Meeting a royal, climbing offshore peaks and sharing long table brekkies by candlelight. The Freycinet Experience Walk invites an East Coast encounter far from the ordinary.
Beneath my bare feet is 370-million-year old granite. It’s coarse underfoot, contrasting the silky-smooth curve of Wineglass Bay beyond. I’m crouched low in makeshift swimwear, prepping mentally to launch into chilly waters.
Other walkers have taken the dive. Call it peer pressure or the beginnings of a cold water love affair – I launch with an ungraceful splash. Dutchman Wim Hof’s global waves about the benefits of cold water had been high on our chatter list descending Mount Graham so it seemed fitting to test his theory.
Enveloped in the bracing waters of Wineglass, an exhilarating calm sweeps over me. I smile at the other walkers, bobbing beside me. It occurs to me this small cocoon of strangers has become firm friends. Friends that let another go first in the rainwater bath. Friends that natter late by candlelight. Friends that tread icy water together. I realise it’s these unexpected moments (oh, and midnight spotlighting) that set Freycinet Walk apart.
The lodge-based walk on Tasmania’s East Coast is one of the island’s original, founded by Joan Masterman, considered the matriarch of Tasmanian eco-tourism. Today, the ‘invisible lodge’ with its timeless Ken Latona-architecture sits lightly in the Friendly Beaches landscape unchanged, some three decades on. It’s the welcoming haven each eve after walking windswept beaches, summiting granite peaks, weaving through Casuarina shaded trails and following steps taken by the Oyster Bay Tribe 20,000 years before.
No sooner are we whisked from Hobart’s city streets, we find ourselves shaking hands with a salty skipper aboard the Naturaliste. We’re bound for Schouten Island, the southernmost tip of Freycinet National Park. There’s a fleeting sense of movie star status as we step off our private vessel onto pristine white sands of an island rarely accessed. Our mission is to climb Bear Hill, while a few sensible ‘walkers’ opt to stay aboard dropping a line for Flathead in Schouten Passage.
It doesn’t take long following well-trodden guide boots to realise they know their stuff. From Fairy wren calls to trigger plants to female trees that grow nuts, my curiosity peaks far from the summit. Back down at shore level I watch as thick granite sand spills through the guide’s fingers as he traces 120,000 years of time. There’s a lot to ponder as we take a dip on this late summer afternoon. After a swift boat trip via an eagle’s nest so impressive it looks like it could comfortably sleep three grown humans, we walk a short distance to our lodge.
It really is hidden. Hugged by tea tree, banksias and casuarinas, the lodge feels more a homely shelter than a flashy lodge with its weathered timber and tin roof. It’s invitingly informal yet quietly elegant. Two giant lodge host smiles beam from the deck, a candle topped table behind whispering of what’s to come. We’re taken to our quarters, equipped with a cosy wood fire and large windows that have my Queensland cabin-buddy quick to whip out his art pencils and capture the forested frame. That night we dine by flickering candles, just enough light to point a finger at the failed fisherman of the day. In their off-grid petite kitchen those lodge hosts magically turn out Flathead all the same, served with East Coast whites from up the road, as strangers from the UK to Bondi become new friends.
The day begins with the sweet sound of rain on our tin roof and a hot brekkie of eggs, bacon, Pigeon Whole bread, tomato and mushies that look straight out of a swish city cafe. We coat up and head for Bluestone Bay to embark on a sacred path exclusive to guests of the Freycinet Experience Walk, following the steps of the Oyster Bay Tribe. We’re already well waterlogged as we gather on a wet log for a ‘sole cleansing’ ceremony to ensure we don’t carry any nasties on our boots, leading to root-rot of the giant Xanthorrhoea (grass trees). They’re a favourite of mine with their perfectly-manicured do’s as though a barber has raced ahead of us.
