Tassie’s extensive coastline is a Mecca for lovers of sand and surf.
WORDS AND PICS CHRIS WHITELAW
It is a little known fact that Tasmania, with a coastline longer than that of New South Wales and Victoria combined, boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, all of them perfect for a seaside experience that is as active, or as idle, as you please. During a recent 10-week tour of the island, we encountered beach lovers in large numbers – fishing, swimming, snorkelling, surfing or bushwalking – in secluded coves of millpond tranquillity, along sun-baked stretches of open coast, from the west coast’s remote wind-battered wilderness to the myriad sheltered bays within an easy drive from Hobart’s CBD.
After an overnight crossing of Bass Strait, we rolled off the Spirit of Tasmania at Devonport and set up camp at the Mersey Bluff Caravan Park, perched on a grassy hill overlooking Bluff Beach and the mouth of the Mersey River. The sheltered beach lies in the lee of the bluff, protected from the worst of the westerly winds and swells. It is a popular venue for locals and holidaymakers, with a brand new recreation centre that boasts free hot showers, a playground, a kiosk and a surf club.
From Devonport, an inland loop via Cradle Country brought us back, several days later, to the north coast at the delightful town of Wynyard, near Table Cape. The Beach Retreat Tourist Park is located close to Wynyard Beach and is an exceptionally pretty spot.
It was perfect weather for our scenic coastal drive and the sun beamed down on sparkling sapphire waters as we pulled into beautiful Boat Harbour Beach. A traditional Aussie summer was in full swing here, complete with beach umbrellas, inert sunbakers and day-trippers barbecuing snags off their tailgates. There are no caravan parks in this small township but there’s plenty of alternative accommodation in B&Bs, cabins and units.
Less than 10km along the coast is Sisters Beach, a tiny enclave at the eastern end of magnificent Rocky Cape National Park. The village fronts an 8km stretch of bleach-blonde sand with a shady day-use area that is ideal for a picnic before a stroll along the Caribbean-like shore. There are no camping areas within the national park but a couple of caravan parks and campgrounds nearby, at Rocky Cape, Peggs Beach and Black Beach, cater for campers and vanners with rigs of all sizes.
Further west, historic Stanley is blessed with not one, but two, good beaches – panoramic Tatlows, south of the Nut, and Godfreys, in a sheltered cove to the north. These were both within easy walking distance from our beachside accommodation at the Stanley Cabin and Tourist Park, with its stunning views of the Nut and Sawyer Bay.
The Bass Highway terminates at Tasmania’s westernmost settlement, Marrawah, near Green Point, which reputedly offers some of the best surf in the state. From a grassy free-camping area behind the Point, a short walk leads to a long beach on Ann Bay and surf that is home to the National Wave Sailing Championships, held in February, and the West Coast Surf Classic, a long-running amateur surf carnival.
South of Marrawah, a good sealed road traces Tasmania’s wild and remote west coast to Arthur River, which is both a river and a small township at the edge of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area. The riverside lookout at Gardiner Point is literally and metaphorically on Tasmania’s ‘Edge of the World’, totally exposed to elements that have swept uninterrupted across the ocean from Argentina. Surfing here can be risky but a wide, log-strewn beach north of the river provides many happy hours of beachcombing on this dramatic shoreline.
Arthur River offers a surprisingly wide variety of accommodation for travellers, including holiday units, beach houses and a cabin park. For those looking for something a bit closer to nature, Parks and Wildlife operates a brace of campgrounds in the adjacent conservation area. A palisade of coastal paperbarks protected our grassy site at Manuka Campground and, nearby, quite a few big rigs had no trouble manoeuvring for a spot along the forested edge of a spacious field.
Beyond Arthur River, the Western Explorer Highway (once dubbed, ‘the road to nowhere’) is one of Tasmania’s most exciting wilderness journeys, and we followed it through the conservation area to Corinna on the Pieman River, just over 100km to the south. Here, the ‘Fatman’ barge crosses the river and connects with a road to Zeehan and the B27 to Strahan. Unfortunately for us, the combined length of our 80 Series LandCruiser and Kimberley Karavan exceeded the barge’s 9m limit and we were obliged to take the long, scenic detour inland via Waratah and Rosebery.
Strahan is the largest town on the west coast and the gateway to the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Nearby Ocean Beach stretches for more than 30km north from ‘Hell’s Gate’ at the mouth of Macquarie Harbour to the Henty Dunes and cops incessant surf from one nd to the other. With its dangerous rips and sweeps, this is a beach to walk and admire, not to swim at. While in Strahan we stayed at the Strahan Beach Tourist Park, which is a short drive to the town centre on the harbour, and a short walk to West Strahan Beach, which is safe for swimmers and easily accessible for small boats.
