Craig Pearce spent four days staying with the Freycinet Experience Walk, bang on the Freycinet Peninsula. This eco-lodge may be a luxe option for exploring the area, but the peninsula’s natural beauty was the real star attraction.


The chromatic hues of blue radiated by the Freycinet Peninsula’s veldts of surrounding water galvanise with vivid power. These charismatic blues, the peninsula’s bordering bands of glowing sand on barely populated beaches, and the Hazards are a triumvirate of nature’s seductions at their most alluring.

My exposure to the Freycinet – name to the peninsula and its protecting national park on Tasmania’s east coast – was bookended by an initiating highway approach, squinting east into the glare of the white horse-flecked Great Oyster Bay; then, slumping from the farewelling flight north, casting a melancholy gaze over the peninsula and its watery frame. Its A-listers bumped their proud chests out, stars bustling to be papped, making it clear you should be damn right taking note.

A reasonable boast, too, as this passion-inciting place, the Freycinet, had wormed its way into my heart. The brazen romancing was boosted by me sinking into the area’s expansive charms under the auspices of the Freycinet Experience Walk (FEW) – an eco-lodge-based way to take in the local sights.

The Power Of A Fatal Shore :: Freycinet Peninsula (TAS) Craig Peace drone, beach, blue seas

Wowed By The #thefreycinet

The transcendence of the Freycinet is prompted by a tumble of factors. They include ocean, geology, flora, wildlife and Indigenous history. And no matter the mode of immersion, the biggest impact emanates from the natural environment, and this is where the FEW has got it right:

  • The balance of bush, beach, waterways and walking
  • The empathetic way its lodge levitates lightly above the land (impossible to see from the beach)
  • Sustainability’s easy integration into its ways of working

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because this is the luxury option it’s not demanding. There’s time for lying around in soporific languor but, make no mistake, this is an outdoors adventure holiday. At the heart of the Freycinet Experience Walk is the walking. Multi-faceted, spectacular and challenging too.

But before you get walking, there’s one of the experience’s unique components: the boat, the water and the boat’s skipper named, I kid you not, Noah. To arrive at the opening walk, we had a rock’n’rolling bow-smacking cruise down the western bay-side length of the peninsula to Schouten Island, otherwise unattainable to walkers unless they have a Jesus (or Noah) capability.

The Power Of A Fatal Shore :: Freycinet Peninsula (TAS) Craig Peace drone, beach, blue seas, boat

Schouten Island And The Benefits Of A Boat

Schouten is a schizophrenic pairing of 200-million-year-old Devonian granite on its eastern half and 370-million-year-old Jurassic dolerite, with some Triassic sandstones and mudstones, on the western side. The granite is part of the peninsula’s knuckled vertebrae, which is in turn constituent of a granite chain running from Victoria’s Wilson’s Promontory to Maria Island, not far south of Schouten. This ‘chain’ helped keep Tasmania close to mainland Australia as Gondwanaland did its continental fragmentation boogaloo.

The boat component – leveraged on day one and two – provides four points of difference to the average experience:

  1. The fresh perspectives gained: near-side, of the peninsula’s grandeur; far-side, across the white-stippled Great Oyster Bay, to the distant shore and hills; and, finally, of the appreciation gained of how white man, encountering this country for the first time, must have been wowed by its beauty. Plus ça change
  2. Fishing: on day one it was either a short walk around Schouten or off with Noah for a spot of fishing. The walk was lovely, but the fishers won, providing the best example possible of low ‘food miles’, with a quiver of flathead – that night’s dinner – snagged
  3. The boat helps execute the experience’s almost entirely ‘one-way walks’ aspect
  4. Fun. Bushwalking is fun, but everyone’s up for a little boating adventure (even weak-stomached gotta-have-a-ginger-tablet softies like me…)

The Power Of A Fatal Shore :: Freycinet Peninsula (TAS) Craig Peace hiking, summit view, bay

Discovering The Wild

The Freycinet is not high on the seat-of-your-pants wilderness scale, but this hardly seems relevant when being blinded by its iridescent blues and whites; or traversing a rarely-walked, secretively unmarked Aboriginal migratory trail; or from eyries like Mt Graham, having encountered only two people in our ascent, where a civilisation-separation is still entirely do-able (none of the tour bus hordes ferried from Hobart Airport for the Insta-moment of Wineglass Bay make it this far).

