Call of the Wild

Catherine Lawson — 9 January 2020
Tasmania's stunning tri-coloured coastline brings the drama, but its wildlife watching opportunities bring the warm and fuzzies

Sea-ravaged headlands of golden granite tumble away into the sea, severing a seemingly endless ribbon of white silica sand. We stroll to the edge of this blissfully blue bay that sways with great gardens of giant kelp and fall on it, climbing afterwards into the powdery dunes to warm ourselves and watch for whales.

Tassie’s tricoloured east coast is renowned for its dramatic seascapes but experiencing this coastline — its intimate wildlife encounters, rainforested short walks and all those exquisite free, beachfront camps — is what really inspires travellers to cross the ditch.

You might only clock up around 600km travelling from Hobart to Launceston the long way, but this trip up Tassie’s wild east coast could occupy you for weeks. When you go, weave these top beachfront camps and pristine places to encounter wildlife into your itinerary.

Wielangta Forest Drive

Driving east out of Hobart, cross Pitt Water and follow the Tasman Highway to Orford and this top little forest drive that few travellers tackle. Ultra scenic, the Wielangta Forest Drive climbs to breathtaking coastal lookouts, winding beneath towering blue gums and providing a truly adventurous start to any east coast road trip.  

Although it’s unsealed, the northern end of the drive from Orford to Sandspit Forest Reserve is well maintained, and you don’t need to haul your caravan. Set up a base camp in lovely Orford or free camp behind the Spring Bay Hotel in nearby Triabunna, and take a day trip that begins by hugging the coast road south to Rheban Beach.

This deserted curl of pure white sand that stares out over Maria Island across the bright blue bay is, without a doubt, one of the prettiest beaches on the entire island. Linger to walk the shoreline and you might just find yourself booking a ferry ride and a cabin to explore Maria Island, too.

From Rheban Beach the road turns inland, climbing Snake Ridge to picturesque Sandspit Forest Reserve. This is a favourite spot to take a walk, strolling through a genuine fairy garden where splendid fairy wrens flit amongst the moss-covered king ferns and winding creeks. On a cold winter’s day, you can stoke a campfire in the stone shelters to warm yourself as you share a picnic, and there’s drinking water and toilets close by.

Drive: From Hobart, head east across Pitt Water and take the Tasman Highway (A3) 78km to Orford. Stay: Free camp behind the Spring Bay Hotel at Triabunna, 7km north of Orford (pets OK, toilets and hot showers at the visitor centre opposite). 

Mayfield Bay Coastal Reserve

On the edge of Mayfield Bay where a white sand beach sweeps endlessly south, these spacious, grassy camping nooks offer grand views across Great Oyster Bay, all the way to the Freycinet Peninsula. This shady, beachside beauty offers lots of great facilities and, like most spots on the East Coast, the relaxed conditions permit dogs on leads and free stays for up to four weeks.

What really intrigues about this lovely camp is the 1845 convict-built Three Arch Bridge, which you’ll discover by walking south along the beach and doubling back up the creek. This marvelous structure is in stunning condition, rivaling another convict creation located close by — the 1840s Spiky Bridge — which rates as one of the most distinctive in the state.

Signposted off the Tasman Highway (A3) 15km south of Swansea, Mayfield Bay Coastal Reserve provides toilets, fireplaces and day-use picnic tables. Bring drinking water and firewood and although no fees are collected, there’s a donation box in place if you appreciate the camp and want to drop a few coins.

Drive: Mayfield Bay is signposted off the Tasman Highway (A3), 15km south of Swansea. Stay: The free camp provides toilets, fireplaces and day-use picnic tables, pets permitted (bring drinking water and firewood). 

Isaacs Point free camping

The nonchalant Bennett’s wallabies are unshakable at this cosy camp on Freycinet National Park’s northern edge. Just after sunset, wombats join them too, cropping the grass under caravans and around tents, unperturbed by the travellers sitting spellbound and snapping off photos.

You could spend a lot of time seeking out wombats (as we did) in Tasmania, only to discover they are waiting for you at this stellar free camping spot at Isaacs Point. You’ll find it at the Friendly Beaches, signposted 19km north of Coles Bay where there is plenty of open ground for caravans, sheltered behind the coastal heath along one of the most bewitching beaches in the country.

The fishing is grand and at low tide you can stroll and stroll endlessly towards Cape Tourville Lighthouse. If you love the waves, the chilly surf might beckon, or you could simply find a vantage point and watch for whales. Come dusk when travellers return to camp, wombats emerge from the undergrowth.

Drive: Freycinet National Park is located 194km from Hobart. Stay: Free camp at Isaacs Point on the Friendly Beaches for up to two weeks (wheelchair-accessible toilets, BYO water). No bookings taken and dogs and campfires are not allowed. Park entry fees are $24/vehicle (or free with a parks pass).