The 14-kilometre coastal sojourn includes a steep climb up along the clifftops – it’s not enough to warm my bones. The rain is unrelenting but manages not to dampen our mood. It draws me deep into a time some 20,000 years back when the tribe walked this patch. I wonder how they warmed up on a rainy day without the latest thermal tech tops and Gortex shells when it’s too wet to light a fire. I am informed they would carry fire with them. Who knew? All I knew is that I gasped in shivery delight when a mirage-like camp kitchen appeared in the wilds, complete with hot coffee and local fare. Beneath a canopy tied between trees we cosy close.
My pace quickens as we reach the southern end of Friendly Beaches. I know if my soggy boots can speed, I’ll be deep in a rainwater bath in a jiffy. Sinking down with Epson salts swirling, I feel equal parts spoiled by lodge bliss and in awe of those who walked before us. We re-gather around a roaring open fire, followed by hearty lamb shanks with polenta.
This one is a biggie. We’re back on the boat, cruising down to Cooks Beach where those choosing the longer day walk are dropped. The conditions are not perfect and I begin my morning tripping in the shallow surf complete with backpack much to the stifled giggles of my new found friends. Our former-military-man-turned-nursing-student guide, Rob, assures I’ll dry off quickly. It takes my pride longer. He’s keen to work in disaster relief and I’ve kicked the day off with an impromptu swim.
Fortunately, the rest of the day is disaster free as he leads us through tall Peppermint and Blue gums, pointing out a family of Scarlet robins. He’s enchantment is infectious – much like when we come across a fresh water lobster on our way to the top of Mount Graham. It’s a climb but with views stretching back to day one’s Schouten and up the coast towards our ‘friendly home,’ we pause to breathe it all in.
As we step out onto Wineglass Bay, I’m met with a surprise unlike I’ve seen in near four decades of being Tasmanian. I drop my walking poles in shock. There in front of us is a Royal penguin. The moulting, lonely looking mate is a rare site hailing from Antarctica or perhaps New Zealand. While we are assured by a passer-by they often moult alone, I feel an odd sense of abandoning as we walk on, hoping a feathery friend joins for company. Striding on, I figure if the lone penguin is going to waddle up to an unfamiliar beach it might as well be one rated among the world’s finest many times over. It would be at the beach’s northern end that I myself waddle to the granite’s edge and take a plunge.
After raising glasses of Jansz teamed with Great Oyster Bay oysters in celebration of a guest’s birthday, we return to the Tasmanian oak table for Cape Grim eye fillet and mash. Little do I know a small huddle of us would be back out walking until midnight – lured by the blue sparkles of bioluminescence and a spotlight tour of Saltwater Lagoon. It’s hardly on the guide’s job description but these guys love the patch so much they leap from the couch immediately. Strolling the dark beach wakes new senses as stars punch through a cloudy sky. Friendly Beaches in yet another mood – dark of course but equally affable – true to its name.
Just to make the farewell from our homely lodge a little harder, we wake to a glorious morning and preparation for a lazy brunch out beneath the casuarinas. We are invited to take George’s favourite walk (Joan’s late husband) along a fossil-clad ridgeline and back down to the lagoon. Part of the walk is shared in silence, to soak up the landscape and reflect. We take a leaf and a stick – symbolising what we might like to leave behind following our journey and what we’d like to stick with us. It’s a fitting close to a moving four days.
As I walk the final 4.5 kilometres along Friendly’s to Isaac’s Point I know the bus is waiting. I smile, knowing my pack is now full of new memories. Fireside chats. Rainwater bathing. Tribal tales. Meeting a ‘royal.’ Oh, and sea plunging on a peninsula dotted with pink granite mountains lapped by turquoise seas. No wonder famed British writer Nicholas Shakespeare said of this place, “I knew, without knowing the first thing about it, that I was gazing at the most beautiful place I had seen on earth; a conviction that all subsequent experience has served to deepen.”
I’m no Shakespeare but I tend to agree thy is spot on.
Duration: 4 days/3 nights
Distance: up to 37-40km
Base: Friendly Beaches Lodge
Max group size: 10 guests
Cost: from $2350 per person for four-day private lodge hire and $2750 per person for signature four-day walking experience.
Your launch pad for exploring Tasmania like a local.