Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Tasmania's best new luxury adventure

Imagine an adventure holiday on which you climb several challenging peaks on impossibly picturesque islands and stroll some of Australia's most spectacular sandy beaches.

Consider a cruise on a 75-foot luxury yacht that sails alongside pods of dolphins off the Tasmanian coast and offers en suite cabins with double beds, bathrooms and five-star facilities. With the chance to learn how to sail and maybe even take the wheel.

Or maybe think about a gourmet journey that features fresh Tasmanian produce, cheeses, wines and boutique beers.

Perhaps a nature trek on which you can get up close and personal with Tasmanian devils, wombats, Cape Barren geese, sea eagles, the fur seal colony on the Isle de Phoques and maybe, if you are really lucky, a humpback whale or two along the journey.

All these elements are part of the new Wineglass Bay Sail Walk, launched last month (November) by the Tasmanian Walking Company, the people behind the Bay of Fires and Cradle Mountain Huts walks.

The itineraries feature four- and six-day trips taking in Maria Island, Schouten Island and Wineglass Bay/the Freycinet Peninsula off the east coast of Tasmania – and the longer cruises also take in the Tasman Peninsula. Both trips start and end in Hobart.

Unlike most multi-day walks, where you carry your earthly belongings in a large backpack each day, you only have to walk your gear in or out once – all your equipment can be stored in your cabin for the duration of the trip and you need only take a day pack and some water with you as you climb.

But having sailed on the maiden Wineglass Bay Sail Walk of the Lady Eugenie, I can confirm this is not a holiday for dilettantes, or those who think walking the dog for 20 minutes a day keeps them perfectly fit.

There are some steep, arduous climbs on the agenda, including the 630-metre Bishop and Clerk peak on Maria Island (which involves some scrambling at the top), and a 9-kilometre climb up Mt Graham, a 6-7 hour round trip for the fitter members of the group. The landscapes range from rocky outcrops to button grass heathland and blue gum forests.

For the less energetically inclined there are myriad options ranging from exploring Maria Island's convict history to beach strolls, wildlife spotting to fishing from the deck for flathead or squid, listening to music on the ketch's Bose sound system, or maybe just enjoying some solitude with a book while the wind ruffles your hair.

This is a holiday break that is all about options. You can decide each morning whether you feel like walking, a day afloat or even just exploring Wineglass Bay, one of the most beautiful in the world, with its opportunities to search for orchids, bird watching, photography or maybe a dip in the chilly waters, where you may be accompanied by inquisitive dolphins.

My companions were a fit crowd – who left me behind after just a couple of kilometres on the first day on Maria Island. But the guides give everyone a good briefing, so guests are aware of the activities they can choose from should they become short of breath – as I did on more than one occasion.

But there are rewards at the end of the day, no matter how active or inactive you elect to be.

The 20-year-old Lady Eugenie boasts two decks in which to relax and enjoy maybe a platter of Tasmanian cheeses at the end of the day, or perhaps an espresso from a new Italian machine in the fully equipped galley. Not your average walking experience.

All meals on board are of restaurant standard – think breakfasts like cereals, yoghurt and toast from Hobart's Pigeon Whole Bakery followed by spicy beans and chorizo served with herb muffins.

Or a dinner featuring dishes like potato and leek soup with crumbed fetta, toasted almonds, pangrattato and truffle oil; confit pork belly from leading Hobart butcher Boks with apple puree, red onion pickle and herbed polenta (served with a choice of salads) and panna cotta with fresh strawberries and berry coulis.

Treats like fresh fruit, chocolate cookies, muesli bars and florentines are always available and the packed lunches are both healthy and tasty. Despite the walking there is a chance you might return from this trip heavier than when you started.
Then there's the wine list; featuring choices each day from leading Tasmanian labels including Apogee, Goaty Hill, Spring Vale, Josef Chromy's Pepik, Pipers Brook and Holm Oak, or a cooling ale from Cascade or James Boag, with micro brews soon to be introduced.

One of the highlights of the trip is a beach supper (think tablecloths and fine cutlery) with freshly shucked oysters, crayfish pate and barbecued Tasmanian salmon served with vintage Apogee bubbles. Life just doesn't get any better. Or maybe it did when a mother whale and her offspring decided to breach just a couple of hundred metres from our craft – providing a good hour of sunset entertainment.

As this was the maiden voyage there were a couple of glitches with the timings of food service but the friendly crew generally did a superb job of keeping their guests informed on matters from culinary to local flora and fauna.

"TWC already operates two of the seven great walks of Australia," says co-owner Brett Godfrey. "And we had been looking for some time to find a new expedition to complement those existing experiences. We believe the Wineglass Bay Sail Walk does just that, giving walkers the perfect opportunity to discover the spectacular islands and peninsulas of Tasmania’s east coast national parks by foot and by water.”

A warning or two: make sure you do not over-estimate your fitness. What can be described as a moderate climb may turn out to be a vertical hike. And make sure you take your seasickness tablets. For three days of our trip the waters were mill-pond like. The other day they were not. Which either adds to or detracts from your experience depending on how good a sailor you are.

The trip ends with a bus ride and visit to the Coal Valley Vineyard for a wine tasting, a range of local nibbles and the chance to decant your walking gear from backpacks to your suitcase.

Everything is included in the fares; you don't need to put your hand in your pocket from the time you depart to your return to Hobart. Other than to retrieve your camera, that is.

The Wineglass Bay Sail Walk operates with a maximum of eight or 10 guests in five cabins on board the 75-foot ketch Lady Eugenie, all with private showers, toilets and power points. Four-day Wineglass Bay Sail Walk starts from $2,990 per person, while the six-day itinerary starts from $3,990 on a twin-share basis. Phone 03 6392 2211 or visit wineglassbaysailwalk.com.au.

The Salamanca Inn, 10 Gladstone Street, Battery Point. 03 6223 3300. salamancainn.com.au. is the official hotel but other good choices in Hobart include The Henry Jones Art Hotel and Islington Hotel, while budget options include Montacute and The Alabama Hotel.


# This is a version of a story that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. 

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