Monthly Archives: December 2013

TG #10

Hello and best wishes,

Well, well, we’ve made it to Issue Ten, five months on and forty marvellous stories shared. Thank you very much for staying along with us this far down the road.

After the last issue, with Jon Boxerman’s article on tafoni, we were delighted to have the chance to enthuse about this curious rock formation on ABC Radio Tasmania. Hope you had a chance to tune in.

In this current issue, we’re introducing four new authors and with them, exploring much of the island and the skies above.

Arwen Dyer of Isfryn Photography shares a few of her night skyscapes with us. Arwen is one of the community of Tasmanian aurora photographers, and in this collection she shares some star trails and space stations with us as well.

Alice-Springs based photographer Steven Pearce goes for a trek up the massive Frenchmans Cap as it gets snowed under by a springtime storm, and comes back with a new perspective on the trail.

We march back into fifty years of memory to one of the survey teams marking trails into the thick scrub of the Tasmanian West. Rusty Bitts shares one of his favourite stories from his younger years.

And, to remind us to savour the sun while it’s here, Dean Preston brings us a short, sweet film showing the island in moving pictures.

All the best!

— The Editor

Tasmania in Spring

If you’re planning on visiting Tasmania and would like to visit any of the places featured in this video they are as follows in order of appearance: 1. Cloudy Bay, Bruny Island 2. Royal Tasmanian Gardens, Hobart 3. Wineglass Bay 4. The Bay Of Fires 5. Sheffield 6. Liffey Falls 7. Cradle Mountain 8. Montezuma Falls 9. Port Arthur

A Tale of the West Coast

For anyone who has not spent at least a little time knocking round Tasmania’s west coast, upon which giant rollers of the great Southern Ocean crash in a snarling maelstrom of foam, I can only say that they have missed one of life’s more unique experiences.

A place of a score or more of mines. One or two, producing great wealth for over a century. Others, a momentary kaleidoscope of colour then just as rapidly dying. Still others unknown, the skeletal remains of the pioneers who started them, still hidden in the embrace of some rugged and untamed valley. It’s probably just as well that when I was first there in the early 1960s, places like Queenstown and Zeehan had by then lost much of their previous, but not undeserved “Wild West” personas.

Yet even today, the West Coast generally, is still known for being an area that fosters “grit” and a practical, “have a go” mentality. A place in the main, of a hardy people, as quick to give the “shirt off their backs” as they sometimes are to remonstrate with no holds barred.

The description, above, however, is merely for the purpose of setting the scene from which at least two of the following characters originate. A scene clothed in a hardy and varied array of native flora, much of it unique to the west coast of Tasmania. And all surrounding the once wild and woolly, mini metropolis of Zeehan, with its ten thousand souls, once   boasting in excess of twenty pubs at the beginning of the twentieth century. Now, however, the town is  reduced to two or three hotels by the nineteen sixties.

This is area whose flora ranges from great tracts of button-grass and scoparia, the latter with its aggravating and needle-sharp foliage, to thick, wet sclerophyll forests, complete with swathes of “horizontal” scrub with impenetrable thickets. This is a moderately tall bush whose long slender limbs are rendered, quite literally, horizontal under their own weight, at which point, the procedure begins all over again, and again, to ultimately present a dense natural lattice work. A tightly knit weave, where it is not unusual to find oneself clambering ever higher in efforts to climb out of the stuff, only to be left many metres above terra firma with no easy way down.

Having thus provided some of the necessary background to the scenario in which I, as a wet-behind-the-ears, youth found myself fifty-something years ago, perhaps it’s as well that I introduce my companions who at the time, accompanied me through this particular little account of recent history. To begin with, there was my immediate boss, Kevin Jordon, recently of the Malay Police Force, and now an engineering surveyor for what was then the Forestry Commission. Kevin was a tall, well versed bloke, generally likeable but tending to be brusque if something didn’t quite suit him. This brusqueness was often extended to know-it-all, sixteen year olds. A no nonsense sort, for the most part.

As for me, I had only recently been employed as a surveyors’ chainman, or “nipper” as youngsters on the job were known then. We were stationed in the upper Mersey Valley, above where the Hydro Electricity Commission was to later on construct Parrangana and Rowallen Dams. Not long after this appointment, it was decided by the Hobart bureaucracy that Kevin and I be temporarily seconded to a private logging enterprise based at Zeehan for the purpose of surveying a couple of secondary roads into known forest stands of the much valued King Billy pine.

