Alice Hansen hits the highway, taking in a raft of new experiences along Tasmania's stunning stretch of turquoise East Coast beaches. She admits, this isn't her first time up Tasmania's east coast. That ribbon of turquoise beaches has called her more than once. But her preceding four days are packed full of first-time experiences.
That’s the beauty of this coast, no matter how many times you take this well-worn path, there’s something new to discover. What’s more, there’s a host of new doors just open. The east coast has never sparkled more brightly. Let’s hop on the Great Eastern Drive together.
It doesn’t take many kilometres beyond Tasmania’s capital city before the east coast begins working its magic. It hits people at different points. For some, it’s at Orford, the official start of the “Great Eastern Drive.’ For me, it’s a little further up the road at Old Man Creek. True, it’s not the prettiest name, but it sure gives a hint of the beauty to come.
You see, at Old Man Creek, you’ll catch a glimpse of colourful tents. They’re down to the right off the highway, tucked away beside azure waters. This sprinkling of campers signals what east coast life is all about; sand between your toes, simple living and that postcard aqua water.
I drive on, bypassing usual spots that are well worth first timer stops (eg. don’t miss the delicious and uber inexpensive fish and chips at Triabunna’s Fish Van), forging on to Devil’s Corner Vineyard. It’s their official opening day.
Here, I arrive to the buzz and bodies usually afforded to a grand opening. Wines are generously poured and the courtyard features familiar east coast personalities – Tombolo Freycinet Café and Freycinet Marine Farm have shopfronts. Plump oysters and wood fired pizza are swiftly delivered to the chattering masses. There’s a lady strumming away and singing. Her name is Ange Boxall – Mona’s creator, David Walsh is one of her fans. We get chatting and she mentions a farmer’s market at her Riversdale property just out of Swansea. I add it to my to-do list (add it to yours too!).
I let Ange get back to singing. I’m curious about the view atop the architecturally-designed lookout. I hurry up as if the pink granite Hazards might shift from view before reaching the top. On arrival, I’m brought to an abrupt standstill. The view is a show-stopper; un-interrupted views across grape vines and Moulting Lagoon, topped with bold rocky Hazards in the distance. East coast perfection.
From Devil’s Corner, I continue my discovery of new locales – not before I see one of the local winemakers open the car door for his wife in the car park. It’s a reminder that on this coast, a slower pace and manners are still in fashion.
I backtrack a little to visit Springvale and Milton Vineyards. Word on the street is that a new tapas bar is opening at Milton, and the pop-up seafood restaurant at Springvale is worth a stop, in case there’s a morsel of calamari left over from the lunch crowds.
As it turns out, Don, the chef at Springvale has just finished serving 19 crays for lunch. He’s spent. But, he’s still happy to have a yarn and asks me to return for lunch under his marquee surrounded by vines. I can’t say no to that.
I then head to the other side of the highway, over to Milton where Chef Jahan’s happily tells me about the opening of his tapas venue, Mahasti, on Sunday. He’s filled with enthusiasm and as I watch four tourists sipping wine by the lake, I nod approvingly at his plans to bring Tassie-inspired tapas and pintxosto tables dotted around the deck.
For me, it’s time to motor on to Coles Bay and settle in for the night. Further up the road, there’s also Gala Vineyard. It’s here that I spot two weary cyclists, sitting back with a vino in the front verandah’s shade. They’re smiling at one another, bikes resting up against a pole as they take a well-earned break. It appears there’s all kinds of ways to do the Great Eastern Drive.
I peek out across Richardsons Beach in early light on an early morning stroll and note that it’s all mine. The stage is set for another first. Glancing up to ensure all Freycinet Lodge guests are still tucked up asleep I plunge straight in for a morning swim. I’ll admit it, the temperature is a little fresh but no more breathtaking than the Hazards gently waking up in the morning sunshine. It only takes two minutes but could just be the best way to start your east coast day. Just ask former Olympian, Shane Gould, who swims each morning at Bicheno. You can join her if you’re keen!
My next task is to view Wineglass Bay from a different angle. I do this via Mount Amos, a granite peak that forms part of the dominating Hazards. It’s a three hour mission including some steep scrambling over granite rock faces (don’t attempt if it’s likely to rain) but rewards with 360 degree views across Freycinet National Park. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, the gentler option is to walk up to Wineglass Bay lookout. Both walks deliver staggering views of a beach often rated among the world’s best. Plus, a good morning walk makes Tombolo wood-fired pizza taste all the more delicious come lunch time.
By 1pm, it’s time for all-terrain-vehicle fun with All4Adventure. I don’t know if it’s just me, but as we’re taken through a 30 minute safety demonstration by Tim (their commitment to safe riding and the environment is mighty), I’m like a child waiting to hop on my Christmas bike. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gifted my little brother a seat and it’s taking us back to billy carting days. He’s grinning like a ten-year-old despite his 28-year-old face.
With four big rubber tires beneath, I accelerate off behind him up the sandy path. Our destination is around a 45 minute ride away – the southern end of sweeping Friendly Beaches. As we wind through Eucalypt covered hills I decide this is a terribly fun way to reach isolated nooks of the Freycinet Peninsula. We navigate through boulder-filled valleys and drop into an abandoned mining cottage before reaching the coast.
