Jutting out between The Tasman Sea and Great Oyster Bay on Tasmania's east coast, the Freycinet Peninsula is a rugged and beautiful stretch of land, noted for its white-sand beaches, secluded coves, panoramic vistas, rocky cliffs and excellent bushwalks through the Freycinet National Park.
The park is famous for Wineglass Bay, named one of the world's top 10 beaches by Outside magazine, just one of its white sandy beaches and the pure clear turquoise waters that are perfect for sea kayaking, swimming and scuba diving. The Hazard Range offers climbing, abseiling and mountain walking, and the coastal heathlands have wonderful day walks.
Bird lovers may see a white-bellied sea eagle gliding overhead or large Australasian gannets diving for food. In the forested areas you will often see or hear small nectar-feeding birds such as eastern spinebills and yellow-throated or crescent honeyeaters and yellow-tailed black cockatoos, which often feed and fly in raucous groups. Moulting Lagoon Game Reserve, just outside the park on the Coles Bay road, is a wetland of international importance. Some 10,000 black swans inhabit the lake. Freycinet Peninsula is also the place to spot sea eagles, wallabies, seals, pods of dolphins, and humpback and southern right whales during their migration season (May through August).
The tourist centre at Coles Bay is an essential destination for visitors, as it is loaded brochures, maps and booklets to help everyone get the most out of their time on the peninsula. Whilst there are activities around Coles Bay, most of what the peninsula has to offer must be reached on foot - no vehicles are allowed beyond the Coles Bay area. Freycinet National Park has a series of wonderful bushwalks - many of which are part of Tasmania's Great Short Walks. The main walks are detailed on the National Park's website. The most popular walk is the 1 - 1.5 hours return trek to Wineglass Bay Lookout. This is a steep uphill walk on a rocky, well-constructed track, but the world famous view from the top is worth every step. The crystal clear waters and white sandy beach of Wineglass Bay are a tremendous sight. 6 km outside town and inside the national park is the Cape Tourville Lighthouse, which allows extensive views north and south along the coast and across several of the small islands in the Tasman Ocean. Freycinet Sea Charters operates whale-watching cruises between June and September, bay and game fishing, dolphin-watching, diving, scenic and marine wildlife cruises, and sunset cruises. Half-day cruises commence at A$110 per person with a minimum of four adults onboard.
Coles Bay: A tiny settlement that is the accommodation centre for visitors to Freycinet National Park. The town came into being in 1934 when it began to become a popular haunt for fishermen and bushwalkers. Coles Bay is also the major tourist centre on Tasmania's east coast and though it has plenty of holiday accommodation, the increased popularity of the Freycinet Peninsula as a tourist destination has meant you need to book ahead if you intend staying here overnight or longer.
Freycinet Peninsula Circuit: Walking the 30 km Freycinet Peninsula Circuit is the ultimate Peninsula walk that takes in both the Wineglass Bay and Hazard circuit Great Short Walks, travelling around the Hazard Mountains to Hazards Beach. The track continues south to Cooks and Bryans Beaches. Walkers then cross the Peninsula over a heathland plateau next to Mount Freycinet where spectacular views are possible before descending to the white, quartz sands of Wineglass Bay. Walkers should allow at least two days to complete the trip - although the trip can be longer depending on the number of restful days you have on the beach.
Schouten Island: part of the Freycinet National Park, Schouten Island is a large rugged island off the southern tip of Freycinet Peninsula. It is named by Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642 after Willem Schouten (1567?-1625), a Dutch explorer who first rounded Cape Horn in 1616, and named it after his birthplace, the Dutch city of Hoorn. During the early colonial days, the island was used first as a base for whalers and sealers, and later exploited for its coal and tin deposits. Schouten's highest point, Mt. Storey, is 400 m above sea level. It is surrounded by cliffs, broken by sheltered bays. Schouten Passage, the deep water channel between Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island, is rich in fish and often turbulent currents.
Like the Tasman Peninsula, tuna is caught close to shore. Albacore, southern bluefin and sometimes a yellowfin, mako and blue shark are caught here. The southern tip and eastern shores of Schouten Island are the most productive. Little Penguins and Short-tailed Shearwaters breed on the island, along with other bird species such as the Tasmanian Native-hen. Australian Fur Seals haul out on the eastern side. Reptiles present include the Tasmanian Tree Skink, She-oak Skink, Southern Grass Skink and Three-lined Skink.
