Geology Part 2 – Stories from the Great Southern Road Trip

Road sign saying Geology Point

Geology Nerd – Part 2 – Tasmania

This post is the second of a two part series about some of the geology and geological formations I encountered on my recent road trip across the south-east of Australia. Part 1 included those features seen in NSW. After scooting through Victoria as quick as I could because of concerns related to a five day COVID lock down I boarded the Spirit of Tasmania with my trusty Suby and all my camping gear.

Once off the ferry, it didn’t take long before I started to see some interesting things rock-wise. The descriptions are listed in the order I visited them.

Do rivers count as geology?

The first thing to catch my eye while driving from Devonport to Launceston was the Rubicon River. I’m not really sure if riverine vegetation counts as geology but what the heck! The islands of grass made sinuous patterns in the slow-flowing water. After a little investigation, it seems that these clumps of grass are in fact an invasive species called rice grass. There is a federally funded program to help eradicate it.

Geology - Islands of grass in the Rubicon River Tasmania
Rubicon River – Islands of Grass.

Bakers Beach – Narawantapu National Park

My first glimpse of Tasmania’s famous orange boulders was on a grey day. A fine mist of drizzle was fogging up my lens. The rocks are orange because they are clothed in red-orange fuzz formed by the symbiotic relationship between lichen and fungi. The boulders are granite and their smooth rounded shapes are easy to scramble over. There were orange rocks at almost every beach I visited. The shape and size of the boulders and the size of their crystals varied a lot but the colours remained fairly consistent.

Orange granit boulders next to blue water
Bakers Beach my first glimpse of the ubiquitous orange rocks of Tassie.

Cradle Mountain National Park

While there are no glaciers in Australia these days there is plenty of evidence of their existence in the Cradle Mountain National Park. This area is spectacular, with large outcrops of granite-like dolerite. The craggy, jagged peaks make excellent photographic subjects and the area is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Tasmania. There are lots of walks in the area from short strolls to the arduous 6 day Overland Track. If you are not up for this long walk there is a 13 km Cradle Mountain Summit Walk.

The solid geology of Cradle Mountain has been described by many! This snippet is from a detailed report by I R Jennings. I could not find a date for the actual publication but the date on a map says November 1958. If you’d like more detail it’s an easy read despite the length.

Simple… realy

Barn Bluff, although looking very much like a volcanic plug is the result of extensive weathering of the dolerite intrusions.

Geology Bonanza! Flinders Island

What a treat Flinders Island is! A feast of geology and all on a very small plate as it were. I spent four days on Flinders and I am so glad I did. There is a geotrail! Imagine me doing a merry little dance and clapping my hands when I saw the first sign! I really recommend having a look at the website before you visit. Also, see my previous post about my visit.

Choose from red lichen coated rocks, massive boulders in the middle of paddocks, a summit climb, pegmatites and more! There’s topaz for those who like to fossick, plenty of sandy beaches and shallow coastal lagoons. Sigh!

The thing that got me really excited were the pegmatites (really really big crystals) at Killecrankie on the northern end of the island. How big? BIG! For reference, I included an Australian 50 cent coin that has a diameter of 31 mm. Super big crystals of course mean super slow cooling of the molten lava below the surface.

Marakoopa and King Solomon Caves – Mole Creek

The Mole Creek Karst Conservation Area has hundreds of caves. Some are open to the general public and others are open only to experienced spelunkers. When you book they tell you to dress warmly and you should! The caves stay at a steady 9oC throughout the year. I did a tour of both Marakoopa and King Solomon Caves. Marakoopa has an underground creek and glow worms while King Solomon’s Cave has larger caverns. “Discovered” by Europeans in the mid-1800s it has been a popular tourist destination ever since. The cave tours are led by interesting guides. Due to COVID restrictions, the numbers were very low which, in my opinion, enhanced the experience. You’ll need a camera with an adjustable ISO because flash photography is not permitted.

Alum Cliffs

Always on the look out for a good walk, long or short – I stopped to check out Alum Cliffs. It’s included in Tasmania’s 60 best short walks. It is only a 1.6 km return walk. At the end of the wooded path you suddenly come out to a platform which is perched 200 m above the Mersey River below. Take care if you suffer from vertigo.

Tulampanga, the Aboriginal name for Alum Cliffs, remains ​a place of particular significance to Aborigines because of the ochre found nearby. Along the walk there are sculptures and pieces of outdoor furniture, some created by local Aboriginal artists. 

https://parks.tas.gov.au/things-to-do/60-great-short-walks/alum-cliffs
Alum Cliffs

The Nut – Stanley

The Nut, an ancient volcanic plug, dominates the town of Stanley. You can climb or drive to the top or if you’re a bit braver, ride the chair lift. Chair lifts freak me out a bit! Generally, I am not scared of heights per se, but chairs lifts… shiver…..There is a 2.4 km loop walk up the top which gives you great views of the town below.

