A Glimpse into Captivating Tasmania
Updated: Apr 21
As I mentioned in my blog about Melbourne, to be able to see everything on our itinerary in Australia within 14 days, flying was our only option. Thankfully, the Melbourne airport was a pleasure. Everyone in security was so helpful and friendly. We entered our Virgin Australia flight from the rear—what great sense this makes. We arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, to find the airport only had stairs down from the plane which I generally love because it makes me feel like a movie star. This feeling went away quickly when we had to descend down the stairs in a cold mist. (We were assured that the climate is temperate, and Hobart is the second driest city in Australia—just not on our first day there.)
First, a little history…
Hobart was founded in 1804 as a penal colony and for the timber that was used in shipbuilding. Throughout our visit in Australia, our guides kept blaming Americans, kiddingly—I think—for penal colonies being established in their country. Before the American Revolution, more criminals were being sent to the American colonies, but after 1776, the English were forced to find space elsewhere which led to the development of large penal colonies in Australia to house the 162,000 convicts sent there. (The other significant event that brought Europeans to Australia in 1851 and later to Tasmania was the discovery of gold and the ensuing Gold Rush.)
And now, back to Tasmania…
Our drive from the airport took us within view of Mount Wellington. The weather at the mountain is said to predict the weather for Hobart. (For example: If it rains on Mount Wellington, it will rain later in Hobart.) The roads were lined with purple and white lilies of the valley that grow profusely in the area. We stopped at Rosny Hill Lookout for the scenic overview of the Hobart Harbor with the Tasman Bridge tying the city together.
After a brief orientation to the city, we arrived at Hadley’s Orient Hotel which was built in the 1830s. Over its lifetime it has housed such dignitaries as the Antarctic explorer Roald Amundsen and Soprano Dame Nellie Melba (Think Melba toast which was named after her.) After a quick lunch at a nearby food court, we walked to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. The majority of the museum explained the arrival of European Abel Tasman in 1642 and the devastating effects his arrival had on the Aboriginals and native animals such as the Tasmanian Tiger. (The Tasmanian Tiger became extinct in 1936.)
We returned to our hotel for a walk with our awesome tour guide, Rob Lippitt, to see the Salamanca Market and have a drink at The Whaler, a neat pub. Many of the shops, restaurants, and pubs are in this area and further along the harbor. I can’t say enough about how friendly and helpful people were here. Many stopped and offered directions as we looked at maps—or even when we were just admiring the scenery.
In addition, Australia is a very safe destination. We were never worried.
The next morning, we were off to see more of this beautiful island on our way to the Tasmania UnZoo. Tasmania has many wilderness areas and a rain forest. We drove past fields with Oreo cattle—officially belted Galloways but they have black on the front and back and a band of white in the middle. We passed scenic vineyards and apple orchards before we arrived.
As we entered the Tamanian Devil UnZoo, we spotted galaxias fish that can actually breathe air and then on to one of the highlights of the day---the Tasmanian Devils. These animals are carnivorous and eat everything of their prey except the jaw bones. Their bite is the strongest per body weight of any animal. Devils are scavengers and may even eat other devils. Stories tell that Devils ate all of an unfortunate hiker except the rubber soles on his shoes. They aren’t picky eaters either; they once ate a beached Sperm Whale that had been dead five weeks. Devils may have up to 40 babies at a time, each one by different fathers, but only 4 make it to the pouch and survive. The rest become breakfast for the mother.
How did these animals get their names? English prisoners in the penal colonies heard the unearthly cries the animals made and thought it was the devil coming to make them pay for their sins.
Our visit continued past another marsupial, a Pademelon complete with its joey, and past more rare Cape Barren Geese before entering the kangaroo area. These adorable kangaroos were definitely used to visitors as they came up to us and ate out of our hands before lying down to be petted. What a special experience for us!
