Natural Tasmania: Cliffs, Capes and Bluffs

The Granite Belt of Tasmania's East Coast

Granites were intruded in the east of Tasmania around 395 to 368 million years ago. The St Marys Porphyrite is an ash flow of dacite from 388 ± 1 million years ago. Three large batholiths are in the north east: Scottsdale, Eddystone and Blue Tier. Gravity measurements show that granite underlies most of north east Tasmania at depth. Its western edge is a shelf running from Noland Bay in the north to Great Oyster Bay on the east coast. Granite also underlies the east coast with outcrops on Freycinet Peninsula, Maria Island, and Tasman Peninsula and the Hyppolite Rocks.

The eastern Bass Strait Islands also show large exposures of granite, including Flinders, Cape Barren, and Clarke Island. Even the Tasmanian islands in the far north of Bass Strait are composed of granite, including Rodondo Island, Moncoeur Island, Kent Group including Deal Island, and Judgement Rocks. Hogan Island and Curtis Island. These islands formed a land bridge in the last ice age and butt up against Wilsons Promontory in Victoria.

A bright orange lichen makes the granite that litters the beaches and headlands of Tasmania's east coast glow like hot cinders. The Bay of Fires is famous for its orange-capped coloured boulders, but the Bay of Fires did not actually earn its name because of its appearance. It was named “Bay of Fires” in 1773 by Captain Tobias Furneaux, who looked out and saw countless fires along the Tasmanian coast, leading him to believe that it was heavily populated. It’s likely that the fires the captain saw belonged to an occupation of Aboriginal people living along the shores.

The Cliffs, Capes and Bluffs featured are some of the more well known or most visited in Tasmania.

Painted Cliffs, Maria Island

Maria Island has sparkling white sandy beaches and a coastal mountain range with lush gullies, but it is most known for its spectacular limestone and sandstone cliffs. The Painted Cliffs are one of nature's masterpieces. Beautifully coloured and patterned sandstone, carved and moulded by the sea, and bordered by rock pools teeming with marine life. Although this sort of rock formation is not uncommon, it is rare in a natural situation for it to be so extensively and beautifully exposed. The wonderful patterns are caused by ground water percolating down through the already formed sandstone and leaving traces of iron oxides, which have stained the rock formation.

Fluted Cape, South Bruny Island

Very few easily accessible sections of Australia's coast can compare in terms of stunning beauty to that of Tasmania's South Bruny Island. In just a few kilometres of coastline there is just about every feature imaginable carved out of the cliff face - a blow hole, caves, caverns, natural bridges and dolerite stacks that rise like needles off shore. Of these, few compare with the breathtaking majesty of a group of sea caves which have been carved by the constant pounding of wind and waves ouf of the cliff faces.

The only way to see these caves is by boat; small cruisers take tourists close to the huge caves carved by the wind and surf out of the cliff face but if you prefer to see them at close range, then sea kayak is the only way to go. Cape Bruny Lighthouse at the southern end of the South Bruny National Park offers spectacular views of the Southern Ocean and the island's spectacular coastline from this 'bottom of Australia' lookout.

Mersey Bluff, Devonport

Mersey Bluff is a rocky headland facing Bass Strait and situated at the mouth of the Mersey River near Devonport. Nearby Bluff Beach and playground area incorporates picnic and bbq areas and safe swimming. The Mersey Bluff Lighthouse was established in 1889 and is built of bricks on a stone base. It replaced a succession of beacons and obelisks that had formerly stood on the site. It also replaced the earlier Don River light. It was automated and demanned in 1920. The keeper's cottages stood until demolished in 1966. Its four vertical red stripes were added in 1929, making the light very distinctive.

Fossil Bluff, Wynyard

Table Cape, on the shores of Bass Strait near the town of wynyard, is the remains a volcanic plug which rises to about 170 metres above sea level on the north-west coast of Tasmania. Located on Table Cape, Fossil Bluff is an unusual geological structure comprising glacial Permian Tillite, sandstone and basalt. There is a small beach and the rocks at either end of the beach are characterised by shells which have been caught and fossilised. Embedded into the shore rocks and visible at low tide are Australia's oldest marsupial fossils.

Circular Head, Stanley

Circular Head is a picturesque feature on the Bass Strait coast of north-western Tasmania. The dominating feature of the headland is the affectionately named The Nut (152 metres high), it is a giant rock formation which looms over the town of Stanley. It was sighted by George Bass and Matthew Flinders in 1798 during the first circumnavigation of Tasmania, and they named it Circular Head. The Nut is in fact the solidified lava lake of a long extinct volcano. Visitors can walk up a steep challenging path to the summit or take a leisurely chairlift ride. Either way, 360-degree views await as far as the eye can see.

