It's less than a two-hour drive from the Bay of Fires to the Freycinet Peninsula, if you don't stop. The Tasman Highway hugs a beautiful coast as far as Bicheno.
Along the way we stopped to pick blackberries growing on the roadside. The European Blackberry is regarded as an invasive weed in southern Australia: dense thickets restrict the diversity of native plants and wildlife habitats. I came to regret its presence, too. My friend noticed a leech on my clothing after we'd been picking for a while. On inspection, we had several between us and they were much bigger than their Queensland cousins. In fact, they quite freaked me out by getting in between layers of clothing. I virtually did a strip by the highway to make absolutely sure there weren't any more before we moved on. But there was one, at the top of my leg. It moved on to my car seat in the weird looping motion they have, first attaching a sucker at one end of its body, and then one at the other end. Emergency stop required: another strip search.
Bicheno is a fishing town with tourism based on fairy penguins on nearby Diamond Island. They're the same penguins you can see on Phillip Island, not far from Melbourne. I'm in two minds about observing little penguins after reading an article in one of the houses we stayed in on this trip. The gist of it was that the penguins become concerned by a load of humans sitting on the beach between them and their burrows and modify their behaviour accordingly. Some of them hang about, waiting for their mates so that they can advance as a bigger group. But, in dawdling, they put themselves in greater danger from predators such as seals in the shallows. We can no longer pretend that wildlife tourism, however well-managed, doesn't have an impact.
We went to look at the blowhole in the rocks at the southern end of The Esplanade. Despite a strong wind and a big swell, the action was not as impressive as the postcards suggest. Maybe the tide wasn't right. The seaweed was more striking.
Not far down the road from Bicheno is a left turn (C302) off the Tasman for Freycinet. Named in honour of French explorer Louis de Freycinet, this is Tasmania's oldest National Park, founded in 1916. It includes most of the Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island at the bottom. It reminds me vaguely of the big boot of Italy kicking little Sicily.
On our way down, we detoured to the Friendly Beaches. Despite their name, they looked deserted.
The sun was coming out as we arrived in Coles Bay. The town offers many accommodation options for visitors to Wineglass Bay, Freycinet's most famous asset, so I'd assumed it would be quite sizeable. But it's compact and green (Australia's first plastic-bag-free town, no less) and peaceful, with water on three sides and a cute jetty. We stayed just out of town, at Edge of the Bay Resort, in a modern ocean suite that blended unobtrusively into its surroundings a few steps from the water's edge, and afforded splendid views of The Hazards on the Peninsula. There's a good restaurant, The Edge, where we ate well both nights. And super furry animals come to call (Bennett's Wallabies, aka Red-necked or brush wallabies).
Geologically, Freycinet is composed of two eroded granite blocks joined by an isthmus of sand. We intended to walk over the first of those blocks, The Hazards, to Wineglass Bay, cross the isthmus to Hazards Beach, and return via the Hazards Beach Track. We climbed the saddle between Mt Amos and Mt Mayson through open eucalypt forest punctuated by massive pink granite outcrops.
Three-quarters of the way up, there's a good lookout over Coles Bay, but all the walkers – and there were large numbers – were anticipating the view of Wineglass Bay from the top. The viewing platform there was overcrowded, and you had to wait your turn to snap this most photographed of bays. We didn't linger long and continued down to the beach. We hoped most people would return to the car park, and met few on the way down, but there were too many on the beach. I've been spoilt in Australia: I like my beaches deserted. We'd intended to walk to the other end of the beach – apparently there is a fine view of the other side of The Hazards – but we decided to continue across the isthmus to Hazards Beach and rest there.
The more I looked at Wineglass Bay, the less I could see a wineglass. Until I talked to a man who reminded me that this used to be a whaling bay, when the water would have been blood-red. It is a beautiful beach, so I tried to dispel that thought.
Barely five minutes along the Isthmus Track we came across this.
Tasmania has three species of snake: all of them are found in Freycinet National Park and all are venomous. We think this was a thirsty Tiger Snake. Our map and notes prepared by Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Services warned that all snake bites should be treated as a medical emergency, but not to worry about identifying your biter since the antivenin for all three snakes in the Park is the same! We took our cue from the alarm calls of birds near this black scaly mean-looking beast and walked on.
The day got hotter and the landscape sandier. The clear cool turquoise water on Hazards Beach soothed our hot, walking-booted feet.
At the back of the beach in the dunes are shell middens. Aborigines who used to live in this part of Tasmania ate huge quantities of clams and the shells remain in these seaside refuse dumps.
The Hazards Beach Track back to the car park – about two hours' walk – got harder in the heat and as we had to climb over giant granite boulders and outcrops. But the views over Coles Bay were stunning.
We were happy to relax with our feet up for a while once we were back on the Edge of the Bay. There were some nice evening clouds before dinner.
The next morning dawned calm and beautiful. We had some early visitors: the Bennetts were joined by cute little Tasmanian Pademelons, who were partial to blackberries. The Bennetts were bolder.
We hit the road once more, this time headed for the northwest coast.