Where we went – East Cloudy Head Track – Bruny Island
When we went – early spring 2019
Proposed walking time 4hrs – our walking time 5hrs (14km)
Our morning started out a little rocky (metaphorically speaking), with the discovery that breakfast is difficult to come by on Bruny Island unless you are self-catering. There are only 2 breakfast places and 1 dinner place on the island. Take a little bit of time before you get to the ferry terminal to stop at Oyster Cove Fruit and Veg to pick up a few basic breakfast and dinner needs. There are no quarantine restrictions from Hobart to Bruny (other than boot cleaning before walking – which is a rule all over the state) so you can get all the meat and fruit you could possibly want. There is cheese on the island. We also know, from previous experience, that buying good hiking food supplies is not impossible on Bruny, but is rendered much more difficult if one member of the party will vomit uncontrollably when she consumes sulphites (it’s me, Sapphire) so we can’t have muesli bars or most dried fruits. Our work-around for this issue is a simple one; we buy the fancy dried fruit from the health food store, we buy our nuts straight from the Tasmanian farms, and we buy a few little chocolatey treats from our favourite chocolate vendors (Federation Chocolate) who handmake all their chocolate and keep the preservatives out, then we throw it all together in a bag and call it ‘gourmet scroggin’.
We woke up early on the day of our hike because we had deliberately left our hotel curtains open to better appreciate the view of the waterfront. Breakfast was an egg and bacon roll and a carton of iced coffee from the general store. Fed, checked out and ready for walkies we parked in the car park at Cloudy Beach and double checked our gear before heading out. We always travel with at least 5 bandages (our collection has been growing over the years, we started out with 3, more than 2 is the advice I’ve always been given) and a permanent marker (for snake-bite reasons – mark the bite site and then doctors can cut away a hole in the bandages to run envenomation tests without removing the entire bandage and all the life-saving pressure its providing), pawpaw ointment (for all other first aid reasons), sunscreen and 2ltr of water in a bag with a hose (we use the brand Platypus). Park entry fees apply so make sure you have a parks pass (you can purchase them easily online, but the wifi is patchy on the island) and we clean the mud and dirt off our boots before every walk, there is no boot scrubbing station at this walk, we had already scrubbed at home but I gave mine another little dip in the ocean just to be sure. The only amenity we came across was a long drop toilet (sans effective handwash facilities), so we were grateful for the 10ltr of water and bar of soap that we always keep in the back of the car.
We soon learned that the trail is not just up the hill from the toilets (in hindsight, following the surfers was not a sensible navigation technique). Our going the wrong way was very quickly realised when the path ended abruptly at a bay full of surfers. We covered our mistake up really smoothly by pretending to just be super into dressing in full hiking gear and walking 5 mins up a small hill to watch strangers surf). Turns out we were meant to have gone left from the carpark, along the beach with all the birds on it, which I had assumed was definitely not the way, on account of there were so very many birds.
We picked our path delicately so as to remain on the wet sand and not disturb the nesting birds who favour the soft sand (those birds will swoop you and scream bone- chilling insults at you if you get too close so just don’t do it, even though the little chicks are cute and fluffy). There is something particularly smile-inducing about seeing a seagull in their natural habitat. Seagulls that have grown used to human interaction tend to be aggressive, demand food, poop on everything you hold dear, and are generally a nuisance. This is not at all the case with the birds in the wild, they do little stomping dances in the waves, they groom each other, they chitter rather than screeching, and I swear I saw one surfing the waves. The beach stretches on for a long way and we were sandy and windswept by the time we reached the dilapidated 4wd track (is there any other kind) that heralded the rest of the walking track. The 4wd track leads to a campsite and marks the official start to the East Cloudy Head walking track (yup, the 3 km of beach are just a warm-up). We went to log our walk in the logbook only to discover that it was just a bunch of scraps of paper chucked into the little logbook holder, this was the first clue that not many people do this walk (second if you include all the birds on the beach, which was a red flag we should have payed a bit more attention to).
