21 Dec The Great Australia Road Trip – Part VIII – Hobart to Launceston (and back) – Tasmania
So this is it, the final section of an epic journey complete! Tasmania was the one state still left to explore, the final frontier of an incredible adventure spanning 14 months and some 30 thousand plus kilometers. It’s the little island off the south coast of mainland Australia I’ve been itching to visit. It has an incredible diversity of landscape, agriculture, history, and natural beauty, not to mention friendly and inviting people. I spent ten days road tripping Tassie and had the perfect send-off adventure after over a year of travels around this wonderful continent. I will write another piece trying to sum up that experience as a whole, however for now I want to focus on The Great Australian Road Trip Part VIII and my amazing trip through Tasmania!
I know I am near the top and can sense the epic view waiting just over that next set of boulders. It actually gives me more energy and I feel the momentum of excitement pushing me to go faster as I hike up the final section of Mt. Amos in Freycinet National Park. The vista that awaits is one of the most amazing landscape shots in all Australia, one of the most magical beaches in a setting unlike anything you have ever seen. It is a part of the world rightfully protected and thus sustaining a natural beauty for all to see. Wineglass Bay is a phenomena of the earth’s evolution and we are so lucky to be able to visit this stunning place. After the last push to the summit, this was what lay before me.
Tasmania, or Tassie (as it’s affectionately referred to), has a certain hype around it. People all across Australia are showing Tassie some serious love and the tourism industry especially has been raving out the little island for years. Lonely Planet named it one of the Top 10 Destinations for 2015, with Hobart winning Top 10 Cities in 2013. The island recently hosted Tourism Australia’s massive Restaurant Australia campaign and is gearing up for the internationally acclaimed Taste of Tasmania festival this Dec. 28th – Jan. 03rd. It has definitely got a buzz and for that reason, not to mention countless others, I went down to Tassie for my last journey in Australia, the final trip after over a year of non-stop travel in such an amazing country. This is my Tasmanian Adventure.
I came to Tassie with ten days to see and do as much as possible. Of course there were certain highlights I wanted to capture but to be honest I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into, which as you would know, when travelling with little to no expectations everyday surprises often make for a pretty awesome trip.
Arriving and departing from Hobart I decided to rent a car, and 2000kms later I’m damn glad I did so. Car is by far the best mode of travel on Tassie. The roads are in good knick and relatively short distances make it easy to traverse the country in a good period of time.
My first day was sent in Hobart visiting the famed MONA Museum and then Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. MONA was an absolute treat. Described as a Disney world for adults, this museum is unlike any museum you could possibly imagine. To begin with, it is one man’s private collection of what he deems desirable art, which is open to the public to enjoy. There many permanent displays as well as changing exhibitions of varying rarity. It is an incredible undertaking of mammoth proportions and adds a truly unique piece of cultural identity to Hobart and its population, not to mention Tasmania.
After many hours wondering MONA I eventually drove 30min outside Hobart to visit the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary (add link), famous for its rehabilitation programs of domestic Tasmanian wildlife, the one of the most famous being the Tasmanian Devil. Bonorong was a complete contrast to MONA and something I really enjoyed. I took their evening tour and was able to visit most of the animals they had on display taking in the story and information on each one individually. It was also a great chace for me to get up close and personal with some Devils, a chance I hadn’t exactly had thus far in my Aussie adventures.
On the second day of my trip I hit the road and first drove 150km east to Lake Pedder and the Gordon Dam. I did this to meet Phil Harris from Aardvark Adventures. Phil runs the highest commercial abseiling business in the southern hemisphere, a 140m self-controlled drop down the face of the massive Gordon Dam, naturally I had to give it a go. It was awesome!!
I had a blast exploring the shores of Lake Pedder (in the remote South West) and after a number of tips from Phil, found the best places to catch sunrise and sunset over the stunning lake.
Also near Lake Pedder is Mt. Field National Park home three iconic waterfalls and a pristine alpine environment that even offers skiing in the wintertime. I visited Mt. Field the morning I left Lake Pedder. It was an awesome experience! I was joined by two local photographers, Teresa and Paul, both great Tassie advocates and very skilled photographers. They took me on a personal photo tour of the park, sharing with me their tips and angles and also showing me parts of the park I most likely would not have seen without them there. If you’re reading this, thanks for that guys! It was an amazing morning!
From Lake Pedder and Mt. Field NP I headed back inland and up the East Coast to the famed Freycinet National Park. I had seen pictures of this place and was very much looking forward to the visit. Specifically because one of the most photographed beaches in all Australia (pretty impressive considering how many beaches Australia has), sits in the central plateaux of the park and has a truly commanding presence. The lookout for Wineglass Bay is a must see location when travelling Tasmania and this is why.
