Week 15: Tasmania

Hello! I’m still in Australia and am still happy I’m here. In light of current events, I don’t think we could have planned this trip any better.  Taylor and I decided we each needed a holiday from our holiday, so we booked a week in Tasmania, from Friday, 21 February to Sunday, 1 March.  We booked a seven day tour with Jump Tours because I didn’t want to plan the week out, and between two of us the costs would have likely been much higher.  But if you’re thinking of visiting Tasmania in the (very distant) future, I would recommend renting a car and doing it at your own pace.  A refresher about Taylor: we met our first day in Australia before the WTT tour, and three weeks later solidified our friendship. She’s been my one consistent friend my entire time here, so to celebrate her 23rd birthday, we jetted off to Tassie!

Day 1 – Friday, 21 February – Hobart

Taylor came to my house, we went for brunch, and then headed to the Melbourne Airport.  We arrived in plenty of time, and in one of the easiest airports I’ve ever been to, waited over an hour to board. Being the budget travelers that we are, we opted for only carry-on luggage, and per the airline requirements, we could each have one bag and one personal item, totaling no more than 7 kg. That’s about 15 pounds, which is practically as much as my purse weighs on a daily basis, and was certainly far less than either of my bags weighed. Fortunately, we waited long enough for the attendant weighing the bags to wander off to find something equally important to do, and dodged the bullet of paying additional fees. And then we were on our way! The flight is less than an hour and a half, so we touched down in Hobart in the early afternoon.

I hadn’t given any thought to how we’d get from the airport to the hostel, but rightly assumed that Uber would be available. However, I spotted a bus with ‘JUMP’ printed on the side, and again assuming that there was only one Jump Tour company on the island, sweet talked a free ride to the hostel. The YHA Hobart lived up to the positive reputation of any other YHA, providing all of the essentials in above average quality. We chatted with the others in the room, and them went off to find dinner at the Hobart Twilight Market in Franklin Square. This was clearly the place to be on a Friday night, and once we got paella from one of the booths, we settled on the grass to enjoy the live music and scenery until it got too cold.

Day 2 – Saturday, 22 February – Bruny Island

Saturday morning we packed up all of our bags, grabbed a quick breakfast from what can only be described as a Panera knock-off, and then waited 30 minutes longer than expected for a mini van to whip up to the curb, and bark ‘Bruny?’ from inside. After our appropriate reaction of general confusion, it did click that the itinerary had mentioned Bruny Island for one of the days, but this entire day is why I would recommend that you make your own tour of Tassie. We piled into the car, and drove on to two other hostels to pick up the five remaining people who would be joining us for the day. Only four of us from today would continue on for the entire seven days together. We eventually learned that our driver was named Alex, and he was essentially leading a one-day tour of Bruny Island, to the south of Hobart.

We drove for over an hour towards Oyster Cove, stopping at a different Panera to buy lunch and snacks for the afternoon. We waited about twenty minutes for the ferry to arrive, then drove on and sailed for another twenty or so minutes. From there we drove over an hour to Adventure Bay, to do the Fluted Cape hike. We got to walk along the beach and then wound our way up along the edge of the mountain. About half way up, Alex asked the group if we would prefer to head back down, or complete the loop to the top, which wouldn’t take much time and would be relatively easy. It seemed silly to stop now, so we all agreed to continue. Turns out none of us were dressed or prepared for the substantially harder remainder of the hike, which did yield nice views, but still wasn’t what we had in mind when we heard ‘easy’.

From there we drove back the way we came, to Neck Lookout, to again enjoy an amazing view and eat our lunch. After thirty minutes, we were back in the car to Bruny Island Cheese, to enjoy a platter of delicious cheeses, fresh bread, and surprisingly likable pickled zucchini. If you go to Bruny, they are evidently known for their oysters, but we didn’t get to indulge. Our time at the cheese tasting was cut short beause we needed to catch the last ferry. Not the last ferry of the day, mind you, but the last one Alex could catch because he had to be back in town to prepare for his DJ set that evening. Yes, really.

