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May 03, 2017
Have a whale of a time on Tasmania’s eastern coast. By Vanessa Frey.
It’s become an iconic image of Tasmania’s wildly beautiful Freycinet Peninsula: the deep, sweeping crescent of white sand layered against turquoise-teal water, cupped by a low-lying rocky headland of pink granite that juts out into the sea. Add its romantic-sounding name, Wineglass Bay, and it’s a picture-perfect coastal scene – except for that blot on its history, between the 1820s and ’40s, when the pristine bay was stained by the slaughter of whales.
Today, the unadulterated colours of the East Coast region are on spectacular show. It’s late afternoon and we’re aboard a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) en route back to Saffire Freycinet, a luxury retreat nested on the edge of this wilderness sanctuary and our base for the weekend.
Bouncing along at 40 knots – the wind and salt spray whipping our faces ruddy – we pass Gates Bluff, around the midpoint of the peninsula’s eastern flank. Rising out of the water, the rocky parapets of this famous landmass are painted in black and orange lichen and bull kelp clings to its amorphous edges, waving its thick green tentacles.
Then, suddenly, a crackle over the two-way radio and our skipper slows the RIB to a stop, the vessel churning up a foamy wake. A humpback has been spotted ahead, its pectoral fin slapping the water. Her gleaming black body is partially submerged, betrayed only by that telltale flash of white. Our euphoria is palpable and just as it begins to subside, a calf appears alongside its mother, breaking the surface and breaching clear of the blue. We watch, transfixed. The sweet irony of a whale sighting, here in this former hunting ground, isn’t lost on us.
Nor is this experience. What was supposed to be a pleasant daytrip – it started with a guided walk to Wineglass Bay Lookout, followed by a gourmet picnic on the beach – has turned into a thrilling encounter with nature.
Saffire, in Coles Bay (two-and-a-half hours from Hobart via the Great Eastern Drive or a 45-minute heli transfer), blends seamlessly into the Freycinet landscape. Hidden beneath its silvery stingray-shaped sheath is a central lodge that houses a reception area, restaurant, lounge and day spa, with 20 conjoined suites fanning out into surrounding bushland. All have the same raw aesthetic: light-coloured Tasmanian timber, stone and leather; a private courtyard and outdoor deck; and atmospheric views of The Hazards mountain range and Great Oyster Bay. Private Pavilions come with the added luxury of a plunge pool and personal chef service.
In-house restaurant Palate caters for all your meals. This 40-seat fine-diner pays as much attention to mood (low lighting, ethanol burners) as it does to food. Breakfast covers all the standards (porridge, pastries and toast), made with French flair. Daily-changing specials might include oeufs cocotte (baked free-range eggs with braised chickpeas, tomatoes, spinach and spiced eggplant) or Woodbridge smoked ocean trout, avocado, capers and labne on a dill brioche. The coffee is locally roasted by Villino in Hobart.
Dinner is dégustation or à la carte. Aromatics such as native finger lime, wasabi and pickled ginger make chef Todd Adams’ sashimi of yellowfin tuna with spanner crab a standout dish. The after-dinner wine, a crisp, light Milton Iced Riesling from nearby Swansea, is a revelation with cheese – and not too sweet with dessert.
The lodge can organise a fancy Pique Nique lunch on Hazards Beach. Think white linen, free-flowing Champagne and course upon course of barbecued seafood, slow-roasted meats and gourmet vegetable salads.
Still not suffonsified? At Freycinet Marine Farm, eat fat, juicy Pacific oysters plucked from the pristine waters of a river estuary and freshly shucked from their shells. Contrary to culinary custom, chew then swallow; don’t slurp and slide. These plump purlers, salty and firm to the bite, are too good not to taste properly. Waders are supplied.
Some of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks are here, including the one-and-a-half-hour return to Wineglass Bay Lookout, which overlooks that beautiful cove. For a longer hike, continue to the Hazards Beach section of the circuit for 11, sometimes steep, kilometres over rocky ground and sandy track. The views are worth the slog.
The hotel offers countless opportunities to relax and recreate, both on the property and beyond. Indulge in a head-to-toe treatment at Spa Saffire; explore Coles Bay by bike; kayak off Muirs Beach, out the front of the lodge; or kick back with a drink in the lounge bar. To learn more about the local wildlife, visit the lodge’s open-range Tasmanian devil enclosure at feeding time for an informative talk while the (mostly elderly) marsupial residents squabble over their meal – don’t mind their table manners.
SEE ALSO: Get Back to Nature on Lord Howe Island