Fossil Bluff – Wynyard

And finally fossils! Plenty of them too! Fossil Bluff is on the western side of Wynyard which is in north west Tasmania. So much of geology to see here! Layers of marine fossils, boulders and a rocky beach.

Bit of wind noise sorry…

Stories from the Great Southern Road Trip – Lighthouses.

Lighthouses! I like ‘em and it would seem that many others do too. I will blame my fondness  on epi-genetics. Somewhere in my relatively recent history one of my ancestors was involved in building lighthouses in Australia. In particular the Macquarie Lighthouse in Sydney’s Watson’s Bay. I have written about lighthouses in my home town of Wollongong, Scotland and Maine, USA in previous posts.

In this post I am not planning on going into any detail about the lighthouses themselves but rather quick anecdotes about my visits and some photos. There are plenty of other websites which have lots of information and maps. Check out Lighthouses of Australia  and Wikipedia

Lighthouses on the Bucket List.

My bucket list includes a very ambitious and totally impractical goal of photographing every lighthouse in Australia. No mean feat given there are around 350 of them and over 25,000 km of coastline! My more realistic 60 before 60 list (60 things to do before I turn 60) has an item “to see at least 15 new lighthouses” as one of the things to tick off before May 2021.  I am pleased to say that this item is in fact done and dusted after checking out ten new lighthouses on my recent Great Southern Road Trip to add to the five others I had already recorded. Unfortunately, due to a COVID lockdown in Victoria I missed several that I had planned to see including staying overnight at the Wilson’s Promontory Lightstation

New South Wales Lighthouses  

Crookhaven Heads

This small, sad lighthouse is no longer in service and has been damaged by graffiti and vandalism. It is at the end of a short but pleasant stroll from the car park. 

The light has been removed
The stairwell shows some of the damage

Cape St George

There is an amazing story about this sandstone lighthouse and reading the information boards is enough to make the visit special. The location for the light was very contentious. The people with the money advocating for one location and the people with the maritime expertise declaring it should be in another. Money won. Ships became confused and wrecks continued. The lighthouse is very near Wreck Bay, so called because of the number of wrecks that occurred there.. The Lighthouse is in the Booderee National Park which is strictly not in NSW but rather part of the Australian Capital Territory. It is managed by the local indigenous people and you need a valid visitor pass to enter. You can get this easily from the website. You also can catch a glimpse of the lighthouse at Point Perpendicular in the distance.

Boyd’s Tower

Boyd’s Tower was never actually used as a  lighthouse and served as a whale watching station. There is an excellent 33 km walk from the tower to Green Cape Lighthouse. There are several camping spots along the way. I did the two ends of the walk but not the middle section. You can read my Light the Light Walk post for more information. The tower is in Green Cape National Park and you need a valid pass.

Green Cape Lighthouse

Green Cape is  managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. You are able to stay at the lighthouse in the various cottages. I stayed overnight in the assistant keeper’s cottage. It is big enough to accommodate 6 people very comfortably and I was rattling around on my own in such a large space! I had actually booked the much smaller Telegraph Station but due to a maintenance issue, I was upgraded! The grounds are home to some enormous wombats and tiny pademelons.

There is an onsite manager who keeps a very low profile. If you book ahead you can organise a tour of the lighthouse itself. The lighthouse is in the southern portion of Green Cape National Park and once again you must have a valid pass. It is also at the end of a long dirt road. I was fine in my AWD Subaru but it looked a bit hairy for those in two wheel drives.

Tasmanian Lighthouses

Bluff Hill Point Lighthouse

Killer bees and asbestos! If you don’t mind a bit of dirt driving this lighthouse is well worth a visit. It is situated a little north of the small township of Arthur River on Tasmania’s wild west coast. I had a fabulous time photographing wild seas and craggy rocks. 

Rocky Cape 

Rocky Cape Lighthouse is also at the end of a dirt road. The closest town is Stanley on Tasmania’s northern coast. Apart from the lighthouse there are several very good hikes in the area. I began the walk to Sisters Beach but abandoned the idea because the very strong wind nearly blew me off the steep, narrow track.

Rocky Cape Lighthouse
The view from Rocky Cape Lighthouse – a rocky cape!
From the Sister’s Beach Walk.

