It is perhaps a little absurd to travel so far – to the other side of the globe – to experience something resembling what we have here at home.
We live in Norway and this large island south of the Australian continent is a bit the same but different. Norwegians will find both the weather and nature familiar. It is when you spy a wallaby or wombat, that you realize you are far from home.
Lonely Planet is cheering for Tasmania as the place to go in 2015, and so do we! It’s a little while since we were there ourselves. We travelled all around Australia visiting every state, so of course we had to see Tasmania as well. From Melbourne we flew down to Hobart, where we picked up a rental car at the airport. Then we drove from South Cape Bay in the south to Launceston in the north.
South Cape Bay:
It took us about two hours to walk from the parking lot of Cockle Creek to the beach of South Cape Bay. Here we found ourselves almost on Tasmania’s (i.e. Australia’s) southernmost point, South East Cape. Next stop the Antarctic.
It can be quite windy here and a lot of surfers seem happy to walk these two hours for a good wave. We saw a few of them carrying their boards. The beach is part of the Southwest National Park and on the way here we also met three girls who were just about to finish the popular South Coast Track – a hike that takes several days. They were tired but happy. It was clearly worth it. Had we had more time and better equipment we would have gladly done the entire South Coast Track ourselves. Nature here is so wild and untouched – really tempting.
Cockle Creek is quiet and calm today but in the 1830s however there were four whaling stations here. It was mainly southern right and sperm whales they were hunting. When whaling ceased, the lumber industry took over.
Tasmania carries a dark history. Not only were the indigenous people pretty much eradicated here – many associate the island, Van Diemen’s Land, with the infamous convict settlement at Port Arthur.
When Abel Tasman first came to the island he named it Anthoonij Van Diemenslandt after his sponsor. Later it was renamed to Van Diemen’s Land by the British, before it finally changed to Tasmania.
Today many people think of the notorious convict settlement that was established on the Tasmanian peninsula in 1830. The peninsula was chosen because it was attached to the rest of the island by only a narrow 100m wide strip at Eaglehawk Neck. Guard dogs were used to prevent escapees getting past and rumor had it that the sea was full of sharks.
Even today, this bottleneck serves as an advantage. Tasmania has some little devils who unfortunately suffer a tragic fate. A contagious cancer gives these animals tumors on their faces, which blinds them and leaves them unable eat. So they simply starve to death. When the cancer is visible, it is too late and within a few months they die. South of Eaglehawk Neck the devils have so far escaped the cancer and the authorities hope to keep it that way.
It is said that approximately 12,500 people were imprisoned here between 1830 and 1877. The hardest criminals from England, Ireland and Australia were sent here. It was believed that the inmates would reflect on their actions and improve their behavior by being placed in total isolation. Many of them became insane by this treatment.
Today Port Arthur is a beautiful park with a large tourist center. You will find a café, souvenir shop and information center here. When you pay the entrance fee, you are given a card from a deck (such as the eight of spades for example) and with the help of this you can follow one particular prisoner through the exhibition downstairs. Jeanette’s card was of Patrick Murphy, an 18-year-old from Liverpool who had stolen a picture. Joe got the king of hearts and could see that his prisoner, named William Moore, was sent to Port Arthur for stealing tobacco. While Williams’ punishment was to work in the blacksmiths, Murphy was in “the chain gang.”
When Hobart born Mary Donaldson was to marry Danish Prince Frederik, they made a TV program about her and this was how we learned about Wineglass Bay. When googling the beach we could read that it is located in Freycinet National Park, and that there is a 45 minutes walk from the parking lot before reaching the beach. Between the parking and the beach there are a couple of (small) mountains. Great! This would also mean that the beach wouldn’t be full of bars, cafes or souvenir shops. Or people, for that matter.
It was clearly worth the hike. Wineglass Bay is probably one of the most beautiful beaches we have visited. Looking from above the beach, seeing the perfect curve, one understands why Wineglass Bay got its name.
It was full concentration when we climbed here. Cradle Mountain seemed to be a bunch of giant stones. You do not need ropes, but it helps being supple and having a flexible body. Not to mention wear comfortable shoes.
Cradle Mountain in Lake St.Clair National Park offers plenty of walks. This is also where many start the popular 80.5 km Overland Track (also on our bucket list).
The weather showed its best side with hot sun and blue sky. We could not have been luckier. When we parked the car, I looked at the clock and wished we had arrived a little earlier. According to the tourist information the hike up the mountain would take 3-4 hours one way. I didn’t like the idea of having to climb down from there in the dark. As usual Joe thought we’d be faster than that, so we filled our water bottles, picked up our bags, registered in the log book and set off.
The first hour was a steady climb, over logs and rocks and a stream. Just before the real ascent began there was a cabin where we took a break. We thought we could see the top of Cradle Mountain and half an hour later the fun began. When we finally arrived at where we thought the top was, it turned out that it had been hidden from us. We had to walk down a little and then up again towards the true summit. We trod carefully in the snow, knowing it was hiding large stones. We didn’t want to risk stepping into a crevasse. The last overhang was almost vertical and we took it slow and focused. It helped to push each other or grab each other to ascend.
Finally there, we were 1545 meters above sea level. The view was excellent. We had a quick snack and photo session before heading down again. One thing was to climb up, but it was at least as great a challenge to come down again. We made it and 5 1/2 hours later we sat in the car again.
From left to right 1: In Tasmania we were introduced to the island’s own cider, Mercury. Those who follow Soletraveller know that we love a good dry cider. 2: On our trip to the Tavern Bar & Bistro, we saw several wombats along the way.
3: Like honey? Pop by the village ‘Chudleigh’ and have a taste of honey with chocolate or chili flavor!
Ten minutes past closing hour, that same evening, we found a YHA which is part of Cradle Mt. Tourist Park. We knocked on the door and heard voices within. A man opened the door and we gave him our best smile, asking nicely if they had accommodation available.
‘Well you gotta ask the missy inside’, he said, and let us in.
A smiling lady said yes, of course there were vacant rooms. We could even get a 4-bed hut to ourselves. Quite fortunate as we both, not to mention our clothes, were rather smelly after the hike.
She recommended Cradle Mountain Lodge and their Tavern Bar & Bistro. ‘It has inexpensive and tasty food’ we were told. She was right. When we opened the door to the tavern, we were greeted by a cozy and relaxed atmosphere. Flames dancing in the fireplace and lovely food odors from the kitchen. Soon we enjoyed salmon with mashed potatoes and vegetables and a bottle of white wine. While we ate, we discussed the painting that hung over the bar. A motif of the Tasmanian tiger, believed to have become extinct in the 1930s. It occasionally comes up in stories that someone has observed one, even today.
We were lucky our stay here coincided with the popular city ‘Salamanca Market’ down by the docks. The market is a local attraction and here you’ll find everything from pottery, wood work, sunglasses, fruits and vegetables, music, entertainment and much more.
We took a trip up Cataract Gorge to the First Basin. This is one of the city’s beautiful attractions and a popular place to bathe. There was a restaurant here, a lovely gazebo from older days and a well kept lawn where peacocks strutted around. We could clearly imagine noble ladies in equally distinguished clothes under parasols strolling on the grass in days gone by.
We loved Tasmania! Although the weather in the west was grey and wet this is the part we will probably explore should we come back here. With all the proper clothing we have acquired over the last few years, there clearly is no such thing as bad weather for us. Should we hunger for sun and beach life, we can always turn our noses toward the excellent Wineglass Bay.