We got to Port Melbourne at about 7am to board the Spirit of Tasmania which was due to leave at 9am, on an unusually cold and rainy morning – even for Melbourne! It didn’t take too long to get parked on the ferry, which was actually smaller than we’d expected, and smaller than previous ferries we’ve got between the UK and mainland Europe. We’d forgotten about the interstate quarantine laws, and we had some fruit and veggies confiscated by an officer, although we tried to eat some while he stood waiting – waste not want not!! Docked beside the ferry was the Norwegian cruise liner which had been in the news for being stranded in the Bass Strait with engine failure, and had been towed to the Port. Everyone went out onto the deck as we left to wave to its passengers and take pictures.
As we left the Port the captain made an announcement that due to the weather it was going to be a pretty bumpy crossing, with swells of up to 3m. We weren’t really worried, but thought we’d buy anti sickness tablets just in case, however found that they were all sold out just half an hour into the 9 hour journey! We got some ‘natural’ tablets which are basically just ginger tablets, and as soon as we hit the notorious Bass Strait we were seriously depending on the ginger! It became impossible to watch our film or to walk around; we even had to help a few elderly people who couldn’t get back to their seat or had dropped their belongings on a particularly violent swell. We ended up just trying to sleep as even watching the tv made the nausea worse, and had to move seats when some surrounding passengers became seriously sea sick. In the last hour the weather finally subsided, after what seemed like forever, and we managed to go out onto the deck and watch as we docked in Devonport. Our first impression was that it looked like the English countryside! Pretty exhausted, we drove an hour to a little town, had some beans on toast and camped for the night.
The next morning we set off for nearby Launceston and visited the pretty impressive gorge near the city centre. We stopped here for lunch, where Dan was unlucky enough to be stung by a wasp!
Having put ice on his sting (he was a brave patient), we set off for the fairly long drive to Bay of Fires on the east coast.
It was even more stunning than we expected; perfect white sand and turquoise sea beaches with bright red lichen covering the rocks around the bay. We’d heard the east coast had some good surfing spots so we drove down to Bicheno in the morning and had a shot. I was inevitably half drowned by the first wave I went for, but we had fun and the sea was absolutely crystal clear.
We realised we were close by to the winery of one of our favourites, Devil’s Corner, so we headed there for a tasting which was pretty amazing coupled with the warm weather and the view of the surrounding hills.
We set off very early the next morning to hike up Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park which we knew was one of the most popular things to do in Tasmania, and cars are regularly turned away. The view was stunning, and we continued down onto the beach, ranking one of the top ten in the world. Dan had a swim, and then we headed to get a spot at one of the gorgeous camp sites, Honeymoon Bay.
We chilled out and swam there for the rest of the day, and got treated to a jazz band practicing out on the cliff at sunset…pretty perfect.
One of the biggest things on our list was MONA, so we drove there the next day and took a few hours wandering around. It’s definitely got some impressive, whacky, different and exciting art, but it somehow wasn’t as awesome as we’d expected.
We drove into Hobart which was reminiscent to me of a Scandinavian harbour town, very cute. We got some drinks in the sun at a trendy beer garden and then had the ubiquitous Hobart harbour dinner; fish and chips from the floating take away. My first taste of Tasmanian salmon and it was incredible. Our camp spot that night was the glamorous parking space at the side of the main road running through Hobart…surprisingly peaceful!
In the morning we felt like more culture vulturing so we went on a tour around the first Hobart penitentiary. It was seriously interesting and gruesome, with the solitary cells (some only crawling height) having been built under the church built by the prisoners. Some bricks for the church were shipped in from England, but most were made by the prisoners and still had finger prints in them where they’d tried to turn them out too soon. The church was eventually made into court rooms which we had a tour of, and were also even shown the gallows…
We then drove to Cambridge not far from Hobart for a tour of a completely different kind at Sullivans Cove whiskey distillery. The tour was so informative about the making of whiskey and we had a full tasting of their award winning whiskeys and gin. I’ve never particularly liked whiskey before, but I had a sip of their $470 bottle and I’ve been miraculously converted!
Richmond was just around the corner which we had heard was an interesting historic town. It was very quaint and felt exactly like an English countryside village, but was extremely touristy. The main ‘attraction’ was the bridge built by convicts in the 1800s.
We drove back to Hobart in the morning for the famous Saturday Salamanca market, which although completely overrun by tourists (including us), was colourful and fun to wander around. We even bought a few things including some local cheese.
