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Sunday, April 15, 2007

A land of wild and wonderful beaches

During the first two weeks of March Tom and I took a well earned holiday to Tasmania. On this trip we were never far from the sea...starting with our mode of transport to get there. On a Friday night we, alongwith our trusty ute, boarded the Spirit of Tasmania II at Station Pier in Port Melbourne with some trepidation, knowing that Bass straight was probably the second most fierce stretch of water in the world (after North/South Island crossing of our nearest neightbour, New Zealand). We needn't have worried... the engine vibration was more prominent than the ocean swell on the balmy autumn night and was quietly soothing whist we drifted off to sleep in our cabin...only to be awoken fiercly at 6am to the sound of piped music and the wakeup call that we would arrive at Devonport in 45 minutes!

From Devonport we drove straight on (after a couple of hot cross buns and a cup of tea from the bakery) to our planned first night's accommodation... the sand dunes of Mt William NP on the north-east tip of Tassie. We had packed all of the camping gear in the back of the ute (well we hoped so) and prepared with our National Parks Pass (conveniently available for sale on the Ferry - $20 per day!!! or $50 for 2 months) we set up camp at Stumpy's Bay #4. It was a pretty site with a lagoon and a number of persistent wallabies (and also a Tiger snake as we later found). Our main pastime at this campsite was the long beach walks on the fine white sand. The beach was stunning with it's orange lichen crusted rocks, white sand and hardly a soul on it. There must have only been about 15 people in all of the 4 camping grounds combined. Most were in campervans, but we stuck with our trusty budget dome tent. We also climbed the 218m peak of Mount William - despite not being amonst the highest peaks even of Tasmania, still had fine views for a full 360 degrees.

After a few days at Mount William we moved on to the next stunning white sand beach... that of Bay of Fires, north of St Helens. Allegedly this is the second best wild beach in the world (I forget what is the best... probably Whitehaven in the Whitsunday islands of Queensland). Bay of Fires is actually less "wild" than Mount William due to the number of people staying there, and to be honest this was probably it's only detractor. It was a fine beach, though I did prefer Mt William due to it's isolation... and probably because it was the first we went to and had the best weather.

From Bay of Fires we hit the tourist trail proper and pitched our tent at Coles Bay Caravan park. Since we had been camping for a few nights in basic campsites (read "basic" as a pit toilet and no shower) the relative luxury of the 4* caravan park was unparallelled and that first shower in the amenities block was amazing. The facilities of the caravan park were also good, having a kitchen complete with toaster, kettle & sink for campers plus roof for those escaping rainy nights (of which luckily the only one we had was at Coles Bay).

Coles Bay is best known as a base for exploring the famous Freycinet Peninsula and the exquisite view to Wineglass Bay. We did the Wineglass Bay/Hazards Beach circuit which was great, though to be honest, no more stunning than the beaches we had already been to. One of the highlights of our stay in Tassie was the gourmet food experience, and Coles Bay was no exception. Just down the road from the caravan park was a mussel and oyster farm. Now I am not a fan of oysters, however have been known to consume a mussel or two with a Belgian beer. I had heard that it was pretty simple to cook mussels in a white wine sauce, so we searched the Coles Bay for appropriate ingredients... white wine from the pub at the entrance to the caravan park, garlic and cream from the general store along with our kilo of fresh mussels harvested that morning. First problem was that they hadn't had time to clean the mussels, so they thew a few more in at no extra charge. So that evening after darkness had already descended one could have caught Tom swearing at a few mussels as he was trying to get the gunge off them in our camp washing up bucket. But eventually we successed and a fine meal of mussels in white wine cooked in the billy, plus potato chips cooked on the barbie... and of course another bottle of wine was consumed. A great memory!

After Coles Bay we were going to stay in Hobart for the weekend, however on realising that not only was it a Friday night, but that also was a long weekend and that we had no accommodation, realised that it might be a bit tough to find somewhere to stay. Whilst we were happy to camp in the bush, I'm not to keen in the city, and we were hoping to stay in a B&B somewhere close in. So instead we booked our B&B for a few days later and in the meantime took a detour.

Our detour took us down South west of Hobart, through the Huon valley and down to the southern-most point of Tasmania - the South Cape. After a couple of hours drive it took us about 10 minutes to get from one site of Hobart to the other and we continued on, filling up with supplies at Huonville. Our camp destination was Cockle Creek, the end of the most southerly road in Australia. There was free camping by the road, and also in the National Park (provided you had a NP pass). There were a few people down there - not surprising as the weather was forecast to be good, but we got there early enough to get a good campsite in the NP.

Cockle Creek was beautiful. The weather was more than good. There was clear blue sky, no wind, and Recherche Bay had clear still water. Only downside was the wasps and bumble bees. We walked along the bay learning about the early whaling history of the area and drinking in the sheer beauty. We also kept up our exercise regime by taking the 4hour return walk to South Cape beach. Along the way we met many surfers carrying their boards across. Many of them were camping out there. We were tempted to continue a bit more of the south cape path, but after 20 minutes of bush bashing, called it quits and headed back to Cockle Creek. I think the rest of the South West Cape trail may not be so well maintained as this first bit! It was a warm day, so once back at Cockle Creek I though a swim to freshen up might be in order. If freshening up was the only objective, then it was met with no questions, however the swim was not exactly relaxing... the water was freeeeeeezing, despite the 25 degrees air temperature, and I barely laster 10 seconds under water.

After a couple of nights in Cockle Creek we headed back to Hobart, on the way freshening up at the Hastings Thermal Baths, naturally heated (but only to 28 deg C) from a spring. We wanted to appear at our best before arriving at the B&B in the big city. Hobart was a pretty quiet time. The weather was not so good, so bringing forward our trip to Cockle Creek had been quite fortuitous. The main highlight of our stay was the side trip we took to Bruny Island. We took one of the charter voyages down the east cost of Bruny Island. Aim was to get to a small island seal colony to the south of Bruny Island, but unfortunately the weather was against us. with 30-40 knot winds and 3-4m swell, conditions were not safe for us to go beyond the meeting of the Tasman Sea and Southern Ocean. We did see plenty on the way though with a few albatross and Shearwaters galore. We also sped through "the monument" which was slightly hair raising (see photos)! The evening treat was dinner at Peppermint Bay, overlooking a splendid sunset over Bruny Island. Food was pretty good too!

From Hobart we travelled straight up through the centre of Tasmania, past the great lakes (Tassie is in drought too... there is a lot of water missing from these lakes) up to Devonport. A nice lunch at the Deloraine Deli, and sampling some local gourmet delights at the Honey Farm, Ashgrove Cheeses and D'Anver's Chocolates filled in the time before our ferry back to Melbourne.

Click here to see our full photo album.


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