To augment our tiny survey team, we were allotted two West Coast bush men whose jobs were to appraise us of the location of the  timber and to literally carve a track through the almost impossibly dense under-growth by means of razor sharp axes, while following the survey’s “grade line”. The bigger of the two bush men was a gentle giant of a man who I’ll henceforth refer to, simply as Jack. What I do remember of Jack is of a fifty-ish, easy going, big fellow with dark wavy hair and a likeable grin. Something of a fossicker it seemed and always happy to impart what he knew about the place in which he lived and worked. In fact, it was he who was to give me my first glimpse of gold, a few specks of which he brought to work one morning, in an Aspro bottle (when Aspro did indeed, come in little glass bottles) and with the owner taking much satisfaction from our obvious excitement at seeing the precious metal in all its minuscule glory.

By contrast, Jack’s mate and apparent “leader” of the pair, was, Peter Casey, a small wiry man, also around the fifties mark, with the first two fingers missing from one hand. A feisty little bloke with a quick wit and ready answer to almost any situation, he and Kevin soon found themselves at odds with each other. The first occasion came on our very first day’s “recky” into the west coast’s nether regions– it all started with yours truly.

Typical of so much of the region’s dense understorey, we had no sooner stepped from the Land Rover and into the surrounding scrub, that upon looking back not a trace could be seen of either the vehicle or the road. These were environs in which more than one intrepid pioneer and others since, had become hopelessly lost with neither sun nor stars to be seen from which to get their bearings.

Suddenly however, I had been transported to a different world. A wild, exciting, Tolkein fairy-land. A forest, if not enchanted, at least one exotic in its variety of thickly growing trees. Some haughty, ram-rod straight and unbending like the celery-top pines. Others like the willowy, sassafras, their lime green leaves shimmering in what sunshine penetrated their habitat. Or still others, like the myrtle, with their great strong limbs clad in a cloak of lichen, and dinner plate sized fungi in shades of beige and orange along with an array “herring-bone” ferns among the myrtles’ deep green foliage. Then there was the forest’s, great, great, great, grandparents, the Huon and King Billy pines, both species gnarled and arthritic and draped appropriately in copious, flowing gowns of moss. Stoic and steadfast in their wisdom it seemed.

And through it all, was the great defensive wall of horizontal, through which was interwoven through the bauera with its rough bark and tiny, prickly leaves which after a time, along with other bits of detritus, began to find a way down shirt fronts, only to stick to sweaty bodies and irritate the skin. Now and then, while high in this tangled under-growth I would glimpse an anonymous mountain peak. It was here that the two bushman demonstrated the toughness and the skills for which West Coasters generally have become known, as they literally carved a burrow-like track in which, I’m sure, Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit would have felt quite at home.

Having persevered for a number of hot and clammy hours, a welcome halt was called for in which to shake our shirts free of leaves and bits of bark, and to roll a smoke before heading back to the “Rover” and boiling a billycan of sweet black tea.

It was at this point, that the first signs of dissent arose, with Kevin maintaining a course considerably at odds with the direction in which Peter claimed the Land Rover to be situated. After several minutes discourse, becoming increasingly heated between the two alpha males, I in all my, not-so-many-years of wisdom, dared to venture the opinion that in fact, they were both wrong. This presumptuousness precipitated a withering glare and a caustic observation or two from Kevin, alluding to young know-alls. I was grateful therefore when Peter, asked quietly; “And what makes you say that lad?” Having been given the chance, I was only too willing to explain (with what I hoped to be, suitably adequate nonchalance, of course) that upon entering our particular patch of bush, we had passed by, two very straight and very tall, celery-top pines, standing like a pair of ship’s masts (for that was indeed what they appeared to be, to me) the tops of which lined up perfectly with the distant mountain peak. Naturally, by turning around a hundred and eighty degrees and with the mountain at our backs, I was able to point to where the tops of the two trees could still be discerned and beyond which, should be the Land Rover.

It was then by unspoken agreement that I was allowed to lead the way until a short time later we stepped from the thick under-growth and almost into the side of the vehicle. How proud I felt when Peter took my soft, boyish hand in his own calloused paw and without a word, shook vigorously. I was just getting the feeling back in my fingers when Jack sidled up with his usual grin and with one big arm around my shoulders gave them a congratulatory squeeze that I can feel to this day. Kevin? Well yes, he did manage; “My apologies”, but then, bending down until his eyes were level with mine, he added: “Just don’t let that happen too often, will you?”

