The title of this post is printed on every car number plate and it is certainly true. Our first good impressions of “Tassie” continue to grow. Following our child-like sniggering all the way to Sandy Bay, in Hobart because of our airport shuttle bus driver, Camp Joey’s, commentary and hotel location announcements, the smirks have now turned into very impressed full-on smiles. By the way, I think Jon forgot to tell you that CJ has a friend who collects teaspoons. Sadly he is now divorced and CJ is unsure what happened to the spoons. All say ahhhhhh!
We had another one of our “find the key yourselves” experiences because our host, Emma, had been sent away to China for a few days with work. Our Airbnb this time was a second floor flat with views out across the bay – a brilliant location to explore Hobart on foot (our preferred mode of transport nowadays).
Hobart Town, as it was originally named, is the capital of the island state of Tasmania. It was founded in 1804 as a penal colony on the estuary of the Derwent River. It is the most southern of Australia’s capital cities and the harbour is the second-deepest natural port in the world.
Hobart is dwarfed by Mount Wellington which towers over 4,000 feet behind the town. The port area is called Sullivan’s Cove and various Antarctic expeditions have departed from here over the years. In 1836 Charles Darwin sailed in to town and it is recorded that he liked Hobart (and it’s variety of species) so much that if he ever emigrated it would be to Tasmania. Credit indeed.
We headed towards Hobart on our walking tour by heading for Battery Point, about 5 minutes away. This was truly a walk down memory lane with lots of small cottages which were originally occupied by officers and soldiers manning the gun battery on the edge of the bay. The circle of cottages in Arthur’s Circus looked like they had been frozen in time and, incidentally, it is the only street called a “Circus” in the whole of Australia.
We continued through to an area called Salamanca Place which had a fantastic row of old warehouses, mostly used previously for the whaling industry. These have now been sympathetically converted into bars and art/craft centres. This area leads onto Sullivan’s Cove with its fresh seafood stalls, fishing boats and lots of information on its past. Apart from the industry generated by the whaling in the mid 1800s, jam production was the big claim to fame for a large part of the wharf which had been well “preserved”. Boom boom…….. or as, for reasons unknown, our family says “parp parp”.
It was time to find a location to tuck into our sandwiches. Jon spotted a memorial in the distance so that was decided. We headed off to the park surrounding this large memorial and there were stunning views of the harbour and the Tasman Bridge which spans over the Derwent. After recovering from being knocked sideways by a strong wind (and it wasn’t Jon – parp parp), we found a little sheltered place to admire the view and munch our snacks. We chatted about how “at home” we felt in Hobart even though we were only 24 hours in.
Our walk home included a stop off at a place dear to our hearts, Tourist Information. No location is complete without a friendly chat with the TI staff and don’t forget the free brochures and leaflets. If it’s free, we’re on it. This time, however, we spent money. After interrogating the lovely staff to find out about a tour were thinking of doing and explaining how generally we hated tours, crazily we booked up for a day tour for the next day.
Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula
07.15 hours was rendezvous time at the Casino….. up rocked Kevin in his little mini bus. Capacity for 18 but only 9 jolly day trippers could be located. After a few laps around the town to try and find two would be day trippers from the Celebrity Solstice cruise liner which docked overnight in the harbour. No trace could be found, obviously lost at sea or more likely still tucking into their all day fully inclusive all you can eat breakfast. Jon nearly punched the air in victory as he was dreading sharing the 4 seats we had commandeered in the back row of the bus.
We headed over the aforementioned Tasman Bridge with Kevin giving us the run through of the day. He had a few “bonus stops” up his sleeve if we were well behaved. The itinerary:
- Drive over two convict built causeways which straddle Mid point on our way to the Tasman Peninsula. Makes the drive much quicker.
- Drive over two narrow peninsula access roads at Dunalley and Eaglehawk Neck.
- Stop off at Waterfall Bay for a walk north along the headland to the Tasman Arch. A five minute drive up the bumpiest track in Christendom was well worth it. Due to the time of year, there was a lack of waterfalls at the bay but it was still a stunning location. We strolled along the cliff edge walk passing the Devil’s Kitchen rock formation and ending up with a walk over the Tasman Arch.
- Dropped off some fellow day trippers to the Unzoo to see Tasmanian Devils. Not our thing so stayed on the bus to get extra time at Port Arthur (which we needed).
