I really am in love with Tassie (as the Aussies call it…). There are many reasons why my love for this beautiful island could have developed so quickly. It could be the animals, the untouched wilderness, the incredibly friendly locals, or a capital city smaller than some suburbs. After I tell you abut the time I spent there, I think you just might fall in love with it too!
I arrived into Hobart and immediately noticed the chill in the air. I had been warned! My favorite Aussie Craig had warned me, “Don’t go to Tassie in winter…it’s really cold there.” I have never listened to good advice in the past, so why start now? I did my best to shrug off my concern and got settled into a charming hostel called The Pickled Frog. The lobby smelled of mulled wine and fire was crackling away in the fireplaces. After my time in Sydney, a small comfortable hostel was just what I needed. I threw my stuff down in my room and went back to the lobby for a couple glasses of the delicious mulled wine and conversation. I immediately discovered how much friendlier it was here in Tassie as I chatted with a couple of locals and a few visitors about what there was to do around the island.
The next morning I set out on the town to get my bearings. After walking around the city for a couple hours and working out the bus system I made my way up to the famous Cascade brewery. In 1824 Charles Degreaves established the Cascade Brewery near the Cascade Falls in the foothills of Mount Wellington. By 1832, the brewery outgrew its original building. Degreaves relocated the brewery to the site of an old sawmill, slightly further upstream along the Hobart Rivulet, and a further three storeys were added to the main building in 1927, creating the iconic structure that survives to this day. The Brewery is still in operation and remains Australia’s longest continually operating brewery.
I had lunch and a few beers before meeting up with a small group for a very different kind of tour where I got my first dose of Tasmanian history. Many of you know, but some of you may not, about Tassie’s convict history. I will take a minute to give you the basics of it to help you understand a lot of the touring I did around Hobart.
The first European settlement in the Hobart area began in 1803 as a penal colony and defensive outpost at Risdon Cove on the eastern shores of the Derwent River, amid British concerns over the presence of French explorers in the South Pacific. The convicts just kept coming and like many of Australia’s cities, it became part penal colony that evolved into a regular colony when many of the convicts could not afford passage home the the UK once released.
By 1817, an increasing number of female convicts were arriving in Hobart town, and there was not enough room to keep them in the first Hobart Town gaol. Permission was granted in 1821 by NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie for the construction of a separate gaol for female convicts. The increase in female convicts was not by chance…it was pure design. The Brits knew that if it was going to be a successful colony they needed to balance out the ratios of women to men. At one point it was over a 100 men for 1 woman. The solution was to start sentencing young, healthy women in the UK to serve time in Van Diemens Land (the penal colony’s original name) for even minor crimes so they could help establish the colony. More on that in a minute!
By the 1820s, the expansion of European settlements throughout the island, and massive growth in pastoralism came at the expense of the Aborigines, who began to resist the intruders. Clashes became more frequent, and tit-for-tat killings became common. Although exact numbers for the death toll were not recorded, estimates vary between 5–9,000. Towards the end of the 1820s the conflict had become so bad that martial law was declared, and the conflict soon grew into the Black War.
By 1831, there were only 200 natives left. Governor George Arthur’s attempts to capture and resettle them failed with his disastrous “Black Line” policy. George Augustus Robinson’s efforts to resettle them at Flinders Island resulted in the extermination of all the full-blooded native peoples by introduced European diseases such as smallpox, influenza and pneumonia. By 1847 there were only 44 native Tasmanians left, and the last full-blooded Aborigine, Trugannini, died in 1876. Today their race primarily survives in mixed blood descendants of the women enslaved by Bass Strait whalers and sealers. A tragic history that remains a sensitive subject throughout Australia.
So the tour that afternoon was a live performance of “Louisa’s Story” which is based on an actual woman who found herself in the aforementioned female gaol. Louisa was an Irish woman living in London who was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. When she stood before the magistrate, she was sentenced to 7 years in Tasmania (then called Van Dieman’s Land) at the newly constructed Cascade Female Factory. Two actors walked us through the area and told the story of her journey to Tasmania by ship, and her miserable imprisonment after being torn from her family thousands of miles away. As we walked around the ground and remaining walls of the Female Factory I got shivers up my spine thinking about the conditions. It’s a steep price to pay for a loaf of bread…
After that sobering lesson, I wanted to get out of the city and took a tour to Bruny Island. Bruny Island is a wilderness island abut an hour outside of Hobart. The tour started with a ferry over to Bruny Island where we were able to see the beautiful coastline. We then arrived on the island and took a drive over to a much smaller pier nearby. The only way to get to certain parts of the island is by boat, which is exactly what I jumped onto!
