Terra Australis – Tasmania
Before I’d ever wanted to go to New Zealand, and before I’d ever wanted to go anywhere on mainland Australia, I’d long wanted to go to Tasmania. I don’t remember where the want came from, but I think because of its similarities to Scotland, but yet in a seemingly exotic location, I longed to see the mountains and lakes and forests that I had seen in photographs. So it was never in question that I head to this island state on my first trip Down Under. Having finally acclimatised to the lower temperature of Melbourne, I had been keeping an eye on the weather for Tasmania prior to my departure, and it was averaging single figures. In reality, September was barely blooming into spring, and the further south I travelled, the lower the temperatures would be.
It was a spectacular view on the plane into Hobart, flying over bays and rocky shorelines with farms and rolling hills behind. Looking towards the city of Hobart, the clouds shrugged the top of Mt Wellington, hiding the peak from view. It looked cold, and I could see occasional specks of white snow near the summit as the clouds lifted and fell. I was intrigued to see how I’d get on with my hire car. Despite learning to drive and spending most of my driving life in a manual, since moving to New Zealand I had quickly got accustomed to the laziness of driving an automatic. However it was getting the car started that caused most of the issue. Having been pointed in the direction of the vehicle and then quickly abandoned by the rental staff, I was left unable to start the car. I felt like such a blonde eventually having to dig out the manual after trying everything obvious that I could think of. Eventually getting it going, I proceeded to stall the engine as I tried to leave the car park.
I had no real idea where I was going. I headed into Hobart but had nowhere in particular to go. I was keen to get up Mt Wellington as I always like gaining a bit of altitude to get my bearings, but the summit was still shrouded in cloud despite the sun shining everywhere else. I headed to the harbour, and parked up at Salamanca, an area famous for its weekend markets. I spent a couple of hours wandering the nearby streets and harbour front, breathing in the sea air, and then finally the clouds appeared to lift. I raced to get to Mt Wellington, a long and windy road out the back of the city, and was startled by the amount of snow on the ground as I climbed higher. The temperature gauge on the car dropped down to 1oC and it started to snow as I reached the summit. This was so different to my start in Sydney just a few weeks before, and I wasn’t quite equipped for this cold snap. Opening the car door it was immediately slammed shut in the horizontal gust of wind that was whipping around the top. The clouds moved swiftly, and there were a few light snow showers whilst I wandered around the summit taking in the view. I could see down the coast to the top of Bruny Island and across Storm Bay to the Tasman Peninsula in the far distance. It was a fantastic view, but I was freezing, and I could only bare so much of it when I wasn’t wearing enough layers. I headed next to Mt Nelson for an alternate view of my surroundings, then Sandy Bay for a quick walk along the shoreline before doing a quick tour of Queen’s Domain.
The great thing about visiting in the low season was that I got to enjoy dorm rooms to myself on several occasions on my Tasmania trip. Whereas I had stayed in YHA hostels on the Australian mainland up until now, I got the opportunity to experience several independent hostels on my Tasmania trip. After getting a night on my own for the price of a dorm, I set off on the long drive to Mt Field National Park. For most of the drive, the road followed the Derwent river upstream before cutting into forestry. Despite leaving Hobart in clear weather conditions, it was cloudy and spitting rain when I reached the park. I had already purchased my National Parks pass which was my golden ticket into the myriad of National Parks across the State, and it was a valuable purchase.
It was a short walk through the forest to Russell Falls, a beautiful multi-tiered waterfall that was in reasonable spate. The viewing platform was receiving spray from the falls and there were plenty of spots to view the falls from. Following the path up the side of the waterfall and upstream was another smaller waterfall. Continuing on from here was a walk taking me through the forest, and it was here that I saw my first Tasmanian Pademelon. A marsupial, they are like smaller versions of wallabies and kangaroos, but they have evolved separately due to their geographical isolation. Although very shy creatures, I ended up seeing lots of them over the course of my 10-day trip, often startling them whilst out hiking. Many of the trees in the forest were massive and there were some really ancient eucalypts amongst them. It was a reasonable 2-hr hike in a circle past yet another waterfall, before looping round to the car park again. My map showed several lakes with more walks deeper into the park, but the road was a dirt track and with the rain, it was too muddy for my little hire car and after skidding around a corner whilst trying to climb the hill, I carefully turned the car round and headed back to the information centre. I was rather disappointed, and wishing that I had a 4×4, as I had planned on spending all day in the National Park and seeing much more than I did, but in the end, with the clouds still hanging overhead, and a light rain still falling, I reluctantly headed back to Hobart much earlier than planned. I continued south through Hobart and as far as Huonville before turning off the main highway and taking the coastal road back to Hobart via Cygnet and Kettering. It was a beautiful coastline and there were several places where I cursed the lack of stopping zones to allow me to take photographs.
