A May 2002 trip
to Tasmania by Ozzy-Dave
Quote: The Great Southern Land has a Great Southern Island. Tasmania is Australia’s island state, as geographically diverse and unspoilt as any settled land. Just 500,000 people share a space the size of Ireland, so there’s plenty of room to explore. Our journey concludes among the east coast’s sun-kissed wonders.
And if turquoise seas, dreamy horizons, and award-winning pinot dulls your senses, why not go bush in dramatic national parks, feast on monster pancakes, or peel back the layers of history on a deserted island.
1. An Island Called Maria; from 1820s convict settlement to present-day national park, this protected gem offers wildlife, history and stunning landscapes.
2. Head for the Hazards; these 300-meter red-granite sentinels guard an expanse of pristine bushland and romantic bays that is the Freycinet Peninsula, recognised as one of the world’s most beautiful wilderness destinations.
3. No Shoes Required; wiggle your toes in talcum-powder sand as the reflected greens, blues, golds, and whites of an endless seascape free your mind and recharge your soul on the Bay of Fires.
4. Elephant-sized Pancakes; high on a mountain pass is the east coast’s most edible attraction, where the peaks look like elephants and the pancakes come just as big.
5. Pig of a Place; meet the thirstiest pig in Tasmania on your way to hidden rain-forest treasures far away from the tourist trails, deep in the lush valleys of the northeast.
This is the sixth and final chapter in a series dedicated to exploring this unique island. It follows the Capital Idea journal and can be read in isolation or as a continuing story. The regional map provided here illustrates the area visited by this journal, and each destination covered by the entries is identified in BLUE.
Hop aboard for one last virtual tour--I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.
HOW TO GET THERE: Fly to Hobart or Launceston from any Australian capital or catch the overnight ferry from Melbourne to Devonport, an hour northwest of Launceston. The east coast is within an hour’s drive from either city.
ACCOMMODATION: Bed-and-breakfast or self-catering accommodation offer the best value--usually less than A for a comfortable double. Hotels (pubs), some of them of heritage significance, are similarly priced; then there are grand, historic houses and modern hotel/motels for A to A. Book ahead to get your choice in peak season, but at other times of the year, prices are negotiable.
* The east is warmer and drier than the rest of the island. Outdoor activities can often be enjoyed here when the weather in other parts of the island is inclement.
Car-hire rates are low, starting at around A a day for a new, mid-range four-cylinder vehicle, including all insurances and taxes. Good maps are provided and Tasmanian roads are well signposted. Petrol costs around A a liter. The good news is that traffic is light, so driving on the "wrong side" won’t be stressful.
Some regions of Tasmania are quite compact and visitors sometimes hire (or buy) a bicycle. Much of the east is accessible by bike and provides gorgeous, lengthy, uninterrupted ocean views. Only the narrow and steep inland mountain passes around St. Marys and northwest of St. Helens should be avoided.
TIP: Tasmania’s car-hire industry is very competitive. Regular specials are offered, especially outside peak season. Don’t be tempted by companies offering older vehicles at reduced rates--these cars are often unreliable, and new-car rates cost little more.
Approaching Coles Bay, the sinking sun takes center stage, turning the 1,000-foot granite peaks of The Hazards pink and setting the waters of the bay ablaze. A lone fishing boat sends a rippled message past a couple of frolicking seals.
Welcome to the Freycinet Peninsula.
On our left is the Iluka Holiday Centre, its position offering striking views.
"Helluva spot for a cabin park. We should give it a try; self-contained units for $A80 and it’s a four-star-rated park," says Karen, scrutinizing the accommodation guide and sounding like a travel agent.
Castles, Beaches, and Bakeries
Rosalie greets us, and we negotiate a three-night, A$200 rate for a luxury cabin. Her husband, Alex, is renovating a tiny house opposite reception and waves as we drive through.
A backpacker hostel shares a modern, brightly painted amenities block with rows of landscaped campsites, travellers relaxing on the grass with a drink as the sunset display over Muir’s Beach concludes. Our cabin is near the top of the park, past a couple of families cooking a barbecue outside their ensuite vans. A dark-haired boy and his friends are constructing Gothic wonders in the playground’s sandpit.
Our new home is perfect, its balcony providing views over the beach as purple twilight decends. Timber dominates, oozing warmth and coziness on a cool evening. The finishing touches impress: quality mattresses--even on the bunk beds in the second bedroom, decent pillows, efficient heating, and an aspect delivering loads of natural light.
The fully equipped kitchen really is, and the all-too-common, matchbox-size soaps have been replaced by the real thing, presented on thick, fluffy towels.
Down past a large laundry is the beachfront, and we compliment the sand-castle architects as we walk.
