By Julie Ihle
We’d been tramping uphill on the bush pathway for nearly an hour when we finally came across the sign ‘Wineglass Bay – Ten Minutes’. “Thank heavens, this better be worth it”, my husband muttered.
Minutes later we came across a half-moon of crystalline sand, a layer of aquamarine shallows, and an expanse of deep sapphire coloured water. We’d seen it many times before in brochures and postcards but nothing beats seeing Wineglass Bay in real life.
It’s the sort of beach you just want to reach out and pick up in the palm of your hand and take away with you. It has been named one of the top ten beaches in the world and is one of the reasons so many people visit the Freycinet peninsula, 200km north-east of Hobart.
The Wineglass Bay lookout is the most popular walk in the park, and even in the middle of winter when we were there, it was quite busy. An extra 20 minutes will take you down to the bay itself where you can bask on the beach or in summer have a swim in the crystal clear water.
A few kilometres down the road is another popular walk – the wheelchair-friendly Cape Tourville walk. It is a brand new, 20 minute circuit taking in the local lighthouse and spectacular views of the Freycinet peninsula. In January it’s also a great place to get a sneak preview of the Sydney to Hobart winner as the yachts race past.
There are many other walks in the area, ranging from 20 minute strolls to three day treks with a guide. The coastal scenery is stunning, populated with secluded little bays, pristine beaches and stunning views of The Hazards, Freycinet’s pink granite cliffs. And even though Freycinet can get busy, you are virtually guaranteed to spot the Tasmanian pademelons, which are smaller, stockier versions of the kangaroo, while you’re in Freycinet.
If you’d rather be in the water rather than looking at it, there are several sheltered snorkelling and diving spots. There are also kayaking tours that cater for all levels and to give everyone a chance to experience first-hand the thrill of being on the water.
But since Freycinet has the highest number of sunshine hours in Tasmania, nothing beats just sitting in the sun back at camp reading a good book or fishing. Even in the middle of winter in a sheltered spot with no wind it can feel warm, and some hardy locals wander around in short sleeves and thongs.
The waters abound with a variety of top class fish including flathead, salmon, trevally and squid. The town at the edge of Freycinet, Coles Bay, is an excellent base for big game fishing, especially during autumn when the blue fin tuna are around. Dolphins are common all year and whales are often sighted during winter.
Bird watchers will wear out their binoculars at Freycinet. You’ll often see Australasian gannets, white-bellied sea eagles, and honeyeaters, and hear the raucous yellow-tailed black cockatoos. Bird lists are available from the new information centre at the Freycinet National Park entrance.
The information centre can also fill you in on the area’s history. There are many shell middens along the coast which historians believe Aboriginal people used as a sunny retreat during winter. It wasn’t until 1802 that a French vessel sailed down the east coast of Tasmania and spent a few days sheltering in the blue waters. The captain named the area after his first officer Louis de Freycinet.
When Van Diemen’s Land was settled by the English, nearby Maria Island was used as a brutal penal colony for the repeat offender convicts and today there are the fascinating remains of the convict gaol and settlement.
When transportation finished in the 1850s, fishermen, whalers and farmers settled in the area. Today tourism is Freycinet’s main source of income and it is one of Tasmania’s most popular destinations.
The Freycinet peninsula is still making history today, as Coles Bay, at the foot of Freycinet National Park, is Australia’s first plastic bag-free town. This is no easy task considering that although the population is 200, up to 200,000 people pass through the town each year.
There are a number of accommodation options in Freycinet to suit everyone. At one end there is the stunning Freycinet Lodge, as well as a camping ground at Coles Bay with powered sites and full amenities.
In the park itself there is a variety of basic powered and unpowered sites, as well as several wilderness campsites accessible by 4WD, boat, kayak or bushwalking. Park fees are payable at the Freycinet Visitors Centre.
But if you are looking for a perfect eco-escape that combines the benefits of camping with luxury, the Mt Paul on Freycinet eco lodges offer the perfect compromise. On a 1200 acre property adjacent to the national park, the eco lodges are architecturally designed to blend in with the bush, and offer stunning views.
They are fully self-contained and owner Phillipa Denne says they get a lot of caravanners looking to treat themselves, especially if the weather turns stormy.
Various types of food and drink are another of Freycinet’s attractions. Crayfish and trevally are some of the specialities of the region, and local restaurant Madge Molloys goes fishing in the morning and serve up the day’s catch in the evening.
There’s also a supermarket and bakery if you prefer a DIY dinner and a tavern for a refreshing Cascade lager at the end of the day.
From Freycinet you are perfectly placed to head inland on the Heritage Highway towards Cradle Mountain.
Alternatively you can travel south to Hobart via picture perfect coastal towns, visiting Tasmanian berry and oyster farms on the way.
However you spend your time, a few days in Freycinet is bound to recharge the batteries and reminds you why you travelled to Tasmania in the first place – simple pleasures, peace, activity and wildlife.
Freycinet Fast Facts
Freycinet National Park is approximately 200km north-east of Hobart and 218km south-east of Launceston. To reach Freycinet, turn off the A3, 11km south of Bicheno and take a good sealed road 27km south to Coles Bay.
When to go:
Freycinet is a year-round destination. Summers are warm and dry, the winters are cold but usually dry and sunny. Autumn and spring are also good times to visit. Freycinet can be crowded in January and around Easter. All year round the Freycinet Peninsula enjoys more sunshine hours than anywhere else in Tasmania.
Things to do:
Bushwalking, kayaking and fishing are the main pursuits. A two-hour return walk to the Wineglass Bay lookout for one of Tasmania’s best views is well worth it.
Local drives include the 6.4km gravel road to Cape Tourville for sweeping views at the lookout and lighthouse, and for a sneak preview of the Sydney to Hobart.
The Freycinet Challenge every October is a festival weekend of running, kayaking and mountain biking.
Where to stay:
At Coles Bay, stay at Iluka Holiday Centre which offers cabins and self-contained units, and powered/unpowered campsites. Iluka is located opposite Muir’s Beach and is only 1km away from Freycinet National Park (shuttle services operate daily to the park). Iluka Holiday Centre, Coles Bay, (03) 6257 0115, www.ilukaholidaycentre.com.au
Camping is available in Freycinet National Park. There are a variety of basic powered and unpowered sites. Over the Christmas holidays and Easter a ballot system applies. Freycinet Regional Office, (03) 6256 7000.
There are plenty of B&Bs, and eco retreats including Mt Paul on Freycinet, 0408 504 414, or visit www.mtpaul.com
For more information on Freycinet and the surrounding area, visit www.freycinetcolesbay.com or www.parks.tas.gov.au/natparks/freycinet/