Ascending Frenchmans Cap in the Snow


Few walks in Australia have a reputation that precedes them in the same way that Frenchmans Cap does. This reputation is not for its inbound hike being a difficult, drawn-out slog, or even for its dramatic views that have inspired generations of walkers. No, this reputation is all about the Lodden Plains, a geographical feature seemingly so mundane that it would hardly warrant a mention. The “Sodden Loddens” may be the best-known section of muddy trail in Tasmania, if not in all of Australia. It was more than twelve years ago that I was first was told of them and only recently that I decided to see what it was all about.

However, the Sodden Loddens are no more. Extensive track work has all but bypassed the mud bath, thanks to a million dollar donation by Dick Smith and a matching half of a million dollar commitment from the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. The work was predicted to take more than eight years to complete due to the difficult terrain. It may sound like a crazy amount of money to spend on a walking track, but its remote location and poor weather render it all but inaccessible for large equipment. Helicopters are needed to carry in all the required equipment including pallettes of wood for constructing boardwalk sections and a small mechanical digger to move the large amounts of earth and clear trees.

The new section know as Leaghton’s Lead opened up in July 2013, and considering the alternative, is a pleasant stroll. Leaghton’s Lead winds though Nothofagus forest and buttongrass plains while contouring along the side of a small hill, rather than the sodden valley below. The result is a well drained and compacted track. There are some flat sections that are fast becoming muddy, and after a full walking season they will inevitably be notable obstacles. But the comparison between the old and the new sections is, I’m sure, like that between night and day.

I would like to think that the Sodden Loddens would have taken us many more hours and demanded so much more effort than what this new section of track did. But despite the bypass, we completed this section in just over the six hours described in the track notes. This was mainly due to our casual speed, occasional botanising, and mandatory tea stops. The steady rain for much of the day and the steep forested section as we approached the hut at Lake Vera, meant that we arrived at the hut very much tired and wet to the bone regardless.

The summit of Frenchmans Cap – the dominant quartzite peak of the Tasmanian southwest- was a demanding day’s walk from Lake Vera. We had not planned it this way:we had been rained in for a full day at Lake Vera and our trail time was reduced to three days. Spending an entire day in the hut was very comfortable, and it was my partner Jen’s thirtieth birthday after all, so a rest day was more than appropriate. It is a well stocked hut: with playing cards, a dutifully filled in log book which made for good reading and large windows allowing us to take in the surrounds and do some lazy birdwatching.

As the next day dawned, the weather had not improved. At the higher altitudes of the walk, heavy snow had fallen during the night. As we climbed out of the valley, the track changed from a steep climb in humid forest to an open subalpine track exposed to the wind. The sweat that had been trying to cool us was now freezing cold, and the snow covered vegetation overgrowing onto the track dumped snow on us. The leader of our party would brush past an icy branch… and then, as the branch recoiled, wet slushy snow was flung at the next person in the party.

It might be a miserable sounding prospect to some and conditions where less than ideal for walking, but it was undoubtedly some of the most beautiful walking I had ever done. Mist covered towers of quartzite surrounded us and reached far into the sky. Domes of Richea scoparia topped with white snow and burnt out King Billy pines packed with snow on their westward sides lined the track. It was, aside from the mild discomfort of being covered in fast melting, slushy snow and freezing cold wet clothing, simply stunning.

As we ascended the mountain trail, the sight of the Lake Tahune hut just a few metres in front of us was cause for celebration and a hot cup of tea. The party that had stayed in there the previous night had been very cold, and as we stepped inside and changed into some dry clothes the temperature inside was just four degrees. It was still a good deal warmer than outside, and by all comparisons, luxurious.

Our preparations to set off for the summit after this short break were made exciting with the daunting prospect of putting back on the cold wet clothing and frozen shoes. All that was required to warm up our body temperatures was a good fast ascent of a steep hill. Luckily, this is what we had immediately ahead of us.

On the trail high above Lake Tahune, it was possible to see back down to the hut and and then far into the south west. as the clouds lifted and began to break up. Up until this point, we had not seen much of the surrounding landscape, so these brief glimpses inspired us to keep going. Higher on, the track became completely covered in snow and was sometimes coved by deep drifts up to a metre deep.