After a short drive, another ferry ride, and then a longer drive, we arrived back in Hobart at Tassie Backpackers, inside of the Brunswick Hotel. Alex parked and exited, as if to suggest that we should all do the same. However, none of us knew if we were staying here, what the plan was for the following day, let alone the remainder of the week. After polite questioning that yielded no answers, we asked if he might get his boss on the line and get some answers. They chatted, and I asked Alex if he could confirm that we were staying the night here. That was a bit much for him to handle, so instead he did what any professional would do and thrust the cell phone into my hand. Mid laugh of disbelief, I asked the person on the other end the same question, as well as what time we could expect to depart in the morning, and what the next six days looked like. Satisfied with those answers, I hung up, threw the phone at Alex, and briefed the rest of the group on what the plan was. I’m still waiting on my paycheck.

Yes, we would be staying here for the next two nights, we would need only a day bag for the morning, which would be another one-day tour, followed by the five day tour of the island. All of us who had been on the tour today would also be on the tour tomorrow, except one who had planned to depart and one who ended up not showing. It seems that this rotation of two one-day tours and one five-day tour was in constant rotation, so it turned out that we got the best end of the deal, starting a bit rough but finishing on a high note. Four of us went for an overpriced but authentically local dinner, and ended the evening at the Hope and Anchor Tavern, the oldest pub in Tasmania.

Day 3 – Sunday, 23 February – Richmond and Port Arthur

After the underwhelming first day of the tour, there was only room for improvement on the second. We were picked up promptly on time (already doing better than yesterday), by Mark and his Port Arthur van. This was again to be a one-day tour of the greater Hobart area, but in contrast, Mark ran regular tours and was an endless resource of useful information. Five of us from the day before were joined by five others, a mix of ages and nationalities.

As we drove, Mark had a series of video clips and history to share with us, only some of which I made a note of. We stopped at Ridson Cove, also known as piyura kitana, which was the site where Lt John Bowen established the first British settlement in 1803. He brought with him 48 Brits and Irish, half of whom were prisoners, as was the norm for Europeans to dump their convicts in Australia. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t go well. In 1995, the land was given back to the Aboriginal elders, and driving past it now, you’d never guess that anyone chose to land there.

Our first stop to walk around was Richmond, the oldest town, with the oldest bridge, oldest church, and oldest toilets in Tasmania. This became a running joke. What was once one of the busiest towns in Tas, it is now a charming colonial town that one might retire in. We continued on through Sorell and Dunalley, to Eaglehawk Neck, and then to Taranna for chocolate tasting at Federation Chocolate. It was scrumptious. Up next was the main event of the day, Port Arthur Historic Site. We spent about four hours touring the grounds of what was formerly a convict settlement, and one of Australia’s most significant heritage sites. This was a massive facility, beautifully constructed by prisoners in the early-to-mid 1800s, for whom the quote at the entrance accurately describes as “ordinary men who committed ordinary crimes, with extraordinary punishment”.

On the way back to Hobart, we stopped at the Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen viewpoints, taking in more of the natural beauty of Tassie. Some more tidbits of history I picked up throughout the day: Abel Tasman was the first European to land on the island, which he declared Van Diemen’s Land after the governor of the Dutch East Indies in 1642. It was established as a penal colony, and where 40% of all convicts were sent. Moving into modern times, and trying to make a better name for itself, the name was changed to Tasmania in 1856, and the final penal settlement, at Port Arthur, was closed in 1877. This was a day packed with history and sights, and was one of my favorites during the week.

These two one-day tours had the same premise, as far as lots of driving to see a small part of Tas. While the first day was more about the views, the second was more about the destinations, and while the first was more active, I much preferred the company and the activities of the second. If you are staying a few days in Hobart, I would recommend Bruny Island, Richmond, and Port Arthur.

Day 4 – Monday, 24 February – Mt Field and Lake St Clair

Up bright and early, this was the first of our five-day tour of the island. Chris rolled up with the Jump bus, and twenty of us were off on our adventure. Again, we were an eclectic mix, young Europeans with older Australian couples, but it was a fun group. I’ve lucked out with the tours I’ve done, and I had good fun with almost everybody on this trip. Within a few hours in the bus, we’d formed a little squad, two girls and two boys, JB and JW. We drove northwest to Mt Field National Park, for a little stroll to Russell Falls. I had a smoked salmon toastie for lunch, and on we went to Lake St Clair, the deepest lake in Australia at 167 meters. We hiked out to it, and it was nice, but arguably not any nicer than the shallowest lake in Australia. We continued west, stopping in Queenstown, an old mining town that looked frozen in time, to gather food and beverage supplies, and then on to Tullah for the night. We stayed in a house on the side of the highway, right across the street from what appeared to be the only bar for miles, and we had it to ourselves.

