One of the great lapidary materials you can find in Tasmania is Penguin Jasper.
While jasper is a fairly common gemstone, the coast between the towns of Penguin and Ulverstone in north-western Tasmania is a particularly good place to find high-quality stones. There is even a dedicated Fossicking Area in Penguin, which is a great place to get started, and where you can still find some great quality material. Given how good the fossicking is in Penguin, I was surprised that it was actually pretty hard to find any information about it online, so here’s my go at fixing that.
The place to look is the cobble and gravel beaches in a piece of rocky coast between Tea Tree Point and Penguin Point, just to the east of Penguin, on the road to Ulverstone. You can find jasper boulders and cobbles at the steep, back part of the beach, near the high tide line.
Because it is a designated fossicking area, anyone can fossick there and no permits are required. Please abide by the conditions set out in the Fossicking Areas in Tasmania booklet.
Parking can be tricky around the area. If you’ve never been before, it pays to do a drive-by or two beforehand to see where the few available spaces are, being mindful of private property and people’s driveways. There is a large space of the uphill side of the road, opposite the railway tracks, with enough room for 2-3 cars, right near the main area. If you have a GPS, the coordinates are -41.12146, 146.11124. Cross the road and railway tracks, and about 50 meters west of the carpark there is a sort of a track to get down to the beach.
What does Penguin Jasper look like?
The main material that makes up the beach is a dark basalt, sometimes full of holes. Among the basalt, cobbles of Penguin jasper stand out from their cream, reddish or purple colour. A lot of the better quality material hides under the surface boulders, so it pays to look carefully and move a few rocks around. A lot of the pieces of jasper have little bubbles or cracks running though them. They’re very beautiful, but not as good for lapidary. It pays to look around for a while and find solid stones. You’ll be able to tell the better quality ones because they’re heavier. They look and feel much more solid.
Good quality pieces range from small pebbles, good for tumbling and not much else, to large boulders the size of washing machines. Sometimes good pieces are on the darker side, and they camouflage well among the basalt. Visiting during a rain shower makes the jasper really stand out. The best pieces I’ve found are a pale cream background with red and purple blotching and veining, or darker purple or red with contrasting pale-coloured veins.
Watch out for the blue-rings!
The coast in this part of Bass Strait is a classic locality to find blue-ringed octopus, and they’re very common under the coastal rocks in the Fossicking Area. Take care when turning over rocks in the water, quite a lot of them have a resident blue-ringed octopus. Gloves are a good idea. Needless to say, please don’t touch them, their bite IS painless, but deadly within a few minutes if untreated.
Here’s one we found under a piece of jasper we turned over:
I hope you enjoy fossicking in Penguin!