As the sun rises in St Helens, the waters of Georges Bay are transformed with the reflection of ethereal amber, pink and violet hues that ripple with the gentle bobbing of moored boats. The tranquil silence of the morning only broken by the hum of a cray boat, the cry of a seagull or the distant ‘yiewwwwww’ from the local mountain bike trails.
Located 2hrs south of Launceston and 3hrs north of Hobart, the township of St Helens is nestled around scenic Georges Bay and is the largest township on the east coast of Tasmania.
Once a busy fishing village, this picturesque town is now a tourism hotspot - once the word got out about the stunning scenery and lifestyle of the area, there was no stopping visitors from wanting to explore and immerse themselves in the enviable ‘coastie’ life… and really who can blame them.
The people of the coast are a chilled out and friendly crew that appreciate the simple things in life; Freshly caught cray and oysters, a refreshing morning surf before work and a hectic MTB ride in the afternoon all washed down with a craft beer. If you ask them nicely, they will share all their local secrets with you, so long as you promise not to tell a soul.
As soon as you reach St Helens, take in a deep breath of salty fresh air and feel the anxiety and stress melt away – no really, its actual science and due to the negatively charged ions in the air. Created by the movement of water, the ions help release the ‘happy chemical’ serotonin. If it’s zen your looking for, you will reach nirvana in St Helens in no time.
You could lose countless hours gazing at the water fishing, whether on a boat, jetty, beach or estuary, or you could connect with the beautiful natural environment by exploring St Helens from the water by kayak. Land lubbers can enjoy a walk around Georges Bay multi-user track taking in the birdlife and serenity. Or maybe you are looking for something to get your heart racing…
If it’s adrenaline you are looking for, head up to the St Helens MTB trails. Built by internationally renowned trail builders World Trail, you can expect quality trails that emphasis the natural environment as well as your riding experience.. and the best thing… the trails can be ridden all year round and feature everything from beginner green trails to advanced black diamond gravity trails. So whether you are looking for a nice casual ride through the natural coastal bushland or a lot of downhill airtime, you will find a trail for you.
The St Helens trails even feature a purpose built trailhead with plenty of parking, amenities block, recreational space and even a café so you can rest in between rides and share your trail stories with other riders.
Whether its zen, fun or connection to the environment or the local ‘coasties’, St Helens will inspire, intrigue and keep you wanting to come back for more.
Whether you are looking for a relaxing escape, to sample the best of Tassie produce or a hit of adrenaline, or a combination of all three, the east coast township of St Helens is a must stop and stay.
The locals will tell you that if you’re heading to the coast from Launceston, as soon as you start glimpsing the azure blue ocean you will know you are on the right path, and if coming from Hobart, along the Great Eastern Drive you will get to follow the ribbon of blue ocean nearly all the way along the coast. Either way, your journey will be scenic and filled with coastal vistas that promise an immersive seaside holiday experience for the whole family.
DAY 1 – STOP AND STAY IN ST HELENS
Aim to reach St Helens by around 9am – 10:30am (3.5 hours from Hobart or 2hrs from Launceston)
As you pass through the coastal hamlet of Scamander make sure you slow down so you can appreciate the ocean vistas and flocks of native birds, it’s the perfect eye spy for the kids! And if you enjoy a good cuppa, make sure you stop in at Swims, a shipping container café that overlooks the scenic river mouth. It’s a trendy spot where you’re sure to meet some locals and learn some of their favourite spots to relax. As you get closer to St Helens look out for the turn off signs to the St Helens Mountain Bike Trails just before you hit the township… you’ll want to note that for later!!
For family friendly accommodation we recommend the Big 4 St Helens Holiday Park or NRMA St Helens Waterfront Holiday Park. You can take your pick of accommodation at either location, whether you’ve brought the family van, camping, or looking for your own cabin, the friendly staff will sort you out. And if you brought your mountain bikes, they’re both Bike Friendly Accredited and will know just what to do with your pride and joy. We recommend you base yourself here for the length of your stay.
After a car ride it’s good to stretch your legs so once you’ve unpacked, grab some sunscreen, hat and water and if you have a bogey board or piece of cardboard handy… grab that too, you will see why!
Peron Dunes is about 11 mins from the Tasman Hwy turn-off along St Helens Point Rd and the dunes themselves are only a short walk from the carpark. You can head all the way to the beach or pick your favourite high sandy peak and clamber your way to the top. Now if you brought that cardboard or bogey board you now have a make-shift sled to slide to the bottom of the dunes...good, clean, sandy fun! Whether you choose to just hang here and wear the kids out or walk to Marourde Beach you’re sure to make some fun memories.
There are plenty of beaches for you to explore in the area, some are more secret than others, but they all offer that tranquil coastal lifestyle. From surf breaks to sandcastle building, you will find a beach for every occasion.
Alternatively, if you are looking for something really different for the whole family to enjoy, why not take the kids to the Serpentarium Wildlife Park! Located on West Street, St Helens, the Serpentarium has some amazing creatures including an Anaconda called Mickey!
