Bay of Fires (Tas)
If you look at a travel guide to Australia from ten years ago, you won't find The Bay of Fires in the Tasmania chapter. That all changed when Lonely Planet listed it as a hot destination in 2009. This 30km stretch of supremely beautiful coastline still doesn't tot up the tourist numbers that Wineglass Bay or Cradle Mountain do, but it may be only a matter of a few years before developers threaten its tranquility and ecosystems.
The Bay of Fires is a big bay made up of several smaller ones. The bleached-white sands derive from granite: they're weathered quartz crystals. The clearest sea water imaginable is often turquoise rather than blue. And the headlands' granite rocks are covered in a striking orange-red lichen. This feature did not give the Bay its name, however. That came from English navigator Tobias Furneaux, who captained a companion ship that was part of James Cook's second Pacific voyage. Furneaux observed fires lit by Aborigines on the beaches.
I first tried to book accommodation in The Gardens, at the northern end of Binalong Bay, in a modern stilted house overlooking the beach. How glad I am that they didn't acknowledge my requests until I'd given up and booked a cabin at the other end of the Bay. Binalong was a much more convenient spot when we discovered that, unlike in any other state of Australia, you have to pay for a pass to enter a national park, in this instance Mt William National Park at the northern end of the Bay of Fires. This meant going into St Helens to the travel information office. Since we were planning to visit at least four parks in Tasmania, we bought a vehicle pass for eight weeks ($60) which worked out cheaper than daily passes ($24) and saved the hassle every time.
Binalong Bay is beautiful, and never more so than at 6.30 on our first morning, when the rising sun cast pink over the world.
As I walked along the sand, I spotted two smart Hooded Plovers. These small Plovers are very vulnerable to human disturbance. They nest on this beach, and there was a request at the top of the path that dog-owners keep their animals on a lead at all times (the beach is supposed to be completely dog-free in summer between 10am and 8pm). But several people flouted the rules while we were there, and a woman and her dog caused my new discoveries to flee. (Why do some dog-owners think they are exempt from the rules?) Dogs weren't the only thing the Plovers had to worry about, however.
There's very little to Binalong Bay the township. No shops. Just one cafe – the Binalong Bay Cafe! They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and boy, were we glad of their services. You can eat out on the deck and gaze at the sea and the sand and the sky.
Having to go into St Helens for the parks pass the first day meant that we continued to Eddystone Lighthouse, built in 1889 on Tasmania's most easterly point. And that involved at least 50km on unsealed roads (C843), but they are quite well maintained and weren't too rutted and uncomfortable. On the way we had to cross Ansons River, where there were perfect reflections.
Like its namesake off the coast of Devon in the UK, the lighthouse is a rather splendid granite structure. The range of Eddystone's light is 48km and the tower stands 35 metres tall (total elevation 42 metres). We explored its rocky surrounds and found all manner of interesting things.
Large Pacific Gulls (above) were omnipresent around Tasmania's coastline as they had been in New Zealand.
A few kilometres south of Eddystone Point is Ansons Bay (top of post). It's a sleepy little hamlet on a rather whiffy lagoon. No one was about and there was evidence of a shop and gas station that had once been but were no more. We wanted to walk but couldn't find any pointers to tracks. So we parked up at the end of a dirt road and struck out along the edge of the lagoon, heading for the dunes. It was a strange landscape: at times a little boggy underfoot, and always the possibility of a side creek we wouldn't be able to ford.
Rather like Lawrence staggering out of the Negev, we stumbled our way to the top of the dunes. Beyond lay a beach that has to be up there with the best of Australian beaches I've seen so far. It was quite dull when we arrived, and sky, sea, sand and spray merged into one, but the sun struggled through so there was a better chance of the camera doing justice to the beauty of the place.
Next day we took the short and sealed route from Binalong to The Gardens. It was windy, and white horses littered the bay. There was more of the same stunning scenery and interesting joints and instrusions in the granite.
I've decided beaches are like drugs. You can't give them up; you can't stop going to look at them, taking pictures of them. Just a signpost on the highway 'to the beach' and it's hard to continue down the road. Dependency: imagine life without walks on beaches.
Here's another fix – Binalong on the evening before we left. And a name I liked in this region.
And then we were off to Freycinet...