The Road to Freycinet
The quolls had littered the campsite with their shit. Dew flicked up on my shoes when I carried our bags to the Hyundai. A blanket of droplets covered the car, the night had been cold, especially for my Queensland blood. I was surprised I wasn’t chiseling frost off the windscreen. I dodged the quoll shit as I juggled two large suitcases. It was nearly time to check out. We had purposefully slept in to kill time, we weren’t due to check in to our Freycinet AirBnB until 3pm. Freycinet; the coastal settlement on the east coast of Tasmania, a three-hour journey north according to Google Maps. Freycinet, or specifically Coles Bay, was where we would rest our heads. Freycinet National Park was too expensive to stay in, the Lodge only welcomed those with a wallet as large as the chip on their shoulder.
We pulled out of the boom gates and left the NRMA Port Arthur Holiday Park at 10am. I had five hours to kill before I could open the doors to our water-view BNB. While Teish scoured her phone for places to stop along our journey, I tried to keep the Hyundai under one-ten. The locals didn’t like that. But I had time to kill. We passed Taranna and Eaglehawk Neck. We climbed mountains that overlooked crystallised bays. The sign for Devils Kitchen sounded interesting but we continued down Arthur Highway, backtracking our way to civilisation. The narrow highway rested along the shoreline of Dunalley Bay, the water almost lapping against the car. A sign appeared ahead, Bangor Vineyard Cellar Door. It was almost 11am, a suitable time for a bit of a sip.
The Hyundai stood lone in the dirt car park. We were the first to arrive. The fresh sea air filled my body with a chill that felt foreign for an Australian landscape. We were in the single digits down there. Bangor Vineyard overlooked acres of pristine hills that rolled down to Dunalley Bay on one side, with a clear view across to the hillside town of Dunalley. On the other side of Bangor was Boomer Bay and Blackman Bay; a vineyard settled in the corner of the world, surrounded by water that glistened as the sun reached its midday peak.
The heat escaped the cellar door as we entered. I started to strip my layers off. We walked to the bar where we were welcomed by a joyous and friendly staff member. Her name escapes me, I’m not good with names. We agreed to a tasting, which she says is free if we purchase a bottle of wine; a custom that I would soon get used to. She poured the whites first and moved to the reds. The whites were crisp and full of citrus notes and the reds were bold and rich but light and fulfilling. Tasmania is known for it’s Pinot Noir, my favourite red wine. We finished the tasting and agreed to buy a couple bottles, the Pinot and a bottle of Riesling. Tasmania’s cooler climate brings out a different taste in its white wines, allowing for a smoother and easier drinking white compared to ‘mainland whites’; a transitioning white for red drinkers, like myself. Tasmanian Rieslings are worth a sip or two. We pulled out of Bangor’s picturesque landscape after another glass of wine on their veranda, and a black coffee to perk me up for the long drive ahead. I could now see why people would move to the bottom of the world.
“Turn left here,” Teish said as she navigated in the passenger seat. My two hands were firmly placed on the wheel, I wasn’t taking any leisurely risks in this foreign terrain. Teish held the power of Google Maps in her hands. I followed her instructions as the tires left bitumen. The car rattled like an annoying baby toy on the dirt road, now going 50km/h instead of the highway’s previous protocol. I was no stranger to a dirt road, it was just the last thing I wanted to be driving on in a rental car. Four-wheel-drive cars flew past me, I moved to the edge of the road in hope that no stray rocks flung against the windscreen.
Seconds became minutes, and minutes became a long fucking time as I looked at the clock. Tyler the Creator’s album had begun to cut out from the car stereo. Two minutes later we were in silence, aside from the rattling of the car. The soft dirt road began to disappear as the road became rock. I wasn’t dodging potholes; I was dodging solid mounds that only the most experienced four-wheeled-drivers would tackle. The i30 was down to 20km/h, if that. We were crawling along the road. It’s important to take in the sights around you, especially when you are driving at almost walking speed. And that would have been the case if we weren’t stuck in the middle of the fucking bush with no phone signal. A property appeared on the left-hand side, sitting amongst the dense ironbark and gumtrees. Hundreds of decrepit cars sat outside, some stacked atop each other, crushing glass and metal into a contorted mechanical sculpture. The house was as beaten up as the display of cars outside, I was half expecting an assortment of burnt dolls hanging next to the front yard and suitcases of old clothes scattered across the land. I wasn’t going to stop to ask for directions, there’s only one road out of here. And it was the one we were currently on. I just had to crawl my way to civilisation and hope Leatherface or Mick Taylor didn’t come running from behind.
We continued to climb mountainous hills that twisted around the Tasmanian landscape. The rocky road returned to the soft dirt and I felt relieved inside. Our ears popped on each decent and incline the road took us on. Still, the one fucking road. For what I would have given to be back at Bangor, relaxing in the midday sun with a glass of Tasmanian red. Hell, you could have poured me anything and I would have been happy to drink it. Anything would have been better than navigating along rock and soil for close to an hour. Teish looked at her phone, “two kays left.” Thank fuck.
