The Call Of The Cape
Story and Photography by BEN GLASSON
When heading south why not 'heed the call' and go all the way?
You probably already knew Cape York is the most northerly point of the continent. And you’re probably aware Cape Byron is the most easterly. You might even have known Steep Point is the most westerly. But do you know what the southernmost point of Australia is?
Here is Cockle Creek, a tiny coastal settlement boasting peaceful camping and a rich history. South East Cape is an easy two to three hours’ walk from here. Set on the edge of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area, Cockle Creek draws those who seek the wonder of the wilderness.
Aboriginal tribes long valued this region for the seals, shellfish and land animals it provided during the warmer months. But European eyes first saw the area by accident.
It was 1792 and while searching for distinguished French explorer Jean Francois La Perouse, missing for almost five years, Admiral Bruni D’Entrecasteaux was rounding the southern tip of Tasmania when a storm hit.
It hit with such violence that one of poor old D’Entrecasteaux’s ribs was fractured in the incident. His lieutenant gained control of the ship and steered the vessel to what he though were the sheltered waters of Adventure Bay on Bruny Island. But the bay did not appear as it was supposed to; an erroneous compass bearing coupled with the rollicking storm had sent the Frenchmen to a new, uncharted bay.
Admiral D’Entrecasteaux’s log read;
“It would be vain of me to attempt to describe my feelings when I beheld this lonely harbor lying at the world’s end, separated as it were from the rest of the universe – ’twas nature and nature in her wildest mood…”
He named the bay Recherche Bay, after his ship.
Recherche Bay proved to be a valuable sheltering station for vessels sailing to places like Sarah Island, where the toughest of convicts were sent, on Tasmania’s west coast.
Although during a visit ashore to collect plant specimens, D’Entrecasteaux had a friendly meeting with the local Aboriginal people, subsequent European parties began to encroach on the area, forcing the Aborigines into less-hospitable areas, invoking clashes that were far from friendly.
Inevitably, the Europeans began to utilise the area’s rich resources of minerals, timber, and whales and today the remains of whalers’ huts and iron pots used for boiling whale blubber can still be seen.
Today, Cockle Creek lies within Tasmania’s Southwest National Park with two flat green patches of land just off the beach to accommodate travellers’ tents or vans. While you can spend hours simply delving into Cockle Creek’s colourful past, a trip here really isn’t complete without a visit to South Cape Bay to see the sandy beaches and crumbling cliffs of Australia’s southern tip.
South Cape Bay is accessible via a two or - three hour walk along a boarded track. It’s quite flat and ideal for walkers of all ages. The track actually forms one end of the renowned South Coast track – one of Australia’s most spectacular wilderness walks.
The walking track to South Cape Bay passes through three sections roughly equal in length. It starts by leading through forest, then across the native heaths of Blowhole Valley, followed by a section winding through coastal hinterland scrub.
Pounded by ocean swell originating closer to Antarctica than Australia, South Cape Bay is favoured by surfers hunting monster waves. When the swell is “pumping”, you might experience fearsome four-metre waves collapsing onto the beach.
Sheltered campsites around South Cape Bay offer visitors the chance to spend several days exploring the beaches. Lion Rock, resembling a lion enjoying a lazy bath just off the beach, is a memorable sight. The track can be followed further west for twenty minutes to the picturesque South Cape Rivulet, where campers pitch their tents amidst long stretches of sand, waterfalls and dense, deep-green coastal
The southern right whale was the first whale to be protected by legislation, back in 1935, but by then they were all but extinct anyway. Back at Cockle Creek, a bronze sculpture of an infant southern right whale marks the start of a shorter walk amongst whalebones and ancient midden sites which leads to Fisher’s Point. Walk past dolerite boulders and rocky bayside platforms where whalers of old would butcher their catches.
Cockleshells on the sand reveal how Cockle Creek was named and there are the ruins of an old pilot station, converted to the Sawyers Arms hotel when the whaling industry dried up.
Whichever way you decide to enjoy Cockle Creek, whether it’s fishing, walking, boating or going back in time to discover the region’s colourful past, you’ll be able to boast that you know what lies at the southern reaches of our great country. And that you’ve been there.