The day I left Hobart behind it was one of those glorious days where the gorgeous blue sky is cloudless and the sun is visible all day. It was windy in places which kept the temperature relatively low, but I felt like I was off on an adventure. I had a long drive ahead of me, crossing the harbour bridge heading east and following the Tasman Highway which crossed both land and sea to Sorrell, where I joined the Arthur Highway, heading towards the Tasman Peninsula. The Tasman Peninsula is separated from the mainland by a man-made canal at Dunally, and from here the highway cuts across the land to Eaglehawk Neck, the narrow isthmus that marks the narrowest part of the peninsula. From here to the peninsular tip is an area of great historical importance. Port Arthur further along the peninsula was a large penitentiary where many of the first immigrants lived, either as an inmate or as a guard, or family member. The isthmus was heavily guarded by dogs to prevent escaped convicts reaching the mainland of Tasmania, and the place is steeped with stories and fables about the escape attempts on land and sea of several convicts over the years. The dog line was a very successful deterrent at keeping the prisoners on the peninsula.
Before crossing the isthmus, I took a detour to a viewpoint overlooking Pirate bay, the eastern bay of the peninsula. The coastline was beautiful and the sea looked so calm and inviting. Crossing Eaglehawk neck, I took a brief walk on the beach at Pirate Bay before heading round to some local blowholes; areas where the rocks allowed the incoming waves to splash underneath and spray to burst up through holes in the rocks. The tide wasn’t quite right to see them at their most spectacular, but there were several places where the sea had eroded giant holes in the ground which was impressive. The peninsula had 2 huge draws for me though, and I was pressed to get to them. The first was in Taranna and I was excited to pull up at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Centre. I had no true idea of what these creatures looked like, and I didn’t know a huge amount about them other than some vague knowledge that some disease was threatening to wipe them out, but I was determined to learn more. I arrived just in time for the bird show where I got to see a Tawny Frogmouth, a creature that I didn’t even know existed. There were many other creatures there too, and there was a walk-through kangaroo enclosure which was my first real chance to get quite close to some red kangaroos. There was also a walk through enclosure for wallabies, but I made sure that I was at the Tasmanian devil area in time for their feed. They are really amazing creatures, about the size of a domestic cat, but quite noisy and unfortunately they are succumbing in dramatic numbers due to man-made issues such as road kill, but more severely due to Devil Facial Tumour Disease, a disease that appeared out of nowhere in 1996 and causes severe aggressive tumours that not only kills the host through starvation but also spreads to other individuals with ease. Due to the geographical near-isolation of the Tasmanian devil population on the peninsula, thanks to the narrow isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, the local population remained disease free, and several rehabilitation and wildlife parks around Australia are breeding secure populations in an effort to build up numbers again. There have been several successful reintroductions to the wild of devils in other isolated areas such as Maria Island National Park to keep them separate from known diseased populations. I am fascinated by the little creatures, and enjoyed watching them tear apart some meat whilst the keeper told us all about them.
Eventually though, I had to press on to Port Arthur. It was a large site with various ruins of the old penitentiary and its associated buildings and I arrived with a few hours to spare before closing time. The entrance price included a sailing in the bay to visit a couple of islands where the boys were imprisoned, and where the convicts and staff were buried. It was quite sobering to listen to the stories of failed escape attempts, and to the conditions in which the convicts lived. The wives and families of the guards and prison staff were also very isolated on site, and again there were stories about their miseries. All in all, it sounded like a rather depressing place to be in its heyday, a stark contrast to the beauty of it now on such a stunning coastline and especially on such a sunny day. After a brief guided tour of the grounds, I spent the last while before closing wandering the grounds in contemplative solitude. With the coming of dusk I realised I hadn’t arranged anywhere to stay. Again thanks to being low season, I got a cabin to myself at the local caravan park. It was freezing cold though, but it felt a million miles from anywhere being nestled in the forest, and I had a fantastic evening in the communal kitchen talking to a group of friends that were on holiday from Newcastle, New South Wales and were travelling around Tasmania together. They were a great laugh, and I enjoyed the company immensely.