Day 5 – Tuesday, 25 February – Montezuma Falls and Henty Dunes

We got to sleep in a little, drove fifteen minutes to Rosebery to grab some breakfast, and then further west to Montezuma Falls. This was a three hour round trip hike, with the waterfalls as the main attraction. The path was lined with wooden railroad ties, as this used to be the area leased to the Montezuma Silver Mining Company. As you walk, you can see the sharp edges where dynamite was used to create the path for the rail. We drove southwest, through more lonely towns, and stopped for lunch in Strahan on the bay. We stayed for an hour, and then drove north to Henty Dunes. This national reserve stretches 15 km along the west coast, and after scrambling up a steep, calf-burning dune, we reached the top of the white sand cliff. So much sand with such a view was irresistible. I made sand angels while others practiced their gymnastics. We shared lots of laughs on this trip, many of which were here. I’m still finding sand in my leggings six weeks later. We stopped for more food and beverage in Zeehan, and then were back in Tullah for the night. The pub was closed, so instead we stayed in and played Never Have I Ever, which is a great way to learn too much about people you’ve only known for two days.

Day 6 – Wednesday, 26 February – Cradle Mountain and Taylor’s Birthday!

Over the past two days, I’d been gathering birthday supplies. Balloons, chocolate, cake, party poppers, the works. Our start time was earlier than usual, so I was up at 5:30 to decorate the bus. I had big aspirations for what I could get done in 30 minutes, and while I couldn’t manage a balloon arch throughout the bus, I was still able to decorate Taylor’s seat and lay out her presents. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I did pretty well.

We drove about an hour east to Cradle Mountain National Park. What was an otherwise perfect week of weather, this morning it was absolutely chucking it down with the most piercing, icy rain I’ve ever experienced. Our original plan had been to explore for a few hours and soak up nature. Instead, five of us decided to venture off of the bus, run to the closest view point, and run back to the warm bus. Freezing and soaking wet, we spent the next hour at the visitor center with adjoining art gallery. Really the only highlight of Cradle Mountain on this day was that while we were suffering in the rain, we ran across another group, five college kids from the US. Had we not happened to be in that same miserable spot, we wouldn’t have met, and unbeknownst to us at the time, we would continue to bump into them across the state for the next four days.

We continued an hour east to Sheffield for lunch. Another small, adorable town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it is known for its murals. The next stop was more food at 41 South Tasmania, sampling their salmon and ginseng, followed by honey tasting at The Beehive in Exeter. Before reaching Launceston, where we would stay for the evening, we had to say some goodbyes to those who were finishing the tour here. As I mentioned, Jump had their tours in constant rotations, so depending if you were doing a three, five, or seven day tour, you had different starting and finishing locations at different points in the week. I was especially sad to see LR and JD leave.

Our first stop in Launceston was the gorgeous Cataract Gorge right in the middle of town, full of trails, parks, swings, a chair lift, lake, and a swimming pool. Arriving at Launceston Backpackers, my favorite accommodation of the trip, by the mid-afternoon allowed us plenty of time to freshen up and prepare for a proper celebration of Taylor’s birthday. We rallied everyone we could, including Chris the tour guide, and headed to the best bar around, The Irish. For small-town Tassie, this proved to be a surprisingly good time, and who did we see but our new American friends from earlier that day. We closed that down and headed to the only place in town open after 11 PM, closed that down, and headed to the only late-night pizza place. At this point we were down to our core four, chatting away on the walk back to the hostel, rounding out a pretty great day.

Day 7 – Thursday, 27 February – Bay of Fires

Up bright and early, we were as chipper as could be…or not. It was hangover central on that bus, but fortunately we had lots of driving and minimal activity for the day. JW had unfortunately departed, but we gained L, so we were back to a group of four. We drove to Legerwood, home of the Carved Memorial Trees, a memorial to the fallen soldiers of World War I, specifically the seven from that town, carved meticulously by chainsaw into existing trees.

