Holidays in Hobart - Part 2
Tree-top adventures, platypus sightings, thermal baths, stunning waterways, and historic sites - this is Tasmania!
I had just 4 days here in Tasmania, and although day one was already over, it had been a packed day. I’d wandered around Hobart and soaked in the history and the beauty the area had to offer, and was now heading south towards Geeveston where my friend lives. We chatted in the car, trying not to wake the kids, and it was so good to catch up. It was getting dark, as it was around 5pm and winter, but the drive was nice and relaxing. We got to Katie’s house and had dinner and a few drinks, chilling and enjoying good conversation. Katie and her partner Nathan live in a house just outside of Geeveston, having moved from Sydney a few years back. I loved the area, and there has always been a part of me that wanted to do the same – pack up and leave the crazy capital and move to the countryside in a house with some land to grow veggies. And get a dog. Maybe a goat too. And a duck of course. Anyway, enough about my farm fantasies! They have a great little setup here, great for the kids and a lovely house with a big backyard, and I was very happy for them! I woke up the next day to a misty view out of the bedroom window, but it was so beautiful that I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes and shoes and went outside to snap some pics. I had to be careful in the backyard though, as wallabies quite often jump the fence to get to the lush grass, and they poo everywhere. After breakfast, we decided to do a bit of driving and sightseeing., and headed south towards Hastings for a dip in the thermal baths.
I know what you’re thinking – thermal baths in the middle of winter? In Tasmania? To be fair, winter is a great time for hot baths, but I didn’t know that there were any natural thermal pools in Australia at all, let alone Tasmania. It wasn’t a long drive, but the roads are small and curvy, and sadly also full of splattered roadkill, so it wasn’t the fastest either. This is a real problem in Tasmania, one that a lot of people care about too, but there are so many animal fatalities that if you stopped every time to check pouches for babies, you’d never get anywhere. If I ever moved to Tasmania, I think I would do this – drive the roads, stopping to help wildlife, nursing native animals back to health, and definitely get involved with a local group that focuses on this problem, or start my own organisation. It’s just so sad to see so many wallabies, kangaroos and sometimes devils, flattened on the road. On the country roads in New South Wales, you may see a few dead kangaroos, but nothing like this. I also don’t want to imagine what happened to the people and their cars after hitting these animals – the last thing you want is to hit a kangaroo or a wombat, as they can easily wreck a car. Along the way, we stopped at Dover beach to stretch out legs and enjoy the view. Although it was winter and quite chilly, the beach was lovely and the sun was shining; it almost made me want to jump in, it was that pretty. Katie told me that they sometimes come here to swim in summer, but even then it isn’t even busy. If this was within 2 hours of Sydney, it would be packed every weekend! Dover beach sits in a small inlet, looking out towards Hope Island, and even further out to Bruny Island. This is a place that I would l also like to visit, but will have to wait for next time. It is stunning here, and I feel that anywhere in Tasmania you are close to water and surrounded by nature. I love this island!
The next day we headed out to Tahune Adventures and the treetop walks, just outside of Geeveston. The plan was to head there and experience their treetop walk and do a short loop in the forest. First, though, we stopped off in Geeveston for a bite to eat… and to see if we could spot a platypus! This little town may not be much to look at, not very big or busy, but it is pretty, has a real village feel to it, and it is very friendly. We had a bite to eat in heritage park, right next to the newly built Arv Big Tree site, which is an artistic representation of one of the huge trees that grow in the area, and commemorates the struggle and fight put up by the local volunteers, fire brigade and other workers during the 2019 bushfire season. This tree was huge, standing at more than 87m and was metres in diameter, surviving the 1967 bushfires but perished in the Black Summer of 2019 that were some of the worst on record in Tasmania and Australia. The tree was most likely over 500 years old, and was around well before white people even thought of coming here. We also dropped into the community centre at the town hall to check out some local artists work, talk to the locals, as well as buy a book or two for myself. I grabbed the amazing Poo Flip book, which is a laminated (just in case you drop it in poo) fold out chart of native animal poo with life sized images. A great purchase I must add, and I can’t wait to flip it out the next time I come across some scat, poo, droppings or dung! Sadly, the platypus was nowhere to be seen today, the river was cold and dark, and no signs of this elusive creature. We continued onto the tree walk and decided that we will give it one last chance (third time lucky hopefully!), as we had done a lap before and after breakfast.
The road leading down to the valley where the Tahune Adventures was situation was a lovely, yet foggy road, with towering trees either side of the road, with ferns and other rainforest foliage covering nearly every square inch of the ground. We stopped and had a quick walk around, taking pics of the mushrooms that were springing up everywhere and some of the beautiful plants. The tree top walk was also quite exciting – it was a metal platform which rose at least 20m off the ground and went through the forest. The tops of the trees easily soared over the walkway, and were truly impressive. Although I thought that it would be greener, given the rain and low temperatures lately, the forest, it seemed, was still recovering from those devastating fires a couple of years ago. After walking around for a bit, taking in the misty views of the trees and river below, we grabbed a coffee and warmed up beside the open fire in inside the visitor centre. There weren’t many people here, but there weren’t many people anywhere so far in Tasmania – partly due to covid restrictions for tourists and locals, but also because there aren’t that many Tasmanians either. The state of Tasmania is roughly 68,000km², which is about the same size as the Republic of Ireland, and has a population of just 540,000, the same as Dublin. That’s a lot of empty spaces with just trees and animals. We headed back towards Geeveston and home, but thought we’d drop in and visit the platypus river one more time, in the hopes of seeing this rarely seen mammal. As it turned out, third time was a charm, and I spotted the little critter as he popped up for some air. He (or she) was about 30cms long, and came to the surface and swam against the current, just keeping up, then went back under. It was a very surreal moment, and even seeing the platypus with my own eyes nearly wasn’t enough to convince that it was real – imagine the first Europeans who saw these strange animals for the first time, part otter, part duck, with their claws, webbed feet, and bill, nobody would have believed them, and then when you come back to show your friends, you’d never be able to spot one again. I was so happy to have had this moment, and even managed to snap a few pics before the moment was gone. Thank you, platypus, and thank you Tasmania! Also, a big thank you to Katie, for being the best tour guide and guaranteeing a platypus sighting!
