Wine Not? See Australian Marine Animals With Wineglass Bay Cruises in Tasmania
People travel to Tasmania for many different reasons. The scenery. The food. The wildlife. The isolation. And despite the size of the state (bigger than many countries, but small compared to other parts of Oz) there’s an awful lot to see and do (and eat – their food scene is off the hook!).
If you do want to experience something truly beautiful during your time there, you should put “Ogle Wineglass Bay” somewhere on your itinerary.
Located on the east coast of Tasmania, around 2.5 hours from Hobart (the time is dependent on whether you get stuck behind people who are determined to go 30km under the speed limit), Wineglass Bay is consistently voted as one of the best beaches in Australia. In a country that has a coastline that boasts some 10,000 beaches, this is high praise indeed.
There are two ways you can experience the splendour of Wineglass Bay for yourself. You can pay the $24 entry fee to Freycinet National Park and do a hike that leads you to the lookout, for an aerial view of the beach. The shoreline is accessible through the park and if you’re made of strong stuff, you can perhaps even brave the freezing cold ocean!
However, not everyone is capable of doing the 2.5 to four hour walk that allows you to circle through the park. Luckily, the bay looks just as lovely – if not better – from the water.
So, you can take what is in my opinion the more exciting route by jumping on the Schouten Passage II, the vessel of choice for Wineglass Bay Cruises. From there, you’ll snake your way around Tasmania’s east coast, before enjoying a lovely lunch (of delicious local produce, none the less) in the bay itself.
Personally, if there’s a boat – I’m on it. Particularly if there’s food involved.
Cruising through the Freycinet Peninsula on the Schouten Passage II
Arriving at Coles Bay at around 9.30am after a lazy drive from nearby Swansea, I was checked in and boarding the boat fifteen minutes later. Luck was on our side where the weather was concerned – it was one of those perfect sunny autumn days, with not a cloud in the sky.[bctt tweet=”#WineglassBay Cruises – an alternative view of Tasmania’s most famous beach. Read about it here.”]
Despite the brilliance of the weather, I did opt to take two of the ginger sea sickness tablets that are offered at the front counter. I’ve never been sea sick in my life (although don’t get me started on London buses or Melbourne trams), but I wasn’t going to take any chances and you shouldn’t either.
The Schouten Passage II has the capacity to carry 150 passengers, both on the main deck (the Vista Lounge) and within its premium Sky Lounge, located upstairs. I was quite happy downstairs, sitting outside and soaking up the fresh air and sunshine, pottering off to licensed bar for a snack or a glass of vino, if the urge overtook me (which it did, after lunch).
Everyone has different interests, but I was on this cruise for three reasons: the scenery, the food and to see some of Tasmania’s diverse marine life. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long to see a return for two out of the three.
Rubbing shoulders with Tasmania’s marine life
As we were leaving Coles Bay, the crew were quick to point out a couple of White-bellied Sea Eagles, perched on a nearby tree. As we watched, two other eagles flew into their territory and the four engaged in what was basically an airborne brawl. This as we were told by the skipper, was a rare sight indeed. We circled back to watch the fight, continuing on our way once the original pair had secured their territory and settled back onto their tree.
Later on in the journey, we stopped to check out a gigantic sea eagle nest, that had reportedly been around for nine seasons. Tom, one of the crew members told us that it was roughly 12ft deep and 8ft wide. White-bellied sea eagles are a protected species within Tasmania and their numbers are slowly rising. Sightings of the birds (and other marine animals) are recorded by the crew, with figures sent to the nature conservation branch in Tasmania.
It wasn’t long until we came face to face with another local sea bird, the Black-faced cormorant, a species which is endemic to the southern coastline of Australia. We were told it is the only true marine cormorant in Australia and is also known as a shag, making it responsible for the saying “As wet as a shag on a rock”. Learn something new every day, you do.
During the explanation, an age old question was answered for me, as it was explained why cormorants tend to perch near large bodies of water, spread their wings and soak up the sunshine. As it turns out, they have to dry their wings out regularly, as their feathers lack the natural oils of other seabirds, which make them waterproof. You’d think that would have been something evolution would have taken care of – poor little cormorants!
As we headed out towards the Tasman Sea, we were greeted by a pod of common dolphins, who gleefully fell in line with the boat. It wasn’t the first or last time, with both common and bottle-nosed dolphins cruising in to say hello to all on board.
Shortly before we reached Wineglass Bay, the crew took us as close as possible to a rock that was a popular hangout point for Australian fur seals. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen seals in the wild, so this was particularly exciting. They are such funny animals.
Lunch in the autumn sun at Wineglass Bay
We’d been out on the water for a couple of hours by now and were nearing Wineglass Bay. We rounded a corner, the splendour of the beach spreading out before us. Even from the water you could see how perfectly, blinding white the sand was (I was glad for my sunnies). The sea itself was crystal clear. The bay deserves the rap it gets and then some.
Despite the fine weather, the beach was relatively empty with maybe ten or so people wandering down its shoreline. It’s a very quiet and peaceful place.
Yet, this was not always the case. Many believe the bay’s name derives from its shape, which does indeed resemble that of a wine glass. As it transpired (and this was new information to me) the name is a throwback to Australia’s whaling days, when that particular beach was a whaling station. The blood of the slaughtered animals would turn the water a startling shade of crimson – precisely the same colour as a glass of red wine.
Even now, bones of these whales get washed up onto this beautiful beach during storms and the skipper pointed out the remnants of a ribcage that had been thrust into the sand. A reminder of what was lost and what we must work hard to preserve.
Food for thought at a later date – now was the time for eating. Lunch was a Ploughman’s Platter of local produce, prepared by the head chef at Freycinet Lodge. And oh my, was it delicious! There wasn’t a single morsel of food on that platter that I wouldn’t write home about. The cheese and fresh Tasmanian smoked salmon were a particular highlight.
After lunch was served, I grabbed a glass of wine and lounged around in the sun, engaging in conversation with some of the other passengers before the boat about turned and started to head home.
Returning to Coles Bay
The journey back to the jetty was a lot of fun. We cruised across the sea, occasionally having a pod of dolphins race over to greet us. As we were entering whale migratory season, the crew took us a little further out, in the hope of spotting one of the magnificent marine beasts. No luck this time. Orca had allegedly been spotted in the area recently, but there were no sightings of them for us either. It was a shame, but we had been pretty spoilt with the marine life as it was. I didn’t feel hard done by at all.
We arrived back at Coles Bay a little after two – we’d stayed out longer than scheduled, as the crew had been so intent on making our time on the water as enjoyable as possible.
All in all, it was a fabulous day and a wonderful introduction to the area. I would have liked to have driven on into Freycinet National Park to go see the bay on foot, but time was working against me. There’s always next time… and where Tasmania is concerned, there always will be a next time.
If you yourself are heading to Tassie this winter, don’t be deterred by the cold weather. Wineglass Bay Cruises are running a winter schedule for the first time ever.
Have you been to Wineglass Bay? Do you reckon it deserves the title of being one of Australia’s top beaches?
Need know information: I was hosted by Wineglass Bay Cruises whilst in Tasmania, but all opinions expressed in this post are my own.