The next destination was Pyengana Dairy Company, to load up on cheese and every other dairy product. We continued east, all the way to the coast, to Bay of Fires. This is beautiful white sand with a backdrop of red rock formations to climb over for a complete view of the bay. Had it been a little bit warmer I would have jumped right in, but soaking up the sun on the rocks, and running my toes through the sand was good enough for me. Two hours south and we arrived in Bicheno. We went out to dinner in town, where I had the saltiest pizza imaginable, and again bumped into our new American friends at the same restaurant. This island is small, but it seemed to be getting smaller by the day.

Day 8 – Friday, 28 February – Wineglass Bay

Our final day of the trip was a good one. I wouldn’t say my favorite over all, but certainly my favorite destination. We got to sleep in and explore Bicheno, which didn’t take long, and then we drove an hour south to Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park. Swimsuit on even before the hike started, I wasn’t leaving Tas without jumping in the water. The hike to the main viewpoint is relatively easy, maybe a 30-45 minute walk, slightly uphill, and from there you can take in crystal clear views of the bay. But to get the most out of your trip, you then climb down the mountain on steep stairs for another 30 minutes to the beach. Because it’s a bit strenuous to reach, there was hardly anyone there, especially considering it was the nicest, clearest beach I’ve ever been on. You know who was there though, our new American friends. Within seconds I dove right in, not caring for a minute how cold it was. It was even better in the water than on the sand, with no kelp, no fish, just clear water for days. See my Instagram for proof of Potter in the water.

I wish we could have spent the entire day there, but we were on a schedule, so we climbed back up the mountain, which took considerably more time than on the way down, and then drove another hour south to Kate’s Berry Farm in Swansea for some fresh ice cream. I could have skipped this stop for another hour at the beach, but c‘est la vie. I can always come back. We ended the day, and the tour, with a two hour ride back to Hobart. It felt funny to be dropped back in a city, after spending a week in small towns with the same group of people. This trip felt similar to my first week in Oz, with so much activity packed in, and fast friendships formed with people you may never see again, that I’ll consider it one of my favorite memories from my time in Australia.

Our little clique finished the night at an amazing bar in the middle of Hobart, In the Hanging Garden, and got to say our final farewell to our American friends, who again, we never made any plans to meet, but of all the bars in town, marked our fifth and final coincidental rendezvous of the trip.

Day 9 – Saturday, 29 February – Hobart

Leap Day really feels like you’ve got a bonus day, so we made the most of it. Saturday’s in Hobart mean the Salamanca Market, a local farmers market that stretches for blocks down near the water. We got breakfast, and I bought some little mementos to remember the week by. The number one most recommended sight to see in Hobart was the MONA museum, so we booked tickets for the entire afternoon. You can access it via a short ferry ride up the River Derwent, which is an experience in and of itself. The museum was created by eccentric David Walsh, who describes the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. So yeah, it was an experience. We lucked out, because the museum had originally been closed for a private event, but the event was cancelled, and we still got to enjoy the live music, drinks, and view once we’d finished inside. Back in town for dinner with JB, we had our final meal at the pub around the corner, and ice cream for dessert.

Day 10 – Sunday, 1 March – Back to Melbourne

We had booked an early flight, but had one final activity to do before departing. Taylor and I headed down to the marina, to set off some festive party poppers to commemorate her birthday and the trip. We called an Uber for the 30 minute drive to the airport, and were back in Melbourne in each of our houses before 11 AM.

I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Tasmania, and I absolutely want to return. From an American perspective, I would say it’s like a mix of Hawaiian beaches on a Pacific Northwest backdrop. Each Australian state has different slogans on their license plates. In TAS, I saw Explore the Possibilities and Your Natural State, which I don’t think could have more perfectly described what I saw. I suspect that it is often the forgotten island south of Melbourne, for many people I met who had lived in Victoria had never been. If you find yourself planning a trip to Australia, I insist that you spend at least a week in Tasmania.

If you want to watch how our shenanigans unfolded over the ten days, check out this video Taylor made.