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Encounter Maria Island

20/10/2017

Encounter Maria Island's new ferry Osprey V, that will allow even more visitors to enjoy one of the State's best tourism attractions, was launched today.More

Progress on Cradle Mountain Master Plan

19/10/2017

An important milestone in the Cradle Mountain Master Plan project has been reached following a competitive tender process, with Cumulus Studio chosen to design the Cradle Mountain gateway precinct and the Dove Lake viewing shelter.More

Exciting new proposal for Tasmania's South East Cape

16/10/2017

Award-winning local tourism operator Ian Johnstone can now progress a new project to lease and licence negotiations under the Tourism Opportunities in Tasmania's National Parks, Reserves and Crown Land process.More

Rocky Cape National Park

Highlights

Tang Dim Mer - A Rich Heritage

The human history of Rocky Cape begins many thousands of years ago - even before Tasmania was separated from the mainland. This area would once have stood out as hills above the Bassian Plain which connected Tasmania to the mainland. Those who first came to occupy the southernmost parts of Australia over 35 000 years ago, would have traversed these hills.

Aboriginal occupation and use of this area began shortly after seas reached their current level about 10 000 years ago. The richness of the area's resources is shown by the vast cave middens that reveal the accumulated materials of 8 000 years of continuous occupation. These provide one of the largest and most complete records of the lifestyle of coastal Aboriginal people anywhere in Australia. The middens indicate that at various times seals, scale fish and a variety of shellfish were major items of food. These were supplemented by other game and by edible plants such as grass tree and fern. Middens also reveal a range of tools used for gathering and preparing food and for other cultural activities.

The length of their association with Tang Dim Mer (one of the Aboriginal names for the area) gives it special significance to today's Aboriginal community, who maintain an ongoing presence at Rocky Cape. The area is visited frequently for cultural, spiritual and recreational purposes, and the Aboriginal community is actively involved in planning for its management.

Nature study

Geology

Rocky Cape

Some of the rocks here are among the oldest in Tasmania - Precambrian quartzites that are found in a broad band over much of western Tasmania. Their age has allowed time for much uplifting and folding, which has produced the often contorted patterns we see today. Those near the Rocky Cape lighthouse are typical. Since they were laid down as sandy sediments up to one billion years ago, they have experienced great changes in pressure and temperature. They have been covered by other layers of rock, deformed by major movements in the earth's crust, and in places have had molten rock forced up through them. Now revealed at the surface, these very hard rocks continue to be slowly eroded by the action of water, wind and waves.

The most spectacular erosion has taken place around the caves. These are known as sea caves because they were eroded by the sea when it was up to 20 m higher than today. Sea levels vary with the amount of ocean water held in the polar ice caps. This is dependent on climatic conditions. But the land itself can also rise or fall due to the movement of the earth's crust. The north-west coast of Tasmania is still rising very slowly.

The rocks around Rocky Cape had joints which eroded more rapidly than the surrounding rock and created caves. When sea levels dropped to where they are today, the caves were left above the shoreline, making them ideal for coastal rock shelters. North Cave is the most easily-accessible example. It is about 20 m above sea level. Try to imagine what it was like when the sea rushed into the cave. Amazingly, caves similar to these are also found beneath the sea, created by wave action when sea levels were lower.

Around Anniversary Bay there are outcrops of siltstone. They are of similar age to the more common quartzite, but were originally laid down as fine-grained silts (rather than the coarser sands that formed the quartzite.) The siltstones are so deformed and tilted that they make walking along the coastline quite difficult.

Flora

Rocky Cape has a rich diversity of vegetation. Coastal heathlands, which dominate the hillier parts of the park, contain hundreds of different plant species, many of which flower colourfully in spring and summer. Heath is frequently found on poorer soils, such as those here, which result from the weathered quartzite. The plants are generally low-growing and wind, salt and fire-tolerant. In fact some plants, including many of the 40 orchid species found here, lie dormant underground until fire passes over them.

Wind is another crucial factor. Plants such as wattle and she-oak, which elsewhere are taller and even tree-like, become ground-hugging in these wind-swept heathlands. Spread amongst these are many wildflowers such as purple iris, yellow guinea-flower, white-flowering tea tree, pink and white epacris, boronia and the spectacular Christmas bell (pictured over the page), which flowers from November to February. Xanthorrhoea, with its grass-like skirt and tall flower spike, is also very common throughout the park.

In areas more protected from fire and wind, pockets of trees emerge from the heathland. Small clumps of forest can be found in gullies on the south and east-facing slopes, such as those around Doone Falls. These mini-forests contain eucalypt, wattle, paperbark and banksia, as well as plants more commonly found in wet forest.

One other outstanding plant community is the stand of saw banksia in the hills overlooking Sisters Beach. This giant of the banksia family is restricted to this small part of Tasmania, though it is common in mainland Australia. See if you can see any young banksias here. They require fire to open their seed pods before regenerating. A lack of seedlings may indicate a lack of recent fire.

The plant disease Phytophthora is killing plants in this park. The fungal disease rots the roots of certain native plants, eventually killing them. You may see examples of collapsed grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) and dead banksias in a number of locations here. Because Phytophthora root rot can be carried in soil and water, one way to prevent its wider spread is to clean soil from your boots before visiting any other areas. (Even plants in your home garden can be affected by Phytophthora. Wash mud into drains or away from native plants).