A trip to Tasmania was overdue. Despite visiting Australia half a dozen times – including two years living in Melbourne – we’d never made it across the Bass Straight to Van Diemen’s Land. We soon discovered it’s reputation as an outstanding natural environment with unique wildlife and dramatic history was well deserved. It was a fascinating place.
In Hobart, we found a comfortable apartment on Airbnb, and so we used this as a base to explore Mount Field National Park, Bruny Island and the Tasman Peninsula, as well as the city itself.
The weather cleared on our trip to Bruny island after a grey, foreboding early start.
Hobart is a small hilly town, with a pleasant bay and plenty of historical buildings.
A walking tour of Hobart brought home how the combination of abundant natural resources and almost unlimited free convict labour was the basis for building the settlement, which thrived first on the massive whaling industry of the 1820s, providing whale oil for the Empire, and then on the tin mining boom off the 1870s.
Of course the settlement’s development ‘required’ the forced removal of the indigenous population in a violent, decades long, progrom as traditional kangaroo hunting land was seized and women were abducted by the predominately male settlers and convicts.
At one stage in the ‘Black War’ a bounty was placed on the heads of Palawa Aborigines – £5 for an adult, £2 for a child (equivalent to between £1,400 and £400 today).
The view from the summit is spectacular on a clear day, with clouds scurrying by, and the city beneath you.
Tasmania has the reprehensible reputation as the ‘Roadkill Capital of Australia’ and it’s easy to see why. On many occasions driving around the island we came across roadkill every 50 – 100 metres. Pademelons, wombats, possums, Tasmanian Devils wallabies, kangaroos and other marsupials, all dead on the road. In many areas, particularly near National Parks, there are signs to enforce a 40 -65kmph speed limit at dawn and dusk, but the carnage continues.
From Hobart we also headed down to Port Arthur on the Tasman peninsula. Famous for its penal colony (and more recently the 1996 massacre that resulted in changed Australia gun laws), we also took the opportunity to take a boat tour around its spectacular coast.
and of course home to both Australian and New Zealand fur seals
The penal colony at Port Arthur saw itself as a progressive institution, inspired by social reformer and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, that aimed to ready convicts for release through a system of rewards and brutal flogging.
In time they saw the ineffectiveness of flogging and moved instead to a horrific programme of punishment through sensory deprivation that rivals modern institutions such as Guantanamo Bay.
Moving on from Hobart we headed down to Maria Island (another convict settlement and prison to Young Irelander William Smith O’Brien). It was also the focus of a number of failed settlements over the years and is now a national park and home to many native Tasmanian species.
Walking around the island was blissful and we encountered Cape Barren Geese, pademelons and to our immense excitement wombats!
We soon realised that, without predators on the Island, wombats are everywhere and simply ignore humans!
Conditions were bleak for those who tried to settle here, scratching a subsistence living with no electricity and stream water. The last family to live there, the Howells, came in 1910 and lasted till the 1970s. The three daughters were named Faith, Hope and Charity, though Charity was known to everyone as Bob. Their cottage, lined by kerosene boxes, with newspaper for wallpaper remains, it is a bleak reminder of how hard it would be to survive in this environment.
Maria Island is also famous for the ‘painted cliffs’, visible at low tide, where the sandstone has been penetrated by mineral rich groundwater and then eroded to make fascinating patterns.
From the Maria island ferry we headed down to a hostel in Coles Bay and the next day went hiking through Freycinet NP, with views of Wineglass Bay and a beautiful, secluded walk around the headland with empty beaches and eucalyptus forests.
Natureworld Wildlife Park Bicheno
Our journey around Tasmania continued with a walk around Cape Torville lighthouse and Friendly beaches, more spectacular scenery; and then on to Natureworld – a wildlife park that is part of the national programme to save the endangered Tasmanian Devil from extinction.
We had learned about the history and current situation of the Tasmanian Devil in a museum exhibition in Hobart. Early European settlers dubbed this carnivorous marsupial a ‘Devil’, due to its red ears, bared teeth and noisy eating displays at night. 90% of the species was wiped out through hunting, following the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger. In this genetically weakened state the species has now developed the transmissible ‘Devil Facial Tumour Disease’ which is devastating the remaining population. While Natureworld cares for devils injured on the road, it is also part of the breeding programme that is trying to introduce tumour resistant animals back in to the wild.
We enjoyed our stay here in the Dragonfly Inn, a beautiful heritage building in the process of restoration – great value and a relaxing place to stay.
While there were some lovely historical buildings in Launceston, my favourite spot was an authentic Milk Bar. So many of these places have been turned into coffee shops – I had a meat pie there to celebrate a fantastic Aussie institution!
One of the most beautiful, and popular National Parks in Tasmania, we ended up staying overnight in a cabin on the edge of the park and saw the changing weather and light flowing over this wonderful place. As always walking just a short distance took you away from the crowds, its a spectacular, wild place to walk, and the park is brilliantly maintained.
After a long drive on our way to Queensland, we hadn’t expected a three hour walk to view the falls, but we were glad we did it. Like many trails through the wilderness in Tasmania, this was based on an old mining tram track that carted minerals down through the rainforest. It must have been backbreaking work to carve cuttings and lay tracks through this wilderness.
Now near the end of our roadtrip through Tasmania, we stopped overnight in Strahan, and mostly by chance, ended up walking to Regatta Point and taking a trip on the West Coast Wilderness railway. After all our walking over the previous few weeks, it was great to observe the rainforest, rivers and wilderness through the carriage windows. And a steamtrain is always fun!
Our final day on the West Coast of Tasmania started beautifully with a bright clear day as we walked down the King River estuary beach at Macquarie Heads and on to Ocean Beach. From there we drove along the Lyle highway via Queenstown and the Franklin Gordon National Park via various walks and lookouts until reaching Hamilton. From majestic beach, rivers trickling through rainforests, mountain top views and wilderness walks the day encapsulated everything special about Tasmania. We finished the day in Hamilton, staying in a weatherboard house at sundown.
There are many tales from Tasmania not told in this blog. The astonishing state election, where the result was bought by the gambling lobby in an election that was corrupt by any democratic standards. The intriguing story of the MONA museum and its owner. Random encounters with wildlife. The Greg Duncan Huon Pine carving. And, of course, conversations in hostels and bars along the way.
As with the two most recent blog posts, we are certainly travelling in a different way, through a different landscape than our previous year in SE Asia. We have sent our long suffering dive bag home and our next adventure in New Zealand awaits – travelling light and enjoying the journey.