We took a short flight from Melbourne to Hobart, Capital of Australia’s only island State – Tasmania, on Friday 27th January. Upon arrival we picked up a campervan, a Ute with a 3 berth camper on the back – we called him Arthur as our first stop was Port Arthur about 95km south of Hobart on the Tasman peninsular.
Port Arthur is the site of a historic notoriously harsh penitentiary, established in 1830 and used until 1877, convicts who had committed serious crimes were sent here or those who were considered in need of more severe punishment, i.e. former escapees. The stone buildings set in some scenic grounds at first glance give you the impression of a stately home, but look deeper and you find there is a grim history.
It’s quite an eerie place and it’s not surprising that there are numerous ghost stories, and unfathomable photos, associated with the place. The isolation cells were in good condition and gave us a good fell of how life might have been here. It was particularly sad to learn of the fate of many of the prisoners who were sent from Britain to this ‘hell’ on the other side of the world, never to see their families again. It must have been quite a bustling place at one time, with prisoners, military, and civilians all living in this colony. To allow the noble folk to escape the unwanted presence of the prisoners there are cottages, some grand gardens, and a gothic style church.
We spent a few hours looking around the site, which as it was late in the day was quiet, before driving further south to the tip of the Tasman peninsular where there is a secluded car park at the so named ‘Remarkable Cave’. The views, particularly of Cape Raoul (a rocky outcrop made up of rocky spires), were great so we decided it was the perfect place to stay overnight.
With the sounds of the crashing waves we slept well and after breakfast we walked down to the cave, which has been eroded to form a long square tunnel through which waves whoosh through – indeed quite remarkable.
Retracing our journey from the previous day we drove back north on the Tasman peninsular, stopping along the way at several scenic cliff erosion sites along the way. ‘Devils Kitchen’ was a very deep arch ground of cliffs, and the ‘Tessellated Pavement’ site proved that nature sometimes can make straight lines with the rock eroded in a way that has left it resembling a tiled floor.
Further north we entered the Freycinet National Park where we went for a walk to a lookout overlooking the very picturesque wine glass bay lookout, which is rated as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It was a 45 minute uphill walk to the lookout, but the views were well worth it.
Mum enjoyed the tame wallabies that hung out in the car park and even tried to get in the camper van! We stayed overnight in the seaside town of Bicheno just north of the National Park and then next day drove a hundred kilometres or so north to Launceston, Tasmania’s second city. It was a boiling hot day, too hot to be in the sun too long, and the town seemed deserted apart from a Scottish festival for Burns night in the park. It’s a nice town with lots of stone buildings that give it a historic feel.
Just fifteen minutes walk from the town centre is the Cataract Gorge, which lies on the South Esk River and makes for a scenic spot. A peaceful retreat from the town and we enjoyed the views from a shady spot. It probably would have been a sacred place for the Aborigines, but unfortunately nearly all of the original Tasmanian aborigines have been wiped out so there is no way of knowing the stories that would have most likely been associated with this place.
After a coffee and a cake we drove west and picked up a tourist route through some lovely rolling countryside until we found an basic but idyllic camping spot, next to a cricket pitch (well done to Lisa for finding it) in a village called Chudleigh (no similarities to the one back home!). It was a lovely summers evening, the perfect camper van life!
Unfortunately the next morning we awoke to a gloomy rainy day, quite a contrast to the day before as the temperatures dropped considerably. We had to find some indoor things to do and we took the chance to use the internet (my last blog post) in the quaint town of Moles Creek and visited the Marakoopa Caves. The caves are a cool 9 degrees year round and have a system of underwater streams which makes them a perfect home for glow worms – water brings with it flies which are attracted to the glow and snared in a sticky net by the worms). There were about 200 glow worms in the main chamber, which was an amazing sight. Although not all were visible as they only glow when they are hungry – the more hungry the brighter the glow. There’s also some amazing stalagmites formed over millions of years, being wet these caves had different formations to the dry caves we visited in South Australia.
Back in the rain we took shelter in a nice cafe for a coffee and a Kransky (Polish style sausage popular in Tassie) before we got on the road again driving west to the Cradle Mountain National Park. Just as we entered the park we nearly ran over an Enchidna (Australian hedgehog type thing that is a monotreme – egg laying mammals) so we stopped and tried to usher him off the road – a cute little fella.
