Gently does it
Diana Simmonds falls for the charms of Tasmania’s Bruny Island
OW fortunate is Bruny Island that it was named after French navigator-explorer Bruni d’Entrecasteaux and not the junior officer he sent to check out what was then thought to be just another bit of Tasmania. Let’s be honest, no matter how beautiful, would you really be that keen to visit Cretin Island?
This is how it didn’t happen. On the morning of April 30, 1792, two small boats set off from d’Entrecasteaux’s temporary anchorage at Rocky Bay (known to this particular fleet as Port du Sud). Their instructions were to sail east northeast, do a bit of mapping and look for sources of fresh water.
The first boat to reach land along this compass reading was commanded by M. Alexis Ignace de Cretin and it was mere chance, lack of provisions and water, and then contrary winds, that afforded Bruny Island the first of some narrow escapes at the hands of European explorers. De Cretin wasn’t able to progress much further north than Partridge Island (his first landfall at the southwestern tip of Bruny, and which somehow escaped being named Isle du Perdrix) in the three days allotted to the little expedition.
Reluctantly they returned to Port du Sud to report on their findings. It was only later — when further forays by de Cretin, accompanied by the expedition’s hydrographer C. F. Beautemps-Beaupre, went the other way and found themselves in Adventure Bay — that they worked out the forested landmass was another island.
The extensive and navigable seaway was then named for the boss, D’Entrecasteaux, and the island, too. Poor Beautemps-Beaupre. Poor de Cretin.
Poor Lunnawannalonna, too. Of course Bruny already had a name before the cheese-eating surrender weasels arrived. It’s commemorated today in two of Bruny’s small townships: Alonnah and Lunawanna. But how deliciously ironic nevertheless that one of the many attractions of modern-day island life is a visit to the Bruny Island Cheese Company. Here, at South Bruny, Nick Haddow has turned more than a decade of learning the fromage-maker’s business in Europe into a range of fabulous cheeses.
The French origins of the range are obvious but ethically raised and contented cows and goats, which are entirely local to the island, donate the milk from which they’re made. The cheesery also has a wood-fired oven and, if you’re quick off the mark, you can pick up a freshbaked sourdough loaf, too.
OK, so now you have excellent cheese: how about some wine and other special edibles? Australia’s southernmost vineyard is nearby and while it caught the prosaic end of the naming process, Bruny Island Premium Wines produces a luscious unwooded chardonnay and a deliciously chewy pinot. These come from 10-year-old vines that cling to the windswept slopes all around the cellar door and are a must to drink at a picnic lunch or evening spent in front of the fire.
Before heading back to base, trek up to the north island for an unexpected treasure: Bruny Island Smokehouse. Eat here or cart away to your rented hideaway a boot-load of freshly smoked salmon, oysters, duck, mussels, trout and other deli items. These local producers should be on the shopping list of anyone visiting Bruny, whether on a day trip or to stay longer.
And longer is good. The island is one of the most romantic and remarkable, rugged and unexpectedly accessible destinations an island-lover could dream of visiting. At the same time, because it is an island it can be tricky and forbidding and should be approached with proper respect and awe. And just like those first Europeans, your supplies can make or break the stay.
Bruny also has a range of general stores in its townships for traditional groceries and provisions, so you can shop locally for most needs (and you should support the islanders). Once on the island, a natural reluctance to leave quickly invades even the most citified synapses: the experience is not something you want to rush.
The island’s appeal is easy to see: it is beautiful and
Swell time: A high-powered Bruny Island Charters boat zips along on an eco-cruise beneath the cliffs and rock towers of South Bruny National Park largely unspoiled. When d’Entrecasteaux’s frigates L’Esperance and La Recherche made their way along the coast it would have looked much as it does today as you approach on the ferry from Kettering. Squint until the clusters of houses and patches of forest clearance become blurs and it’s easy to imagine what the sailors saw and wondered at. Although when explorers did go ashore and had a poke around the first citizens’ homes, there were no welcoming B&B signs or pots of honey for sale. More often than not the residents took to the hills and forests when longboats were spotted.
