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Published: January 6th 2016
We continued our journey along the north coast of Tasmania and stopped off in Boat Harbour (the Tasmanians clearly didn't burn too many brain cells when it came to giving places their names!). It had a lovely beach and I paddled in the Bass Strait under the watchful eye of the lifeguard on duty. The Australians really do take safety in the water seriously and lifeguards are present even in the quietest of places. We got petrol, finally, in Wynyard and had a stroll on their lovely beach and used the public exercise equipment just for a laugh rather than to actually get fit. We carried on to a town called Penguin (see what I mean about the names?) where little penguins come ashore and must have done since before the town was formed and named. It was 3 pm and the town was closing up for the day but I managed to nip into the Tourist Information shop (every town has one, another thing the Australians do really well) to buy a postcard and had a chat with the lady in there who was pleased we were visiting as she said Tasmania was often forgotten and Penguin was really off
the beaten track. I held back from saying more people might visit if it stayed open a bit longer ... They seemed to be making an effort though. This was the first place we had seen with Christmas garlands on the streets and it had a beautiful church, lots of penguin references in its street artwork and not much else going for it.
Given the difficulty in getting somewhere to stay in Stanley, we had decided to book our next night's accommodation in advance. Well, 24 hours in advance - where would we be without the internet and Hotels.com?! So, we headed off down the A1 to the Sunrise Inn at Devonport, on the River Mersey, which is where the ferry from the Australian mainland docks. We had considered using the ferry across at one point but research showed it could be 11 hours of boredom on what could be rough waters in a ferry, not a cruise ship, so Mr Branson's convenient and fast method won out in the end. That's really all we could find in Devonport that was noteworthy. I'm sure there's more, we just couldn't find it. We couldn't find anywhere open to eat or
have a drink and we couldn't find a bottle shop despite asking for and getting directions three times. It turned out that we had driven past it on as many occasions and the big place with 'BWS' plastered all over it in huge letters was actually the shop for Beers, Wines and Spirits! So, a bottle of beer and a pizza take-away it was! Our motel did have a resident dog, called Ellie, though. She was happy to trade sloppy wet kisses for cheese and tummy tickles so that was good. A minor problem with our room resulted in a free upgrade to a spa room with jacuzzi so, all in all, I have fond memories of Devonport and our travels during the day had been very pleasant and relaxing in the sunny, warm weather.
Which is more than can be said about the next leg of our trip, en route to Bicheno where we had booked to stay the night (see, we really do learn from our mistakes!). We were studying our map with care now. If the names of places on the map were in small type and faint we realised they would be little more than
a hamlet with one house. Names in bold letters would be somewhat bigger, possibly with a whole street of houses, and anything in bold and capital letters must be a metropolis! Launceston had to be enormous, surely. Well, it might have been but, due to several roads in the centre being closed and the diversion signs sending us round in circles before running out completely, all we saw of Launceston were the same streets over and over again. Round and round we went, quickly moving from seeing the funny side, to becoming slightly irritable, to downright snappiness when I was accused of not being able to read a map! I didn't confess until later that at one point I was making up my directions on the basis that reading the map wasn't getting us anywhere fast so why not try something different! We eventually escaped over an hour and 25 kms later, relieved to be going in the right direction and without having stopped once to explore.
We drove on the Tasman Highway with the roads becoming more hilly and twisty again (groan) all the way through the Frome Forest Reserve. Trees can become a little tedious after a
while but the road conditions and the poxy car kept us on our toes as it continued to try to climb mountains, slowly, in top gear and then come down the other side as fast as possible, regardless of the incline and tight bends on the way. We nearly looked at the instruction book to see if we were missing something but decided that would be an insult to our driving abilities(!) and anyway we couldn't be bothered, preferring to just chunter about it when we reflexively reached for the (missing-but-would-have-been-useful) gearstick when we wanted to change gears. We decided that the person who named Break-Me-Neck Hill must have been driving our car!
The place names in Tasmania (indeed, in Australia generally) seemed to either have an Aboriginal origin or be a reflection of those first Europeans who settled there. You could almost tell where the British settlers had come from by the place names, eg St Helen's, Dover, Melton Mowbray, Sheffield, Falmouth and there must have been a few homesick Welsh settlers around the Swansea/Pontypool/Glamorgan area. If anything could be abbreviated it was and Tasmania is affectionately called 'Tassie' by everyone. Every bit of water had a name,
from huge rivers to the smaller rivulets and creeks. Many of the creeks seemed to be named after people, perhaps those who originally lived nearby (Mother Logan's Creek, Mick's Creek, Smith and Others Creek) and one sign proudly proclaimed it to be a rivulet 'because it's bigger than a creek'!