I took the long way back to Eaglehawk Neck, following the coast to the tip of the peninsula and round in a circle, stopping in a few places to see the jagged coastal cliffs, and various inlets and bays. I enjoyed some more time at Pirate Bay and the beach near Dunally before heading onwards and upwards. It was a long drive back to the main road north which ploughed through the interior before cutting back to the coast at Orford. It was a detour that added a lot of distance to a route which geographically was not that far away as the crow flies. The beach near Orford was my first chance to see Maria Island across the Mercury Passage. The National Park on the island was my goal for the following day but on arriving at Triabunna, I was told that the weather conditions expected put the trip in doubt. I could only cross my fingers and hope that the weatherman was wrong. I had no mobile phone coverage for most of my journey up the east coast of Tasmania, having discovered that only 1 network works there which wasn’t the one I was with, and with no internet or television, I had no way of monitoring the weather. It meant I had to take each day as it came, and in some respects, that was fine by me. I had arrived in Tasmania with the only plan being to reach the departure airport on the designated date, and everything else I made up as I went along. Wandering around the riverside at Triabunna that afternoon I got to see my first pelican, another animal that I had wrongly assumed would be everywhere along the Australian coastline (and rather sheepishly admit that Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo led me to believe they would be all over the Sydney harbourfront).
The morning did not look hopeful. It was torrential rain when I pulled up at the harbour, and I sat in the car watching the fishermen preparing their boats to go out. Amongst them was the boat to Maria Island, and I was pleased to discover that the trip was still going ahead, but it was a rough crossing. With the wind blowing straight across the passage, it was very choppy, and some ladies at the back of the boat struggled to keep their stomach contents down as we slammed into wave after wave after wave. It was still very grey when we finally landed, but at least the rain had stopped. Equipped with a map of the island, and determined to hike to the island’s highest spot, Bishop & Clark, I set off at a good pace. My fellow passengers were all planning on sticking around the coast, and I soon left them behind as I started to gain altitude. Reaching the tip of the island I could just make out Freycinet National Park in the distance, sticking out on a peninsula north of me, and wandering around the rocks on this exposed coastline I could see various fossils of shellfish. After climbing the first hill which was grassy and exposed, the track disappeared into the forest and I lost my view of the coast, but also the summit at times. I had a deadline to get up and back for the return ferry, so I wasted little time pushing on. It grew cloudier and darker as I continued on, and finally coming out of the forest, I was presented with a steep scree of boulders to negotiate for the final section up to the top. It was uncomfortable under foot, and exhausting, but eventually I arrived at the exposed pinnacles of rock that mark the summit of Bishop & Clark. It started raining not long after my arrival, and with the clouds closed in, the visibility narrowed, and as the wind whipped my face I grew cold.
The hike down passed without event, but as I reached the clearing at the end of the forest, the sun began to burst through, and I happened upon a scraggly looking wombat out mowing the grass on the cliff edge. With the now blue sky and bright sunshine, the island looked so beautiful, and I could see further along the coastline of the mainland. I cut across the island through the forest and bumped into a wallaby mother and joey as well as startling a Tasmanian pademelon, before coming out near the harbour again. By now it was such a calm day, the sea settled, and it was lovely to sit and enjoy the sunshine whilst waiting for the boat to appear. There was no time to hang around at the other end though. On my return to Triabunna, I got straight back on the road again, looking for my next rest spot, the road travelling inland for a large stretch before meeting the coast again at Mayfield Bay. By this stage I was directly across Great Oyster Bay from Freycinet National Park which looked beautiful in the lowering sun.
