A May 2002 trip
to Tasmania by Ozzy-Dave
Quote: The Great Southern Land has a Great Southern Island. Tasmania is Australia’s island state, as geographically diverse and unspoilt as any settled land. Just 500,000 people share a space the size of Ireland, so there’s plenty of room to explore. Our trip south mixes colonial history with spectacular natural wonders.
But that’s only a prelude to the real drawcards; rainforest giants, coastal wonders, heritage villages and the island’s most (in)famous attraction. And who could forget Warner Brothers’ most ferocious cartoon character:
1. Land of the Giants; walk among the world’s tallest flowering plants and discover rainforest waterfalls in Mount Field National Park.
2. There’s No Escape; Port Arthur is Tasmania’s most popular attraction and Australia’s premier historic site - the most infamous escape-proof prison of the 19th century.
3. Sky Walking; the cliff tops of the Tasman Peninsula are the highest in Australia, providing spectacular views and exciting natural attractions.
4. Devil of a Time; compare the cartoon villain with the real deal when you meet the Tasmanian Devil, then get personal with some talented feathered friends at the best wildlife refuge on the island.
5. Georgian Splendour; wind the clock back to the 1800s on a journey through Australia’s finest Georgian village.
This is Chapter Four in a series dedicated to exploring this unique island. It follows the Wild West journal and can be read in isolation or as a continuing story. The regional map provided here illustrates the area visited by this journal and each destination covered by the entries is identified in BLUE.
Enjoy the virtual tour …
HOW TO GET THERE: Fly to Hobart from any Australian capital or catch the overnight ferry from Melbourne to Devonport, an hour northwest of Launceston. It’s then a comfortable three-hour drive south along Highway One to Hobart.
ACCOMMODATION: Bed & Breakfast or self catering accommodation offers the best value - usually less than A for a comfortable double. Hotels (pubs), some of them of heritage significance, are similarly priced, then there are grand, historic houses and modern hotel/motels for A-200. Book ahead to get your choice in peak season, but at other times of the year prices are negotiable.
* Don’t be fooled by thinking the region is small and you won’t need much time. The abundance of attractions and narrow, winding roads gobble up the hours.
Car hire rates are low, starting at around A a day for a new, mid-range four cylinder vehicle, including all insurances and taxes. Good maps are provided and Tasmanian roads are well signposted. Petrol costs around A a litre. The good news is that traffic is light so driving on the "wrong side of the road" won’t be stressful.
Some regions of Tasmania are quite compact and visitors sometimes hire (or buy) a bicycle. Much of the south is accessible by bike although some of the climbs and narrow, winding roads of the Tasman Peninsula can be a hard slog and dangerous in bad weather.
TIP: Tasmania’s car hire industry is very competitive. Regular specials are offered, especially outside peak season. Don’t be tempted by companies offering older vehicles at reduced rates - these cars are often unreliable and new-car rates cost little more.
Know locally as National Park, the village numbers just 200 and most travellers rush through intending to return on a day trip from Hobart, more than an hour away. We decided to stay in the area and enjoy Tasmania’s oldest national park at a more relaxed pace.
400 metres from the park entrance is the local pub - the National Park Hotel - and a dose of real Aussie culture.
The Welcoming Committee
Afternoon fog descends as we park next to a late model Ford. Three pickups and about a dozen Harleys share the carpark.
"I hope they’re friendly," offered Karen, and we enter the bar.
Inside is another world. A huge stump crackles in the fireplace. The long L-shaped bar is lined with dedicated locals and a small group of backpackers from the hostel down the road. Near the door is the group of bikies - a chaotic orchestra of leather, sunglasses, chains and more hair than a 1980s rock festival. Two older guys with two-foot beards shoot pool on a blue-topped table across the room.
Robin is the publican and he asks his wife to relieve while he gives us the tour. Outside and down a passage is the original building, a 19th century ten-room homestead with high ceilings and beautiful decorative plasterwork.
"The bar was added in 1925 but the original building is much older," says Robin.
"It used to be a boarding house."
The hallways are lined with an eclectic collection of antiques and mementos. Nothing matches, yet they combine to make a welcoming and friendly home. Porcelain dolls jostle with crazy cushions, old photos and period artefacts, all crammed onto wicker chairs and oak dressers. It feels like grandma’s house.
Warm as toast
It’s important to be comfortable and warm, and our room doesn’t disappoint. There’s a queen bed, loads of cosy blankets, the ubiquitous oak dresser, wardrobe, and assorted goodies that wouldn’t fit in the hallway. The electric blanket excited Karen (although that’s what I thought I was for) and the wall-mounted room heater had the place toasty in 15 minutes.
We meet two other travellers, Lyn and Matt, in the Lounge Bar for a dinner of fish and salad and a few drinks. An open fire fuels the conversation and we arrange to visit the park together tomorrow.
