A bush banquet wasn't the only surprise on Tasmania's stunning Freycinet Peninsula, writes Terry Smyth.
This Tassie experience is breathtaking and not just because I was out of breath after the short but steep trek up a saddle between the Hazards - three bare, jagged peaks of pink and grey granite, rising like the Pillars of Hercules from the sea at the northern tip of Tasmania's Freycinet Peninsula.
On reaching a lookout flanked by rock walls dappled with bright orange lichen, I stood drinking in my first sight of Wineglass Bay - a crescent of shimmering white sands and azure water framed by looming sea cliffs and a wild hinterland of heath and forest. And not a building, fence or road in sight.
The peninsula's bush boasts banksia, orchids, wattle and honeysuckle, casuarina, melaleuca and Oyster Bay pine. It is home to Tasmanian devils, quolls, wallabies and long-nosed potoroos. Sea eagles soar above, black cockatoos and green rosellas flit through the trees, black swans glide on lagoons, native hens scurry through the scrub and penguins waddle up the beach to their burrows. Offshore, seals, bottlenose dolphins and southern right whales are regular visitors. This isn't cold, wet Tassie though. That's the west coast. Eastern Tasmania is the second-driest part of Australia after South Australia.
Wineglass Bay might look like it's as nature made it but the truth is this beautiful place has a dark history, which makes it all the more remarkable. And its name has nothing to do with the shape of the bay.
The Freycinet Peninsula is a 38-kilometre promontory, about a three-hour drive from Hobart. Part of the Freycinet National Park - Tassie's oldest along with Mount Field - the peninsula takes its name from one or both of the brothers de Freycinet, Louis Claude and Louis Henri. In 1802, they joined French explorer Nicholas Baudin on an expedition to map the southern coasts of mainland Australia and Van Diemen's Land. As it turned out, most of the Frenchmen's "discoveries" had already been mapped and named by the English explorer Matthew Flinders. Yet, however undeserved, the name Freycinet Peninsula stuck.
While the area has been a popular holiday destination for Tasmanians for more than a century, increasing numbers of mainlanders and overseas visitors are discovering its charms. There is a range of accommodation in and around nearby Coles Bay, from campsites to hotels, budget to luxury.
I'm staying at Freycinet Lodge, in the national park at the foot of the Hazards. The complex comprises 60 one and two-bedroom cabins in bushland and on the shore of Great Oyster Bay, linked by boardwalks to the main lodge, with two restaurants, lounge and bar and a deck overlooking the bay. The cabins look rustic on the outside but have all the mod cons within, except for - thankfully - telephones and televisions.
Freycinet Lodge offers sunset sea kayaking, 4WD tours and guided winery tours among other activities.
But I was there for the Wineglass to Wine Glass walking tour. It began with a briefing at Freycinet Lodge by our guide, followed by a short drive to the Coles Bay car park, where we left the vehicle and set off on foot.
At an easy pace, it took about 45 minutes to reach the lookout and from there it was a half-hour walk downhill - mercifully - to the beach. After morning tea on the shore, joined by a wallaby with a joey in her pouch, we trekked across the sand and through the bush to a secluded spot overlooking Hazards Beach.
There, in the middle of nowhere, was a tent kitchen in which a chef from the lodge was cooking up a storm. Accompanying the chef was a waiter and the skipper of the Baudin - the boat that had brought them there and which was moored in the cove below.
At a table shaded by sheoaks, we dined on local crayfish, calamari, abalone, scallops, blue-eye trevalla, beef and quail, washed down with cool-climate wines and cheeses to finish.
Lunch was followed by a swim. Then we boarded the Baudin for a half-hour cruise back to the lodge. On the tour you don't have to walk back. Now that's what I call roughing it.
The peninsula was once the exclusive domain of the Pydairrerme people - the Oyster Bay tribe. For some 30,000 years they lived there off the bounty of the sea and the forest. With the coming of Europeans, they fought a desperate guerrilla war to defend it until disease and deprivation did what musketry could not.
In the 1820s, whalers came to Wineglass Bay. The whalers set up shore bases in the bay, sparking violent clashes with the Pydairrerme. An American whaler, Captain Richard Hazard of the Thalia, would give his name to the great granite peaks that loom over the bay and the bay itself would take its name from the whalers' method of hunting. From shore, they would set out in small boats to chase and harpoon passing whales, then tow the carcasses back to shore to butcher and boil down the blubber to extract oil. The oil was shipped to Britain to be used for lighting and the whalebone for ladies' corsets and hoop skirts. Shore-based whaling lasted about 20 years on the peninsula but in that time, whenever the whalers were about their grisly business, the bay was dyed red with blood - like rich red wine in a glass.
By the 1850s, the Pydairrerme had been pushed out and the whalers had moved on but then came sheep and cattle grazing, and coal and tin mining. Even the ancient Aboriginal middens were scoured for oyster shells to make lime. Degradation of the environment continued until 1916 when the peninsula was declared a national park and, in the years since, nature has done a thorough job of reclaiming her own.
The writer was a guest of Pure Tasmania.
Virgin and Jetstar fly from Sydney to Hobart, where you can book a hire car.
Freycinet Lodge cabins cost from $247 a night, minimum two nights' stay.
Wineglass to Wine Glass guided walks cost $345 a person.
See puretasmania.com.au for tour and accommodation bookings.