Bay of Fires | Stumpys Bay to Forester Beach Camp
Start - Stumpys Bay
Finish - Forester Beach Camp
Length - 11.4km (One Way)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Beach, Rocks, Single Track
Vertical Climb - 117m
Time - 4-5 hours
Date Hiked - 21st April 2019
The Hike - We hadn't even left the great state of Tasmania on our last trip there to do the Three Capes Lodge Walk before Candy and Hal were proposing another hiking trip. This time they had their sights set on another of the coastal walks that Tas Walking Co offer, the Bay of Fires.
After we such a great time had on the Three Capes and with an opportunity to come back to such an amazing hiking destination we said yes and a booking was made for the Easter weekend the following year. Having only just recently finished writing up the last of my posts from that trip, it doesn't feel like a lot of time has passed since that visit but those five months have flown by. Flying into Launceston ahead of the trip we enjoyed checking out the second largest city in Tasmania with a couple of days of exploration and a trip out to Cataract Gorge. After a quick breakfast on Easter Sunday at the hotel we were picked up in the bus and taken to Quamby Estate, the base of operation for Tassie Walking Co via another country estate where we would pick up the rest of the touring party.
Everyone was very quiet on the bus but over the next four days we would all get to know each other as we hiked (and kayaked) over some of the most beautiful coastal terrain in Tasmania. With a maximum group of 10 people it was going to be easier to remember everyone's names given our party made up 40% of the group and there was a lot more diversity on this trip. Our group of 10 was made up of a family of four from Sydney (Christian, Lindy, Charlie and Tom) and a professional couple also from Sydney (Amy and Gordon). Arriving at Quamby Estate, we met our guides for the trip, Joel and Jessie, and they ran through what the plan was as we packed all our gear into the backpacks provided. With a half day of walking to get through and a bit of a drive to reach the coast we set off with much more conversation flowing thanks to Joel and Jessie.
With a long drive we made a couple of stops including the lookout at Sideling where we marvelled at the views of the countryside and Mount Scott in the distance. The other stop was just out of the way at a town called Legerwood that is famous for some public art that has a very interesting backstory involving WWI, pine trees and timber sculptures (I'll leave it untold if you plan to do this trip yourself). On the way to the start point Joel pulled out the old "get to know you" game where you had to say a few things about yourself. One of the categories he chose was tell everyone your secret superpower so I let everyone know that they would be unlikely to see any special wildlife while I was around (more on this later) as I have had the worst luck over the years (only just saw my first echidna last year).
After a drive through the outskirts of Mount William National Park we arrived at the start point for our four day journey along the famous beaches of the Bay of Fires. There are a number of public campsites along the coast here that you can drive in and stay at and the start of our journey was at the one they call Stumpys. At the time of our arrival there was a mist that was hanging around, something you don't always see on the Bay of Fires tour according to Joel who has been guiding here for almost a decade. With all our gear off the bus we took a group photo and then set off along the beach for the first of many kilometres on the white sandy shores of Eastern Tasmania. The beaches here are the highly desirable white colour that comes from the breaking down of the granite rock that forms the base of most of the coastline along north eastern Tasmania.
The rules for the hike were pretty simple, a) you can go at whatever pace you like so long as you are no further than 200-300m away from the main group, b) no cutting across the sandy headlands to avoid stepping on birds eggs and c) to have an enjoyable time. With that in mind we enjoyed the first part of the morning with compact sand making for relatively easy walking. One issues that people would comment on during the trip was the weird angle you were always walking on due to the incline of the beach towards the water. It wasn't too uncomfortable but every now and then you'd get a tweak of an ankle stepping but it's really hard to avoid this on beach sections so you just accept it.
The starting section is a series of beaches connected by rocky headlands so the view is pretty much the same as you trundle along (and what a view it is) so your gaze wanders from the waves breaking to the distant headland to the items located in the seaweed. Caris is a big fan of collecting sea glass back home so enjoys seeing what she can find on every beach we visit. Although there would be no sea glass today there was an interesting variety of bull kelp, washed up shells, dried sea urchins and lots of different seaweed. Eventually we reached our first rocky headland and a chance to see the famous Bay of Fires orange rock staining that the area is most noted for. The Bay of Fires is not named because of the orange lichen that grows on these granite rocks (as many state it is) but from the numerous fires that were burning when Captain Tobias Furneaux first reached this area in 1773 (more on this later).
While admiring the orange boulders and picking our way through the rocks Jessie found an empty Gummy Shark egg casing and passed it around the group for everyone to look at. It reminded Caris of the Port Jackson Shark egg casings you find in WA except without the corkscrew shape and it was a cool find early on the first day. A small section of beach led to another rocky headland and here we could see a colony of birds on a boulder offshore, something that would be familiar on the first two days. Given the late start we stopped pretty early for lunch at the site of one of the aboriginal middens that are the reason for the Bay of Fires name. The fires were from the many middens along the coast where families and groups would gather in the evening to share their daily hunting/gathering bounty and socialise. They are slightly inland to escape the elements and noticeable because of the large collection of shells and blackened earth from a lot of generations of use.
We enjoyed a salad for lunch on the rocks closer to the water to respect the site and the famous Tasmanian Walking Company biscuits were brought out, much to the delight of Caris. One of the highlights of the Three Capes for her were these biscuits being brought out at morning tea so was hoping they appeared on this tour. As we were enjoying a hot chocolate and a biscuit we spotted the first wildlife of the trip that wasn't a bird with a wallaby exploring the heath on the edge of the beach. Everyone remembered my bit on the bus and I corrected myself saying that common wildlife like wallabies and kangaroos don't count but it was still pretty cool to see. After lunch and before we moved on Joel told us the story of the naming of the Bay of Fires and the middens (which is actually a pretty derogatory western term).