We were continuing our travels in smaller hops by this stage, having learned that distance gave no indication of time needed to travel, due to the nature of the roads. We continued to encounter densely forested, mountainous areas and then vast open wide spaces, often hugging the coastline, which were stunning. Unlike in mainland Australia, Tasmania didn't go overboard on viewing points and/or reststop areas. The few there were were often poorly signed, or signed too late to stop safely and we often had to turn around and go back. The few official places we came across were well provisioned with seats, barbeque facilities and even a composting toilet at one (no water and no chemicals, you couldn't get more ecofriendly - thank goodness for wetwipes to wash your hands!). We pulled over to the side of one road to take
a picture of a wild emu and two passing cars initially slowed to check we were ok (we're fine, thank you) then promptly blasted us on their horns for stopping (up yours) - we were the only 3 cars for miles around and were hardly causing a traffic jam!
We stayed at the Wintersun Motel in Bicheno. There was a tourist info shop, a supermarket, a pub, a bottleshop and a takeaway so it had everything covered. I sat in the gardens that evening, quietly appreciating the moment, when a wallaby hopped by, not six feet away, completely oblivious to my presence. A lovely experience.
The next day we continued our travels to Swansea, where we had booked our next accommodation. It was closer than we thought, only about 20 miles away, but that was no bad thing as we were able to take our time and enjoy the journey. We followed the A3, then the C302, stopping at Moulting Lagoon, home to up to 10,000 black swans who breed there. The wetlands continued and were used by many migrating birds. We stopped at Coles Bay and Wineglass Bay, both very beautiful, and we headed towards Freycinet National
Park, driving 9 miles down 9 Mile Beach which might also have been beautiful but the road ran between high sand dunes so we couldn't see it! When we eventually reached Swansea we discovered that, although quite small, it was very vibrant with a fuel station, garage repairs, restaurants, cafes, banks and wonderful shops including the Morris General Store which dated back to the 1800s. The Swansea Motor Inn was situated right on the shore and our 'upper storey' (ie first floor!) room overlooked the beach and the sea. It was perfect and we decided to stay for two nights rather than just one so that we could catch our breath and appreciate the beauty of the Great Oyster Bay. Moving on every day is tiring and we had generally factored in at least two nights in one place during our travels, but staying only one night in each place was the only way we could get round Tasmania in the week we had allowed. The Wellington Inn next door served the oysters and visitors and locals alike enjoyed them, but only up to 8 pm when the chef went home, as one hungry family of late arrivals discovered.
The next day we began the final leg of the circle round Tasmania to get us back to Hobart. The weather was windy but sunny and the views en route were beautiful. We stopped just outside Swansea to see the Spikey Bridge, apparently built that way by convicts to stop the cattle falling off(!). It was most unusual and interesting, whatever its purpose. We followed the coast road towards Hobart, and it really was stunning. Tasmania is a breadbasket area for Australia, though I suspect it feels underappreciated. As many products as possible, especially dairy products, are branded 'Proudly produced in Tasmania' though, oddly, we saw none of those products on the Australian mainland where they all seemed to be '100% Australian'! The weather remained dry and sunny but the wind whipped up quite a stir as we travelled across the causeway at Sorell, forcing everyone to slow down or run the risk of ending up in the drink. Again, the poor convicts were instrumental in constructing the original causeway back in the 1800s, though little of that structure remains now.
In Hobart, we took the open topped red bus tour, which gave us a great overview of the
city, which is very pretty in the old historical areas and typically modern in the CBD. The harbour area was lovely and they were gearing up for the big boat race, which was due imminently. The cashier gave us concession tickets; maybe our travels were beginning to take their toll and we were looking older than our years!
Trying to exit Hobart for our final evening in Tasmania proved to be a struggle. We had to go backwards and forwards over the bridge more times than we would have liked due to suddenly disappearing lanes and signs (did somebody say something about our driving abilities?!) and the history about the bridge collapsing when a boat ran into it some years back did nothing to make me feel confident that it would remain standing. We finally made it to the Hobart Airport Tourist Park where we had booked a 'chalet' for the night. This was a first for me (think upmarket campground with a solid structure over your head) and was a most pleasant surprise - detached(!!), clean, spacious (the wetroom/bathroom was almost as big as the lounge and certainly as big as the bedroom!) and literally a stone's throw
from the airport, which is why we booked it. Given the problems we had getting to it from Hobart, this was probably a wise decision. Best of all, we ate at the nearby airport hotel and sausages and mash was on the menu. Heavenly.
Final thoughts on Tasmania? It is full of nice people but has a limited economy and most areas outside Hobart seem to be either stagnant or dying. I don't get the water problems - it is an island covered in lakes! It is incredibly beautiful (yes, even those dense forest areas have their own beauty) and offers everything a tourist could possibly want - mountains, coastline, inland parkland, forest, beaches to die for - and tourism could be the saviour of the isolated rural/coastal communities. However, it needs to stay open beyond tea-time to make it attractive. But, hey, maybe they have got it right after all. As one motel owner said to us, he doesn't want to work beyond 8 pm because he has a family and a life of his own, thank you! I really, really liked it.
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