Sunday, January 17, 2016

In Tasmania, Hiking and Gourmet Cuisine in the Bay of Fires

“I just saw a snake, a deadly one in my path and survived”, I thought to myself as I sat in the van that took us from Mount Williams National Park where we concluded our 4 day Bay of Fires lodge walk to the Quamby Estate in Hagley, which is 30 minutes by car from Launceston, Tasmania.

The last time I spent some time living in the outdoors was in primary school and I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much, mainly because it was something we had to do; had to stick with a school structured itinery; too many people sharing the most basic of amenities. But the Bay of Fires Lodge walk is nothing like school camp. In a small group of 11, our walk was like a moving postcard.

I witnessed coastal landscapes that had every shade of blue I could possibly imagine and the whitest of beaches that rival Whitehaven Beach in Queensland. Each day the landscape changed dramatically, from soft white sandy beaches which was tender on the feet, to large rock boulders covered in orange lichen we had to climb up and across to reach another beach, which had a harder surface and easier on the feet. Within the first hour of our walk on sand dunes which started in Stumpy Bay in Mt. William National Park in the north eastern corner of Tasmania, I thought to myself “I wish I packed less stuff”. Having always lived out of a suitcase when travelling where I would pop things in my bag because “I might need it”, I should have been more discerning when I packed my backpack at the Quamby Estate where we left town and asked myself instead, “Do I really need this?” and if not it stays behind. This was truly a case of ‘less is more’. Additional items I should have catered for in determining the weight of my bag are a litre of water and my packed lunchbox.


Marine artifacts such as shark and fish cartilage, abalone shells, sea birds, are just some of the things that made us stop and take a closer look at with explanations from our knowledgeable guides Lauren and Joel. Grumbling stomachs was the other thing that made us stop, relieving us from carrying our backpacks. We sat on the rocks on the coastline to eat our packed lunches, which usually were fresh bread, meat and salads before we had a dip in the ocean which was cold but invigorating, meditate and stretch out on the rocks or just soak in the sun. Which reminds me to tell you that because the hole in the ozone layer is directly above Tasmania, sunscreen, a hat that won’t blow away and sunglasses are essential gear. Not to mention Aeroguard and insect wipes for optional comfort.

On our first night, we stayed at the Forester Beach campsite which were twin share with timber floors and canvass rooves. There is a zip up doorway and we were advised “You would want to keep your tents zipped up to keep those mosquitos out as night falls”. The Forester Beach campsite is nestled just behind the white sandy beach and you can walk along the wooden pathway to head for the beach for a swim, which was your shower for the day or you could try the bucket pulley shower which is further up the hill, hidden in the bushes overlooking in the ocean view where my shower duration was limited by my bucket of water. All naturale and liberating indeed.

The food at the Foresters Beach campsite was all prepared by our guides and I was surprised at the quality of the fresh gourmet food presented to us. What I hadn’t appreciated was that the guides carried all our food for the duration of our journey to prepare it for us for dinner, walking the same distance but probably carrying a heavier load. We were treated to a fresh and mildly spicy Salmon Nuoc Charm with Atlantic Salmon and soba noodles and a chocolate mousse for dessert. The salmon dish got people raving about it, and we all asked the guides for the recipe.

As the terrain we walked on could change dramatically in a day, from sand dunes and rock boulders to walking in thick bushland into the Australian wilderness, it also meant we constantly came across different living creatures. Animals like the Australian wallaby, was a common sighting as well as reptiles, like Henry the Tiger Snake that crossed our hiking path on the last day. When your guide stops all of a sudden on the hiking path, it’s usually a sign a snake is in your pathway and stepping on it can be fatal. That’s ok, we weren’t in any rush, and were more than happy for Henry to slowly slither across the hiking path so that we could both be on our merry way. So we watched Henry slither across cross our path and then we all slowly walked past Henry. My husband took a photo of Henry as he's not scared of snakes having grown up in the country. He said if it doesn't raise its head above ground you should be right. If it does, you run for it. Our guides told us that tiger snakes normally don’t have humans in their diets so why waste their good venom on us. But watching our step was important as stepping on them could mean they thought we were a threat and we could’ve been rewarded with a healthy snake bite. You may be wondering why we named the tiger snake Henry. A lovely wise girl in our tour group, Kate, said to us if you name the animals that are seemly unpleasant at first, you’ll warm to them and they’re not that bad with a name you have given them. Ah, bush survival tips for a peace of mind. So we started naming every other reptile we came across like Charlotte, the spider and Frank the lizard with its shiny silvery blue back.

