The Bay of Fires

As we drove off the ferry at Devonport gales from the west were lashing the west coast of Tasmania with wild waves, snow and ice.  We had experienced 5m swells and 45 knot winds on the trip across Bass Strait.  All part of Tasmania in winter.

The low terrain on the lee side of the island meant that at least the roads in that area would be open. So it was that we drove off the ferry having abandoned our plan to start our tour of Tassie with a night at Cradle Mountain and headed east instead.

With visions of east coast beaches in our minds it came as a complete surprise while meandering across the north-east of the state to suddenly find ourselves surrounded by magnificent temperate rainforest, replete with myrtles, sassafras, giant tree ferns and moss and moisture on everything.  To simply stand in such rainforest for more than a moment or two and to breathe in the silence and the moist plant-scented air is a feast for the senses and the spirit.

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Prime dairy country en route to the much drier east coast.

Bay of Fires Conservation Area

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Binalong Bay was the first north-east coast beach we saw.  The sand on my home beaches around Apollo Bay in Victoria is usually some pale shade of orange.  The beaches on the north-east coast of Tasmania are dazzling shades of white. The Bay of Fires is not a single bay but an area of coast consisting of many bays and beaches. Travelling north from Binalong beach on a dirt road, any track to the right leads to a white beach, with aquamarine water lapping its shores, and large granite boulders at the headlands defining the particular bay. Each individual beach has a given name, which sometimes coincides with the name used by locals.

We drove up the dirt road which parallels the coastal dunes going north from Binalong,  and turned down a rough track to our right which took us to the beach in the next photo. Our first glimpse of this beach as we walked clear of the scrub and low dunes was a breathtakingly beautiful sight; and it was mid-afternoon, not even sunrise or sunset. The sand was white and clean, the water was crystal clear, and the offshore wind made the inshore waters and small swell lines glassy.  The orange patches visible on the granite boulders are lichen, a common feature on all beaches in the area. We were the only people there.

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This is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.

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The air temperature was 9°C (wind chill considerably lower as the wind was stronger than it looks in the photos).  The water temperature I measured at 12°C.  It was an invigorating and exhilarating swim.  There were a few predictable currents working at this beach when I swam. The underwater visibility was excellent. I was warm in the Patagonia wetsuit (and cap, and booties).  That’s my GoPro hanging off my shoulder.



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It’s difficult to find a beach with no footprints at all. (Liz took this photo).

Dawn patrol at the Bay of Fires

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I woke before sunrise the day following my afternoon swim at the Bay of Fires. We were staying in St Helens which is about 20kms south of the beach in the photos above. Our plan for the day was to head south to the Freycinet Peninsula. But I was drawn to visit the beach again, before heading south. Rugged up, I arrived well before sunrise. The half moon was still high in the western sky. This photo was taken from the water’s edge. The wind was very cold.
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Taken from the northern end of the beach. Just over the dunes shown here was yet another beach which was similar but longer.
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A bank of cloud on the eastern horizon delayed the actual first appearance of the sun. So I had plenty of time to attempt to capture the mood of the pre-dawn twilight and solitude on this cold and beautiful beach.
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Just above the low lying rocks on the right are the lights of Binalong Bay.

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The bank of cloud on the eastern horizon which delayed the appearance of the first direct light from the sun.
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You never know what you’ll find in a rockpool.

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While the morning colours were appearing in the east, the sun was not, and I was on the verge of heading back to St Helens to examine my pre-dawn photos over breakfast. I was also getting colder by the minute.

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Any thoughts of returning to St Helens were quickly forgotten when I turned back from looking at the colourless vista of the next beach north to see this smaller beach suddenly suffused with hints of colour as the sun rose into the blue sky above the clouds. The sudden commencement of the transformation was arresting.

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In a matter of seconds, the hints of colour were turned right up to full colour and brightness. I think the extended period I spent surveying this beach from every angle in the gloom between first light and sunrise had conditioned me to subconsciously accept the dull lighting as all this day had to offer. I knew sunrise would brighten everything, but the rapidity and vividness with which it occurred was a wonderful thing to see.
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The brilliant result of a transformation which occurred in less than a minute.  Full colour.

