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Explore : East Coast Tasmania

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Our adventure down the east coast of Tasmania started at the Bay of Fires, just 10km north of St Helens and finished at Port Arthur.

 

The coastline is just incredible when the sun is out. There are plenty of beach houses and abodes with a maritime theme, jetties and fishing boats, and quite a few albatrosses lingering around the beaches as well.

 

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Enjoy the drive…

 

Binalong Bay & Bay of Fires

Voted the second best beach in the world, the Bay of Fires stretches for 35 km from Binalong Bay to Eddystone lighthouse. The region is so called because the local Aboriginals used to light the beach on fire to clear the land, then drive animals to the coast and trap them in the newly open spaces. We think the red lichen on the rocks also contribute to the name.

 

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We camped to the north of Binalong Bay at Swimcart Beach. Camping is free, close to the beach and there’s lots of space.

 

St Helens

This little fishing town on the shores of Georges Bay is actually the largest town on the east coast. While there isn’t much to do, the town is a lifesaver for two reasons.

 

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Firstly, there is a public toilet down near the marina that offers $2 showers, which can be best feeling in the world, depending on how long ago you last showered.

 

Secondly, the Banjo’s Bakery next to the IGA makes ripper pies with great flaky pastry.  We recommend the beef and cheese pie.

 

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The Famous Mount Elephant Pancake Barn

We drove past the turn off and Juz’s Hungarian blood yearned for pancakes so she made Dave turn around. It was 8 km off the coast road just near St Marys, at the top of Mount Elephant. It was a cute little place in a European style cottage with wooden walls, floors and ceilings and elephants everywhere.

 

We sat down in the corner and ordered the chicken, cheese and asparagus pancake for $18.90 to share. The lady bought it out on two separate plates, which was really nice of her but the pancakes were much nicer.

 

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Filled with a creamy cheese sauce, morsels of chicken and asparagus, the pancake itself was light and fluffy with the integrity to hold its fillings. It was just enough to satisfy our mid morning snack attack, but take note – there are no EFTPOS facilities so bring cash!

 

Bicheno

This little town is both a fishing port and a popular holiday destination. You can see both of these elements as you go around town – all the tourists and all the maritime themed stuff. Bicheno has beaches, fishing, walking trails, local wildlife, snorkelling and a few cafes and restaurants.

 

If you’re passing through, our first recommended stop is the Gulch, which is actually the space between Bicheno and the rocky islands that are about 50 metres offshore. It’s a great place to snorkel and there is also a fish and chip shop – obviously selling fresh out of the ocean fish.

 

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Next up would be the Whaler’s Lookout. Park your car at the base of the hill and march up for great views of the town and the Gulch. It’s a great opportunity to stretch the legs for 20 minutes or so.

 

Lastly, go and see the Blowhole. It’s more like a gaping hole that the sea water spurts out of, but it’s still worth a look. Climb over the rocks and get right up close but don’t fall in!

 

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If you’re looking for a place to settle for lunch or cook some snags, there’s a Lion’s Park at the top of town with picnic benches, BBQs and public toilets.

 

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Freycinet National Park

We bought a Parks Pass in Bicheno for $60 to cover our entry into Freycinet National Park. Unfortunately, the pass generally doesn’t cover camping, except for free camping areas, and in this case, we could camp only at Friendly Beach or Bluestone Bay.

 

No matter – Bluestone Bay is accessible by 4WD only so we found a nice spot all on our lonesome by the beach.

 

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We did a brief stop at Freycinet Marine Farm for some oysters. We got half a dozen natural oysters for $10 and splashed them with a little soy sauce before sucking them down. They were alright, but not as good as the oysters in Coffin Bay, South Australia.

 

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Coles Bay is the closest town to the National Park and has a few conveniences such as take away outlets, a tavern and petrol station, and lots of accommodation options, including the Coles Bay YHA.

 

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Swansea

Established in the 1820s, Swansea is one of Tassie’s oldest towns. While there isn’t much to do in the town itself, the coastal drive south to Triabunna is just beautiful.

 

We rested in Swansea briefly for lunch before making our way down the seaside road, admiring the Freycinet mountain range and turquoise water. We also stopped in at the Spiky Bridge.

 

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As we headed south, we deviated off the main road and cruised along the Wielangta Forest Drive. It’s a relatively easy drive and there are a few lookouts to stop at.