March on your stomach
It’s a cold, foggy morning and the heaters in the shared bathrooms do overtime. Thankfully, there’s gallons of high pressure hot water and we gorge on a home-cooked breakfast feeling refreshed after a long sleep. Robin and his wife keep the food coming and we leave keen to tackle the hardest trails.
It’s a great little pub, and at A$65 with breakfast you’ll get your money’s worth.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 26, 2002
National Park Hotel
What I got was picture-postcard rural solitude, a petrol station doubling as a General Store and a few of the usual community-based businesses.
Not a Big Mac or a double-decaf cappuccino in sight. God I love Tasmania.
Lookin’ out my back door
Standard hotel and motel offerings handle the package trade and there are a few bed and breakfast properties in the surrounding area, but we struck gold on a small road outside the village. Carnarvon Bay hosts a cluster of houses and beach shacks, most with uninterrupted water views and most of them deliciously private.
Andertons offers ensuite accommodation in the family residence or self contained solitude nearby in a gorgeous little beach house hugging the bay.
"This is so cute," says Karen. "My family used to spend summer holidays in a place like this by the beach. Look at this view!"
A large covered deck at the rear of the shack overlooks the bay. Sunlight dances across the water only eighty feet away, distant shores framed by the wilderness forests of Tasman National Park. Inside is a queen size bedroom and living area, both making the most of the views, with a smaller second bedroom, kitchen and bathroom at the front of the house.
I see a full moon rising
Each day starts in a sunny corner of the living room with cereal, toast, yoghurt and juice, compliments of our host, and each day ends with wine and sunset reflections from our private deck. And then the main event.
Andertons faces east - front row centre for the moonrise. Our visit coincided with a full moon and the sight of its perfect form, magnified over the glassy water each night held us spellbound. There is no light pollution here and it’s as if an alien beacon had searched us out, staring from afar - curious, but friendly.
The simple things
Simple touches guarantee return business and Andertons know their trade. An efficient bathroom heater and electric blankets are important in the cool climate, and a constant supply of chopped wood for the combustion stove made our nights toasty and romantic.
Our new friendship with Lyn and Matt continued here one night after a day hiking near Remarkable Cave and they too fell in love with the place.
"A$65 a night. Are you kidding? We’re paying A$105 near town," said Lyn. "And it doesn’t have half the character of this place."
Then she spots the moon rising over the bay.
"Wow! Matt! I think you’d better see this."
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 26, 2002
Remarkable Cave Road
(3) 6250 2378
But don’t miss the star attraction. A magical forest of the most amazing trees I’ve seen.
This is the Land of the Giants.
"IF TREES ARE THE LUNGS OF THE EARTH, THEN WE MUST SURELY BE THE CANCER"
- from (a cynical) Dave’s diary after a visit to Mount Field National Park.
I love trees. When I was a kid I climbed them, built houses in them and just sat under them. As an adult I admire their grace, the way they embrace the breeze and the way they define a landscape.
Today was a highlight. I’d see the most beautiful trees.
Our 3-mile walk with our new friends, Lyn and Matt, starts from the Visitor Centre, exploring the lower region of the park dominated by wet eucalypt forests and rainforest. The morning fog lifts and Karen and Lyn discover a grove of fallen trees, their stumps partially hollow and big enough to live in. Lichen, moss and ferns surround us, creating an "enchanted forest".
At Russell Falls there’s a couple taking pictures of each other, then the track climbs to a fairytale rainforest garden framed by smaller Horshoe Falls. It’s a magical, tingly feeling and a good place to rest a while and take the Senses Test:
Sit by the creek, close your eyes and focus your remaining senses. Listen to the creek, the birds, the breeze. Taste the water. Feel the rocks, the lichen and the texture of the ferns. Then just smell. Take a deep breath…real clean, like everything’s new. So clean it almost hurts. Now open your eyes again and take it all in.
An hour from the start we reach interpretive signs announcing the Tall Trees walk. It’s an awe-inspiring sight as we wander amongst these majestic sentinels.
Swamp gums are the world’s tallest flowering plant and the tallest hardwood. At 300 feet they tower over everything. But they seem so friendly.
Lyn, Matt and I play with a clinometer that’s set up for visitors to measure the height of these timber towers while Karen tries to photograph one, having to lie on the ground in the end.
Across a dirt road leading to the alpine region of the park at Lake Dobson we track through gullies of giant manferns to Lady Barron Falls, beautifully lit by a clear blue sky. The fog is gone and our three-hour wonderland journey follows Lady Barron Creek back to a campground adjacent the Visitor Centre.
It’s beanies off and ice creams all round and together we plot our voyage further south, planning to continue the adventure with Lyn and Matt in Port Arthur.
