Tasmania: Australia’s Emerald Isle Part 2

Our blog this week is the second instalment on our time in Tasmania. If you haven’t checked out Part 1 you really should, because it’s got some great information and pictures of this mesmerising island – we would say that wouldn’t we – but its true!

Salamanca Market

A Saturday morning tradition in Hobart is a trip to the famed Salamanca Market – another one of Hobart’s top attractions. We’ve been to countless markets on our travels and it’s probably fair to say a lot of them have been quite low end in products and pricing. Salamanca Market doesn’t fall into that category. It has an excellent mix of stalls that makes it feel trendy, upmarket and exciting. It showcases local products and every stall seemed to sell unique, handmade products.


It’s a great place to browse, people watch and indulge in some tasty food. On two separate stalls the authors of two travel books were talking about their experiences and signing books. Live music from great acoustic guitarists added to the ambience, and every now and then something quite odd, such as the man reading the first sentence from every page in a paperback before tearing that page out and starting on the first sentence of the next page. It all takes pace in a lovely setting, close to the waterfront and with Mount Wellington towering above.


As we ventured from the Market to the quayside we came across a familiar sight from the Brighton Festival – the Speigeltent. It was hosting events for the Arts Festival and Sam popped in to see if it was the very same one…..and it could be. Apparently there is more than one, and this one has been to Europe – which was good enough for us.


The Market area is busy and bustling, but just a few yards alongside it, is a glorious escape from the crowds – St David’s Park. Here you cannot help yourself reading the tombstones of the original colonial settlers – “First Fleeters” as they are often referred to. Some came to a rather adventurous end…


…and we were surprised and delighted to find a fellow Brightonian memorialised in the Park..


Mount Wellington

Constantly looming over Hobart is the rather intimidating and brooding sight of Mount Wellington. Our friends and Hobart locals, Julie and Den, treated us to what we imagine is a local Hobart tradition – a spin to the top to look down on the capital and countryside beyond. It’s a twisty route to the top but when you get there the reward is breathtaking; this is in part due to the near freezing temperatures at the peak….


….but it’s more to do with the astonishing panorama, which includes an eye-level view of the clouds passing by.  This was the first time we had seen the mountain free of cloud and we were thrilled and chilled to experience it.


After a thoroughly agreeable lunch at the local Cascade Brewery, Julie and Den treated us to another spectacular vista, this one from the home of their daughter Kim who lives in the countryside just outside Hobart. It has to be the greatest back garden view we’ve ever had the privilege of seeing.


We had such a lovely time with Julie and Den, and it was hard to believe that we had met them for the first time just a few days before. Occasionally you meet people who immediately feel like old friends and they made our stay in Hobart extra special and memorable.


Richmond is a quaint spot just a twenty minute drive from Hobart. Its main attractions apart from the generally pleasant village bonhomie is the picturesque bridge that has the claim to fame of being the oldest in Australia having been built in 1825.


Naturally the bridge was built using convict labour. Legend has it that a hard task-master overseer pushed his discipline to far…and found himself pushed too far as well – over the bridge onto the rocks below where he now haunts the arches….allegedly.


Richmond also has an excellent old gaol that has been really well maintained. It’s very small – a speck in the convict punishment and rehabilitation system compared to Port Arthur – but fascinating nonetheless as buildings and records have been so well preserved. There are some tiny cells and the records show that the lash was liberally used when prisoners stepped out of line. It makes for a good half day detour from Hobart – but no more than that.

Ye Olde Richmond Lettere Boxe – I have a thing about letter boxes!


Heading To The Wild West

Leaving Hobart early afternoon meant that we didn’t have the time to make it to the West Coast of any of the “larger” towns on the way. Instead we booked an AirBnB in Ellendale a 2/3 hour drive. Our host had warned us to get some food on the way as there wasn’t much in Ellendale. I failed miserably to take this advice and on rolling into this tiny settlement we spotted its one shop and bought a meal consisting of a lump of cheese, a tomato, two packets of crisps and a bag of liquorice mmmm……wholesome!

To call Ellendale a settlement is stretching a point, it’s a few houses, a shop, cemetery and the road running through it. It truly is in the middle of nowhere. Things got stranger when we met our AirBnB host, a slightly eccentric but very funny and sociable harpist (is there any other sort?). As the rain eased off we had just enough daylight for some sightseeing and our host recommended popping down to Mount Field National Park where a short walk would take us to Russell Falls, which given the weather and time would be deserted.

