Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There are Queers and Queer Fairy Penguins on this Island

One of my all time favorite hidden places in Tasmania through another's eyes...a surfer who found Cloudy Bay. Shhs. Don't tell anyone else.

Patrick Steel
guardian.co.uk

At Cloudy Bay, on the south coast of Bruny Island, Tasmania the waves are barreling towards the shore. My surf instructor, a gnarled 50-year-old called Scotty, looks at me slightly nervously and asks: "How did I do?"

Scotty, you may have already guessed, is not a professional instructor. In fact, his only qualification is a love of surfing that saw him relocate from mainland Tasmania to Bruny some 20 years ago so that he could be nearer to the beach. A casual enquiry in a local cafe led to my being given his number, and a phone call later he appeared in his ute (utility vehicle) with a couple of wetsuits and two boards in the back.

This, apparently, is the way that things are done on Bruny. Situated almost as far south as it's possible to go on the Australian continent, an hour's drive and a short ferry ride from Hobart, it has a population of 550 and is undeveloped and unspoiled, with very little tourist infrastructure but an impressive can-do attitude. You want to go surfing? Here's the number of someone who can take you. You want to go fishing? There's a guy in town who has a boat. Hiking? Look around you.

In her book The Alphabet Of Light And Dark, the Australian author Danielle Wood describes Bruny as following Tasmania "like a comma, a space for pause". This description certainly fits the place where I am staying. Adventure Bay Holiday Village, despite having a name like a Disney attraction, is in fact a series of austere but comfortable self-catering cabins, some of them with views over the bay where Captain Cook once landed and the woods around it that boast Australia's only white wallabies. Mine looks out over a woodland stream that runs out to the sea. It is a good place to unwind, although the friendly ducks quacking outside my door each morning are determined to stop me from sleeping too late. There's also a cafe on hand, in case the self-catering option becomes too much like hard work, but I've opted for self-catering for a reason: I want to go fishing.

Enquiries in the town lead me to Chris who, as well as running the local trailer park with his wife has, for the past five years, been building up a sideline taking people out in his boat. Although he reminds me of Alf from Home and Away with his liberal use of phrases like "strewth" and "fair dinkum", Chris evidently knows the bay inside out. Within a couple of hours we've filled a large bucket with cod, ocean perch, parrotfish, and flatheads, and he's also caught some crayfish in the nets.

We take our haul back to the trailer park, where they are gutted and filleted in front of us, and I leave with a bag full of flatheads and instructions on the best way to cook them (fried in butter). Inviting the couple in the next door cabin to the communal kitchen for dinner, we eat the fish along with fresh oysters they picked up from the oyster farm in Great Bay, followed by homemade cheese from a nearby fromagerie and a bottle of Bruny Island wine from what claims to be Australia's most southern vineyard. This, we agree, is the life.

After dark we drive up to The Neck, a thin isthmus connecting the north and south ends of the island and home from October to April to a colony of fairy penguins and muttonbirds. A park ranger is on hand to show us how to fix red cellophane over our torches so that we can watch them returning to their burrows on the beach without disorientating them with bright light. The air is thick with squawking birds swirling above us in the night sky, and on the drive back we have to swerve several times to avoid stray penguins, hypnotised by the headlights, tottering along the dirt track.

I feel some empathy for those penguins after staggering out of Cloudy Bay, having spent a couple of hours thrashing around in the white water, dragging the surf board behind me while Scotty looked on in despair. Before leaving the island, I think to myself, I really must learn some of that Bruny can-do attitude.

The Bruny Island Ferry runs every day from 7.30am until 7.30pm, taking approximately 30 minutes, and a return fare costs $11 off peak and $13 peak hours for a normal vehicle. Go to www.discovertasmania.com for more info.

For more information on gay-welcoming Tasmania and hidden gems like Bruny Island, see RainbowTourism.com and the new RainbowTourism.com.au. Some of the most exquistie food on the planet comes from Bruny Island, including handcrafted wine, chocolate, cheese, cherries and fresh seafood. You'll never go hungry and you could eat a penguin in a pinch, I suppose.

-Rainbow Concierge Dee, a Tasmaniac

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