The stretch of Tasmania's east coast from Binalong Bay down to Bicheno is bookended by such glamorous locations – the Bay of Fires in the north and Freycinet in the south – it's easy to lose sight of what lies between. But there are long and empty beaches, copper-topped rocky shores, green fields rolling into the sunset. And then there's the fish, the fruit and some very fine wine.
THE FISH, AND COOKING IT
Travelling north for warmth is the usual pattern as Australians get older, but Roz MacAllan bucked the trend and traded Brisbane for Binalong Bay, at the bottom of Tasmania's Bay of Fires area, to open her cooking school.
It's a spectacular setting – the kitchen and its terrace, complete with outdoor stove tops and wood-fired oven, look out over Skeleton Bay, just a stroll around the corner from Binalong's sandy beaches.
MacAllan, a former journalist, food writer, cooking tour host and gallery owner left Queensland for these parts with her partner John at the end of 2014: "We always wanted to be closer to the water but we really didn't want to move to the Gold Coast or the NSW North Coast."
So they moved a little further south for MacAllan to open her Kiss A Fish cooking school with its vast commercial kitchen and huge coastal view. The weather isn't a problem, she says: "I prefer a slightly cooler climate, and I like getting away from the humidity."
Her cooking program starts with a coffee and includes a foraging walk, for ingredients like samphire, but it's the local fish and seafood that are the stars.
"I've discovered some fish types we didn't have in Queensland, especially Striped trumpeter and Blue-eye, it's been wonderful to get access to those sort of scale fish. And I don't think I've ever eaten as many oysters as I've eaten since I moved here. That's another bonus.
"That's the thing – getting it super-fresh and only buying it when it's fresh. Here you're so much closer to the source and the suppliers. You're dealing with the fishermen and asking them what they're getting, and they like what I'm doing."
This is the third season for her program and she's making more use of her wood oven. "People get a buzz out of that. You get a slightly different flavour with the smoke circulating around. I'm devising some things like paellas and that sort of thing, plus I bought a big smoker with about four shelves on it, that'll be in use this year."
All day workshops are scheduled from November to April and cost $350 per person, see kissafishcookeryschool.com.au
THE FISH, AND BUYING IT
Down by the fishing wharves in St Helens, the Blue Shed Restaurant has sublime fish and seafood, not least because it is a short cast of a fishing line from where the boats pull in and the Blue Shed has the permits to buy their catch (see blueshedrestaurant.com.au). It is adjacent to the Captains Catch where the same business sells fresh fish, local oysters and seafood and takeaways.
At the other end of our journey, for what some say are the best fish and chips in Tasmania (you'll get a fight for that title from fans of Just Hooked at Orford, but that's too far south for this story), set your salty sights on the area known as The Gulch on The Esplanade at Bicheno, where Tasmanian Coastal Seafoods sells fresh fish from the boats and beyond and has a small fish and chip shop around the corner if you want someone else to cook it.
The best-known vineyards are just south of Bicheno, but there are two worth a stop on this stretch. Close to St Helens, Priory Ridge Wines is a boutique business that mainly produces pinot noir and sauvignon blanc from its six hectares of vines; there's a quirky cellar door which in a past life was a small shearing shed (prioryridgewines.com.au). Further down the coast, White Sands Estate hosts the IronHouse Brewery and with 60 hectares of vines becoming established in the nearby hills, is now selling its own IronHouse sparkling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir wines. Pick your day and a beer or a sparkling wine looking back up the coast and over the sparkling sea on the terrace at White Sands is hard to beat. See white-sands.com.au
Eureka Farm is the result of a genuine Eureka moment. Denis Buchanan was a chemical engineer in Sydney and decided to make the escape south and be born-again as a farmer. He and his partner Ann bought their farm above the Scamander River, five minutes in from the Tasman Highway in the early 1990s and set about setting up a fruit business. That they did, and now have a vast orchard of fruit trees, including apples, pears and stone fruits and fresh raspberries, strawberries and big, fat, youngberries. The produce can be bought fresh on site at the small farm shop and cafe, or in homemade jams, sauces and chutneys. They also make a summer pudding that belongs at The Ritz and ice cream that has, deservedly, been named Tasmania's best. See eurekafarm.net
The Spirit of Tasmania has packages starting at $150 per adult for return day sailings between February and May (this fare is only on sale until December 3); cars cost $178 return. See spiritoftasmania.com.au
Binnalong Bay and Bicheno are about a three-hour drive from Devonport, where the Spirit of Tasmania berths. The stretch of the Tasman Highway from Binalong Bay to Bicheno covers about 85 kilometres and can take as long as you like.
For a spectacular seafront setting right in the middle of this drive, try Wardlaw Point (from $160 per night for two, see airbnb.cm.au) it's self-contained accommodation, for adults only – there's no fence between house and water. In St Helens, Tidal Waters (doubles from about $190, see tidalwaters.com.au) has a waterfront setting, pool and restaurant on site.
Jim Darby travelled with assistance from the Spirit of Tasmania.