Why do the glossy website tour brochures seem to leave out describing the least memorable tour moments?
It was after midnight, and I was desperately trying to snuggle further into the warm depths of my sleeping bag. The thin walls of my tent were failing to shield me from the cold. I realised camping beside the beach wasn't necessarily the most ideal location. After five hours hiking through parts of North East Tasmania's most spectacular and remote wilderness, at this late hour my body should be deep in slumber-land. But the random gusts of wind, lifting my tent-roof and whipping it back on its steel frame in a shuddering frenzy, prevented sleep. This drifting / waking routine was like torture. I could not recall it being mentioned in the brochures.
As sleep was my enemy, I reflected: how did I get here and why do I feel this could be one of best experiences of my life?
A few months earlier I spotted a small paragraph in a Courier Mail Escape supplement, about the Bay of Fires Walk - a four day hiking adventure in North East Tasmania. The Tasmanian Expedition's website, lured me with their glossy photos and gourmet description. I scripted a movie in my head starring myself by day, hiking some of North East Tassie's most deserted beaches and wood-lands and by night, relaxing in comfortable accommodation, dining on fully-prepared gourmet meals, accompanied by some of Tassie's finest wines. Giving this hike the Academy seal of approval, I signed up to my first ever hiking holiday, selecting mid January as a suitable time of the year.
My Tasmanian walking adventure started in Launceston, at the Peppers Seaport Hotel, where a mini-bus collected the walkers. We travel to Quamby Estate, a luxurious and historical homestead built in the 1830s where our extremely enthusiastic guides, Hannah and Hamish greeted us. We met with our fellow walkers, we are an all-girl group of four.
Sorting through our luggage to determine the essentials for our back pack, we are ever mindful of our guide's strong recommendation to only pack the essentials. Our necessities and personal extras weigh close to seven kilograms. Although the packs seem a reasonable weight, after walking for a few hours, you wonder if you could have sacrificed a few more personal items.
A three hour bus ride takes us to Mt William National Park, where we're dropped at a coastal location called Boulder Point - the official starting point. We spend the afternoon hiking the pristine white beaches, clambering over granite rocks covered with orange lichen, revelling in the beauty and remoteness of the area.
Our Guides inform the group, the name Bay of Fires is not derived (as we all thought) from the spectacular orange covered granite rocks, randomly dotting the beaches, but from Captain Tobias Furneaux. In 1773 as he sailed past the Tasmanian coast line, he spied numerous fires lit by the indigenous inhabitants, to chase the wildlife from the bush for tucker. These fires were the inspiration for the area's name.
Prior to the walk, Tasmanian Expeditions sent a comprehensive list of recommended gear/clothing requirements, including thermals, fleeces, swimwear and a solid pair of (broken in) ankle walking boots. As a Queenslander, the notion of wearing thermals in January in Australia made me hesitate to pack them, but on the first night I was very glad of their inclusion, when settling in at our eco-friendly Forrester Beach Camp. As the camp site had no showers, I chose to freshen up with a quick brisk swim in the icy Atlantic Ocean. My fellow walkers, maybe not as seal-skinned (or crazy), declined the refreshing swim idea, preferring to chill instead with a glass of local pinot.
The next morning, with the rain dampening my slightly jaded, sleep-deprived spirits, we zipped our gortex jackets, setting off for day two's adventures. Thankfully the Bay of Fires gods were kind in the afternoon with the sun making a welcome appearance, bringing on a hasty application of sunscreen. Our guides enlightened us on Tasmania's issues with their ozone layer and the likelihood of being sunburnt more quickly than in Queensland.
A few more hours of trekking and Turtle Rock's smiling face greeted us.
Turtle Rock smiles
In the distance we spot the silhouette of the Bay of Fires Lodge nestled ecologically in the hill line. Spurred on by the thoughts of a hot shower and a glass (or two) of wine, our pace increased, to hike up the last steep hill. Once on the lodge's deck we take in the incredible 180 degree views, full of admiration with our efforts as we look back on the significant amount of ground we covered that day. This was the longest day of hiking, but it never felt strenuous or unachievable. We welcomed timely snack breaks, as they seemed to re-charge our batteries. Our group and the guides conversed throughout the day, a really enjoyable way to get to know a group of strangers.
