Explore Tasmania's Wilderness Heritage
It almost seems unfair how much of Australia’s unspoilt wilderness is concentrated in tiny Tasmania. Troy Evans examines the history of this spectacular landscape, from the Bay of Fires to Freycinet National Park and Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
Jagged peaks, perfectly preserved forests and sweeping shorelines lend the mountains and coastal areas of Tasmania a sense of the eternal. And while our southernmost state generates increasing interest year on year, a section of the population has appreciated its gifts far longer than the rest of us.
To Indigenous Tasmanians — the palawa — the area known as the Bay of Fires in the state’s northeast is called larapuna. Thousands of years ago, the palawa’s ancestors crossed the land bridge that once joined Tasmania to mainland Australia. Though the comparatively recent arrival of European settlers has been conspicuously marked upon the landscape, the history and culture of the palawa remains rooted deep within the land here.
Evidence of these first Tasmanians can still be glimpsed along the seafront, in what now forms part of the Bay of Fires Conservation Reserve. Great piles of discarded shells and bones can be seen, unobtrusive vestiges of an ancient Indigenous presence. These middens point to a sustained period of habitation here, and though they arose out of the most routine and practical of considerations, they amount to a significant record of the attachment Indigenous Tasmanians have with the land.
An altogether different outlook met Captain Tobias Furneaux as he sailed along the coast in 1773. From the ship Adventure, the English navigator spotted several fires lit by the local Indigenous people, leading him to name the area Bay of Fires. Some of nature’s finest work can be witnessed while walking along the shore here — crystalline waters and impossibly pure sand dotted with ancient granite boulders. And at sunset, the orange-tinged, lichen-covered rocks resemble fires themselves — nature’s palette has been skilfully utilised here.
This wilderness leads to Eddystone Point, graced with a towering granite lighthouse which was built in the late 19th century in response to frequent wrecks on ragged reefs and rocks. Its nearby secluded beach offers a chance to further absorb nature’s effortless artistry. Here, a small dune belt adorns the foreshore, hemmed in by the point at one end and a rocky outcrop at the other. On the far side of the coastal dunes, wallabies, wombats and kangaroos graze.
A little over 100 kilometres to the south, the Tasman Sea laps at the shores of Freycinet National Park. Sweeping panoramas paint pictures of pink granite cliffs that slope gradually to meet crystal-clear waters. The gradual ascent to Wineglass Bay Lookout, meanwhile, offers spectacular views of the sweeping arc shaping the stunning coastline far below. This area was home to the Toorernomairremener band of the Oyster Bay tribe of Indigenous Tasmanians, whose middens can still be found today along the sand dunes at Richardsons and Hazards beaches.
Abel Tasman happened upon this breathtaking stretch of coastline in 1642 when navigating the east coast of Tasmania, which was named Schouten Island at the time. From that time on, the majestic Freycinet landscape played host to a long European history of whaling, tin and coal mining, evidence of which can be observed in the network of old mine shafts and whaling stations dotted along the secluded bays.
Beyond the Central Plateau Conservation Area, and linking up with a series of other national parks covering almost the breadth of the state, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park offers some of the country’s most spectacular bushwalking opportunities. The prized seclusion and tranquillity of the park’s Dove Lake lends it an air of timelessness. Hemmed in by sharply rising peaks, a man-made track encircles the perimeter of the lake, cutting a path through the bushland that overlooks its peaceful shores.
Reaching the quaint Waldheim Chalet provides the chance to glimpse inside the humble former home of Gustav and Kate Weindorfer, one-time custodians of what is now the national park. A trained botanist, Gustav initially migrated to Melbourne from his native Austria. It was here that he met his future wife, Kate. The pair subsequently made the journey to Cradle Mountain and on reaching its summit, Gustav was said to have remarked: “This must be a national park for the people. It is magnificent, and people must know about it and enjoy it.”
Need to Know
Discover the best of Tasmania’s wilder side on APT’s 8 Day Tassie Wilderness Explorer tour.
Experience – two nights in Hobart, uncovering culinary and cultural aspects of the capital. The 4WD adventure then begins as you immerse yourself in the first of three extraordinary wilderness areas, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Freycinet National Park follows, with its famous Wineglass Bay Lookout.
Stay – in Tasmania’s wide-open natural spaces with two nights at Bay of Fires Lodge, from where you’ll embark upon an idyllic coastal walk to encounter the region’s wildlife.