[Even as I write this story, I am searching for the name of the rock road, not only for clarification for the story, but for advice to avoid for all future travellers to Tasmania. Travel tip, plan the journey ahead, don’t just rely on Google Maps. I am yet to find the name of the road.]
Our initial plan once we hit bitumen was to head up to Buckland and continue up north through the small country towns. But our cross-country detour spat us out closer to the sea than we had anticipated so Buckland was thirty minutes in the opposite direction. That in mind, we set our sights on Orford.
There’s not much in Orford. Unfortunately. We pulled up to the esplanade alongside the Prosser River for a scout around. It was unusually quiet, but it was midday Wednesday and most people under the age of sixty would be at work. A couple cafes were open, nothing tickled our fancy. We were hungry though, so after chomping down on a banana and stretching our weary legs we jumped back in the Hyundai. Teish wanted fish and chips, and The Fish Van at Triabunna was only half an hour away.
Though the name would like to tell you otherwise, there’s not much great about The Great Eastern Drive. In classic Tasmanian fashion, the speed limit is one-ten, and they do very little to warn you to slow down on each twist and bend. The most fearless of driver would see this highway as a fairly comfortable drive. But when you’re aiming to not die on your honeymoon, I drove at whatever fucking pace I wanted to. I was now the safest driver in Tasmania. We jumped on the Tasman Highway as we headed further north to Triabunna. We passed Prosser Bay and Spring Bay, and coastal settlements offering the freshest of seafood. Signs advertising oysters littered the highway, signs for cray rolls and fresh fish accompanied them. We passed rural bushland, lush forests and deserted townships along The Great Eastern Drive before stopping off at The Fish Van for a bite to eat.
The cray roll peaked my fancy after seeing countless signs on our journey. Teish ordered a classic fish and chips, served eloquently in a newspaper cone. We sat outside and ate, barking off the flying-ocean-rats as they inched forward at the smell of freshly fried fish and potato. The crayfish was cut to mouthful size chunks and sat upon freshly cut iceberg lettuce. A conservative amount of mayonnaise nestled somewhere between the lettuce and bun, though I would have preferred some sort of seafood sauce to accompany the cray. But the meatwas juicy and sweet, a slight ocean saltiness remained on the flesh. We soon packed up the rest of our fried potato fingers and hit the road, kicking away the remaining seagulls who beckoned for our leftovers.
We pulled off the Tasman highway a little passed Swansea. We had fuelled up at the little seaside town, searched their local IGA for anything we could conjure up for dinner. We checked out with eggs and bread after deciding a scrambled egg dinner would suffice. Outside of Swansea laid a pocket of wineries within the East Coast Wine Trail, less than five minutes between each Cellar Door. The first to spark our interest was the first we encountered off the highway, we weren’t picky. Milton Vineyard offered a free wine tasting, in which we purchased another bottle of Pinot Noir. We would have felt bad leaving without something in our hands. Across the field was Spring Vale Vineyard, though they decided to shut up shop on our journey. Gala Estate could easily be mistaken as an old shack, but Google Maps told us otherwise. We pulled over for another tasting in the humble cellar door. The exterior looked like a forgotten house, it’s corrugated iron roof rusting in the elements and the brick chimney leaning ever so slightly. But inside was a treasure trove of award-winning wines, in which we took home another bottle of. Ten minutes up the road was Devil’s Corner Cellar Door and Freycinet Vineyard, the latter a boutique winery overshadowed by the corporate Devil’s Corner. We didn’t stop at either, the time was getting late and I wanted to check in. And if I had anymore wine, we wouldn’t make it at all.
The track to Coles Bay was long and winding and dangerous. Little road laid between the wheels and neighbouring dirt as I sped up the hills, thick bushland almost touched the windows. In my mind this was supposed to be beach-land, a coastal town, not bushland on either side of the road. I skipped past roadkill and potholes while trying to keep a safe distance as locals hooned down the opposite side. The car music began to skip and stutter again and I had a flashback to hours before on the deserted rock road. We didn’t have far to go. Five more minutes.
An estate came out of nowhere on the right-hand side of the road. I hit the brakes and pulled in. Houses littered either side of us like an oasis in the middle of the bush. The water was in view, only blocked by seaside mansions and abodes. I steered the Hyundai down the driveway of our Airbnb, the water spanned the horizon as the sun began to set. The Freycinet Peninsula was in view across the vast Wineglass Bay, the water continuing to shimmer with the sun’s dying light. I pulled the bags in and cracked myself a can of Boag’ XXX Ale. The sea breeze was chilly, the sun had no warmth left to give. I pulled a hoodie over my head and joined Teish on the deck, resting my beer next to hers. Wineglass Bay continued to shimmer like unworldly diamonds until the night was black. I took a sip of my Tasmanian ale. This is living at the bottom of the world.