On our second day of touring the east coast of Tasmania out of Swansea, we drove up to Bicheno which is a town on the coast north of Freycinet National Park. It looks to be a place making a living from fishing and tourism. Unsurprisingly it was named after a British Colonial Secretary for Van Dieman’s Land and the name ‘Bicheno’ is first used in 1851. It originally was a site for whaling stations that were well placed to send their boats out to participate in the wholesale destruction of whales as they trekked up and down the coast. The story goes that three of the ships from the third fleet went whaling after dropping off their cargo of convicts at Sydney Cove in 1791. Continuous whaling was not a long term industry, both because the supply of whales ran out and the industries based on whale products turned to more convenient and longer lasting technologies.
Predictably we were ready for food when we arrived in Bicheno and finding a crowded bakery in a town is always a positive signal about a place. The main street runs behind a fairly steep rocky hill on which is located two lookouts, one facing out to sea and one directed towards the hinterland. It is about a ten minute walk.
After coffee, we found ourselves a map of the town and decided to start our tour of the seafront of Bicheno. There is a well signposted foreshore track that takes you along the rugged front of the town. There are no sandy beaches here, it is a rocky coastline that is great for tourists but not so good for ships looking for a safe harbour. We drove back to the start of the town and turned left down Douglas Street to the first item on our list, the Bicheno Blow Hole. Being familiar with the famous blow-hole at Kiama, NSW, we were initially a little surprised at Bicheno’s blow-hole. There was no huge hole in the rocks here where the waves surge in and blast out of the hole on stormy days. For this blow-hole, the rocks had been eroded out underneath but the waves blew out along a narrow crack in the granite. However there was still the same satisfying ‘Whumph’ as the sea burst out of the hidden sea cave. One impressive fact about the Bicheno blow-hole is that it has a huge boulder balanced on the rockshelf, standing guard over the eruption. I wouldn’t have liked to be standing on the shore the day this rock was hurled up to be a companion for the blow-hole!
The image below is of the foreshore and coastline to the south of the blow-hole towards the north end of Freycinet National Park. The red lichen on the rocks was to be a feature of our exploration of the sea front of Bicheno as well as a regular companion when we moved further north to St Helens. The lichen is a combination of algae and fungus; the algae provides food for the fungus via photosynthesis and the fungi provides the stable environment for the orange lichen to expand over the rock surfaces.
Another intriguing part of the seascape of Bicheno are the small rocky islands close to the coast line. On our walk along the path northward, I kept trying to decipher the black adornments I could see on the closest of the Governor’s Islands; were they black sea-birds or were they seals? In the end I decided they were seals lazing away the morning until hunger drove them back into the water to continue their never ending competition with the local fishing trawlers.
It is a rare walk where the scenery contains outrageously shaped rocks but also highly decorated ones. The walk along the foreshore of Bicheno provided both and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Apsley National Park
After a bracing walk along the rocky foreshore of Bicheno, it still wasn’t time for the seafood lunch we had promised ourselves so we decided to return to our car and drive north of the town and visit the Apsley National Park. It was only about an 8 Kms drive through the usual sheep country to the Park; this time, the sheep were black-faced and I noted twin, completely black, lambs and wondered about their future relationships with the rest of their sheep family who only had to suffer black faces.
We weren’t looking to do the full 2-3 hour walk through the Park’s gorge but were happy to do the short 10 minute walk to the Aspley River waterhole. It began raining for the first time in the morning so it was a quick walk to the river and the waterhole before returning to the dry safety of our car. As we had noted the previous day in Freycinet National Park, the information signage was first class for any hiker interested in doing one of “Tasmania’s Great Short Walks”. No doubt there are hikers out there whose life goal is to do all 60 walks. Being a ‘collector type of guy, I decided this was number one and decided to see how many I could collect on my tour around Tasmania.
On the way back into Bicheno we passed the Diamond Island Resort on the edge of town. This resort sits in front of a rocky island and is connected to the shore at low tide by a sandy causeway. It is a penguin rookery and the resort organises tours. For us as passing tourists, we didn’t have time to book a tour and access to the foreshore in front of Diamond Island looked fairly constrained.
We drove back into town for our lunch. We were recommended both the Gulch Fish and Chips and the Lobster Shack as two great places for lunch so we resolved the problem by one of us getting a Gulch fish and chips and the other, a Lobster roll from the Shack. These two restaurants sit on a part of the foreshore called Waubs Gulch, a short, protected part of the shoreline as there are two conveniently located rocky Islands here used to protect the anchored trawlers from the direct assault by the ocean waves. These Islands are called Governors Islands and are a marine Reserve. These well-placed Islands have clearly been important to the Bicheno fishing Industry as the town lacks a safe harbour or a river entrance to protect shipping.
We took our sea food lunches and found a spot overlooking Waubs Bay (See map above) to eat with all of our seagull friends. At the back of this area there is a Lions Park with a curious memorial of Bicheno’s and Tasmania’s history. It is the grave stone of Wauba Debar, who was stolen from her tribe as a teenager by a Whaler. She is remembered apparently for her bravey in rescuing two sealers in a storm. Her headstone reads…”Wauba Debar, Female Aborigine of Van Diemans Land, died June 1832 aged 40 years. This stone is erected by a few of her white friends.” There is a certain amount of unintended irony in this commemoration.
Above left is a remnant entrance to the wharf area at Waubs Gulch. I asked the ageing fish & chip guy about the seals that could be seen relaxing out on one of the smaller Governor’s islands above right. He made it quite plain to me he wasn’t fond of his close neighbours, the seals, perhaps because they interfered with his fishing catch.
On our way back to our accommodation at Swansea, I noted that the civil servant in charge of naming rivers had a bit of a sense of humour. One river for example was called the Swan River and the next river on towards Swansea was a smaller one so he/she logically called it the Cygnet River. Further on, the next river was called the Wye River; a local wit has subsequently decided to give an explanation for this brief name.