Travel Story Memorable encounters on Bruny Island

An island of the the island of Tasmania, Bruny offers lessons in history and geography. 

Islands in the stream, island of dreams, “no man is an island” . . . you see the romantic thread I’m pulling here.

So, what about a spectacular island lying off a bigger spectacular island? Double the romance?

Judge for yourself. If you’ve been to Bruny, lying off Tasmania’s southern edges, you’ll surely know what I’m on about. If you haven’t, allow me to “Brunify” your travel plans.

To your next itinerary in Australia’s southernmost State, add a car ferry to an island that is two great lumps of picturesque land connected by a narrow isthmus called The Neck. The whole place is just over 60km from northern tip to southern. Beaches, bays, hills, capes. Lots of places to stay.

Like Rottnest only bigger, you’re thinking perhaps. Yes, up to a point, but Bruny is not just a holiday spot. Its residents include farmers, shopkeepers, retirees and nurses who run the health centre. There’s a Men’s Shed. Community singing groups. Plumbers. And BIFFO. Don’t be alarmed — that’s the Bruny Island Fun and Fitness Organisation.

My stay was near Bruny Hotel, at a rented house with a balcony offering superb views west across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to the mainland. I found time to sit outside, reflecting on memorable encounters with locals. There was an artist who makes candles out of soyabean oil. I listened to at least half a dozen Melburnians who had arrived ages ago, intending to give it a year, but stayed put. I marvelled at an echidna making its way carefully along the edge of the road. And late in the afternoon at Adventure Bay, I relished a close encounter of the furred kind.

This was a white wallaby. And the colour was not the greys and browns of the “white rhino” — this marsupial was as white as a snowman. I saw several reasonably tame ones, hopping around in a glade a few metres from the sea. Inquiries produced different views on whether these are albinos, with red eyes, or simply wearers of pristine white coats. Striking photographs in Bruny’s museums show that after mating with the much more common grey wallaby the white mother can have a joey of either grey or her own colour.

Discerning readers of travel do not need my confirmation that Tasmania overall offers a fine education in geography and history. Bruny delivers extra lessons. At The Neck, a climb of the 273 steps affords a view magnificent even by this region’s standards. Looking south, on the left (east) are the waves of Adventure Bay and the Tasman Sea rolling in; on the right (west) is Isthmus Bay, running into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel that separates Bruny from the mainland. An uplifting experience, certainly.

The history class, on the other hand, offers a shameful reminder of mistreatment of Tasmania’s original inhabitants by those who agreed the territory then known as Van Diemen’s Land would make a useful penal colony. At the top of The Neck lookout is a memorial to Truganini (1812-1876), a Bruny islander believed to be the last Tasmanian Aboriginal. At the bottom of the steps is a sign giving information that makes uncomfortable reading. In life she was oppressed and cast aside. In death she is honoured.

It’s somewhat cheering to learn that this location linking South with North Bruny is also a rookery for fairy penguins and home for mutton birds. Faith in human nature is restored by such examples of care for the creatures who share our planet.

And the island’s heritage does embrace many heartening tales of courage and fortitude. At Cape Bruny, which is virtually the southern tip, stands a lighthouse built by convicts in the 1830s. If you’re wondering how that construction was achieved in such a remote spot often buffeted by wind, a small museum in an old cottage gives some background.

A word on getting to and around Bruny. The ferry runs at least 10 times a day from Kettering on the mainland. Many of the island roads that twist, ascend and descend are gravel, so if planning to take a hire car, check with the company. There is a wide choice of land-based tours. As a passenger all you need do is gaze out of the bus window and admire. The more energetic visitor will be glad that Bruny has just become a member of the Great Walks of Tasmania group.

Some of the bay cruises start at Hobart but if you’re not pushed for time the countryside and coast around Kettering and nearby Woodbridge are so pretty that you should inspect these too.

After crossing the briny to Bruny you’ll surely be in the mood, as the sun sets, to raise a toast. A lot of food and wine is produced there. I am no gourmand but I do enjoy a brie or camembert. My toast? “Blessed are the cheesemakers, for they shall add taste to your trip.”

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