From Hobart, we sailed 119 nautical miles to Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula. Wineglass Bay has been voted one of the top ten beaches in the world with fine white sand and crystal clear waters surrounded by wild eucalyptus forest known everywhere in Australia as, “the bush.” Wineglass Bay is relatively pristine and visited by only a few thousand visitors each year, because is it only accessible by boat, or a one-hour strenuous hike up and over a set of mountains called The Hazards.
I woke early for a sunrise zodiac cruise around the rocky coast of the long, narrow bay. We cruised the coastline in our small boats as large swells rose and fell against the sloping rock faces nearby. As the sun warmed the 400 million year old granite walls, they began revealing their bright orange streaks with shades of red and pink breaking through the rock. The warm colors in the rock were in stunning contrast to the greens of the bull kelp and blue waters of the bay.
In the afternoon I hiked from Wineglass Bay, over The Hazards mountain range, to Coles Bay on the opposite side of the peninsula. Meanwhile, the ship pulled up anchor and sailed 24 kilometers around the southern end of the Freycinet Peninsula to Coles Bay to meet us. The views of Wineglass Bay from the top of the pass were postcard perfect.
The next morning brought pink skies off Maria Island, separated from the Tasmanian mainland by the Mercury Passage. Maria Island is the site of a prison settlement that dates back to 1821. By the early 1830s the site was too expensive to maintain, so the convicts were returned to the mainland. After that, whalers, sealers, farmers and smugglers moved onto the island. Today, all that remains of these early European settlers are the ruins of the prison encampment and a cement factory where the prisoners worked. However, Maria Island is currently home to some amazing wildlife including reintroduced animals like forester kangaroos, Bennnett’s wallabies and Cape Barren geese that had been wiped out after European occupation of the island.
I reached the highest point on the island via an ambitious hike to the Fossil Cliffs (sandstone cliffs loaded with fossils) and on, to the summit of Bishop and Clerk Mountain. It was a long hard climb through grassy fields, eucalyptus forest, over rocky scree and finally a scramble over boulders at the summit. As our small group hiked, we encountered birds like the amazingly noisy kookaburra, lizard-like skinks, a bandicoot and even an echidna (Students, look up the echidna – it’s one of only three species of egg laying mammals in the world). The summit provided fabulous views out over the bay with our tiny little ship anchored way, way out in the distance.
Our last stop in Tasmania was Flinders Island off the north east coast. The community of about 700 people there doesn’t get a lot of visitors so they pulled out all the stops for us. For many years, sealers dominated Flinders Island and it was a pretty lawless place.
Today, people earn money by raising sheep and cattle that are sold and shipped to Victoria on the mainland. For our visit, the locals set up craft stalls for us selling local goods, as well as a barbeque with wallaby sausages, abalone fritters and fresh local lobster. I have to say, the wallaby sausage was delicious!
I hope I have a chance to return to Tasmania to further explore this diverse island above and below the sea — it’s an incredible place.
Thanks to my friends and colleagues on the Caledonian Sky for the photos and information that went into this blog, especially to Judith Black.