The Tasman Highway gently rises and falls through grazing land and bush-covered hills before it hits the coast itself, with its long white beaches and blue water stretching to a cloudless sky. Drier and sunnier than the rest of the state, the east coast is a popular destination in the school holidays – prices go up and accommodation is scarce from Christmas to mid-February. Even so, it remains relatively undeveloped and peaceful, and there are four national parks to escape to, which include a whole island – Maria Island – and an entire peninsula – the glorious Freycinet National Park.Read More
Coles Bay, on the north edge of the Freycinet National Park, is the only settlement; a village spread along a sheltered inlet where fishing boats bob before The Hazards, three striking peaks – Amos, Dove and Mayson – that rise from the sea and are especially impressive at sunset when their pink granite glows. Since the 1930s, the village has been the base for the park, for fishing and for recreation, and there are numerous holiday houses for rent.
Freycinet National Park
Freycinet National Park
For Coles Bay and Freycinet National Park (pronounced “fray-zin-ay”), you turn off the Tasman Highway 33km north of Swansea onto the Coles Bay Road. After about 8km, a left-hand turning (3km unsealed) leads to the spectacular unspoilt Friendly Beaches, part of the national park yet relatively quiet.
The national park office, just 1km from Coles Bay, sells maps and booklets on day-walks and has interpretive displays on the park. From here, the gravelled, disabled-access Great Oyster Bay path leads down to the beach (10min return). Opposite the centre, the national-park campsite, with water, toilets and showers, is in a sheltered location among bush and dunes behind Richardsons Beach; it’s so popular in holiday season that pitches from mid-December to mid-February and over Easter are allocated by ballot the previous August – entries can be made by July by email via http://www.parks.tas.gov.au.
All walking tracks into the park begin at the Walking Track Car Park, a further 4km from the office. Water is scarce, so carry all you’ll need or ask the rangers about safe streams. The shorter walks are well marked: the easy ascent to the lookout over exquisite Wineglass Bay, with its perfect curve of white beach, is where most walkers head. Many continue on down to the beach itself (2.6km return to the lookout, 1–2hr; 5km return to the beach, 2hr 30min–3hr 30min). The 27km peninsula circuit is a wonderful walk (10hr), best done over two days; it makes a good practice run for the big southwest hikes, albeit considerably drier. There’s a campsite at Cooks Beach, with a pit toilet, water tank, and a rough hut where you can stay.
Schouten Island, off the tip of the peninsula, is part of the national park, with basic bush campsites at Moreys Bay and Crocketts Bay. Although there are no proper tracks on the island, walking is easy and uncrowded if only because of the difficulty of access to the island. Cruise companies in Coles Bay sail out to the island.