The path ‘starts’ through mostly grass and soft sand pathways that give way to denser shrubbery like she-oaks and coastal wattles. There are a series of steep ascents and subsequent descents, which are made more challenging by the fact that the path is mostly sand dunes, but it is an excellent butt-workout and that’s what keeps us motivated. The Coastal wattles were flowering which lent a sweet fragrance to savoury/ kelp driven beach scents. We also saw little patches of Blue Love Creeper (Comesperma Volubile), which brought a lovely burst of purple/blue colour to the outskirts of the track. As we climbed higher (over increasingly steep dunes) we were rewarded with views of the beach we had just walked, the coast and all its jutting promontories and the hills rolling in the far distance. A few rumbles of thunder spurred us up and we were both quietly grateful that we had thought to waterproof our packs (with a garbage bag insert, not with anything fancy), because a light drizzle came over us.
The higher up we walked the more it became apparent that this path was falling into disuse and disrepair. The now hip/shoulder height (on 6ft humans) plants were so over-hanging that we were forced to put on our rain-jackets just to protect our arms from the scratching shrubs, hell bent on drawing first blood. One particular offender that came to be known as ‘the spikey mother-dearer (only we didn’t say ‘dear’)’ was the very inaptly named ‘pretty heath’ in which the term ‘pretty’ is used to mean will-claw-your-eyes-out-if-you-aren’t-wearing-safety-goggles. The paw-paw ointment was well received when it came to break time.
I prefer when the paths are overgrown like this, it makes it feel more like a wild adventure. Wherever there were clearings or rocks we took small breaks to catch our breath and, in my case (as the leader of the group), to literally clear off the cobwebs. On our rocky breaks I was pleased to see the plant informally known as ‘Prickfoot’ growing in the cracks As the name suggests, it’s hella prickly. If you are wearing solid footwear then the Prickfoot is fairly harmless but be careful not to sit on it, it will hurt.
Towards the end of the walk the path hugs the coast, along a cliff. I have heard that it is possible to see seals there sometimes, but we did not see any (they have really good camouflage, you might see them if you carry binoculars with you). We were lucky to see a kite (the bird of prey, not the toy) hovering over us and diving in the waves. Bruny truly is one of the best places to go to see birdlife in its proper, wild habitat.
From the coastal cliff the path appears to be heading inland when it tracks through a small gum grove, but it quickly gives way to open ground again. We had lunch while sitting on a rock, surrounded by gums, with a dim view over the trees of the beach and the cliffs. As Cloudy Head is not a loop track we turned around and headed back the way we came, with Sommelier in the lead this time. I refused on account of spiderweb and thigh stabbing reasons. Sommelier had the nerve to point out that he wasn’t experiencing any spiderweb problem (I know dear, I cleared them for you!!), but he did sustain the only blood inducing scratch of the entire walk.
It was a relief to finally stumble back down to the open pathway along the beach. The birds watched on with only very minor interest. We were told that this walk would take around 4 hours, and I suspect that it would have if the path had not been so overgrown, perhaps it was just because we are unfit and haven’t hiked since autumn, or because our progress with impeded by the (frankly thrilling) bush scrambling , but we took closer to 5 hours to finish the walk.
Tired, sore, covered in scratches and picking twigs out of our hair we walked back along the beach, exuberated by the flocks of seabirds flying overhead and the spray kissing our faces and cooling us down. If you are not an intrepid hiker, and the idea of crawling through groves of spikey mother-dearer doesn’t spark joy then I suggest sticking to the beach part of the walk, it is flat, full of birds, and the surfers have their own private enclave, so they won’t interfere with your nature amenity. It was with a deep sigh of joy that we checked in to our next hotel on Bruny (43 degrees) and soaked our aching selves in the spa. With a cocktail in hand we let the bone tiredness of the hike settle into gentle joy at a difficult walk well accomplished.