October 2009

Wineglass Bay,

Freycinet National Park

Distance: 6.8 miles                          Time: 3 hours                        Type: There and back

Freycinet National Park was made for postcards. Wineglass Bay, in particular, is the kind of picture-perfect location that Australia serves up in abundance. Clear, tranquil water caught in a perfect semi-circular bay of beautiful white sand, overlooked by a sweeping forest-covered peak. The setting is serene, old earth. My experience of Freycinet was far from serene, however. I think it’s worth explaining the context of this hike.

When I first arrived in Australia I spent a month in Tasmania. For the first two weeks I stayed with a couple from Transylvania, helping to paint the new house they were building in exchange for food and board. There were 8 mangy cats that would crowd around the back door waiting for scraps after mealtimes, and a student son who came to crash on the sofa at weekends (I had taken his bedroom). After a long day working on the family vineyard, the father would sit back in his armchair slugging back red wine and talking animatedly about the couple's years in communist Romania and their eventual escape to the West.

The second two weeks in Tasmania I spent clearing gauze on a small farm run by an Australian couple in an isolated spot in the middle of the island. The nearest amenities were in Fingal, a small village 20 minutes' drive away. The experience was fairly surreal: the husband genuinely believed the sea levels would rise in our lifetime to swallow the major coastal cities of the world, including Melbourne where he was from, and had therefore chosen to move to the centre of Tasmania to ensure his and his wife’s survival. The objective of the farm was self-sufficiency. His commitment and work ethic were impressive, and while his wife would spend the days (and evenings) watching television - she suffered from a sort of motor neurone disease making it very difficult for her to stand or walk unassisted - he would throw himself into the transformation of their plot of land, with the assistance of volunteers like me.

 

There was something magical about the place. Within half an hour of my arrival, we heard strange yelping noises from across the street which turned out to be a litter of Blue Heeler pups that had been abandoned by the side of the road. My hosts decided to take them in and one of my first jobs was to look after them. Initially they lived with me in a small outhouse - I would wake to find four eager dogs licking and nibbling at my face - but were then moved to the log storage cage, modified for their keeping. I also remember the glorious sunsets and the absolute quiet during the night: it was idyllic.

On one of my days off, I borrowed the couple’s car and decided to visit both Freycinet National Park and Port Arthur in one day. Both were a couple of hours’ drive from the farm and it took a couple of hours to see Port Arthur. The hike at Freycinet was therefore done at full hilt, at times actually running along the trail.

 

Route:

The Park is a three-hour drive from Hobart, Tasmania's capital. From the car park, it’s possible to walk up to a viewpoint on Mount Amos overlooking the bay. You can hike down to Wineglass Bay (3 miles, 2 hours) - the famous white-sand beach you see on the postcards - or, as I did, the Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach Circuit which also takes in the beach on the western side of the peninsula. 

 

As mentioned, I actually ran for part of the hike and on the trail to Hazards Beach I narrowly avoided landing on a snake that was sunbathing in the middle of the path. It would have either been a Tiger snake or a Lowland Cooperhead, both of whose venom can kill an adult with a single bite. So, watch out for the snakes!

For a longer hike in the park, it is possible to complete the Freycinet Peninsula Circuit which takes two days to complete. More information can be found here:

 

http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=2258