A carefully cropped picture of Russell Falls

We found the National Park in no time but were surprised to see the car park rammed full of cars and motor homes. On making enquires to someone who looked official (he had a walkie-talkie) he told us that filming was talking place for a new TV thriller series that is being shot all over Tasmania.


On reaching the waterfall we found a film crew beavering away preparing for a scene involving a dead body wrapped up in barbed wire at the bottom of a waterfall – what a way to go! The poor actor in her blood stained dressing gown had to lay in the water as the shot was prepared, dry ice blasted into the ravine and a drone took off to get shots of the suitably dramatic setting.

We were told to take no pics of the scene….

After the initial surprise of stumbling across all of the activity it became clear how slow, and painstaking filming is. So much for having the waterfall to ourselves!

With the light fading we headed further into the park and made our first sighting of snow for a very long time, with dramatic snow-covered mountain tops looking down on us. It made for a very striking and awe-inspiring sight.

Snow-capped Tassie Mountains

That night was the first time we’ve needed to use an electric blanket for which we were very grateful. In the morning we were treated to an exceptional breakfast – pancakes with raspberries and yoghurt. I asked if the raspberries were local? “Local! Local!” shouted our host, “they are from the bloody garden” she continued excitedly, before apologising – “that’s the first time I’ve ever sworn at a guest’. She was great value and it’s a stopover that was fully in keeping with the the wonderfully off-kilter character of Tassie.

The Wall

When discussing our trip west with Julie she recommended popping into The Wall in the Wilderness – an art gallery with a difference. Here the artist Greg Duncan is sculpting from wood images of life in the Central Highlands……..on panels of wood 3 metres high and one hundred metres long. However, it isn’t the quantity that is of interest here, it is the quality of wood sculpting which is quite incredible in its detail and design. To find this astonishing gallery in the wilds of the island was fantastic. There is a very strict “no photos” policy at the gallery but please do look at the images on the galleries website: The Wall

The Wall is a work in progress, which means there are sections that are partly completed, showing the rough sections of work underway, and others where outline sketches have been started. This makes it an even more satisfying spectacle, being able to see the stages the artist is going through to reach his end goal. It couldn’t be more different from the MONA and it was great to experience this contrast which has a stronger focus on a traditional handcraft and subjects.

This is a serious space. Along with the “no photography” requests there were stern warnings about misbehaving children that bluntly advised that they would be expected to leave forthwith if they stepped out of line – how refreshing.


Our journey onward took on a more melancholy atmosphere as we drove through old mining and mineral towns whose glory days are long gone. Places like Queenstown, Zeehan and Rosebery all felt like stepping into the past from which the future looked at best uncertain. In that sense they are interesting, a snapshot of places that sprang up and were mined until they became unviable.

Iron Blow Lookout: a mix of the natural and man made

Queenstown did have one redeeming feature however, some wonderful folks in the town have managed to preserve and maintain its original cinema – the Paragon Theatre – which in the town’s boom years attracted premiers of new films.


It’s still showing classic films (Casablanca on the day we were there) and you can take a self-guided tour around the theatre, imaging how vibrant it must have been in its heyday.



After Queenstown we made our most westerly point on Tassie, the lovely port town of Strahan which reminded me of Westport in Mayo – but with a lot less pubs!

Strahan Quay


There is a beautiful clear light in Strahan that seems to make the place glow, and a calm about it that makes you feel all is well with the world. It has a sense of wellbeing that you want to bottle and carry around with you. It might have been no coincidence that storms had taken out local wifi and we found ourselves without any social media for our stay there: unconnected with the virtual world, but very connected with the real one.

Strahan’s Old Police Station

Cradle Mountain

That sense of connection with nature and the countryside increased tenfold as we approached one of the most lauded and iconic sites in Tasmania (and Australia) – Cradle Mountain. We had been warned about the slim chances of being able to view it at all, but our luck was in and from the distance we began to glimpse the majesty of this mountain.


The Cradle Mountain National Park is a vast area so on arrival we had to pick the main highlights to investigate, particularly Dove Lake which sits shimmering beneath the peak.


Unbeknown to us the Park also boasts of large population of wombats and it wasn’t long before we found one snuffling around on the grass totally unperturbed by our attention and admiration. We were stunned by how large Wombats are having imagined them to be much more possum-like in size. In reality they look far more like a furry pig! They are very cute and seem quite contented going about their business which mostly seems to involve eating vegetation.


