Bay of Fires
In Tassie’s far north-east, this pristine stretch of golden granite, white sand beaches and arcing, impossibly blue bays rivals the scenery of nearby Freycinet National Park. But with a huge choice of free campgrounds, the Bay of Fires Conservation Area, 10km north-east of St Helens, goes further, and a stay here may well be the highlight of your Tassie adventure.
Park your rig atop a sculpted granite headland, on the shores of a shimmering shallow lagoon, or nestle into the dunes behind a tiny cove and stretch your legs on the squeaky white sand. Named by Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773 for the indigenous campfires he spotted burning ashore as he sailed past, the Bay of Fires Conservation Area provides eight campgrounds. Dogs on leads are permitted, and you can settle in for fee-free stays of up to four weeks, but you’ll need to BYO drinking water and firewood and take away all rubbish.
Closest to town and with a boat ramp, the grassy, free-range Grants Lagoon campground is favoured by anglers, boaties and paddlers, but I love the secluded, roomy camps at Jeanneret Beach.
Next up is Swimcart Beach, famed for its surf fishing, then Cosy Corner with secluded and more spacious sites located at both ends of the beach.
You can camp on both sides of the headland at Sloop Reef and at Sloop Lagoon and Big Lagoon, but there are no toilets. A short drive away, the isolated camp at Policemans Point is idyllic, enormous and grassy, but you’ll need to be completely self-contained.
Location Follow Binalong Bay Road (C850) out of St Helens, turn north onto The Gardens Road and follow the signs to your preferred camp.
Facilities: Toilets (at some camps), picnic tables and fire pits.
Pets: On leads.
More information: www.parks.tas.gov.au
Sulphur Creek Penguin Rookery
When darkness falls over the summer months, this busy little penguin rookery 10km east of Burnie comes to life: chicks left alone in their nests begin to peep in earnest for parents who will soon tumble out of the surf, bellies full with fish to share. The penguins’ nocturnal nighttime commute is a magical experience and the best time to view them on Tassie’s north-west coast is from November to March.
If you go, find a spot away from the burrows and settle in before the penguins appear. Wear dark clothing, keep quiet and still, and use a red light torch (or cover your torch with red cellophane) and refrain from shining it on the penguins until they are safely on the beach or they may return to the sea and leave their chicks hungry.
Flanked by long stretches of white sand beach, the unassuming camp at Hall Point is ideal for self-contained rigs (no facilities, no dogs). Alternatively, you can park your rig at the surf lifesaving club a few kilometres east (dogs okay) or head to holiday parks at nearby Burnie or Penguin. Another great viewing spot is found close to Devonport at Lillico Beach where you can join free, guided nightly tours (no camping allowed).
Location: Follow the coast 10km east of Burnie to the beachfront camp at Sulphur Creek’s Hall Point (picnic table only, no dogs) or the local surf lifesaving club (picnic tables, dogs permitted). Vehicles must be self-contained, no fees, 48-hour limit.
More information www.discoverburnie.net
Narawntapu National Park
This coastal sanctuary is within easy reach of Devonport. It might be experiencing the devastating effects of mange mite, which is wiping out its wombat population, but it remains a great place to spot Tasmanian wildlife. As the sun dips low, kangaroos and wallabies gather on park’s powered camping ground, Springlawn.
As campfires burn, pademelons forage on the edge of camp, and big, bushy possums and the occasional wombat emerge too. The excellent facilities here include spacious powered sites, hot showers, toilets, water, free electric barbecues and picnic tables, and an informative, interactive visitor centre.Facilities at Narawntapu’s unpowered bush campgrounds pale in comparison but there are sea views and access to boat ramps and the beach.
Location Follow the B71 east of Devonport and take the C740 north to Bakers Beach.
Facilities: Springlawn campground provides powered campsites ($16/couple) with access to hot showers and free electric barbecues. Head to Bakers Point for the best unpowered bush sites with fireplaces ($13/couple).
Fee: $24 per vehicle.
More information: www.parks.tas.gov.au
From a primitive base on rugged Sarah Island, convicts first settled Strahan’s remote western port in 1822, logging huon pine, constructing boats and kick-starting a prosperous port that by 1900 was Tassie’s third largest. Today, the action at Strahan still takes place on the water, and the boat cruises that cross Macquarie Harbour, visit Hells Gates and explore the mythical Gordon River rainforest remain Strahan’s biggest drawcard.
The tour boats visit Sarah Island too, where guided tours offer up horrific stories of life at Australia’s worst convict settlement. Competing for your holiday dollars are steam rail journeys aboard the West Coast Wilderness Railway, fishing charters and twilight penguin watching cruises.
The town’s historical waterfront is lined with restored 19th century terraces, housing cafes, restaurants and bars, and Strahan has a centrally located holiday park, plus a basic bush campground located to the west at Macquarie Heads ($6/night). From January to March you can watch flocks of shearwaters returning to Ocean Beach at dusk, and dolphins and migrating whales are commonly spotted here.
Location Strahan is located 300km and a four-hour drive west of Hobart.
Facilities: Strahan Beach Tourist Park (www.strahantouristpark.com.au).
More information: www.westernwilderness.com.au
When it’s time to come in out of the wilderness, Hobart provides a very warm welcome, with a diverse range of cultural experiences, wining, dining and fun. Shop at Salamanca Market (every Saturday), indulge in seafood at Constitution Dock and take in the views from the top of nearby Mount Wellington.
Topping Hobart’s must-see list are its world-class museums. Entry to the much raved about MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) is free for Tasmanian residents and under-18s and costs from $20 for everyone else.
In the CBD and totally free, don’t miss the Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery, especially if you are travelling with children. Close by is Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum ($12/adult, $4/child) and if travelling over New Years, don’t miss Hobart’s Taste of Tasmania festival.
More information: www.hobarttravelcentre.com.au
Thinking of going caravanning this Christmas? Read our article An Australian Caravanning Christmas to get our top tips to ensure you’re fully prepared.