Fiery spectacular

Guy Wilkinson joins the A-listers making a beeline for the south.

When Captain Cook's right-hand man, Tobias Furneaux, navigated these waters in 1773, he was struck by the sight of Aboriginal fires flickering up and down the coast.

Fittingly, he named the region the Bay of Fires, but as I survey the shore from an isolated corner of Binalong Bay, it's easy to see why many people believe the region earned its moniker for another reason.

Offset by turquoise waters, the rocks sprawling this coastline are stained a striking orange by the lichens, a strangely potent mix of fungi and algae.

The effect is spectacular but, in these parts, I'm starting to think spectacular is the norm.

There has been a huge turnaround here.

I'm in Tasmania on part of an adventure with Inspiring Journeys, a tour operation launched last year that's aimed at travellers looking to have a more immersive experience. Traversing the east coast in a rock-star-worthy four-wheel-drive, we're here to experience the best this region has to offer in a relatively short time.

The itinerary is quite a mixed bag. Having started in Hobart, we've already experienced David Walsh's outstanding subterranean MONA art gallery as well as fine-dining restaurants, the historic Salamanca Market and a handful of rather colourful pubs.

But about 150 kilometres north-east, Freycinet National Park - the state's second-oldest along with Mount Field - might as well be a world away. From our base at Freycinet Lodge, a catamaran drops us at nearby Hazards beach, a remote stretch of white-sand wilderness dwarfed by the forested Hazards mountain range.

Following our guide (Inspiring Journeys prefers to call them "journey leaders"), Dan Hodgkinson, we head along the sandy Isthmus Track towards Wineglass beach on the far side of the peninsula.


Beneath a clear blue sky, only the ocean breeze and ubiquitous banksia and eucalyptus trees provide respite from the pounding sun.

In the bush, we spy the occasional wallaby and wombat. The ocean is visible only sporadically through the branches.

When the trail opens to Wineglass Bay, I understand why this beach has a reputation as one of the world's best.

A common misconception is that the bay is named after its shape. Hodgkinson says it's likely due to another, more gruesome reason.

In the 1800s, whaling was rife here and the resulting slaughter stained the now-pristine sands a macabre red with blood. Thankfully, whaling has long since been illegal in these waters.

Back at Freycinet Lodge, I have six whiskies lined up in front of me. Each glass is paired with regionally sourced produce, including smoked cheeses and fish, and I'm taught to identify key characteristics such as salt, peat and malt, which are often associated with coastal distilleries.

Though distilling was legalised in Tasmania in 1823, it was only in 1992 that draconian laws were amended to allow smaller distillers to flourish on the island. Nowadays, aided by climate and conditions similar to the Scottish Highlands, some genuinely impressive drops are produced, with the single-malt Hellyers Road, Larks and Sullivans Cove all standouts.

If Freycinet Lodge has a certain rustic charm, then the Saffire hotel, just a short hop across Great Oyster Bay, takes high-end luxury to another level. Ensconced among lush forest, the futuristic design and 20 uber-luxurious suites are attracting Hollywood A-listers. Although out of most visitors' price range, it's another asset that enhances Tasmania's emerging reputation as a high-end travel destination.

Continuing along the coast, our itinerary includes many more highlights. There are champagne picnics on the waterfront, wine tastings overlooking vineyards, and a surprise visit to a Tasmanian devil-breeding sanctuary. At the tiny riverside town of Goshen, we drop by an oyster farm, Lease 65, where manager Anthony Blunt greets us on a dock loaded with pallets of the day's catch. "We're not a hit-and-miss operation; we pride ourselves on quality here," Blunt says as he shucks a mammoth oyster with a bone-handled knife. It's soon clear he's a man of his word: the flesh is plump, creamy and the size of a small fist.

A few kilometres away, off the Tasman Highway, Eureka Farm is another celebrated business known for gourmet jams, chutneys and some of the finest ice-cream you're likely to taste. It was set up by Ann and Denis Buchanan, who sailed from Sydney to Tasmania 20 years ago in search of a new venture. The property has 3500 fruit trees and includes Saffire on its client list.

"There has been a huge turnaround here," Ann says. "An increasing number of international travellers are now coming solely to Tasmania.

"It's different from the rest of Australia. You don't have to go long distances to experience total change - be it climate, vista or food - yet it still hasn't been spoilt by rampant overdevelopment."

The writer was a guest of Inspiring Journeys.

Trip notes

Getting there

Qantas and Jetstar fly direct from Sydney and Melbourne to Hobart from $135 one way. 13 13 13,

Taking the journey there

Inspiring Journeys offers flexible, guided itineraries around Tasmania with an emphasis on discovery, exploration, learning and relaxation. The 11-day Forgotten Coast Tasmania journey starts and ends in Hobart and is priced at $5830 a person, twin share. Two new shorter itineraries will be available for travel from September: the five-day Isle of Azure journey priced at $2750 a person, twin share, and the seven-day Unknown Wilderness, $3750 a person, twin share. 1800 467 747,

Staying there

Lenna of Hobart. Corner Runnymede Street and Salamanca Place, Hobart, from $235 a night. (03) 6232 3900,

Freycinet Lodge, from $234 a night including breakfast. 1800 420 155,

Peppers Seaport Hotel, Launceston, from $164 a night. 1300 737 444,

Eating there

Rockwall, 89 Salamanca Place, Battery Point. (03) 6224 2929,

Saffire Freycinet, 1800 723 347.

Stillwater Restaurant, Ritchie's Mill, 2 Bridge Road, Launceston. (03) 6331 4153,

Eureka Farm, 89 Upper Scamander Road, near Scamander township. (03) 6372 5500,

More information