Cradle Mountain offers a multitude of treks which vary from short walks to full-on hiking for days at a time. Beautiful boardwalks take you through meadows, while other tracks run alongside rivers and streams. It really is a stunning setting and we felt incredibly lucky to see it on such a clear and crisp day.



We reluctantly dragged ourselves away from Cradle Mountain to our final stop on Tassie’s north coast – the wonderful town of Penguin, which is every bit as charming and quirky as its namesake. On entering the town you can’t help being amused at seeing the Penguin Fire Station, the Penguin Railway Station, Penguin Meals on Wheels and our favourite, the Penguin Library which looked like the Tardis…


However we did come across one rather alarming shop sign…


It’s a cracking little town with a fabulous beachfront that adds to the feel-good factor here.




About an hour or so westwards along the north coast is Stanley, and its famous “Nut” the large geological protuberance that rises above the town.

Stanley Nut – Cracking!

If Strahan was the west of Ireland, Stanley had a real feel of Cornwall about its beaches..

Stanley Bay

Exploring Stanley we came across the home of Joe Lyons – the only Tasmanian to become Prime minister of Australia. His family home was humble but the view of the bay was wonderful.


In Stanley we came across a timely and moving reminder of the brutality of colonialism in Tasmania. With all of the incredible beauty and magical atmosphere filling your senses its easy to forget how this land was taken from the indigenous people…


Our time in Tassie was over, having flown by. Despite it’s proximity to the mainland, Tasmania really does feel like a unique place. If you ask locals whether they describe themselves as Australian or Tasmanian, its always the latter. It has its own feel which is amplified by the landscape, flora, fauna and atmosphere. Describing Tassie as our mini-NZ trip isn’t fair to Tassie (or New Zealand). It has its very own character and atmosphere making it quite unlike anywhere we’ve seen in the southern hemisphere. There can’t be many places that offer so much variety in terms of stunning sights and fascinating history on a relatively small island. That it remains off the beaten track adds to the joy of discovering its treasures. It’s certainly starting to appear on travellers radars and with so much to offer if you get the chance to visit take at least a week and preferably longer to make the most of this remarkable island.

Next week: A Return to Queensland and the heritage gem of Maryborough. 

Tasmania: Australia’s Emerald Isle Part 1

We are talking Tasmania for the next two weeks. We tried and failed miserably to fit it all into one blog but there is so much to say about this incredible island. Its got it all: stunning diverse countryside; a fascinating colonial history; tales of gruesome bushrangers and convicts; two of the best art galleries in the world; weird and wonderful wildlife; breath-taking mountain-top views; meeting wonderful new friends; ghosts galore; deserted mining towns; and discovering a dead body at the foot of a tumultuous waterfall. If that doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will!

When our time at Brisbane came to an end we had a period just shy of two weeks before a house and pet sit further up the coast in Queensland. Thinking about our options Sam had the inspired idea of jumping on a plane and spending the time in Tasmania, or Tassie as the locals refer to it!

Having spent far longer in Australia than we planned, our time to get to New Zealand during the summer had run out, so we decided that Tassie would be our “mini NZ” trip. It wasn’t on our radar at all but we are so pleased to have visited this remarkable and unique place.

Our Tassie Trip Map


Arriving in “Lonnie” we picked up our hire car and drove out of the airport, straight into beautiful green countryside and quiet roads. As we pottered along we both commented on how much it reminded us of Ireland (albeit a good deal drier), which wasn’t the last time we would make that comparison over the next twelve days – especially when it did rain!

Like a lot of Tassie, Lonnie is a very hilly city and we found ourselves staying in a lovely hilltop AirBnB – great for rolling into town, but a killer on the way back, especially after downing a few Boag’s, the local brew. Despite our new commitment to running we couldn’t face going up and down the hills, so instead found a small square that we spent thirty minutes criss-crossing in a successful bid to avoid any semblance of a slope.

Launceston is Tasmania’s second city, although its centre is a bit tired and as we were to discover later in the trip, it’s a distant second to Hobart. However, you don’t really go to Tassie for the built environment, it’s the nature that calls you and we spent the best part of a day at Lonnie’s main attraction, the Cataract Cliffs.


Access into this stunning park area was developed in the 1890’s, with pathways and bridges provided to ensure superb walks and glorious views of the gorges.


With peacocks wandering around and pademelons hopping about it is a visit that is quite enchanting. Having said that, there was something slightly hair-raising about the vintage  “ski-lift” journey that takes you across part of the gorge. It’s not the most stable ride although the very sedate pace and unfolding vistas made it a bit more relaxing.

