Water, water, as far as the eye can see

The waves were not particularly tall; perhaps one to two metres. Their rise and fall was not dramatic as I expected they would become across a stormy sea.  Nevertheless they were sufficiently active to make loud, deep, resonant sounds all day.  Jeanette was disturbed by their constant booming. As we neared the northern end of Marrawah Beach she shouted with an edge of great irritation, ‘the sea is SO noisy’.20171225_103338.jpg



20171225_105736.jpg  When I look at these photos my memories let me re-feel the movement of the air; the push and pull of the endless windy onshore breezes. Against my skin. Against my sun-screened face.  Against my unhatted hair.  With the sun warming those mobile air currents, I walked with bare arms. It felt like one of those days with a high UV rating and I hoped not to be windburnt or sunburnt at the end of the walk.20171225_110451.jpg



20171225_111316.jpgIn some photos above, the tiny dots of birds can be seen.  In the main, these birds were large sea birds, so their comparatively small size is an indicator of the scale of the spaces in front of me each time I pointed the camera.Dominican Gull.JPG

Apart from the occasional Dominican Gull (sometimes known as the Kelp Gull) that bobbed as thin waves washed onto the beach, the majority of birds we saw were Oystercatchers. In particular we noticed lots of pairs of Pied Oystercatchers, and sometimes small groups.  Parks and Wildlife Services provides the following information; ‘The name “oystercatcher” is a misnomer because they seldom eat oysters. Pied Oystercatchers feed mainly on bivalve molluscs, which are found by sight, or by probing their long bills in the mud. Worms, crustaceans and insects are also eaten.

Pied oystercatcher.jpg

Sooty oystercatcher.jpg

I did see one pair of Sooty Oystercatchers. Parks and Wildlife Services says; ‘The Sooty Oystercatcher is a coastal bird, preferring rocky shores in contrast to the Pied Oystercatcher, which is frequently found on beaches. The Sooty Oystercatcher will, however, occasionally be seen on sandy beaches. It is found either singularly or in pairs.’ Closer to Mt Cameron West, I noticed a single Black Faced Cormorant fishing near a rocky platform.

Black faced cormorant.jpg

The most delightful sight of the day was a tiny sand scampering bird that led us along sections of the beach, by running parallel to the sea but between us and the dunes. At first we only saw movement and then our eyes became accustomed to their sandy coloured feathers which provided perfect camouflage when they stood still.  We believed this was the Hooded Plover which apparently has a black head. The birds we saw were very tiny, moved fast and everything about them seemed dusty. But it is conceivable their heads were dark and the combination of intense sun and movement blurred the darkness into something softer.  Despite seeing them in pairs and assuming one was male and the other female, perhaps most pairs that we concentrated on were two females – the colouring of females is softer. I realise there are a number of native plovers and migratory plovers that frequent the Tasmanian shorelines.  I cannot be sure that the birds we saw are the Hooded Plovers, but since the information panel at the southern end of Marrawah Beach listed these birds I am inclined to think that is what they are – albeit immature rather than adult. Perhaps just out of their nests.20171223_174021.jpgMy travel buddy and I had childhoods next to water and so we try to take any chance to be near it again. In anticipation of the big ocean, we brought our wet suits with us on this trip. Unfortunately, we never got to use them. All we did was to paddle a little at the water’s edge and consider, if good health had been ours, that we would have splashed our way out into the briny with abandon – although we may not have ventured out as far as a couple of young men did one afternoon.  They didn’t get into trouble so I assume they were locals and knew and understood the conditions of the ocean on Marrawah Beach.

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It is a long beach

When it looked to me that we were half way along the beach, I suggested to Jeanette we had maybe 4 km still to go because we had been walking, albeit slowly with our investigations and photography, for over an hour. ‘No’, she said, ‘it is only about another kilometre’. It was further. Much further.  A great deal further. Later a local told us the beach was nearly 4 miles not 4 km long. So in total, counting the distance of the curves we walked and our explorations up and down the beach to dune and water edges, the total distance we covered for the day was probably 13-14 kilometres.

