Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

65. Freycinet

Karen rang David when we arrived back in Launceston to arrange a lift out to his place for the night. After so many months of independence with the bikes it felt strange to be on foot, carrying packs and relying on public transport and the kindness of strangers. A ride of a kilometre or two is barely noticed, but a walk of a kilometre or two with full packs is a bit of a pain.

David picked us up from the bus terminal after work, and we drove northwards to his home overlooking the Tamar River. His wife Michele, a schoolteacher, soon arrived home with their two children and after the introductions had all been made we settled in to a delightful dinner and conversation centred on walking, running and sailing. It did not take too long for the scrap books and photo albums to come out. David astounded us with the newspaper clipping of one of his Three Peaks races where a broken rudder caused his boat to sink, leaving the crew to be picked up by a passing freighter and deposited at its next port of call in Melbourne! We have since swapped letters of mutual admiration, he amazed by the riding exploits of Karen and myself, and us amazed at his Three Peaks races and kayak paddling.

David dropped us at the bus terminal the next morning after a night spent in our sleeping bags on our mats on his lounge-room floor. We caught a bus to Campbell Town where we connected with another bus going to Coles Bay. Despite the best efforts of the driver, we managed to reach our destination alive. The guy was a real cowboy, haring around corners at ridiculous speeds while telling us stories of all the tourists who had died after running their cars off the road. At one stage he became concerned about the swaying of the vehicle and stopped the car to check that the tyres were all okay. When he climbed back into the driver's seat he reassured us that everything was fine, and that he had only thought something was wrong because he had never driven a bus as big as this one before! Very comforting!

Coles Bay is situated at the northern end of the Freycinet Peninsula, all of which is national park. The most famous feature of the park is Wineglass Bay, an inlet of deep blue water lined by a perfect white sand beach, and supposedly shaped like a wine glass. I really can't see it myself - maybe because I usually drink wine out of a beer glass. Karen and I had dropped in for a day walk on our previous visit, but now planned an extended walk which would take in the whole park.

We donned packs and made our way up to a saddle in the Hazards, a string of four mountains which act as a barrier at the northern end of the peninsula. From the saddle it is a short walk to the lookout over Wineglass Bay. We took the obligatory photograph, then proceeded down to the beach for a walk around to its sheltered southern end, setting up camp on a sand dune overlooking the beach.

The Hazards

The setting was idyllic, with the height and bulk of the Hazards providing a stark contrast to the flat water and white sand. No wind ruffled the surface of the water as small waves no higher than a hand-span appeared from nowhere every few moments to throw themselves upon the shore. What could be more romantic or more peaceful?

Well, for a start, we could lose the bloody waves! Sure they were small, but they were long and hollow and every bit of water in them crashed down onto the sand at exactly the same time. The night was an incredible silence, punctuated every seven seconds by an almighty wallop. Next time we will camp behind the dunes.

After our disturbed night we broke camp and headed south, climbing six hundred metres in about six kilometres to reach the summit of Mount Graham. The track had been well defined, but rough. We wondered how the runners in the Three Peaks Race coped with the condition of the track.

Looking north from atop Mt Graham

The views from the top are superb. To the north lies the Hazards, with Wineglass Bay on the eastern side of the peninsula separated by a narrow isthmus from Hazards Beach on the west. Further to the west across the waters of Coles Bay lies the bulk of the Tasmanian mainland, while to the south lies Schouten Island, isolated from the Freycinet Peninsula by the narrow Schouten Passage. To the east lies nothing but ocean.

Schouten Island (with Maria Island in the distance)

A steep descent of the mountain took us past Mount Freycinet, the highest mountain in the park. We swung westward to arrive at Cooks Beach. A short walk to its southern end brought us to our camping area for the night, a lovely series of shaded clearings sufficiently far from the water to ensure a good night's sleep away from those darned noisy little waves. The day was warm enough for a swim, so Karen and I changed into our togs and waded out through crystal clear water over clean white sand until the water was deep enough for swimming. Suddenly we became aware of a dark shape moving rapidly through the water about thirty metres away. Was it a shark? Was it a bird? Was it a plane? Actually, it was a bird - a fairy penguin in pursuit of schools of small fish. We swam with it for a while until its hunt took it further up the bay.

In the morning we left most of our gear in the tent and set out on a day walk south to the tip of the peninsula. The return trip of about fifteen kilometres involved a short stroll down Cooks Beach before cutting across to Bryan's Beach and rock hopping our way down to the kilometre-wide Schouten Passage. The only incident of note on the walk occurred when we startled a tiger snake on the track and it disappeared down a hole barely wide enough to accommodate a golf ball. It was a really amazing sight - the snake seemed to be sucked into the bowels of the earth like a piece of spaghetti is sucked into a child's mouth.

Karen at Cook's Beach

On the return journey we detoured left when we reached Cooks Beach to inspect a permanent private camp set up by a tourist organisation. Their glossy brochure included a fantastic map of the entire peninsula, with a scale of one in one hundred thousand and contour lines every twenty metres. Karen and I had been using it exclusively for all of our navigation. The location was typical of the private enterprise camps and huts that are springing up in many of Tasmania's national parks - tastefully environmental and hidden away from regular walking trails. If we had not had the brochure, we would not have known the camp existed. Karen can vouch for the excellence of their ladies toilet.