After finding a last minute place to stay in a near-empty hostel in Swansea, run by a very chatty and friendly host, I was pleased to wake to a gloriously sunny day. It was cool to begin with, but by the time I’d driven beyond the head of the bay with Moulting lagoon at its northern edge, and circled back down to Coles and into the National Park itself, I got out of the car to a comfortable temperature. The car park was packed, and there were plenty of people out on the hike. There was a wallaby acting as a car park attendant, milling around the cars, contemplating everyone as they passed. My goal for the day was to see the infamous view of Wineglass bay, one of the State’s most photographed views. The view was well worth the climb, and I joined a crowd of people at the viewing area, all hustling to take photos and soak in the view. Sometimes I can get carried away with my camera, and forget to experience a place with my own two eyes, as opposed to through a viewfinder, and this was a view that I had to remind myself to just sit down and take it all in. I have seen so many places in my life where I just can’t find the superlatives to accurately describe the beauty of it. I find myself using the words stunning and beautiful a lot, and at times I am frustrated with a lack of vocabulary to really do some of these places justice. The east coast of Tasmania as a whole was mesmerising, and beautiful, and I felt so at peace there. I felt isolated but yet comfortable in the wilderness of it all, and I swiftly fell in love with this state, loving my time here the most of all three states that I had visited. I was enjoying the freedom of having my own transport, the carefree life of having no solid plan, and soaking up the escape from my digital life, enjoying one of those rare escapes from mobile phones and the internet.
After descending down to Wineglass bay, and meandering along the beach for a while, I left the relative crowds behind to take the long road back to the car park. The southern half of the peninsula is really only accessible as part of a multi-day hike, so I could only view it from the narrow isthmus that separated Wineglass bay from Promise bay. It was amazing how protected the former was, but on passing the lagoons and topping the sand-dune to descend onto the beach on the latter, the wind smacked me in the face with the painful blast of sand particles at high speed. My bare legs also bore the brunt of it, and it was an uncomfortable walk to the end of the beach. As much as the view out to sea was amazing, I was grateful to reach shelter again and get back into the forest. I caught another wallaby by surprise on the path through the forest, and eventually came out on a more exposed section looking back onto Great Oyster bay, before finally returning to the car park. The same wallaby was still preening herself next to some cars, but this time I got a pleasant surprise when her little joey poked its head out of her pouch. I never got sick of seeing marsupials on my trip to Australia.
After a brief respite back up the coast, I cut across to the east coast of the peninsula, stopping first at Cape Tourville lighthouse then Sleepy bay. Both places offered a differing vista of the Freycinet coastline, and the various inlets and islands that littered the coast. The water at Sleepy bay was so turquoise and the rocks bright orange due to the mineral content. The colour contrast rendered a unique and vibrant landscape that I could have stared at in awe for hours. Cape Tourville was quite exposed and the wind seemed quite strong here. I could see the entrance to Wineglass bay from here, and the sea seemed so calm, a trick which I’m sure belied its potentially deadly nature. The coastline was so rugged and exposed, that I’m sure an accident here on these waters would not have a good outcome. I was reluctant to leave Freycinet behind, and contemplated staying in Coles for the night, but whilst I had no set plan, I was certainly keen to squeeze as much of the island in as I could in 10 days, and with several hours of daylight ahead still, I opted to press on north. Coles was so far off the main highway, that it was a good run just to get back to the main road again. At Bicheno I stopped to view a blowhole, which even arriving against the tide was still impressive, and from here for most of the route north, the road hugged the coast and I marvelled at stretches of white sandy beach against the deep blue sea, calmly lapping on the shoreline. I stopped several times just to breathe it all in, and inhale the fresh sea air, and stretch my legs, enjoying the moment. The east coast felt like home to me and I was so happy there. Scamander came and went, and eventually, in the late evening, I found myself in St Helens, an area which quickly became my favourite part of the whole island, and a place that I could imagine moving to in another life.
