Before I had even left the tarmac I knew this trip to Tasmania was going to be different. The guy seated next to me on the flight, who incidentally was wearing a ridiculous amount of ski clothing from his Sydney shopping spree, introduced himself and started chatting away about this big move to Tasmania a few years before. The plane was not even taxing and I had learnt he was married with three kids, all of whom lived in a ghost town in the west country of Gormanston on the slopes of Mount Owen. With a population of around 150 it was ready to explode, so he was building a Mad Hatters Café, fixing up his house that he bought for under $20,000 and raising goats with the plan of doing mountain tours. Crazy and inspiring, all in the first five minutes. Tasmania had me intrigued and the 90 minute flight from Sydney to Hobart had not even started.
He did say, or more accurately chuckled, one thing that really stuck in my mind as we moved in and out of hot topics like forestry, native species extinction, politics and tourism – “in Tassie you are either green or fluoro, nothing in between”. Living in Sydney you forget how raw, open and friendly country Australians can be, and quite frankly I miss it. I was not heading for the west coast, however, I was bound for a small bay on the east coast with a similar size population of about 200 permanent residents. Containing my excitement was now near impossible as I willed the flight to be over.
My destination was Saffire Freycinet positioned on the edge of Great Oyster Bay looking over the water to the granite mountains known as the Hazards and the entrance to the world renowned Freycinet National Park. I knew by its reputation as a member of Luxury Lodges of Australian that I was in for an incredible stay, but what I was not expecting was the brilliance of the landscape and architecture that greeted me.
The 125km drive north from Hobart takes around two and a half hours and the scenery is varied and engaging. Winding roads take you through lush temperate forest, rocky cliffs, small towns then you meander to the coast with views out over the Tasman Sea. Initially you snake your way along the Prosser River, pass through Orford and Triabunna, the gateway to the UNESCO listed ruins on Maria Island. Then it’s onto Swansea which is worth a stop just for its seafood, fresh produce and accessibility to Tasmania’s boutique wine country. Continue north to Oyster Bay and you’ll notice a distinct change in the landscape as rugged cliffs turn into the pink hued granite peaks of the Hazards, framed perfectly with the crystal clear waters of Coles Bay below.
Prepare to catch your breath…..the first glimpse is mesmerising. Connection with place is essential to being included as a Luxury Lodge of Australia, and Saffire has this in spades.
Freycinet is Australia’s oldest park and it occupies a large part of the Freycinet Penisula named after the French Navigator Louis de Freycinet. The area is known not only for its pink feldspar which gives the mountains and coastline their characteristic tint, but also the famous secluded beach of Wineglass Bay. The area averages 300 days of sunshine annually and is home to over 40 Tasmanian endemic species including the Tasmanian Devil. The area also attracts Southern Right and Humpback Whales, as well as Bottlenose Dolphins who use the bay to feed, calve or take rests. It’s a wilderness that beckons exploration and straight away I knew three days would not be enough.
Arriving at Saffire Freycinet, we pulled into the car park and were immediately welcomed by the warm and friendly faces of Tobias and Russell, the guest services managers. Our luggage was whisked away to our rooms as we were escorted up the entrance ramp and into the main foyer of the lodge. Before I even stepped inside the red wall tiles caught my eye and my obsession with Robert Morris Nunn’s structure began.
Since my first big adventure overseas in my twenties I have carried a copy of Dorothy Mackellar’s poem My Country with me and these tiles were the incarnation of “I love a sunburnt country” and the instant association with the word ‘home’. I needed to know more and what I learnt was fascinating. Firstly, these tiles were made for the building as the Hazards are no longer mined, and they are engineered to look like burnt red, deep pink granite through a lengthy process that involves custom cutting the tiles, sand blasting, acid etching, resin injection and dye. Not only are they the most expensive single item at Saffire, they are not found anywhere else in the world. It was at this moment when the staff had researched and found answers to my inquiry that I realised what Saffire was really all about: everything is considered – from the turn down service in the suites with your organic tea tray – to the placement of the glass viewing platform in the foyer. And it’s the details that make Saffire a stand out for the experienced traveller.
The building has won numerous awards for lighting, but to my eye it’s the architecture that is the true hero. From the curved Tasmanian wood beam ceilings, to the low reflectivity of the glass to ensure the view of the Hazards during both day and night from the restaurant and bar. Even the individual suites bring the view in and offer both classic and contemporary furnishings that make you want to re-design your entire house just to replicate them. On day three I found myself, camera in hand, walking around the lodge taking in all the smaller elements of the design I had at first overlooked.
Our stay also included activities, the most fun and delicious of which, was the Marine Farm Tour. If you love oysters then put this on your bucket list as they are best you will ever taste. Our guide took us by mini van to Freycinet Bay at the base of the Swan River, a short drive from the lodge. On the way we saw some very active wombats and a large fenced-off natural habitat for the Tasmanian Devils to protect the local species from a deadly tumour that is devastating their population numbers. Once you put your waders on and walk around the corner to the water’s edge the panorama hits you. You see long low flat coastal country sprinkled with oyster beds and the water stretches as far as the eye can see on two sides. We waded in giggling as our feet sunk into the mud lake floor and learnt about marine farming, taking turns at shucking our own oysters and, of course, devouring them fresh with wedges of lime and a great bottle of local sparking. For this alone I will be back to Saffire.
There are some great walks in the National Park, both long and short, with the must-do climb being to the lookout over Wineglass Bay. It’s a steep uphill trail that only takes about 30 minutes, so not too taxing on those less fit, but well worth it not only for the view at the top but also the fauna and geology on the way. It’s a surprising area of Tasmania that I knew little about before this trip, but one that offers so many experiences from wine tasting, canoeing, bird watching to water cruises.
And let’s not forget the all important spa visit to really help you disconnect form the rest of the world. It’s so wonderful emerging from a wellbeing treatment refreshed and revitalised. And even more delightful to discover new products to satisfy every indulgence. I feel in love with the Saffire dust and ended up bringing home half the signature range.
No holiday to Tasmania would be complete without delving into the local produce and the entire dining experience at Saffire is about the local farms, wines made at the vineyard over the hill and seafood harvested from the bay each day. The first night I sampled the al la carte offering, starting with smoked eel with fried oysters, black tip abalone, green rice, seaweed and celeriac followed by Cape Grimm Beef Fillet with peppercorn sauce and finishing with a chocolate soufflé washed down with a glass of local Botrytis. And by day two I got brave and worked my way through the degustation menu…wow it was incredible with the citrus vacharin at the end a show-stopper. What is not to love about lemon curd, meringue and citrus flavours woven together?
The staff, the people, the weather, the wine and waking up to the Hazards each day as you open the blinds of your suite from the remote beside your king size bed to reveal your own personal slideshow of nature……I have been spoilt and I loved it. Invest in yourself and take a few days to visit Saffire Freycinet, it’s worth it.
On the drive back we had some time so ventured into Hobart to visit the Salamanca Markets near the wharves. Well worth an explore with a few must-do favourites – Bruny Island Cheese is sensational, Tasmanian honey an necessary indulgence, the salmon burgers at Silver Hill Fisch have won awards for a reason as have the local whiskey selections, all very easy to find amongst the hundreds of produce, book and beverage stalls. Great afternoon of wandering to get ready for the return trip back to the real world.
They certainly nailed the slogan at Tasmanian Tourism- Bigger on the Inside – there is so much to do and so many varied regions to uncover I feel like I have just scratched the surface of this island.