The ultimate place for a beach break in Tassie is St Helens with its warm and sunny summers, blue ocean and mouthwatering seafood. St Helens is also the gateway to the Bay of Fires.
St Helens is only two hours away from Launceston. To get here, you can drive south along National Highway 1 and then take the A4, also called the Esk Highway, at Conara. Alternatively, take the A3, the Tasman Highway, northeast and then southeast via Derby. From Hobart, the drive north along National Highway 1 and then the Esk Highway takes just over three hours but you can also take the Tasman Highway to Orford and then drive north all along the coast.
St Helens lies along Georges Bay and the original inhabitants of this area were the Kunarra Kuna, who would migrate to the coast in winter to escape the frosty weather inland. However, other bands moved into the area too when the weather started getting cooler and you can still find ancient shell middens that they left behind in the dunes around St Helens. It’s no wonder that when Tobias Furneaux sailed up this part of the coast in late March 1773, he thought that the area was densely populated.
It was Furneaux who named St Helens Point too, after a village on the Isle of Wight. The Geordies River used to be known as the Georges River and was named in 1824. The first land grants to settlers in the area were made in the early 1830s but sealers and whalers were already operating in the area too. At the time, the little village was called Georges Bay but in 1835 it got the new name of St Helens.
For the next couple of decades St Helens was a quiet farming community but in 1874, tin was discovered nearby, at Blue Tier. This led to miners, among them many who came from China, pouring into the area. The Anchor Mine at Blue Tier boasted the Southern Hemisphere’s largest water wheel, a model of which you can find at the St Helens History Room. St Helens became the main port from which the metal was transported. St Pauls Church and the elegant Fair Lea both date from the 1890s.
The mines were exhausted by the end of the 19th century and while many miners moved away, some settled in St Helens. The town became a fishing port and today it’s still the second largest of its kind in Tassie. The rich fishing waters mean that St Helens is also the best place in the state to go game fishing.
Georges Bay has some great dive sites and surfing beaches but if you’d prefer to keep your feet dry, a fantastic walk is the one to St Helens Point and the Peron Dunes at Beer Barrel Beach. Of course no visit to St Helens would be complete without venturing north to the Bay of Fires with its breathtaking combination of blue sea, white beaches and boulders covered in orange lichens. In fact, St Helens is the last major centre where you can stock up on supplies for camping along the Bay of Fires.
St Helens offers a variety of accommodation options and if you haven’t had much luck out on the fishing waters, don’t despair: There are plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy fish, oysters and lobster so fresh you’d think you’ve caught it yourself.