One story tells us Wineglass Bay’s naming relates to the water being the colour of wine after whales were slaughtered there (not so dreamy).

The technically demanding trek up and down Mt Graham, then across Wineglass Bay and to its namesake lookout was, for me, the highlight walk. We were all only carrying day packs, but the track’s twisted roots and slippery, loose rocks, meant progression often occurred courtesy of biceps as much as quadriceps, it gave the trek  a salty, adventurous edge.

Climbing through a dry sclerophyll forest – tenanted by Tasmanian bluegum, stringybark, black peppermint, tea tree (with its pungent oils) and the endemic Oyster Bay pine – there is a chapel-like moodiness. A gentle breeze rose off the sea; coastal views emerging like revelations, private insights from God. From the heights came dreamy views of Wineglass Bay. One story tells us Wineglass Bay’s naming relates to the water being the colour of wine after whales were slaughtered there (not so dreamy).

The bay’s northern twin bookend of Mts Amos and Dove slides into the water, the massif’s granite comprised of mica, quartz and feldspar. Iron oxide impurities in the latter, along with orange lichen – caloplaca (a fascinating composite and symbiotic organism) – on many of the rocks cause the Hazards’ pink tint.

The Power Of A Fatal Shore :: Freycinet Peninsula (TAS) Craig Peace hiking, the hazards

Birdlife In The Bays

The Tasman Sea and Great Oyster Bay tend to hog the limelight when it comes to watery vistas, but the two lagoons near the lodge – Saltwater and Freshwater – were packed with interesting birdlife, particularly the honking, but otherwise serenely regal, black swans.

An Aboriginal legend tells us that black swans once they were all white. Their nemesis the eagle attacked them, leaving them torn and bleeding. Discovered by crows – who swore themselves as eagle enemies – they were provided with their own black feathers.

Speaking of eagles, at least 15 nests of the magnificent white-breasted sea eagles have been found in the park. One day, on the water, a massive coterie of albatrosses swept down around our boat, a freewheeling and extravagant sight. On my albatross jamboree day, the water was also thick with dolphins, while seals and southern right and humpback whales are common to these waters. We came across Bennetts wallabies and an echidna, but there is plenty of fauna that avoided us, too, such as potoroos, possums, pademelons, quolls and more in residence.

It may be thick with wildlife, but it was pyschogeology, the study of the interplay between thought and geology, that was on my mind while there. If ever there was a fertile fodder for this study, surely the Freycinet is it. I felt a haunting sense of being watched. I’m not sure if it was the Hazards, which gave me a start when I turned in their direction, as they seemed to be scrutinising me from their lofty perch, or the ethereality of Aboriginals past.

And of the latter I can’t say whether this was an approving nod, as we were doing our best to recognise and respect their occupation and stewardship of the land; a rebuke for us being here at all; or, simply, an indifferent, non-judgemental cognisance.

The Power Of A Fatal Shore :: Freycinet Peninsula (TAS) Craig Peace hiking, freycinet peninsula panorama

Our Haunting Inheritance

Tasmanian Aborigines were (I recognise many living people claim Tasmanian Aboriginal bloodlines) a unique race, separated from the mainland by rising sea levels for 12,000 years, making them the most isolated race to have ever lived. They have been here for 40,000 years and, in 1803, numbered about 5,000 before being, in the space of thirty years, decimated to around 300.

Of the nine Tasmanian tribes, the Oyster Bay contingent were the most frequent residents of the Freycinet. Evidence of their presence is apparent through many middens and stone tools, which while not easily apparent to most visitors, are pointed out by the Experience’s guides.

