We left the southern part of Tasmania and drove to Tassie’s east coast primarily to explore the rugged coastline. But it just so happens that Tassie’s east coast is a premier source of many of the island’s oysters and much of its other seafood—and it also happens to have some very credible wineries. What more could we ask for? It became a must-explore place.
Freycinet National Park
Freycinet National Park is a lovely spot, occupying the bottom two-thirds of the Freycinet peninsula, with its rugged coast line interspersed with sandy beaches, its 2,000-foot mountains and its reddish, pinkish and orangish (depending on the light) granite mountains (the roughly 1,000-to-1,400 range called “The Hazards”) and boulder-strewn coastline.
Since the park is only sparsely served by roads, the best way to see it is to strap on a pack and join one of the hiking tours that traverse the park over several day hikes. Since our current visit was so short, and since it was raining most of the time, we did only a few short trails. And since the entire park was enveloped in fog on the first day of our visit, the sweeping panoramic views for which the park is best known were merely memories for photos we had seen. For example:
- Cape Tourville barely provided views of the water below us, much less the spectacular views of the Hazards and of Wineglass Bay. Even here, however, we were able to catch a brief glance of a couple wallabies, before they hopped into the bushes.
- Richardson Beach, which typically yields spectacular views of The Hazards, was indeed pretty, but we could barely see the nearby lodge, much less the mountains;
- Sleepy Bay, by contrast, offers its majesty up close, rather than in a distance. The orange boulders and rocks that tumble down to the coast, the tiny beaches, the magnificent color combinations of orange rock, next to green algae, next to black rocks and bluish-green water. And then, when you get down to the beach, the graceful, rounded cavities that nature has carved out of the boulders. And then there was the curious kangaroo, trying to figure out why humans were even on such as trail in the rain.
Dense fog or not, we were able to capture magical views such as this from many areas of the park. More than enough to make us anticipate a longer walks, and ideally panoramic views, the next day when we were rewarded by clear skies, sunshine and moderate temperatures. We began with a roughly 30 minute, 1.5 km steadily, but not especially steep uphill climb to overviews of Coles Bay and, at the top, the park’s most popular view of Wineglass Bay. We then continued another 1 km down a very steep, very long set of quasi-steps formed from granite rocks, followed by another 1 km of a relatively gentle path down to Wineglass beach. Although we did not take the full 20 minute walk along the beach to get the classic view of the granite “The Hazards” mountains, we did get enough of a view to last us until we could return to the car.
Our worse fear of hiking back up the very steep hike back up to the lookout (and then the return hike to the car) was unfounded and we managed the hike without much trouble. Then we drove back up Freycinet Peninsula, savoring the beautiful views of the mountains that had eluded us the previous day.We didn’t see all four of the peaks at once, and not the significantly taller peaks—but definitely enough to provide a feel for the park’s beauty.
Although few of the views provided the pink, red and orange colors of the underlying rock, we did get occasional glimpses when the sun hit exposed rock in the right way, and especially when the layers of dirt had been rubbed off.
Getting Up Close to Tasmanian Wildlife
We exited the peninsula and headed up the coast to Natureworld Bicheno. This sanctuary for injured and endangered wildlife cares for and rehabilitated animals, participates with other sanctuaries and zoos in endangered species mating programs and, wherever possible, embeds chips into animals that are reintroduced into the wild.
The nature park has it all (or at least most of it)—emu, ostriches, kangaroos, wombats, echidna, wallabies, bandicoot, quolls, sugar gliders, potoroos, bettongs, possums, Tasmanian masked owls, Tasmanian masked owls, Goshawks, eagles and dozens of other species of indigenous reptiles, amphibians and birds. And yes, there were also several Tasmanian Devils. About the only creatures missing were platypuses and koalas. A number of the animals are threatened and some, such as quolls and the devils are officially endangered.
True, we did see some of these animals in the wild—including kangeroos, wallabies, wombats, echidna and koalas. We did not, however, see anywhere near the number of animals as at the reserve. More importantly, seeing them is not understanding them.
We began our explorations on our own, while waiting for a tour to begin. A few of the animals in which we had the greatest interest were in sight. Most, however, were deep in their burrows or hidden in tall grasses and many are normally nocturnal. No fear. Luckily we were on time for one of the scheduled feeding tours in which the keepers, who obviously have deep relationships with and love of the animals, coaxes or carries the animal into the open, and provides fascinating details about their lives and feeds them. Our detailed, 1.5 hour tour was fascinating. Among the animals we met and the many fascinating details we learned were:
- Wombats, which can weigh up to 30 kg, eat one-third of their body weight per day in roots, bulbs and grasses and have highly efficient digestive systems that take about 14 days to digest and extract all the nutrients from its low-value foods. Their bodies are solitary animals that are optimized for burrowing—typically building in burrows as large as 20 or 30 square meters. Although their size is their best defense against indigenous carnivores like quolls and devils, their burrows provide another defense, especially when they back up to the entry and use their rock-hard, cartilage-armored backs to ward off potential intruders. Closely related to koalas, they generally sleep about 17 hours per day (almost as much as the 20 hours for koalas).