"We fill the moat tomorrow," their spokesman offers, proud and excited.
Fronting the beach at the park’s exit is a convenient combination of facilities. A tavern and bottle shop share prime position with a supermarket, cafe, simple takeaway, and bakery stocked with fresh goodies.
"All you need!" says Karen. "Let’s check out the beach, then I’ll treat you to a bottle of red and a couple of those honey stick things."
The Iluka was a highlight of our time in Tasmania''s east. The cabin’s balcony became our sundeck--a place to welcome the day with breakfast and a place to enjoy a drink (and visiting possums) at sunset after a day’s exploring.
Holiday Centre, indeed. It’s all here, in one of the finest natural environments anywhere. And yes, the moat did get filled. We were even invited to a barbecue to mark the event.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 19, 2003
Iluka Holiday Centre
3 6257 0115
Attraction | "An Island Called Maria"
Yet strangely, it gets relatively few visitors. Halfway between Hobart and the famous Freycinet Peninsula, and only a 20-minute ferry ride away, most travellers hurry past, unaware of the treasures on the horizon.
The Experience…The 10:30am ferry departs, gathering speed as Trevor concludes his history lesson to an American couple.
"Mar-eye-ah," he emphasises, "after Maria Van Dieman, wife of the governor of the Dutch East India Company that sponsored Abel Tasman’s voyage here in the 1640s."
Trevor also hands around useful guides to the island, informing us that the tide is low--essential for those planning a two-hour return walk to the Painted Cliffs, south of the old settlement.
At the jetty, we’re captivated by well-preserved ruins set against a wild landscape of small, forested mountains and open bushland. One of them, a store built in 1825 to serve the convict population, is now an Information Centre.
Maria Island was too "convict-friendly." Regular escapes saw it retired as a penal settlement in favor of Port Arthur, but in the 1840s it re-emerged as a probation centre to support a booming agricultural trade. Whalers and sealers flourished, sheep grazed, limestone was quarried--an Italian entrepreneur even established a silk and wine industry here.
In the old township of Darlington, restored convict buildings revive the period using artifacts, furnishings, and dramatized audio commentaries. Longer-term visitors can even relive the experience in the converted penitentiary, its bunkhouse providing an alternative to the adjacent campground.
Kangaroos dine on native grasses and a family of Cape Barren geese resolve a dispute as we hike up the hill toward Hopground Beach, then it’s shoes off, and we paddle its length to explore the Painted Cliffs.
The sun disturbs the sky’s stormy palette and the sandstone cliffs glow, a phenomenon caused by water leeching iron oxide through the rock. The incredible colours and textures remind me of a rich butterscotch pudding and Karen laughs, offering some remark about guys and their stomachs. She’s hypnotised by the nearby rock pools, a soup of kelp, shells, starfish, and colorful sea grasses. There goes another roll of film.
Returning inland, we discover Howell’s Cottage, now derelict but once home to a prominent farming family. It’s a gold mine--the walls lined with newspapers from 100 years ago. Karen learns that milking cows and carpenters were hard to find, and that a proposal to grant equal rights for women was "overwhelmingly defeated" in Washington.
She laughs as we head for the 4pm return ferry, "Ha! 100 years of progress, eh. Well, at least you can get milk when you need it now."
Maria Island Sights & Attractions
Attraction | "Romance in the Wild - Freycinet Peninsula"
Freycinet Peninsula is one of Tasmania’s showcase destinations. It’s 22 degrees Celsius in late autumn and the sky reflects the cobalt sea. One kilometre from our cabin’s sundeck in the Iluka Holiday Centre is the national park entrance--our gateway to adventure. We didn’t abseil, but we did climb those granite giants, and we did a lot more, too. Here are some of the highlights.
Life’s a Beach…
At the tiny ranger’s office Alison hands us a map, adding that the new Visitor Centre, although behind schedule, should be finished by spring 2002. A short drive leads to the walking track car park and a range of attractions:
**** Honeymoon Bay. Flanked by the granite peaks of The Hazards, this small inlet and beach dazzles with contrasting colours and textures. Fascinating rock formations and fringing bushland combine with the clear, shallow waters and surrounding peaks to create a secluded, romantic mood--hence the name.
Dave’s recommendation: picnics, swimming, romance.
**** Sleepy Bay/Gravelly Beach. The Sleepy Bay lookout provides delightful views down the peninsula, but the highlight is the 20-minute descent through coastal scrub to a gorgeous rocky cove. The beach is gravel, pounded by the surf until it is impossibly fine. Surrounded by smooth, granite boulders that shelter vast kelp forests and scuttling marine creatures, this feels like a magical place.
