A little bay of sunshine

Kerry van der Jagt revels in the natural wonders of the hottest holiday spot of the year.

'Wombat poo is shaped like a cube," says Kate, our guide, holding the little square landmine in her palm.

"Plus wombats have a hard cartilage plate on their backsides which they use to crush predators against the roof of their burrows."

I pause to consider the mechanics behind such impressive actions. Killer butts indeed!

These fine facts, and more, I learn on the four-day Bay of Fires walk.

We have stopped to investigate the rather unusual "marsupial lawns" behind the sand dunes of the Bay of Fires. These lawns are sometimes referred to as the Serengeti of Tasmania. Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but they are home to the Big Five of the local marsupial world — the Forester kangaroo, the Bennetts wallaby, the Tasmanian pademelon, the common wombat and the Tasmanian devil. If a Tassie tiger ever raised its head, I'm sure this is where it would pop up.

Our walk begins at Stumpy Bay in Mt William National Park in the north-eastern corner of the state. Our group, consisting of five women from three states plus two Tasmanian guides, wastes no time in getting down to business. With the sun overhead and a light breeze on our face, we head off past Boulder Point for the long walk around Cod Bay.

We plod past super-sized granite boulders, formed 380 million years ago during a period of violent plate collision and mountain building. The bright orange rocks, freckled with charcoal and lemon lichen, form a perfect medley of colours against the blue sky and white sand. In an instant, it is easy to see why Lonely Planet named the Bay of Fires the world's hottest travel destination of 2009.

Day one is a nine-kilometre walk along the beach to Forester Beach camp. Our day packs weigh less than 10 kilograms but, with a strong headwind and powder-soft sand underfoot, it sometimes feels as though we are marching on the spot.

Near Boulder Point we pass extensive Aboriginal middens of discarded bones and shells. We are careful not to step on them as Kate warns us it is a $10,000 fine if we do. To avoid the middens, we detour around some massive boulders and almost plough straight into an Australian fur seal.

Cormorants flap overhead as we pick our way through the coastal heathland to the Forester Beach camp. Yellow-tailed black cockatoos wail from tree tops, banjo frogs play out their haunting melody and the ocean hums gently in the distance; an ancient soundtrack for an ancient land.

Forester Beach camp is an eco-friendly, semi-permanent collection of canvas-roofed tents set among the sand dunes.

The facilities are basic; we wash in a basin of water, throw rice husks down the self-composting toilets and use wind-up torches to find our way around in the dark. But we enjoy a gourmet barbecue cooked by our guides and finish off with a summer berry pudding and a couple of glasses of Ninth Island wines. It's nice to know our hosts show a similar commitment to human-friendly comforts as they do to earth-friendly practices.

The next morning, after a windy night under canvas, we set off for the 14-kilometre walk to the Bay of Fires lodge.

Like a moving postcard, the beachscape constantly changes. One moment we are traversing mounds of giant kelp, the next we are up to our ankles in cockle shells and, later still, we are rock-hopping like wallabies.

Our knowledgeable guides stop often to point out interesting marine creatures. We are shown sea sponges, as brightly coloured as a box of chocolates, and sea urchins in every shape and form imaginable.

For two days, we haven't seen another person. It is a rare experience not to be continually tripping over your own species.

We stop for a picnic lunch near the historic Eddystone Lighthouse, then walk along North Abbotsbury Beach to our final destination.

Set on a hill top 40 metres above the sea, the award-winning lodge can only be seen at the last moment, so well hidden is it among the native trees. It sleeps a maximum of 20 guests in luxury and is the only building on this 20-kilometre stretch of coastline.

Although we hand pump our own shower water and throw husks down the long drop toilet, we also feast on gourmet meals such as Atlantic salmon served with rocket, corn and pecorino salad. Once again, there is minimum environmental impact and maximum spoiling.

For the next two days, we are free to swim and snorkel in the ocean or rock pools, kayak on the smooth waters of the Ansons River or just relax in the library with a book in one hand and a glass of pinot noir in the other.

The writer was a guest of both Anthology and Virgin Blue.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Virgin Blue has a direct, daily service from Sydney to Launceston. Connections are also available via Melbourne. See virginblue.com.au.

WALKING THERE

The Bay of Fires Walk departs daily from the historic Quamby Estate near Launceston to Mount William National Park, from early October to early May. The four-day guided walk costs $2000 a person and includes three nights' twin-share accommodation, all meals, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, plus a limited selection of Tasmanian wines.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Phone (03) 6392 2211 or see bayoffires.com.au.

Stayz: East Coast Tasmania holiday rentals

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