The drive from St Helens to Swansea took us down the main east coast road past some familiar sounding names obviously borrowed from home, like Beaumaris and Falmouth. We eventually stopped at a small town called Bicheno.
We had a good look round and it seemed a bustling, busy sort of place, popular with tourists who congregated around the two cafes either side of the main road. There were one or two souvenir shops about the place, and a walk down to the small jetty revealed a pleasant park and seating area where we stayed for lunch. We had plenty of time to cover the 74 miles to Swansea so took our time.
Views of Bicheno Harbour
Our accommodation was on a site with four stone cottages built in the same style of the original settlers own house which used to stand on this site. The owner welcomed us with home baked bread which was still warm, home mixed muesli and other breakfast goodies. It was small, very small, compared to our last base but we were only here for three nights.
The Tasmanian Swansea lies in the heart of Tassie’s east coast, on the north-west shore of Great Oyster Bay. Opposite, on a long peninsula is Freycinet National Park one of the most popular and picturesque on Tasmania.
The first European to explore the area was Captain John Henry Cox. Sailing from England to Sydney, he took his ship, the Mercury, up the eastern coast of Tasmania in July 1789, having heard of vast colonies of seals in the area and possibly wanting to exploit them for meat or oil. He sailed along the western shore of Maria Island and into a stretch of water he later named Oyster Bay, although he did not stop for too long.
Swansea was originally named Great Swanport and was first settled in 1821, long after Cox had sailed away, when George Meredith, his family and workers arrived from Pembrokeshire, Wales. Initially, agriculture was the main industry with the export of seasonal crops, flour, and leather from the tannery. Whaling stations were also established on nearby islands to enable the export of whale oil. The town has a number of buildings still standing that were constructed during this development phase, including the founders original house, Cambria, and Morris’s General Store which has been owned and run by the family for over 100 years. The town became Swansea in around 1863.
The bad weather caught up with us again on our first full day in Swansea so we decided to stay local and explore the foreshore path we had stumbled across on our morning run. We walked from our cottage down to a deserted beach and then on to the Esplanade walk, a track around the headland. All the time this walk gave us tantalising scenes of the Freycinet National Park, a peninsula across the bay with pink flecked granite mountains and thick bushland. The track ended at the jetty close to town so we re-traced our steps, pausing on a bench at Waterloo Point to watch the gulls and Short-tailed Shearwaters, or Mutton-birds as they are known locally, swooping down to feed, or fight each other. A lovely walk finishing in sunshine after the rain of the morning.
Top Row L-R: Primrose Cottage; Swansea Beach; Lyn on a log; Middle Row: Pano Swansea beach; Lyn in thoughtful mood at Waterloo Point; Just larking about at Waterloo Point; Bottom Row: Echidna hunting, spotted on our walk back; Driftwood Sculpture.
One of the east coast’s big attractions is Natureworld, a wildlife sanctuary sitting amongst 150 acres of natural parkland and lagoons a short drive north of Bicheno. It is home to many species of animals, birds and reptiles and acts as a rescue and rehoming centre for Foresters Kangaroos, Wallabies and Tasmanian Devils amongst others. There is some debate among scientists as to when the Tasmanian Devil became extinct on the Australian mainland, but regardless of that, it can now only be found in Tasmania.
Beatrice – The Tasmanian Devil
We started our walk around at the time that the Devils were being fed and we followed the keeper as he tended the animals. He told us about a programme they are running with a number of universities to help eradicate a particularly vicious form of jaw cancer which affects only the Tasmanian Devils. This is having an impact on the population and they are breeding from the parks own Tasmanian Devils. This work is linking with project recently established on Maria Island to generate and maintain a disease free population, with a view to eventually releasing the progeny back into the wild. A very useful conservation project.
Roaming free in the park are a group of Wallabies. These are permanent residents and are so used to the crowds that they virtually tame. Lyn saw one shading under a tree and squatted down to take a picture. This one had its baby in its pouch, but she slowly hopped over towards Lyn and they were inches apart at one point. She had a lovely sight of the little baby wallaby (Joey?) in the mothers pouch, Lyn could reach out and pat the animal if she desired; she chose not to. After a short game of “you watching me watching you”, the Wallaby just turned her head away and slowly hopped off into the bush. A special magical moment for Lyn.
Wallaby and baby;
Lyn meets a Wallaby
We walked on through the park, coming across Emu, Ostrich, and an aviary full of rare birds. There were enclosures for snakes as well as platypus and wombats though many of these were sheltering against the hot sun, or just resting as they are nocturnal! It gave us a fascinating insight into Australasian wild life but without the feel of a zoo.