Now that you have worked up an appetite head into St Helens where you will find some excellent fish and chips on the wharf at Skippers. Skippers is a floating restaurant with an inbuilt floor porthole so the kids can watch the fish below as you wait for your order. We would recommend taking away and picking a nice spot to picnic on Georges Bay from Beauty Bay to Connors Beach, there are plenty to choose from, just please remember to take your rubbish with you when you leave.
Day 2. EXPLORE THE BAY OF FIRES (larapuna)
One of the most famous spots of the area, the Bay of Fires, is more than just one location but rather a series of bays along the North East coastline. To get to the Bay of Fires head through the township of St Helens and along Binalong Bay Rd and just further up the road keep an eye out on your left for Gardens Rd.
Many think that the Bay of Fires was named for the bright orange lichen coloured rocks, but this is a fallacy. The series of bays stretching from Binalong to Eddystone point were named by explorer Tobias Furneaux because of the fires from the coastal aboriginal people, the palawa.
One of the local’s favourite spots is Cosy Corner, and if you can get the kids up early enough, watching the sunrise from the white sands, over the ocean will be a memory they will never forget.
There are plenty of little hidden gems to explore along Gardens Road and you can take as much time as you like exploring but make sure you end your trip at Binalong Bay. This little coastal village is one of the most beautiful locations on the planet and while it may be small, there are plenty of walks in the area for more exploring. To experience this scenic area complete with fresh salty air and the sea spray on your face, we recommend taking the Bay of Fires Eco-tours. The whole family will enjoy seeing the Bay of Fires from the water and during May to July and September to November, you may even be lucky enough to spot a whale. Even if whales aren’t about, anytime of year you’re most likely to see dolphins, seals and ocean birds.
DAY 3 HIT THE TRAILS AND SAMPLE THE LOCAL FARE
With 66km of trails to ride in St Helens, or a 42km epic wilderness trail from the top of the Blue Tier to Swimcart Beach in the Bay of Fires, you may want to start early to really give yourself enough time to explore all of the St Helens Mountain Bike Trails.
Whichever holiday park or family friendly accommodation options in St Helens you are staying at, you will be able to ride all the way to the trails by taking the Townlink trail. Starting opposite Lions Park at the southern end of town, this trail will take you all the way to the Flagstaff Trailhead. It is a dual direction, multi-user trail so you can walk if you’d prefer and you can use this trail to also return home.
Once you reach the Trailhead you will find a series of green and blue (easy and intermediate) trails radiating out from the trailhead itself. Basically the further from the trailhead you venture, the more difficult the trails will get.
For those looking for more of a challenge, you can grab a shuttle from Gravity Isle Shuttles right from the Trailhead to Loila Tier where you can tackle the gravity trails. There are currently two blue and three black diamond descent trails in the network with more to come. For those that want a real challenge, why not tackle the Bay of Fires trail. This trail is a bucket list must as it takes the rider through four different eco-tones from rainforest to beach scrub as it flows, winds and wends all the way to the beach.
If you want to break up the day with some of the finer things in life, why not head north out of St Helens to Priory and Pyengana. You could stop in at the East Coast Providore located at the northern end of St Helens township and grab a selection of local produce for a picnic. You can also head out to Priory where you will find the Priory Ridge cellar door. Drop-in and say g’day to local legend Julie who will offer you a wine tasting and make sure you take a bottle with you that will enhance the fare of your next stop – Pyengana Dairy.
The Pyengana Dairy and Holy Cow Café offers some great food not to mention a delectable selection of cheeses to enjoy on site whilst taking in the views of green, rolling pastures dotted with very happy and content looking cows. Otherwise grab an assortment of goodies and head out to explore one or all of the walks in the area. Or, if you love a good pub meal, head to the Pub in the Paddock, just up the road from the dairy and meet the beer swilling pig called Priscilla!. Popular walks in the area include the spectacular St Columba Falls, Halls Falls and Anchor Stampers, all of which are easy walks for the whole family.
If you still want to sample more of the tastier things the region has to offer and you manage to off-load the kids for a night, make sure you book yourself into Furneaux for a five star degustation meal, or The Wharf for some high-end seafood fare.
DAY 4 EXPLORE THE FINGAL VALLEY
Honestly we think you should stay longer but if you really have to go, head inland up St Marys Pass so that you can wave good bye to the ocean as it disappears from view.
At the top of St Marys Pass, you will find a nice short walk, Gray Mares Tail, and it’s a great spot to let the kids out for one last run before the car-ride home.
Just as you come into the village of St Marys you will find the St Marys Bakery on your left which is known in the area for its homemade pies and goodies, or down the road and around the corner on to Gray Road you will find the Purple Possum, known for wholesome, guilt free goodies and amazing coffee. While you are there make sure you take the time to simply wander through the town and check out the eclectic collection of shop-fronts.
St Marys is the Arts Hub of the region and home to some very creative and clever people. You will find hand dyed and upcycled clothes at Gone Rustic Studio and a crazy collection of memorabilia at the Cranks and Tinkerers Museum. If you’re lucky, head tinkerer himself, Ian may just get out his banjo and serenade you!
Enjoy the destination but make sure you relish every moment of the journey!
No matter which direction you choose to get to St Helens, your holiday is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
Make sure you give yourself enough time to really explore the area as there is plenty to see and do for the whole family as well as some down time to just sit back and enjoy the ‘coastie’ life.