However, as we climbed so did the clouds. On this very last section of the summit track, we were reminded of everything we had done to earn these views of the landscape: the first day’s walk on the new trail,, a second day of solid rain ,and the third day’s slog up through the forest and snow. All these experiences together gave us a new perspective over the southwest- not only its landscape and weather, but just how unimaginably beautiful it can be.

Snow-capped peaks breaking out of the forest as far as the eye could see drifted in and out of the cloud cover, and shimmered in the occasional spotlight of sunlight breaking though the clouds. The iconic alpine plants of Tasmania, including the pandanus and the tortured snow gums were made even more of a sight by the dusting of snow. All of this was combined with the challenging final climb to the summit, of the perpetually impressive Frenchmans Cap.

We had such luck to have these brief revelations of the world around us that it was almost impossible not to stop and stare in wonder. What more could a bushwalker want from a few days out in the wilderness?

Much more at


Auroras and Star Trails – Ten Stunning Nightscapes

Artist Statement – Nightscapes:

I have a reverence for nature and an interest in how inner experience responds to the natural world, to place, climate and time. I took these photographs of the aurora australis, stars and the moon above various Tasmanian landscapes. While most sleep or dwell indoors surrounded by artificial lights, noise and technology, I am awake and ecstatic, finding solace under silent night skies.

1.    Dancing light
The aurora australis dances over Pipe Clay Lagoon, Tasmania, 29th June 2013.
2.    Mountain star trail
The night sky in the mountains is truly mesmerizing. With no light pollution, the stars are many and bright. Mount Field, Tasmania, August 2013.
3.    Milky Way tree
A Pencil Pine under the Milky Way. Mount Field, Tasmania, August 2013. Star spikes added in Photoshop.
4.    City glow
Glow from Hobart’s city lights brings these dead trees alive. South Arm, Tasmania, August 2013.
5.    Fading aurora
A faint and fading aurora australis glows in the early morning. South Arm, Tasmania, August 2013.
6.    River aurora 1
A spectacular aurora australis reflected in the river; the International Space Station passing by. Huon River, Tasmania, 9th November 2013.
7.    River aurora 2
The aurora’s ever-changing glow. Huon River, Tasmania, 9th November 2013.
8.    River aurora 3
The fading moments of a stunning light display. Huon River, Tasmania, 9th November 2013.
9.    River aurora star trail
Multiple images stacked to create circling stars amidst the aurora. Huon River, Tasmania, 9th November 2013.
10.    Moonscape
Cliffs and shrubs silhouetted by the light of a half-moon. Clifton Beach, Tasmania, November 2013.



TG #9

Hello and best wishes,

In this ninth issue of Tasmanian Geographic we’re approaching the end of the calendar year with a nice and varied issue.

For starters, we are introduced to some of the most beautiful of all natural rock formations- the tafoni that develop in sandstone. These are an artist’s delight, a zoological haven, and a geologist’s puzzle. Did you know there are tafoni on Mars?

Gin-Clear Media is a New Zealand company specialise in fly-fishing movies. They reckon Tasmania is the best place in all of Australia for this elegant outdoor pursuit, and in a stunning short film trailer they give a sense of what it’s like chasing these clever fish.

Double Convex Photography came for a sharp and fast visit to the island and recorded the trip in exhausting detail. Want to see what it’s like to travel the roads and see the sights? Check out their timelapse, and keep an eye out for some brilliant shots at some roadside destinations!

And a special thanks to the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority for sharing an introduction to this World Heritage treasure. Learn what makes this place so special, so accessible, and so interesting.

Hope you enjoy reading these as much as we enjoyed editing them!

— The Editor

An Introduction to World Heritage: Port Arthur and the Coal Mines

Most Tasmanians know something of the extraordinary history of Port Arthur and that visiting the historic site is an absolute must during any visit to Tasmania.

Fewer people – before they visit – know about the rich variety of experiences that await them, experiences that bring the amazing story of Port Arthur to life. Visitors can discover the many stories of the place through a variety of interpretive experiences, including guided tours, a harbour cruise, audio tour, multimedia presentations, furnished houses, museum displays, a convict study centre, an interpretation gallery and immersive, high-tech audio installations at the Dockyard and Separate Prison.