St Helens is a small settlement based at the innermost point of Georges bay, and is a common starting point for forays into the Bay of Fires region. It has a cute little marina, and across the bay to the east are several sections of shoreline littered with pelicans. I first took the road round the eastern shore of Georges bay towards St Helens point where the sun beat down on an amazingly calm Tasman Sea, and I enjoyed the solitude taking the coastal walk to a series of small beaches. It was so peaceful, and I was accompanied only by the sounds of insects and the lapping waves on the shore. It was utter bliss. I spent some time watching the pelicans on the way back to St Helens before taking the road up the west of Georges bay to the end of the road near The Gardens, at the bottom end of the Bay of Fires. There were so many staggeringly white stretches of sandy beaches at every turn, and as far up the coast as I could see. This region was popular, and I didn’t get so much peace along these beaches, bumping into several people every time I found another beach to walk along. It didn’t detract from the view though, and I loved it here, fully appreciating its popularity. On the way back, I detoured to Binnalong bay where a large lagoon meets the sea. It was another popular section of beach, and I passed a little time there before moving on. The beaches here were just spectacular.
Heading west towards Launceston, I detoured off the main highway to pass through Pyengana, the location of a lovely little business which included the Holy Cow cafe, and onwards to Saint Columba Falls. I had the most amazing ploughmans lunch at the cafe, sitting out in the back garden staring out at green fields and hills under a beautiful sunny sky. Some way along the road was the turn-off to the falls, and there was quite a few people there already. It was an easy walk to the falls, but the positioning of the sun when I got there cast most of the falls into shadow, and looking up risked blinding me, so on that occasion they were better viewed from a distance than from up close. Luckily, just down from the car park was a break in the tree line which allowed just a view. Continuing on the drive through forest and then rejoining the state highway, I was surrounded by rolling green pastures and hills for most of the way before finally descending down towards Launceston. I spent the evening at the marina watching the sun set before returning to the first crowded hostel I’d seen since leaving Melbourne.
Setting off early, I got lost trying to find the road I wanted once I’d left the city behind. I ended up on the road south to Hobart when I was wanting to head west, and I lost a bit of time looping round and back tracking. I found myself on a mission, passing quickly through Westbury and stopping only briefly at Deloraine for some food supplies, before pushing on. In the end, I pulled in at Mole Creek Caves with time to spare. The cave complexes at Mole Creek was something that I’d only read up on a couple of days before, having not been aware of them prior to my trip, and I was very glad I took the time to stop there. I went first to Marakoopa cave, with a relatively big tour group, and we got a decent amount of time to wander between the different chambers with their various features and marvel at the stalactites and stalagmites that spanned the gap between cavern floor and ceiling. There was a very pretty area known as the garden where there was a collection of these mineral growths clustered together, and another larger structure referred to as the organ. As a lover of the natural world, I am always in awe at these kind of places, and especially when you know that you are looking at structures that have been growing for hundreds of thousands of years. The highlight for me was visiting King Solomon’s Cave. There were only 5 of us on this tour, making it automatically more personal, and the cave was more compact which suited the smaller group better, but it was the guide that really made the tour. I’ve never before seen a guide so passionate about his subject, and he clearly loved sharing his knowledge about this cave and caves in general. The mineral formations in this cave differed in colour due to the mineral content in the seeping water, and there were even fossilised bones protruding from the cave wall in places. As our guide told us, there simply wasn’t the funding to look into what sort of animals or creatures the fossils belonged to, so they remain a mysterious part of the cave’s distant past.
It turned out that myself and the other four people on my tour were all heading to the same destination, albeit on different days. The family from Newcastle in Australia were taking the kids to see some snow, and they asked me to report to them what the conditions were like to know if it was worth the drive. As it turned out, I had no mobile phone signal when I got there so was unable to pass on the news. The drive through Mole Creek-Kaast National Park and beyond was spectacular – pure isolated wilderness with fantastic views once I got out of the forest. My little hire car did well on the inclines, as I negotiated the passes that took me through the hills that grew higher and higher the further west I went. Eventually, in the mid-afternoon, I arrived and immediately I felt like I was back in Scotland in the Cairngorm National Park. Here I was on the other side of the world at Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park looking out across a similar landscape with similar vegetation and a smattering of snow, and I stepped out the car and got goosebumps. It was freezing cold. I got a cabin with ease, getting the whole building to myself, and set off for a walk around the various paths that criss-crossed the entrance-way to the park. It was the sight of the wombat that reminded me that I was indeed in Australia and not Scotland, and later I saw a few Tasmanian Pademelons. Due to melting snow and some recent rain, the rivers were in spate, and the waterfall near the information centre was a thundering torrent of tannin-coloured icy water.