On the way home, we stopped off in a little town called Franklin for a quick bite to eat. As it turned out, the only place that was open was Frank’s Cider Café, but we weren’t disappointed by this at all. In fact, couldn’t have planned it better if we’d wanted to! Frank does a few varieties of cider, all very tasty, as well as some great cake, which I couldn’t help but try. The café is inside an old wooden church, and has a some old farm equipment on display, as well as photos and information about the history of Frank’s apple and cider business. What a way to top off an already great day! Before leaving, I decided to buy a souvenir from Tasmania, a 400-year-old piece of Tasmania’s famous Huon Pine, all polished up nicely and signed by the artist. I also have to mention that Franklin is a very beautiful place. It sits right on an inlet that is mirror still, with a few sail boats and a small wooden jetty, and a view of some hills in the background. We drove back home to grab the rest of my things before heading to the bus stop where I’d catch the bus back to Hobart. I thanked Katie again for the great time and her hospitality, and promised to visit again. The bus was quick and I got into Hobart in no time. I had a great pub meal and a pint or two on the Hobart waterfront, and stayed the night in the same empty backpackers as my first night. It was my last day before heading back to Sydney, and I still had to make my way to Port Arthur and back to get the plane at 8pm. I got up early and went down to buy a bus ticket, but discovered that the bus times were different in winter, and I’d missed it already. Disappointed, but not defeated, I ducked back up the hill to hire a care from a place I’d spotted earlier (Hobart is quite small). I managed to get a decent deal on a little corolla, probably the best price in town from what I’d seen, but it was still expensive at nearly $100 for the day. I later found out that the car rental companies down here had sold most of their fleets just to survive covid, and so were now charging double on the few they had left. Anyway, I didn’t have another option if I wanted to visit the historic site of Port Arthur, so I jumped in the car and headed out of the city and into the past.
The drive out of Hobart didn’t take long, as it’s a small city, and before I knew it I was crossing the huge Tasman Bridge and heading East. Just outside the city and I was already in lush countryside surroundings, green fields, livestock and the beautiful, ever-present ocean. I had to stop a few times along the way to appreciate the beauty of the area – everywhere was just a postcard! One place was the Tasman Bay National Park, driving down from a rise down and across a thin stretch of land called Eaglehawk Neck. From the lookout, you looked out across the Tasman and some of the beaches there were spectacular, and went for miles without any sign of people at all. I got to Port Arthur 100kms later, parked, paid my entry few, and walked back 200 years into the past. Originally founded as a timber station in 1830, and named after the lieutenant of Tasmania (or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then called), it was soon converted into a penal colony for the toughest and roughest of the convicts. Normally prisoners would arrive in Australia, serve their sentence be set free, but the ones that didn’t stick to the rules, who reoffended while still serving their sentence, where shipped from Hobart to Port Arthur. This place, which is mostly preserved, had some of the strictest security measures at the time, and is a great early example of the panopticon system theories by Jeremy Bentham. This meant that the prisoners were always, and easily, watched by one guard, with this one person being able supervise many prisoners simultaneously. Food was used as a reward and a punishment system, with good behaviour earning luxuries like tea and tobacco, while those that didn’t behave got bread and water. Hoods were also to keep prisoners silent, allowing them time for reflection, but many developed mental illnesses instead. Before Port Arthur stopped being used as a prison in 1877, it had already become a tourist attraction. However, by then it was pretty much abandoned, left to fires, people buying some of the land and tearing down the buildings. By the 1970s though, it was being run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and became a conservation site in 1987 and a UNESCO site in 2010. It's hard not to feel the history here, the dark days of convict life and of early European settlement in Australia.
Nowadays, 250,000 people visit every year, the building are well-maintained and it's not hard to imagine what it would have looked like back then. It is also still a very beautiful location, and your entry ticket includes a short 30-minute boat trip around the bay, which gives a great perspective of the site. Sadly, this already gloomy place has another stain on its name – it 1996 it was the sight of the deadliest massacre in modern Australia with one man, Martin Bryant, killing 35 people and injuring 23 others. He received 25 life sentences, in addition to 1,035 years without chance of parole, and it also brought about the nation’s firearms buyback scheme to remove semi and automatic guns from the public. This place is beautiful, historic, yet very tragic. As lovely as the area is, it has such a dark history that I think everyone should visit – not just for the massacre and remembering what guns can do to people, but in the hope that prisons like this never exist again. I did enjoy my time here, and would recommend it to every Australian. I drove back to the capital, just in time to get the sunset from Mt Wellington. I watched as it got dark (and cold!) from high up looking over Hobart, and thought that this was the perfect way to end my little trip. I felt very lucky indeed to have pulled off this Tasmanian getaway! I returned the car, grabbed some food, and made it to the bus stop for the airport shuttle. Arriving at the airport 30 mins before my flight, I was a little worried, but I was in and through security and boarding my plane within 10 minutes! Thank you Tasmania, for a great holiday – hopefully I will be back one day soon to have more awesome adventures here!
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. June 2021.