Dave’s recommendation: sunbaking, exploring, romance.
***** Wineglass Bay/Hazards Beach. This 7-mile circuit walk has it all. It’s one of Tasmania’s finest, but it’s thirsty work. Allow a full day and take a picnic, plenty of water, and be prepared to swim. The climb across The Hazards is steep, but justified by the panorama of Wineglass Bay and the contrasting landscape of red-granite cliffs, flowering scrubland, and aromatic, towering eucalypts.
All expectations are exceeded when you reach the sand. Wineglass Bay is consistently voted one of the world’s 10 best beaches. Today it’s extra special, a pod of dolphins is visiting and the opportunity to swim with them is irresistible. My entire body tingles--it’s like being five years old again.
A short walk across a shady isthmus, a haven for wallabies and cockatoos, leads to Hazards Beach. Littered with Aboriginal middens, the translucent waters here also tempt, a tonic for the return journey along the sheer western flanks of The Hazards, watching seals cavort in the bay below.
Dave’s recommendation: swimming, picnics, exploring, romance.
**** Friendly Beaches. Ten minutes north of Coles Bay, a dirt road leads to a stretch of white sand that hypnotises and seduces. There are miles of uninterrupted shoreline, where the water is so clean that forests of Bull Kelp thrive like few other places on earth. And you’ll probably have it to yourself.
Dave’s recommendation: swimming, picnics, beachcombing, romance.
Pick the common thread? It’s difficult to visit Freycinet and not be romanced.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 19, 2003
Freycinet National Park
Freycinet National Park
Attraction | "Where Elephants Roam - The Central East Coast"
Inland, the surprises continue. Forested mountains shaped like elephants reveal fertile valleys and unique national-park wilderness, and have even inspired one of Tasmania’s icon eateries. Come for a drive--oh, and bring your appetite!
These are my favorite days on a driving holiday. Days traveling between destinations, where the excitement is the journey, the thrill of exploring.
At Freycinet Vineyard, Lindy is putting out the "open" sign and we wander in for a too-early pick-me-up. Lindy’s father, Geoff Bull, pioneered wine production in the area, and today the vineyard produces some of Tasmania’s finest pinot noir, chardonnay, and Riesling. A booty of chardonnay complements our picnic goodies.
Seaside towns spring from the landscape, tiny 500-person sanctuaries stuck in a time warp, and we stop in Bicheno to enjoy the coastal wonders. A clifftop walk fringes the town, offering extensive views in a moonscape dominated by granite boulders and orange lichen.
North of town, a gravel road turns west through flat farmland to Douglas-Aspley National Park, a region of incredible contrasts. Dramatic gorges and waterfalls attract serious hikers to this untouched wilderness, but our short walk follows eucalypt forest to a picnic spot by the vivid, emerald-green display of Aspley Waterhole. Cheese, crusty bread, olives, and Freycinet chardonnay. Life’s tough.
Refueled and revitalized, we rejoin the coast before turning inland again for the steep climb through the Mount Nicholas range to our after-picnic pilgrimage site. Mount Elephant Pancake Barn is an icon, named after the pachyderm-shaped mountain shadowing it and serving pancakes as big as the name suggests.
We decide on valley views of rain forest from the glassed interior instead of the alfresco garden--too cool up here, despite the sunny autumn weather. Back by popular demand are the salmon, camembert, and mushroom crepes in a white-wine sauce, and they are as memorable as they sound. Big? "Drape off the plate," as the menu says, and there were no leftovers. Memorable also was promise of a $2.20 surcharge for rowdy children and recent donation of $10,000 to the Fred Hollows foundation.
Behind the pancake barn, a dirt road leads to Blueberry Cottage, an enchanting farm owned by Trudi and Dave Matthews that opens its stunning garden to visitors between September and April. Dave does most of the gardening and Trudi’s creative talents offer fruit preserves and plant seeds, finely crafted souvenirs and toys.
Armed with more goodies, we wave goodbye, picking up the coast road again and passing more seaside villages as dark storm clouds pursue us toward our destination, an atmospheric contrast of indigo and white emphasizing the dunescape. At Scamander, we surrender, stopping to photograph it, to feel it.
Yeah, I love these days.
Attraction | "No Shoes Required - Bay of Fires"
This is soul food with chocolate sauce.
Thankfully, although only recently discovered by travellers, much of the area is now protected. Come and visit. Go wild. Your body and mind will thank you.
What price paradise?
St. Georges Bay shelters a fleet of fishing vessels as we enter St. Helens, picturesque capital of the northeast. Its 1,200 residents are proud, and a dedicated History Room in the shady main street exhibits a range of publications and dispenses valuable tourist information.
