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.

John Langmead_untitled_3262_20190819_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3256_20190819_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3268_20190819_Online
Prime dairy country en route to the much drier east coast.

Bay of Fires Conservation Area

John Langmead_untitled_3274_20190819_Online
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.

John Langmead_untitled_3297_20190819_Online
This is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.

John Langmead_untitled_3287_20190819_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3292_20190819_Online
Liz
John Langmead_untitled_3305_20190819_Online
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.

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

John Langmead_untitled_3310_20190819_Online
It’s difficult to find a beach with no footprints at all. (Liz took this photo).

Dawn patrol at the Bay of Fires

John Langmead_untitled_3337_20190820_Online
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.
John Langmead_untitled_3343_20190820_Online
Taken from the northern end of the beach. Just over the dunes shown here was yet another beach which was similar but longer.
John Langmead_untitled_3351_20190820_Online
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.
John Langmead_untitled_3334_20190820_Online
Just above the low lying rocks on the right are the lights of Binalong Bay.

John Langmead_untitled_3344_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3352_20190820_Online
The bank of cloud on the eastern horizon which delayed the appearance of the first direct light from the sun.
John Langmead_untitled_8624_20190820_Online
You never know what you’ll find in a rockpool.

John Langmead_untitled_8630_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_8631_20190820_Online
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.

John Langmead_untitled_8617_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_8616_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3364_20190820_Online
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.

John Langmead_untitled_8655_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3366_20190820_Online
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.
John Langmead_untitled_3375_20190820_Online
The brilliant result of a transformation which occurred in less than a minute.  Full colour.

John Langmead_untitled_8660_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3403_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3409_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3384_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3370_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3373_20190820_Online
The beach immediately to the north of the beach at which I swam.
John Langmead_untitled_3380_20190820_Online
Footprints of a hooded plover in the salt-white sand and the early morning light.
John Langmead_untitled_3514_20190820_Online
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.
John Langmead_untitled_3423_20190820_Online
Silver gull.
John Langmead_untitled_3598_20190820_Online
Pied oyster catcher.
John Langmead_untitled_3573_20190820_Online
Pied oyster catcher. The brightness of the beak and leg colours vary with the age of the bird.
John Langmead_untitled_3605_20190820_Online
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.
John Langmead_untitled_3580_20190820_Online
The pied oyster catchers seemed bemused, but otherwise unaffected by the rowdy song and dance of the sea gulls.
John Langmead_untitled_3590_20190820_Online
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.
John Langmead_untitled_3567_20190820_Online
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.
John Langmead_untitled_3607_20190820_Online
A truce of sorts was eventually tacitly declared, and as it turned out, there was enough beach and food for all.
John Langmead_untitled_3611_20190820_Online
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.

John Langmead_untitled_3621_20190820_Online
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).
John Langmead_untitled_3729_20190820_Online
The mountains of the Freycinet Peninsula near Coles Bay are on the horizon. Typical beach vista in this area.
John Langmead_untitled_3742_20190820_Online
There was more swell about than appeared at first glance.
John Langmead_untitled_3744_20190820_Online
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,
John Langmead_untitled_3853_20190820_Online
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.

John Langmead_untitled_3798_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3860_20190820_Online
A sandbar a little way off-shore produced this reliable right hand break.
John Langmead_untitled_3770_20190820_Online
Sooty oyster catcher (photographed on a beach reef in the Freycinet National Park).
John Langmead_untitled_3804_20190820_Online
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.

John Langmead_untitled_3807_20190820_Online

John Langmead_untitled_3816_20190820_Online
The Australasian Gannet in its element, gliding effortlessly above the coastal waters of the Freycinet Peninsula.

 

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “The Bay of Fires

  1. 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.

    Cheers

    Hunto

    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.
      Cheers,
      John.

      Like

  2. 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)

    Like

    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

      Like

  3. 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 

    Like

    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.
      Cheers
      John

      Like

  4. 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

    Like

    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.

      Cheers,
      John.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s