Port Arthur Historic Site - by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority_2400px

Port Arthur Historic Site – by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

The sheer scenic beauty of the place is another of its appeals – the boulevards of towering oaks and English elms, the charismatic ruins set amid expanses of lawns and convict-era gardens contrast the natural bushland setting on a stunning harbour and the harsh discipline of its past.

Port Arthur Historic Site - by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority_2400px

Port Arthur Historic Site – by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

It is a big site – around 40 hectares – and it’s important to allow time to fully appreciate it. Port Arthur’s Experience Passes allow visitors to get the most from their stay in the area. Three levels of daytime experience passes – Bronze, Silver and Gold – combine various experiences and catering options; visitors choose the one that corresponds with the amount of time they wish to spend at the site. The After Dark Pass combines the site’s famous lantern-lit Historic Ghost Tour with a delicious meal at Felons Bistro.

Spending at least one night on the Tasman Peninsula will allow time to visit the fascinating Coal Mines Historic Site at Saltwater River, about a 25-minute drive from Port Arthur, and to explore the stunning sea cliff coastal scenery of the area.

The Port Arthur Historic Site is the best-preserved convict settlement in Australia and among the most significant convict era sites in the world. Together with the associated Coal Mines Historic Site, home to Tasmania’s first operational mine and another integral part of the colony’s penal system, Port Arthur combines history and scenic beauty with innovative interpretation to tell the stories of the harsh discipline and determined industry of the settlements during the convict era.

The Penitentiary across Mason Cove - by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority_2400px

The Penitentiary across Mason Cove – by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

It is a place to discover Australian history and connect directly with some of the origins of contemporary Australian culture. For more than forty years, until its closure in 1877, Port Arthur was a penal settlement as well as a military and industrial centre, encompassing mining, farming, timber cutting, boat building and many other trades.

Today, it stands as powerful testimony to the people who were incarcerated and who worked and lived at Port Arthur during the convict era and the important contributions they made to the development of Tasmania. It is the physical embodiment of a powerful and fundamental component of Australia’s history.

Visitors are encouraged to discover that history and the many stories of the place. They can interact with the Site in a range of ways, through a variety of innovative interpretive techniques, ranging from guided tours, furnished houses, museum displays, a convict study centre, interpretation gallery, as well as our new high-tech audio installation at the Dockyard.

The Port Arthur Historic Site is a wonderful place to explore, with more than thirty historic buildings, ruins and restored gardens are spread about the 40 hectare site, in a parkland setting with avenues of European trees set amid wild and beautiful scenery and native forest.

The Site offers excellent visitor services, including cafes, a gift shop, transport for those with limited mobility, restrooms, museum, interpretation gallery and a visitor information centre. Every visitor receives a 36 page colour guide book (available in English, Chinese, Japanese, French or German), and interpreters are welcome and accommodated on guided tours.

Port Arthur boasts a deepwater harbour and is becoming an increasingly popular stop for cruise ships as they head to and from Hobart.

There is a lot to see and do – over 30 historic buildings and ruins to explore and a range of guided tours and other activities. Spending at least one night in the area will allow time to visit the fascinating Coal Mines Historic Site, about a 25 minute drive from Port Arthur near Saltwater River, and to explore the stunning sea cliff coastal scenery of the area.

Coal Mines Historic Site
Situated on the Tasman Peninsula near Saltwater River, the Coal Mines Historic Site was Tasmania’s first operational mine. Developed both to limit the colony’s dependence upon costly imported coal from New South Wales, as well as serving as a place of punishment for the “worst class” of convicts from Port Arthur, the mine was operational for over 40 years.

Today, the Coal Mines offers visitors the chance to discover among the uncrowded ruins and scenic vistas a different perspective on Tasmania’s convict history. It is a great place to explore on foot, with a number of tracks and paths around the extensive site. There are signs and displays to guide you around and inform about the history of the Site. A printed leaflet about the Coal Mines is available from the Visitor Centre at the Port Arthur Historic Site.

The Coal Mines - by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority_2400px

The Coal Mines – by Jonathan Wherrett, courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

The Coal Mines site is approximately a 1¼ hour drive from Hobart and a 25 minute drive from Port Arthur. A visit is a fascinating adjunct to any visit to the Port Arthur Historic Site. Entry to the Coal Mines Historic Site is free.

Management of the Site was transferred from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service to the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority in late 2004.
Walking options around the Site range from a few minutes to several hours. There are basic picnic and toilet facilities at the Site, but it is not staffed.