- Port Arthur nowadays is such a picturesque place but it must have been quite a sad, lonely and miserable place back in 1833 when it was where the most hardened criminals and second offenders were sent. It was considered to be a inescapable location although we were told a few stories of daring escapees who braved the sharks, starving dogs, man traps and soldiers located on the narrow entrance to the peninsula. Some of the residences for the Commandant, medical officers, accountant and the Separate Prison were in tact and could be entered. The Separate Prison was more like a corporal punishment block. The layout was based on Pentonville Prison. Prisoners were in their cells for 23 hours and day and allowed in an exercise yard for 1 hour. They only saw other prisoners on Sunday when entering the small chapel in the prison but were screened from each other during the service. There was a rule of complete silence in the whole block so the guards used a form of sign language to each other so that the silence was not broken. A lot of the prisoners, unsurprisingly, ended up with mental health issues. It took us around 4 hours to get around all the buildings, both those in tact and those in ruins, but it was beautiful weather and we sat by the harbour to eat the customary pack up and study the map. Jon keeps letting me loose with the maps in high winds – usually never a good outcome.
- Isle of the Dead. At the end of our day at the site, we had a short cruise out to the Isle of the Dead which is a very small rock island where both convicts and staff were buried. The staff had headstones for their graves and family were allowed to attend a service. The convicts were just buried and the gravedigger and priest were the only ones present. Unbelievably, over 1100 graves have been located on the island. The boat also took us out to see the opening to the ocean and then past Port Puer which was the first prison/reformatory built in the British Empire exclusively for juvenile male convicts. Three thousand boys were imprisoned there over a 15 year period some as young as 9 years old. I could say so much more about the Port Arthur Historic Site but must keep space for the bonus stops. One final thing though, sadly there was also a more recent memorial to the dead. In 1996, a gun man opened fire on the tourists and staff of the site. 35 people died and scores more injured. The motivation has not really been established, although the convicted gunman did have a fixation with the Dunblane Massacre He is currently serving 35 consecutive life sentences with no parole. Maybe they should have reopened the Separate Prison especially for him!
- Bonus stops were next. We went to the Federation Chocolate shop where we were told by Kevin to buy loads so he can get a free bar. Sorry once you have experienced Zotter nothing is the same.
- Next bonus stop was a lookout point looking down at Pirates Bay. The weather was fantastic and the view endless. We could see where we had walked earlier in the day and we could also see a rock formation out into the sea known as the Two Lanterns and Candlestick. Good bonus stop Kevin!
- Finally, we had a brief visit to Richmond to see the oldest usable bridge in Australia and then onto a Rosney Lookout high above Hobart and the harbour. What a great day out – great praise indeed from us strictly independent travellers. Made even better by the anecdotes and puns thrown in free along the way by Kevin, our guide who is not a lover of cyclists (phycholists) and what he doesn’t know about concrete is not worth knowing!
Road Trip to Launceston
Time to say goodbye to Hobart for a few days. We picked up a hire car and headed north for the 2.5 hour journey to Launceston. We had planned to head to the lookout on Mount Wellington first but the weather conspired against us with rain and low cloud so no point as the view would be non-existent. So we headed up Highway 1 and stopped off at Ross to see the Female Factory. There were original 5 of these in Tasmania and they were basically workhouses for female convicts and their children. At Ross, only the overseers cottage remains but the site is marked out quite clearly with the extensive buildings. It was only in operation for 6 years but must have been a dismal place. The location was remote. We walked up to the old burial ground but it looked like all the graves had been relocated to the town cemetery across the road, unless again they were unmarked. Time for a coffee in pretty Ross with it’s lovely few shops. The Post Office was a very old building and it had a note on the door, “Come on in – we have lit the fire”.
The scenery all the way up through the island is very dramatic and mountainous. Launceston, however, is located on the edge of the Tamar River which winds another 70 km north up to the Bass Strait. After some expert driving from Jon and checking into our new Airbnb which is on the steep banks of the river, we worked out a walking tour for the next day. It started at the harbour and included the museum, City Park (complete with monkies!), Cataract Gorge (more on that in the next blog), Aurora Stadium, town centre and ended up with Fish ‘n Chips at the Harbour. The museum was probably the best one we have seen here in Australia – it even had a planetarium and it was intriguing to see the stars what we would call the wrong way round.
Once again there has been so much to tell so I hope I haven’t been too boring. We have just been wowed by Tasmania and hope that shines through. With hindsight, we probably needed more time here and can’t believe we will be saying goodbye to Australia in one week. I am sure it will be a week to remember!!
23.11 – 26.11.2015