We booked a “self-driving tour” of Tasmania with a great company out of London, yep, the London in England. If you find yourself puzzled by how we linked up with them, there were a few steps down that path. Researching Australian options online prior to the trip we came across the website www.responsibletravel.com, which offers literally hundreds of experiences around the world that meet criteria related to using local vendors, being economically, culturally and environmentally responsible while offering unique local experiences. We were intrigued by the option of some good local guidance and assistance in seeing Tasmania – or as the Aussies call it, Tassie – so we clicked the button saying we were interested. Audley Travel ( www.audleytravel.com ) sent us an email giving us information and offering to set up a call to learn our interests and let us know what they could offer. We spoke to a lovely woman named Hannah who had spent time living and working in Australia. She listened to what our interests and goals were and put together a 12 day trip around the Island for us.
It was awesome, she mixed some urban and rural settings, gave us hiking options, told us where the local breweries and wineries were, set up a boat tour off the coast, a walking tour full of history, and pushed us to go to a local museum (which is not something we usually spend our time doing). We will happily return to Tasmania again given the opportunity, this trip was a great sampler and we had quite an experience.
Our tour began with the collection of our rental car and Dan’s first experience driving on the other side of the road. There are some adjustments and few things you might not expect, like you can always tell someone used to driving on the right-hand side of the road because they will inevitably turn on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker. He did great, but at our age having to pay that much attention to the little details of driving is different.
Our first stop was in the city of Launceston, which is a three-syllable name that only took me six or seven tries to get close on the pronunciation. It is the second largest city in Tasmania and full of lovely mid-19th century buildings and a boat harbor on the river, navigable out to the ocean some 50 kilometers away.
Not far from the center of the city is a park around Cataract Gorge, a great hike where we had our first sighting of black swans!
We headed back to town for a nice lunch and some wandering around. During our explorations we came across a city park and noticed an area that had an enclosure, further investigation put us on a viewing platform in front of display of monkeys. Apparently in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s this park often displayed animals and it was decided during a restoration in the 1970’s to continue that tradition with some monkeys that would thrive in the local climate. When we reported that find to our waitress at dinner that evening she responded “yes, isn’t that a weirdly random thing to come across here?” Can’t argue with that assessment!
We also stopped in to the George Boags brewery, one of the oldest in Australia and just down the street from our hotel (I told you Hannah was great as I am sure that was a consideration when she set up our accommodations!). We skipped the tour as we have seen a lot of breweries, but we got a tasting paddle and enjoyed the selection of beers. I am finding most Australian beers to be light and refreshing, less hopped that the American beers we have been drinking and with a lower ABV, which makes sampling a pleasure.
From Launceston we headed over to the eastern coast near Freycinet National Park. The suggested route from Hannah, our trip planner, called for a stop in Campbell Town on the way. So, of course we headed there first. A small town on the main road south, it had a number of cafes, a nice park in the center and a surprising number of church buildings for sale. As we walked on the main street after a delightful lunch we noticed a line of bricks with inscriptions on them. They listed a person’s name, what looked like the name of a ship, a date, and age and an offence and sentence, and sometimes additional information. These bricks cataloged the people transported to Tasmania from England. There were children, men and women of all ages. Transportable offences and sentences ranged from murder and horse thieving with life sentences to the theft of a silk handkerchief and a seven-year sentence. The industrial revolution was wreaking havoc on the British economy and many displaced people got caught up in an unforgiving justice system with incentives to provide people to “help” colonize England’s foothold in the Pacific.
We stayed near Swansea right on Oyster Bay, we had great views from the restaurant and from the deck on our cabin. We were booked on a boat tour scheduled to take us out of the bay and up the coast to see Wineglass Bay, a particularly scenic area. Alas, the weather made the seas too rough for our ship to head that direction and the captain turned us south to go around an island near the mouth of the bay. He sold it as “I love this route and think it is at least as good as Wineglass Bay.” Can’t disagree with him as we saw some beautiful, rugged coast line and wildlife. There were a number of fur seals resting along a pretty steep coastal area and it is amazing they can maneuver themselves that far up from the water line and around the rocks. We also saw some nesting White-bellied Sea Eagles pretty close up. The tour included a special lunch with fresh oysters. In keeping with my New Year’s Resolution to be a more adventurous eater, I tried one, it was pretty good so I had a second one to make sure I like them.
We had time that afternoon to take the hike up to the Wineglass Bay lookout from our side of the Bay, so we did that. It was raining when we reached the top, but we were able to look down over the bay and it is lovely.
The next day we headed down the coast to take a recommended trip to Maria Island. Here I learned that I was, again, mispronouncing and Australian place, it is pronounced Mo-ri-aah Island. Anyway, we caught the ferry over to the Island which was once a convict site. We hiked along the coast to a set of cliffs full of fossils and then into the woods to come across an old industrial building. There were wallaby’s lounging around and we heard rumor of Tasmanian Devils, but saw no evidence as it was mid-day and they are pretty nocturnal. Both animals have been introduced to the island, not sure how the Wallaby’s got there, but the Tasmanian Devils have been released there to try to reduce the wallaby population and in hopes that they can avoid the cancer that is one of the causes for their endangered status.
The prison site on the island has been restored and is also used for some camping sites and lodging. There were several large school groups setting up while we were there. While going through the buildings and reading about the history we found information on a famous Montanan. Meagher was an Irish rebel transported to Tasmania who, after being paroled with the promise he would not leave Ireland, headed to the US and ended up in Montana where he was one of a number for former Australia convicts to play a large role in the development of the State of Montana. After Tasmania stopped taking prisoners through transportation, the Island was used for a large concrete plant into the 1920’s, but now the only residents are the rangers for the park.