With the rapidly approaching Junggesellenfest nearly upon me, and properties up and down the street literally fenced off against what I can only imagine will be hoards of rioting yoof, I thought a refreshing break and hearken back to more peaceful times may be in order. And for a relaxing peaceful place, it’s hard to imagine somewhere nicer than Tasmania, or Tassie as it is affectionately known down under.
First off, a brief piece of geography. Tasmania is an island state, about half the size of England (not, I hasten to add, the UK) located 240km off the south coast of Australia. It was a part of Australia until as recently as 10,000 years ago, when the last ice age ended.
That was brief enough I think. Hopefully you have the image of Australia in your mind with the triangle shaped bit of Tasmania floating around at the bottom, separated by the bit of sea called the Bass Strait. And that bit of sea makes quite a lot of difference, because Tasmania feels almost entirely unlike Australia.
When we arrived in Tassie, via a rather exciting vehicle ferry experience, it was summer, which I am reliably informed is about the best time to go because the weather for much of the rest of the time is not really suitable for a life under canvas. And it felt, having come from the Australia mainland, like we had floated back fifty years somehow. Gone were the highways and hustle and bustle of Melbourne, replaced by a land that seemed worryingly similar to Hobbiton. And we weren’t even in New Zealand. Rolling hills, roads barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. Quaint villages dotted the rolling valleys, hand drawn signs on the roads advertised local produce. Corn literally swayed in the wind. If someone had drawn a picture postcard of an idyllic location, then we had somehow stepped into it.
Ok, this probably all seems a little bit over the top. And yes, our first actual encounter with life in Tasmania involved sitting in the McDonalds just next to the ferry port at 6am waiting for the nearest K-Mart to open so we could buy some jumper leads as our magnificent steed’s battery had given up the ghost entirely. But even that experience was pretty cool. The tourist information opened at 7am, and we were given careful advice as to which parts of the country sold the best cheese. The elderflower cheese, we were advised, was not worth trying. Then the K-Mart man took pity on our battery needs, and for no reason at all, gave us twenty dollars off the price of a new battery and then fitted it for free. This friendliness is perhaps not an entirely Tasmanian exclusive fact, Australians all over the place were wonderfully welcoming and friendly, but it certainly started our Tasmanian trip off well.
So what is there to do in this land you wonder? Well, there are two major cities in Tasmania, the northerly Launceston, home of the Boags brewery, and Hobart, home of the Cascade brewery. More on Australian beer here. These are both very pleasant cities, and as Tasmania was one of the first places to be settled (admittedly largely as a penal colony), many of the buildings are genuinely old. Which is quite a rare sight for much of Oz.
But the main draw of Tasmania is not in it’s cities, it’s in its outdoors, and over a third of Tasmania is made of up parks, reserves and world heritage sites. The western and southern parts of the island are almost inaccessible, unless you are into long distance hiking or happen to have a helicopter to hand. Tasmania is the place where you can walk up that most iconic of Australian mountains, Cradle Mountain. The place where you can trek for six days on one of the worlds most celebrated walking tracks, the Overland Track. The place where the rocks are mysteriously red, in the incredibly picturesque Bay of Fires. The place where you can find the second tallest tree in the world (and seriously, a nearly 100 metre high tree is a sight to behold). The place where, unlike the rest of Australia, a 100km drive can take far more than an hour because the roads are designed in a manner that forces you to take your time and take in the views.
There is more. Tasmania just has some absolutely mesmerising scenery. Endless waterfalls. Beaches of white sand and sparkling blue sea and, unfortunately, water that is as cold as if it had come from the Antarctic. Which it most likely did.. Like the incredibly picturesque Wineglass Bay in the Freycinet National Park. It has mountains galore to climb up, and giant cliffs like those at Cape Raoul to peer off. It has it’s own mythical creature, the Tasmanian tiger, sadly hunted to extinction (although rumours of the beast still existing continue to percolate) and it’s own rather scary carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil. Star of it’s own TV show, no less. There are local arts and crafts galore. Homemade stuff practically oozes out of the seams of life here.
I will stop there before I explode with hyperbole or turn this blog into some kind of Tasmanian tourist board brochure. In summary though, Tasmania really is a fabulous place, with something to offer pretty much everyone, and it is therefore one of my absolute highlights of Australia. I would in fact go so far as to say that no trip to Australia is entirely complete without a stop over in Tassie. Just try to go in Summer if you can.