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A Visit to Bruny Island, Tasmania

A Stay on Bruny Island, Tasmania.

The early morning sun was already warm as we took the road to Kettering, above us high rock walls on Mount Wellington rose over forested slopes and there were glimpses of the sea in the distance. We were on our way south from Hobart, having flown into Tasmania from Melbourne the previous evening, after spending four weeks in South Australia and Victoria. Kettering, like so many other places with British names, was quite unlike its counterpart in England, a thriving fishing port with an attractive marina full of boats. It was from here that we were to cross to Bruny Island, but as we drove down into Oyster Cove we could see the car ferry on its way over to the island so we had a coffee in the bright cafe on the jetty as we awaited its return. Pete and I, together with our friends Ann and Steve, had booked to stay for three nights on the island at Inala, a Land for Wildlife property owned by conservationist and ecologist Dr Tonia Cochran. With the return of the ferry we were on our way across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to Roberts Point on the island. Bruny, about 60 miles in length, is almost two distinct islands joined by a narrow isthmus; the landscape is dramatically different with wide sandy beaches and farmland in the north, forests and wilder, rocky coastlines in the south. About 600 people live on Bruny Island which was named for Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, the French counterpart of Captain James Cook, who explored this area in 1792.

The Neck Making our way south on the main road, class B and surfaced, we stopped at The Neck, as the isthmus is called, to climb a long wooden staircase to the viewpoint. In ideal conditions we looked back across the channel to Mount Wellington and over to the high cliffs of South Bruny and the forested slopes of Mount Mangana. We would return to The Neck one evening and witness about 60 Little Blue Penguins rushing up the beach at dusk, after a day at sea, to their burrows in the sand dunes; as Short-tailed Shearwaters were flying in to their nests in the same area at the same time it was an amazing experience.

Once over on South Bruny we took the road to Adventure Bay on the Pacific Ocean coast, the white sand bay backed by forests was almost deserted and it was difficult to realise how important this area had been in the past. It was given the name by Captain Tobias Furneaux after his vessel Adventure which anchored safely in the bay in 1773 after becoming separated from Captain Cook in his ship Resolution. Four years later Captain Cook anchored here and his charts mark Watering Place and Wooding Place; a ships log from 1866 records an inscription carved on a tree which read “Cook, 26 Jan 1777”, sadly the tree no longer stands. In 1788 Captain Bligh anchored here in The Bounty and a painting of the area by a Lieutenant shows the beach and the trees behind it much as they are now. Other visitors included Matthew Flinders in 1802 during his circumnavigation of Australia in the Investigator, his purpose was to map the coast and so accurate were his charts that they were in use until the 1950’s. D’Entrecasteaux also used the safe anchorage, his botanist was Jacques Labillardiere who collected a great many specimens from the island; on their return voyage home the French ships were seized in Java as spoils of war by British sailors and all Labillardiere’s notes and specimens were confiscated. He appealed to his friend Joseph Banks who campaigned on his behalf and everything was returned, the Frenchman went on to write the first flora of Australia.

Tasmanian Laurel Our route to Inala took us over the shoulder of Mount  Mangana on a rather rutted and muddy track, eucalypts and Nothofagus cunninghamii towered above us and there was a dense understorey  of shrubs, at least alongside the road. A walk gave us time to identify some of the flowering shrubs including the Tasmanian Laurel, Anopterus glandulosus, with racemes of highly-scented creamy-white flowers which attract nectar-feeding birds and insects. Another Tasmanian endemic with cream flowers, Orites diversifolius, was also in full flower; both of these shrubs are what are known as Gondwanaland plants with relatives in South Africa or South America. The laurel is a member of the Escallonia family, the Orites is in the Protea family with 4 species in Tasmania and 1 in both Chile and Bolivia. Strands of Clematis gentianoides scrambled through the lower branches of the shrubs, it too has white flowers and is endemic to Tasmania. One of the most striking plants was Richea dracophylla, a member of the Ericaceae which can grow up to 15 feet tall, it has spikes of cream flowers which give rise to its common name of Candleheath; 9 out of the 10 species of Richea are endemic to Tasmania and this one was first described by a Scottish botanist, Robert Brown, who was on the Investigator with Matthew Flinders.