A guide-expanded knowledge of this topic contributes to something of a cognitive dissonance, generated from allowing yourself to be plunge-pooled into the beauty of the Freycinet while knowing that, more than most places, it represents the heinous manner in which Aboriginals were treated by Europeans.

One of the seminal moments in the destruction of Tasmanian Aboriginals by European invaders was 1831’s Freycinet Line, where European settlers and soldiers sought to capture the Oyster Bay tribe on the peninsula. They failed, outsmarted by the Aboriginals, led by the indefatigable Tongerletter. It was a significant chapter in the tragic subjugation of Aboriginal people, if not their culture. The latter continues to resonate through many means, as does descendants’ sense of self.

A guide-expanded knowledge of this topic contributes to something of a cognitive dissonance, generated from allowing yourself to be plunge-pooled into the beauty of the Freycinet while knowing that, more than most places, it represents the heinous manner in which Aboriginals were treated by Europeans.

The Power Of A Fatal Shore :: Freycinet Peninsula (TAS) Craig Peace hiking, summit view, bay

The Luxe Life

One of the most multi-dimensional, effective and best value ways in which to experience the outdoors is to give yourself over to local professionals, those who know the area better than most and who, over time, have sculpted an experience to satisfy the needs of all but the most radical bare-bones-committed naturist (#miserabilist).

The Freycinet Experience Walk – with its calm-inducing lodge, delicious, freshly made food and walk team who make everything so easy – is definitely a pampered way to enjoy the outdoors (should I mention the quail with wild rice, tabouli, cauliflower and pumpkin gratin we had?)

It was startling, however, how focused the FEW is on some critical criteria:

  • Aboriginal history
  • Environment – the guides cleverly built us up to a concerned crescendo about a Cleansing of the Souls we were to undertake. It transpired it was a cleansing of the soles. Before one day’s walking the bottom of our boots were scrubbed to ensure they were root rot (Phytophthora cinnamomi) clear: a karmic exercise, but not in the way anticipated
  • Sustainability – food is primarily locally-sourced, reducing its ‘food miles’ and the need to package it, by extension contributing to lower greenhouse gas emissions. This helps the environment and local businesses. Food waste is returned to suppliers for use as compost. Guests are ferried to and from Hobart on a small bus (only a max of ten guests at a time participate in each experience), negating the need for multiple cars

Situated serenely in its own time-space continuum – the wind soughing through the glade of surrounding she-oaks and honey-scented, white flowered kunzea – the Experience’s lodge makes it easy to separate from the bustle of urban existence. There are plenty of lounge and deck areas, allowing for as much or as little guest and guide socialisation as you like.

This approach might take the sort of people who choose a luxury approach to the outdoors by surprise. On our four-day experience, sure, there were some who hadn’t bushwalked at all, but that was balanced by one participant who had ticked skydiving, scuba diving, bungee jumping and parasailing boxes; another who was an experienced half-marathon runner and long-distance bushwalker; while there were also self-sufficient multi-day bushwalkers amongst us.

I think everyone has at least one lodge-based guided walking adventure in them. As for return on investment, it offers deep rewards for its 2.5K cost, especially if you are an individual guest as there’s generally no ‘single supplement’. Forgetting all the elements the FEW offers that are impossible to put a price on, put the following together, then do your own cost comparison: car hire, petrol, food, accommodation, boat/skipper hire, cleaning stuff.

Elysium’s Holy Trinity

The supernatural-powered Elysium of the Freycinet is founded on its Holy Trinity of blues beyond belief, the Hazards and those beaches (the virtually private expanse of Friendly Beaches is a two-minute meander from the lodge). They are the foundation for this very special part of the world. The Insta-allure of Wineglass Bay may be what draws in the hordes, but its beauty goes well beyond that admittedly stunning… ‘limitation’.

 

Craig was a guest of the Freycinet Experience Walk, these views are his own.

 

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Photos by Royston Pearce


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