3 May, 2015 - By 10 am, we had breakfasted, packed, checked ourselves out of the Freycinet Lodge, and were well on our way to St Helen’s for our final night in Tasmania.
A scenic 2-hour drive from Freycinet, St Helen’s is the largest town on the north-east coast of Tasmania and the state's second largest fishing port. Known as the game fishing capital of Tasmania and also r enowned for its catches of deep sea fish, lobster, and oysters, it is blessed with Binalong Bay just a few kilometres away and the pristine beaches of the Bay of Fires on its southern end. Little wonder that Lonely Planet has voted it one of the top 10 regions to visit in the world.
Arriving in St Helens a little tired and hungry from Freycinet, we made a beeline for its charming waterfront. Casting our gaze over the marina and the Turquoise waters of Georges Bay, we noted a plethora of moored chartered fishing boats that cruise offshore for marlin, and Albacore and Yellowfin Tuna. And with all that fishing going on around town, we imagined there wouldn’t be a shortage of amazing fresh seafood at the local eateries. Hard to miss was an establishment called the BlueShed Restaurant, situated right next to the marina. A family owned business specialising in seafood, we immediately liked the look of their menu. Booking a waterfront table for dinner later that night, we ducked next door to the restaurant’s take away section. Called the Captain’s Catch, we ordered a simple but sensational order of fish and chips for lunch, accompanied by an appropriate bottle of Bay of Fires Pinot Gris. Borrowing a couple of wine glasses from the BlueShed Restaurant, we ate our fish and chips in style over an impossibly blue sky, perched on one of the park table and benches as Seagulls hovered overhead, hoping for scraps.
A local institution, BlueShed evolved from a humble beginning as a small fish punt on the St Helen’s foreshore known as Captains Catch. The owners Rod and Irena Faulkner embarked on a complete rebuild of the fish punt transforming it into the iconic structure it is today. As locals referred to it as the Blue Shed, Rod and Irena decided that the name suited the building perfectly. The Blueshed is one of the only restaurants on the east coast licensed to collect scale fish, southern rock lobster and oysters from local fishermen and retail to the public. While BlueShed restaurant offers up fine modern Australian cuisine, accompanied by an extensive wine list, Captains Catch specialises in fresh fish, oysters, live and cooked southern rock lobster, and its renowned fish and chips.
With some hours to kill in the afternoon, we took a drive towards the perfect white sandy beaches, lichen-covered granite boulders, and crystal clear waters of Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires.
Whoever described the Bay of Fires as, "White beaches of hourglass-fine sand, Bombay Sapphire sea, an azure sky, and nobody” was absolutely accurate. This place is the secret edge of Tasmania, a stretch of perfect beach after sheltered cove, all fringed with forest. Not long since the Bay of Fires came to international attention, it has remained relatively undiscovered, but not for long. It extends from Binalong Bay to Eddystone Point in the north - 26 nautical miles. The pristine white sands that make up the coastline of the Bay of Fires are derived from the granite bedrock that is predominant in North East Tasmania. A large proportion of the coastline and adjacent land along the Bay of Fires has had little influence since white settlement and is a haven for many species of plant and wildlife.
The unusual name, Bay of Fires, was given to the area by Captain Tobias Furneaux, in 1773, when he saw the fires of the Aboriginal people along the coast. This led him to believe that the country was densely populated. Abundant evidence of this occupation by Aboriginal people can be seen along the coast today, including Aboriginal middens (shell and bone deposits) that are still found in the sand dunes.
Accommodation for us in St Helen’s was at the Tidal Waters Resort. Sitting atop three hectares of natural lagoons and gardens, our guest room looked out at the bay, where we marveled at the amazing array of birdlife, including pelicans, egrets, herons, eagles, and fairywens.
Back at BlueShed for dinner, we savoured every morsel of our oysters, calamari and fish of the day. The service was personal and faultless, and the wine perfectly paired with our meal choices. Gazing at a full moon, Peter and I toasted to our last night in Tasmania.