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An East Coast Getaway - exploring part of Tasmania's Great Eastern Drive

Wattle blooms along the road - wish I could send you the smell

Having been rained on for almost all of the last week and even snowed on, I was beginning to feel as many Tasmanians do, that the East Coast was the place to be. Not a few workers on the West Coast, both the miners and the hydro workers aspired to spending their declining years there, preferably in a fishing boat.

Typical East Coast scenery - sandy beaches, azure water

Lying as it does in the rain shadow of the Central Plateau, I have always found the East Coast a bit dry and placid compared to the much more dramatic West Coast, though the beaches are indeed lovely and the waters an iridescent blue. Being somewhat warmer too, I had hoped that the wild flowers and especially the orchids might be out already. I had also heard rumours of another waterfall or two, which I had never seen mentioned anywhere before. That’s one of the weird things about Tasmania. Though it looks small, there is great separation between regions. Originally determined by the topography, with mountain ranges separating them, the place still has three separate newspapers and three separate phone books for a population about the size of a Melbourne suburb and, despite ongoing sibling rivalry between them, there is little communication and the mindset remains the same.

The East Coast lived up to its promise.The sun shone. Wattles bloomed prolifically along the way and it looked greener than I had ever seen it before.  After a quick stop in Richmond for fuel and supplies from my favourite cheese shop, I was off and away past dormant vineyards and paddocks dotted with freshly shorn sheep. Many sheep have young lambs afoot.

Soon I am in the thick of traffic travelling the main  road, The Great Eastern Drive – better known as the A3. Luckily I am travelling the opposite way to most other vehicles whose owners are probably on their way back from a Sunday drive or a weekend away. There are motorcyclists and cyclists, SUVs, large recreational vehicles and cars towing boats. Though well sealed and quite fast, the road has double lines most of the way with few passing lanes or places to pull over. It twists up around hills with alarming names like “Bust – me – Gall” and “Break – me – Neck.” Alongside the Prosser River it is still compressed against a sheer rock wall and is probably no wider now than in the days of coach and horses. New signs warn of things like falling rocks and to expect the unexpected when rounding corners, though apart from slowing down and sticking tightly to your own side of the road, there’s not much you can do about it especially with traffic coming up suddenly behind you.

The Convict Road - Orford

By the time I reach Orford I am ready for a break. I walk a section of the Convict Road. It’s on the left just after you cross the bridge. Nice sign, but there's no other information such as when it was built or how long the walk is or even where it went to. Looking it up when I got home, it was apparently built in about 1841 and went all the way to a Convict Probation Station improbably called Paradise and then on to Buckland – about 8 Kilometres away, although now it is only navigable for a kilometre or two. It's an excellent place to contemplate the blood, sweat and tears which have gone into making those stone walls and a pleasant stroll by the river, but on the whole there isn’t much to see, no flowers yet apart from the wattles, though I do meet a few people fishing quietly along its banks.

Back out on the highway there are signs objecting to the new salmon farm along the coast. It’s a hot button issue in Tasmania at the moment.  Though the federal government has given its blessing and three fish pens are already being stocked, there are fears that such a development - twenty eight are planned, could threaten whale breeding in the area. It is the usual dilemma, perhaps more prevalent and more acrimonious in Tasmania than elsewhere, between saving something for the future and the necessity of creating employment now.

Scanning the horizon for whales at Spiky Beach

My next stop is at Spiky Beach just up and opposite the Spiky Bridge. Spiky Bridge is another convict relic but there’s a coach parked there disgorging passengers, so I don’t bother stopping there today, though it’s definitely worth a look. I go the other way in the hope of spotting a whale since this is part of their migration route. Though it normally starts in October, I have already seen a mother and calf off Clifton Beach in the South a few weeks ago, and when I was here  a couple of years ago (almost to the day) someone spotted one off the Friendly Beaches just a little further north. There are white sand beaches and expansive views of Freycinet Peninsula, but no whales yet.  If you want to see what Freycinet National Park is like you should have a look at the earlier posts as my goal today is the Douglas Apsley National Park about an hour further north.

Just before Swansea, the Strawberry farm has its sign out, so I make a small detour. By the time I get there my mouth is watering for fresh strawberries, but sadly they don’t have any yet. The scones with your choice of berry jams seems popular, but I resist temptation and press on to Bicheno instead.  There's a small bakery there but it closes while I am parking the van. I drive back to where I saw a sign to a Blowhole and do the short scenic drive. The blowhole isn’t huge but it looks like a geyser when it’s spouting and the rockiness of the headland reminds me of Cornwall. The township itself is presided over by impressive granite or dolerite outcrops and still has that sleepy feel of a traditional holiday village, though there are hints of luxury resorts tucked away here and there. Finding the shops shut is the price you pay. I'm surprised it doesn't say, "Gone Fishing."

Bicheno's Blowhole in action

A man I meet on the coastal track tells me about an excellent fish shop on the wharf. There’s a Police car parked in front of it, which is generally a good sign, but when I round the corner, I find that it too is closed, though it can’t be much later than four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. My appetite now whetted, I go back to the take away shop I passed on the way in, but its doors are shut too. Must be quiz night at the pub. Now I am really hungry, though I do still have the cold meat and cheese I bought in Richmond and a tin of stew. Just as I am leaving town I see a man go into a service station, even though that too looked dark and deserted.  I rush in after him and manage to get the last pie. It’s lukewarm but I stop across the road and wolf it down, my craving for something warm at least partially satisfied. Must be something to do with all that fresh sea air.

Bicheno huddles beneath massive rocky outcrops and still feels like a holiday village

Mercifully, the Douglas Apsley National Park is only another ten Kilometres or so away but much of it is over unsealed roads -always  a bit nerve -wracking in a car as old as mine. It’s been quite a long hard drive – about 200 km from Hobart, so after a short walk to the Waterhole and back, I’m happy to call it a night.