You may recall two articles we’ve published detailing our Tassie Comeback tours following last summer’s bushfires. The original featured the Tasman Peninsula; a second showcased a drive to the Derwent Valley. In the interests of fairness, we also planned to drive to Coles Bay on the east coast and mention all the great things to do, see, eat and drink en route from Hobart.

Drive to Coles Bay - East Coast Tasmania

Drive to Coles Bay, Tasmania (photo by Dan Fellow)

Drive to Coles Bay: Tasmania

by Margaret Morgan

We still plan to do just that, and then of course we’ll report back to all our readers about our mission of discovery. In the meantime, we’d like to share another great article by Margaret Morgan of Sheoaks on Freycinet Bed and Breakfast. Margaret has already given Think Tasmania some great information, including an alternate itinerary covering a drive to Coles Bay. This feature has way more detail, and could be used in conjunction with the self-catering holiday advice provided earlier this week.

Drive to Coles Bay - Sheoaks on Freycinet B&B

Sheoaks on Freycinet B&B (photo by Dan Fellow)

Take the Tourist Route: Drive to Coles Bay

Arriving from Hobart, drive through the Sorell strip shopping centre until you reach a T intersection. Turn left. You are on the A3 and have started your drive to Coles Bay. You will climb three hills: Black Charley’s Opening, Bust Me Gall and Break Me Neck. These great names hark back to the era of bullock drays.

When you are part way down Break Me Neck the Tasmanian Bushland Garden is on your right – just after the sign to Pulchella Nursery. This newly established terraced botanical garden was built by volunteers on an old quarry site and features wildlife sculptures and native plants from the east coast area. A picnic shelter, public toilets, frog ponds and walk ways leading through native forest complete the garden. It’s a great place for children to stretch their legs, perhaps while the adults in the party take the opportunity to learn something of our local flora.

Drive to Coles Bay - Tasmanian Bushland Garden

Wedge-Tailed Eagle: Tasmanian Bushland Garden

Church of St John the Baptist: Buckland

This lovely little stone church, surrounded by a grave yard and large old pine trees, is on the right hand side of the road as you drive to Coles Bay. It’s well worth stopping to go inside. Its foundation stone was laid in August 1846 and it was consecrated in early 1848. The young clergyman responsible for its construction was Rev. F.H. Cox from Cookham Dean in Sussex. St John’s is a replica of his home church. I always wonder whether, on finding he had to build himself a church in Van Dieman’s Land, he sent his father round to measure up the one with which he was most familiar at home.

Drive to Coles Bay - Buckland Church

Drive to Coles Bay: Buckland Church

Its most amazing feature is the east window above the altar, depicting the life of St. John the Baptist. It dates back to between 1350 and 1400 and is thought to have been removed from Battle Abbey, built by William the Conqueror on the site of the Battle of Hastings in Sussex. How did this window reach Buckland? No-one is sure, as Rev. Cox didn’t ever say, but this is what probably happened. During the English Civil War, Battle Abbey was known to have been selected by Cromwell’s soldiers for slighting (i.e. destruction). Indeed it was damaged beyond repair and has never been restored.

The aristocratic Cecil family lived in the district and it is assumed that the window was connected with them in some way. Perhaps they donated it to the abbey in the first place. Did they remove it to prevent its destruction, storing it safely against the abbey’s eventual restoration? As traces of straw were found when the window was being repaired, did it perhaps spend 200 years in one of their barns? When Battle Abbey was still a ruin after all that time, was the window given to Rev Cox for his new church? Rev Cox and Lord Robert Cecil, Secretary of State for the Colonies, were friends. It was a tradition of the period for English parishes to give gifts to churches in the colonies with which they had some link, so this is highly probable. However the window reached Buckland there is no doubt that it does date back to the latter half of the 14th Century. On those grounds alone it is worth a look.

Drive to Coles Bay - Buckland Church Windows

Stained glass windows: Buckland Church

All the windows in St John’s are of stained glass and are memorials to past parishioners. The church furnishings and fittings are also old and interesting. The house across the road and slightly to the left was originally the rectory and later St John’s College, a “centre of education for the sons of pastoralists of the district”. There was no Triabunna Secondary College in those days so presumably daughters of pastoralists and any other children were not considered to need educating. How times change; in this case for the better.

