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Walking back to wilderness

With its dreamy landscapes and dramatic seascapes, Tasmania shines with resplendent beaches, bays and coves. Marie Barbieri heads to Australia’s most southerly island to hike its iconic Bay of Fires.

Flying towards Launceston across the Bass Strait, Tasmania’s khaki topography, collared by a string of bleached-blonde beaches, begins to unfurl. Swapping wings for wheels, courtesy of the walk company’s transfer minibus, we drive northeast through a tapestry of storybook villages, swathes of eucalypt forest, farmlands and more windy bends than my belly would have liked, ending in a sensory welcome the to wilderness.

Guiding our 3-day, 45km-long walk is Chelsea, from award-winning Life’s an Adventure. From Stumpy’s Bay campground, our group of 10 follow her boots to a sheet-white beach via a tea tree-stained stream. With a deep in-breath, we face an ocean of glittering sapphires, then lucid shallows turn to a tray of crushed aquamarine gemstones.

Pied oystercatchers leave geometric footprints in the sand as dozens of little terns take flight. We then meet paw-prints of the rarely spotted Tasmanian devil, proving just how unspoilt this coastline is. More covert, are the Bennetts wallabies, pademelons and echidnas that rustle between banksias, casuarinas and eucalypts within Mt William National Park. Here, endemic forester kangaroos take shelter. Back in the 1970s, this handsome macropod almost reached extinction. But tireless conservation work has replenished the population.

Bay of Fires granite was formed some 380-400 million years ago. At Boulder Point and Cobbler Rocks, rounded lichen-freckled boulders lay happily abandoned. Like a miniature doll leaving her doll’s house, I clasp, on all fours, to scale the colossal stepping-stones that seem scattered by a giant’s hand.

The region’s pristine waters are flocked-to by fishing enthusiasts. Abalone, oysters, crayfish and scallops make mealtimes a culinary celebration. Chelsea identifies cowry shells, once traded by the Aboriginal people. We then reach a sacred Aboriginal shell midden, so detour around it, respecting and preserving indigenous history.

On lengthy Cod Bay, we break for our picnic lunch. Chelsea’s Mary Poppins-like rucksack magically produces our sandwiches: sourdough from Manubread Boulangerie Patisserie; Coal River Valley cheese; and turkey from Casalinga Gourmet Meats—all locavore delicacies.

I try to imagine back in 1773 when Tobias Furneaux charted much of Tasmania’s coastline (detouring from his exploratory voyages with Captain Cook). He became bewildered by a trail of flames illuminating the shoreline.

“Local Aboriginal fire-stick farmers led controlled bush-burns to regenerate the land, and coax out animals for easier hunting,” says Chelsea, “and this entrancing sight led Furneaux to name it the Bay of Fires.”

Tasmanian Aboriginal people have inhabited the island for at least 35,000 years. For them, the arrival of Europeans in 1803 proved catastrophic. First displaced by settler farmers, they were then exiled to nearby Flinders Island, where most succumbed to introduced diseases. Behind the serenity of the Bay of Fires lies a harsh subtext.

We reach a pool from another tannin-rich creek, but can’t fathom the rusting skeleton emerging from its centre.

“This is the wreck of the Niree,” says Chelsea. “But you’re only looking at one half of the ship. It went down in 1969, but was only discovered earlier this year—by one of our guides!”

Temporarily weaving through bush-land, we pass New Zealand spinach, beard heath, unfurled bracken fern, native flax and ruby saltbush. Back on fine sand, Chelsea spots a volute mollusc shell, previously bored by the predatory cone snail.

Day one rounds up at Deep Creek, across which we wade barefoot. Kelly transfers us to our waterside shack at Ansons Bay, all decked out in rustic weatherboard. While the log fire crackles, we dine on steam-baked salmon and flathead from Kyeema Seafoods: one of Tasmania’s leading seafood specialists. Subtly dressed in lemon and chives, it’s accompanied by marinated Mediterranean vegetables tossed on the barbeque. With creamy pavlova and fresh berries still tingling the taste buds, we sink into our pillows. Only raindrops and nocturnal feet tiptoeing along the shack’s tin roof break the sound of silence.

With sun up and poached eggs down, we’re returned to Deep Creek. Ochre-hued boulders steal the beach’s limelight, while native bush conceals honeyeaters, striated pardalotes and superb blue wrens.

We’re soon hailed by that classic Bay of Fires postcard image: Abbotsbury Lighthouse, all decked out in its pink granite.

Beneath it, we lunch at a secret lagoon (you have to know it’s here). Shimmering in various shades of blue topaz, it comes bestrewn with scorched-orange boulders abloom with native pigface. Exquisite ‘Pirate Cove’ (nicknamed such by the company) entices a couple to wade through its limpid waters.

I observe the shivering pair through the warmth of my thermals and a steaming herbal tea courtesy of Chelsea’s portable gas stove. Sipping away, I admire the boulder upon which I perch. Its feldspar sparkles like ground diamonds, contrasting with the black specks of mica.

A bushwalk trail leads to expansive Abbotsbury Beach, which comes draped in folds of floury sand dunes—seemingly forever. We track Pacific gulls gliding like kites through a cobalt sky so endlessly high. Needling through a yacca-lined forest leads us back to our shack.

“I have an aperitif to make you,” says Kelly, “a recipe that an Aboriginal elder shared with me.” Following her into the garden, she puts scissors to branch and cuts the fresh, vibrant flower spikes from the callistemon citrinus plant (crimson bottlebrush). The striking hair roller-like blooms are soaked in hot water before being lightly sweetened. The lemon-scented flavour from this iconic Australian tea tree relative is a subtle delight.

We’re then spoiled with roasted chicken and spinach, followed by home-baked apple crumble. As it digests, we become more than ready for bed. Snores ensue…

Day three begins at Policemans Point. The mouth of Ansons Bay languidly licks at the shore, glowing in a silvery stillness. There’s not a breath of wind, nor a sound to be heard, aside from the odd screech from a covert cockatoo. Through the crystalline morning light, a lone tent peeps from the foliage.

As the day progresses, the terrain tests the ankles. We ascend and descend rocky headlands, and pivot along beaches of dolerite pebbles. A salt-laden afternoon wind adds to the challenge of Break Yoke Beach, which swallows us up to the shins with its hourglass-soft sand. We meet not another soul along its length.

The end of our trek is a necklace of deliriously attractive coves, where the lichen ignites in fiery reds. The sand shines whiter and the Tasman Sea saturates to a palette of greens screaming for an impressionist’s brush—such is this living canvas.

Our tired feet, but energised minds, revel in our achievement as we reach The Gardens, where our three-day expedition comes to a close. I don’t look back—such goodbyes are never easy.

Travel Information

Tasmania can experience four seasons in one day. When hiking, wear removable layers of clothing to suit all weathers. Hat, sunscreen and camera are always essential.

GETTING THERE
Emirates (emirates.com) flies from Dubai to Launceston (via Melbourne).

RESOURCES
Life’s An Adventure (lifesanadventure.com.au) pick you up from the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Launceston and drive you to the Bay of Fires. When you begin your walk, your luggage is transferred to the award-winning company’s private shack. Accommodation, meals and drinks are inclusive of the price. Visit website for seasonal rates.

Discover Tasmania (www.discovertasmania.com.au) offers extensive advice on the island.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARIE BARBIERI

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