The devil's footsteps are dancing circles around us. They start at a massive sand dune to our right, zigzag past the beached man-of-wars ballooning at our feet, then vanish mysteriously where the foamy ocean tide melts into the talcum-white shore. Anywhere else on the planet, I would take this as a sign to run screaming for the nearest priest, but here on the magnificent coastline of northeast Tasmania, devils — not to mention wombats, wallabies, and rare kangaroos — are about as serious a threat as the whirling dervish from the Warner Bros. cartoons.
No, the real problem is my appetite. Long walks always make me hungry, and today's stroll is a doozy. My wife, Ruth, and I have joined a small band of happy adventurers on a four-day trip that includes a 15-mile trek to the Bay of Fires, a nearly unknown stretch of dazzling beachfront hopping with cuddly marsupials. The hike includes an overnight at a beachside camp and culminates in a two-night stay at the Bay of Fires Lodge, a stylish new wilderness retreat where—devils be damned—all manner of food and drink is readily available.
THE TRIP BEGINS IN LAUNCESTON, TASMANIA'S SECOND-LARGEST city after the capital, Hobart. Our young guides, Josephine and Misha, who both look like Goldilocks in Gore-Tex, watch carefully as Ruth and I stuff our polypropylene thermals and goofy halogen headlamps into backpacks supplied by the lodge. During the three-hour van ride to the coast, the nine guests soon realize that we all have our reasons for going walkabout. Michael, a cricket-consumed Australian architect, wants to get a look at the lodge's award-winning design. Marty and Lisa, round-the-world tall-ship sailors from Sydney, just need to feel the firm earth beneath their feet. Then there's the Baron (or at least that's what Ruth and I call him privately), the eccentric Kiwi multimillionaire who has brought along his family and a stunning array of communications gadgetry, the better to unplug with, obviously.
Even by Australian standards, the Bay of Fires is remote. The Bass Strait islands, lining up on the horizon as we begin our trek, once formed a land bridge that connected Tasmania with the rest of Australia. The Aborigines crossed over it from the mainland some 30,000 years ago, and as we explore Stumpy's Bay, our jumping-off point, it looks as if the vacant white beach hasn't changed much since. The Baron contemplates which offshore island he'd like to purchase, while Jo directs our attention to a huge mound on the beach topped by perfect brown and purple turban shells and a few dried sea horses. It is a midden, she says, several millennia worth of shell and bone leftovers from Aboriginal meals. We have stumbled upon an alfresco dining spot dating back at least 5,000 years.
Of course, modern wanderers have to eat, too, and by the time we arrive 51/2 miles later at the rustic Forester Beach Camp, a large tentlike building where we are to spend the first night, I'm so hungry I could bite into the poisonous puffer fish Michael and Marty have plucked from a nearby tide pool. But Jo and Misha promise tastier fare—they've carried in steaks, couscous, and salad, and have even laid out a tempting platter of Tasmanian cheeses and crackers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and pickled onions, all accompanied by velvety Ninth Island Chardonnay. The camp is rustic, to be sure. Canvas walls and roofs don't offer much noise protection and Ruth and I fall asleep listening to a passing downpour and the Baron cursing his weak cell-phone signal.