Tasmania – Down Below the Down Under

Of course we all know the Tasmanian Devil, whether its from Looney Toons or Animal Planet we are all familiar with this crazy little carnivore, however if you’re ignorant like me, you had no idea Tasmania was a state of Australia! Down off the southern coast of Australia, by about a nine hour ferry ride from Melbourne, is the state of Tasmania (in typical Aussie fashion shortened to Tassy) and it was the next stop in our journey.

Our original plan was to take a week and drive the island during our first trip along the south side of Australia, however due to time constraints in leaving for NZ we decided to make this a separate trip. So after doing some laundry, catching up with friends on the Gold Coast (The GC), and getting ‘ol Rainey (our van in Australia) road trip ready, we started our way down the east coast. The ferry ride from Melbourne to Tassy only ran day trips during the weekend, and we ended up leaving the GC a little later than expected. So with a few caffeinated drinks in hand, we spent the next two and a half days of driving down to Melbourne to catch the Sat morning ferry. We were excited to reach out to a connection (Michael) in Melbourne who had a mutual friend with us back in Canada (shout out to Daniel and Alina Ritchie). So we decided to send Michael a message and see if he was around for us to park in his driveway and hang out the evening before our ferry. It is pretty easy to find places to park outside of the major cities, however once you get inside some of the larger cities it becomes much more difficult to find a free… and legal place to spend the night. It is also a blast getting to spend time and connect with so many different people along the way. Michael and his roomates (Liam and Luke) were awesome guys, and even though we only got to see them shortly, as we had to catch the ferry early the next morning, we made plans to stop by on our return to Melbourne after our two weeks in Tassy.

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It was a beautiful Saturday morning as we boarded the ferry and made our way South. In typical Globe Roller fashion, we had planned practically none of this trip and we were excited wherever the road was going take us. We arrived in Tassy that night and drove to our first campsite in the dark. Unlike mainland Australia, the free campsites in Tassy are on average much more spacious, fewer people, and allow camp fires! We were also outside of the prime travel time as it was fall and the cold nights were creeping in. However the cold weather made the camp fires that much more enjoyable and we were loving the new sites. We also learned that the opossums in Tassy are not scared to join you in your camp site, in your food, and attempt to join you in your vehicle if given the chance. They also seemed to have a certain unreciprocated affinity for Carl, which made my nights all the more enjoyable. Our first morning we met another backpacker who was finishing her several weeks traveling the island. She had just finished a trip to Cradle Mt. which she highly recommended. Heading towards Cradle Mountain would start us in a counterclockwise loop around Tassy which worked well for us. See a map below which Carl put together of our route around Tassy.

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We took the morning slow enjoying the beautiful weather and headed to Cradle Mountain early that afternoon. After seeing a map of quite a few nice accessible boardwalks we decided to take the only non-accessible path, which did seem to have the best view of the mountain and a nice walk around dove lake which is at the base of the mountain. This was a fantastic walk and also provided me with a chance to take a chillingly cold swim. We also saw some unidentifiable creature swimming in the water which from here on out will be considered without a doubt a platypus!

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As the sun set, we made our way to our next camp site. Unfortunately we found the access road to the remote campsite to be closed. Our lazy side and our new-found freedom enjoying the carefree attitude of Tassy helped us decide to simply set up camp at the dead-end road which was on the top of the Lake Macintosh Dam.’

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Our next destination was the small town of Strahan on the west coast. However a stop along the way would bring us to a water fall that we had been told was a “must see”. We asked a local servo (gas station) employee if she thought we could make it with the wheelchair, she warned us of the 9 km round trip hike and said that she could not quite remember but thought the last part might not be accessible. The only thing worse than having a track that is impassable with the wheelchair, is a perfectly accessible 4.5 km hike with the very end being impassible. However we decided to take our chances. The walk to the falls was a perfect track following the gradual slope of an abandoned mining railway through a dense moss-covered rain forest. The damp silence of the rain forest broken only by the faint trickle of the numerous small streams was a unique experience. The hike was seeming to be worth it even if the fall itself was inaccessible. After a few hours of hiking the silence was slowly broken by the sound of crashing water. However, before we could see any waterfall our concern grew as the path became a narrow boardwalk with steps too narrow to navigate the wheelchair. As we were analyzing the situation, not willing to give up yet, a couple walked up to us also on their way to the falls. They could see our predicament and they immediately offered to help. After some discussion we decided that Carl and I would make our way along the boardwalk through the narrow stairway and that they would carry the wheelchair behind us. A few minutes later we had all arrived, in awe of the beautiful falls which fell over 100m making it Tasmania’s highest waterfall.