With our Tasmania plans being very loose and ‘go with the flow’, we doubled back from Hobart towards the Tasman Peninsula and camped near Cape Raoul right at the southern end. Although we had to pay (a small amount), it was really picturesque and featured a cute cabin with a wood fired sauna and shower…too good to resist! We got chatting to an Aussie couple from NSW who were a similar age to us and joined them in the sauna later on with a couple from Europe too. It was actually a seriously cold night so a sauna was perfect, and we both braved the freezing cold outdoor shower afterwards too!
Feeling refreshed, we set off in the morning on the 20k Cape Raoul hike which took us through the rainforest and along the rugged coast where you could see a seal colony. It was seriously beautiful but my legs were quite sore the next day!
Later that day we drove to Fortescue bay also on the Tasman Peninsula. This turned out not to be a great decision as there was a pretty arduous drive along a potholed track to get to the campsite. Fine for a 4×4 but not great for Millie!
We left in the morning after a rainy night and decided to get the ferry to Bruny Island (leading us to drive through Hobart once again). The ferry was extremely small and only lasted 15 minutes; enough time for us to jump out of the car in the pouring rain and grab some lunch from the boot! We’d heard great things about the produce on Bruny Island, and we pulled over for a cheese tasting on the way to our walk at Cape Elizabeth. Despite it being our first dull drizzly day, the walk was amazing and definitely blew the cobwebs away! We the went to a camp site at the National park beside a stunning beach.
The next day was really hot and sunny and we headed to Cloudy Bay in the south for a look. The sea was far too rough to surf here, so we (naturally) went to the nearby Bruny Island winery for a tasting. This is the most southerly vineyard in Australia. We stopped at Adventure Bay beach for a picnic lunch and stayed for the rest of the day. Dan had a go at surfing and I went swimming although some of the waves were seriously big! It was pretty idyllic, even if the sea was colder than in Tasmania. But hey, we’re Scottish, it’s got nothing on the North Sea.
Just before we went back to the campsite we walked up the monument and lookout at The Neck which is a thin stretch of land between the north and south of Bruny Island. There is a monument at the top dedicated to an aboriginal woman who lived on the island in the 1700s and lost her family and freedom to the European settlers. We made a fire at the campsite that night and decided to head back to the mainland the next day.
We went for a hike in the morning, which although was meant to be a popular walk, was clearly a seriously overgrown track which hadn’t been used in a while. About half way up, Dan stopped in his tracks and told me to stay still. A black snake sat in the path about two metres ahead. He took a look at us before slithering calmly away. It was over a meter long, and although it didn’t make any movement towards us we realised that we weren’t really on a walking track, more like trekking in the middle of the forest. The whole way back we expected more snakes to appear on the path. Our first snake encounter in the wild!
After returning to the Tasmanian mainland on an even smaller ferry, we drove the fairly short distance to Mount Field National Park. We walked through the rainforest to Russell Falls which were amazing, and got one of the last spots in the seriously busy camp site. There were even hot showers at the camp site which was a luxury!
Seeing that there was a window of good weather up at Cradle Mountain, we set off in the morning on what turned out to be almost a 5 hour uphill journey. Millie struggled up the steep winding roads; second gear was seriously put to the test! But we made it to the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park, and decided to take the 2 hour walk around Dove Lake. It was a stunning walk with Cradle Mountain as the backdrop, and the weather was amazing which is unusual up there; it’s common for it to snow during summer. There were wombats wandering around freely which was amazing to see, we’ve only seen them before in a sanctuary and they’re known for being quite elusive!
We drove to Launceston the next day to pick up some supplies (and get a decent coffee), and pressed on towards our favourite spot, Bay of Fires. On the way we stopped off for a tasting at the Bay of Fires winery just north of Launceston, where my favourite Pinot Noir is from. As it turned out their Pinot Gris was also absolutely amazing and we bought a bottle to enjoy later.
It was a stunning day, but as we drove 2 hours east to the coast it became stormy. We got a gorgeous spot at a free camp site overlooking the white sand beach and sat in the rain for as long as we could with our camp fire going. Our camp site neighbours also gave us some abalone which they’d hand dived that day, and I’ve always wanted to try it! It was cooked in lemon and actually soo delicious. The majority of Tasmanian abalone is exported to the Asian market, but I’d definitely order it if I saw it again.
With 3 days left in Tasmania, the current ‘plan’ is to swim, surf and generally chill out and enjoy Bay of Fires until the ferry back to Melbourne… Tasmania has definitely been our favourite place in Australia so far and will be hard to top!