Tasmania rocks

By Pamela Wade

Pamela Wade tracks along the shore of the turquoise Tasman as she walks the Bay of Fires.

Heavy silica sand from the granite boulders means the water stays beautifully clear. Photo / Pamela Wade
Heavy silica sand from the granite boulders means the water stays beautifully clear. Photo / Pamela Wade

Who knew the Tasman could look this glamorous? I'm warily familiar with its challenging West Coast incarnation further along this latitude, so the view of it at Stumpys Bay in northeast Tasmania takes my breath away; for which I'm grateful, since there's a well-dead pilot whale not far from where I'm standing.

Stretching off to the limits of my eyesight - not into the haze, because there isn't any, of which more later - there's a dazzling white beach edged by rounded orange rocks and green bush fading into distant purple hills; but the stunning focus of the scene is the sea in all its tropical-turquoise glory, shining and gin-clear, breaking into friendly wavelets. I could be in Thailand or Tahiti - but this is Tasmania, and that really is the Tasman. For the next four days, it'll be on my left as I follow the Bay of Fires Walk, 25 km of beach, bush and boulders, carrying just a day pack and sleeping in eco-accommodation. I'm promised that's a lot more comfortable than it sounds, and I hope they're right because I've just spent a night in luxury at Quamby Estate, and I'm already spoiled.

Despite sounding like a Dickens character, Quamby (Aboriginal meaning: a place to camp and rest) is a charming, historic Anglo-Indian homestead, once the northern residence of the Governor of Tasmania. It has high ceilings, deep verandas, french doors facing wide lawns, rose gardens and a golf course, and the hallway still has a row of servants' bells labelled Morning Room, Linen Room, Study.

All the rooms are different and I love mine in the garden wing overlooking the tennis court, though when I'm woken at 5.30am by kookaburras in the surrounding elm trees, they're the only ones laughing.

Wallowing in the bath under the window ("Remember, that's regular two-way glass," I'm warned on arrival, in case I inadvertently put someone off their serve) I fondly remember last night's delicious quail, duck and panna cotta, and wonder what the food will be like on the walk.

Ample and excellent is the short answer: the longer one involves the term "Bay of Fires belly" which is cosying up to my waistband even now. Firstly, however, I meet up with guides Matt and Kate, who are young, knowledgeable and enthusiastic - and also, I discover later, barefaced liars; and with the other walkers comprising our unusually small group of four (normally 10). A three-hour drive through rolling hills and secret green valleys takes us to Mt William National Park (the mount, as so often in Australia, a laughable stump of 216m), established to protect Tasmania's only kangaroo, the Forester. Although the population is now, er, bouncing back, we don't see any; but there's a bold little wallaby nibbling the grass where we leave the bus and, scarcely 300 metres into the walk, a furry brown wombat nosing through the spinifex on the beach: getting his iodine fix, apparently.

He is the only one we see on this walk, but we still manage to become pub-trivia wombat experts: their poo, for example, is cubic so that it doesn't roll away when deposited in prominent positions to mark territory; it's also easily adapted for use as dice by unfastidious bushmen. We hear banjo frogs twanging away in the bush, carefully unhook the webs of beautiful jewel spiders, and equally carefully (and in horror) unfasten a glistening, 10cm tiger leech from someone's sock. There are fat little hooded plovers nesting on the sand, unfeasibly large pelicans floating on the waves, and cosily domestic pairs of sooty oystercatchers with bright beaks colour-co-ordinated to match the lichen on the boulders.

Ah, the boulders! Unimaginably ancient at around 400 million years and weathered to comfortably rounded shapes, huge lumps of granite are artistically clustered at each end of the many bays that make up this section of coast.

Naturally pinkish, much of the stone is covered by orange caloplaca lichen, a marker of air purity: something Tasmania prides itself on. At the unprepossessingly-named Cape Grim on the opposite horn of the island, in fact, is an air-monitoring station which claims to measure the cleanest air in the world. Certainly, there's no horizon haze - nor is there, less happily, a filter between us and the sun, so 30+ sunblock is a necessity and we're sweating in 25-degree temperatures that feel much hotter.

Sadly, there's no shower at the first night's accommodation, although bowls of hot water keep us reasonably nice to be near. On all other counts, though, Beach Camp is a treat: tucked invisibly into the dunes, we come upon it with surprise, a neat row of box-tents with sliding glass doors, linked by boardwalks. Matt has powered ahead to pop on a pinny and lay out a selection of nibbles for us on the deck while he busies himself preparing the salmon for the evening meal. We sip the wine cooling in the ice-bucket and marvel at the logistics of fresh food, rubbish management, barbecue, fridge and seriously massive mortar and pestle in a place with no road access. Eco-friendliness is taken seriously here, and the whole camp could be airlifted out, leaving no trace of its presence.

Fortunately, though their shelters were even more insubstantial, evidence remains of Aboriginal activity. All along the beach are middens: deep piles of shells and bones built up over 40,000 years; the Bay of Fires takes its name from their camp-fires, spotted in 1773 by Furneaux. Kate is careful not to interpret the sites - these days that's an Aboriginal prerogative - but we understand that they are more than just rubbish-heaps. "Our history is embedded in the earth," I read later; so it's a shame to find that the picturesque Eddystone Lighthouse was built in 1889 on top of an important midden. The area has now at least been returned to Aboriginal control. From the bluff we see a 5km stretch of white beach which turns out to be the most beautiful part of the walk: the silica sand is squeaky-clean (literally, so it's fun to scuff through it, producing a chorus of protesting mice). A perfect foil for the turquoise, blue, orange and green, it's absolutely stunning and, with the tide out, easy walking too; although at the end of the day's 14km even my bare feet are protesting.

"Will at the Lodge does a mean foot-massage," Matt assures me, and the prospect carries me up the path through the bush. The building is another marvel: stylish, modern, natural, and also sitting lightly on the land; but when Will welcomes us I'm disappointed to discover that though he has many talents, cake baking not the least of them, he's no masseur. Matt is cheerfully unrepentant; and so is Kate next morning when her call of "Breakfast - and dolphins!" propels me out of bed to gaze from the deck over an empty sea. But fresh fruit bread and real baked beans are good compensation and set us up for a day of kayaking, lazing, picnicking and swimming.

As to that: Tasmania may get to see the Tasman's pretty face but believe me, even turquoise, it's just as bone-numbingly cold as when it's grey.

Pamela Wade went to Tasmania as a guest of Tourism Tasmania and Tourism Australia.


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