Now don’t be fooled, there are a few different ways to access the beach and the world class view. I took the least travelled route and hiked the three hour return track up the summit of Mt. Amos overlooking the majority of the park. It was amazing!! Well worth the tough scramble climb and a perfect distance for those looking to push themselves just that much further, with a reward that will leave even the loudest speechless.
From Freycinet and Coles Bay I headed north continuing up the famed East Coast of Tasmania. Beach after beach, surf break after surf break, quaint quintessential town after town, I slowly wove my way north and eventually stopped in St. Helens the gateway to Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires conservation area a renowned location for nature lovers and people looking to explore the stunning coastal scenery of north east Tassie. It didn’t disappoint.
I spent two days exploring the coastal region around Bay of Fires and after close to 500 photos it was time to move on. This time I headed slightly inland to visit the highest waterfall in Tasmania, St. Colombo Falls. It was hidden in a wonderful valley named Pyengana (say that ten times fast), with a winding eight kilometer road to access the falls. From the car park it was an easy ten minute walk in through a lush temperate rainforest before exiting at a perfect lookout point to the falls above.
The highway from St. Helens to St. Colombo Falls continues on to Launceston, the second biggest city in Tassie. I decided to detour my itinerary slightly and visit the city in the hopes of catching up with some old friends whom I met travelling in South America. Luckily for me, all four of them were there and we met at the Cataract Gorge just outside the city centre. It was lovely to see them and to talk travels and the amazing lives they lead here in Tassie.
From Launceston it was again time to move south. I got into a serious driving mode and headed 200km directly south, almost as far as you can go in Tassie, to Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula. Port Arthur is a small town with a big history. At one point it was one of the largest penitentiaries in all of ‘the colonies’ housing thousands of UK prisoners from 1833 till up into the mid 1900’s. The ruins of the intricate village are still in impeccably good shape to this day and it is quite the popular tourist destination, with one third of tourists to Tasmania visiting the historic site, and one third of those tourists taking part in the famed, midnight ghost walk tour, which of course I had to experience.
Creepy is an understatement. If you don’t like horror movies I wouldn’t recommend this one. Slowly strolling through the solitary confinement cells where prisoners spent months in complete silence, where even the slightest peep of noise would result in brutal punishment, plus additional months in solitary. Hearing the true stories of men going mentally insane, of people being commissioned to terrorize and literally breakdown offenders, the solitary cells or secondary prison is a wicked (in all sense of the word) place and was a big eye opener from the normal forms of tourism I’m used to.
The rest of the grounds (a part from the solitary cells) are mildly frightening and much more architecturally interesting. It is amazing to see how such a remote and important settlement was established in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. Plus the guides are absolutely fantastic and know so much about the history of the area it is almost as if they lived it themselves. One thing the Brits were very good at was keeping records and logs of their experiences. You can find complete written histories of Port Arthur and many in first person by simply searching the internet. Amazing.
The Tasman is also famous for its southern coastline. It is a rough and tumble place with strong winds and generally crappy weather for most of the year. Thus the southern coastline has been rarely visited, ever, making it one of the most pristine natural landscapes in all Tasmania, with the cliffs looking very much as they did thousands of years ago. With the exception of erosion like landslides, caves, and natural bridges, the cliffs are still a force to be reckoned with and would give any passing mariners a very challenging perspective most likely forcing them to move on into calmer seas.
Luckily for us, now a days there are powerful outboard motors and with four 225 horse power engines on the back of a steel 40 man vessel, you can go just about anywhere. The Tasman Cruise company offers half day coastal tours covering 50km in only three hours. It is a fantastic tour and one I thoroughly enjoyed. From towering Dolomite Cliffs to New Zealand and Aussie Fur Seals, to abandoned lighthouse keepers shacks and dive sites through caves which I’ve never seen the likes of in my life. It was an incredible adventure in itself.
From the Tasman Peninsula I headed directly West back through Hobart and further to Bruny Island and the last stop of my ten day Tassie Adventure. Bruny Island is famous for wine, cheese, whiskey, and sea food. It’s no wonder it’s so popular with locals and tourists alike. Not to mention great walks and hiking tracks, an abundance of wildlife, and a generally laid back easy going country attitude, I was happy to finish my trip on Bruny. Sadly however it was a short stay, I was only there for one afternoon, night and morning, still obviously finding time to catch fresh oysters, taste local wines and cheeses and watch the sunset from a famous lighthouse.
After exploring Bruny Island I drove back to Hobart for one last night catching up with friends and reflecting with travel stories on the kick ass experiences mentioned above. Tasmania truly has a ton to offer the intrepid and I am stoked it was my last journey in over a year of travels throughout Australia. From the epic landscapes to timid wildlife and friendly people, there is so much here left to discover it is no wonder the small island state has gained the hype it has. Tassie is well worth the visit and I wish you all the best on your adventures around the island!