Top Left: One of the geese on patrol; Top right: Lyn watches on as a wallaby helps himself; Bottom: Emu
I mentioned earlier the Freycinet National Park which can be seen in full glory from the bay at Swansea. It is one of the most popular National Parks in Tasmania and has number of walking tracks ranging from a few hours to a few days. Right up our street! En route to Freycinet we stopped at Coles Bay, for a look round. It is regarded as the gateway to the National Park and is an idyllic small village with an uncrowded beach area as well as one or two cafes and bars with a multitude of camp and caravan sites around about. From here it is a short drive to the Freycinet National Park Visitors Centre, a mandatory stop to buy a Parks Pass. Without that you are not allowed to leave your vehicle in the car parks nor walk the tracks. Penalties for not having the pass are severe.
Map of Freycinet National Park
Top: Panoramic from Coles Bay toward Freycinet National Park; Bottom left: Bottom Right: Coles Bay; Main Street Coles Bay
We had chosen the walk from the car park to the Wineglass Bay Lookout and then on to Wineglass Bay itself. At the start there are warning signs about the Wineglass Bay walk, saying it should not be attempted if you are unfit because of the 1000 steps down and then back up. We walked up to the look out point, following a long line of people making the same journey. It was not a strenuous walk (for us) and we reached the lookout point, joining a crowd of about 30 people either on the platform or resting on benches close by. The view was amazing with the bay of white sand set against the pink flecked granite rock and the azure blue sea making a beautiful sight. Those dreaded selfie sticks were in evidence once again and were a hindrance on the limited space of the platform. Nevertheless the subtle use of the elbow nudge into the ribs of a selfie stick holder soon created a little room for us to admire the views for ourselves. The Viewpoint was set into the side of a rock face that constituted part of Mount Amos, one of about half a dozen mountains on the Freycinet Peninsula. Over the viewpoint the sheer granite rock face towered above us, the rock again flecked in speckled pink. It is beautiful stone but best left where it is for all to enjoy.
Clockwise from top left: Lyn on the way to the Wineglass Bay Lookout; Panorama of Wineglass Bay; Us at the Wineglass Bay Lookout; Warning sign at the start of the walk down to Wineglass Bay; Me at Wineglass Bay.
As we left the viewing platform more signs warned us of the strenuous walk down and back up to Wineglass Bay. We descended a long and steep stepped but very good path and after about 35 minutes stepped down onto the white sand of the bay. It was as beautiful at ground level as it was from the lookout. Stunning! I was slightly surprised to see people sunbathing and swimming, given the difficulty of getting down to the bay but the effort was well worth it. We lingered for a while before beginning our climb back to the top. There were many steps, not sure if there were 1000 as the signs promised, but it was not a difficult climb back up. This walk was one of the highlights of our “Tour de Tassie”.
North of Wineglass Bay is the Cape Tourville Lighthouse and lookout. There is a twenty minute walk over a clifftop boardwalk which gave stunning views south to the entrance of Wineglass Bay.
Clockwise from top left: Entrance to Wineglass Bay from Lighthouse; Cape Tourville Lighthouse; Coastal Panorama from Lighthouse
On the road back to Swansea is a winery with vines that slope down to the shore of Oyster Bay. Devils Corner Winery have built a look out tower to enable visitors to get a view of Oyster Bay and Freycinet and also a cafe and restaurant to enjoy food and drink whilst taking in the view. Whether visitors were attracted by the lookout and view, or the coffee, wine and food I will leave the readers to judge. It was idyllic, as the fields and expansive vineyards sloped gently down to the shore, we sat on the verandah sipping water (no wine, honest!) just taking in the scene.
Views of Great Oyster Bay from Devils Corner Winery and Lookout
We returned to this place the following day, because, although it was the wrong way to get to Hobart Airport, we had all day to kill (our flight was not until Saturday) and we loved the place so much we decided to have morning coffee there, and reflect on our Tour de Tassie.
A single cloud over Freycinet National Park. Mountains from l-r Parsons, Baudin, Dove, Amos, with Mayson further to the right.
Just south of Swansea is an old bridge, Spikey Bridge. So what? This bridge was built by convicts in 1843 using thousands of local field stones. It used to carry the main east coast road to Hobart but has been passed by the new road and is now a monument.
Our lunch stop in Orford gave us some lovely views across the bay to Maria Island as we eventually headed towards Hobart Airport for a night stop before an early morning flight to Melbourne.
Maria Island from Orford Beach
That is it for Tasmania, next stop, Hampton on the south east side of Melbourne and close to the Mornington Peninsula.