After exploring the walks, nooks and crannies of the Cataract Cliffs we jumped in the car and circumnavigated the River Tamar that runs through the city into the north coast and the Bass Strait. In contrast to the gorge, here the scenery is flat and serene, and information boards along the route tell of wonderfully grisly stories of escaped convict outlaws – including cannablism: check out Alexander Pearce’s story   – who terrorised the authorities. We visited Brady’s Lookout, named after the “Gentleman Bushranger” Matthew Brady – Tassie’s very own Ned Kelly….with table manners.  On learning that the Governor had offered a reward for his capture, Brady responded in kind, offering a reward of rum for anyone who could deliver him the Governor! Brady’s cunning and good luck eventually ran out in 1826 when he was captured and met his denouement at the end of a hangman’s rope.

Brady’s Lookout

We finished our day back at the gorges with a cliff side walk, strapped into safety harnesses and clambering along a rickety rope and timber bridges getting great views of Lonnie – when we weren’t looking down to make sure of our footing!


East Coast to  Bicheno and Freycinet

Heading east out of Launceston toward the coast we were treated to winding roads through thick forests with occasional reveals of the landscape ahead as we got higher. Another example of the remarkable variety in Tassie. The names along the coast reflect the efforts of French explorers who navigated the waters on the east coast.

Looking East

Slowly but surely the weather turned greyer and wetter and reminded us of being back home in the UK. We had hoped to see the wonderfully named Bay of Fires in all its natural beauty, but with the rain setting in it was a bit of a damp squib and we made for our next stop in Bicheno to admire its famed blowhole.

Our AirBnB was directly opposite the beach and the blowhole – a brilliant location made even better by its proximity to a delicious lobster shack! The next day we took a chance with the weather and went to Freycinet National Park, lauded for its views and beaches. The route involves committing to quite a long drive on to a peninsula and having to retrace your steps. Despite the weather it was worth the extra driving as it’s a very atmospheric place especially with the clouds draped over the bays and mountain tops….

Freycinet Coastline

….and the crumpled rocks along the coast that have a strange red / copper hue to them rising out of crystal clear almost turquoise water, all of which makes for a slightly unreal unworldly experience – a delightful sensation you repeatedly get in Tasmania.

On the beach at Freycinet

Sadly the mists prevented us from seeing the iconic Wineglass Bay, so named….well you can guess the rest. However, this is the chance you take here, some days Tassie reveals and revels in its gorgeousness, other times it’s a bit more coy. As if to illustrate that point in spades a few hours later as we started to near Port Arthur we came across the astonishing sight of Dunalley at low tide. We’ve never  seen so much beach and so much sky at the same time, truly jaw-dropping.

Dunalley Panorama

Port Arthur

Where to begin with Port Arthur. Tucked away in the south east corner of the island Port Author is a UNESCO world historic site hosting the remains of one of the largest penal settlements that dates back to the 1830’s. After falling into disrepair when transportation came to an end and buildings were broken up, damaged and left to ruin, it has been rejuvenated by fantastic renovation and conservation work.

Port Arthur – Main Building

The site is enormous covering several buildings, substantial grounds with ornate gardens, lakes and nearby islands including the Isle of the Dead: the final resting place for over 1000 convicts and colony staff.  Port Arthur has a strange and eerie feel to it that creates a slightly chilling institutional atmosphere while being incongruously sandwiched between green rolling hills and a beautiful bay.

Looking Back From The Bay

With a catchy mission statement of  “A machine to grind rogues honest” it’s not difficult to imagine how tough conditions must have been for the convicts – especially the repeat offenders who found themselves in the punishment block in tiny solitary confinement cells where a practice of total isolation and silence was designed to break their spirit…. and often did.


On arriving at the site we had a spare twenty minutes before boarding a boat for a tour of the bay. A guide suggested we take a look at the Memorial Garden that honoured those killed at Port Arthur. We assumed that this was a reference to staff and/or convicts, but were shocked to discover that the Gardens honour the thirty five innocent victims of Australia’s worst mass shooting which took place in April 1996. We both felt quite ashamed at not being able to recall this atrocity. We subsequently discovered that there is an unwritten rule that no one speaks the name of the perpetrator, and that the incident fundamentally changed Australian gun laws by introducing far greater controls.


