GENTLY DOES IT
Even softies can connect with Tasmania’s bracing outdoors, finds Leonie Coombes
DO not be fooled by Tasmania. It is not like England, despite many words written to the contrary. Those Devonshire teas, frilly B & Bs and gloomy sandstone cottage shops bulging with jams and baby booties inadequately mask an untamed land. Lurking behind the lavender farms and apple orchards is dense Gondwanan vegetation, glaciercarved peaks and hanging lakes. Beaches without footprints stretch for kilometres and strange marsupials populate the nights.
It simply calls out to be explored. However, if you happen to feel over the hill before taking a step, please don’t be discouraged. Supreme fitness and youth are not prerequisites for some memorable outdoor adventures on the east coast and in the northwest of Tasmania. Furthermore, the words tent and trail mix need never be uttered provided that you choose the right excursions in the best locations.
Ease in. Wrest Point in Hobart is an inviting start to any Tassie tour because of its sweeping ocean views and refined rooms. At the hotel’s wharf a rollicking good sailing trip beckons if you are up for it.
Helsal IV, an 18m French-built beauty, was refitted in 2006. Technologically equipped for ocean-going, it competes each year in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Skipper Rob Fisher, an affable host and race veteran, offers three-day return trips to Freycinet Peninsula via Maria Island, with time available for short walks. Passengers determine the days’ activities on this fully catered journey. Groups of about six or eight are preferred, but independent travellers can sometimes be accommodated when space is available.
Its four double cabins are compact but adequate and a comfortable timber saloon provides a sheltered place to relax when night, or the weather, closes in. Expect all the seasons to assault you and offer to take a turn at the wheel for the full seafaring experience. Helsal rides the swell with Gallic finesse and hardly a drop of Tasmanian chardonnay is spilled.
Freycinet Peninsula is a must for all adventurers. Only two hours north of Hobart by road, it is a convenient addition to any itinerary. Wineglass Bay, rated in the world’s top 10 beaches, is located here and so arresting is this shapely haven that it proves familiar even to those who only know its beauty from brochures.
In Freycinet National Park there is an ideal base for exploring the area. Offering appealing cabin-style accommodation with private timber decks, Freycinet Lodge is unobtrusively set in woodland fringing tranquil Coles Bay. There are no television sets to weaken the eco-ambience and the number of guests wearing hiking boots confirms that this resort is designed for soft adventure.
The soft bit is apparent in the main lodge. Weary walkers intent on reward after a hard slog find a welcoming stone fireplace, well-stocked bar with comfortable chairs and restaurants serving contemporary cuisine. Step outside and wide decks provide a vantage point for observing gorgeous sunsets, best enjoyed with a glass of bubbly as kayakers return from an afternoon tour of neighbouring bays. The urge to be one of those paddlers can be fulfilled on most days.
But it is time to lace up. The full-day hike that visitors really should undertake is called Wineglass to Wineglass, and is booked through the lodge. Our sedentary group, aged 43 to 73, finds the 7.5km walk strenuous only at the start. We begin with a huff-and-puff onehour climb over peaks called the Hazards, following a trail with many steps but no stairs. Taking frequent stops to catch our breath among granite boulders, we arrive triumphantly at Wineglass Bay lookout, where that cerulean, symmetrical vista justifies the climb. After a gradual descent our patient guide breaks out muffins and coffee on the blindingly white sands.
Traversing the narrow peninsula through light forest we emerge at Hazards Beach, a long shore bathed in air so clean it glints. With big shells strewn like treasure at our feet and only hooded plovers shyly observing our progress, we feel as isolated from worldly cares as Robinson Crusoe.
Except he had to fend for himself. Not us. At the end of the walk is a feast in the wilderness of biblical proportions. Staff members sent ahead by the lodge have prepared a table with a starched cloth on a small canopied deck under trees by the sunny bay.
As we arrive, drinks and appetisers appear from temporary food preparation facilities. It is merely a prelude to fabulous seafood platters piled high with crayfish, oysters, prawns, fish and scallops. King Island fillet steak follows. Wines to match each course further transform this meal from an up-market picnic to a gourmet event.