Drive to Coles Bay - Stained Glass Windows, Buckland Church

Stained glass: Buckland Church

Orford and Triabunna

Situated at the mouth of the Prosser River, with great views over Maria Island, Orford is another good spot to stop for a break. There are a number of gentle waterfront walks. Darlington winery is here; turn left at the fish and chip shop and drive up the hill for pleasant and well priced wine with free views. At Raspins Beach opposite the golf club, a set of story boards tell the history of the Tasmanian town.

Drive to Coles Bay - Orford

Raspins Beach: Mercury Passage to Maria Island

Triabunna is just a bit further on. From its marina catch the ferry out to Maria Island for a very special day trip. For more information see the Maria Island Ferry. The Tourist Information Centre is situated down by the marina too.

Drive to Coles Bay - Maria Island Painted Cliffs

Painted Cliffs: Maria Island (photo by Dan Fellow)

Convicts: East Coast Tasmania

As you drive through the gorge of the Prosser River towards Orford, look towards the opposite bank. There you will see the remains of a road, with gaps where the bridges are no longer. During the 1840’s there were two probation stations between Buckland and Orford, accommodating 200 convicts while they built the road. If you have time, enter the convict road immediately north of the Orford bridge. It will take an hour to walk to the ruins of the ironically named Paradise Probation Station and back.

Drive to Coles Bay - Convict Road, Orford

Convict Road, Orford: Paradise Probation Station

Free settlers in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) were allocated land on the basis of the amount of money they brought with them to use for developing their properties. More capital = more land. In addition they were allocated a convict work force. More land = more convict labour. No doubt lots of convicts had few or limited farming skills, but having a free labour force must have given many a settler a very good start. They were merely required to provide food and accommodation for the convicts working for them.

Some convicts were skilled builders or stone masons and therefore much in demand, being lent to other farmers wishing to build permanent houses. “Old Bull” was such a man. He built Cambria which you’ll see on your right just after crossing the Meredith River to the north of Swansea. It’s a large square Georgian house, its long driveway lined with mature walnut trees. Old Bull was also responsible for many other early buildings in the Swansea area.

There was a probation station for 300 convicts at Rocky Hills, about 10kms south of Swansea. Some of the Rocky Hills buildings remain. The officer’s quarters are now a farm house and the store is a barn. You can see them from the Tasman Highway. As you climb the hill after Mayfield Beach carefully pull off the road into a layby about half way up on the seaward side of the road. Get out of your car and look back. The old probation station is on the hill immediately in front of you.

Drive to Coles Bay - Mayfield Beach, East Coast Tasmania

Mayfield Beach: east coast Tasmania

Convicts from Rocky Hills built the Tasman Highway. At Mayfield Beach at the bottom of the above hill you’ll find Old Man Creek. Pull into the camping area then follow the track down above the beach till you reach the creek – about 150 metres. There’s an information board showing where to go and telling you about the bridge. This one has three arches and you can see the original convict road, with another road on top and finally the present road on top of that. Many other such bridges still exist along the highway, but this one is the easiest to see.

Drive to Coles Bay - Three Arch Bridge

Three Arch Bridge: near Swansea, Tasmania

The Rocky Hills convicts also built Spiky Bridge – a major undertaking. You can see where they quarried the stone from the hill beyond the bridge. Imagine having to walk the distance from Rocky Hills each morning and return there each evening, probably wearing ill fitting shoes. They were expected to work in all weathers, were provided with few warm clothes and a diet we would now consider totally unsuitable for such hard physical work. Life as a convict may have been an improvement for some, but all up it can’t have been much fun. We owe them a debt for their contribution to the development of this island.

Drive to Coles Bay - Spiky Bridge

Spiky Bridge opposite Great Oyster Bay

Swansea Bark Mill

At the northern end of Swansea is the newly renovated Bark Mill Tavern, Bakery and Museum. During the depressions of the late 1800’s and 1930’s many a family survived by stripping bark from black wattles and selling it to the mill, where it was crushed for use in tanning leather. The old bark mill, a wonderful example of colonial ingenuity, is the centrepiece of the museum, but you’ll also find lots of interesting local history plus the France to Freycinet exhibit. The latter records the 1802 Baudin expedition (source of most of the area’s French names) and his interaction with local Aboriginal people. Open 365 days of the year. Cost $10.

Drive to Coles Bay - Bark Mill Tavern, Swansea

Barn Mill Tavern and Museum (photo by Dan Fellow)

The Vineyards

Between Swansea and the Coles Bay turn off are six vineyards, all of which produce very pleasant wines. Freycinet also sells lovely olive oil made from their own olives. Wine Tasmania has information about cellar door opening times.

