Pristine, sandy beaches, breathtaking ocean views and an island penal settlement of the 19th century are just some of the enticements of the East Coast. Maria Island, now a national park is rich in wildlife especially emus, Cape Barren geese and wallabies. It pre-dates Port Arthur as a penal settlement and has been painstakingly preserved and restored.
Port Arthur, Australia’s best known historic site, is found on the beautiful Tasman Peninsula. This entire eastern region is certainly the place for activities like swimming, surfing,diving,fishing, sailing, walking, horeseriding and charter cruises. The coastal scenery is magnificent, the rural settings are relaxing and the history is fascinating.
At the bridge in Orford, turn right, following signs to the Wielangta Forest Drive. This trip follows good gravel country roads through an area of fine production forest, with extensive coastal views along the way. The tall blue gums (Tasmania’s floral emblem) are an important food source for the swift parrot, and reserved areas ensure a protected habitat for this rare and beautiful species.
The road is well signed – don’t miss the Thumbs Lookout and the Sandspit Reserve, with its beautiful relict rainforest and picnic area. (If you’re coming from the Tasman Peninsula, you can also reach the Wielangta Forest Drive and the East Coast from the south by turning off the A9 at Copping.)
Wildlife and walking, coastline and cliffs, and a fascinating history to discover – it’s all on Maria Island. North of Orford on the A3 is the road to the Eastcoaster Resort at Louisville. From here, you can catch a ferry to Maria Island. At Darlington, site of earlier settlements, the Coffee Palace visitor centre has displays and information about the island’s rich history.
There are campsites or cabin accommodation at Darlington, where heritage buildings date back to convict days. Bring camping gear and food – there are no shops. The wildlife – emus, Forester kangaroos, Bennett’s wallaby and Cape Barren geese may seem tame, but they shouldn’t be fed – keep them wild. Well-marked walks take you to the remarkable Fossil Cliffs (less than two hours return), Painted Cliffs (two to four hours return) and Bishop & Clerk, a prominent craggy peak (day walk). Overnight walks can take you south to Chinamans Bay or across the isthmus to South Maria.
South of Swansea, the A3 meets the coast at Mayfield, a popular spot for camping, fishing, swimming and diving. In Swansea, spend an hour or two on the Waterloo Point walk, with its coastal vistas and views across Great Oyster Bay to Freycinet and Schouten Island. Thirty-three km north of Swansea, turn off the A3 and take the C302 to Freycinet National Park and Coles Bay, the township at the entrance to the national park. (You’ll pass the Friendly Beaches on the way to Coles Bay.)
Freycinet has sheltered coves, quiet beaches, granite sea cliffs and wonderful bushwalking. The half-day return walk to Wineglass Bay is recommended. A longer (day) option is to cross the isthmus and return via Hazards Beach. One of Tasmania’s Great Bushwalks is the Cooks Beach-Mt Graham-Wineglass Bay circuit (two/three days or longer). There are no huts within the national park, so take your tent.
The wildlife is used to visitors, but please don’t feed them. Coles Bay offers a range of services and shops. It’s also the base for whale watching cruises and ideal for kayaking, swimming, fishing and other water activities. Dinghy/kayak hire is available. Accommodation options in Coles Bay range from a luxury lodge to an extensive campground. Friendly Beaches, with its empty kilometres of white sand, dunes and coastal heathlands also has plenty of campsites.
Eleven km north of the Freycinet turnoff is the holiday resort and fishing port of Bicheno. Scuba divers come from all over the world to dive in the Governor Island Marine Reserve. Check out the waves at Redbill Beach, just north of town. Join an evening tour to see penguins come ashore to their nests in the coastal scrub.
Just north of Bicheno is the road to the Douglas Apsley National Park, an attractive location for bushwalking, birdwatching and a refreshing swim in a quiet river pool. Walks include a 20- minute return walk to Apsley Waterhole, the three-hour Apsley Gorge circuit and a north-south three day ‘through’ walk. (This walk starts at the northern end of the national park. Travel five km south of St Marys on the A3, turn right on the unmarked MG Forestry Road, travel 30 km to the reserve.
Only north to south walking is permitted to avoid spreading the root rot disease Phytophthora cinnamomi.) Oyster Bay pines grow in the dry sclerophyll forest, and you’ll discover waterfalls on the scenic Apsley River.