Whoever designed this trek understood the target market. Baby boomers are not purists when it comes to adventure, preferring it diluted with luxury whenever possible. As if to reinforce this point, we conquer a dessert piled with fresh berries, stoically shoulder daypacks for the final 100m leg to the shore, then gamely get our feet wet piling into a water taxi waiting to return us to Freycinet Lodge.
Even the very unfit can stroll around Cape Tourville lighthouse, a mere 500m of boardwalk on a cliff edge, with not a single step to climb. Access is via a well-graded 7km dirt road north of the town of Coles Bay. The dramatic location and sweeping panorama that encompasses Wineglass Bay, the Friendly Beaches and blustery Tasman Sea may result in sharpened appetites. Back in town, knife-wielding staff at Freycinet Marine Farm open fat, creamy-textured oysters while we watch. Not even the addition of pearls could improve this product.
Our pursuit of gentle adventure leads us next to the glacier-carved landscapes of Cradle Mountain in the state’s northwest, a two to three-hour drive from Launceston.
More than a national park, the forests, lakes and forbidding peaks of this region form part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, comprising 21 per cent of the island.
To a city slicker, Cradle Mountain sounds ominously uncomfortable, the sort of place where the notion of a decent bed could well mean a lump of peat. Much of the park’s fame derives from the challenging Overland Track, a six-day walk requiring greater fitness levels than most of us enjoy. Nevertheless, 9000 troopers with sap for blood undertake it each year. Bravo to them.
Fortunately, stylish accommodation is available for those with a taste for real beds and roaring fires. And urban foot soldiers with limited time and stamina will find short walks in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park like a shot glass of nature.
The hike that stands out is the 6.6km Dove Lake Circuit, well within the range of most regular walkers. Following the crystal-clear water’s edge, it ranges through forests of lime-green sassafras and towering pines whose ancestors shaded the lost continent of Gondwana. Spiky grasses, flowering tea-tree and yucca-like pandani, endemic to Tasmania, fill the understorey.
This recently constructed gravel and boardwalk trail takes two hours if you keep plodding, but we stop frequently. The reasons aren’t cardiovascular. We just need to click away; untainted beauty is all around, but no photo does it justice. Pausing in shady dells decorated with lichen-covered logs, we experience a rarity: utter silence. Secluded, stony beaches soaked in autumn sun compel us to paddle in the lake’s icy water, with Cradle Mountain reflected at our feet. Pastries and apples consumed in this timeless earthly paradise have never tasted so good.
The King Billy Track is an easy walk offering different rewards. Only 2km long but over hilly terrain, it is named after ancient pines that delineate the trail in company with other Tasmanian conifers. Setting out just before sunset
proves a good move as the marsupial population is becoming active. Wallabies bound ahead, leading the way, while quolls stare unflinchingly from the undergrowth. It is an uplifting end to the day.
Back at the atmospheric Cradle Mountain Chateau, where contemporary splitlevel rooms look on to natural bushland, further wild encounters await. From the comfort of an armchair by full-length windows I watch a wombat waddling by purposefully, my personal entertainment far from his unmuddled mind. It is delightful that interactions with animals in this region are almost always spontaneous.
Time spent in a protected environment increases one’s awareness of the threats to other regions. A wonderful asset to the chateau is its Wilderness Gallery, 10 modern rooms flooded with natural light where professional photos are displayed for sale. Positive images portraying the beauty and fragility of native flora are offset by dismal shots that capture the demise of irreplaceable forests. They heighten our appreciation of the trails we have walked and fuel some genuine passion for conservation.
Over dinner in the chateau’s excellent Grey Gum restaurant we lapse into selfcongratulation at having put one foot in front of another on trails that are not quite flat. The maitre-d’ interrupts our toasting to point out a pair of glinting eyes on the deck outside.
It is just a brushtail possum that has left his arboreal comfort zone and is taking a slight risk. Tasmania’s high peaks and high seas invite us to do likewise. Be as brave as the possum and pack your boots. Leonie Coombes was a guest of Federal Group Tasmania.
For reservations at Wrest Point, Freycinet Lodge and Cradle Mountain Chateau: 1800 030 611; www.puretasmania.com.au. www.helsal.com.au www.parks.tas.gov.au
Walk tall: Clockwise from left, the dining room at Cradle Mountain Chateau; canoeing on tranquil Dove Lake; the view across Wineglass Bay; walkers rest along Dove Lake Circuit; Cape Tourville lighthouse