The tourist company is called Freycinet Experience Pty Ltd and Karen and I had briefly considered taking their tour. Their four day trip involved a boat cruise from Coles Bay to the Schouten Passage with fishing along the way before being dropped off at Bryan's Beach for the same walk back to the camp that Karen and I had just completed. On the second day they retraced our walk over Mount Graham, along Wineglass Bay and over the Hazards, finishing with a short four wheel drive to another permanent camp on the east coast. Day three was a walk up the coast to a lodge, and day four a short walk and a drive back to Hobart. Karen and I were doing a similar itinerary, and saving ourselves almost one thousand dollars each at the same time!

Bryan's Beach

A thousand bucks for a three and a half day tour is amazingly exorbitant. Of course, tourists with the Freycinet Experience do have all meals included, something Karen and I would have appreciated that evening as we sat contemplating the ingredients for a meal of rice and green curry. We usually included fish in the recipe, but that is impossible three days into a hike. Our contemplation was interrupted by the approach of a stranger who had walked up the beach from the direction of the private camp. We noticed a Freycinet Experience insignia on his shirt.

"G'day," he said. "You haven't had dinner yet, have you?"
"No, we haven't," Karen replied, "but we were just about to make a green curry."
"How would you like some fish to go with it?" he asked, opening up a bag and showing us about half a dozen small fillets. "I work for the Freycinet Experience. We have a permanent camp down at the end of the beach, and our tour group has just returned from fishing all day with more flathead than we can eat."

Karen and I could not believe our luck. We chose four fillets and set about preparing dinner while we talked with the tour guide about his company, its tour and its prices. He agreed that the cost was pretty steep, but he said they had no shortage of clients, mostly executives with limited time who wanted a stress-free, fully catered holiday and were prepared to pay for quality. Karen and I were still deeply into cheap mode, and found it difficult to understand such alien thinking.

A wallaby at our Cook's Beach campsite

Our green curry of fish dinner was excellent, and had nothing at all to do with Karen being as sick as a dog the next afternoon. In the morning we had swum and looked for crabs and marine life on a rock shelf near the beach. After we had packed up the tent and begun walking north along the coast, the activity, the warm weather and Karen's body chemistry all contributed to her illness. We had only walked for an hour or so, arriving at a lovely campsite at the southern end of Hazards Beach, when Karen had called it quits. For the rest of the afternoon she lay in the shade trying not to throw up, while I killed time by setting up the tent, looking for birds and taking photographs of the sunset across the waters of Coles Bay.

Hermit Crab

As night-time approached Karen's condition improved and she was able to rejoin the land of the living. Karen had missed lunch, but to my great relief her appetite returned and she tucked into dinner with her usual gusto. Karen missing one meal is a very rare event. Karen missing two meals in a row has never happened!

Karen not feeling well

Just before dark a big, black possum sauntered into our campsite, sniffed around the tent for a moment or two and calmly wandered off. How cute, we thought, not realising it had been on a reconnaissance mission in preparation for a full-scale assault later in the night. Shortly after we had settled comfortably into our sleeping bags we heard the familiar and extremely irritating scratch-scratch-scratch of possum claws on packs. I grabbed a torch and shone a light into the alcove behind our heads. The beady eyes of the big, black possum stared back at me. I hissed at him and hit the fly-screen between us, but he just ignored me and went about the business of trying to get into our packs. Completely naked, I got out of the other end of the tent, grabbed a stick and ran around to the possum, convincing him with a couple of sharp prods and taps that he would be better off elsewhere. He ambled away, with me following just behind him to give him a few more whacks to deter him from returning.

I returned to the tent and was just about asleep when we heard the well-known rustling of a possums approach. In a matter of seconds he had ducked under the fly into the back alcove and lifted a day pack off the larger pack beneath which housed our food. With our torchlight clearly illuminating his activities, he grabbed the zippers of the food compartment and quickly began to open them up. Again I tried to scare him away but he looked at me with an uncaring expression, as if daring me to try to stop him again.

Karen, in the meantime, was out the other end of the tent. She grabbed the stick and went after the possum. It had ambled a metre or so away from the tent, out of the beam of the torch so I did not see what happened next. I did hear it, however. Ker-bloody-splat! Karen had connected with the stick.

"Holy shit, Karen," I shouted. "Are you trying to kill the poor bastard!?"

The possum re-entered the beam of my torch, limping slightly as it hurried away. Just as the possum that Karen had booted in Airlie Beach had not risked a return bout the same night, so the big black possum of Hazard's Beach did not disturb us further. Karen's methods might be harsh, but they are definitely effective.

As we walked back to Coles Bay to catch the bus the next morning, I thought about the possum incidents and Karen's reactions to their attacks. I realised there was a valuable lesson for me to learn as well.

Never ever attempt to deprive Karen of her food!

Karen and a wallaby on Hazards Beach

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