  • Spring Vale
  • Craigie Knowe (currently managed by Spring Vale)
  • Hazards
  • Freycinet
  • Milton
  • Gala

Places to Eat

From regular personal experience we recommend the following…

Scorchers at Orford

instead of turning left to cross the bridge, keep going, it’s just on the right overlooking the estuary. They serve delicious wood fired pizzas with thin crispy crusts and interesting toppings, pasta, cakes and excellent coffee. Closed Wednesdays and from mid July until September. Friendly service.

Drive to Coles Bay - Orford Tasmania

Orford (photo by Dan Fellow)

Kate’s Berry Farm

is on your left up a dirt road just before you reach Swansea. Admire the view to Schouten Island as you enjoy freshly made berry ice cream or a Devonshire tea. Kate also makes chocolates now and stocks some interesting sweets. Open every day till 4.00pm.


is on your left in the centre of Swansea. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, open other days. It was called Onyx until recently and their signs are still up but the name has changed to Artifakt. It’s now a combination gallery (with very interesting art/craft works), coffee shop and lunch spot. The food is excellent.

The Ugly Duck Out

is in Swansea. Where the road turns left to follow the coast down the main street, turn right. It’s next to the garage. This award-winning ecologically based cafe serves interesting food, some of it even grown by the owners. Excellent coffees and an amazing range of organic teas and chais.

Swansea Bakery at the Bark Mill

just out of town serves good quality bakery-style food and has an enclosed children’s playground area outside. Opens for breakfast. Closes by 4.30 pm. The pub next door stays open at night for counter meals and pizzas.

Drive to Coles Bay - Swansea Bakery, Bark Mill Tavern

Bark Mill Tavern Bakery: Swansea, Tasmania

Moulting Lagoon

About half way along the road from the Tasman Highway as you drive to Coles Bay, Moulting Lagoon is on your right. You will also have seen it from the roadside lookout as you drove up the hill before Hazards and Freycinet vineyards. It’s a game reserve and as such has an open season for duck hunting. Note the shooters hides. It’s also one of ten Tasmanian Ramsar sites.

The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971 (more commonly known as the Ramsar Convention) is an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation and “wise use” of wetlands. The Convention’s mission is: ‘the conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international cooperation as a means to achieving sustainable development throughout the world.’

Moulting Lagoon is home to 8,000 black swans, more during the moulting season. Eight species of ducks, pelicans, cormorants, grebes, herons, egrets, coots, swamp hens, native hens, falcons, harriers, wedge-tailed eagles and sea eagles are commonly seen, plus five species of parrots and a myriad of smaller birds. Then there are the 13 species of migratory waders for which it is a summer home, some from as far away as Siberia. 96 bird species have been recorded here.

Drive to Coles Bay - Tasmanian East Coast

Scenic drive to Coles Bay (photo by Dan Fellow)

Freycinet Marine Farm

will be on your right shortly after Moulting Lagoon. The farm produces Pacific oysters and mussels. They also sell scallops, abalone and rock lobsters (crayfish). If you would like to buy some of the freshest shell fish imaginable call in at their shop. There’s a deck with picnic tables and umbrellas where you can enjoy oysters, mussels, scallops or rock lobsters. Alternatively bring oysters or rock lobsters home to enjoy them on your deck with bread from the Bicheno bakery and a glass of local wine while you watch the sun set – a truly east coast holiday treat. The Marine Farm also sells a range of local wines. Phone 6257 0140 to order in advance. Note that the Marine Farm closes at 5.00 pm.

Keep going, you have nearly completed your drive to Coles Bay. You are nearly at Sheoaks on Freycinet Bed and Breakfast where we’ll be waiting with a warm welcome!

Drive to Coles Bay - Sheoaks Bed and Breakfast

Drive to Coles Bay: Sheoaks on Freycinet (photo by Dan Fellow)

Drive to Coles Bay - Sheoaks on Freycinet

Sheoaks: Great Oyster Bay (photo by Dan Fellow)

For more information, visit Sheoaks on Freycinet B&B website or contact Alan and Margaret Morgan by phone (03) 6257 0049 for bookings. You can also follow Sheoaks Bed and Breakfast on Facebook. You’ll find the property at 47 Oyster Bay Court, Coles Bay.

Map: Sheoaks, Coles Bay Tasmania…

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