Tassie!

Our flight to Tassie was short, and as the dawn gradually lit up the ground beneath us we were greeted with hundreds of kilometres of white: Tassie was covered in snow! We landed in Hobart to no snow, thankfully, but the ice in the air stung our cheeks. We stood waiting for Rob from Tassie Motor Shacks wearing every layer we had! Thankfully he wasn’t coming far and we weren’t waiting long at all.

Rob runs Seven Mile Beach Cabin Park, which is literally a stone’s throw from the airport, and he uses that as a base for his campervan hire business, Tassie Motor Shacks. He got us sorted with one of his vans, a much cleaner and newer version of the Mitsubishi we have on the mainland. He spent a bit of time finding us guidebooks and maps galore, and pointing out loads of places we should see on our trip.

It didn’t take us long to get on the road, and we took Rob’s advice and headed for the Tasman Peninsula, calling in at Sorrell on the way for a week’s worth of food shopping: More 2-minute noodles, $1 bread and value-brand peanut butter!

The Tasman Peninsula was amazing, if very wet. We parked at a lookout over Pirates Bay and Eaglehawk Neck (what awesome place names), but couldn’t see a lot through the torrential downpour. We drove on down the Peninsula as far as Doo Town, where the locals have capitalised on their equally great place name with house signs like “Just Doo It”, and “Much A-Doo”, and our personal favourite, pictured below:

Also near Doo Town are a blowhole, and the enormous Tasman Arch. The arch is actually the last remaining bit of roof of a sea cave, but was formed at a time when the sea levels were much higher, meaning the top of this arch seems miles above the pounding waves.

We spent our first night in Tassie in a car park, cuddling up for warmth. It was too windy to cook, and too wet to walk even 30m across the road to the chip shop! What on earth had we done coming to Tassie?!

Well, the next day answered that question. The weather cleared up beautifully and we drove up the East coast, driving through narrow gorges and across vast open plains. We stopped for lunch near Swansea at one of the many free camp sites. We had an incredible view over the Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island across Great Oyster Bay.

We drove down the Peninsula and into the Freycinet National Park. You can pick up a NP Holiday pass covering everyone in your vehicle for $60, and it’s valid for every NP in Tassie. We intended to buy one, but Chrisie found one in the glove compartment that was still valid, so we just pretended we were called Coghlan for 2 weeks.

At the visitors’ centre the park warden said there was not enough daylight for the 3-hour return hike to the summit of Mt. Amos. We decided to do it anyway! With only 2 hours of light left we set off up the track, past a cute Bennett’s Wallaby guarding the trail and the warning signs that said this route crossed steep, slippy granite slabs. “Whatever. We’ll be fine…”

Racing up the track we came to the first of the slabs. It seemed grippy enough. Further up we came to slab after slab of steep, pink stone, polished smooth by rainwater and generations of hikers. The signs had warned not to attempt the climb in the wet, and we could see why: Even the slightest bit of moisture on our boots and our feet would skate out from under us, and send us sliding down towards the bottom of the hill. After an hour of scrambling madly upwards we reached the summit and were rewarded with a panorama of Wineglass Bay, once ranked the world’s most beautiful beach, with Mt. Freycinet behind. We just had time for a quick photo or 2, before we started our descent, racing against the waning sunlight.

We slid, slithered and ran our way back down, watching the sun dip below the horizon across Great Oyster Bay. Thankfully we made it down before total dark. We drove out to another free campsite just North of Coles Bay, and had just kangaroos for company.

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Further up the East Coast we came to the town of Bicheno. A geocache took us to one section of the shore, where we found the most impressive blowhole either of us has ever seen. It sent plumes of spray some 40 feet in the air. From there we went a little inland, up Elephant Pass, to the Famous Mt. Elephant Pancake Barn. We planned to treat ourselves to a stack of pancakes, but the prices were a little out of our league. Instead, we a managed to get a free sausage roll from a bakery in nearby St. Mary’s. As we left that town we passed a sign that sadly I didn’t get a photo of. It should have read: “You are now entering St. Mary’s Pass”, but someone had removed the “P”, much to our amusement!

In St. Helens we found free power in a toilet block by the wharf, and hung around while we charged up, before driving on up towards the Bay of Fires. This famous area is named from Aboriginal history, but it has become synonymous with the sunrises and sunsets set against the iconic red rocks of that region. We caught a fabulous sunset, then camped up just feet from the crashing waves.

We backtracked a little to St. Helens to pick up the road West, and drove through lush forest and across huge valleys with rolling fields. We saw a sign for free cheese tasting and took a detour to Pyengana Dairy. Next door we found The Pub in a Paddock, and their pig, who has a sign on his pen which says “Bugger me I’m dry. I could just use a drink…”!

In one little mountain town we spotted a beautiful old building that said it was once the National Bank of Tasmania, then further on we arrived in Scottsdale. We spent the night there, in a wonderful little nature reserve.

The next day we arrived on the North Coast, and took a while to wander around Bridport, looking at the old jetty that burned down some years ago, and exploring a series of tiny bays. Further West we came to Georgetown and took a wrong turning into the restricted area at the port. Ooops! Just outside of Georgetown is Low Head, and we spent an hour or two eating crisp and pickle sandwiches, scrambling on the rocks round the lighthouse, and hoping the Fairy Penguins would come ashore before they closed the road at 6pm.

We were within an hour’s drive of Launceston, near which live the Aunt and Uncle of friends of ours. We had contact details for Broder and Christine, but the email bounced back, and the phone number didn’t exist, so in true backpacker style, we though we’d just turn up! On the way we saw signs for the Batman Bridge, which crosses the Tamar Estuary. Thinking about the name as we drove along, we half expected to see a Warner Brothers’ logo around the next corner. In reality it’s named after a famous Tasmanian, but it amused us nevertheless.

