Sunday, February 21, 2016

Next Must See Destination: The Bay of Fires

It was hard to leave the luxury of the Freycinet Lodge; we both would have stayed a few more days as we so enjoyed relaxing there. The view and the food were wonderful as well. But all good things must come to an end, so off we go toward St. Helens and the Bay of Fires. This bay is supposed to be amazing.

On the way north along the coast, we pulled off to check out the beaches and bays and take a break. The drive was pleasant and relatively short so we arrived at our hotel in St. Helens before noon. They allowed us to check in early so we went off to explore the town and find lunch.

St. Helens was originally a whaling and sealing community on the protected Georges Bay, founded in the 1830s. Then the “swanners” moved in to plunder and harvest the downy under-feathers of the bay’s black swans. In the 1850’s, it became a farming community, but changed when tin was discovered in 1874.

Today it harbors Tasmania’s largest fishing fleet so it has seen many changes. However, the bay is still filled with flocks of black swans. Our reason for staying here was to be near the Bay of Fires and have an easy drive to Launceston the next day. We flew into Hobart and out of Launceston.

After lunch we took a short drive further north to the Bay of Fires. We enjoyed Binalong Bay, which is at the south end of the Bay of Fires just 11 km from St. Helens. No white man lived here until the 1940’s and now it is a pricey beach holiday town. This is the only permanent settlement on the Bay of Fires. From there, we could see miles of beach stretching out to the north. Again, the sand was sparkling and very fine.
The Bay of Fires is actually 29 km long (or 26 nautical miles). The powdery white sand and “gin-clear” water have earned the title of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Lucky us; we have seen several with that title! The pristine white sand comes from granite bedrock that makes up the coast line of northeast Tasmania. 

It was so named by a ship captain when he saw the Aboriginal fires along the coast causing him to believe the area was densely populated. Now the name describes the orange lichen-covered rocks that look like fire.

The Bay of Fires is actually a series of beaches broken up with by lagoons and rocky headlands and backed by coastal heath and heavy bush. You can find crawfish, abalone and other species of fish and dive for them if you have a license. The elusive weedy sea dragon is often seen here. And the surf is good, but there are areas of rip tides. Guide books suggest you check with the locals who know the waters.

I wasn’t too thrilled to read that not only does the Bay of Fire have the rare yellow rock orchid and the endangered swift parrot plus many other nearly rare birds, wallabies and wombats (both are nocturnal), but also three Tasmanian snakes with poisonous venom. Fortunately, I did not see any of them!

The road does not run continuously along the bay adjacent to the beaches and only goes as far north as The Gardens. To reach the far north end of the Bay of Fires, you have to go inland and find a gravel road to reach Anson’s Bay. We stopped at The Gardens, which were named by Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of Governor John Franklin, who would ride in the region.

There is no “formal garden” unless you call it a “rock garden” which is also beautiful. And it is here! The coastline is rugged and the waves pound in from the Tasman Sea. The northern end of the Bay of Fires is not a place for swimming or surfing.

 The orange lichen on the rocks glow in the sunlight and make for a most interesting landscape. It appears to be a favorite subject of many artists in the area. The dramatic formations and variety of colors provide great subject matter for the painter and the photographer.

There were huge flocks of black swans everywhere on the water.

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