Bruny Island Wilderness Cruise

Bruny Island Pennicott cruises

Earlier this year, my parents and I took a three-hour morning wilderness cruise (Pennicott Wilderness Journeys ) along the coast of Bruny Island, Tasmania.  

The key word here is wilderness. This was no 'champagne, canapes and bikinis on deck' kind of cruise. Rather, it was an adrenaline pumping, salt water soaking, spectacular scenery, albatross-ridden kind of cruise. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely!  I have never felt this excited since my cruise off Lord Howe Island a few years ago (stay tuned in the future for an article on that cruise!).

The Location: Bruny Island, Tasmania

The cruise departs from the aptly named Adventure Bay, Bruny Island, and travels south along the coastline past the towering cliff face to a seal colony, before returning.  See the image below.

Bruny Island cruise map

Now, let's just get one thing clear...

Google map of Bruny Island location

That's right! There is only a lot of wild ocean between you and Antarctica!  As you can imagine, when you get towards the southern coastline the conditions can get pretty windy and wild so you need to go prepared.

As for the tour operators, Robert Pennicott and his family have been operating Pennicott Wilderness Journeys since October 1999 and have won many state, national and international awards, including 12 Australian Tourism Awards and 25 Tasmanian Tourism Awards.  

They are strong on environmental sustainability, and to date have contributed $160,000 towards coastal conservation projects undertaken by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.  This kind of generosity speaks for itself.


Rain: It rained on and off for most of the trip.

Moving boat: Even when the boat is stopped, it is still constantly moving with the waves.   

Salt spray: It doesn't matter where you stand or sit on that boat, you will get doused by a wave (or two) sooner or later. They provide a full body rain coat, but you will need protection for your camera gear. For a full list of things to take on a pelagic birding trip, see my article the Dos and Don'ts of Photographing Pelagic Birds.

Seasickness: Unless you are an old salty, I highly recommend you take sea sickness medication (they give you a herbal tablet but if I were you, I'd go prepared with something stronger). 


Wilderness: If you love nature, there is nothing better than rock cliffs, seal colonies and albatrosses! 

Equipment Used 

  • Canon 1Dx
  • EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens
  • Canon Extender (Teleconverter) EF 1.4x III
  • 64GB CF Card + another
  • warm clothing
  • Mum and Dad
  • Camera bag with a plastic cover
  • Tissues for cleaning lens
See my article: Top Tips on Photographing Pelagic Birds for what you should take.


    Three hours. 

    Camera Settings 

    The specific aperture, shutter speed and ISO are set out for each photo. Other things you might be interested in are as follows:

    • Obviously, all the images were handheld on a rocking boat. I needed to have a very wide stance and good balance: see my article The Dos and Don'ts of Photographing Pelagic Birds.
    • I used Manual mode, changing the settings as required (as to which mode to use, see my article: Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual?). It was an overcast day and raining quite a lot so I needed to use a high ISO. The number one priority was getting a sharp image.
    • I always shoot RAW and in High Speed Continuous Mode. This means that I take a LOT of photos and need a fast and large capacity (64GB) camera card. I recommend getting the best you can afford. Camera card speed can affect the amount of photos you can take per second, regardless of what camera you are using. 

    My Best Shots

    Below are the photos I liked best. 

    For most of the non-bird images, I spent a maximum of two minutes post-processing. However, due to the low light conditions, and the need for a fast shutter speed, I used quite a high ISO. As a consequence, I needed to reduce the amount of digital noise in the images which required more time in post-processing (eg. to separate the bird from the background).


    Shy Albatross


    Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta)

    F8, 1/3200, ISO 1600 (@520mm). It's not the best image of an albatross I have ever taken (and definitely won't win any awards), but I was on a moving boat on rough seas in the rain, so I feel immensely proud of this shot. Sometimes a photo means a lot to you because of the difficulty in getting the shot and the memories it evokes. For me, being out on wild seas with these wonderful animals was the ultimate privilege.



    Australian Fur Seal colony off Bruny Island

    Australian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus)

    F8, 1/2000, ISO 1600 (@560mm):  Our guide told us that these are all male seals, which I thought explained the bad smell and terrible behaviour (sorry, I couldn't resist!).  


    Kelp off Bruny Island


    F8, 1/1600, ISO1600 (@560mm).  Ok, so its not a bird or even an animal, but my gosh, how beautiful is that kelp?  On a sad note, however, Bruny Island is home to the last of Tasmania's giant kelp forests which are dying and almost extinct: Tasmanian kelp forests dying as water warms, dive operator Mick Baron, ABC News (February 2017)  



    Australasian Gannet against Bruny Island backdrop

    Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator): F8, 1/2500, ISO 1600 (@560mm).  


    Australian Fur Seal colony

    Australian Fur Seals 'hanging out' on the rocks: F7.1, 1/1600, ISO1600 (@390mm).  


    Bruny Island coastline



    Kelp off Bruny Island 

    Close-up of the beautiful kelp: F7.1, 1/800, ISO 1600 (@318mm).  


    Forest on Bruny Island, Tasmania

    Forested cliff face: F6.3, 1/2000, ISO 1600 (@140mm).  

    Albatross off Bruny Island

    Shy Albatross: F8, 1/3200, ISO 1600 (@520mm).  


    Bruny Island coastline blow-hole

    Blow-hole: F7.1, 1/200, ISO 160.  I deliberately used a slower shutter speed to try and capture the dynamic nature of the water exploding from a cave entrance.


    textures of the rock face, Bruny Island

    Textures of the rock face: F7.1, 1/2000, ISO1600.  

    Kelp, Bruny Island Tasmania

    More kelp! F8, 1/2500, ISO1600 (@560mm)

    Albatross in the waves

    Shy Albatross: F8, 1/3200, ISO 1600 (@520mm).  I love watching these pelagic birds glide in and over waves with effortless grace.

    Australian Fur Seal sleeping

    Australian Fur Seal: F8, 1/1600, ISO1600 (@560mm).  Just chillin'...

    Gap in the cliff face of Bruny Island, Tasmania

    Gap in the rocks: F6.3, 1/2500, ISO 1600 (@147mm).



    Did you find this article helpful? Is there anything else you'd like to know about bird photography? If so, please be sure to leave a comment below.

     I would really love to hear from you!

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