As the sun lowered, I headed back along the road slightly to the nearby Devils@Cradle, a Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary. In the warmth of the building, we got told all about the devils and the local area, and then one of the keepers brought in a Tasmanian devil for us all to touch and stroke. He was so well behaved, cuddling into the keeper whilst everyone waited their turn to touch his soft coat, and when it was my turn, I stroked his back and he let out a little sneeze. Considering just a week or so ago, I’d never seen a real devil, I had now seen loads in just a few days. After the talk it was feeding time, and as the sun set, we watched the various groups of devils being fed and fighting with each other over scraps of meat. In one of the enclosures I was so excited when out from under a wooden log came a little baby devil for its share of the food, before it scurried back into the darkness to enjoy its prize in peace and solitude. These little creatures amaze me, and I really hope the efforts with the conservation initiatives can help bring this species back from the grip of the horrible facial tumour disease that afflicts them.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is all about hiking. There are multiple day walks as well as a multi-day walk that traverses the park, and despite the cold, I was eager to get out and enjoy it. I parked at the first car park on the road to Dove Lake and set off across a boardwalk through low vegetation and across a stream before reaching a sparse forest area. There were snow patches everywhere, stale and crispy under foot, but despite the snow on the ground, the sun shone overhead, and I warmed up quickly. Following the side of a stream as it meandered up towards its source, I eventually came out at the end of Crater Lake, an expanse of water surrounded on all sides by steep slopes, truly in a crater. The path climbed up the eastern slope bringing me out high above the lake and with a view ahead to the lookout where I was headed, and Lake Lilla and Dove Lake to my left. When I reached the summit lookout, the top of Cradle Mountain was shrouded in cloud. I hunkered down near some rocks for shelter, and enjoyed a snack stop with the company of a currawong who kept a close eye on me whilst I ate, eagerly hoping for some free food. I was there so long that I got to see the clouds pull back and managed to get a better view of Cradle Mountain. I was so well nestled into the lea of the rocks to shelter from the wind, that I hadn’t realised how hidden I was until several people got a fright after I greeted them on reaching the summit, and they spun round to see who was talking to them. Many people were just out for the day, but I chatted briefly to 2 guys that were starting out on the Overland Track, the multi-day hike over the summits. The path that I had taken to get myself there was the first section of the track, and it continued from the lookout spot across the nearby summit and round to Cradle Mountain itself. I watched them go, and had a slight pang of jealousy as I briefly reminisced on my days of free camping back in Scotland.
Eventually, the cold got too much to stay there, and as I stood up, I realised how crowded the lookout had become with various groups of people sitting around the rocky top. I was glad that I had gotten the initial solitude, and I set off on my own back down the path I had come up. Halfway down, I took a different path that brought me down to Wombat Pool, and circled round to Lake Lilla before joining the Dove Lake circuit track. It was a short walk from there to the Dove Lake car park where a bus load of tourists had just emptied, and the path from the car park to the lake was crammed with them all trying to take the same photograph. I was eager to leave the rabble behind, but it was such a nice day that even the circuit track was busy, and I was constantly coming across people, and on a few occasions had to wait my turn to take some photographs at a couple of sought-after viewpoints. Despite that, I loved the walk, and I took my time, soaking up the view and the atmosphere. Every time I stopped for a snack, out of nowhere would appear a currawong, eagerly awaiting some scraps. On my lunch stop I got some human company and it was nice to have a chat and share stories. At the top of the lake, the path brought me nearly directly under the summit of Cradle Mountain which was now clear of all cloud cover, before looping round to head back towards the car park, down the western shore of the lake. On this stretch, I was almost directly below the lookout that I had been up earlier, and at times I could make out figures moving about on the ridge, framed against the blue sky. Back at the little boat house on the shore of the lake near where I had originally joined the track, I again enjoyed some solitude to soak in the last view of the mountain before leaving. I was sad to leave it behind, and silently added the Overland Track to my list of hikes for the future. I rejoined the track past Lake Lilla again, and this time split off on a different route which took me back through a different section of the same sparse forest, and then out onto the low cut vegetation and back to the boardwalk. By now, the shrubbery was littered with wombats munching away, and I left the park with a smile on my face, tired but satisfied.
