The devils made me do it

Saf­fire Fr­eycinet has an ar­ray of new na­ture­based ex­pe­ri­ences

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Luxury - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

Gen­tle­men of a cer­tain age, Mur­ray the Moocher and Mal­colm in the Mid­dle, are en­joy­ing the good life in their 1ha open-range “re­tire­ment” en­clo­sure. Ranger Ni­cole tosses them din­ner (a haunch of culled wal­laby leg, you two chaps, or a chaser of brush­tail pos­sum?) and we watch and lis­ten in as­ton­ish­ment as they crunch the bones with the pur­pose­ful­ness of waste dis­posal units. To­gether with two “ma­ture” fe­males, these Tas­ma­nian devils, the world’s largest car­niv­o­rous mar­su­pi­als, have a new home at Saf­fire Fr­eycinet at Coles Bay on the Ap­ple Isle’s east coast.

In con­junc­tion with Wildcare and the Men­zies In­sti­tute for Med­i­cal Re­search, Saf­fire is keen to ed­u­cate its well-heeled guests about Tas­ma­nian devils and cre­ate aware­ness of, and raise funds to find a vac­cine for, the con­ta­gious fa­cial tu­mours threat­en­ing the sur­vival of the species. Vis­it­ing the crea­tures at dusk is of­fered in a port­fo­lio of ac­tiv­i­ties de­signed to get Saf­fire guests out and about and re­con­nected with na­ture.

The award-win­ning prop­erty opened five years ago and this is my sec­ond visit. The lodge has been a re­sound­ing suc­cess, with about 30 per cent of guests from over­seas, loyal re­peat clien­tele and av­er­age length of stay a leisurely three nights. The build­ings seem more earthed in their sur­round­ings now and the ar­chi­tec­ture time­lessly spec­tac­u­lar. Twenty pav­il­ion suites, each a bower of un­com­pro­mised com­fort (think two-per­son showers, deep tubs, loung­ing spa­ces with books and chess sets, com­pli­men­tary mini­bar and beds with a view), face the pink-tinged Haz­ards moun­tain range across Great Oys­ter Bay. It is a panorama so mes­meris­ing, es­pe­cially in dawn’s pearled light, as to seem un­real, as if you have wo­ken up to an IMAX screen­ing. These sin­gle-storey ac­com­mo­da­tions (named for lo­cal fauna and flora, peaks and pioneers), with roofs that crest like waves, fan out as satel­lites to the stingray-shaped main build­ing.

The com­mu­nal Sanc­tu­ary lodge — home to re­cep­tion, Palate res­tau­rant and a con­vivial lounge — was de­signed us­ing is­land tim­bers, stone and slate by Ho­bart prac­tice Circa Mor­ris Nunn with a sense of vo­lu­mi­nous pro­por­tions and abun­dance of nat­u­ral light. Staff turn win­dow-side easy chairs around at night to face the ecofire­place — a lovely lit­tle touch and one much ap­pre­ci­ated by read­ers and snooz­ers.

But enough of idle­ness. Time to head out with lodge guide Joel and Cap­tain Steve for a bouncy, brac­ing Schouten Is­land Ex­pe­ri­ence on a cov­ered cruiser that will see us skirt Great Oys­ter Bay and pull into se­cret coves where the foam­ing wa­ter is sil­very green and clear as glass; we spot wheel­ing gulls and oys­ter catch­ers, and there is the prospect of al­ba­trosses, the sug­ges­tion of seals (“aqua dogs” ac­cord­ing to our crew) and we are blessed with sight­ings aplenty. On such an ex­pe­di­tion, and depend­ing on sea­son and for­tune, you could en­counter com­mon or bot­tlenose dol­phins and even or­cas.

We spy white-bel­lied sea ea­gles perched on win­ter­bare branches, shags (cor­morants) on rocks, and lis­ten to Cap­tain Steve’s tales of the re­gion’s early, and of­ten law­less, history, of rough whalers and tough min­ers quar­ry­ing seams of pink feldspar, of the likes of an Amer­i­can whal­ing cap­tain, Richard Haz­ard, whose oddly suit­able name lives on amid the penin­sula’s harsh ge­og­ra­phy.

