Visiting Tasmania has become a popular pastime in recent years. Like any of the world’s favourite destinations particular sites end up on the ‘must do’ list of visitors. Not too many people visiting Paris do not see the Eiffel Tower, it is hard to avoid the Statue of Liberty while in New York, and on the east coast of Tasmania Freycinet National Park and the Bay of Fires are the essential stop off sights. So, is there anything worth seeing between the two east coast natural wonders of Tasmania?
St Helen’s is nestled around the inner most point of George’s Bay. Once upon a time, in the early 1800s, it was a hub of activity for the whaling industry. By the late 1800s tin had been discovered in the hills surrounding the area and it bustled as a shipping port for the mines. Long before Europeans took an interest the Kunnarra Kuna tribe of Tasmanian Aborigines called the area home. Today oyster farming is prolific in the bay and fishermen still ply their trade throughout the year from the docks on the edge of town.
The small local population is bolstered during the summer and Easter holidays by mostly northern Tasmanians retreating to their ‘shack’ for some rest and relaxation. My wife’s family have been lured to the St Helen’s area for well over thirty years now. It all started for them with a caravan holiday which eventually turned into building their own ‘shack’ on the southern side of George’s Bay. On this southern side is St Helen’s Point Conservation Area which is where our little adventure took place.
Maurouards Beach, as legend has it, was once an unofficial naturists beach, for those who enjoyed an all over tan. On this day the few people using the beach were clad in wet suits bobbing up and down in the sea on their surf boards awaiting the next big wave. I brought my two daughters, four and six, to challenge their sense of adventure on the rocky outcrop which separates Maurouards Beach and Beerbarrel Beach. It is one of nature’s secret playgrounds, carved out by sea and air over an eternity. Some rocks are jagged, protruding out like fossilised dinosaur teeth, others huge and smooth, lacquered with the rust-orange lichen found all along the east coast. There is no soft rubber matting to fall on, better still, there are hidden tiny coves filled to the brim with more seashells than a child can imagine.
The determination and excitement of the two girls to traverse rocks bigger than themselves unaided was impressive. There were some areas where assistance was necessary but only reluctantly accepted. There aren’t too many easily accessible coastal sights these days where you can stop, look about, and realise there is absolutely nothing man made visible around you. This was a small oasis protected from the noise of cars, free from buildings, and the buzz of daily life. We stopped, in amongst the stones, for a snack of crackers, cheese and carrot sticks, plus a few Easter eggs remaining from the previous day’s hunt. The view nearby was the spray of sea water foaming high into the air as each wave made land. In the distance the horizon separated the dark blue of the ocean and gentle blue of the sky.
The short break was just that, short. The girls enthusiasm for adventure meant hastily repacking the backpack and chasing after them. The summit of the biggest rock in the area was in their sights and clearly I was the only one slightly apprehensive about it. One at a time they made their way up while I stood, less than poised, below. A short scramble up after them and I too could take in the panorama, many kilometres south beyond the town of Scamander and north to the adjacent Beerbarrel Beach. For a moment there was no talking as we each just stood admiring the landscape. This was as far as we were going today so we lingered, chatting about what makes the waves and why the tide goes in and out, “The moon helps! What? How?” We made our way back to the car in no rush for the adventure to end. One scraped shin was the only injury for the day.
The following day we planned for a family afternoon at the beach. I was keen to retrace my steps and our twelve year old son had missed out on the previous day’s adventure. As he is older, and in theory, has more energy to burn we were both dropped at the Peron Dunes car park for an extended walk to meet up later at Beerbarrel Beach. Access to the dunes is a brief walk along a trail between native and introduced grasses to help reduce erosion. The ascent is brief but steep. Atop the dunes you are faced with yet another spectacular view. One thing this little island has in bountiful supply is spectacular views! My son set off running down the long soft slope in the direction of the sea. I took it slowly stopping to observe the delicate tiny sand sculptures created by the wind swirling through driftwood protruding from the dune. We had the place to ourselves.
Caution: Further south of the Peron Dunes car park the dunes are accessible by four wheel drive vehicles and there is a designated area for this activity. There is limited signage so very occasionally vehicles will stray out of the boundary and into the area where we walked.
My childhood adventures were camping and bush-walking predominantly. We were not much of a beach family. Even with a bucket and spade in hand I was a reluctant participant. Thankfully, I have realised the error of my ways. There is something about a beach walk that completely refreshes and resets your system. Meandering along an empty beach with only the sound of the sea, watching it ebb and flow, is incredibly soothing. I daydreamed the length of the beach while my son continued on ahead chasing gulls and searching for treasure in the pockets of seaweed washed up at high tide. We crossed the rocky outcrop stopping to clamber up the rock the girls had climbed the day before. The descent down from the rocks onto Beerbarrel Beach is narrow but manageable. We found everyone at the far end of the beach and spent an idyllic afternoon building sandcastles for the tide to demolish, as it inched its way further up the sand, one wave at a time.
St Helen’s Point Conservation Area (including Peron Dunes, Mauroraud and Beerbarrel Beaches) is accessible from St Helen’s Point Road [C851]. Turn off is from the Tasman Highway [A3]. St Helen’s Point Road is sealed up to St Helen’s Point car park and boat ramp which has the only toilet facilities in the area. Side roads leading into other car parking areas are unsealed but suitable for most vehicles. There is an easy walking track (30 minutes one way) between St Helen’s Point car park and Beerbarrel Beach. From Peron Dunes car park to St Helen’s Point car park, via Maurouard and Beerbarrel Beaches is about two hours at a leisurely stroll.
Other places of interest between Freycinet National Park and the Bay of Fires include Freycinet Marine Farm, Freycinet Vineyard, Devils Corner Vineyard, Douglas-Apsley National Park, Bicheno blowhole, Bicheno Food & Wine Festival (annual event: November) and Iron House Brewery.
There is an abundance of waterfalls on the east coast and throughout the state. Waterfalls of Tasmania offers a comprehensive guide with good information on locations and accessibility.
The Great Eastern Drive covers much of the east coast of Tasmania between Orford, just north of Hobart, through to the Bay of Fires on the north east coast.
For further information on vineyards in the area see The East Coast Wine Trail.