The Bay of Fires and the Suncoast make for a fitting finale for our Taking on Tasmania series
WORDS & images JAN HAWKINS
Traveling the eastern coastline of Tasmania offers you some of the kindest weather that the Apple Isle can. It is the most popular trek for the traveller who disembarks from the Spirit of Tasmania out of Devonport, and is considered one of the world’s best coastal drives.
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The Suncoast, as it is often called, runs down the eastern seaboard and harbours some of Tasmania’s highly-regarded fishing ports: Hobart, St Helens, Bicheno and Triabunna to name just a few. On offer for the foodie are those wonderful Tassie scallop pies as well as fresh crayfish, abalone and oysters. I was in gastronomic heaven and to top it off you can also find yourself mixing it with plenty of great regional wines. Put these two together and it makes for a lot of fun and some great feeds.
In the run from Devonport across to the Suncoast you will find your introduction to those stunning summer russets and golden hues in the heights of Ben Lomond. Just 160km from Devonport, Tassie’s most celebrated Alpine ski field is a breathtaking place to visit even in the summer months. Here you can spend a few hours with your head in the clouds enjoying the cooler drifts of the summer season on your way to the eastern coastline. The colours around the Ben Lomond Alpine village are the subtle rusty oranges, yellows and creamy whites that you will also find on the ocean shores of the Suncoast and particularly at the Bay of Fires, which is commonly the first northern stop on the eastern coastline.
We spent a great time taking in the views, spotting the wildlife and flapping around the village while it was in its summer slumber. I wouldn’t recommend towing anything up that mountain though, so find yourself a spot to camp first and then explore.
Bay of Fires
Heading on east is St. Helens and it is the nearest coastal settlement to the celebrated Bay of Fires Conservation Area. There are a number of very popular free bush camps scattered north of town.
We found the spacious Grants Lagoon campground, just south of the Bay of Fires to camp up for a few days, in what was some of the busiest months of the year over the school holidays. Aside from an occasional long-drop loo, there are no amenities at this free camp so it is very much designed for the self-contained traveller.
The beaches are glorious, with the rounded, bleached rocks speckled with the coloured lichens to rival the colour of the alpine flowers of the summer. You will hear it said that this is what gives the Bay of Fires its name, but in truth the bay was named for the many native fires scattered along the shores while European mariners made their way south. These fires can still be seen, but they are holiday campers now who light the welcome campfires reminiscent of yesteryear, which just goes to show that while our society may shift, there are some things that Aussies enjoy throughout time.
Freycinet National Park
Coles Bay is the most popular camping village when visiting the beautiful Freycinet National Park. The national park camps can offer challenges for the bigger rigs so many camp nearby and tour into the park to visit such places as Wineglass Bay or head out along
the popular walking tracks. The camp we chose was at the Freycinet Golf Club where
for $10 a night you can settle in to explore.
No amenities are included here but the sites are flat and it’s within good reach for exploring the surrounding area. There is also a BIG4 caravan park at Coles Bay to accommodate those needing services.
Freycinet NP is well loved by trekkers and the tracks to the national park bush camps are
trafficked with walkers, bush campers and photographers who revel in the wildernessexperience. There are no roads into the Freycinet National Park so you need to come prepared to walk. The most popular trek is the one-hour return up to the lookout over the breathtaking Wineglass Bay, or the short, well-boarded walk at Cape Tourville, which offers some truly spectacular views and is the best of the easy treks.
For those who venture deep into the park on shanks’ pony there are many attractions, the least of which is the wildlife. But for those who are challenged, like us, when it comes to
what can be some arduous treks, there are alternatives in the many boat cruises and sea kayaking experiences offered in the towns and ports along the coast. So this was what we aimed for once we had explored the Freycinet Peninsula within our capabilities and to our hearts’ content.
Cruising off the Main Island
In venturing by cruiser out from Triabunna,
a fishing port just south of Freycinet NP, you can experience the impressive wildlife. This adventure includes a delightful visit to Maria Island. Once a penal settlement, it was closed with the opening of Port Arthur, which was the main male penal settlement in Tasmania. Maria Island is not only an exceptional place to learn more of the birth of our colonial society, as brutal as it was, but it also allows you explore the history of early settlement, the friendly wildlife and some magnificent views.
Triabunna offers a town travellers’ camp, convenient to the port and information centre and from where you can organise a cruising experience. The unserviced free camp is another that is well patronised and across the road you will find the town pub, circa 1838. Here you are also welcome to camp behind the heritage building and enjoy all that the pub and popular sea port has to offer.
We chose a cruise with The Spirit of Maria, and what a wonderful choice it was with a maximum passenger quota of only 22 people. In the all-inclusive cruise offered, we enjoyed a choice of cruising options, both with a delicious and bountiful lunch of local foods. Initially we chose to venture around to the secluded and stunning Riedle Bay on far shore of Maria Island, but on the day the weather was so glorious we took a vote and the entire group opted instead for the visit to the sea caves of Ile Des Phoques (French for Island of Seals) and it was truly the right choice. You can swim and snorkel with the seals given the right conditions, which would be an experience never to be forgotten.
On your cruise out from Triabunna you will also have the opportunity to visit the Fossil Caves of Maria Island, along with the Painted Rock cliffs. One of the more charming features are the locals or wildlife. There is one little beggar renowned for taking exception to photographers and adventurous visitors. The cheeky ankle-biter of a wombat will hide among the many wombats, who all just look adorable. However, the ankle-biter has a reputation for picking on a victim, rushing up and having a quick chew on their ankle or shoe when they least expect it, and then make a hasty exit to the sheltering company of his companions or any likely clump or hole. Watch out for this guy and give him my regards as I won’t forget him easily.
A tour out to the Island of Seals is one of the more breathtaking and adventurous of cruises that Tasmania can offer. The Spirit of Maria is especially built to venture into the awesome and colourful sea-caves of Ile Des Phoques and if you’re fortunate you will strike just the right conditions that will allow her to take you deep into this wonderful world, along with the wonder of the Fossil Cave on Maria Island, and I can highly recommend the experience.
When you touch base back at Triabunna,
make a beeline for the local fishing hut as they serve the best fish and chips after a full day’s cruising out
and about, truly the wonderful Tasman Islands to wind-up your visit.
Triabunna Visitors Centre (03 6256 4772) can help you organise your cruise and activities, including any stay at the Penitentiary, or camping on Maria Island. Bookings are essential and national park fees apply.
Maria Island can be reached by public ferry for $37pp return. The Spirit of Maria offers a four-hour coastal cruise with a two-hour ‘explore Maria’ guided walk and a big gourmet lunch for $195 (concession available). There is a shuttle bus from Hobart also available.