In talking with the couple (Craig and Jenny) we found out that they were a South African couple living in Perth, enjoying a few weeks holiday down in Tassy. We enjoyed a good conversation, had them help us back to the trail head and then went our separate ways. Carl and I took our time and ate our typical packed sandwiches before making the hike back. However as we were finishing the hike we caught back up with Craig and Jenny. We exchanged contact details and decided to stay in touch through our travels.

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The next few days were spent driving through the Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park, stopping along the drive to enjoy mountain views, explore waterfalls, and hike through the woods.

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During a conversation with a fellow traveler, it was recommended that we stop in at The Wall. Traveling for eight months on a budget requires us to be careful about which paid attractions we choose to see, however Carl and I agreed to spend some money to see this museum. In the middle of the back country Tassy, was a long barn with a sign out front advertising “The Wall”. A local artist had spent ten years creating two long walls of beautiful continuous carvings telling the story of the struggle to survive the settlement of Tasmania. It was a stunning exhibit with a unique presentation, it understandably did not allow pictures to be taken so you will have to make sure and stop by The wall on your next visit to Tasmania.

We continued our trip down to Hobart, Tassy’s Capital city, and spent a crisp fall evening rolling around the city. We noticed a striking difference between the fall colors seen in the city and the lack of color in the mountains. We were later informed that native trees in most of Australia (including Tasmania) do not change color while the imported tree species (planted more in the cities) will go through the usual fall color change… so now you can pull that one out at your next dinner party during an awkward silence!

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From Hobart we headed down south to Port Arthur, a historic site of one of the original prison settlements in Australia. The fascinating history of the site, along with the beautiful setting of the southern Tasmania shore made it a day well spent.

We also happened to be visiting the site on April 27th, which is a day before the infamous mass shooting that occurred at a local cafe on this site on April 28th, 1996.

That night we had planned on spending the evening at a local pub. A lot of the pubs allow people to camp or park camper vans in empty lots behind their facilities. However when we arrived we walked into the pub to talk to the owner and we were told that our van did not meet the self containment requirements needed to stay overnight. Quickly, a bar full of locals came to our defense. After a debate between several locals and the bar owner, one of the guys told us that we were going to park at his place. He gave us directions to his house, told us to go park, and meet them back at the pub. It turned into an awesome night getting to know a great group at the pub, hear their stories and learn that Aussie accents get much harder to understand the later the night gets.

The next leg of our Tassy drive was up the East Coast. The highway along the East Coast provided stunning sea side views with more views than we could capture of beaches, cliffs and rocky shores. We also found plenty of great campsites and fantastic hiking trails along the way. Please forgive us for the disproportionate percentage of sunset pictures, but we just cant resist.

The top of our East Coast drive brought us to the Bay of Fires. Carl and I decided this would be the perfect spot to slow down and stay put for a few days. With a perfect parking site right on the beach, plenty of wood for building fires, white sandy beaches, warm sunny days and crystal clear water we had no need to leave. We also had the perfect set up to open our sliding door in the mornings and watch the sunrise from the van. Carl may have been slightly less enthusiastic about the idea!

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We still had several days before our ferry back to mainland Australia, so we decided to travel past Devonport (where our ferry would depart) and explore the North West side of Tasmania. One of our more notable stops was to a dormant volcano called “The Nut” which forms a small peninsula off the North coast. This unique formation has a flat top with almost sheer cliffs on all sides. This allows for easy hiking along the flat top, however the trail up to the top was a brutal 500m walk. Carl and I both agree that it was possibly the steepest hike we have done. The hike up was exhausting, but the hike back down provided a whole new set of challenges as I had to lean so far back I was almost sitting on the ground as Carl and I so very slowly inched our way back down.

With a few more coastal drives and beach front camp sites we worked our way back to Devonport in time for our ferry ride back to the mainland.

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We had thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of Tasmania. The ability to see such a diverse display of landscapes from mountain ranges, to rain forest waterfalls, to the crystal clear beaches, had made the trip well worth the effort. We now have our last leg of our travels as we head from Melbourne up to Cairns with quite a few exciting stops planned along the way.

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