Having trekked 24 kilometres in two days and not seeing a single soul apart from our group, it was refreshing to see another face as it meant we were at our destination, the luxurious Bay of Fires Lodge, where we immediately took off our backpacks, laid them on the deck, gulped downed an icy cool red cordial drink, whilst sitting on the deck watching the ocean from a distance. Monica, the spa lady at the lodge came to look for me as I had an appointment for a massage at 5pm. Yes about 200 metres from the Bay of Fires lodge is the spa retreat where you can have all sorts of indulgent therapeutic treatments done but by far the most needed treatment is a massage as my legs and hips ached from all that walking and carrying my backpack. “Do you want to take a shower first?” Monica says to me, causing a chuckle from my walk mates as it was probably just as much for her comfort as for me as I imagine we wouldn’t be smelling all that pleasant. They use LI’TYA products, drawing on Australian native plants and indigenous healing therapies. The hair mask is divine making my hair feel soft and silky after being exposed to the harsh sun for the majority of the past 48 hours.

The spa treatment was bliss and I could feel all the aching parts in my body, particularly my legs. Those who did not have spa treatments pre-booked were wishing they had and were hoping there was a spare slot in the next two days we were there. After the spa treatment, I sat in the lounge area of the spa, eco-built like the lodge, with expansive window panels, drank hot herbal tea and appreciated the quietness and expansive view of the bush and the soft sound of ocean waves crashing from a distance. I felt like this spa treatment was well earned, which made the experience even more rewarding. The call for dinner was the only reason why I got up and left the spa and as I walked through the bushland and back the lodge, I saw a wallaby, which we ended up naming Wally. It was quite tame, being as curious about me as I was about him.

No matter where you sat in the Bay of Fires Lodge, the large glass window panels ensured I had a view of the openness of the outdoors. In the reading room at the Bay of Fires lodge, I listened to the waves pound on Abbotsbury Beach. The lodge is an eco-lodge built on a hilltop, made of Tasmania hardwood which was lifted by helicopter to construct. It’s a simple lodge that integrates seamlessly with the environment. Solar power provides the lighting, and everything is built to ensure minimum impact to the environment, comfortable clean beds, shared facilities, and compost recycling. I picked up a book which was about Tasmania's history written by our guide’s friend who wrote it as part of his PhD. It's called The Black War, a story untold and I never learnt in school growing up in Australia. It's a horrific part of Australia's history about the indigenous people who lived on Tasmania. It’s written by Nicholas Clements for those who are interested in reading his book or thesis.

We had a free day to do as we pleased and all of us wanted to explore. After packing our ‘choose your own adventure’ lunch packs, received a few basic instructions on steering, paddling and safety by our guides, we hopped into our kayaks and merrily paddled down the Ansons River. The river’s water was so peacefully calm. It’s such a beautiful way to appreciate Tasmania's riparian ecology and abundant wildlife. We spotted a sea eagle's nest and a sea eagle returning to it. They are such majestic birds and this river is filled with bird life. Being connected to Tasmania’s ecosystem made me appreciate the simple and natural things in life. We calmly paddled the Anson River for about 4km before we hit head winds of the bay and kayak ride was a little choppy from thereon.

On our final day back before we headed back to the Quamby Estate we visited Piper Brook wine region stopping at Dr Andrew Pirie’s award winning vineyard Apogee to learn how he makes his wine and also to taste some of his juicy plump cherries he picked from his property. It was a fine ending to our 4 day adventure.

One of the most memorable things on this trip is meeting the people on our hiking tour who were from Queensland and Victoria in our case, who shared the experiences and challenges I faced on our Bay of Fires Tasmania adventure. After a long trek or kayak we would sit around our campsite or lodge dinner table sharing stories of some ‘Hollywood’ moments and have good laughs. We were lucky to have a great group of people and great company. I asked each of them one evening one word that came to mind about this trip and here is what they came up with to describe our journey: invigorating, challenging, rewarding, surprising, refreshing, rhythmic, calming, beautiful, inspirational, cosy, and mindful.

The Bay of Fires lodge walk in Tasmania lets you live out in the wilderness and appreciate Tasmania’s natural beauty of the North East coast without taking away the luxury of delicious gourmet Tasmanian food and wine and the comfy ocean front eco-lodgings to relax. This was my idea of a perfect outdoor adventure holiday. Loved it.

Getting there
I flew Jetsar from Sydney to Launceston and from there its about 30 minutes by cab to Quamby Estate otherwise you can make use of their complimentary transfers but only available at specific times of the day. See their website for more details.
The 4 days Bay of Fires Lodge walk is operated by the Tasmanian Walking Co (Instagram @taswalkco). See their website on touring dates. Cost is $2,475 per person for departure dates between 25 December 15 - 31 March 16
What to bring
The Tasmanian Walking Co has set up your gear essentials on their website.
See.Taste.Do travelled with the assistance of the Tasmanian Walking Company.

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