FROM THE BEGINNING, THE BAY OF FIRES LODGE, THE ONLY STRUCTURE for miles on this ancient and sacred shoreline, was intended to be not just a hotel experience, but rather a near-mythic journey aimed at rekindling age-old impulses. "Indigenous peoples who moved around on foot were closely attuned to their environment," says Sydney architect Ken Latona, the lodge's designer. "Unfortunately, that link to our early nomadism is now largely lost. The easiest way to reconnect people with place is to slow them down and make them walk."
Having demonstrated his point with a series of understated backcountry huts along the trail up Tasmania's Cradle Mountain, Latona wanted to try the trick at sea level. He envisioned his beach lodge as a wholly sustainable shelter in which every element—from the rainwater-collecting tanks to the massive picture windows—hinged on protecting the landscape and making guests feel connected to the dramatic coastal environment. He also knew the place should be awesome enough to make the destination worth the trek, since no one would be able to simply drive in and stay the night.
So far, it's worth the effort. For one thing, beach walking in Tasmania isn't like beach walking in other places. The sand seems whiter, the lichen-colored rocks seem redder, and the water shifts dramatically from blue-black to turquoise with every crashing wave. As for catching a glimpse of shy kangaroos and spiky echidnas on the beach, it's just plain trippy. The Bay of Fires walk follows the shoreline of Mount William National Park, a coastal refuge that's home to a population of endangered forester kangaroos, the island's biggest mammal. When we finally spot one, in the heathlands above the beach, the Australians in the group don't seem to give it a second glance. Ruth and I, the only Americans, whoop it up as though we've just seen our first unicorn.
THAT'S NOTHING COMPARED TO OUR REACTION WHEN WE FINALLY set eyes on the lodge. We round a wedge of ragged coastline and come upon the crescent cove that British navy captain Tobias Furneaux spotted in 1773 while charting what was then called Van Diemen's Land. He saw Aboriginal flame pits on the beach and hills—perhaps a friendly warning to keep his ship away from offshore rocks—and named the inlet the Bay of Fires. At first, though, we can't see the lodge. Latona's design fits so comfortably into the landscape (only three trees were cut to make way for the building) that it's all but invisible from below. We hike across dunes carpeted with a creeping pink-and-green plant they call pigface, following those now-familiar devil tracks to a rough access road. As we climb higher, beach scrub turns to Tasmanian pine and peppermint gums. After one final uphill burst we come at last to the lodge's back door.
The Bay of Fires Lodge raises the art of elegant simplicity to a lofty new level. Set on a hilltop 130 feet above the surf, it is cloistered in a grove of rare casuarina trees. Two long timber-and-glass pavilions with an open-air walkway between them are fronted by a spectacular ocean observation deck. On its airy perch, the lodge relies as much on sky and water for its aesthetic appeal as it does on burnished Tasmanian hardwoods and hand-hammered steel. Latona lobbied for special permission to build in the park, and all his materials were either flown in by helicopter or hand-carried. It's no wonder the Royal Australian Institute of Architects honored the lodge with its highest award last year. The angled metal roof, with its sleek solar panels, lends an air of eco-industrial chic. The south pavilion houses 10 gracefully austere guest rooms with comfortable beds, simple throw rugs the color of sky, and high walls of windows without shades. In the north pavilion, a wood-burning fireplace lines one wall of the comfortable lounge, and communal tables fill the dining room. As for hotel amenities, there are none—no phones, no TV's, not even a check-in desk. The overall effect is of a place so gentle on its surroundings, it seems to have tiptoed out of the bush just to get a better look at the sea.