We were geared up with a long waterproof coat, warm gloves and a wool beanie before we climbed into a bright yellow boat. Bruny Island is better explained in pictures, but I was happy as a clam as we cruised around the island’s magnificent rock cliffs and structures. Our day concluded with a warm bus ride over to an area where a group of albino wallabies live. Okay…wallabies are cute, but albino wallabies are really cute! It was a very chilly but fulfilling day and I spent my evening back at the hostel with some new friends, mulled wine, and a seat by the fire.
The next day I took a day tour out to Port Arthur, one of the most intact penal colonies in Australia. Before we went over to Port Arthur we made a stop at an animal sanctuary where I met my first TASMANIAN DEVIL!!! I saw lots of Kangaroos and Wallabies, but the Tassie Devils were the highlight. They actually make that crazy sound when they argue! Crazy little beasts! I will try to post a good video of them, it was adorable!
After spending time with the wildlife, we made our way down the road to Port Arthur. Port Arthur became the site of a major penal colony for male convicts from 1833, a place of secondary punishment for re-offenders, in the 19th century era of convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. It very quickly gained a reputation as a “hell on earth”. At its peak in the late 1840s, Port Arthur became a near self-sufficient settlement, driven by the labour of its tormented inmates. Ultimately, after a couple of decades of decline in the 1850s and 1860s, Port Arthur finally ended its days as a penal settlement in 1877.
We took a self-guided tour around Port Arthur and learned about the horrible conditions and learned the stories behind several convicts. By today’s standards, the crimes many of the people committed were paltry, but yet they were given sentences of 7, 14, or 21 years. Shockingly horrible to think about these men (and women) living out their days in a strange and harsh land so far from home. I won’t bring you down with the gory details. To end on a high note…TASMANIAN DEVILS!!!!
The next day I started my road trip by walking over to the car rental place with all my gear to pick up my camper van. It was a minivan that had been converted with a pull out bed and cooking area out the back. I jumped right in and started up the coast for Freycinet National Park. I arrived in time to catch a quick hike up to a lighthouse lookout and then take the iconic trip to view Wineglass Bay. It was cold, but the hikes were pretty much straight up the hills, so the cool air made the hiking a bit easier.
I went over to my campground only to discover that I was the only person there. Okay, I will grant you that it is the middle of winter and camping isn’t common, but seriously, nobody there? I thought I would enjoy the privacy of it, but honestly it was a little creepy when the possums and other nocturnal creatures started to roam around the campground at dusk.
I woke up early and drove a little further up the coast to a small town called Bicheno. Bicheno is famous for penguins, so I booked myself on a tour, got a campsite arranged, and went on a mini road trip around the area for the day. I drove up over a winding but beautiful road called Elephant Pass to a small town called St. Marys. On the way through the pass I stopped at Elephant Pass Pancakes for a delicious crepe for lunch.
Not much was going on in the town so I made my way over to Ironhouse Brewery for a few beers. They had a honey porter that was heavenly! I had a couple beers and then went back to Bicheno to meet up at dusk for the penguin tour.
We drove out to the nesting areas of the penguins and sat quietly on the beach waiting for them to come out of the water to burrow for the night. They were Fairy Penguins, and really little and cute. It was great to see them in the wild and I was giddy with delight as they wove through the crowd to get to the burrows. No photography allowed because they don’t have eyelids, so the pictures I have were provided by the conservation company.
I got up early the next morning and made a stop at some nearby caves about which I overheard a few people talking and I was glad I made the detour! Not only did I see a beautiful rainbow on my way there, the tour of the caves was educational and very beautiful.
One thing I could not capture on film is what happened when she turned out the lights in the cave. It was pitch black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But once my eyes adjusted and I looked up at the ceiling of the cave I could start to make out small points of light. As my eyes adjusted further, it looked like the night sky unfolded above me with billions of stars. The phenomenon is caused by small insects that thrive in the dark cave environment. They are called glow worms by most people, though they are not worms, and are actually the larval stage of an insect. They develop in the darkness of caves so the glowing helps them to identify each other in the pitch black environment. Really worth a short detour!
