The weather had been pretty average on the way to Swansea yesterday, and any hopes of an immediate improvement were dashed as soon as I woke up to hear the rain on the roof. Not really ideal conditions for hiking several hours around the Freycinet National Park, but why let the weather (or logic) get in the way of a good plan? Thankfully the drizzle did eventually clear somewhat – it was still far from those picture-perfect shots in the tourist brochures, but at least I didn’t need water wings on the trail.
I arrived at the park late morning, and since I hadn’t booked any accommodation for the night I’d only intended spend a couple of hours walking over the hill to Wineglass Bay and back before carrying on to find some lodgings. Much like Forrest Gump, however, once I started I just kept “runn-ing” (or in this case, plodding), and ended up doing the 13km loop trail around the park. My legs are thanking me for it this morning. No, really.
The park was gorgeous, there’s no other word for it – reasonably easy walking if you’re fit, and great views of beaches, forests and mountains within literally minutes of each other. I’d highly recommend packing lunch and allowing the better part of a day to wander round. There’s plenty of shorter walks, as well as overnight ones if you’re feeling more energetic.
The trail that I walked was advertised as taking five hours to complete, but that’s pretty conservative – I was back at the car in under four (including a stop for lunch at Wineglass Bay) and heading north to Bicheno. It’s a bit larger than Swansea and has a less contrived and altogether nicer feel.
The backpackers was full by the time I got there and I ended up at Seaview at Bicheno, a holiday park with camping, bunkrooms and cabins, as well as a stylish cafe and winebar onsite. I was seriously impressed with this place – the bunkrooms were cheap, clean and functional, the breakfast at the cafe the next morning was excellent and Helen and Subi that run the place are fun and friendly. Highly recommended.
The highlight of the night was the penguin tour, an hour long guided walk after dark in the (by now) persistent rain through a penguin rookery on the edge of town. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a penguin in the wild, never mind having several of them literally climbing over my feet as they look for a safe place to spend the night.
They only spend time ashore to breed and moult, so there was a range of ages from a couple of weeks old to fully grown adults. Awesome little creatures, and well worth the soaking and $25. I doubt I’ll ever get that close to a penguin again…