“It’s about eight de­grees down there in win­ter,” an­nounces Cap­tain Steve as we com­ment on the invit­ing colour of the ocean. Sum­mer? “A glo­ri­ous 21 de­grees.” As we nose through slen­der Schouten Pas­sage, the land­scape be­comes near-ver­ti­cal, all high and chis­elled cliffs, some with black and or­ange fluted stri­a­tions that look freshly daubed with paint. We pass wind-gouged rocks and ca­suar­i­nas with a foothold in tufts of soil so shal­low they seem sus­pended in the sky. We are told about pe­lagic sea squirts that glow at night as vivid as Christ­mas lights. At Trum­peter Bay we see beds of gi­ant string kelp ( Macro­cys­tis pyrifera), the fastest grow­ing of its species in the world. Cap­tain Steve leans over­board so far to se­cure a sam­ple for us that Joel all but grabs his an­kles. The brown al­gae’s tex­ture is airy and it pops un­der our thumbs like bub­ble wrap.

The Tas­ma­nian gov­ern­ment set up the splen­didly ti­tled Scenery Pro­tec­tion Board in 1915 and Fr­eycinet was de­clared the first na­tional park a year later. Sounds like cause for eter­nal cel­e­bra­tion and out comes morn­ing tea — a spread wor­thy of a CWA “do”. There are ther­moses of tea, plump muffins and crust­less sand­wiches. We are full from break­fast and don’t par­take and then worry that our ab­sti­nence will be re­ported to ex­ec­u­tive chef (and as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager) Hugh Whitehouse, a gen­er­ous, ebul­lient man who, when a spot of af­ter­noon tea was men­tioned yesterday, ap­peared not just with oblig­a­tory creamy treats but tow­ers of Pa­cific oys­ters. Would we like a spot of cham­pagne vine­gar granita to pop on top?

Whitehouse has been with Saf­fire since its be­gin­ning and is ably as­sisted in the day-to-day de­liv­ery of meals by his long-time clever col­league, head chef Si­mon Pock­ran. The food is ter­rific; the pro­duce all care­fully sourced, from Flin­ders Is­land pas­ture-fed lamb and fight­ing fresh seafood such as line-caught pink snap­per to Tassie truf­fles and stone fruit. The in­ven­tive­ness, com­plete with ed­i­ble flow­ers and the likes of salt­bush buds and sam­phire, comes with an up-to-the-minute ur­ban sen­si­bil­ity that seems as­ton­ish­ing for such a re­mote lo­cale. The prove­nance of in­gre­di­ents is cru­cial to the lan­guage of Whitehouse’s menus, even down to sour­dough bread (Ho­bart’s Pi­geon Whole Bak­ery) and wasabi (Shima in the state’s north­west).

Oys­ters ap­pear at Saf­fire in un­stint­ing quan­ti­ties, di­rect from the parish’s Fr­eycinet Marine Oys­ter Farm, where Saf­fire guests can don clench­ing rub­ber waders and learn about wet­lands ecol­ogy and the grow­ing and har­vest­ing pro­cesses. And then, hav­ing been shown the tricky tech­nique re­quired to shuck an oys­ter, par­take of dozens and dozens at an an­chored ta­ble dressed with white linen, per­haps with a flute of fizz to hand.

Then, per­chance, back to Spa Saf­fire for a ther­a­peu­tic mas­sage us­ing heated stones crafted from the gran­ite of those sen­tinel Haz­ards, which makes for a most agree­able min­gling of pam­per­ing and place.

Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of Saf­fire Fr­eycinet and Qan­tas.

Saf­fire Fr­eycinet looks across Great Oys­ter Bay to the Haz­ards moun­tain range, top; Tas­ma­nian devils can be vis­ited on a lodge ex­cur­sion, top right; set­ting out on the Schouten Is­land Ex­pe­ri­ence, above

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