Wineglass Bay, Freycinet peninsula. Photo / Matthieu Donovan
Rob McFarland explores the spectacular scenery of Tasmania’s Freycinet Peninsula on a four-day guided hike
“It’s the most hectic thing you’ll be doing all week,” says Ella, our guide. We follow it along the steep dirt road, passing giant granite boulders and crossing ravines cluttered with bushes. The previous conversation has gone silent, replaced by labored breathing and careful concentration as the pitch becomes more technical. A final push up and over a rocky ledge and we reach a sloping plateau of pink granite slabs dotted with rustic shrubs and trees. Finally, we can turn around and enjoy the majestic view of what will be our playground for the next four days, the spectacular granite and dolerite promontory on the east coast of Tasmania known as the Peninsula of Freycinet.
We are on Schouten Island, an uninhabited atoll just south of the peninsula which we reached via a boat transfer from Coles Bay on the mainland. Along the way, we passed two Australian fur seals, their backs arched like swimsuit mannequins as they basked on the rocky shore. We also saw several white-bellied sea eagles and took far too many photos of a pod of six bottlenose dolphins frolicking in our wake. It was an immersive introduction to the dizzying array of flora and fauna that thrive in Freycinet National Park.
Since 1992, the Freycinet Experience Walk has taken small groups on guided excursions through this alluring wilderness. Over the next four days we will explore the entire peninsula on a series of hikes showcasing its extraordinary natural beauty. But for now, our priority is to descend from this 200m high plateau on Bear Hill. It’s a far from graceful descent, a mix of boulder jumps, awkward scrambling and slides, but the payoff is a refreshing (some might say invigorating) swim in the sparkling 15C waters of Crocketts Bay. “You never regret a swim,” smiles Ella.
Much like New Zealand, Tasmania is almost unfairly blessed with an abundance of world-class multi-day hikes (home to five of Australia’s 12 Great Hikes). But what makes the Freycinet experience particularly appealing is that the trip is made from a central lodge, so you only unpack your luggage once and only need to carry what is strictly necessary. every day.
We approach the lodge by strolling along the pristine white sands of Friendly Beach on the eastern side of the peninsula, bordered by the ocean. Eventually Ella and her fellow guide Clare pull away from the shore and lead us to a small unmarked opening in the bush. After a few minutes of zigzagging through a dense oak forest, we emerge into a clearing, where we are greeted by the warm glow of a cozy wooden lodge and the beaming smiles of our two hosts, Dan and Daniel.
Due to its unique position in the heart of the national park, the award-winning eco-lodge is a model of self-sufficiency. It is completely off-grid and uses filtered rainwater, solar power, and a composting toilet. Often these restrictions mean rustic accommodation (cough… uncomfortable) and basic facilities (cough… zero). Instead, our home for the next four days is a haven with roaring log fires, unlimited hot showers, deep clawfoot tubs, and some of the best food I’ve ever had. Meals and briefings take place in the main lodge while our spacious private rooms (fitted with goose-filled duvets and Egyptian cotton linens) are spread over two separate wings, each with its own living room and bathrooms. common baths.
After showering and unpacking, we meet in the main lodge for an aperitif (a selection of craft beers and Tasmanian wines) and canapes (an extravagant platter of Tassie cheeses), before sitting down at a long table. lit by candlelight for the first to a succession of improbably good meals. Highlights of tonight’s feast include a panko breaded flathead and vanilla panna cotta with summer fruit and macerated basil. It quickly becomes apparent that our biggest challenge will be burning enough calories to justify the indulgent meals we are going to binge on each day. Luckily tomorrow should give us plenty of opportunity, as one of the two hikes on offer is a grueling 18km hike via the 580m high summit of Mount Graham. “It’s like today,” Ella explains in the pre-dinner briefing, “but on steroids”.
In many ways, Freycinet is like Tasmania on steroids. The compact peninsula contains everything from windswept granite peaks and lush temperate rainforest to miles of white sand beaches. Over the next few days, we experience it all, ascending and flying over Mount Graham, following an ancient Indigenous migratory route through a sacred forest, and walking barefoot along deserted expanses of unblemished sand.
Along the way, Ella and Clare are an endless source of fascinating facts and stories, stopping frequently to point out an interesting plant or animal that we would otherwise have missed. My favorite is the tiny flying duck orchid, which has evolved to attract male sawflies, temporarily closing around them to make sure they are covered in pollen before releasing them. They encourage us to listen to the background forest chatter of bird calls, from the melodious cry of the shrike thrush to the abrasive cry of the black cockatoo.
At the end of each day, we return to the lodge for hot showers, clean clothes and extravagant amounts of phenomenal food. One day, it’s local oysters and sparkling wine followed by lamb shank on polenta; another is a tender eye fillet steak with roasted carrots and a homemade apple crumble. All accompanied by a diverse selection of superb Tasmanian wines, craft beers and spirits. After dinner, people retire to the comfortable sofas by the fireside to play games, chat or just curl up with a book from the lodge’s well-stocked library.
Prior to the trip, I was convinced the highlight would be Wineglass Bay, a striking semi-circular cove on the eastern side of the peninsula which is by far its best known and most Instagrammed feature. We arrive at the bay in the afternoon of the second day, after a long, winding descent from the summit of Mount Graham on a track sprinkled with sparkling white quartzite. After a festive swim, we walk barefoot along the fine white sand, then we tackle the climb of 1000 steps to the main belvedere. Suddenly we are immersed in a crowd of tourists all scrambling for the perfect selfie with the bay and Mount Graham in the background. After passing three other hikers in total all morning, the contrast is stark.
It turns out that the climax comes the next day. While following a path that was once used for tens of thousands of years by local Toorernomairremener, Ella and Clare suggest walking the last two miles to Friendly Beach in silence. They stagger our departures to make sure we can’t see or hear anyone else and for the next 20 minutes we walk on our own, our senses awakening with the fragrant, honey-scented kunzea shrubs and orchestra of calls of birds and insects ricocheting between the gums of trees.
When we finally come to the beach, the sun rises, making the pink granite rocks sparkle and transforming the ocean into a stunning shade of Tahitian blue. Some of us strip down and rush over, laughing and joking as we wade into the icy embrace of the water. Tomorrow we will begin the journey back to Hobart and the real world, but for now we are children again – happy, carefree, and wonderfully present.
Air New Zealand offers non-stop flights twice a week from Auckland to Hobart.
The four-day Freycinet Experience Walk runs from October to April. Fares start at A $ 2,750 and include accommodation, meals, beverages, national park passes, and transfers to and from Hobart. Groups are limited to 10 people. freycinet.com.au
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