After a welcome hot shower and change into fresh dry clothes, I am feeling more like the star in my pre-imagined gourmet hiking movie, as we gather for pre-dinner drinks with the lodge guests from the previous night. We indulge in another delicious three course meal, superbly prepared by the guides and one of the lodge's hosts. Each course is accompanied by a more extensive selection of Tasmanian wines, and the evening is spent chatting with other also relaxed guests, swapping stories and waiting for the sun to set around 9pm.
When our third day's plans to kayak up Anson River and across the Bay, are altered because the windy conditions are considered by our guides to be a little challenging for our all female group, no complaints were heard. Instead we spend an easy hour paddling in shared kayaks on the sheltered section of the Anson River. Following a picnic lunch, we traverse some incredible Sahara like sand dunes on a short hike back to the lodge, for some relaxing chill time and the temptation of a delectable array of freshly baked cakes. (Our choice: Rhubarb and cinnamon cake – or the heavenly chocolate cake.)
Local wine and chocolate cake - what a combination!
"Whilst cake is not the first thing to spring to mind when you think of the Bay of Fires walk," said Gai Gathercole, Sydney Family Lawyer and fellow walker, "because you've been walking, swimming, kayaking, and walking some more, you feel like you can actually enjoy as much cake as you like," said Gai.
That meant no guilt around trying both cakes and the sensational lemon curd tart for dessert that night!
On the final day we spend an easy morning, around the lodge. Mid-morning we take a short one hour hike through the bush to the bus which returns our female group and guides to Quamby Estate.
This was my first walking/hiking experience and whilst it was occasionally strenuous, I never felt overly stretched. My level of fitness I would class as moderate. As one of our walkers was a 73 year old grandmother, we all felt compelled to keep quiet any whinges we may have wanted to express.
It was four wonderful days spent marvelling at how uniquely beautiful this untouched part of our country is; of getting to know new people; being with your own reflective thoughts; learning what your limits are and pushing them a little further. At the end of each day, there was a sense of individual achievement, knowing you had earned the dinner and beverages you were about to indulge in.
The Bay of Fires Walk is about being in touch with nature and hiking - albeit in gourmet form.
"The walk exceeded my expectations," reflected Gai Gathercole.
Coastline on the Bay of Fires Walk
The Bay of Fires Walk is over four days and three nights. It's graded as a moderate walk, with the majority of the serious walking completed in the first two days.
You choose to walk either individually, or as a group and are provided with a choice of departure dates. Groups are booked as a minimum of four and a maximum of 10 and each group is allocated two guides.
Launceston is a 2 hour direct flight from Brisbane. Virgin flies directly daily. As does Jetstar. Personally I found Virgin, the most economical.
Booking the Walk:
Cost $2,150 January, February and March
$2,050 October, November, December, April and May
Bay of Fires Walk Pty Ltd
Cradle Mountain Huts & the Bay of Fires Walk
PO Box 1879, Launceston TAS 7250
P| 61 (0)3 6392 2211 F| 61 (0)3 6392 2277
Cradle Mountain Huts - Six day walk www.cradlehuts.com.au
Bay of Fires Walk - Four day walk www.bayoffires.com.au
Launceston: Ashton Gate B&B (Four Star) Accommodation from $125 per night.
Phone (03) 6331 6180
Email: email@example.com www.ahstongate.com.au
Balmoral on York Hotel (Four Star)
19 York Street
Booked through Expedia.com.au Prices from $125 per night (Premier City View Room inc continental breakfast)
1145 Westwoord Road, Hagley 7292
Phone (03) 6392 2135 www.quambyestate.com.au
What to do in Launceston:
Boag's Brewery Tours
Operate Mon-Fri guided Tastings are avail Saturdays
Phone: (03) 6332 6300 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Black Cow Bistro
70 George Street, Launceston.
Phone (03) 6331 9333 www.blackcowbistro.com.au
Make sure you visit the Cataract Gorge – a quick 5-10 minute walk from the centre of town.
Cataract Gorge Suspension Bridge