GEN­TLY DOES IT

Even softies can con­nect with Tas­ma­nia’s brac­ing out­doors, finds Leonie Coombes

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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.

Check­list

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

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