Penguin Time

Sleepy, seaside Bicheno seems an unusually populated place for little penguins to call home. Yet every summer after the penguins pair up and begin to breed, the singsong peeping of hungry little chicks heralds a magical nocturnal commute as parents tumble in out the surf under the cover of darkness and make their way up the sand, bellies full with fish to share.

There are many places along Tassie’s coastline where you can expect to see little penguins, but Bicheno remains a favourite amongst travellers for the nightly guided tours and the local beachside accommodation built in and around the penguin burrows.

Whether you join a tour or watch them under your own steam, the rules are the same: wear dark clothing, keep quiet and still, and use a red light torch which you should refrain from shining directly at the penguins at least until they are safely headed for their burrows. If they startle, they may return to the sea and leave their chicks desperately hungry.

Drive: Bicheno is located 165km from Launceston on Tassie’s east coast. Stay: During peak season, campsites at Bicheno East Coast Holiday Park cost $33/$38 (unpowered/powered) plus $5 per child. Seaview Holiday Park charges $30 for power ($26 unpowered) plus $7.50/child extra. 

Lagoons’ Birder Beach

After a long day on the road, we were surprised to discover this simply stunning beachside camp at Lagoons Beach Conservation Reserve. It’s huge, shady and with superb salmon fishing at the water’s edge, but what made this destination memorable was what we discovered down on the sand.

A little pair of red capped plovers tending two tiny speckled eggs in an unlikely nest scraped into the sand, and higher on the dunes amongst thick tufts of spinifex, nesting pied oystercatchers, too. These lured walkers away whenever they ventured too close to a nest that was so small and so very nearly underfoot that we tread oh-so-carefully as we beachcombed north.

Lagoons Beach stretches for an amazing 7km and its spacious free camp permits stays of up to four weeks, which is plenty of time to stretch your legs, read a book and reel in some fresh salmon.

Drive: Lagoons Beach is signposted off the Tasman Highway (A3), 2km north of the St Mary’s turnoff. Stay: Lagoons Beach is a free-range camp with toilets and fireplaces (bring drinking water and firewood). Dogs are permitted but keep them tethered and away from nesting seabirds. 

Bay of Fires

Rivaling the Freycinet Peninsula for the best beaches on the island, this pristine stretch of golden granite and arcing, blue bays will woo you with its incredible choice of free beachfront camps. Discover this spot first and your itinerary will be blown to bits because it’s just about impossible to move on from, and why would you want to?

Eight fantastic free campgrounds in the Bay of Fires Conservation Area offer long stays and relaxed conditions. You can park your rig atop a sculpted granite headland, on the shores of a shimmering lagoon, or nestle into the dunes behind a tiny blue cove and stretch your legs on some wild, sunny beach.

Closest to St Helens with a boat ramp and grassy, free-range sites, Grants Lagoon campground is a hit with anglers, boaties and paddlers. I love the secluded, roomy camps at Jeanneret Beach for taking long walks north along Swimcart Beach. Nearby, Cosy Corner has secluded and more spacious sites located at either end of the beach, and although they are basic (no toilets), the camping area on the northern side of Sloop Reef is a hidden gem.

Rumble along the unsealed Fire Road to reach the faraway camps at Policemans Point: an idyllic, windswept spot with big, grassy sites at the mouth of Ansons Bay.

Drive: Follow Binalong Bay Road (C850) out of St Helens, turn north onto The Gardens Road and follow the signs to your preferred camp. Stay: Free camp for up to a month at eight waterfront camps (no bookings, BYO water and firewood). Pets and generators are permitted. 

Mt William's Wild Sanctuary

This coastal sanctuary in Tassie’s remote northeast corner harbours heathlands and plains full of Forester kangaroos, pademelons, echidnas, Tassie devils and on our recent visit, rather elusive wombats. A decade ago this was easily the best place in the state to spot wombats grazing during daylight hours, but mange mite attacks in recent years have decimated wombat numbers.

That doesn’t make a stay at Stumpys Bay any less enjoyable. Along with its amazing diversity of wildlife, Mt William National Park is popular for its incredible beaches and access to great fishing, boating and dive spots. The pick of walking trails is the easy climb to the 216m summit of Mt William for endless vistas north towards the Bass Strait islands (one-hour return).    

At the southern end of the park, Eddystone Point Lighthouse stands guard over Tasmania’s most easterly point and bright daffodils bloom during the winter months. There’s a boat ramp for travellers chasing catches of bream and Australian bass, and a top camp nearby at Deep Creek with picnic tables, fireplaces, bore water and toilets ($13 per night).

Drive: Drive 17km from Gladstone (C843 and C845) to reach Stumpys Bay and Musselroe Bay. Detour south to Eddystone Lighthouse and Deep Creek campground, also accessible from Ansons Bay. Stay: Six campgrounds provide picnic tables and toilets (bring drinking water and firewood, no pets). Fees of $13/couple or $16/family are payable on site, but for long stays, visit Gladstone’s General Store for a weekly permit (from $50). 


Travel Destination Australia Tasmania Tri-coloured coastline Wildlife Sight-seeing


David Bristow

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