It’s a typical winter’s day on Tasmania’s east coast – clear, beautiful and cold –and I’m thigh-deep in a freezing river, tasting oysters at a table of white linen.
Our guide Chella Armstrong from luxury lodge Saffire Freycinet is plucking the shelled creatures from their beds, shucking them and laying them out alongside dipping sauces.
Geared up in waders, we help wash the oysters in the Apsley River, which flows from Great Oyster Bay. They’re dripping, briny and salty-sweet.
There’s an umbilical link in Tasmania between decadence and nature, between beauty and produce. The Apple Isle’s rich green pastures provide some of Australia’s best meat, wine and cheese, and its clean, cold waters some of our best seafood.
The turquoise sheen of our bay, about two-and-a-half hours north of Hobart by car, is surrounded by a visual feast: the white beaches of Freycinet National Park, thick green bush and the pink granite peaks of The Hazards mountain range.
Saffire, named Oceania’s leading boutique hotel at this year’s World Travel Awards, captures the view perfectly.
It also encourages guests getting out to savour the area’s abundant wildlife, bird and marine life through 18 immersive experiences. Within half an hour of arriving, we’re in apiary suits and heading out to Saffire’s hives, which house 60,000 bees.
In winter the bees are a little dozy and we don’t want to disturb them, so we delve straight into tasting. One specimen is Leatherwood honey, unique to Tasmania, said to be one of the world’s best: creamy, balsamic and fruity all at once, it tastes of the island’s wilderness.
Our indulging has attracted the attention of some awkward-looking but cute animals.
Right next to us is the lodge’s free-range Tasmanian Devil enclosure, one of many around the island to ensure an insurance population of devils while facial tumour disease continues to ravage the species.
Back at the lodge the fires are raging and it’s nearing dinner time for us. Saffire boasts a stunning kitchen garden and its Palate Restaurant stipulates that 80 per cent of its produce be sourced locally on the island.
There’s grass-fed, full-flavoured game meats, local fish and seafood (including those fat oysters from the bay), fresh herbs and spices and seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Discerning foodies from the mainland now expect nothing less from this island.
They also want to get out and explore Tasmania’s beauty in style. Freycinet’s jagged coastline is stabbed with secluded coves, while inland trails wind up to lookouts with breathtaking views of the lagoons and ocean.
Wineglass Bay, with its beautiful, perfectly curved white beach, is Freycinet’s highlight and up at a lookout on this fresh July day, its waters are a topaz mirror, glassy still. One of the best ways to experience the Freycinet Peninsular, the Tasman Peninsula and – between the two – Maria Island in outdoor decadence, is on Tasmanian Walking Company’s Wineglass Bay Sail Walk, which spans four or six days. Sleeping on the Lady Eugenie, a 23-metre luxury ketch, guests enjoy dinners of local produce and wines either on board or barefoot on the beach.
Maria Island is dotted with cute, furry wombats chomping the grass. These rounded marsupials didn’t always have the run of the island, which lies 16 kilometres off the coast.
In its past, Maria has been a prison for the first convicts, a probation station and a farming community, but the last residents reluctantly left in the early 1970s, when the island was turned into a National Park.
It now belongs to the wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, fairy penguins, devils, the endangered Cape Barren goose and the fairy spotted pardalotes. The award-winning Maria Island Walk is the perfect way to explore this special place. It is an active but decadent way to enjoy the stunning landscapes while spending the night in tents and eco-friendly cabins.
Like in Freycinet, the island tempts us with its turquoise waters and if it was summer, I’d be straight in.
But today the sea is cold; a crab crawls slowly along the shoreline and a wombat munches happily on the grass behind the beach. A typical winter’s day in Tasmania.
The writer was as a guest of Federal Group and Tourism Tasmania.
If you go
GETTING THERE: The Freycinet Peninsula is situated on the east coast around two-and-a-half hours north of Hobart, which is well serviced by air from Australia’s state capitals.
STAYING THERE: Saffire Freycinet is a luxury lodge Visit saffire-freycinet.com.au.
PLAYING THERE: For more information on the Wineglass Bay Sail Walk, visit taswalking co.com.au. For more information on the Maria Island Walk, visit mariaislandwalk.com.au.