- Quolls, which are spotted cat-like carnivore hunters that are related to devils. These hyper-frenetic animals seem to never rest. They are continually running around their domains, which may help account for their short, two to two-and-a-half year lifespans. When they do haunt, however, they stalk their prey, like other cats. They are fast, agile and great climbers that are continually in search of rodents, frogs and small wallabies—focusing especially on the high-protein, high-fat parts of their victims, such as the organs and the muscles. Tasmanian devils, the scavengers of the forest, are happy to take whatever is left.
- Echidnas, which are similar to other continents’ ant eaters, have long bills (with very sensitive receptors, that they use to detect termites, ands and other insects and then use their 18 cm-long tongues to extract them from their holes. But, while they feed like ant eaters, they have sharp quills like porcupines and can dig their feet so firmly into the ground that they are extremely difficult for predators (especially devils and quolls) to turn them over to get to their soft bellies. They are also one of only three mammals (along with the platypus) to lay eggs which are left to hatch in their pouches. They feed their young not through nipples but through sweat glands that secrete a sweet, creamy milk.
- Tasmanian Devils, which can grow up to 25 kg, are voracious eaters that typically eat one-third of their body weight in a day—and, if the opportunity arises, within a single 30 minute feeding. They, unlike quolls, are primarily scavengers. Although their eyesight is poor, they have excellent hearing and a sense of smell that is far more sensitive than that of dogs—identifying food up to two to three kilometers away. Although devils prefer to scavenge, they will hunt when necessary. When they do, they can run fast, up to 2-25 km/hour (although only for distances of about 100 meters). If they do catch their prey, they hold on with their sharp teeth, often trying to open major veins of arteries. When they subdue it, they will eat quickly, and eat everything, including skin, fur, feathers and bones that they crack with bites that are four-to-five times more powerful than comparably-sized dogs. And then there is their brutal sex lives, where the larger male violently subdues and holds the female as a virtual sex slave in her own burrow for days at a time until she eventually lashes out so violently that even the male, badly bitten bleeding, finally leaves.
Among the other animals that we saw on our own or that the guides briefly discussed were:
- Wallabies, which are quite common and widely hunted for food (including for our previous night’s dinner);
- Kangaroos, especially mothers with pouches stuffed with baby joeys. While many of the joeys were still in their pouches, sometimes with their legs or heads sticking out, a few were out, sucking on their mother’s teats or exploring the nearby surroundings.
- Tasmanian Masked Owl, a monogamous bird that pairs for live and hunts rodents and waterfowl at night;
- Sugar Gliders are adorable (at least the orphaned babies that we met) flying squirrel-like animals that can glide over long distances (depending on the height of the tree from which they start) in their nocturnal search for food and particularly love sweet fruits.
- Koalas, which used to be quite limited in numbers since eucalyptus trees had been confined to small areas, before Europeans introduced them to the continent and they proliferated. This created an almost unlimited supply of leaves for the adorable animals that live high in trees, beyond the reach of most predators.
- Bandicoots, another endangered species that lives in boroughs or in hollowed out logs, sleeps in the day and feeds on insects, eggs or its preferred meal of earthworms at night. They have few defenses against predators, other than their ability to hop long distances and great heights.
East Tassie Cafes and Restaurants
As we mentioned, this is oyster country. We hit two open-air cafes owned by Freycinet Marine Farms, the island’s largest provider of fresh oysters and mussels. We stopped and had different dishes at each of them for a two-stage lunch:
- Fisher’s Cafe, at which we began with a dozen natural Pacific oysters (the plump, but reasonably briny and minerally oysters that are served all over the island) followed by a half dozen nicely fried tempura oysters with wasabi mayo;
- Freycinet Marine Farms, were we ate and fully enjoyed the pan-fried wild abalone and a dozen grilled oysters, split among three different preparations which, from those we enjoyed most to least were oysters Kilpatrick (with bacon and XO sauce); smoked salmon and brie cheese; and ginger-soy. We returned the following day where we had pan-fried salmon with soy-ginger sauce and a rock lobster (which looks and tastes like a small, clawless New England lobster, except that the meat is less firm).
- The Bay at Freycinet Lodge, where our dinner began on the land, with a moderately gamey, but very tasty chargrilled wallaby with chargrilled plum and pearl barley. This was followed with a feat from the sea: a seafood platter for two that included baby abalone, scallops, oysters (both natural and Kilpatrick), mussels (steamed and marinated); prawns, Atlantic salmon (fried, cold smoked and a slice of belly that was very lightly warm smoked), blue eye cod trevalla (the only item that was slightly overcooked), smoked ocean trout, fried calamari, marinated baby octopus and garlic potatoes. This dish had so much food that even Tom was unable to finish it. One thing we did finish, however, was a bottle of 2015 Pooley Butcher’s Hill single-vineyard pinot that we bought at the winery and drank with dinner.
East Tassie Hotel
We stayed at the Freycinet Lodge in Coles Bay. This lodge was typical of what you would find in a U.S. national park. Lodge and buildings look rustic but room is very comfortable. Wifi does not work in cabins but works in main lodge. Other than the wifi, it was very comfortable.