How to get there
The Coal Mines Historic Site is located on the scenic Tasman Peninsula. From Hobart, take the Tasman Highway A3 to Sorell and turn right onto the A9 for Port Arthur. Just after Taranna, turn right on the B37 and continue to Premaydena. At Premaydena, take the C341, signposted to Saltwater River, to the right and follow the signposts to the Coal Mines Historic Site.

Both the Port Arthur and Coal Mines Historic site, plus the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, located in South Hobart, are managed by statutory body the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority. The three sites are among eleven sites around Australia that constitute the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. Five of these Sites are in Tasmania.

Port Arthur Historic Site
Arthur Highway, Port Arthur TASMANIA 7182
1800 659 101

Double Convex: Tasmania In Timelapse


In December 2012, I took a fifteen day vacation to Tasmania. I probably had more time on my hands than I needed for such a trip. However, I had plenty of memory, and was armed with two GoPro HD Hero Action Cameras, and a Canon 5D Mark II.
During this trip, I shot over 377GB of time lapse JPG images using the GoPro cameras, and just under 46GB of still RAW images using the 5D Mark II.

Tasmania truly is a world apart – and what if offers is purely natural. It is rugged as it is beautiful.

This video attempts to capture the journey and deliver it in a short and sharp four and a half minutes.

The Source- Fly Fishing in Tasmania

The Source: Tasmania:
From Gin-Clear Media

Filmed by Nick Reygaert in stunning widescreen format, this is a captivating portrayal of what it means to fly fish in Tasmania.

The people, the scenery, the weather, the rivers, the lakes, the wilderness and the inevitable hunt for trophy trout.

Watch anglers battle giant sea trout in the wild rivers of Tasmania’s West Coast, stalk massive tailing trout in crystal clear highland lakes, marvel at the hidden beauty of rainforest creeks and experience a great hatch on Tassie’s fabled lowland rivers.

More than a century ago the first trout to ever be successfully transported into the Southern Hemisphere were hatched in the Salmon Ponds Hatchery in New Norfolk, Tasmania…..therefore when it comes to fly fishing downunder Tasmania is THE SOURCE.


What is Tafoni?

➤ Jon Boxerman, author of, describes these beautiful landscape features for Tasmanian Geographic, and puts them in a global scientific context.

On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley


Tafoni are ellipsoidal, pan- to bowl-shaped, natural rock cavities. These cavernous weathering features include tiny pits, softball-sized cavities, truck-sized caves, and nested and cellular honeycomb forms. Tafoni typically develop on inclined or vertical surfaces and occur in groups. These exquisite and fascinating cavernous weathering landforms are present on the surfaces of many different kinds of rocks located in a multitude of geographic regions around the world. Since the late 1800s, more than 100 research articles have been published in numerous languages on this geomorphic topic.

Small tafoni can be found below the Octopus Tree on Mt Wellington

Small tafoni can be found below the Octopus Tree on Mt Wellington

Tafoni-like features comprise a class of relatively deep, rounded to elongated natural rock cavities bored primarily by rock weathering processes and secondarily by erosional processes. In the geological literature, the distinction between cavernous weathering features is muddled. Tafoni structures include: small tafoni, pits, hollows, niches, recesses, alcoves, alveoles, alveolar weathering pits, gnammas, stone fretting, fretwork, recesses, honeycomb, and honeycomb weathering. Geomorphologists point to salt weatheringdifferential weathering processes, lithologic variation, and micro-climates, as important factors on the development of these cave-like rock structures.

The Word “Tafoni”

Tafoni is the plural noun and adjective; tafone is the singular noun for a single cavern. Occasionally, researchers unnecessarily pluralize tafoni (i.e., tafonis) to name multiple tafoni.


A detailed view of Southern Tasmanian tafoni. On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent ValleyOn the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent ValleyA detailed view of Southern Tasmanian tafoni. On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

A detailed view of Southern Tasmanian tafoni. On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

The origin of the word tafoni is unknown, but has Mediterranean origins. The word tafoni may stem from the Greek word taphos meaning tomb or sepulcher (Battisti and Alessio, 1957, after Twenhaile, 1992, pg. 44). Tafoni may also stem from a Corsican (French) word, taffoni, meaning windows, or from tafonare meaning to perforate (Wilhelmy, 1964). In Sicilian, tafoni means windows (Goudie, 2003). The earliest printed uses of the term “tafoni” may be credited to Reusch (1882) (after Dragovich, 1969) and Pench (1884), whom both described Corsican tafoni.