It was with some relief that we found ourselves on a gravelled road after dropping down from Mount Mangana and then it was only a short distance to Inala. Tonia Cochran owns about 500 acres of land which is a private nature reserve, there are meadows and densely wooded areas, ponds and a stream; birds and wallabies are everywhere. We called in at the office from where birding and wildlife tours to all parts of Australia are organised and were introduced to a tiny orphaned wallaby which was swaddled in a woolly hat, a knitted bag and a fleece blanket; the staff at Inala have earned a reputation of success in rearing such small creatures. Our base for the next 3 nights was a lovely cottage in a delightful garden where we sat and enjoyed a cup of tea before heading out to explore, we had a map and free access to the reserve. We particularly appreciated a new wooden tower amongst tall Eucalyptus viminalis where we could sit and watch 3 pairs of one of Tasmania’s rarest birds, the 40 Spotted Pardalote, as they fed on the abundant nectar of the Manna Gum blossoms. As dusk fell wallabies ventured into the open areas and we were pleased to see a couple of white Bennett’s Wallabies, a rare colour morph found locally.

Chiloglottis gunnii     The next day Tonia spent with us, she had agreed to show us the 17 endemic Tasmanian bird species, which can all be found on South Bruny; I had e-mailed her to say that we would also like to see any native orchid species that she could find. During the preceding four weeks we had seen 10 species of orchids on mainland Australia, that morning Tonia would show us 8 different species at  Inala plus another 7 later in the day. The birds, orchids and scenery combined to make this day the highlight of the whole holiday for me. A short walk from the cottage took us into a wood and by the side of a huge fallen tree were our first orchids, Pterostylis pedunculata, the maroonhood, in a small colony of flowers about 6 inches high; nearby was another Pterostylis, P. nutans, the nodding greenhood which has almost transparent hoods, both are insect pollinated. Two species of Chiloglottis, or bird orchid, so called because the shape of the flower resembles the gape of a beak, were in the same area, Chiloglottis gunnii (right) and the wonderfully named C. triceratops. Ronald Gunn was an amateur botanist who arrived in Tasmania in 1830 as Superintendent of Convicts; as he travelled around the island he collected specimens which were sent to William Hooker at Kew, originally over 50 species contained Gunn’s name, the most well-known being Eucalyptus gunnii. We walked up a track bordered by a shrubby species of Boronia with loose heads of small 4 petalled white flowers and aromatic leaves, here we found 2 species of Caladenia or finger orchids. First was the elegant Caladenia, C. cracens, a Tasmanian endemic first described in 1990 in a taxonomic review of Caladenias, secondly C. alata or fairy Caladenia; both are pink and pollinated by small native bees. Whilst waiting to photograph the second one Pete found the dark red flower of a mayfly orchid, Acianthus caudatus, with long thread-like segments, it was so slight that it could easily have been overlooked. By it grew Drosera auriculata, the tall sundew, with delicate pink flowers and typical sundew leaves. A visit to Tonia’s house, further along the track, was next to introduce us to the wallabies which come each morning to be fed, it was a great opportunity to get close to the animals several of which had a joey in their pouch plus a youngster in tow.

Goodenia ovata Taking a different route back to the cottage Tonia pointed out the cream blossoms of Acacia verticillata or prickly mimosa, over time this has commonly become known as prickly Moses! There were several flowering plants of Pultenaea juniperina, a member of the pea family, and also Goodenia ovata, (left) a fast growing, medium-height shrub, interesting because the stamens grow under the yellow flowers. This was named for Samuel Goodenough, friend of Joseph Banks, one of the founders of the Linnean Society and for 20 years the Bishop of Carlisle. Tonia had one more orchid to show us, Microtis unifolia, the onion orchid, a slender plant with the upper stem crowded with small green flowers. We then set off in her vehicle back round the shoulder of Mount Mangana to Adventure Bay and the Mavista Reserve where we had an extremely good picnic lunch by a plaque which announced that it was on that site that the first eucalyptus specimen was collected in 1777 by David Nelson. He was botanist on Captain Cook’s third voyage to the area and the eucalypt was E. obliqua, a fast-growing tree of wet forests which can reach almost 300 feet in height, the characteristic peeling strips of bark led to the common name of Stringybark. The forest here had an understorey of ferns; we walked under fronds of tall Dicksonia antarctica which had tiny filmy ferns growing on their trunks, there were also several Blechnum and Polystichum species. Tussocks of cutting grass, Gahnia grandis, described by Labillardiere, are another Gondwanaland plant with links to the pampas grasses of South America.

Mavista Walk Tonia was both surprised and delighted to find a couple of late flowers of the winter-flowering stately helmet orchid, Corybas diemenicus, in a very damp, shady area; it has tiny flowers and so we ended up kneeling in a rather muddy place to photograph it. Before leaving the reserve we walked along the main track (see picture) from the car park to where Tonia knew another orchid grew, and we didn’t have to go very far before she found it, Pterostylis melagramma, the black-striped greenhood, at about 7 inches this was taller than the other 2 species we had seen earlier.

