Every road trip has a recipe: a list of ingredients, a map of the territory to explore, an intention. The recipe for ours was simple: two people, Tasmania’s pristine east coast (which we’d travel from south to north, saving the best for last) and one environmentally friendly campervan, which we’d blend together for five glorious days until satiated…
The “prep” for this moveable feast began on the Spirit of Tasmania. We’d picked up our KEA campervan – shower, toilet, flat-screen TV and DVD player included – in Melbourne.
Now we were crossing Bass Strait, bound for Devonport on Tasmania’s north coast, in style.
Travelling on the Spirit is like a 10-hour cruise sampler. Or a dream. After sunset drinks on an outside deck, dining on fresh Tasmanian ocean trout in the a la carte restaurant and catching a new release movie in the cinema, we retired to our deluxe cabin and woke up the next morning – in Tasmania.
In Klektik Japanese store, we got chatting to the friendly owner Jim Williamson. Before we knew it we’d bought a bamboo flute and were listening to some sound advice: the best way to see Tasmania is to sample the produce, talk to people and buy wares made from local artists and artisans. “You can’t just sit back and observe,” Jim told us. “You have to eat and drink Tasmania.”
Strawberries and Wineglass Bay
We took Jim’s advice as soon as possible, by stopping at Sorell Fruit Farm, 20 minutes north-east of Hobart en route to the coast.
Every summer (October-May) tens of thousands of people come to pick their own apples, raspberries, apricots and assorted other fruits.
There was something earthy about crouching between rows of the biggest, juiciest strawberries I’d ever seen, chatting with other first-time pickers from all over the world in the bright Tasmanian sunshine.
Back on the A3, the road that would take us all the way up the east coast, our kilo of fresh strawberries safely stowed, we set the GPS (just for fun, and so we could look at the scenery instead of a map) for Coles Bay in Freycinet National Park.
Coles Bay was Australia’s first plastic bag-free town but it’s more famous as the gateway to one of the 10 best beaches in the world.
To see what all the fuss is about, we opted for a 3-hour (return) scramble up Mt Amos.
At first we couldn’t see anything but Oyster Bay, flecked with whitecaps by the howling wind, which made it look like a dark blue lamington.
Then the clouds parted like curtains to reveal what we’d really come to see: the true and perfect arc of Wineglass Bay.
Our first night’s stop was 22km north of Coles Bay but still within the national park. The Friendly Beaches are the wild side of Freycinet.
Even from inside the van, with the doors closed, we could hear the roaring surf while wallabies and pademelons (football-sized wallabies) loitered outside like teens at a nightclub.
Elephant pancakes and St Helens oysters
The next morning, after breakfast and a long walk on the beach, we headed north to Bicheno, a cute penguin/surfing/fishing town just 15 minutes away.
The pretty Foreshore Walk led us to the town’s main event: the Blowhole, where we stood under its chilly cape of spray. At night you can see penguins come ashore on a guided tour.
But the day was gloomy so we drove on, past Douglas Apsley National Park and sheep-dotted hills.
The road hugs the sea in a close embrace almost the entire way from Bicheno to St Helens (76km), but we had pancakes on our minds so we took the inland route via Mount Elephant Pancake Barn, which promises “the best pancakes in Australia” (they’re crepe-like creations rather than maple-drizzled flapjacks, but they are good).
Back on the coast, it wasn’t long before we hit the largest town on the east coast.
St Helens is the kind of place where you’ll find ladieswear, souvenirs and a Westpac branch all in the one store, but it’s best known for its seafood, so our first port of call was Salty Seas co-op.
This is the real deal: live fish in tanks, tiger and king prawns, mussels, scallops, squid. It was all we could do to walk out with just a dozen oysters, but we had dinner reservations…
After a lazy afternoon in Binalong Bay, 10km north-east of St Helens, wandering the southern end of the legendary Bay of Fires, we had pre-dinner Cascade beers and those fresh, melt-in-the-mouth St Helens oysters with Leavenbank lemon and artichoke bread, and a few glasses of 42º South Grigio and Pipers Brook Estate Pinot Noir – all at our van’s outdoor table and chairs.