Unfortunately the history of indigenous Tasmanians is very sad and although we couldn't see the islands to the north east because of the mist, Joel explained what happened to the indigenous population and the role that Flinders Island played in their downfall at the hands of the colonials. With a bit of a somber feeling we left our lunch spot and headed off along the orange headland to an area that Jessie had said contained a dead pilot whale. The cause of death isn't known but it would have taken a pretty rough storm to deposit it where we found it behind some large boulders. Joel said it's been there since January and is past being able to be moved by machines (if they could even gain access to the area). The smell wasn't too bad and you could tell it was very far along the decomposition stage. It would not have been very pleasant on a hot windless day in February.
Another medium sized beach awaited us past the dead whale and along the way I had fun exploring the areas between the rocks and the beach for washed up items. I found a pretty cool green/aqua coloured abalone shell and was interested in the fractal patterns in the sand created by the water. With the mist hanging around my fears from when we arrived of the photos being a bit washed out didn't end up being true with a very moody atmosphere developing. A quick look inland revealed the low lying waters of Cray Creek, far from causing an issue to anyone crossing the beach. We reached the last of the headlands for a while as ahead was a 4km stretch of beach along Cod Bay. Before we set off on the longest beach section of the day, someone noticed a sea eagle on some rocks offshore. I made the most of my 18-55mm lens but Gordon whipped out this very large lens that would have been 600m or bigger and proceeded to snap some pretty cool shots of the local predator.
With it being pretty obvious that we would be on this beach for a while, we all set off at different rhythms along the sand. Having not expected such a long first day (relative to the Three Capes), I was loving the mid afternoon stroll in what was very atmospheric conditions. I kept looking around in all directions marvelling at the changing lighting and different colours/cloud formations. As everyone stretched out there was no rush to the afternoon so I photographed everything that took my fancy including the crashing waves, whatever was washing up on shore (found a few bluebottles) and the changing skies. It was a very calming walk and was one of those moments where I wish it went on for a lot longer (even though it was over an hour of beach walking). For whatever reason Christian, Lindy, Charlie, Tom and Jessie were well behind everyone else but that just meant they were in frame for some cool shots looking back at where we'd come from with the golden glow of the afternoon sun behind the deep clouds.
Joel had warned us that we wouldn't be walking all the way to the end of the beach and just before the end he stopped and waited for everyone. As we were all grouped together there were a few dolphins just offshore having a frolic in the surf. I didn't manage to get one on camera but the spectacle was pretty fun to enjoy from the beach. We had stopped here because the trail continued inland for a little bit and most likely served as a change of pace from beach walking on this day. It was only a short stroll through the coastal heath where we spotted banksia's, grass trees (very similar to back home) and a few granite boulders poking up from the vegetation.
We exited onto another smaller bay for some more beach walking and I started to wonder if we'd reach camp by sunset given the fading light. Joel then set off into the distance to setup the camp and start on dinner before we all arrived so that was a signal that we must be close. One very cool and slightly surreal sighting just after we reached the headland in between the last two beaches was the bevy of black swans just cruising around in the ocean. Having only seen them in the rivers of Perth (the aptly named Swan River), I wouldn't have thought I'd see them on the open coastline of Eastern Tasmania. With the sun now lighting up the clouds with a peachy/purple tone, I got a mated pair just gliding on the water with the calm ocean extending out towards the horizon.
Enjoying the last of the headlands trying to photograph the swans and rocks in the cool lighting I fell behind the main group. As I walked along the last beach and approached everyone on the rocks I could see that they were all looking back towards the dunes at something. As I approached they explained that there was a wombat on the beach and it had since scurried over to the vegetation in the dunes. Caris and I had a bit of a laugh that of course it scurried away when I approached and everyone in the group made a comment about my special superpower being true. I'd not seen a wombat in the wild on my last trip to Tassie so was a little disappointed that I missed out on seeing one on a beach of all places.
I can't complain as I'd had a great first day already with wallabies, sea eagles, swans and plenty of other cool stuff to photograph. This was the last headland and the entrance to the Forester Beach Camp was about 50m along the beach and into the dunes. Hidden away out of sight, this is more rustic and simple than the lodges on the Three Capes and the one we'd get to experience the following day but I love simplicity when it comes to camping so had no qualms about it at all. Every couple had their own small tent/gazebo arrangement with a basic mattress and sleeping bag and the main kitchen/dining area was a bigger version of the sleeping quarters. A toilet/bathroom block was set up on the hill (no showers for us tonight) and there was a path leading up the dunes where you could enjoy the views of the ocean.
Jessie had a grazing platter and refreshments waiting for us to enjoy once we'd put our packs in the tent and had already started on dinner for the night, which was Grilled Salmon with a Vietnamese Salad (dessert was a Belgium Choc Mousse). As I was getting changed and setting up my sleeping stuff for the night I noticed the sky was glowing so quickly rushed off to the dunes to capture the sunset in all its glory. I spent a while up there, wandering down to the beach too and was happy I did because the sky was on fire for a brief moment before settling down behind the clouds. With a great sunset enjoyed and everyone settled in we enjoyed some drinks and just before dinner was served Jessie announced that there was a blood moon rising over the ocean so we all ventured off into the dunes to watch it. It was a stunning way to end a fantastic day and once again my small lens failed to capture the event as it was (Gordon did get some very cool shots of it). As we swapped stories over dinner and got to know each other a little better, it became clear that we had a great group and the next three days were going to be a fun experience.