Calochilus herbaceus After retracing our route, the muddy Mount Mangana track was, by now, beginning to seem common-place, we passed Inala and headed south with stunning coastal scenery to admire along the way. A stop was made for yet another endemic, the pale-beard orchid, Calochilus herbaceus, (left) the name is from the Greek for beautiful lip; it is pollinated by male wasps which mistake the long hairy labellum for a female wasp. In this location we also found bright blue racemes of Comesperma volubile, a climber in the Polygalaceae commonly known as love-creeper, which scrambled through shrubs including Sprengelia incarnata, or pink swamp-heath, with stiff pointed leaves and clusters of pink flowers with red anthers. Here too were several plants of Melaleuca squarrosa bearing massed creamy-white flowers with long stamens, they had a sweet scent rather like caramel. (picture below)

Melaleuca squarrosa Tonia declared we had sufficient time to explore the sandy track down to Jetty Beach and that we should find more orchids in this different habitat. The first we came across was Glossodia major, the wax-lip orchid, bright purple with 5 similar-sized spreading segments, these were dotted along the side of the track but we found only a couple of blooms of the next species. Prasophyllum concinna is a leek orchid with a very restricted range being found only on Bruny Island and in the south-east of Tasmania, it has tall, sturdy stems with small greenish-brown flowers on the top; this too was collected by David Nelson in 1777. Two species of sun-orchid were also found, these are so-called because the flowers open only on warm, sunny days; the first was Thelymitra pauciflora with plain blue flowers and the second T. ixiodes, soft blue flowers dotted deeper blue, both species were about a foot tall. Other plants of interest in this area were Diplarrena moraea, known as white iris, flowering in large drifts and Thelionema caespitosa, a member of the lily family, according to Tonia the white form we found is much rarer than the blue. Flowering shrubs included the aromatic Boronia; Epacris, which is one of the heaths and another Melaleuca, this time the mauve M. squamea. By the time we returned to our cottage we had indeed seen all the endemic birds plus many others and 15 species of orchid together with many other beautiful plants; an amazing day, thanks to Tonia.

Banksia marginata The following morning started rather cloudy, thankfully it brightened up later on. We retraced our route south, continuing past the track to Jetty Beach until we came to the end of the winding, bumpy road, and the island, at Cape Bruny. Here is the second oldest lighthouse in Australia, built by convict labour in 1836; the views in all directions were tremendous, it was just a pity that it wasn’t as sunny as on previous days. Leaving Pete and Steve to watch for seabirds from the shelter of the lighthouse Ann and I set out to see what we could find on the windswept cliffs. There were many bushes of Leptospermum scoparium var eximium in full flower looking rather like hawthorn when in blossom at home, this is 1 of 6 Leptospermum species endemic to Tasmania. Other plants included the silver Banksia, B. marginata, with yellow flowers in a cylindrical head about 3 or 4 inches long (picture left). Woody seed cones from previous years provide food for some bird species.

Pimelea nivea, Bedfordia salicina and Carpobrotus A plant first described by Labillardiere, Pimelea nivea, has white woolly flowers and its leaves are covered with white hairs as protection from the elements; it is known as cotton bush. Another plant with a thick coating of hairs to protect against the cold and salt-laden winds is blanketleaf, Bedfordia salicina, with tight clusters of small yellow flowers, this is the dominant shrub of the steep coastal slopes of Cape Bruny. A hardy and salt-resistant succulent groundcover plant was in full and vivid pink flower, Carpobrotus rossii is known as pigface from the shape of the fruits which were eaten, along with the leaves, by Aborigines. These three plants are in the accompanying picture.

Stylidium graminifolium In sheltered areas among the taller shrubs we found Hibbertia procumbens, the spreading golden-guinea flower, Patersonia fragilis, a blue low-growing member of the iris family and tall pink spikes of a trigger plant, Stylidium graminifolium(picture left). These plants have glands under the flower which are capable of digesting and absorbing nutrients from insects caught in a sticky secretion. Unlike so many of the plants we had been seeing which have a very localised distribution this Stylidium is found from Queensland in the north of Australia through to South Australia in the west, but always in nutrient-poor soils. It was first collected by Joseph Banks at Botany Bay during Captain Cook’s first Pacific voyage.

Eventually we made our way back stopping to watch a small pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins in one of the bays. We spent the remainder of the day at Inala where Steve found a Tiger Snake. Bruny Island is beautiful and unspoilt, with the richness of its wildlife our stay there was truly wonderful.

Brenda Wilson

Brenda Wilson and Peter Wilson
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