And on we walked and on and on.  Mt Cameron West grew in size but oh so slowly.  I think Jeanette would have been happy to turn around, but I was determined to reach the mountain on its southern side, and I am grateful that she continued with me. 20171225_102644.jpg






20171225_125507.jpgThe closer we came to Mt Cameron West, the more our cottage and Green Point to the south, disappeared from view.     20171225_101327.jpg







20171225_115819.jpgDespite my headache, my sore throat and my asthmatic cough, I was elated with my persistence and I remained in perpetual awe of the spectacular environment. Luminous.  Shimmering.  Raw. Wild. Pure.  Perpetually filling me with wonder.

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The unusual and unexplained

1: I looked closely at the textured sand shown in the photos below.20171225_104310.jpg


20171225_105500.jpgThe holes were either home to a beach critter, or their entrance into a food pantry.  I am not sure what the tiny insect was that I noted going in and out. Was it a biting midge, or a sand fly? I doubt that because the insect did not seem to have wings; it looked like a solid tiny dusty dark grey/brown body moving around. Was it some sort of beetle; one without a distinctive head and with legs hidden beneath its carapace? I know when I took the photos, some were visible (they were moving)  but I cannot see them now (in a still image).  Great camouflage.  Whatever they were, I suspect the reason for their presence was to enjoy the food being supplied by the decaying seaweed that was partially buried in the sand.

The Insects of Tasmania site provides information about Water Beetles and shows a photo of one found at Sisters Creek beach (located on the north west coast of Tasmania not so far from where we were).  Perhaps what I saw was a type of Water Beetle.

2:  What caused the circles smoothed around grasses at the dune edge?20171225_115306.jpg

20171225_115309.jpgWe only saw this phenomenon in one location close to the northern end of the beach. In the first photo above there are, what seem to be from the distance, animal tracks crossing near the smoothed grass.  However, there were no marks of any animal or bird leading up to or away from the smoothed circles.  The grass wasn’t sufficiently long to have been dragged by the wind across the sand in any sort of sweeping motion to explain the smoothed areas.  Within aboriginal groups around Darwin there is a traditional burial practice which requires the surrounding area to be smoothed so that the arrival of evil spirits can be detected. Even though Tasmanian aborigines would have walked this beach and the dunes for thousands of years, this smoothing I saw had to be temporary. With rain or strong winds, the sand would eventually return to its rippled format.20171225_105512.jpg

20171225_102243.jpgI continue to be puzzled. I cannot come up with a rational explanation.  Why the smoothing? Why in that particular spot and not elsewhere along the beach?  How was the sand smoothed, and by what process?  Which insect, bird or animal was responsible?  When was it done?  What was the benefit arising from the process?

Elsewhere, the grass and the sandy dune usually looked something like the following:20171225_102251.jpg

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Creeks, springs and rivulets

Intermittently fresh water trickled or bubbled from the sand dunes and crossed the beach. It was the purity and cleanliness of the process and the way the water moved that enthralled me time and again.  20171225_101153.jpg


20171225_101224.jpg Looking at the first stream gave me the opportunity to look back to the southern end of Marrawah Beach and out to Green Point. 20171225_101327.jpg

20171225_101324.jpgThe next outpouring is a type that I have never seen previously.  The fresh water did not run across the sand from the dunes. Rather it bubbled up mid beach. Watch this video to see it in action. I haven’t been to Rotorua but I imagine the plopping mud pools look very similar to what we saw. How did I know it was fresh water?  I stuck my finger in one of the circular plopping pools then tasted it. Having been filtered so thoroughly through the sand I cannot imagine cleaner water.      20171225_103440.jpg




20171225_103629.jpgThe next couple were dry creeks presumably needing a fall of rain to make them run. Look at the height of the dunes at the beach edge – many were much higher than these. Overall, their height surprised me.  They seemed to be acting like a strong levy holding back the sea from the land behind. 20171225_103731.jpg

20171225_104227.jpgI liked the glassy quality of the water crossing the sand from this rivulet.20171225_112616.jpgThis water sprung up from under the water worn rocks and didn’t trickle from the sand dunes directly across the sand.20171225_114114.jpgWhoever said long beaches were featureless has failed to take time to look at how the land connects to the sea, and how no two connections look and operate exactly the same way.