Table Cape, Wynyard

As you approach the town of Wynyard frok Burnie, Table Cape makes for an impressive and dramatic backdrop for the town. Table Cape is a more or less circular volcanic plug with a flat top, its northern and eastern faces rise steeply from Bass Strait to a height of approximately 170 metres above sea level.

Table Cape's top and surrounding areas are composed of fertile basalt soils and are heavily cultivated, the area is renowned for the annual flowering of tulips during spring and accompanying tulip festival. Whilst the top of Table Cape and surrounding district is heavily utilised for agriculture, the steep and rocky ocean-facing embankments remain largely undisturbed from human activity and are covered in dense scrubland. The 1.26 km2 Table Cape Conservation Area extends along the shoreline from Boat Harbour Beach to the Table Cape State Reserve before continuing along to Freestone Cove near Fossil Bluff.

Eddystone Point

Called Larapuna in the local Aboriginal language, Eddystone is part of the traditional territory of Tasmanian Aborigines. They have re-occupied Eddystone Point since 1999 when the Tasmanian Government agreed in principle to the return of Eddystone Point and Mt. William National Park. The point is essentially one huge midden  and there are over ninety individual middens, nearly sixty artefact sites and some burial sites in Mt. William National Park, which surrounds the point. Please do not disturb any sites you may come across.

s The striking pink granite tower of the Eddystone Point lighthouse was built on a point that juts out into the sea in 1889 in response to many north bound ships being wrecked by coming in too close to the northeast coast of Tasmania. The light was serviced by sea and over the years the landing areas took a battering with jetties having to be rebuilt several times. The lighthouse is in the Mount William National Park. It can be reached by unsealed roads of a fair condition from St Helens or Gladstone (32 km).

Tasman Peninsula

The Tasman and Forestier peninsulas, to the south east of Hobart, contain some of Australia's most interesting, rugged coastline as well as some unique and amazing rock formations. Eaglehawk Neck, which connects the two peninsulas, is a good place from which too see the beautiful coastal rock formations of the Blowhole, Devils Kitchen, Tasmans Arch, Tessellated Pavement and Waterfall Bay. Here, a number of waterfalls flow down its sheer cliffs into the ocean.

Shipstern Bluff

Named because it is shaped like the rear of a sailing ship, Shipstern's Bluff is also known as Devil's Point, because of the huge swells generated at its base. Located in Tasman National Park on the Tasman Peninsula between Cape Raoul and Tunnel Bay, it is famous surfing spot, regarded amongst the surfing community as one of the wildest and most dangerous locations in the world, both for the surf and the prevalence of great white sharks.

Cape Pillar

The three capes of the Tasman Peninsula – Cape Pillar, Cape Hauy and Cape Raoul – can be visited on a three day walk or individually, each within a day or part day. The track to Cape Pillar leaves from Fortescue Bay, a short distance back up the road from the ranger station. It is very well made and climbs gently around the hill and across a few small gullies, emerging on the flatter hilltop after a surprisingly easy climb to Tornado Ridge before descending steeply to Lunchtime Creek. The views beyond Perdition Ponds are superb.

Cape Hauy

The Cape Hauy Track leads from Fortescue Bay, just near the boat ramp. The walk passes through a variety of heath and woodland, with boronia, banksia, pultenaea and pimelia, among others, before coming to the magnificent views of steep cliffs and rock formations. When Cape Hauy comes into view, it looms straight ahead as a series of massive, slanted dolerite bluffs backed by the Tasman Sea. To the right is the next cape south: the prodigious Cape Pillar, with the mass of Tasman Island disguised behind it. The spectacular dolerite columns and cliffs at the tip of Cape Hauy are popular areas for climbing and abseiling. A pair of sea stacks – the Candlestick and Totem Pole – are used by climbers and climbing them is not, you may be pleased to know, a part of this 4 hour return walk.

Cape Raoul

Offering some of the most spectacular coastal lookouts in Tasmania, Cape Raoul is an excellent 14km return day walk within the Tasman National Park. With only a few steep sections, the walk is a comfortable 5 hours allowing ample time to relax and enjoy the expansive views of the surrounding Tasman Peninsular and further south to Bruny Island.

Waterfall Bay

Waterfall Bay is one of the more unique scenic locations in Tasmania, featuring a tall waterfall plunging over 100 metres directly into the sea while being flanked by gorgeous golden cliffs. While the bay itself is always spectacular, the waterfall often slows to a mere trickle and frequently appears as nothing more than a stained black rock face, making it a location best visited after heavy rain.

There are several ways to reach Waterfall Bay. For those with limited mobility or time it is possible to drive right up to the lookout itself via Waterfall Bay Road, however for a more satisfying hike start at Tasman Arch, and follow the well formed trail as it leads past a number of impressive lookouts to the viewpoint across from the falls. This hike is 4 kilometres return and takes around 1.5 hours to complete, but is well worth the effort.