I rejoined civilisation on the north coast at Burnie, and followed the coastal road back east through Penguin and Ulverstone before reaching Devonport as the sun set. I nearly couldn’t find the hostel I was looking for, and had a brief moment of panic about trying to find accommodation in the dark, when at last I found it. It was a converted hospital, full of ‘long termers’, the phrase that is used for backpackers that have work, and are therefore hanging around for a while. It was far from the flashest of places to stay but it did the job just fine. I didn’t hang around in Devonport long. It is the arrival point for the ferry from Melbourne, but it really held no interest to me, and after a brief side trip for a walk around the Bluff Road area, and onwards to Port Sorrell, I continued my trek east back towards Launceston. I decided to explore another National Park, and took a long detour to visit Narawntapu National Park on the north coast. It was quite out the way but it was a lovely region and had more wombats than people there which made me immensely happy. There was a lovely walk around a lake full of birds, and then across a plains where there were kangaroos and wombats milling about munching away in the sunshine. There were times where the path wasn’t well marked, but I managed to suss out the way to go eventually, stopping at times to watch the roos bouncing away from me, or eyeball them back when they stood on their hindlegs to watch me pass. Aside from the young roos, there were also a few young wombats which on asking at the park office were estimated to be about 2-3 months old.
The Tamar river is a 70km long estuary passing from deep inland, through Launceston, and eventually opening onto the Bass Strait on the north coast. I joined the main highway down the Tamar Valley near Beauty Point, and followed it south towards my final stop, the city itself. There were a few view points on the way, but I was a little saddened to be heading back to city life, but more so because my trip was quickly nearing its conclusion. A little outside of Launceston is the Tamar River Conservation Area, a wetlands and conserved waterway created by the river and a few islands that sit within it. It was a lovely walk to stretch my legs, and there were plenty of birds to see, including finally managing to capture a photo of a Superb Blue Wren which were strikingly blue, and despite seeing them often, they had up to then evaded my camera lens. Eventually pulling into Launceston, I took a late afternoon stroll along the naturally created Cataract Gorge before heading back into town and the busy hostel.
Launceston is fairly compact but quite endearing. The marina formed on a sheltered section of the Tamar river is pretty, and there are several parks and walks in the area. I spent the morning wandering through the city streets and found myself at City Park where I was surprised to find a monkey enclosure. They had been a gift from a foreign nation, and I stood for a while watching the macaques grooming each other and playing on the ropes. They seemed so at ease with an audience. After a food stop, I headed back up Cataract Gorge, getting to experience it this time without the afternoon shadows, and I followed the river up to the basin and this time continued further. The rocky river bed created multiple rapids and small waterfalls along the way, and the path gave differing perspectives of these as I trudged along. Eventually I came out at an abandoned power station, and here a bridge allowed me to cross the river and head back to the basin area. I had lunch with a peacock wandering between the tables, and just across the flower bed, a wallaby mowed the lawn oblivious to the reams of tourists taking its photograph. It would be the last wallaby I would see on this trip, and indeed to this date, nearly a year later.
I made the short drive to Launceston airport the following morning and boarded the plane back to Sydney. On getting off at the terminal, I smiled at the sight of the actor who plays Alf Stewart in Home & Away waiting in the departure lounge to head off somewhere. I briefly toyed with the idea of badgering him for a photograph, and then decided to leave him in peace, walking away in search of the international terminal and my flight home to New Zealand.
Of the three states I visited, Tasmania was by far my favourite. Granted I had the time to explore more of it than the other two which I’m sure swayed my opinion dramatically, but that one island has everything I could ever wish for: peace and tranquility, hiking, beautiful coastlines, and wildlife galore. Several of the locals I spoke to made a similar comment: that they felt like the luckiest people in the world to call Tasmania their home, but that they also wanted to keep it as a secret as they enjoyed the tranquility without the mass of tourists. As someone who likes my own company and who likes to experience nature without a bus full of tourists bearing down on me, I can totally agree with that sentiment, but at the same time I am keen for people not to overlook this magical place. Like the people that tour New Zealand in 3 weeks and think they’ve seen it all, Tasmania is massively overlooked by the thousands of tourists who visit Australia and think that a trip to the Great Barrier Reef counts as ‘seeing Australia’. It’s definitely worth the detour, just don’t all turn up at once when I’m there…