Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bay of Fires

As far as eateries go, Binalong Bay boasts only one, so the burden of choice was minimal as we drove into the small beachside town right on lunchtime.  The solitary cafe is, as we discovered, excellent, superbly located with a million dollar outlook over the southernmost stretch of the famous Bay of Fires.  As we approached, it looked like there might be a bit of a line-up, hardly surprising in a one cafe town at lunchtime, so we prepared to get behind the couple who were waiting outside the door.  What they were hoping for wasn’t sustenance however, but an elusive network connection.

“No, nothing.  Dead as a dodo,” the middle aged man said gazing despondently at his phone which he’d been waving around in the briny air.  Spotting David’s IPhone, he said, “You’re not on Optus are you mate?”

“Well, yes,” David replied.  “Why?”

“Have you got any bars on yours?”  He wasn’t referring to drinking establishments but those little symbols on the screen that show the strength of your connection to the network.  Which had, as it turned out, entirely disappeared from David’s phone as well.

“See, there you go,” he said, turning to the woman with him, who judging from her expression of resigned forbearance, must have been his wife.  “Pathetic.  We’ve been travelling along the coast for the last five days and can’t get a connection anywhere.  What kind of service is that?”

We commiserated with him, as we were obviously expected to do, even though we hadn’t suffered quite the same degree of inconvenience.  Apart from a few fadeouts, our connection had been reasonably reliable until we arrived at Binalong Bay.  This bloke wasn’t in the mood to be placated however.  He seemed to take it as a personal insult that his carrier of choice was failing to deliver and what’s more no-one had warned him.  He’d been left in the lurch with no means of communication, other than, heaven forbid, a landline.  Almost enough to make you switch over to the big T, and perhaps he was planning to do just that. 

Optus has indeed been a non-presence in many parts of Tasmania, where Telstra has maintained a monopoly for some time.  In the spirit of competition however, about a year ago Optus announced a major investment in expanding their coverage and this, it is hoped will improve the situation.  In the meantime, Optus customers who visit patchily serviced areas like this section of the east coast, have to make do with old world technology, or resort to archaic holiday practices like sending postcards.  Another one of those what did we do before Gladwrap scenarios. 

The last we saw of the disgruntled pair, they were munching their takeaway hamburgers on a bench overlooking what Lonely Planet named the world’s “hottest” travel destination in 2009.  Hopefully they got over their pique about Optus and were able to fully appreciate it.

Lonely Planet’s article painted a vivid picture of “white beaches of hourglass-fine sand, Bombay Sapphire sea, an azure sky – and nobody.”  This is just how it was when we were there.  In the height of the holiday season it may be different, at least along the stretch adjacent to Binalong Bay, where it is closest to civilisation. 

The Bay of Fires stretches from Binalong Bay north to Eddystone Point, a distance of about 56 kilometres, with part of the northern section included in the Mt William national park.  It was named not for the fiery colour of the rocks that border much of the shore, but by an early explorer, Captain Tobias Furneaux, a crony of Captain Cook who sailed along the coast in 1773 and spotted many fires burning along its length.  These were the fires of the local Aborigines who were numerous at the time, as evidenced by the many middens (shell and bone deposits) which can still be found in the sand dunes.  Whether they were roasting kangaroos for dinner or just trying to frighten off the approaching invaders isn’t known.  What is known is that the Aboriginal relationship with fire, like their connection to the land, was an integral part of their culture and mythology. 

There are a number of tour operators that conduct guided walks along the full extent of the bay.  It is about a three day trip, with overnight camping, offering varying levels of communion with nature, from the elemental to the luxurious.  Depending on your budget and willingness to get up close to nature in the raw, you can have a spiritually cleansing experience, forfeiting showers, soft beds and other such comforts, or a relatively civilised one where the encounter is cushioned by such rituals as afternoon tea and scones. 

Time not permitting, we didn’t pursue the full Bay of Fires experience on this trip, although it is definitely something to include on the longer term “to do” list. 

What we did see of it lived up to the Lonely Planet hyperbole.  Even on a grey and cloudy day, which it was when we first arrived, it was picture postcard material, with the whitest sand I’ve ever seen, turquoise waters of a limpid blue and the aforementioned orange lichen covered rocks, which lie like gatherings of great sleeping beasts between the shore and the land.  So entranced was David by the first sight of these, he sprang from the car and in no time was leaping from peak to peak like a mountain gazelle.  Not to be outdone, I followed, forgetting I have zero sense of balance and my leaping days are long gone.  I ended up horizontal in a short space of time, but fortunately David was too busy doing his king of the world impression from the top of the highest rock to notice. 

 When we awoke the next day, it was to one of those lustrous mornings when the world looks like a newly minted coin.  Everything gleamed.  The sun shone in a brilliant blue sky.  The sea sparkled, and the long curve of white sand curled away into the far distance.  Our accommodation was, although not five star, spectacularly situated, on a hill looking straight out over the sea.  Far along the beach we could see, from our bedroom, a couple with two Labradors walking along the shore.  To say the dogs were enjoying themselves would be a huge understatement.  Those two were in dog heaven, gambolling about, frolicking in and out of the water, chasing birds, kicking up sand and having one hell of a time.  Not too shabby a place to enjoy a morning walk.  We couldn’t help but think of Lottie and Fergus, cooling their heels in the boarding kennels, no doubt wondering whether they’d been abandoned for life.  It’s a good thing they didn’t know what they were missing.

This is another of the breathtaking places for which Tasmania is so renowned.  Despite it having been publicly rated on a par with the best the world has to offer, the amazing thing about the Bay of Fires, as is the case with many of Tasmania’s attractions, is that it is still so unspoiled and seemingly immune to the depredations of over-commercialisation.  Let us hope it remains that way.

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