Now with a population of 0.5 million, some 200,000 of whom live in Hobart, 20% of the land mass is designated as a World Heritage site, so this island is a ‘must see’.
So I did, covering some 1300km in three days and relishing this wonderful little corner of the planet.
Please visit http://www.adventuretours.com.au/tasmania-tours/
Arrived in Hobart after a 1.5 hour JetStar flight ex Sydney, with very slow baggage handling on arrival…be warned!
Into Hobart to the fading grandeur of the Hobart Grand Chancellor Hotel, albeit with great views of the Waterfront.
Visited the famous pub called ‘Knoppies’ (Knopwood’s Retreat), one of Hobart’s oldest hostelries (but not that great –full of ageing drunks) for a pint of locally brewed Cascade beer, then dinner at a fish restaurant called Mures, OK but not as good as you might expect from a waterfront fish restaurant, and the attempt by the waitress to tell us that their blue fin tuna was not the type threatened by extinction from over-fishing…hmm.
With views over the Hobart waterfront and west to Mt Wellington rising above the town to the west, a bright calm day dawned, an Antarctic research ship arriving in port just as we set off for the long day ahead.
Travelling once again with the inimitable Ken Hart, MD of Adventure Tours Australia, we stopped off at our depot in Hobarts’ CBD to meet our local operations team, headed by Tracey Diddams and supported by hubbie Triso who was to be our driver and ‘super-guide’ for the next few days.
We headed up the Derwent Valley (historically full of Southern Right whales before they were slaughtered by the locals - today populated with many black swans and pelicans), into an area known as New Norfolk, with traditional weatherboard houses and farmsteads growing apples, hops for the local Cascade Brewery, and many poplars (not native) with leaves turning yellow as autumn approaches, amidst grazing cows and sheep.
|Derwent Valley hills and farms|
An attractive part of the island enhanced by early morning clouds dusting the higher slopes and a foretaste of what we were to experience over the next few days. Many times we were to see beehives along the roadside, introduced to produce leatherwood honey.
We made our way to Mount Field National Park, with a short walk to view Russell Falls, passing pine forests and recently logged areas planted with faster growing blue gum trees.
|Central Plateau, Tasmania|
|Cold temperate rainforest, western Tasmania|
Lunch at the Derwent Bridge pub close to the attractively set Lake St Clair, 167m deep, and a Bennett’s wallaby spotted in the bush.
Tasmania is rightly proud of its pines: the very slow growing Huon pine takes 2000 years to reach 30m in height, so is much sought after for high quality furniture and carvings. A great example of this wood, carved by an artist called Greg Duncan can be found at ‘The Wall’ close to Derwent Bridge (www.thewalltasmania.com). Still work in progress, the wall is carved from 3 metre high panels, telling the history of the human development of the Central Plateau, from the indigenous tribes to the pioneering timber harvesters to miners and hydro workers. It’s impressive.
|Beautiful woodland is a feature of Tasmania|
A quick stop to view Nelson Waterfall amidst relic forests, then along winding roads to Queenstown, greatly afflicted by mining activity (mainly copper in its heyday but also gold, tin, wolfram) with all the forest cleared in the surrounding hills. They say the locals here have ‘two heads’… work that one out for yourself!
A final 40 minutes into Strahan, a small harbour situated in the Gordon River estuary and a popular base for river cruising. Quaint, a ‘must do’ for many visitors, but I wondered what all the fuss was about…
Accommodation was at Strahan Village Waterfront Terraces, heritage listed cottages in the middle of the town, although I found them a bit dingy and service indifferent.
The nearby Sarah Island was once an infamous prison, and there’s a horrible story about escapees turning to cannibalism to survive. I won’t recount it here, but Google ‘Alexander Pearce’ if you have an appetite for this type of thing. Oops, excuse the pun.
Dinner at Risby Cove, serving good local fish and too much wine (Ken, not me).
An early start to Cradle Mountain NP (where it rains for more than 300 days per year), with a good road north bounded by dense bushes of melaleuca.
Quickly into heavily forested country albeit with plenty of intensively logged areas before reaching the huge tin mining area of Revison Bell between Zeehan and Rosebery. Big hills of the West Coast range to our right and the mysterious and dense ancient forest region called The Tarkine to our left with huge stands of the giant eucalypt known as Mountain Ash, myrtle beech, king billy and pencil pines. Wild country indeed. Road kills of possum, wombats, and wallabies in places.
|Approaching Cradle Mountain National Park|
Into the NP, parking near Dove Lake and then a two hour round trip to scramble up Hansons Peak 1185m (named after a young prospector who died of exposure whilst hunting in 1905) to view the main bulk of Cradle Mountain (1545m).
|With Ken Hart, approaching Hansons Peak|
|Cradle Mountain with Dove Lake in the foreground|
|Looking back to Dove Lake|
|Cradle Mountain summit cone|
Moving NE we first skirted the northern end of the Mole Creek Karst NP, set in classic limestone country, and home to some big cave systems, before heading towards the north coast port of Devonport (where ferries from the mainland dock after their 10-12 hour passage from Melbourne) and we were soon into farm country, dairy and sheep primarily, stopping for an excellent snack at the Elizabeth Town Bakery just south of Railton. Great meat pies and Florentines…yum!