Ile des Phoques (Island of Seals): a tiny rock in the middle of Great Oyster Bay around 10km south of Schouten Island and 18km north of Darlington on Maria Island. It has several spectacular caves which provide some of the Tasmania's best diving. A two-hour cruise from Coles Bay via Schouten Island is one of the best ways to see the island. Ile des Phoques was named by French explorer Nicolas Baudin whose expedition spent considerable time charting the coastline and documenting the wildlife in 1802. The small granite is home to a significant colony of Australian Fur Seals - mammals once on the brink of extinction. From May to August, humpback and southern right whales can be sighted passing up and down the coast. Dolphins are a common sight all year round.
Coles Bay and The Hazards
Southern tip of Freycinet Peninsula
When to go: The months of December - April have long daylight hours, warmer average temperatures and are recommended for visitors who intend walking parts of the peninsula. However, you may find that the mild climate of the east coast makes the Freycinet Peninsula an attractive option for winter walking, but be aware that even at Freycinet, snow can fall on the higher peaks. The weather in the east of Tasmania tends to be mild. In winter months you can expect to have a temperature range of 4 deg. Celsius overnight to 10 deg. Celsius during the day. In summer the overnight low averages around 11 deg. Celsius and the daytime high around 27 deg. Celsius. At times in summer it is very hot with intense UV rays. During periods of extreme fire danger the walks at Freycinet National Park may be closed. Freycinet Peninsula is a very popular destination, especially during school holidays when accommodation at Coles Bay is often booked out, so if you intend going, remember to book early. If you don't like the crowds, book outside of school holidays periods. If you hope to spot some humpback and southern right whales passing by as they migrate to and from the warmer waters of northern New South Wales, you need to visit Freycinet between May and August.
How to Get There: The park is about 125 km north- east of Hobart, or 2 to 3 hours drive from either Hobart or Launceston. Turn off the Tasman Highway (A3) (which runs down the east coast of Tasmania) onto the Coles Bay Road (C302) 12 km south of Bicheno. (The turnoff to the Friendly Beaches section of the park is via a gravel road about 2 km after leaving the highway). The main park entrance and visitor reception are just after Coles Bay township about 30km from the highway on a good quality sealed road. There is no public transport to and from the peninsula.
Coach tours and travel: Tasmanian Redline Coaches (tel. 1300 360 000 in Australia, or 03/6336 1446) run from 112 George St., Launceston, to Bicheno at 2pm Monday through Thursday, and at 3:45pm on Friday, and take less than 3 hours. Tassielink (tel. 1300/300 520 in Australia, or 03/6272 6611) runs buses from Launceston to Bicheno on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 8:30am. From Bicheno, catch a local bus run by Bicheno Coach Services (tel. 03/6257 0293, or 0419 570 293 mobile) for the 35-minute trip to the park. Buses leave at 9am daily and 3pm Sunday through Friday from the Freycinet Bakery and Cafe. Buses also meet every coach from Launceston, but you need to book in advance. Tassielink (tel. 1300/300 520 in Australia, or 03/6230 8900) offers a day trip to Freycinet with an optional walking trip to Wineglass Bay from both Hobart and Launceston on Friday and Sunday year-round. It costs A$85 for adults and A$51 for children.
History of the Peninsula
The first European to record a visit to the Peninsula was Dutchman Abel Tasman. When navigating the east coast of Tasmania in 1642, Tasman named Schouten Island after a member of the Council of the Dutch East India Company. The adjacent peninsula was initially thought to consist of a chain of islands, but this myth was dispelled during the visit of Nicholas Baudin, the French explorer, in 1802-03, who described it thus: "High granitic mountains whose summits are almost completely barren, form the whole eastern coast of this part of Van Diemen's Land. They rise sheer from the base. The country which adjoins them is extremely low and cannot be seen unless viewed from only a little distance at sea. It is to this strange formation that we must doubtless attribute the errors of the navigators who had preceded us into these waters and who had mistaken these high mountains for as many separate islands." It was Baudin's expedition which named the peninsula, after a crew member. There were two brothers Freycinet on Baudin's expedition, both senior officers, and it is unclear which one the peninsula was named after.
Whaling parties, tin and coal miners and pastoralists are amongst those who have lived and worked on the Freycinet Peninsula since the early years of European settlement. Old mine shafts, abandoned farmers' huts and the remains of whalers' camps today form part of the rich cultural heritage of the park. Sealing parties had visited the offshore rocks and islands of Great Oyster Bay since the early 1800s. The American, Captain Richard Hazard of the Thalia, was reported as whaling in the area in 1824. Several features of the peninsula were named after him, including the Hazards mountains and Hazards Bay (right). With the expansion of European settlement along Tasmania's east coast in the 1820s, the whaling potential of the area was soon realised by colonists. Shore parties were established in sheltered bays during the winter months. At this time the right whale (Balaena australis) was passing Tasmania's coastline on its annual migratory trek north from Antarctica. Fatal clashes between the whalers and local Aborigines were occasionally reported in the newspapers.
