The Journey Begins. Chapter 1.
Someone once told me that a week to travel around Tasmania by car was plenty. Someone else also recently told me, on discussing my travel plans, that two weeks would be more than enough to see the main sights. Well they were both wrong! I travelled around this Australian state for 12 days and could have spent another month experiencing all that this island has to offer. To give you some idea of its size think of England – not the UK just England. Tasmania is approximately 70% the size of England yet it only has an approximate population of about 500,000 as opposed to 50 million in England. Now that is a lot of empty countryside to peruse.
Tasmania is a mixed bag of pleasures. Pristine primary rain forest, wild untamed rivers, rugged volcanic landscapes, miles of squeaky white sanded beaches and a visual aboriginal and colonial history. Tasmania has seen the rise and fall of the whaling and tin/silver/gold mining industries . It has an excellent reputation for food and wine with its award-winning wineries, cheese and chocolate making cottage industries and seafood that knocks the socks off anywhere else I’ve ever been. Then there is the wild life. Wombats, possums, kangaroos, quarks, wallabies, echidnas, platypus, birds galore including the rare black cockatoo and of course who could forget the unique Tasmanian Devil. Tasmania is certainly not an island to be dismissed lightly and definitely not one that can be seen in a few days.
For two weeks I have driven, climbed, hiked, camped, photographed and sampled my way around the island. Every day has brought a delightful surprise and I will be sharing many of them with you. Of course there are drawbacks in this veritable garden of Eden. Mosquitoes and the very persistent marsh flies will drive you nuts and expensive petrol will lay waste to the budget. The 9 hour plus ferry journey and the drawn out embarkation and disembarkation procedures will try your patience and the total lack of wifi /Optus coverage in most of the state frustrate you (pay bills before you travel). The wildlife can be a little too curious as we found out when the possums attempted to breach the tent at 2.00am in the morning. But go prepared and all these issues become minor problems in light of the many delights of Tasmania.
There are two ways to enter Tasmania – by air or by ferry. Air is quick and cheap but the drawback is that you have to hire on arrival. We decided against air in view of the expensive insurance and deposit hire companies were asking for and subsequently on the 3rd Feb, having bought a 130 dollar return ticket and 188 dollar return for the car (it’s always cheaper after summer holidays end), we headed off to the Spirit of Tasmania’s terminal in Melbourne in a loaded car. Now as Tasmania has a fearsome reputation for being cold, wet and windy, I consulted some Taswegian friends concerning matters of the weather and suitable gear. Along with the tent, air mattress, food, golf clubs, photographic equipment, cooking utensils, clothing, hiking gear, computers, a hundred weight of chargers , I also chucked in, on the advice of these veritable veterans, warm and wet weather clothes, blankets, duvet (high tog) my alpine sleeping bag and with the nod of approval of the Tassies, my Tigger hot water bottle (extreme I know – but it was used on several occasions).
Some tips for those of you who decide to take the long haul. Don’t take fresh food and veg with you as Tasmania has very strict import controls and you will have to relinquish them on entry to the ferry. Where ever possible do not take gas canisters board as you will have to put them in security hold and pick them up at the end of the trip in Devonport – it is such a waste of time and you can buy the same stuff in Tasmania. You can take your own food and drink onto the ferry (not alcohol), so to avoid paying the over inflated boat prices take a picnic hamper with you on deck. If you have children take advantage of the free film shows, children’s entertainers and face painting – it saves a lot of ear ache from the kids and other passengers who are fed up with the screaming or small bodies racing around the decks. Only drive large Winnebago’s if you know how to. The whole embarkation process was held up a further half hour by one grinding into the side of a wall. If on a day crossing, book accommodation in advance for that night as the earliest you will finally drive out of the gates of the port will be about 8.00pm – if you are lucky. Our hotel receptionist, who kindly stayed open until we arrived in Launceston, told us that it had been known for the boat to dock after 10.00pm at night and people not arrive at the hotel until midnight. There are camping grounds and hotels very close to the terminal.
Having rung our accommodation twice to put back our estimated time of arrival from 7.15 to 8.15 to 9.00 we finally set off for Launceston. Now for those of you who have not driven in Australia before it is advisable to avoid taking to the road around dawn or dusk because marsupials are a lot more active at these times and have absolutely no road sense (obviously) and due to the amount of time it took to get off the boat I was doing something that I normally avoid at all costs ie driving at sunset. But to get to food and our accommodation in Launceston it had to be done and I spent most of the journey madly scanning the verges for kamikaze kangaroos or wombats about to play chicken.
Falling through the door of the Bateman Fawkner hotel at 8.58 pm – two minutes before it locked up for the night, we checked in and enquired about somewhere to eat . The receptionist looked mildly perplexed as she struggled to come up with an answer. “There’s a Coles down the road” she supplied after a few minutes “and I can keep the kitchen open for a little longer if you want to cook”. Apparently Launceston shuts down at 9.00pm! Luckily we found a Pizza takeaway just around the corner still open at 9.20 and the owner who was just about to close down took pity on our hungry plight. He stayed open for us, heated up some lasagna (they were out of pizza base) and proceeded to settle in for a good old chat mainly about the dangers of driving in Tassie and how many tourists ended up as toast because they took road bends too fast. “Lots of fateies” already this year he informed us as he handed our meals over the counter, “Enjoy”. And we did. The meal was homemade, wholesome and delicious and so huge it lasted for two days. It was a good sign of what was to come for the rest of our journey.
This Hotel has an interesting history – will reveal all in the next instalment of The next instalment of a Taste of Tasmania – A Look Around Launceston