A rock climber clambers on tafoni near Sphinx Rock on Mount Wellington

A rock climber clambers on tafoni near Sphinx Rock on Mount Wellington

Charles Darwin (1839) may have first described tafoni while on the Beagle when passing through King George’s Sound in Western Australia. Though he thought the forms he discovered along the coastline were a product of calcareous casts of branches of trees or roots (Mustoe, 1982; Turkington and Paradise, 2004), scientists now know the eolianite he observed is a weathering product.

Darwin writes on Feb 7, 1836:

One day I accompanied Captain Fitz Roy to Bald Head; the place mentioned by so many navigators, where some imagined that they saw corals, and others that they saw petrified trees, standing in the position in which they had grown. According to our view, the beds have been formed by the wind having heaped up fine sand, composed of minute rounded particles of shells and corals, during which process branches and roots of trees, together with many land-shells, became enclosed.  The whole then became consolidated by the percolation of calcareous matter; and the cylindrical cavities left by the decaying of the wood, were thus also filled up with a hard pseudo-stalactical stone.  The weather is now wearing away the softer parts, and in consequence the hard casts of the roots and branches of the trees project above the surface, and, in a singularly deceptive manner, resemble the stumps of a dead thicket.”

Where Are They Found?

Tafoni are widely distributed around the world (and the solar system!) in diverse climates such as: temperate, humid, hot and arid, and frigid and arid regions, as well as at a range of elevations from sea level to more than 2,200 meters above mean sea level (in South America). Tschang (1974) and Mustoe (1982) present excellent accounts of their worldwide occurrences.

Despite the diverse environmental and geographic settings in which tafoni exist, there is general convergence in the literature that temperate near-shore environments and arid deserts (frigid or hot) are the most favorable locations for tafoni development.

On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

The tafoni caves on the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

Where in Tasmania?

You can look for tafoni in sedimentary rocks, such as the Sphinx Rock or Octopus Tree onMount Wellington, or in Waterfall Valley or at the base of Cradle Mountain along tho Overland Track. Tafoni structures are also present in the granite boulders  at Freycinet National Park.

A detailed view of Southern Tasmanian tafoni. On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

A detailed view of Southern Tasmanian tafoni. On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

 Weathering Patterns

In the organic and inorganic realms of the natural world, a delicate balance exists between energy conservation, space, and time. Unifying themes among patterns appear in a plethora of different contexts in nature.

Peter Stevens (1974) describes recurring spatial themes in the natural world such as spiraling, branching, cracking, bursting, and packing patterns. Since natural systems and living beings tend to expend minimal amounts of energy to maximize motion, they tend to conform to utilize 3-D space as efficiently as possible. In so doing, similar forms repeat. It is within these unifying themes in nature  wherein lies a bounty of beauty and intrigue.

A detailed view of Southern Tasmanian tafoni. On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

A detailed view of Southern Tasmanian tafoni. On the slopes of Mount Dromedary in the Derwent Valley

During evolution of the rock weathering pattern, new forms emerge including relatively shallow ellipsoidal hollows with thin walls, cavities with angular wall intersections, and cavern wall vestiges appearing as labyrinthine tendrils. Some researchers note additional forms associated with the tafoni pattern such as: convex walls, overhanging visors, and smooth, gently sloping floors. Many geologists also describe tafoni enlarging in an upward and backward direction.

Martian Tafoni.

Of all the locations tafoni exist, Mars may be the most unforeseen. Tafoni-like features on Martian outcrops suggest that weathering could be active or may have been once active billions of years ago (Smith, 1983; Rodriguez-Navarro, 1998). Images taken by Pathfinder (below) probably provided some justification for visiting Mars in search of water. The photograph below depicts honeycomb forms that may have formed long ago (~2 Ba) in the presence of moisture or perhaps these features represent holes vacated upon dislodgment of blueberry-like concretions or spherules.

The Martian rock outcrop named “Half Dome”. Images from the NASA Pathfinder mission to Mars (available at NASA)

You can learn more about Martian Geology at NASA Science.

To see some Tasmanian tafoni, click on over to the gallery of tafoni on Mount Dromedary Tafoni.