Squeezed between the abrupt pink granite peaks of the Hazard Mountains, long stretches of undeveloped soft white sand beaches, and a cobalt blue sea full of marine life, Tasmania's Coles Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula are stunning, and kept us wondering how they could be so uncrowded when we visited recently. A small town on the east coast of Tasmania – and, notably, the first place in the world to ban plastic bags – it also happens to have some of the cleanest air on the planet. Yet despite those eco bona fides, it's also somehow a lot like the kind of beach town your grandparents used to visit: Less than 500 people live there full time, the shop clerks and waiters all know your name after a week, and you won't find a single chain restaurant. Everybody smiles constantly in Coles Bay, and, when the locals say g'day, they really mean it.
Coles Bay has been a favorite for decades among vacationing Tasmanians and yet, somehow, has remained largely off the radar of international visitors, much less visiting Australians (both of whom often shy away from visiting the region due to its reputation for foul weather). Coles Bay's secret is that it's located in a sizable rain shadow, created by the Hazard Mountains to the west that block much of the wind and wet weather. This translates to some 300 days of sunshine annually, making it a year-round destination.
The scenery is beautiful enough to spend the whole day sipping flat-whites (the Aussie version of cappuccino) and watching the clouds go by, but if action is what you're after, there's plenty of that as well. From sea kayaking on the calm waters of Great Oyster Bay and snorkeling in Honeymoon Bay's secluded coves to surfing the wave-rich Friendly Beaches and hiking the six-mile trail to picturesque Wineglass Bay's Hazard Beaches, the Freycinet Peninsula definitely kept us entertained. Much of the peninsula and park are only accessible by boat or on foot, but exploring the park is easy. The numerous trails in the Freycinet National Park are well marked, and go on for miles through the Tasmanian bush – providing opportunities for hiking and mountain biking. The Whitewater Wall, an area of granite sea cliffs inside the park, is well worth checking out if you like to rock climb. Bird-watching and wildlife viewing fill the gaps and are quite popular. A wide array of wildlife call the park home, from rare birds like the White Bellied Sea Eagle and Australasian Gannet to the famous and elusive Tasmanian Devil.
Small but far from unsophisticated, Coles Bay's restaurants like the Tombolo Café have been serving locally grown produce and fresh-caught seafood long before it was trendy, and its wood-fired pizzas are some of the best anywhere. The historic Freycinet Lodge, a renovated chateau that was built in 1934 and resides within the national park, is classically refined, environmentally sensitive, and elegant, and has abundant panoramic views of Great Oyster Bay and the Hazard Mountains on offer throughout (don't miss the fresh oysters served at the lodge's Bay Restaurant).
Still the allure of Coles Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula is the relative lack of people. A visit there left us feeling like we discovered some long-kept secret.