We left him waddling off into the bush and went to the visitor centre from where we took a shuttle bus to Dove Lake at the foot of Cradle Mountain where we did a short walk to an old boathouse. It was a little overcast but nevertheless the scenery against the backdrop of the mountain was simply stunning.
When it got dark, the optimum time for wildlife watching we took a ‘spotlight tour’ along some roads in the park. The guide gave me one of the spot lights and there were masses of animals to see including lots of Wallabies (Paddy Melons, Bennett’s), Wombats, and Possums. Unfortunately no Tasmanian Devils but an Eastern Quall (a close relative of the Devil) had a run around the bus, which are apparently quite elusive so we were lucky to see that. I didn’t snap the Quall but here’s one of the Wombats.
We stayed at a campsite near the visitor centre in the middle of the forest where it got pretty nippy overnight – we could see our breath, felt weird after being in so many hot places lately. The chilly morning gave us a real feel of how life must of been for early settlers as we visited the former chalet of an Austrian immigrant, Gustav Weindorfer, who lived here in the late 19th century – it must have been blummin cold in the winter! We did a short walk in the forest near the chalet through a pine forest covered in moss which gave the forest a lush green colour.
It would have been nice to spend a few days around Cradle Mountain but sadly we were on a tight timescale and had to get on the road again. We drove about 150km to the west coast town of Strahan, on the way I got stopped by the police for speeding (71km in a 50km zone – oops!) in the town of Tullah – thankfully they let me off with a caution, phew. We spent the afternoon in Strahan and had a walk around the bay there, a nice town in a remote part of the island.
It got even more remote as we got back on the road and drove East (back towards Hobart) through some mountain ranges on some very steep and windy roads (slow going in a big camper van!). It was about 100km of wilderness, albeit very scenic wilderness! At one point something that looked like a Tasmanian Devil ran across the road in front of us, unfortunately it was so quick we couldn’t say for sure but we are claiming it as a Devil (they are very elusive)!
We made a brief stop at the Franklin River but with darkness falling we needed to find a place to camp so continued on to Lake St Clair where there was a campsite in the forest on the shores of the lake. A very tranquil place, it was so quiet and still that it was almost a bit eerie but still very picturesque.
It was another cold night but we went to bed wrapped up and ready for it this time – first time I have worn socks in bed for a while! Our final drive took us along the Derwent River, where we stopped at a view point and admired masses of Black Swans.
On the way to Hobart we visited the historic town of Richmond which reminded me of a Cotswolds town with its limestone buildings and bridge. Here I took the chance to try a Tasmanian speciality a curried scallop pie, crammed full of scallops in a curry sauce it was great!
In the late afternoon we returned the camper van and checked into a cabin at the airport campsite before taking a taxi into Hobart. We had a walk around the city centre, Salamanca market, and the Battery Point area – all nice but not too exciting. It was our last night with Mum so we had some fish n chips on the wharf and reminisced about our Tasmanian adventure – a lovely place that is well worth coming to see, probably the highlight of our Australian tour.
Next morning, after waving a sad goodbye to Mum who flew back to the UK, Lisa and I took an early flight to a very rainy Sydney. Our old flatmates kindly let us stay over for a couple of nights and we enjoyed catching up with them and visiting some of our favourite cafes again. We took it easy, both because of the rain and from being in need of a rest!
Despite torrential rain we still braved the open air cinema in the botanical gardens set against the city and harbour. It was actually good fun (even with water sodden shoes), we took Dan and Lily from the house with us, donned plastic ponchos and enjoyed the views – the film wasn’t bad either, Tower Heist with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy.
Yesterday was our last day in Australia after nine months, it seemed Sydney was crying as the rain didn’t stop but we took a cruise around the harbour and enjoyed the sights one last time. We have seen many places, had highs and lows, but have thoroughly enjoyed Australia and will think back very fondly of our time here. If only Sydney were closer to Europe….
It’s not all sad though, the adventure continues and today we flew over to New Zealand for the next phase of the journey. We’ll stay here for five weeks and we have lots of cool stuff planned, very excited!