Vonnie welcomes us, offering advice on activities, and suggests the nearby village of Binalong Bay as a special seaside accommodation retreat.
A 10-minute drive surrenders to dreamy white sand and a few streets of houses. Fronting the beach, high above the esplanade, is Binalong Bay Cottages, six modern sanctuaries built to maximize the coastal views. And what a view. A full-width balcony fronts our two-bedroom cottage, offering an unrestricted panorama of the Bay of Fires to the north and Humbug Point Recreation Reserve to the south--both within easy walking distance.
All the mod cons are here, from a full kitchen with microwave to a cozy combustion heater and floor-to-ceiling windows for romantic nighttime star spotting and surf watching. A little shop nearby serves as supermarket and general store, ideal for special treats and self-caterers. Our three-night price of A$260 blew the budget but hey, what price paradise?
Immediately outside our seafront sanctuary are some of Tasmania’s finest beaches. The Bay of Fires is a coastal reserve extending from Binalong Bay north to the Gardens, and includes miles of glorious bays, fringed by lagoons and low-lying heath. Early explorers regularly observed a procession of fires along the coast and coined the curious name. Aboriginals were the inspiration, their shell-middens feeding the flames as they cooked their seafood meals, and today the east coast is littered with the evidence.
We explore nearby bays, content to picnic, beachcomb, and swim, then head north to more remote stretches. Here the light glows in the afternoon, echoing the gold, emerald, and blue of the seascape, reflecting it from sweeping white arcs. Shallow lagoons, stained dark from tannin, swallow the sunlight, turning black and amplifying the environment’s contrasting colors.
Barefoot in the sand, we danced and romanced, the only interruption coming late one afternoon from Brian, Zoe, and Rachel, and their equine convoy.
"Hey guys, out for a ride?"
"Yeah, we’re from the farm over there," says Brian, waving somewhere behind him. "We get here a couple of times a week. It’s the only place I’ve been where I feel like I can fly."
He screams and Zoe and Rachel follow, a tangle of arms and legs flying through the surf.
Amen to that.
Caves and Canyons
Attraction | "Cheeses, Waterfalls, Fairies and Drunken Pigs"
There’s more to Tasmania’s northeast than beaches--venture off the highway into its lush hills and valleys and you’ll find many surprises, but not many people. This is a region rich in history, a region of little-explored wonder.
We exit the highway west of St. Helens, winding through sculpted farmland on an undulating, narrow road that soon turns to gravel. Entering Mount Victoria Forest Reserve, the landscape changes to dense woodland and the road deteriorates. At a break in the treeline, St. Columba Falls appears, throwing almost 200,000 liters of water a minute down its 300-foot rock face. It’s cooler here, the scent of sassafras and myrtle melding with the sight of giant tree ferns as we make the 20-minute walk to the base of the falls to complete the sensory experience.
Nearby, the Pyengana Cheese Factory provides gourmet travelers with a smorgasbord of 8-week to 1-year-old cloth-bound cheddar cheeses for tasting, clinging faithfully to a 100-year tradition. We stock up on delicious chili and caraway offerings and head for the Pub in the Paddock for lunch and some Aussie culture.
Appropriately named, this 1880s house-cum-pub-cum-bed-and-breakfast does sit in the middle of a paddock. Two locals prop up the bar while a dog retrieves a tennis ball, delivering it to the feet of the older man. In one deft motion, he grabs his beer and kicks the ball out the door. The dog exits.
We order toasted sandwiches, vegetable soup, and beers. It’s an atmospheric old place and you can stay here for around A$40. But the star attraction is "Slops." He’s the "pig in the paddock", the beer swilling oinker that slurps stubbies by the dozen (his record is 76). For A$2 the barman will give you one (stubbie) and you can "feed" him yourself.
We decline, farewelling a disappointed Slops and head north, first through hilly dairy country dotted with old wooden houses and homesteads, then beautiful rain forest as we climb higher. The road becomes a rough, single-lane track, eventually quitting at the ghost town of Poimena on top of a mountain plateau.
This is the Blue Tier, known to pioneers as the "mountain of tin." But the miners have gone, the rain forest returned, and the area is now a haven for bushwalkers keen to explore old pack trails and discover relics from the past.
Lichen-covered rain forest is littered with white moss known as "east coast snow," like some magical storybook waiting to dispense families of fairies. We’re both hypnotized by the beauty and delicate balance of the place, again awestruck by the menu of natural wonders offered by Tasmania, Australia’s smallest and only island state.
And again, we are the only visitors here.
Lactos Cheese Tasting Centre
145 Old Surrey Rd.
(03) 6433 9255