The Garden is a sombre and peaceful remembrance to the victims and their families. The massacre is very much in the consciousness of the Australian people and a couple of weeks after visiting Port Arthur it was back in the headlines when the appalling One Nation Party was caught out seeking fundraising assistance from the NRA in the States with the aim of softening Australia’s gun laws shaped by the atrocity. One can only hope voters remember this act when they go to the polls in May.

Eaglehawk Neck

Close to our BnB (which included a bizarre diorama of convicts building a railway – that was a first) we made our way to the wonderfully named Eaglehawk Neck for a bite to eat and a beer. Our landlady recommended checking out the local natural phenomenon on the beach – the tessellated pavement.


Sure enough a strange set of geological circumstances that we don’t have the intelligence to understand let alone describe have created a peculiar rock platform with an appearance and symmetry that looks manmade but is entirely natural. It’s not going to get anymore technical than that, so here is another picture…..

The Tessellated Pavement of Eaglehawk Neck – try saying that after five Boag’s!

One of the things that is really noticeable in Tassie, compared to the mainland, is the amount of roadkill on the sides of the roads. All sorts of creatures, but particularly wallabies it seems, suffer collisions with traffic. In turn this has created a threat to the Tassie Devil who feed on carrion. Attracted to the roadside feasts on offer, the Devils themselves get hit. As a result measures are being taken to move roadkill away from the highways to help protect Devil numbers. We have to be honest and say that there is nothing very endearing about the Tassie Devil – the Bogan of Australian wildlife (its the teeth that do it). As they are nocturnal we didn’t get to see any in the wild and didn’t want to see them in zoo’s or wildlife centres – so we had to make do with being aware of their presence.


Taking the road sign advice we motored back from Eaglehawk Neck slowly in the dark, creeping along with the full beam on. Sure enough an animal that we weren’t able to identify ran in front of the car. Thankfully we were able to stop and then watched bemused as the animal stared at us mesmerised by the headlights, it then seemed to do a pirouette and finally scuttle off to sanctuary. We didn’t hold much hope for the longevity of that critter.

Hobart: MONA

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart is quite an adventure,  an attraction that brings people from all over the world to Tasmania. There can’t be many galleries that offer their very own catamaran ferry to take you to its grounds…


..which are set in its own vineyard…


MONA  is very much an experience and one that deserves several hours to make the most of its remarkable collections. Finding all of the displays in its labyrinth of rooms, doorways and levels is part of the fun. Despite covering every er….nook and cranny we never did find the famed wall of vaginas! However, there is so much on offer here it overwhelms the senses with dazzling displays that mess with your mind, perception and, yes taste. We could fill an entire blog with pictures and thoughts on MONA, so here are a few examples of the extraordinary art on show starting with the tattooed man –  Tim  – who sits on his plinth for six hours a day. When he dies his skin will be “removed” and displayed….


….a perfect huge sphere in one of the restaurants that can be entered for an intense  sensory perception experience…


…a jet of water that forms and fires out the most common words being used on the web at that moment…

…..the ever changing Light Tunnel…


….the genius of skeletal x-ray stained glass


..and this remarkable room where you are let in one by one. From above and when you first enter the room the “black” looks like a black painted void – then as you adjust your senses you realise that the “black” is actually crude oil filled shoulder high reflecting the light from above – as you might imagine the smell is intense and the effect amazing.


This eclectic selection barely scratches the surface of this fabulous collection. We spent the best part of a day at MONA and loved it. It is in your face and certainly some of the exhibits are gut churning, but it’s fun, challenging and makes you want to come back for more, a cultural highlight of our travels.

Hobart: Barney and Frankie

Having decided to travel to Tassie we checked out house sitting opportunities and were fortunate enough to land a five day sit looking after a Terrier called Barney and a Beagle called Frankie. They were a hilarious couple, very playful and mischievous, but obedient and great fun to walk.  Little Barney is one of those dogs that starts a commotion by yapping furiously at much larger dogs and once satisfied that it’s all kicking off, he will scamper off content with the mayhem he has created in the local dog park.

Frankie and Barney: an irrepressible double act.

Hobart also afforded us the opportunity to meet up with Julie and Den, relatives of Sam’s sister Sandra. Unlike other friends and relatives we’ve hooked up with on our travels we hadn’t met Julie and Den before and it was such a great pleasure getting to know them, enjoying their wonderful hospitality, benefitting on advice on where to go and being taken to some breathtaking sights……all of which we will cover in the second part of our blogs on tremendous Tasmania.

Next Up – Tasmania Part 2: More Hobart, the Wild West, Murder in the Waterfall, Cradle Mountain Wombats and PPPPenguin Butchery!