Land of the Giants
Mount Field National Park
Attraction | "Ghost Stories in Richmond"
Although discovered by tourism, little has changed and Richmond is a delightful village to explore. Quality, locally-made goods are sold in exquisite shops and, if you’re lucky, one of the friendly locals might share a tale with you from the town’s past…
Our route from National Park is a scenic feast on a bright autumn day, passing acres of hop fields scattered through the lush Derwent Valley west of Hobart. We stop by a line of brilliant gold poplars backed by a perfect blue sky and enjoy a magic autumn moment.
A sea of delicate golden leaves rain down in the breeze as we lie on the grass. Cars pass, their passengers frowning. They don’t know what they’re missing.
At Richmond we park adjacent the town’s most famous landmark. Spanning the Coal River is Richmond Bridge, built by convicts in 1823 and Australia’s oldest road bridge.
Dozens of wonderfully preserved buildings compete for attention and the Tourist Centre’s free guide outlines the highlights, also providing useful historic information.
Australia’s oldest jail illustrates the horrors of the old penal system through clever displays and access to the original cells. There’s even a distillery producing potent malt whisky and unusual liqueurs distilled from native produce.
Karen’s focus turns to art and craft shops, mine to tempting cafes, bakeries and tearooms. Always on the lookout for unique mementos, we strike gold at Saddlers Court Gallery. Gerald Hale creates humorous masterpieces from unlikely recycled products; sewing machines and typewriters are reinvented as eccentric craft pieces. Ours is titled Walkies! - an insightful observation of our devotion to four-legged friends.
It’s not until we cross the bridge on our way out of Richmond that we meet Steve Kaye. Steve is the local stonemason and he’s busy repairing the bridge for the third time in as many months. Casualty of another tourist misjudging the narrow carriageway I assume. Wrong. And that’s where it gets interesting.
"Locals cause the most accidents," says Steve. "It’s all John Glover’s fault."
"Huh? John Glover?"
"He’s a ghost. Haunts the bridge after midnight you know. Most locals use the other route," says Steve, pointing to the north.
"Those that cross here usually come off second best."
Apparently, back in the 1820s, John ditched his mates for the high society types so they murdered him, pushing him from the bridge around midnight one night. Sure enough, a rough arrow carved in one of the stones marks the spot. To this day John exacts his revenge on locals trying to cross the bridge after midnight.
"That’s why I moved to the town side of the bridge," says Steve with a wink.
Tasman National Park was proclaimed in 1999 and provides visitors with access to some of Australia’s finest coastal walks that explore sensationally sculptured rock formations and virgin forests along a range of tracks that’ll make you feel like you can touch the sky.
The Experience: Planning
Eaglehawk Neck is barely 100 metres wide and separates the peninsula from the rest of Tasmania. It’s here, in the convict days, that a row of fierce dogs presented escaped convicts with their last hurdle to freedom. Few made it.
Today it’s a gateway to the riches of the peninsula. There are stunning views from the lookout and a nearby tourism office dispenses useful information about the area, much of it published by the Parks and Wildlife Department.
Some attractions are accessible by car but there’s no substitute for exploring so we combined them with a couple of longer walks to sample this incredible coastal wonderland. Here’s what we liked best:
The Experience: By the numbers
1. From Blowholes to Kitchens. Drive right up to these amazing rock formations, all expertly carved from sheer cliffs. With names like The Blowhole, Tasmans Arch and the Devils Kitchen, you’ll marvel at their raw beauty. Visit in the morning when the cliffs are washed gold by the sun.
2. Coastal Treasures. Park at the Devils Kitchen and walk to Waterfall Bluff, via Waterfall Bay. It’s about five miles return (3 hours). The first section follows the cliffs to Waterfall Bay, bordering coastal woodland alive with wildflowers and tiny birds. The second section climbs through forest to 1000 feet at Waterfall Bluff, passing two waterfalls and providing breathtaking views of soaring cliffs. Below are vast kelp forests, seal colonies and fairy penguins. Above, majestic sea eagles cruise the currents.
3. A Remarkable Walk. South of Port Arthur at Remarkable Cave there is boardwalk access to cliffside caves and a deserted sandy beach. Across the road from the carpark a narrow trail along the clifftops leads to (unprotected) Maignon Blowhole where 600-foot cliffs surrender to thundering seas. Another hour across lowland heath past the foot of Mt. Brown is Crescent Beach, a perfect arc of powder-white sand. Allow four hours for the return journey and take supplies, the beach is picnic-perfect.
4. Doing Doo Town. Take a walk around this curious village near Eaglehawk Neck where the houses have names like "THIS WILL DOO", "DOO LITTLE" and, of course, "LOVE ME DOO."