The nice part about being on a solo road trip is that I could stop at all the small roadside attractions along the way. Thats how I found myself at a honey farm, a cheese factory, and a cherry plantation all in one afternoon. I just skipped lunch altogether after honey, cheese, and cherry tastings! It was getting late and I had to spend some time tracking down a campground that was open. A few in the area were closed for the winter. I finally found one in Devonport where I settled in, cooked dinner, and planned my path for the next day.
The next day I woke up excited to get back on the road because I was headed to Cradle Mountain National Park. The drive alone was beautiful and i made a quick stop at a waterfall not far off the highway. Another worthwhile detour!
When I arrived at the National Park I was sad to find a torrential downpour. Knowing I don’t actually melt when wet, I decided to tough it out and took a couple of short hikes near the entrance of the park. It was quite cold, so I decided that sleeping in the back of the van would not be my best option and got a cabin for the night. I was glad I did! It rained buckets and the wind howled through the trees all night. I woke up early and hesitated thinking about the storm the night before. I had planned to hike all day and rains Iike that are a bit of a deterrent.
I made my way to the park and right as I arrived at the trailhead parking lot, the rain stopped. The clouds cleared out and gave me my first glimpse of the gorgeous Cradle Mountain. I grabbed my jacket and made my way onto the trail – the first person of the day! It quickly became a beautiful day with clear skies, and bright sun. The animals shared my joy over the clearing skies as they ran across my pathway and the birds chirped and flitted about the tree tops. I had a bit of a Snow White moment when I stopped to take a picture and a bird landed gently on my arm. He just stared at me for a moment then flew off to join his other feathered friends.
The trail was just the right amount of challenge combined with the relaxation of nature as it flanked the shores of Dove Lake and then began to climb past beautiful waterfalls. I didn’t see another soul for hours and only when I got down to the lake again did I remember that I wasn’t the only person on the planet. I knew I had to get back on the road, but I was saddened to leave the little slice of the world that I owned, if only for a few hours.
I spent the rest of the day making my way to Strahan on the West coast of Tassie where I was spending the next couple of days. It was slightly more lively than many other towns I had passed through, so I went down to the pub in town for a pint and a quick lesson on Australian Rules football from a local. That will be important down the road… After my strenuous morning and a couple of pints, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I had a relaxing and fun day planned the following morning. I was taking a ride on the famous West Coast Wilderness Railway that runs from Queenstown to Strahan. We loaded up on a bus to Queenstown and were directed over to a historic looking platform where we would be boarding the train for our four hour ride. When they refinished the train cars, they did a great job. The wood and metal work made it feel cosy for our ride through the chilly mountains. They provided us with wool lined flannel blankets for extra coziness!
Our first stop was in Lynchford where we were given a chance to pan for gold and visit a small museum at the station. The train originally served the mines in the area but was recommissioned as a tourist train after most of the mining ceased to utilize the train. We made another stop in a small town (well..it WAS a town, now it’s just a train station) by the name of Dubbil Barril. We took a quick walk through the surrounding rain forest and then hopped on the train for one last stop in Rinadena. Overall, it was a very relaxing and enjoyable day. I walked back into town and called it a night.
The next day was spent driving for the most part. Now that I had explored the east, north, and west of Tassie, I had to start heading back to Hobart in the southeast to conclude my road trip. I had to turn the camper in early the next morning, so I stayed in the outskirts of Hobart and took the afternoon exploring a museum called MONA (Museum of Old and New Art).
What was intriguing and unique about this art museum was what the curator had done with the individual works of art. Works were gathered together in small rooms or areas to create a theme of the room. There would be centuries old art adjacent to works created last year. The contrast of old and new styles was a nice way to highlight how themes in art have and haven’t evolved. There were statement pieces, beautiful paintings, bizarre displays, and ancient artifacts. I spent several hours wandering around until I decided to head back to the camper to get packed up.
I dropped off the camper the next morning and was a little saddened to be closing that chapter of my travels. However, I have yet to run out of enjoyment and appreciation for all the new things I am seeing, so I am sure there is more to come as I continue my journey. But I believe my love for Tassie will always remain. The animals that touched my heart and the stretch of wilderness I was able to call my own for a few hours made my trip memorable. So with an imaginary hug of the entire island, I made my way back to the mainland of Australia for my next city to explore – Melbourne!
Until next time…Cheers!