Cape Direction and Iron Pot Lighthouse

I have long been enamoured with Iron Pot Lighthouse. It is a simple structure on a tiny island (less than half a hectare), with a rich history. It protects boats entering The River Derwent as they head in from the east coast of Tasmania. Just like Tasman Bridge, Wrest Point Casino and Salamanca Place, Iron Pot is intrinsically Hobartian.

Iron Pot ReefHistorically, Iron Pot Lighthouse is Australia’s oldest working lighthouse (and her second ever built). It was the first to be converted to gas, and the first to run on solar power alone (1976). It once housed a lighthouse keeper in a two storey stone building, until a storm overwhelmed it, leaving seaweed on the second storey balcony. The storm did not destroy the building, but quite frankly, who would want to live there after that?!

There’s a great article here detailing the history.

The closest you can get to Iron Pot, without getting in a boat, is to walk to the bottom end of Cape Direction, at the south-east corner of South Arm. Access is restricted to walking, thanks to an army base, called Fort Direction. From all reports, and my own experience, it is an almost uneasy truce between the public and the fort residents. Walkers are welcome to make their way to the end of the cape, although there is signage all the way to the end suggesting that it may not be safe to do so. Also, don’t leave the track, or you may be prosecuted, accidentally shot, or step on an unexploded device.

Armed with that information, and knowing I needed to be there before dawn to get the images I wanted, I made my way to the cape after dark, with camping gear and photographic equipment.

Southern Lights

I’d checked out two different blogs, one of them here, about the walk down to Cape Direction. I figured I’d be okay, although it was a bit of grey area regarding camping. Armed with only satellite images for a camping spot, I set off in the dark. To get there, I had to park at a playground near the beach and walk along the coastline. The tide was high, meaning I had about a metre wide path most of the way. At one point, the path leads up to a large grassy area, with a memorial. Again, rather than cut straight across, I stuck to the coastline, and ducked back down to the next beach as soon as possible. At one point, near the end, I somehow ended up on the wrong side of the fence, which I rectified as soon as I realised!

With the camp set up, I took a few astro shots – something I’ve been trying to perfect for some time, without a great deal of success. Although, with my new Pentax K1 Mark II, I did manage to get some nice shots for a change.

I finally got to bed and closed my eyes for around 5 minutes, when I heard a clinking sound outside. Wildlife? I dunno. When I opened my eyes, I saw lights playing on the outside of the tent. Busted! Did this mean I had to leave? I put my shoes on and got out of the tent and… nothing! There was no-one around! After being spooked for a few minutes, I figured I may as well get some sleep.

I woke around 5am, and lay there until the alarm went off at 6.

Morning CoffeeThe whole reason for camping out was to get the full dawn process, looking over Iron Pot Lighthouse, as a time-lapse. The K1-II has a great Interval function, where I can take up to 2000 photos at set intervals. I set up the tripod overlooking the reef and lighthouse (which I could just make out in the dark!), and set it going – one photo every 15 seconds for two hours. With the camera doing its job, I pulled out the old camera and started snapping off shots as the sun came up.

Tasman DawnMeanwhile, I packed up the camp and set the coffee brewing. As I was packing up the last of the gear, I looked up the hill (the sun was almost up) and saw a man wearing a hi-vis vest making his way down towards me. Again, I thought I was busted and about to be moved along! I pretended not to see him, and kept packing up the gear. When I was done, I looked around. He was nowhere to be seen!

Tasman Dawn with GullsFor the next hour, I set about taking more photos, while I waited for the time-lapse to finish. Watching the sun come up over the Tasman Peninsula was glorious. Even more amazing was watching a pod of dolphins swim through the reef from The Derwent to Frederick Henry Bay. And about half an hour later, seeing them head back the other way.

Iron Pot Dawn from Pete Mellows Photographer on Vimeo.

Walking out, it was great seeing where I was going for a change! It took only half an hour to walk the 2.5km back to the car.

Would I do it again? I probably wouldn’t camp out – I really don’t know what they thought. But I would definitely go out there on a day trip.

At least I didn’t get shot, or step on a UXB.

Written by Pete

Amateur Photographer


  1. Cheers for the link. That was a cheeky move just winging it down there at night 😊 I requested permission to do so from the Department of Defence but was denied access.


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