GPS took us to where it thought their house was, and we pulled into the drive. A very stern-looking bloke came through a gate in the fence, glaring at us! Both of us just had to hope this was the right place! It was! Broder saw the markings on the campervan from a distance and thought we were tradesmen. He remembered us, and he and Christine took us in to their home for a couple of days. It was lovely to have warmth, space, and company for a day or two.

They kindly showed us around the area, taking us to the magnificent Launceston Gorge, and the incongruous Swiss Village of Grindelwald, as well as showing us Albino Wallabies, which are apparently normally killed off as babies by their siblings in a gruesome bit of natural selection.

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We left Broder and Christine and drove up the other side of the Tamar to Devonport. We wanted to stop over in Narawntapu NP to see the wombats in the evening, but the weather had turned nasty again and we would have seen little. We carried on along the coast road via Penguin (yes, there is a town called Penguin, and they do have Penguins, sometimes). The weather picked up for our coast drive, and we caught a beautiful sunset over the bleached sand of Sisters beach.

From Sisters Beach we took a detour to the quaint little fishing town of Stanley, which is nestled at the foot of The Nut, a large granite volcanic plug. We got good views of hit from the opposite hillside where we’d found old barracks’ ruins; evidence of Tassies former history as a penal colony.

We set GPS for a rest stop near Waratah, which would take us most of the way to Cradle Mountain. GPS took us via all the dirt roads it could find! Luckily the van we hired from Tassie Motor Shacks was insured to go on Tassie’s many dirt roads, and that meant so many more interesting places, National Parks and free places to stay were available to us.

The weather set us back by a day as we waited out a storm in a coffee shop in Waretah, charging all the electricals over a burger and chips, but 24 hours later we were on route for Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair National Park. As we took the access road East the clouds and mist disappeared, to be replaced by bright blue skies and sunlight reflected off the snow. Yes, Snow! There was none on the roads, but plenty on the surrounding land. We couldn’t believe we were in Australia and driving through snow!

We used our freebie NP pass again and got shuttle bus tickets from the visitors’ centre, and missed one bus by 10 seconds. We hopped on the next one and jumped off at Ronny Creek. From there we had a wonderful walk up to Crater Lake, passing some great waterfalls on the way. A passing weather front gave us a nice rainbow over Crater Lake, then we wandered up the track to Marion’s Lookout. There we got our first proper view of Cradle Mountain, and it’s truly incredible. The land sweeps up from Lake Dove, rising nearly vertically at its rocky twin summits, and it looked both formidable and majestic with its steep flanks covered in snow. Cold as it was, however, it wouldn’t be a day out without 3 Aussie blokes in shorts and t-shirts!

We tried to walk the longer route from Marion’s Lookout to Lake Dove via the Kitchen Hut, but the deep snow beat us, so we turned back and chose the steep and direct descent to the Lake. Back on flat ground we spent a while taking photos of the iconic Lake Dove Boat Shed, with Cradle in the background, before hopping back on the bus back to the car park. En route, we passed a much underdressed wedding party, and a trio of Wombats. At the visitors’ centre we encountered another couple of the furry Aussie creatures (Wombats, not the wedding party) and managed to get really close before they took any interest in us whatsoever.

We camped up in a free spot at Lake Mackintosh, which was literally on top of the dam – 100 million gallons of water on one side and a 300 foot drop on the other. From there we took a detour to Zeehan, just for the name, then headed to Queenstown. The Australian Queenstown is nothing like its Kiwi namesake. It is a mining town, through and through, and apparently the locals derive a sense of identity from their bare, industry-scarred hillsides, as when the greenery began to return a while ago, the townspeople objected, protesting that this just wasn’t right!

Leaving Queenstown took us up an awesomely twisty road carved into the steep hillside, then across almost 100km of nothing but wilderness. It was awe-inspiring: distant mountain ranges with tendrils of mist curling round their summits, raging whitewater rivers, and lush bushland as far as the eye can see. The area is called the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers NP, and we could see why.

Back in civilisation, we spent our last night in Seven Mile Beach Cabin Park, then our last day in Hobart. It was Cheap Tuesday at Domino’s so we got pizza and drove the winding 20km road to the top of Mt. Wellington. The views at the top were incredible, and the intricate network of peninsulas and bays reminded us of the Marlborough Sounds in New Zeland.

We left the van back in with Rob at Tassie Motor Shacks, and ended our Tassie adventure chatting to him about what we’d been up to over a beer before he gave us a lift to the airport. We loved our time in Tasmania, and it was great to have a van that worked, that didn’t need lots of TLC, and had everything we needed. TMS were very reasonably priced and provided everything like bed linen, towels, guidebooks, cooking gas etc. so we only needed to fly with hand luggage. Bringing our little van over on the ferry could have been a disaster with its fragile engine and the harsh Tassie roads, and it was so much cheaper to fly and hire anyway. We very much want to go back and tour Tasmania again in the summer time, and we’ll be sure to do it in another Motor Shack. Check them out on the web at: www.tassiemotorshacks.com.au

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2 Responses to Tassie!

  1. Tish says:

    Another good read, good tips and poetic at times too!

  2. Sandie and Guillaume says:

    A big thank you to Rob and Joanna for a warm welcome and a great van, very comfortable and convenient, and much cheaper than other rental agencies with which we were able to discover Tasmania. He took us everywhere, both on the mountain (Cradle Mountain, Ben Lomon) on the coasts and islands that surround this beautiful island. Rob and Joanna were great to us. Thank you again, and if we go back one day in Tasmania, be sure to see us!
    Sandie and Guillaume

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