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The newly renovated Freycinet Lodge is the perfect excuse for a road trip along Tasmania’s picturesque Great Eastern Drive.
Story: Kendall Hill
The sweeping seaside route north of Hobart could rightly be called The Great Ocean Road, but that name’s taken. So it’s called The Great Eastern Drive, which kind of undersells the cinematic scenery of this 176-kilometre stretch of Tasmanian coast between Orford and St Helens.
Picture idyllic sunlit valleys lapped by lapis waters, golden fields extending to the edges of rugged sea cliffs, crescent beaches fringed by granite boulders streaked fiery orange with lichen, and impressive perspectives over Great Oyster Bay and its islands, Maria and Schouten.
Take your time. There’s plenty to explore. At Triabunna, a brisk hop north of Orford, follow the signs to the marina and drop by The Fish Van where seafood – scallops, squid, trevalla, lobster – is plucked straight from the bay and served hot and salty with water views.
The bonus of coming here off-season is that I’m the only customer. The woman who hands me a giant paper cone of golden-fried squid rings and chips explains that, from September to Easter, tourists can expect a two-hour wait for their seafood fix. “And people will wait that long,” she says.
Guests eat the oysters – meaty, briny, sluiced in saltwater – on a dune overlooking the lagoon they grew in.
Save room for oysters. Continue north for about an hour then turn off to Nine Mile Beach and Dolphin Sands, a spit of grassy dunes planted with the holiday homes of wealthy Hobart and Launceston residents.
Get a taste of their good life at Melshell Oysters, a 30-year-old family business with leases on Great Oyster Bay and Moulting Lagoon. Oysters are served freshly shucked from a vintage blue caravan. Guests eat them – meaty, briny, sluiced in saltwater – on a dune overlooking the lagoon they grew in.
Back on the Tasman Highway, Kate’s Berry Farm is an east coast institution selling berries in season (November to May), jams, chocolates and ice creams.
Continue north past Swansea for another 30 minutes then turn right onto Coles Bay Road and follow it to Freycinet National Park and the newly renovated Freycinet Lodge.
The lodge sits above a bay crowned with the pink-granite peaks of The Hazards.
Freycinet and Coles Bay have been popular holiday spots for Tasmanians since the late 19th century. Its early supporters had Freycinet declared a national park in 1916, but it wasn’t until 1934 that the first visitor accommodation, The Chateau, opened here. It burned down in the 1950s; the current lodge dates from 1993 but has just emerged from a 14-month makeover (under new owners Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania (RACT)) that’s given this once-dowdy inn a striking architectural edge.
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The lodge sits above a bay crowned with the pink-granite peaks of The Hazards, above water so clear you can watch the stingray ballet from the shore. The environment is pristine – an overused adjective that comes into its own among Freycinet’s flawless white-sand beaches, coastal woodlands of blue gum and Oyster Bay pine and its rich birdlife (not to mention the wallabies and echidnas).
This has always been an exceptional setting but now, after lodge renovations finished in August, there is accommodation to match.
Top of the revamped offerings are nine coastal pavilions sculpted in glass and Tasmanian oak and nestled in sheoak woodlands by the waterfront. Locally designed and made – by chic hotelier Brett Torossi (Avalon Retreats) and Hobart-based Liminal Studio – the pavilions are clad in charred ironbark. They blend into the bush and reference the use of fire by the Oyster Bay Aboriginal tribes.
There are no right angles in the rooms, only sinuous curves (again, to echo the surrounding landscape) wrought in glass, tile and stunning carpentry. Jigsaw walls of interlocking oak panels conceal the room’s charms. Discreet doors reveal a shower with sea views, a minibar with Tasmanian sea-salt chocolate and a crystal decanter of (complimentary) 10-year-old Hellyers Road single-malt whisky.
These luxurious dens nestled in scrub capture water glimpses or panoramic bay views.
Brett Torossi is the queen of detail and her hallmark is everywhere, from the courtesy phone chargers to yoga mats and a secret games cupboard stocked with sketchbook, mini-library and a karaoke game. Decks are furnished with her trademark outdoor tubs for star gazers.
These luxurious dens nestled in scrub capture water glimpses or, from the elevated cabins 65 and 66, panoramic bay views. Nature seeps in from every angle.
The lodge’s newest accommodation includes six “mountain terraces” with four-metre-high glass walls facing bushland and the peaks of the Hazards. The new accessible suite in the main building is the largest of the lodge’s 70 rooms and features both water and mountain views.
The original timber cabins have been upgraded too. They are surprisingly comfortable and more affordable than the pavilions. All have balconies onto the national park, but rooms 1-4 offer some of the lodge’s best bay views for around $210 a night. Budget travellers can try their luck in the annual ballot for campsites in the national park above Richardsons Beach and Honeymoon Bay.
Drive to Cape Tourville for epic outlooks along the peninsula.
Lodge dining has also had a lift. In the appealing stone, leather and wood surrounds of The Bay restaurant, guests dine on fresh-caught seafood dressed up as black-lip abalone congee or a paella of Spring Bay mussels with local salmon and trevalla. More casual, Richardson’s Bistro next door is geared for no-fuss family meals. Pavilion guests can dine privately on room-service platters of charcuterie, seafood and all-Tasmanian breakfast hampers.
Exploring Freycinet is a mandatory pastime. Drive to Cape Tourville for epic outlooks along the peninsula. That vast strip of white to the north is the 10-kilometre-long Friendly Beaches and of course there’s Wineglass Bay, one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches. Allow 2.5 hours to hike to the translucent sea.
Dining options outside the lodge include Geographe Restaurant and Espresso Bar and pizzas from the bakery in snug Coles Bay. Or visit Brown Brothers-owned Devil’s Corner vineyard with 200 hectares of vines and cellar door, seriously good coffee at Tombolo Café; a fish and oyster kiosk run by the Freycinet Marine Farm – there’s ample reason to linger. Over the road, the pioneering Freycinet Vineyard produced its first vintage in 1980 and now makes about a dozen wines, including a floral riesling/schönburger blend.
Just south of here, in the hamlet of Cranbrook, four farming families have branched into winemaking. Gala Estate, Milton and Craigie Knowe all make wonderful wines, but don’t miss Spring Vale. At its cellar door, set in a circa-1842 convict-built stable, second-generation vigneron (and fifth-generation farmer) Tim Lyne serves tastes of popular pinot noirs and fragrant whites such as pinot gris, and a gewurztraminer that smells like rose petals.
“The Freycinet Coast seems to be really good for ripening,” says Tim. He’s talking about the grapes, of course, but the sentiment applies equally well to humans. Freycinet’s a great place to grow.
Start or complete your Freycinet adventure at the RACV / RACT Hobart Apartment Hotel. RACV member rates start from just $157 per night (hotel room) or from $187 for a one bedroom apartment. For more information visit racv.com.au/hobart.
Where is it? Freycinet Lodge is located within the Freycinet National Park on Tasmania’s east coast, 110 kilometres north of Hobart.
Getting there: From Hobart airport, it’s a 2.5 to three-hour drive along the Great Eastern Route. From Launceston it’s a two-hour, 166-kilometre drive on superior but less-scenic roads.
Need to know: The lodge offers three to 4.5-star lodging from log cabins to sleek new Mountain Terraces and Coastal Pavilions. Highlight experience: Cocooning in a coastal pavilion, being cosy indoors but surrounded by the great outdoors.
Save: RACV members save 15 per cent on direct bookings 03 6256 7222.