The East Coast of Tasmania

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February, 2015

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Newly retired Andrew Morris has dragged his wife Gill with him to Australia for 5 weeks. The main, wholly selfish, reason is to complete the tennis Grand Slam – sadly as a spectator, rather than as a player. Wimbledon, New York and Paris were conquered over the last four decades, the Australian Open in Melbourne will complete the set.

It’s a long way to go for a game of tennis, so they are also visiting Adelaide and Tasmania.

Part 9 – Tasmania, by camper van – the East Coast

It took us quite a lot longer than expected to reach the east coast from Launceston, thanks to an ill-advised detour onto a C road, in search of Pyengana, the source of happy cows and top-notch cheeses. This resulted in a helter-skelter 30 km ride up and down single-width gravel tracks, getting lost in dense and remote forested mountains, with nothing to stop us sliding over the scarily high edges.

But they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right, and we eventually rolled safely into St Helens at around 6 pm on a grey evening, grateful to be alive and hungry for supper.

We stumbled on the Blue Shed restaurant, perched right on the water in this small town, at the mouth of a protected inlet and home to Tasmania’s game fishing industry. We had an excellent seafood meal, gazing through the floor to ceiling glass at the serenity of the mill-pond like surface, disturbed only by a light drizzle and a couple of late returning boats as they eased up the slip.

Our plan had been to strike north from St Helens and camp somewhere along the legendary Bay of Fires but our nerves were shot, our bellies full and we ended up at the free municipal site on the edge of town, just a few metres from the Ezy-Dump facility. Best laid plans, and all that…..

A fierce storm passed through overnight, meaning a fitful night’s sleep. In the morning, the rain had subsided but mist tumbled around everywhere, and it felt as humid as a kangaroo’s armpit.

Hopes weren’t high at this stage that we would see the 35 km perfect white beach crescent of the Bay of Fires at its best. But as we pulled into Binalong Bay, on its southern tip, 30 minutes later the sun was waging an interesting battle with the swirling mist, creating a beautifully moody landscape.

The harbour was delightful, a collection of cuddly rocks and boulders – some tinged with copper – formed in a few tiny coves around impossibly pretty beaches and jetties.

By the time we’d done a bit of rock-hopping and photo-snapping, the sun was winning the meteorological battle, although the eerie mist still seemed to hug the inland bush and the Bay of Fires coastline further south. We ventured across to the main arc of perfect white sand on Binalong Bay, stripped off our shoes and socks, and enjoyed a magical hour or so walking its entire breadth, paddling in the friendly surf in almost perfect isolation.

As good as it would have been to explore more of the Bay of Fires, we headed back south through St Helens and on towards Bicheno. We drove on rolling coast roads with dense forested bush on the other side, passing deserted sandy coves on the way as the sun burnt off the mist ahead of us, like the Red Sea parting biblically in our path.

Bicheno is an engaging seaside town and we parked the camper van for the night at busy but well-equipped Bicheno East Holiday Park. On another perfect beach, now bathed in warm sunshine, a lovely old lady told us to watch out for the migrating penguins in the nearby rocks at dusk.

We ambled on for an hour or so, along the foreshore and Esplanade, getting ever closer to the deafening chorus of birds screeching on the adjacent Governor Island Marine Reserve. And then we hopped onto the rocky granite outcrop that provides the Blowhole, a thrilling spurt of surf that, if you’re brave enough, is a great photo opportunity.

We enjoyed brilliant wood-fired pizzas at Pasini’s Cafe, before returning to the beach at around 8:45, just in time to see the first of the fairy penguins tentatively easing their way through the rocks and across sand to locate their nightly rookeries,as promised by the nice old lady.

The next day we resumed our journey south, towards the renowned wild coastal Freycinet Peninsula, the jewel in Tasmania’s richly bedecked crown. Coles Bay is its gateway, and we stocked up here with a picnic lunch for our day in the National Park.

Wineglass Bay has recently been voted amongst the top 10 beaches in the world by a US magazine. So it’s not surprising that the steep, stepped path to the famous lookout point was almost busier than anywhere we’d seen in the last week. But it was worth it, to look way down below to the dazzling stretch of white sandy beach arcing in a perfect crescent, and totally inaccessible other than on foot.

And 15 minutes later, we stepped onto the warm sand to see a pod of 5 or 6 dolphins playing lazily in the bay. We prised off our sweaty walking boots and socks, and sauntered across the grainy, famously squeaky sand to the cooling surf. Half way along the crescent, we found our own piece of heaven, stretched out on the almost deserted beach and spent a magical hour sunbathing, and tracking the dolphins as they swam lateral laps of the bay, as if on a training session. I’m ashamed to admit we didn’t brave a swim in the notoriously refreshing water.

We headed across the Isthmus Track to Hazards Beach and munched our picnic perched on a rock, looking back across to the mainland on the other side of the Peninsula. We completed our 11 km circuit walking through bush and scrub land, around a promontory above the ice-blue waters.

We only touched the northern surface of this glorious Peninsula. You can push further south into the National Park – on foot – walking and camping, embracing another of Tasmania’s beautiful, wild landscapes.

Back in the camper van we returned through Coles Bay to the mainland, heading further south through Swansea and Triabunna, the gateway to Maria Island, another east coast destination we regret we haven’t time to explore. Slurping on obscenely large home-made raspberry and chocolate ice creams at The Pondering Frog, the friendly owner recommended we camp at Mayfield Bay. It was a beautiful cove, with free camp sites squeezed between the small beach and road, but unfortunately it was full.

We pressed on and, close to thinking we wouldn’t find a camp site for the night, spotted a sign to Gumleaves Park. Driving 2 km away from the coast road, along a dusty path and past lurking wallabies, we were transported to a bush paradise. On a 40 acre site, teeming with wildlife and man-made activities for school trips, we parked a fair distance away from the only other occupants of the site that night. Apart from the poisonous 4 foot tiger snake, of course.

Supper was left-over avocado mashed into a guacamole dip, crisps from the camp shop, an apple and a final small lump of 10 day old Great Ocean Road cheddar. Yum.

Our early morning alarm call was the shrill laugh of a couple of kookaburras, high amongst the eucalyptus trees, and mischievously falling silent after their job was done. But we’d been lucky, the other campers’ night had been disturbed by an over-zealous – and presumably under-fed – possum scratching at their door and then levering open their roof hatch.

So our Tassie camper van road trip was nearly over. We headed south, stopping in quaint Orford for egg and bacon butties, passing through Sorell, functional gateway to the Tasman Peninsula, before crossing the bridges to approach Hobart.

10 days, 1,900 km and a lifetime of experiences.

We returned the camper van to the Apollo depot, and mused on the journey.

Perhaps it would have been better to go anti-clockwise after all, like our friends, spending more time on the east coast? We had missed out the Tasman Peninsula, including Port Arthur, and could have spent more time exploring the Freycinet Peninsula and the Bay of Fires.

But then we probably wouldn’t have gone over to Bruny Island, or spent time in Strahan on the remote west coast, digging into the wretched convict history of Sarah Island and playing starring roles in The Ship That Never Was.

The solution? We’ll just have to back again, and if other Silver Travellers are thinking about exploring Tasmania by camper van, I’d definitely recommend taking more than 10 days to see the island and all its natural beauty to its fullest.

Andrew Morris

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