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The beach immediately to the north of the beach at which I swam.
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Footprints of a hooded plover in the salt-white sand and the early morning light.
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The hooded plover. Said to be in danger of extinction in some areas. But they appeared to be plentiful in the Bay of Fires, as they are on the beaches around Apollo Bay.
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Silver gull.
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Pied oyster catcher.
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Pied oyster catcher. The brightness of the beak and leg colours vary with the age of the bird.
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The silver gulls were behaving as if they had some proprietorial right over the beach which was being transgressed by the mere presence of the pied oyster catchers.
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The pied oyster catchers seemed bemused, but otherwise unaffected by the rowdy song and dance of the sea gulls.
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The silver gulls ramped up their protest with this quartet performance. There was no tune, no harmony, and a lot of noise. But the pied oyster catchers simply watched on, and continued their feeding rituals.
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So the silver gulls brought out the big guns. But even direct aerial attack didn’t seem to be anywhere near the threshold of concern for the placid pied oyster catchers, who simply called the bluff and went on undisturbed.
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A truce of sorts was eventually tacitly declared, and as it turned out, there was enough beach and food for all.
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These birds were resting in a wind that was very strong and cold, even at sand level. The ruffled feathers on the back of their heads shows the wind direction. They both turned their heads facing nearly backwards, and  tucked their beaks under the feathers. Whether this kept them any warmer or not I don’t know.  At the very least it would’ve kept the sand from blowing into their eyes.

Freycinet National Park (between Bicheno & Coles Bay)

Not far south from St Helens is the spectacular Freycinet National Park.  Having spent some time in this area on a previous trip we planned to bypass it on our way south to Cockle Creek. But we couldn’t resist a diversion to call in at one of the long beaches in the northern part of the National Park.

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The silver gull is a beautiful bird, especially when in flight and backlit by the afternoon sun. (Photographed over the shore break at the Friendly Beaches, Freycinet National Park).
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The mountains of the Freycinet Peninsula near Coles Bay are on the horizon. Typical beach vista in this area.
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There was more swell about than appeared at first glance.
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Not all of the coast boasts brilliant white beaches. These granite cliffs plunging straight into the ocean are common along the east coast of the Freycinet Peninsula,
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The swell responds to the sand bars, channels and varying depths of the seabed as it rolls, white manes flying, towards the shore. I decided against a solo swim here as there was quite a bit of water moving around.

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A sandbar a little way off-shore produced this reliable right hand break.
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Sooty oyster catcher (photographed on a beach reef in the Freycinet National Park).
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The Australasian gannet (photographed above the wave zone on a beach in the Freycinet National Park). A bird perfectly adapted for flying and gliding with great efficiency, as well as for diving at high speed into the sea to catch fish. They fold their wings back to dive from heights of 15m or so, and typically dive to depths of around 20m. They can also dive effectively from much lower heights. Their eyesight is specially adapted for the underwater phase of their hunting. They only stay underwater for around 10 seconds but will generally swallow the fish before surfacing. An Australasian gannet can fly in excess of 500km in a day seeking food, at speeds in the range 35-40 knots. I admire the capabilities of this bird.

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The Australasian Gannet in its element, gliding effortlessly above the coastal waters of the Freycinet Peninsula.





11 thoughts on “The Bay of Fires

    1. Thanks Joe.

      Apart from the usual attractions, we have enjoyed the wild weather this week. The roaring forties certainly show no mercy in this part of the world.

      It’s a pleasure to share my photos.



  1. You have captured the sheer beauty and magnificence of this island in your stunning photos John, thank you for sharing them…Tassie is one of our very favourite places x


  2. Hi John, Whilst I enjoyed the shots of all the birds the Gannet is one of my favourite birds. What an amazing design it is.  Almost but not quite matched by one of those gliders you used to fly many moons ago. But only one swim thus far – I am surprised at you John. Pristine beaches, off shore winds, no one around (except Liz of course)! All the best for the remainder of your time there. Cheers, Richard 


    1. Only one swim posted on the blog so far Richard….. stay tuned.
      I certainly share your admiration of the gannet. What a range of skills for one bird, above and below the water. It flies with remarkable efficiency and elegance high and low, always with perfect control. This feature, among others, separates it from the gliders in which I have taken to the air.


  3. Hi John,
    We didn’t know you and Liz were in Tasmania. This is one of my favourite areas of Tasmania – I visited Freycinet last in 2011 although ended up hobbling out from the walk after trying to walk too far and too quickly. We are loving your shots of the beaches and of the birds – it really brings you close to the natural beauty of the place. Nicky (and Pete)


    1. Hi Nicky and Pete, yes, with so much natural beauty on offer in Freycinet it’s easy to over-reach with the hike planning. Pleased to hear you are enjoying the snaps of the beaches and birds. Hope your travels are going well, Cheers, John


  4. John, what joy there is in discovering native birds “away from home”. The oyster catchers possess remarkable “utensils” and thus are perfectly named and adapted. I do remember eating an unseemly quantity of oysters on my first trip to Coles Bay.

    Thanks for transporting us with your pictures and words to these glorious, solitary reaches of our continent.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes indeed. The Australasian Gannet was a real find for me. I hadn’t even heard of it. The more I read about it the more its ranking improved on my list favourite birds. I’m pleased my photos have conveyed something of the solitude and beauty of the remote spots we were privileged to visit Hunto.


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