This is one of the best things about campervanning: saving on accommodation allows you to treat yourself like this on a regular basis. Another “best” thing is the accommodation itself.
Next morning, after camping at The Gardens, just north of Binalong Bay, we flung open the rear doors of the van and there was the ocean, like a third person at our breakfast table.
Tasmania is tailor-made for road trips. Everything is so close together, it’s easy to take an entire day to drive not far at all.
On day 3, for instance, we found four good reasons to stop in just 35km: an antique shop full of pre-loved books and treasures (The Shop in the Bush, outside St Helens); the 120-year-old Pub in the Paddock (aka St Columba Falls Hotel) where we could feed beer to a pig called Priscilla; St Columba Falls, where a 10-minute rainforest walk through manferns and myrtle trees led us to one of Tasmania’s highest waterfalls; and Pyengana cheese factory, where we added to our camper’s larder with a block of their iconic Tasty Cheddar, quince paste and Tasmanian Pepper Berry ice cream.
For a small island, Tasmania is a big place, and it was about to get bigger.
Tasmania’s Far North-East
This was a side of Tasmania I’d never seen before: it could have been outback NSW.
Forty-five minutes of good dirt roads led us past settlements like Rushy Lagoon, where two men in folding chairs lifted the beer cans in their hands to wave hello, and pitch-black cows grazed on lush green grass.
Our destination was Stumpys Bay in Mt William National Park, one of the last preserves of Tasmania’s Forester Kangaroo – you’re virtually guaranteed sightings at dusk on the way to the campground.
As soon as we’d set up camp, i.e. parked on a level patch of ground under some casuarina trees, we poured a couple of glasses of chilled wine and walked 10 metres to the beach for the sunset.
The next day, we retraced our steps 20-odd kilometres and took another dirt road to Eddystone Point lighthouse and possibly the finest picnic spot in Tasmania.
On a blue-sky day like this, it’s spectacular: rocks coloured bright orange by lichen, glassy rock pools and views to a long white sweep of beach (the northern end of the Bay of Fires) that seemed to be calling our names.
We drove back along the road a little way to a sign – “Bay of Fires Beach 15 minutes” – then walked across a mini-Sahara of glaringly white dunes to one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.
Small, perfectly formed waves broke gently on the sand, endangered hooded plovers stood on rounded rocks, metre-wide ribbons of kelp writhed in deliriously blue water.
We stripped to our swimmers and ran into the sea, squealing like children.
Wandering back to the van after a couple of solitary hours swimming and playing, amazed at our good fortune at having such a place all to ourselves, I thought, “This is Tasmania. This is what I came to the north-east for.”
Heading north to Devonport and the Spirit of Tasmania terminal for the trip home, we decided there was time for one last picnic – at Warrawee Forest Reserve, just outside La Trobe (10 minutes south of Devonport).
At a picnic table under tall gum trees, not far from a pool full of platypus (though we didn’t see any), we spread our edible souvenirs on a tea towel “tablecloth”: the strawberries we’d picked in Sorrell; Pyengana cheddar cheese and quince paste; Wicked Brie from Richmond, north of Hobart; Mr Bennett’s Blue, Wild Wasabi and Bush Pepper cheeses from Ashgrove Cheese, near Deloraine; a capsicum loaf of fresh bread and a raspberry-coconut slice from Bicci Blue bakery in La Trobe; a glass of Barringwood Park pinot gris and a Forester Beer; and Mt Elephant Fudge from St Marys for dessert. It was a fitting end to a delightfully delicious road trip along Tasmania’s east coast.
The Spirit of Tasmania travels from Melbourne to Devonport, departing at 7.30pm and arriving at 6am.
There are daytime voyages departing 9am and arriving at 6pm between December and April.
KEA Campers has Australia’s most environmentally friendly campervans and motorhomes in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Cairns and Melbourne.