Devil's footsteps reveal Tasmania's stunning coast
Walk in the devil’s footsteps in Tasmania’s wild north-east which hides hiding some of Australia’s most incandescent coastal scenery.
- October 2018
We’re not the first ones on the beach this morning. This pale stretch of sand, blinding under a bright blue sky, bears a clear track of small cat-like paws. A solo Tasmanian devil has been cruising this cove not long before us, scavenging for scraps in kelp washed ashore. Our guide points out the distinctive one-by-two gait that betrays this little native creature. We follow its wavering path for hundreds of metres, leaving our own footprints to be erased by wind and waves.
Walk on the Wild Side
This corner of north-east Tasmania, roughly a two-hour drive through rolling farmland from Launceston, is considered remote for the small island state. But it’s hiding some of the country’s most incandescent coastal scenery. Here bone-white sand, so fine it squeaks underfoot, is flanked by jumbles of granite boulders coated in orange lichen and seas so turquoise they could make a Pacific atoll blush. It’s stunning terrain, best appreciated on foot.
Walking holiday specialists Park Trek opens in new window offers a four-day hike south along the coast, starting from Mount William National Park – Wukalina by its traditional name – on Tasmania’s northern tip and venturing around 60km to The Gardens at the far end of the Bay of Fires.
The multi-day route is broken into a series of day walks, with transfers to and from thebucolic base of Icena Farm. With no more than day packs to carry, and navigation in the safe hands of two experienced guides, our small group is left free to soak it all in.
Hitting the Beach
Picked up from Launceston on day one, we’re deposited at Musselroe Bay ready to head southward. The sight of this first idyllic beach elicits a flurry of exclamations and camera shots, repeated moments later on the sand after our first brush with the devil prints.
We’re yet to know that a string of perfect beaches awaits us, and that by their end we’ll be expert trackers – sagely identifying the pinpoint claw marks of the quoll; the twisting whorl of a tiger snake; the loping stride of a wallaby, dragging its tail when it dawdles. We learn to recognise devil scats, studded with clumps of undigested fur and the occasional claw or tooth, and the cubic poo left by grazing wombats. It’s crowded in these parts, but not with humans – over the next four days we’ll spot only a handful of other people.
Separated from the mainland by rising oceans some 12,000 years ago, Australia’s already distinct fauna became still more specialised on the new, smaller landmass. The isolation protected creatures such as the Tasmanian devil and thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, that thrived here long after their mainland brethren disappeared.
As urban growth and logging drove back Tasmania’s wilderness, remaining pockets such as Mount William National Park opens in new window became vital wildlife hubs for mammals such as the Forester kangaroo – for which the park was created in the first place – and a plethora of birds including wedge- tailed eagles, sea eagles and yellow-bellied black cockatoos. Park Trek guide Greg, who has spent a career exploring Australia’s wild places, mischievously suggests that if Tasmanian tigers still exist, this is where we’d find them.
At the end of the first day, a detour to Mount William gives us a chance to get our bearings. The mostly gentle ascent (mountain is a generous descriptor) winds up through forests of eucalyptus and banksia, emerging above the tree line with 360-degree views of the surrounding bush and ocean. A chain of beaches march down the coast towards distant Eddystone Point Lighthouse and the Bay of Fires – we have a lot of sand-walking ahead of us.
Home and Hearth
We rise with the sun the next morning at Icena Farm, packing our lunch and sharing the last of breakfast with expectant chooks and turkeys. This day’s walk will take us through the rest of Mount William National Park to the border of the Bay of Fires Conservation Area opens in new window – a section largely untouched by modern development and steeped in history.
Early on, coming over the shoulder of Boulder Point, we skirt a vast midden. These deposits of shell and animal bones are metres deep, the remnants of thousands of cooking fires and communal meals in times past. Our guide indicates several rough stone flake blades used as disposable tools to prepare food and scrape animal skins. Along with many more middens spilling out of the dunes, we will also encounter a series of hollows created by stacked boulders – the remains of ancient hides used to lie in wait for seals hauling themselves ashore. It’s a common misconception that the Bay of Fires is named after the fiery-coloured boulders dotting the area. But it was the myriad campfires burning in the dark dunes that inspired Captain Tobias Furneaux to bestow the moniker when sailing past on the HMS Adventure in 1773.
With protected dunes, ample hunting and freshwater reserves, Mount William National Park was a favoured sanctuary for generations of the Palawa people. Our end-point for day two, a headland marked by the distinctive pink granite Eddystone Point Lighthouse, is known as Larapuna to the First People and has recently been returned to Indigenous custodianship.
Evidence of a culture stretching back thousands of years remains etched into the landscape all around, if you know where to look.
Into the Fire
By day three we have officially crossed over into this region’s cover star – the Bay of Fires opens in new window. Encompassing 30-odd kilometres of long bays broken up by tiny coves, wetland and tangles of flowering native scrub, this coastline has racked up a tidy number of ‘best beach’ accolades from the likes of Lonely Planet and the annual 101 Best Beaches.
With Eddystone Point Lighthouse at its northern tip, Abbotsbury Beach is one of the most accessible beaches in the area. A few of us choose to walk this wide expanse of flawless sand, backed by softly rolling dunes criss-crossed with animal tracks, barefoot, as if we’re embarking on nothing more than a carefree amble on a lazy summer holiday. But soon enough it’s boots back on as we plunge into one of the most magical parts of the journey. For the rest of this day, and a large part of the next, we spend hours clambering over and around rocky red- hued headlands, each turn revealing another sweeping beach or hidden coves lapped by those ever-lazuline waves, some buried in deep layers of bleached shells.
In one sandy bay we disturb a clearly affronted sea lion, who barks his displeasure as we edge around his basking boulder. Later, as we pass beneath the acclaimed Bay of Fires Lodge, a couple soaking up these views on their balcony toast to us with their Champagne flutes – we’re in on the same secret.Transplant this spectacle a few hundred kilometres up the mainland coast and it would surely be one of Australia’s most crowded seaside destinations. For our part, we’re happy to have it to ourselves.
As we near the gaggle of beach shacks known as The Gardens on the final day, the finish line suddenly seems too near. Hypnotised by the bays and the waves, an urge to turn back kicks in – to fall back in step with the devil and get lost all over again.