George Meredith, one of the first settlers at Swansea, established a whale 'fishery' at Parsons Cove in 1824. It became known as 'The Fisheries'. The sparkling waters and white sands of Wineglass Bay and Schouten Island soon became polluted with blood and putrid whale blubber as stations were established in those localities. The whale oil was principally exported to Britain where it was used for lighting and as an industrial lubricant. The whale-bone or 'baleen' became the mainstay of the fashion industry, being used to make skirt hoops and corsets. By the 1840s shore-based whaling was in decline. Whale stocks had been severely reduced due to years of ruthless exploitation. Pelagic (deep-sea) whaling, with the sperm whale as the main quarry, then dominated the industry until the 1880s.
Sheep and cattle grazing was being carried out on parts of the Freycinet Peninsula as early as the 1850s. In 1859 Francis Cotton reported that a comfortable stone hut and several cultivated paddocks were being occupied by Mr Leggs. The farm at Cooks Beach was later occupied by the Bryan, Gill and Cook families. The old hut, stone fish traps and a boat slip can still be seen there today. Farming leases were also taken out on Schouten Island until the 1960s. Huts at Moreys Beach, an old sheep dip and abandoned farming machinery are testament to the island's pastoral history.
The stripping of wattle bark for use in the leather industry and lime-burning were other activities carried out by early settlers on the peninsula. Coles Bay is said to be named after Silas Cole, an early settler who burned shells from the large Aboriginal middens on Richardsons Beach to make lime. The sealer Joseph Stacey discovered coal after being washed ashore on Schouten Island in 1809. The deposits were not commercially exploited though until the 1840s when the Garland brothers began mining operations. They constructed a tramway and jetty, but the venture proved unprofitable. The Government then re-acquired the island and leased it to private concerns. The Australasian Smelting Company, formed in 1848, continued the work started by the Garlands. Edward Crockett was appointed as mine manager and over 60 convicts were hired as labourers. In 1850 it was reported that 120-130 tons of coal were being raised a week from shafts sunk near the shore. Soon after, the mine was sub-let to Crockett who carried on operations for several years.
Bernacchi and partners tried unsuccessfully to revive mining operations in the 1880s. The old tramway was extended at this time. Today, a cutting which runs westwards from Crocketts Bay marks the line it once took. Coal mining has, over the years, also been carried out north of Freycinet at the Denison and Douglas Rivers, Llandaff and Mt. Paul. In 1923 construction began on a railway to carry coal from Seymour to a proposed new jetty and loading facilities at Coles Bay. Although never completed, the bed of the line became the basis of the Coles Bay Road.
Tin was first discovered on the Freycinet Peninsula in the 1870s. A number of parties worked the alluvial (surface) deposits during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with limited success. Work was centred on Saltwater Creek (north of Coles Bay) and Middleton Creek (near Bluestone Bay). It is thought that Chinese tin miners were amongst those who worked on the peninsula and Schouten Island during the 1880s. In 1906 tin leases were also taken out in the area between Sleepy Bay and Richardsons Beach, but the operations were short-lived. A red granite quarry has operated intermittently at Parsons Cove since 1934. The stone has been used in buildings and monuments. Some of the stone can be seen in the walls of the Commonwealth Bank Head Office, Hobart.
Coles Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula have been a popular holiday spot for over 100 years. In 1895 a tourist brochure for the Swansea district referred to Coles Bay as: "The favourite picnic ground of the residents of Swansea, who for many years have enjoyed its numerous advantages with never-tiring delight. Boating, bushwalking, fishing and artistic pursuits were listed as some of the attractions of the area. Early visitors to Coles Bay came by boat or steamer from Swansea." Harry Parsons retired to Coles Bay in the 1920s and promoted the tourist potential of the area. He established shacks at 'The Fisheries' which were the forerunners of today's holiday homes in the area. The Chateau holiday units (now Freycinet Lodge) were established in 1934 by Ron Richardson, who leased the site from the Government. The complex was re-built after a fire in the 1950s. In recent years further development work has been undertaken by the new owners.
Concerns about the over hunting of native birds and animals had led the Government to proclaim all the Crown Land on the peninsula and Schouten Island as a game reserve in 1906. The Field Naturalists were strong advocates of protecting the area further through the creation of a national park. Freycinet National Park was declared in August 1916. Schouten Island, which had been administered as a scenic reserve from 1916-1941, and then again from 1967, was added to the park in 1977. In 1992 a coastal area including the Friendly Beaches was also included within the park's boundaries.