We crossed Tasmania on the Lyell Highway (A10), with significant detours through the Mt Field and Southwest national parks on the way to Hobart. There aren’t many caravan parks within the city proper, so we checked into the very pleasant Barilla Holiday Park in the satellite suburb of Cambridge. Around the relatively protected peninsula south of here were many good beaches, including Seven Mile Beach, Clifton Beach and Opossum Bay Beach, offering a variety of conditions to suit beach lovers and their kids.
From Hobart, we headed to the far south coast on a scenic 100km drive through the Huon Valley to our next camp at the Dover Beachside Tourist Park. Set in a quiet, rural location beside the Dover Rivulet, the park is across the road from Kent Beach on the shore of tranquil Port Esperance, and five minutes’ walk to the Dover boat ramp and jetty, much favoured by anglers.
From this picturesque base, we made several day-long excursions into the Hartz Mountains and Southern Forests, and a foray into the ‘deep south’, to Cockle Creek, the most southerly settlement in Australia accessible by road. This route shadowed the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to a brace of idyllic beachside camping areas dotted around Recherche Bay that are among the best in Tassie for natural beauty and sheer relaxation value.
Bruny Island was our next destination, accessed by ferry out of the charming seaside town of Kettering. The sandy isthmus (aka the Neck) connecting North and South Bruny Island forms the western boundary of historic Adventure Bay, which was visited by an honour roll of European navigators during the 18th century. A steep climb to a lookout atop the dunes delivers a spectacular 360° panorama over glorious Neck Beach on the seaward side and Isthmus Bay on the other. Adventure Bay is also the island’s largest community, strung out along a beautiful, north-facing beach opposite our camp at the Captain Cook Holiday Park.
The pick of the island’s southern beaches is Cloudy Bay, an isolated 4km stretch of sand with a challenging break that attracts top surfers every January for the Bruny Island Surf Classic. At the other end of the leisure spectrum, Jetty Beach on Great Taylors Bay is sheltered and secluded, with easy access to the water and excellent bush camping in the adjacent national park.
An hour’s drive east of Hobart is the Tasman Peninsula, where we stayed at the very RV-friendly Port Arthur Holiday Park, with good facilities and a brand new extension to the camp kitchen. From this central location, we were able to access all the beaches, bays and surfing hotspots on the peninsula by short and scenic (and sometimes 4WD) routes, including Pirates Bay, one of the most dramatic and beautiful coastal landscapes in Australia, and isolated Fortescue Bay, with wonderfully secluded beachside camping in the national park.
Further up the east coast, the leisurely road trip from Orford to St Helens, known as the Surf Coast, was one of our favourite drives in Tasmania, connecting a string of warm, white beaches and nary a man or his dog. Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula is one of the most spectacular and iconic beaches in Australia, attracting an estimated 150,000 visitors annually. At nearby Richardsons Beach, here’s a campground and caravan park, and plenty of accommodation alternatives at Coles Bay, where we had a grassy powered site at the Big 4 Iluka Holiday Park, near family-friendly Muir’s Beach. Just north of the peninsula, the Friendly Beaches are spectacular for their quartz white sand and crystal clear water, and bush camping with basic facilities is available at Isaacs Point.
The town of St Helens straddles picturesque Georges Bay, the southern arm of which is a promontory fringed on the seaward side by expansive Maurouard Beach, backed by the Peron Dunes, and tipped at Point St Helens by Beer Barrel Beach. To the north-east of St Helens stretches the Bay of Fires, a 35km string of superb beaches fringing an azure sea, rated by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s hottest travel destinations – from the long sparkling crescent of Binalong Bay through Jeanneret, Swimcart, Taylors and Cosy Corner Beaches, all with ideal conditions for strolling, swimming and snorkelling, and with excellent beachside camping.
Beyond the Bay of Fires, in the far north-east corner of Tasmania, Mt William National Park hugs the coast in a series of postcard-perfect beaches that stretch 36km from Policemans Point to Stumpys Bay. Here, several campgrounds nestle among coastal woodlands beside dazzling white beaches and shimmering waters, offering countless opportunities for surfing, swimming, snorkelling and beachcombing, about as far from the madding crowd as you can get on mainland Tasmania.
‘Summer’ might be a relative term in Tassie, but what is absolute is the world-class quality of its beaches and the very real chance that you’ll have one all to yourself.
Whether you’re a surfer, angler or beachcomber, or you just like building sandcastles with the kids, there’s a beach in Tassie that’s perfect for you, and don’t forget your sunblock.
Nearly all the major beaches and beachside camping locations in Tasmania are accessible by conventional vehicles on good sealed or unsealed roads. A 4WD may be needed to reach some of the more remote locations.
To get your vehicle and van to and from the island, the TT-Line operates two ferries (Spirit of Tasmania I and II) between Melbourne, Vic, and Devonport Tas.
For accommodation options in and around Tasmania, click here.
Tasmania might be Australia's smallest state but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with natural wonders, fascinating history and serious personality.Read destination guides
Turu has put together various itineraries for you to choose from to help you get the most out of your trip to Australia's island state. Happy adventuring!Read suggested itineraries