5. Lunch with Muzzie. Eaglehawk Café overlooks Norkolk Bay, a delightful two-storey eatery with a contemporary nautical feel, presided over by a fascinating hippie-esque couple and Muzzie the three-legged cat. It’s awash with light, eccentric artefacts and gorgeous antiques. Inventive Mediterranean flavours are the focus and A$40 buys a leisurely lunch for two.
Exploring the Tasman Peninsula
Attraction | "A Devil of a Time"
Unlike many of its competitors, this park is a rescue and conservation centre first and a tourist attraction second. Established in March 1979, it’s linked to the World Wide Fund for Nature and besides meeting the famous Bugs Bunny villain in the flesh you can get up close and personal with other Australian fauna and be entertained by a performing troop of feathered friends.
We’re met by Caroline who, with her husband John, runs the park. It’s still early and there’s time for a chat.
"Most of our injured animals are hit by cars," explains Caroline. "And the birds are usually casualties of electric wires."
"Many animals recover and we can release them but others stay permanently - some really ham it up for the tourists as you’ll see later in our special flight show."
Caroline explains there’s a lot to see and presents us with a site map, advising us to take our time and enjoy meeting the residents.
The property straddles a permanent creek between the Port Arthur Road and Norfolk Bay, just outside of Taranna. Free range enclosures maximise access to the animals and a large reserve that provides direct contact with kangaroos, wallabies, smaller pademelons and Cape Barren Geese is especially popular.
Visitors are regularly entertained in the walk-through aviaries by resident cockatoos and galahs, and today is no exception. A cheeky galah takes a shine to Karen, diving down the front of her sweater and refusing to leave. She ends up taking the sweater off with Polly still in it, returning later to collect it.
By 11am it’s time to meet the stars of the show. The Tasmanian Devils are fed three times daily and it’s an opportunity to learn more about this unusual carnivore. Did Mel Blanc get it right? Here’s what we discovered:
The fun continues at a small stage where a free-flight show called "Kings of the Wind" is presented. Bossy the galah opens festivities. A parade of parrots, tawny frogmouths and falcons perform deft skills for - and with - the audience. It’s an entertaining display of animal intelligence, performed in only three other places world wide.
Bossy exits and so do we, choosing seriously good coffee and cake at the café and a rummage through the small shop.
It’s all pretty low key, no production line fanfare here.
Funny how good a tourist attraction is when it doesn’t try.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 27, 2002
Tasmanian Devil Park
5990 Port Arthur Highway
Taranna, Tasmania, Australia
+61 3 62 503 230
Attraction | "Inside Port Arthur"
12,500 convicts served sentences here over 47 years and today the experience is recreated for visitors across 40 hectares of historic ruins and restored buildings. Come inside Port Arthur and explore history.
The Experience...by daylight
Our entrance ticket includes a 40-minute Historic Walking Tour that provides valuable orientation and background information. The settlement consists of 12 precincts documenting all aspects of society, from convict reform to civilian life.
Port Arthur was a thriving industrial town and used convict labour to build ships, grow vegetables and produce a range of clothing, timber and furniture products.
Our tour introduces many of the buildings whose recreated interiors and grounds capture the atmosphere of the day.
Also included is a half-hour harbour cruise. An informative commentary acquaints us with a small island where 1000 convicts are buried, mostly in unmarked graves. This is the Isle of the Dead.
At nearby Point Puer a boys’ prison was established in 1834, the British Empire’s first juvenile prison. Here they would learn a trade while quarrying stone. We learn that many were hanged for minor crimes - boys were considered adults at the age of seven and punished accordingly.
An exceptional interpretation gallery reconstructs convicts’ lives from actual events and surviving diaries. A playing card allocated to each visitor associates you with a real convict and a series of clever galleries then chart your "journey" through the settlement.
My guy was William Fraser, originally from Glasgow. In 1830, at 19, he was convicted of housebreaking and sentenced to 7 years. Sent to work in the timber gangs, he was regularly flogged for loafing but eventually cheated his way to freedom two years before his time by forging official documents.
Lindsay is in charge tonight and he leads our group of 12 by lamplight through a 90-minute Ghost Tour of the site’s ghoulish highlights. There’s a full moon so it’s not too dark. I think that’s good.
The stories come thick and fast - sad, funny, curious and a little frightening.
At the surgeon’s house we visit the basement slab where experiments were performed. Creepy? Sure. But at the Separate Prison I feel sick. I have to get out, the air is electric, thick and chilling. By 1849 flogging became "unfashionable" and a new, crueler style of punishment was invented. The Separate Prison isolated prisoners in the cruelest way by solitary confinement and absolute silence. To reform their minds they said. Most of them went mad.
We didn’t go mad and now have a certificate to prove it.
Port Arthur is a world class historic site - make sure you save a day to visit. And a night, if you’re game.
Port Arthur Historic Site