Tasmania 6: Bay of Fires

The sleepy port town of St. Helens was our jumping-off point to explore the highly-regarded but relatively-little-known (until recently) Bay of Fires. St. Helens itself is a sweet, inoffensive little place, with a a few nice cafes along the main strip selling local produce (mmm… local produce…) but not much to hold your attention for more than an hour or two. The waterfront is a little plain, and to hit the good stuff, you branch north along the coast, towards Birralong Bay.

Birralong Bay is the southernmost point of the stretch of coastline known as the Bay of Fires. A series of headlands of harder rock seperated by wide sandy beaches, the coastline was named by early explorers who saw smoke rising from the many campfires of the Aboriginal inhabitants- an indicator of how densely populated the island once was. Perhaps the darkest tranche of Tasmania’s history is the effective annihilation of its Aboriginal population in the early years of its settlement- a source of deep shame for Australia’s past, and one that gets little talked about. It has left a scar on the collective memory of the people and, dare I say it, the island itself.

The landscape, however, gives away little of this sadness. Birralong Bay is a delightful cove of crystal-clear seawater and gentle waves lapping onto a sandy beach perfect for a swim and a play. Accomodation options in the little village are limited, but would be my first choice for any future visits. It’s a delightful location.

From there the simple road follows the coastline north, with the beaches off to the right (and periodically out of sight), skirting saline lagoons set back from the waterfront. There are multiple access tracks down to the beaches themselves, and many locations for camping as well- another awesome accomodation option.

The bays are simply wonderful. Sandy, pristine, and largely devoid of people, they are a beach-lovers dream. The water is cold and the only drawback is that many of the bays have rip-tides that inhibit swimming. None the less, for gorgeous seaside views and a quiet time on the coastline, you’d be hard pressed to beat the Bay of Fires. The aqua colour of the water there simply has to be seen to be believed- it is eye-popping.

The access road peters out at the sweet little hamlet of The Gardens. From there, it’s possible to scramble among the rocks and even explore further north on foot. The rocks, as in many parts of coastal Tasmania, are scored with a red algae that contrasts beautifully with the blue sky under a polarized lens, and could well be another source for the Bay’s name. This next photo is one of my all-time favourites from this trip.

It’s worth noting that the Lonely Planet mentions the Bay of Fires at the top of its list of top 10 travel destinations for 2009. While I’d hesitate to put it at the very top of my personal list of have-seens (and want-to-sees), it certainly ranks up there in the memories as a beautiful spot. It has clear water, clean unspoilt beaches, is easy and cheap to access, and is not overrun by visitors. Bay of Fires comes highly recommended from Yours Truly, and if you’re visiting Tasmania, do put it on your itinerary. As elsewhere in Tasmania, it’s natural beauty at its best.

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