If you've conquered Tasmania on foot, why not explore it by water with a kayak tour around Coles Bay?
The landscape surrounding Coles Bay on Tasmania’s east coast is like a watercolour with its pink-hued granite boulders, the red-tinged shadow of the Hazards mountain range in the distance, powder puffs of white clouds in a bright blue sky, the green sheen of the water lapping against the thin yellow hull of my sea kayak, the staggeringly beautiful arc of white sand in Wineglass Bay.
It’s a sliver of pristine coastline on the edge of Freycinet National Park that I know well. It was a regular vacation destination for my family as I was born two hours drive north in Launceston. Every year for as far back as I can remember we'd load up our 1970s-era Ford Transit that Dad had built into a camper van, filling it to the brim with an enormous green tent we nicknamed the Taj Mahal.
My father, a keen fisherman, would wake us in the dark to go out in search of rock lobster, flathead and tuna. We'd travel far from shore, out into the Tasman Sea and around the Freycinet Peninsula, to check on the cray pots. To Mum's delight we'd return with fish for her tuna mornay, flathead fillets and several lobsters – and they sure tasted great. The rest of our days were spent bushwalking, swimming and playing with other kids at the caravan park.
The natural environment surrounding the village of Coles Bay and the national park hasn't changed since then but the restaurants, accommodation (Saffire Freycinet and Freycinet Lodge are the pinnacle in these parts) and cafés have gone upmarket – a latté was unheard of in the 1980s and 1990s, let alone luxurious suites and day spas.
The kayak adventurer
I'm back now as a "mainlander", taking a break from my big city life for an adult adventure in the great outdoors I loved so much as a child. This time, I’m out to play with my husband and it’s a fresh 8:30am start at Muirs Beach in Coles Bay where we meet our guide Simon Stibbs from Freycinet Adventures and a group of 10 others to be kitted out for our three-hour paddle. The tour travels from Muirs Beach right around the edge of Great Oyster Bay, pauses in the Honeymoon Bay area for refreshments, and then continues in a circle back across to the starting point. There’s also a twilight tour
Everything is calm and tranquil on the spring day we paddle out into the bay but it becomes a little choppy as we travel further from the shore. Our vessel, with amateurs at the helm, is like a disobedient dog pulled by an invisible leash out into the Tasman Sea and I start to wonder whether we'll ever see Coles Bay again. Effervescent Simon, who's been leading these trips for more than a decade, knows what he's doing and constantly checks on us while deftly manoeuvring his kayak towards a protected golden beach.
I’m possibly Australia’s most inexperienced paddler so I'm holding the paddle so tightly my knuckles are white and my heart is thumping – it's exhilarating. By the time we clamber ashore, Simon has the hot coffee ready for a welcome morning tea break.
Coles Bay has a vast number of beautiful beaches to explore and it’s no trouble to claim your own little bit to enjoy for a day – Muirs Beach is a great family beach, the Honeymoon Bay area is made up of four small beaches and is superb for swimming and snorkelling, and Richardsons Beach is a stunning long beach that's safe for swimmers and is a great exit point for kayakers to explore Great Oyster Bay and beyond.
The jewel in the crown
The jewel in the crown, Wineglass Bay in the Freycinet National Park, is only accessible by boat or foot – it's an easy day hike (three hours return) from the national park's car park. Wineglass and Friendly Beaches, also within the park, are frequently rated in the top 10 beaches in Australia. Their sand has an extremely high content of silicon, which makes it very soft, fine and bright and on the surface it’s not uncommon to find beautiful shells, whalebones and other pieces of flotsam and jetsam.
Simon hands me a slice of home-made chocolate cake which brings my wandering mind back to the present, and provides the sugar hit I need to get back out on the water. Now the wind has calmed it feels like we’re gliding over a giant fish tank with the sun on my back, spotting black swans, wheeling gulls and watching a gannet plummet vertically into the water from a great height after a fish. On some days it’s possible to encounter bottlenose dolphins.
As we paddle on towards our starting point in the last few minutes I look out back across the bay to what is one of Australia's best views: the reddish granite mountains that rise straight from the sea. It’s a striking view that also can be enjoyed while sipping a wine at sunset.
After such an invigorating day I sleep like a bear in hibernation but by morning there’s another adventure waiting… Some people love oysters so much they can eat them for breakfast – and I'm one of them, so being on the edge of Great Oyster Bay is heaven for me. Freycinet Marine Farm on Coles Bay Road, just down a country road from town, opens at 9am and we're the first to arrive, ready to taste their fat, succulent Pacifics.
Oysters, oysters, oysters
Giles Fisher and his wife Julie bought the farm almost 15 years ago after years working in Tasmania’s salmon industry and it produces about three million oysters every year. The main growing area is about five kilometres offshore in Great Oyster Bay, its waters so pure and clean the oysters are among the best in the world. At the farm shop the oysters have been out of the water for no more than 20 minutes and you'll find little more to dress your seafood here than lemons and cocktail sauce (local beers and wines are also sold). I may be biased but it's one of the best places to eat seafood in Tasmania, and possibly Australia.
If you want your seafood fresher than that, one-hour tours are available for groups of 10 to learn about oyster lore and legend while shucking them against the spectacular backdrop of the Hazards and tasting them straight from the water.
Somewhere else, bland oysters might need Tabasco or bacon to jazz them up, but I wouldn't dare put more than a squeeze of lemon on these beauties. I inhale the super-fresh seawater aroma and slurp, and savour the buttery flavour of the firm, plump flesh.
After eating nearly my body weight in oysters, it’s time for a walk and one of the most picturesque in Tasmania is the eight kilometre return trek from Coles Bay to Wineglass Bay. An hour in to the walk and I'm struggling a bit – climbing with leaden legs up rough bush steps to the lookout – but the view down to Wineglass Bay from the saddle of Mt Amos and Mt Mayson is a sight that will keep me returning to this place: sugar-white beach, tide lines of bull kelp and water as clear as glass. It's picture perfect.
Coles Bay is about 2.5 hours by road from Hobart and 2 hours from Launceston.
The three-hour Freycinet Paddle with Freycinet Adventures departs morning or afternoon. Suitable for all ages and no experience necessary.
Edge of the Bay has quality cabins in a bushland setting overlooking the wide sweep of Great Oyster Bay and adjacent to the Freycinet National Park. The private decks are perfect to keep an eye out for whales or dolphins, or watch the sun set over the Hazards Range.