Bruny is really two islands joined by a narrow isthmus known as the Neck, which is a wild, windblown strip of sand and seagrasses, home to fairy penguins and other seabirds. On the west side of the isthmus is Isthmus Bay (the naming committee must have run out of inspiration by then) and on the seaward side is Adventure Bay. Although it is a great spot for adventures, it actually commemorates Tobias Furneaux’s ship of that name and his visit in 1773.
The bay was a favoured landfall for sailing ships coming out of the southern ocean passage. Not only is it a sheltered and extensive anchorage but there are many freshwater streams, including one that has been identified as the place where James Cook replenished supplies. It’s also where early white settlers made a start. Lovingly preserved relics of the whaling and timber industries are to be found, while botanist David Nelson, as a member of Cook’s 1777 expedition, collected what would become the first scientifically described eucalypt.
Whether it’s fishing, surfing, sunbaking, bushwalking, mooching, sailing, kayaking, diving, whale-watching, bird-watching, swimming, pretending to be a pirate or tucking up with that pile of books you’ve been saving for this very purpose, the island has to be one of the most glorious places on earth to do any of it. One adventure that’s available to the most slothful and least intrepid is a Bruny Island Charters eco-cruise.
It’s a deceptive experience. Before you board the sleek, high-powered boat, a lifejacket and bright orange waterproof cagoule are handed over. And you don both, although you can’t see why: it’s sunny and the bay is merely frilly. Five minutes later the boat rounds Fluted Cape and meets the swell of an ocean that has brooked no interference since it left Antarctica.
The eco part of the cruise is partly about the boats and partly the knowledgeable and expert boat captains and crew: there is no roaring up to dolphins or seabirds. Instead the specially designed boats have modified engines that are quiet and relatively unobtrusive. Meanwhile the crew delights in finding and pointing out sea eagles, muttonbird rookeries, kelp beds and other local thrills. They also explain the geological formations of the towering sea cliffs and other features of South Bruny National Park, along which the boat cruises.
It’s from this extremity that you may glimpse the island’s historic lighthouse. In 1835, three ships were wrecked off Cape Bruny on the way north to Hobart. The loss of the Enchantress (17 lives), the transport George III (134 lives) and the Wallace (its crew was rescued) caused a frightful agitation. John Lee Archer was commissioned to design a lighthouse and the sturdy stone tower was built by convict labour and completed in 1838.
From then on its lamps beamed out into the night every 10 seconds until 1996, when they were replaced by a nearby automated solar light station. Happily the lighthouse and its reserve (where the keepers and their families kept cattle and chooks and grew essential fresh vegetables) became part of the Labillardiere National Park. The original store and quarters were demolished; there is a cosy keeper’s cottage close by where you can stay if you book well in advance.
Accommodation on Bruny is varied and only lacking six-star, multi-storey, tropical resort hotels. If that’s what you want, however, you won’t be on Bruny anyway. Otherwise the full spectrum of self-contained, selfcatering, eco-friendly, family-friendly, fully catered, comfy, edgy, basic or luxury is available. There are camp sites at glorious locations, again with a range of facilities and costs. Wherever you decide to stay, what you will have in common with islanders and fellow visitors is the prospect of savouring a glass of wine or local beer, eating the freshest fish and seafood and enjoying the sunset or a towering storm out to sea. Explorers never had it so good.
Bruny Island Smokehouse, 360 Main Rd, Great Bay, North Bruny, (03) 6260 6344 (check for opening hours). Bruny Island Premium Wines, 4391 Bruny Island Main Rd, Lunawanna, (03) 6293 1088. Bruny Island Cheese Company, 1807 Main Rd, Great Bay. Open seven days; www.brunyislandcheese.com.au. Bruny Island Charters, 915 Adventure Bay Rd, Adventure Bay, (03) 6293 1465; www.brunycharters.com.au. Lighthouse Keepers Cottage, Cape Bruny, (03) 6298 3114. www.bruny-island.net www.discovertasmania.com