 

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Dunelly

Another little fishing town with a fabulous view no matter where you look.

 

We stopped in at the Dunelly Waterfront Cafe for a dark chocolate brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce.  Boomer Island is visible from the deck of the cafe, distinguished by the large castle atop the hill. The whole island is privately s owned by a local businessman, Gunter Jaeger, who was the previous owner of the Hope and Anchor Hotel in Hobart.

 

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We found ourselves back at Dunelly later that night, when we found Fortesque Bay camp ground fully booked for the night. The Dunelly Hotel offers free camping in the back paddock, which was an absolute lifesaver!

 

Tasman Peninsula

There are a few things to see on the Tasman Peninsula. One of our favourites was the Tessellated Pavement, an unusual rock formation of rectangular ‘pans’ and ‘loaves’. Nearby rock formations include the Tasmans Arch, Devil’s Kitchen and Blowhole.

 

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On your way there, be sure to pay attention to a residential area called Doo Town. All the houses have signs out the front that play with the name of the area – toucan doo, make doo, doo n time, much a doo, just doo it, doo love it, Dr Doolittle, doo mee, doo f#%& all. It was a little funny.

 

If you need to do any grocery shopping, Nubeena is the place to do it. There is an express IGA just outside of town and a larger IGA in town, opposite the skatepark and playground where the public toilets are locked at 5pm.

 

The most famous thing to do on the Tasman Peninsula is visit the Port Arthur historic site. We did the night Ghost tour, which has been running for over 20 years.

 

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History : Port Arthur

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Port Arthur is a small town and former convict settlement located on the Tasman Peninsula. It is a location drenched in grim history and is Tasmania’s post popular tourist attractions.

 

History

Established in 1830, Port Arthur started off as a timber camp that used convict labour. In 1833, it was promoted to a punishment station for repeat offenders.

 

The model for Port Arthur was taken from an English prison, which was described as ‘a machine for grinding rogues into honest men’. A combination of punishment, discipline, religion, instruction, separation and education either broke or rehabilitated the convicts, and turned many of them into skilled blacksmiths, shoemakers or shipbuilders.

 

A large penal colony requires military personnel and free people to run it, and the ones that lived at Port Arthur lived very different lives to the convicts. They had parties and picnics, played in the gardens and the children of the settlers went to school within the settlement. On the other hand, the convicts worked on farms and in industries to produce important resources and materials for the community.

 

By 1840, there were over 2000 residents at Port Arthur and it had turned into an industrial settlement. Convicts stopped arriving to Tasmania in 1853 so Port Arthur became a place for aging and ill convicts, and by 1877, the penal settlement was closed.

 

Over the following decades, many buildings were dismantled or burnt down in bushfires, but there was still a drawcard for tourism so any buildings that remained were transformed into museums, hotels or shops.

 

In 1996, Port Arthur gained another chapter in its grim history when gunman Martin Bryant opened fire at the historic site killing 35 people and injuring another 23 people. This is the biggest massacre by a lone gunman in Australia’s history. The site of the massacre has been turned into a memorial and now has its own place in the historical significance of the area.

 

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The Ghost Tour

The Port Arthur ghost tour has been running for over 20 years and starts after dark.

 

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Port Arthur is one of Australia’s most haunted places and it’s believed to be because of the violent and cruel history of the site, as it’s where some of the worst criminals ended up.

 

It was very dark during the tour and we only had a few torches to light the way, which made the tour that much creepier because the mind can be quite inventive in the dark. Our guide had a very deep and sombre voice, and by incorporating sudden volume increases, stomping on wooden floors or hiding in shadowed corners, he was able to create quite a reaction.

 

Our tour went through the Government Gardens to the Church, then onwards to the Parsonage house where the ghost of the settlement’s priest lived. This is apparently one of the most haunted buildings in Australia. We then made our way down to the basement of the Junior Medical Officer’s House, where autopsies were conducted on convicts to find out if there was an anatomical reason for their criminal inclinations.

 

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We were then taken to the Separate Prison, or Silent Prison, where the prisoners were isolated and locked away for 23 hours a day. The 24th hour was reserved for exercise in the yard – alone. Convicts that were sent to the Silent Prison were given numbers instead of names, and if they left the prison for whatever reason, they wore masks – so they were faceless and nameless.

 

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This was the last stop of our tour and thus the end of our time at Port Arthur.

 

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