In east coast style, our afternoon tea stop is a cracker with rolling turquoise waves. Orange lichen is laid out like a picnic rug across the boulders and our Spreyton juice tastes like a bottle of liquid apples, fitting for a product from the “Apple Isle.’
Back in Coles Bay the full extent of our fun is revealed. I’m covered in sandy dust. Note to self: don’t ride behind anyone who enjoys leaning corners and sandy straights – you’ll be eating their dust. It’s time for another swim.
This morning I decide to take breakfast somewhere special. Cape Tourville Lighthouse is particularly gorgeous at sunrise, but there’s another little track nearby that I’m yet to explore. It leads down to Sleepy Bay.
The short walk is easy to take a backpack, armed with a thermos of coffee and a “transportable’ breakkie from the local Coles Bay bakery. On the far side of the granite beach is a simply gorgeous granite rock cave. It better resembles a hollowed out egg and provides excellent shelter from the rain and a rather romantic photo opportunity for loved up couples willing to climb into its welcoming womb.
We create such a stir enjoying our “new found egg’ that an American tourist wanders over asking when he might be able to “˜have a turn’ as if it is some type of theme park ride. That’s the joy of Tasmania, our thrills are often naturally-formed and free to enter. We obligingly climb down for said tourist and continue on with our day, leaving the beach as another couple heads over with camera in hand for “their turn.’ The granite has been there some 300 million years but this morning, its selfie rush hour!
From 10am-2pm I hop aboard Wineglass Bay Cruises. I’ve been on the cruise once before, back when dear Rastus the dolphin-spotting dog was alive, but was eager to try the new larger vessel Schouten Passage II. As expected, the boat offers a much smoother ride with plenty of enclosed seating, yet still the same personal touches I remember. As Freycinet Marine Farm oysters and lunch designed by the head chef at Freycinet Lodge are handed around I smile at memories of Rastus. I think he would have been proud that we spotted a sun fish, dolphins and flying fish without his familiar woof-alert.
Come evening, it’s time to kit up in a life jacket with Freycinet Adventures. Bright yellow kayaks are neatly lining Muirs Beach, begging to be launched. I’m paired with a fellow from Singapore who has never held a paddle.
As he climbs into his kayaking skirt I admire that this floating experience is open to all no matter their experience. After showering himself with a few misguided paddle swings, he glides into a proficient paddler and I must admit does much of the manual labour as I snap away at The Hazards. Our cheerful guides are as good at sharing stories of French explorers as they are at pouring us each a toasty milo at Honeymoon Beach. The ideal Aussie fuel for our return voyage across the bay.
After a quick overnight in Falmouth I rise early on day four. I’m particularly excited for this day, having heard there’s a new eco-cruise at the Bay of Fires. Lonely Planet named this region the hottest on the planet back in 2013, and I’m yet to see it from the water. The Bay of Fires Eco Tour departs from Binalong Bay and promises 28 kilometres of spectacular cruising along a coastline where Mother Nature has been particularly generous with the colour pallet – bright orange lichen-licked boulders, white granite sands and tumbling turquoise waves are standard.
It’s a family-run operation and I’m greeted by a humble father-daughter duo. Alesha is our guide and her father David doubles as skipper and chief boat builder. That’s right, we’re boarding an eco-cruise where our captain is also the vessel’s maker. It’s a genuine, classic Tasmanian tale of ingenuity, inventiveness and hard work. The family saw an opportunity, built a boat and now ferry visitors along one of Australia’s most spectacular coastal runs. I like that.
It turns out the locals and beach goers like it too. I lose count of the time that surfers, sand castle builders and morning walkers wave to us as we career over the lip of clear aqua waves. One fisherman hurries down over rocks to show off his giant crayfish. I’m not sure if we are supposed to cheer, but it appears most like to say hi when Inferno is passing. Alesha shares snippets about the Bay of Fires past, its indigenous name being Larapuna, meaning “long easy walk’. Back then, it was the indigenous women who were masters of seal hunting and shellfish gathering while men tended to land hunting.
The vessel is smooth and strong, and I get the feeling David enjoys swinging into quiet coves then back out into the deep. I’m taken by the waves – it’s a new experience watching them in reverse. From the sand, their roll is familiar. From behind, their power and momentum is sublime. I spot a surfer chasing his own break, who raises a wetsuit-wrapped arm to us.
By the time we reach our northern-most tip, Eddystone Lighthouse is firmly in view. Alesha fills us in that it’s Australia’s only lighthouse with an anti-clockwise staircase and that when built, it was some 3-days by horse back to medical help. As we’re offered a sweet treat aboard, we’re left to consider the hardship of the late 1800s Tasmanian landscape.
On the return trip we enjoy impromptu visitors. A handful of friendly Common dolphins greet us, a sprinkling of flying fish shoot by and a lazy seal waves us on. I feel as though we’ve been transported to some type of tropical paradise complete with friendly locals aboard and below. It’s a fitting end to four adventurous east coast days.