The best mode of travel is on foot.
This is no secret. Good travelers go walking wherever they can, be it Manhattan or the Mojave desert. I know that I always see so much more walking–you feel the land underfoot and sense every new thing, and more importantly, you have the time to think about it.
For all those reasons, I was grateful for the chance to go walking in Tasmania. Without any hesitation, I handed over my car keys, hoisted a pack on my shoulders and head off for three days in Mount William National Park.
The weather on the island’s northeastern coast was perfectly Tasmanian: mild to bright sunshine with a threatening front of metal-colored clouds that was chasing our backs. No matter that the sky spelled out the end of the world–we stayed dry walking south on a white sand beach–a seaside desert stretched between scattered granite boulders ranging in size from beanbag chair to double-decker bus. The rough-yet-rounded stones were dusted with bright red-orange lichen, giving the sense of red-hot coals cast along an opal ocean.
I wore hiking boots to begin but eventually went barefoot across the miles and miles of soft yet firm sand. My free footprints mingled with the wandering prints of wombats and the trefoil tracks of Tasmania’s own, smaller Forester Kangaroos. From time to time we passed the massive piles of seashells–rare physical remnants from the local aboriginal tribe who once huddled around fires on this same beach. It was these ancient fires that inspired Captain Tobias Furneaux (Captain Cook’s second in command) to name this stretch of coast Bay of Fires.
There were five of us hiking along the bay, along with two young guides who pointed out the ants that could bite and the nearby fern roots that would take away the sting.
We stopped for meals or tea and I swam in the cold, clear water. At night, the stars were incomparable. For the first time since I’ve arrived in Australia, I saw the Southern Cross and then returned to my rather posh canvas tent in the dunes, observing the shadows of kangaroos hopping back and forth on the dark beach.
After so many weeks of my own hopping–driving, flying, and zipping from one town to the next–it felt wonderfully relaxing just to walk at my own pace, safely stranded in the midst of such beautiful isolation.
The Bay of Fires is so wild and gargantuan that walking its two-day breadth becomes a contemplative act filled with plenty of deep thoughts. Fortunately, right as I began to feel monkish, we arrived at the Bay of Fires lodge, a pair of glass and wood longhouses hidden away at the top of a woodsy outcropping.
It is rare for me to rave about a hotel. A bed is a bed, especially on the road. But here’s my exception, because to me, the Bay of Fires lodge stands out as a sustainable, eco-conscious hideaway that does all the right things.
Designed by Ken Latona, the lodge rests lightly on the landscape–only three trees were removed in its construction. Built out of glossy Tasmanian oak and picture-frame glass, the lodge feels a part of the surrounding scrub forest on these rocky ledges, a few hundred feet above the beach.
The view is fundamental, with an open deck that overlooks the vast turquoise ocean and on either side, endless white dunes. Each of the ten rooms is self-contained, warm and woodsy but also minimal and open to the outside light.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
But the environmental concept transcends mere design and affects every aspect of hospitality. All water is collected from the long roofs. Solar power provides all electricity, which is minimal. After sun down, light comes from hand-cranked flashlights, the immense fireplace in the main room, and the moon itself, which shines in through the upper windows of every bedroom. The compost toilets are about as natural as you can get, while feeling remarkably sophisticated (flushed with rice bran to speed up the compost process). Guests hand-pump their showers (heated by gas) and only use phosphate-free soaps. The used grey water is filtered then re-evaporated, while all non-biodegradable refuse is carried out, either by person, 4 x 4, or twice a year, by helicopter.
My stay at Bay of Fires lodge was the perfect balance between rustic and luxurious. The guides all double as chefs and are trained to turn out some incredible meals, always made from local ingredients. One night was Tasmanian salmon, the next lamb meatballs. The wines were diverse but always Tasmanian.
In fact, the entire experience–from the walk to the meals to the wool blanket on my bed–was intimately Tasmanian. In the span of my one-night stay, I felt closer to this island and better acquainted with its personality, simply by spending some time at this one very small and very personal lodge.
So far, it’s the best place I’ve stayed in Australia, no contest. I was reluctant to leave, even concocting ways I might stick around for an extra night. But alas, I left the next morning, off to explore more of Tasmania (in my car), already missing the lodge and that rare chance to keep walking.