East/south east at speed through attractive and gently undulating farm country, featuring well kept weatherboard farmhouses with distant views to the Great Western Tiers to the south.
We entered the eastern region of Tasmania on the Fingal road, with Ben Lomond NP to the north of us, before crossing Elephant Pass to be rewarded with our first views of the famed and beautiful east coast. It’s much drier terrain here, with less than 30 cm of rain a year, as it’s in the rain shadow of the western and central highlands. Although we had to miss the famed Bay of Fires, we were quickly on to some beautiful stretches of road, with the Douglas-Apsley NP to the west and fine white beaches to the east.
We stopped at Bicheno, a popular and unpretentious coastal resort, famed for its fishing, then ploughed on to our final objective for the day, the Freycinet National Park, located on a long peninsular, bordered on the west side by lagoons (oyster farming and duck hunting) and breached by an abrupt range of peaks called The Hazards, named after a pre-eminent whaler who killed many Southern Rights in the bays around the peninsular.
Our accommodation for the night was the delightful Freycinet Lodge, beautifully set above Great Oyster Bay amidst coastal heath.
To the rear of the hotel is a wonderful balcony, and armed with a well-earned beer, we enjoyed a quiet sunset over the water. A good dinner followed too, with local ocean trout and blue eye trevalla. Rock lobster (crayfish) was stupidly expensive though. Returning to my cabin, I was somewhat surprised by a bushtail possum jumping out of an adjacent tree only to scuttle up another one nearby. A great spot to stay: www.puretasmania.com.au
A foggy start did not bode well for an early walk to the ever popular Wineglass Bay Lookout. The bay is a picture perfect white sand feature, quite difficult to access, but it now attracts many as it was recently voted one of the World’s Top Ten Beaches. The path is a well engineered one, winding its way steeply up the pink granite of The Hazards below Mt Amos, and with attractive coastal scrub and wonderful eucalypts all around. This is Tasmania’s second most popular tourist spot (250,000 annually), so this new path is an essential construction to cope with the numbers.
We climbed out of the fog, and were rewarded with a great view of the bay, the surrounding tops of The Hazards, the pink granite coming alive as the sun hit the rock for the first time of the day, and with spectral fog banks coming in from the sea to one side and fingers of low cloud easing their way over the granite domes behind us. Local birdlife, with green parrots and honey eaters, occasionally disturbing the magnificent silence that rewards the very first visitors of any day.
Our final big push southwards, with a quick stop to view the coastline from Cape Tourville, although we were soon stopping for refreshments at the quirky (but highly recommended) café called the Ugly Duck Out in the more upmarket coastal resort of Swansea.
Onwards to the Tasman Peninsular, our final destination before returning to Hobart. Hosting another national park, the peninsula was originally given over to a large penal settlement, notorious for the methods used against the most difficult prisoners (sensory deprivation, for example) and for its scale, as it was home to 12,500 prisoners from 1830 to 1877, during which time 2,000 of them died.
|Port Arthur Historic Site|
The Port Arthur Historic Site is Tasmania’s biggest tourist draw, about 1.5 hours south east of Hobart and actually well worth a look. The prison complex is enormous, like a small town, and is very well presented. www.portarthur.org.au
A good lunch including some great cheese (some flavoured with bush pepper and another with wasabe…better than it sounds, by the way) and local Riesling and Pinot Noir was enjoyed en route, and our day concluded with a very quick visit to the interesting Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, near Taranna, and one dedicated to preserving this aggressive little beast (a meat eating marsupial, with jaws almost as powerful at a saltwater crocodile!) as the population is being ravaged by a cancer forming virus.
Tasmania is the last stand for the species and being on a peninsular has helped to minimise the incursion of the disease so far. Check out www.tasmaniandevilpark.com
And, finally back to Hobart, a late dinner and preparation for the next stage of the trip in Melbourne.
I need to go again. This is a place to savour.
The forests, with marvellous eucalypt and pine, the jagged dolerite peaks, sublime farming landscapes contrasted by the desolation of the Central Plateau, great cheese and wine.
But, like Patagonia earlier in the year, I was blessed with unusually fine weather. So check out the long-range forecast, pack your boots and waterproofs, and aim for the off-peak season to avoid the crowds in the two or three ‘iconic’ spots you will want to see.
Above all, be patient, slow down to the local pace, and raise a glass of beer to the poor souls who suffered all those years ago following transportation to ‘hell on earth’ for crimes as insignificant as minor theft (although I do wonder if we might discourage some of society’s less desirable characters from misbehaving if we were to reinstate the programme… now there’s food for thought).
Thanks once again for Ken’s inspirational route planning and boundless enthusiasm for all things Australian. And a special thanks to Triso, the most knowledgeable guide I have ever encountered in all of my travels, and that’s saying something…
And to Tracey, no doubt his long-suffering wife, for her energy and great organisational ability. It’s not surprising that one of their children is named Huon (the other Sorrell). In the future Triso will become one of the world’s greatest huon pine woodcarvers. Watch this space.