Port Arthur, our next stop, presented a change of mood. Started as a penal colony in 1830, the prison also served as a timber station where convicts could learn skills associated with that industry. The visit grew even more meaningful as we drew cards and “became” one of the many convicts or staff living in the facility. The Park Ranger gave an entertaining, but factual, recount of the life of the penal colony and brought the story down to the individuals we portrayed. As our guide said, Port Arthur was a great location because it is on a peninsula off an island off an island “at the a**-end of the world.” After serving their sentence, reformed prisoners were released and could become citizens of communities.
The penitentiary was originally a grain mill. To me, the irony of the site is that prisons’ barred windows looked out over the beautiful bay but also over the Isle of the Dead where all who died at Port Arthur, whether staff or convicts, were buried.
Our ride home was filled with fun stops such as in the town of Doo Town where residents bought into the unique name of their town with signs at every house along the road. The signs provided memorable monikers such as Dr. Doolittle, Can-Doo, and She’ll Doo. We also visited Tasmans Arch and Devils Kitchen, quick stops to see more of the amazing nature that Tasmania contains. We were thankful for our stop at Doo-lishus, a fried seafood and ice cream truck!
Then back to Hobart for another wonderful seafood meal, this time at Mures Upper Deck for dinner and a view. Across the marina were boats that provide transportation to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art that we didn’t have time to visit but was high on our list. Oh well…maybe next time?
We left the hotel early the next day bound for Bruny Island on a tour by Pennicott Wilderness Journeys. The first scenic drive paused for a ferry ride across Doncaster Channel. (By the way…Bruny Island is an island off an island which is called the mainland, but it’s really an island.) Our ferry ride was escorted by dolphins who played along side us and brought smiles to our faces.
Bruny Island Cheese Factory to taste cheese and craft beers was our first stop. (Beer at 9:00 a.m.? It must be 5:00 somewhere.) The day was an eating and hiking day, so we stopped at Oyster Cove Store to pick up fresh oysters for our tasting later. We had a quick stop at Truganini Lookout that provides an amazing view of the narrowest portion of the island. Truganini was a member of the Nuenonne people of the island who fought for the rights of her people. (Note: If you are driving, please know that there is only one gas station on the entire island.)
Our next stop was Adventure Bay where both Captain Cook and Captain Bligh came to get fresh water. We visited the nearby Bligh Museum that chronicles explorers of the area. Two of Captain Bligh’s journals—in impeccable handwriting—are on display, one from the USS Bounty’s visit in Adventure Bay and the other from his time on the USS Providence. By this time, we were hungry again and went to Got Shucked where we feasted on the fresh oysters we had picked up—and other cooked items. In addition to great seafood, they claim to have the southernmost elevator in Australia.
After lunch we drove to the MaVista Rainforest Walk for a short hike and a trial of Tasmanian pepper berries—hot little berries that have a lingering side effect—they make water seem very sweet for the rest of the day.
On our way to our next stop, the Bruny Island Chocolate Factory, we caught glimpses of white wallabies which can only be found on Bruny Island. Our guide at the factory gave us all some of their chocolate—not really a tasting just simply a chocolate bar—and led us on a quick exploration of the owners’ beautiful gardens before we boarded the bus to head for the honey tasting at Bruny Island Honey. The honeys are from multiple local plants such as the Blue Gum (Eucalyptus) and Manuka. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take honey to New Zealand because of their strict laws to protect their flora and fauna. (Always check the requirements to get back to the US, also.) Honey ice cream was another highlight before we headed back to the ferry and then to our hotel. (We did run over to the Bruny Island Cherry stand while waiting for the ferry where we bought some super sweet cherries. They actually sell their top quality of cherries to Japan for $1.30-$1.80 per cherry! We did not buy any of those.)
Back to Hobart for a quick dinner at another pub in the Salamanca Market area before walking around and enjoying the Friday night festivities of the town. College students, adults, and children were all celebrating the end of the week. Franklin Square, our cut-through park, was alive with a live band, dancers of all ages, food trucks and picnickers. Everyone was eager for the weekend activities. (The Ironman competition was to begin the next day, but we were off to Adelaide for the next step in our Australian adventure.)
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