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