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A new day dawns

I woke with knives in my throat. No, not literally. The virus or infection which I had been incubating broke with a vengeance.  I felt terrible.  But there was a carefully planned itinerary to follow and I was not going to be thwarted.  Jeanette and I prepared a salad picnic, then set off to walk from our cottage to Mt Cameron West along Marrawah Beach. I started the walk believing it would be a 4 km walk to the end of the beach, and 8 km return – I had read that somewhere. How hard can it be? I didn’t even consider that being unwell should make a difference; I was going to walk to Mt Cameron West and I couldn’t conceive of alternatives.20171225_101407.jpgThe day was stunningly beautiful with a blue umbrella overhead, and the waves sparkled as they constantly found the shore. Once on the beach I felt fresh and new.  And if I didn’t talk then I didn’t cough – too much, too often.  Thankfully the world of the beach and sea and its birds and edging sand dunes seemed omnipresent so that, mostly, I was distracted from my state of health.  And I delighted in the tracks of birds and other markers in the sand.  20171225_100627.jpg

20171225_100637.jpgAt shore level, Mt Cameron West appeared to be a lot further than 4 km along the beach. The reflections of sky in the water covered sand, as waves receded, created an extraordinary pearlescence.20171225_100719.jpgThe tide was out so the beach was wide. Apart from my travel buddy and I, the expanse was people-less.  What good fortune.20171225_100723Deep and penetrating vegetation coated the sand dunes, offering them protection from the effects of wind.  20171225_101001.jpg



20171225_102535.jpg The vegetation was dense and helped me to understand the difficulty of making tracks and walking through this land. I can appreciate the practicality of why the indigenous peoples created set tracks to move around, as did the settlers in the 19th century.

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Down to the sea

At the end of the afternoon following our walk on the beach to the northern side Mt Cameron West and our visit to Dismal Swamp,  Jeanette went for a walk down to the sea.  A sea mist almost obliterated Mt Cameron West and the changing atmosphere added drama to the fresh wildness of the ocean.20171224_181449.jpg



20171224_183347.jpgShe was enthralled by the water-worn rock patterns.      20171224_181612.jpg




Her random photos of seaweed and other flotsam and jetsam, is different from but, reminds me of Fred Williams paintings of the You Yangs where the details of the landscape are bits and pieces.  They also remind me of the no-meaning scattered look of some Jean Miro paintings.  Very beautiful.20171224_182554.jpg



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Leaving the sinkhole

I enjoyed the walk uphill (not because I enjoy walking uphill) for the new perspectives I was given on the forest. As the path rose I came level with trees at different heights and by the time I reached the top I could look across and eye ball some of the tree tops. The atmosphere felt enormously majestic and dignified. IMG_0669.JPG

IMG_0670.JPGAlong the way, seated platforms provided the opportunity to stop and absorb the sounds and smells, and ‘feel’ the environment. An artwork at the end of one reminded me of the insect ‘Praying-Mantis’. I realise these insects are the masters of camouflage and to some extent the metal sculptures were a little like the branches of dead trees. Nevertheless this seemed rather out of place here; but I am ignorant of their breeding grounds and native homelands. Somehow I never imagined that Praying Mantises would live in rainforest. IMG_0663.JPG

IMG_0665.JPGI had no expectations of Tasmanian Forest Adventures/Dismal Swamp. During the visit I was impressed and can recommend it to those wanting to understand a little more about the nature of this part of the world.  The owners run a friendly and professional operation, the premises are smart, and the environment is stunning. The walk/stroll options can be taken as fast or as slow as you want; there is much to look at and to think about. And if you have the courage, you can give yourself a thrill and slide down to the sinkhole/swamp!

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