep!
You want to play? Catch me if you can!
Feep, it’s a good thing you learned to eat cake, the scraps Neville is eating don’t look appealing at all!
Tasmanian devils have a notoriously cantankerous disposition and will fly into a maniacal rage when threatened by a predator, fighting for a mate, or defending a meal. Early European settlers dubbed it a “devil” after witnessing such displays, which include teeth-baring, lunging, and an array of spine-chilling guttural growls. Feep has been suitably retrained by Isabelle 🙂
These famously feisty mammals have a coat of coarse brown or black fur and a stocky profile that gives them the appearance of a baby bear! Most have a white stripe or patch on their chest and light spots on their sides or rear end. They have long front legs and shorter rear legs.
The Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, reaching 76 centimeters in length and weighing up to 12 kilograms, although its size will vary widely depending on its specific range and the availability of food. Its oversize head houses sharp teeth and strong, muscular jaws that can deliver, pound for pound, one of the most powerful bites of any mammal.
Tasmanian devils are strictly carnivorous, surviving on small prey such as snakes, birds, fish, and insects and frequently feasting communally on carrion. They are at their most rowdy when jockeying for position on a large carcass. Like other marsupials, when they are well fed, their tails swell with stored fat.
Devils are solitary and nocturnal, spending their days alone in hollow logs, caves, or burrows, and emerging at night to feed. They use their long whiskers and excellent sense of smell and sight to avoid predators and locate prey and carrion. They’ll eat pretty much anything they can get their teeth on, and when they do find food, they are voracious, consuming everything—including hair, organs, and bones.
Mothers give birth after about three weeks of pregnancy to 20 or 30 very tiny young. These raisin-size babies crawl up the mother’s fur and into her pouch. However, the mother has only four nipples, so only four babies survive. Infants emerge after about four months and are generally weaned by the sixth month and on their own by the eighth. Tasmanian devils live five to eight years.
Once abundant throughout Australia Tasmanian devils are now indigenous only to Tasmania. Their Tasmanian range encompasses the entire island, although they are partial to coastal scrublands and forests. Biologists speculate that their extinction on the mainland is attributable to the introduction of dingoes.
Efforts in the late 1800s to eradicate Tasmanian devils, which farmers erroneously believed were killing livestock (although they were known to take poultry), were nearly successful. In 1941, the government made devils a protected species, and their numbers have grown steadily since.
Tragically, though, a catastrophic illness discovered in the mid-1990s has killed tens of thousands of Tasmanian devils. Called devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), this rapidly spreading condition is a rare contagious cancer that causes large lumps to form around the animal’s mouth and head, making it hard for it to eat. The animal eventually starves to death. Animal health experts are sequestering populations where the disease has not yet appeared and are focusing on captive breeding programs to save the species from extinction. Because of the outbreak, the Australian government has listed Tasmanian devils as vulnerable.
Established in 1978, Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park is committed to the conservation of the Tasmanian devil. The isolation of Tasman peninsula from the Tasmanian mainland, where DFTD is running unchecked and has killed more than half of all devils, is ideal for maintaining a healthy wild Tasmanian Devil population in a project that involves the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park and government and university scientists.
On our way again, next stop, Port Arthur Historic Site, Australia’s most intact and evocative convict site…
…and the topic of our next story.