Tasmania to me evokes images of the unknown; of the Wild West; of that crazy cartoon Tasmanian devil from Bugs Bunny cartoons that terrorized everything that moved. To be honest, I didn’t know too much about it either aside from the bad stereotypes placed on it by other Aussies. Basically, of it being the red headed stepchild of Australia or the inbred West Virginia, if you will (no offense to WV), of Oz. However, after spending a few days on Tasmania and literally covering half of the massive island, I can tell you otherwise. It is a pretty awesome place and nothing like you’d expect.
I flew in off a red eye from Perth with a connection in Melbourne and got in really early to Hobart, the capital. I rented a car straight off and went directly south to a place called Port Arthur where there is an old prison and is Tazzy’s biggest tourist attraction. On the way down, I stopped at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (thanks to a billboard on the highway) which is about 20km north of Port Arthur and this ended up being the best move I made on the trip.
Tasmanian devils are said to be extinct within 10-15 years because of a horrible cancer than afflicts them. There are some 2000 or so currently in the wild and only in Tasmania. There are several hundred more in conservation parks and shelters like the one I visited around the island. They are checked for the cancer and cared for. The average devil has a life span of 5-6 years total. The devils cared for in captivity live double that on average.
Tasmanian devils were described to me by their feeder as poor hunters, slow and dumb with a poor sense of smell, sight and hearing but with a ferociously powerful bite like hyenas. This plus the fact they are dying in droves by this cancer means they are better cared for in parks as to keep the breed alive. They don’t know the cause of the cancer but he said he thought it had something to do with inbreeding, but I don’t know.
The park is pretty awesome and lets you watch the devils get fed once an hour; there are 4 or 5 sets of 2 devils per living station. They are fed dead wallabies, shot by a buddy of the guy who is the caretaker of the park who is hired by people who get pissed when the wallabies eat their gardens!
That strangeness aside, it is truly awesome to watch the devils fight each other for the wallaby hides and meat. The caretaker will toss in several large pieces and the devils will fight over one piece and just leave the other pieces on the ground. The feeder will make fun of them for being stupid and all the people watching laugh. Eventually they all get eaten but it takes a while. But they are cute and fun to watch. Other than eating they just kind of run around and fight with each other.
The best part of the devil park was that they also had kangaroos and you were able to feed them with your hands and actually touch and play with them (above). I had seen kangaroos on previous trips to Oz but never like this. It was a real treat. There were so many of them and they were so cute, nice and well behaved. They liked when you touched them and hand fed them their little food pellets.
There were big troughs of food and they shared them with some cool looking geese (above and below) which were really outnumbered. However, the very polite kangaroos had no problem sharing. When the kangaroos finished eating they would just hop away as kangaroos tend to do. It was pretty cool!
Afterwards, I headed down to Port Arthur to see the old prison that was described as a brutal place for inmates where the worst of the worst ended up between about 1830 and 1877, I believe it was. The area itself is very well preserved, as you can see, and is a beautiful harbor side setting.
You have to go on an organized tour to get a sense of the history of the place which is probably necessary because unless you’re Aussie, you’ve probably never heard of Port Arthur prison. My group of 60 people was mainly Aussie tourists as Tazzy isn’t a huge draw for foreigners…but it should be.
After the guide takes you around for 30 minutes, you are free to check out the old buildings and then you are entitled to a 20 minute harbor cruise which is nice but an attempt to get you to buy stuff from the bar on the boat. All you really do is putter around the harbor and see an island that many inmates were buried on but you don’t go onto it, which was fine with me.
After Port Arthur I made some roadside stops for some coastal lookouts (above, plus some funny looking campers, below) and headed back to Hobart to check into my hotel in central Hobart, called the Hotel Astor. It was the top pick by Lonely Planet and a beautiful old building run by a crazy woman named Tildy. She acknowledges herself that she is nuts so I have no problem writing that here and she is cool with it too, LP did the same thing!
The reasonably priced hotel also includes a crappy continental breakfast, but really what continental breakfast isn’t crappy. It is also walking distance to the waterfront (below) which is the OK main area for tourists and locals alike with many bars and restaurants. The bars are whatever and Hobart isn’t exactly known for partying or anything really. The reason people come to Tazzy is for animals, nature, beaches and the incredible scenery and vistas.
However, I have to give props to Da Angelo restaurant. It was recommended to me by the Thrifty rental car guy at the airport and he was spot on. The Italian place was excellent. It would have been good in New York City, it was that tasty. I got the ricotta ravioli with matriciana sauce, some pizza bread and a delicious Cascade beer which is Tasmania’s own brew. All were killer and the service was good. It was overpriced as everything in Australia is pocket gauging these days but worth it way more than any other place I’ve eaten at thus far on the trip.
After a good night’s sleep because I was so exhausted from the red eye the night before, I got up early and headed up the beautiful heritage highway to Launceston, which is the second city of Tazzy. The drive up was about 2 hours and was a gorgeous drive through the internal countryside of Tazzy. The only problem was I got stuck behind a cop for the last 60km of the drive so that added about 20 aggravating minutes to the drive as I couldn’t pass him even when they have that stupid overtaking lane. I didn’t feel like getting pulled over and having to deal with it.
Upon arrival in the very pleasant and nice looking city, I drove around a bit and then went straight to Tant pour Tant for lunch (above), which is supposed to be the highlight of the many Parisian style patisseries in the city. I must say the ham and brie on French bread was very good. The problems were this; they were out of brie and had to give me gruyere cheese; the price was astronomical; they added too much mayo and also added lettuce which wasn’t stated on the menu; and they only gave me one slice of ham. For the cost, that pissed me off. Oh yeah, a bottle of sparkling water was like $8, unreal. Not to mention the lady behind the counter who doubled as the waitress was an angry you know what. I guess the whole experience was quite Parisian, but for some reason I keep going back to Paris, I’d imagine this will be my last jaunt to Launceston.
The only other thing to do is to visit the cataract gorge, which is lovely. They also claim to have the world’s longest single span chairlift at over 300m. I don’t know exactly what that means but it was pretty long and ungodly slow across the gorge. The other problem was it cost $15 to ride it for a few herky jerky minutes and come back. Another rip off but I guess I am glad I did it because I will never be back and the view was very nice as you can see.
I then cut across the A3 highway through some amazing scenery and forestry over to St. Helens which was about a 3 hour drive because of all the mountain roads and hairpin turns. It was a lot of fun doing that drive but you really have to concentrate, especially driving on the wrong side of the road!
St. Helen’s is the gateway to the Bay of Fires and Binalong Bay. The Bay of Fires is home to some of the best beaches in Tazzy and some awesome rock colors on the shores of the beaches. While it was pretty cold in Tazzy and certainly not beach season, you could tell that it was pretty awesome and the orange rocks made for some nice pictures, below. I couldn’t stay long because I had a three hour drive back down the gorgeous coastal A3 back to the Hobart airport to catch my plane to Sydney which I am on now.
I am spending the night in Sydney and have a noon flight tomorrow for Lord Howe Island; which many people consider the world’s most beautiful island. I will be the judge of that myself for the next few days.
I am really excited to go and do some hikes, even with my injured foot from that damn scooter accident on Christmas Island. The bleeding has obviously stopped but the gash is still pretty raw and big and rubs against the inside of my sneaker which hurts a ton when walking downhill. I have a small band aid on it but can’t be bothered going to get a bigger one; brilliant I know. Anyway, check back with me in a day or so to check out my take on Lord Howe Island!