Table Cape

I went to Table Cape Lighthouse in the wrong season! This lighthouse is surrounded by tulip farms and if you went in spring you would be able to see the mass plantings of tulips and the lighthouse. Have a look at this video from Discover Tasmania to get a hint at what you can see at the right time of year. Having said that the road is narrow and winding. The traffic must be horrendous with budding Instagrammers!

Low Head

If you don’t visit any other lighthouses in Tasmania or you’re not really a lighthouse enthusiast, make sure you do visit this one! In addition to the pretty little lighthouse with red stripes, there is a Pilot Station nearby which has a small maritime museum. The museum has an interesting collection and is run by volunteers. If that still is not your cup of tea, have a real cup of tea at the lovely little cafe! If it’s still on the menu don’t miss out on the Eton Mess! (I had it for lunch! Kicking the nutrition goals!) Once again there is accommodation at the lighthouse and at the pilot station. 

Seen from a distance!

I did not actually visit the next three lighthouses and only got glimpses from a distance.

Mersey Bluff.

Mersey Bluff is in Devonport.  You have to access it via a caravan park. It was my intention to try and catch it at sunrise but the boom gates, lack of signage and the dark, made me give up. I did not get to see it until the Spirit of Tasmania sailed past it as I was leaving Tasmania. This lighthouse has vertical red stripes, in contrast to the horizontal bands at nearby Low Head. Apparently a way for sailors to tell the difference in times of old…. 

From the deck of the Spirit of Tasmania

Goose Island Lighthouse

This lighthouse is on one of the small islands near Flinders Island. The closest I could get was through the telescopic lens of my camera from the top of Mt Strzelecki. Even then it is just a tiny speck!  

See that tiny white speck?

Entrance Island Lighthouse

This lighthouse is at the mouth of the Macqaurie Harbour near Strahan. I snapped this picture as I was cruising past on a Gordon River Cruise. As you can see the weather was not great!

Entrance Island Light

About Park Passes

If you are going to be doing any road tripping in Australia it is very worthwhile to invest in park passes. I bought an annual pass for Tasmania online even though I was only going to be there for a few weeks. The annual pass was MUCH cheaper and more flexible than buying individual day passes for each park. Incidentally, even if you are just hiking and not driving, you need a visitor pass which you are meant to carry with you. I already had an annual pass for NSW National Parks.

You can only buy day passes for Booderee. I could not find a similar system for Victoria parks. I’m not saying you don’t need one but I could not find it online.

Launceston: self-guided architectural walk

Launceston is Tasmania’s second largest city with a population of close to 90,000 people. It’s the third oldest city in Australia after the Europeans set up camp around 1804. Wikipedia tells me it was the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to use anaesthetic and the first Australian city to have underground sewers. Impressive!  It also has a large collection of historical buildings and the lack of skyscrapers makes the streetscape very aesthetically pleasing. The absence of man-made canyons and being able to see the sky makes a real difference to the ambiance. There are no windy tunnels with overpowering towering concrete monsters blocking out the sun. Launceston has managed to keep its city relatively free from development and it celebrates its architectural integrity.

Near Brisbane Street mall

I enjoy self-guided architecture walks around cities and I thought that with all the significant buildings, there would be an app or website to do such a thing in Launceston. I could not find an “official” one but did find maps and descriptions put together for architecture students on Pocket Sites. It included both historic and modern buildings of architectural significance. There is a Part A and Part B which covers more than 50 sites. It includes buildings in the CBD with a short detour into a residential street. It took me about three hours to complete and I covered a bit more than 7 km. It was a very pleasant way of getting my 10,000 steps up!

Duncan House – Art Deco – 45 Brisbane Street

Be prepared for some interesting buildings. Not all of them would fit my description of being “significant”. I discovered that there is a style of building, common in the 1980s, called “brutalist”. In my opinion, these buildings are ugly monstrosities! They look cheap and nasty and brutal is an excellent description. 

Henry House 1983. Brutalist Style. Civic Square

ANZ Building: Brutalist style c1980. Cnr Brisbane and George Street

On the other hand, the Regency, Queen Anne(revival), Georgian and Colonial era buildings reflect a time of softer and more delicate facades. No doubt these were made possible due to the presence of cheaper labour, (convicts perhaps?) and materials. 

Terrace Houses in St John Street.

If you’re the type who likes this sort of urban adventure, get out early before all the city workers park their cars and spoil your photos! It’s free and you’ll also go past some nice cafes if you decide to take a break. There are easily accessible public toilets along the way. It’s my kind of touristing!

Details on the Town Hall – Civic Square