Australia // Tasmania //

St Helens and the Bay of Fires

The last stop before the Tasman Highway turns inland, ST HELENS is the largest town on the east coast. Don’t get too excited – even with its shops, supermarkets and banks it’s a low-key sort of place. Many visitors come solely to try their luck at the self-described “big game fishing capital of Tasmania”; skipper Rocky Carosi (t03/6376 3083, whttp://www.gamefish.net.au) runs charters. For others, the draw is a beautiful beach on the Bay of Fires.

With a large resort hotel, a clutch of cafés and a scattering of clothes and sports stores, St Helens is changing from a sleepy backwater to a holiday playground as the beauty of the nearby Bay of Fires becomes more widely known. It’s no looker, however, and the one sight in town, such as it is, is the St Helens History Room in the visitor centre, documenting local settler and mining history.

Most interest lies around its inlet, Georges Bay, on whose southern arm is the St Helens Point Recreation Area, where there’s a large lagoon – Diana’s Basin – that the highway skirts as it enters town. On the ocean side the Peron sand dunes stretch for several kilometres, and at the point there’s good surfing at Beer Barrel Beach. On the north side of Georges Bay, 10km from St Helens, Binalong Bay is another popular surf spot (with strong rip currents, so beware); there’s safer swimming in the lagoon behind. It is the southern end of the mesmerizingly beautiful Bay of Fires, named for the many Aboriginal fires that explorer Tobias Furneaux saw in 1773. A series of bright sugary white strands designated as the Bay of Fires Coastal Reserve scallops the coast for over 30km north to Eddystone Point. If you’re driving, the first few are accessible off a partly sealed road to The Gardens just before Binalong Bay itself, each with a basic bushcamp behind, or you can head north along the sands from Binalong Bay; it’ll take you around two hours to reach Cosy Corner two-thirds of the way up. The Gardens itself, 13km north, is little more than a collection of holiday shacks but is a scenic spot. There’s no transport to Binalong Bay but it’s an easy cycle ride (source bikes from St Helens Backpackers).

The northern end of the Bay of Fires falls within the lower half of Mount William National Park; to get there take the road running inland north for 54km from St Helens to the pink-granite tower of the Eddystone Lighthouse. The northern end of the park is reached via Gladstone by taking an unsealed track to Great Musselroe Bay, where there’s a free basic campsite. There are no real tracks within the park itself, but plenty of beach and headland walking, and lots of Forrester kangaroos. The Bay of Fires Walk is a luxury four-day guided trek up the bay and through Mount William National Park (Oct–May; t03/6331 2006, whttp://www.bayoffires.com.au; $2050–2150 according to season) to a stylish private ecolodge with astounding sea views. The rooms are opened to drive-up guests out of season ($301 and above).

Read More