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DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS

TASMANIAN ODYSSEY
A camping tourist trip with some hiking and rock climbing thrown in for good measure.

We spent all of February 2023 in Tasmania, but it wasn’t the usual off-road-oriented trip that we normally do. We were running-in our 75 Series’ rebuilt engine, so we played normal tourists for the trip, with some dirt road and beach driving thrown in. Younger members of the group did their own adventure thing.

 

 

We’ll start with a word of warning about the very poor Spirit of Tasmania ferry service that’s way under-serviced these days. You need to book your entry and departure slots months in advance and don’t even think about changing dates.

We know of people who have had to change dates and been stranded either side of the moat for periods between five weeks and three months! Why they continue to advertise this so-called service is beyond us!

We had to book our departure and return six months ahead.

The reason the ferry service is so bad is simple: the current management is more interested in carrying trucks than it is in carrying tourist vehicles. This Tasmanian Government owned enterprise is openly competing with established sea and road freight companies, including Toll.

The alternative we’ll use if we ever go back to Tassie is to ship our vehicle with a sea freight company and fly over the moat, to meet it in Devonport.

So much for the appalling access situation; now for the trip.

Because we weren’t intending to run the steep, demanding tracks that abound in Tassie we were joined on the trip by mates in their 200 Series, towing a JB off-road, single-axle caravan. It became our ‘mother ship’. 

For the most part we avoided paid campsites; not because we’re cash-strapped, but they were all crowded. Our camping setups don’t need mains power anyway, so Wikicamps was invaluable in finding less busy camping spots.

OTA has been to Tassie before, but the previous trips were short and focussed on new vehicle testing, not playing tourists. For this jaunt, we did what most visitors to the Apple Isle do and boarded the Spirit of Tasmania car ferry, but from its new berth in Geelong, not Melbourne.

 

 

We did a daylight Bass Strait crossing and enjoyed sunny, calm weather. Getting on and off the ferry was easy, thanks to good organisation at Geelong and Devonport wharves.

The Spirit of Tasmania staff were first rate: it’s the management that needed replacing!

Because we rolled off the ferry in the late afternoon, we didn’t go far that evening and camped at Ulverstone.

 

 

Our Blue Wren camping hosts were welcoming, as was the train driver who tooted and waved as he rolled past the camp ground with a string of freight cars behind.

The contrast could hardly have been greater when, next morning, we were crudely abused by a local who pulled up in the middle of the road and berated us with foul language for daring to cross a new concrete pathway he’d apparently laid only a week earlier.

The fact that everyone who drove in and out of the camp ground had to do exactly the same thing seemed to be lost on him!

 

 

We made sure we were well away from locals at our next campsite, on the wild west coast. Plan A had us heading straight for Stanley, but a coming westerly ‘blow’ threatened our west coast visit with rough weather, so we detoured down there straight away. Fortunately, Tassie is tiny, compared with the mainland, so changing plans was relatively easy.

 

 

The mouth of the Arthur River is justifiably called the Edge of the World, because if you headed due west in a boat, you’d make landfall in Argentina! It’s wild country, indeed and inspired a poem that’s cast in a bronze plaque:

Edge of the World by Brian Inder

I cast my pebble onto the shore of Eternity.
To be washed by the ocean of time.
It has shape, form, and substance.
It is me.
One day I will be no more.
But my pebble will remain here.
On the shore of eternity.
Mute witness from the aeons.
That today I came and stood
At the edge of the world.

 

The much vaunted Tarkine Drive was a disappointment for us, because its main purpose seemed to be providing access for log trucks. There’s hardly any old-growth forest on this drive, with signs of clear-fell logging and monoculture regrowth everywhere. If we did it again we’d forget the scenery and enjoy the smooth, winding, hilly road – on our motorbike.

 

 

The sunny, warm weather we enjoyed for the first few days didn’t last and by the time we reached the historic town of Stanley and its famous ‘nut’ we were driving through horizontal, freezing rain. Ah yes, Tassie!

 

 

We pointed our tilt-roof camper into the gale and braved the rain for a jaunt down the beach, to spot penguins coming ashore after dark. We avoided the publicised tourist walkway and were treated to a private viewing of the little penguins making their way through the rocky breakwater and across the path into their bush nests.

 

 

In the morning we were blessed with a break in the rain and headed for the 1830s-ambience manor house,  Highflield, that overlooks Stanley and were highly impressed with its restoration, preservation and furnishings.

 

 

We fled the coastal rain and headed south, camping on the shore of Lake Mackintosh, before heading into Tullah next morning. Here was a treat. In contrast to the always-booked-out steam train ride in Queenstown was a low-cost ride in a restored passenger car, behind the rebuilt Wee Georgie Wood 0-4-0 steam locomotive.

 

 

We had excellent history commentary from volunteer, Ben and even got to ride on the footplate, with the driver, ‘Santa’.

Next stop was Zeehan (pron: ze-earn, not zee-han, we were informed) where we spent nearly two full days visiting the West Coast Heritage Centre – a series of buildings converted into an atmospheric museum.

 

 

From there we aimed for the coast again, to the Henty Dunes and then to Strahan. Low cloud and persistent rain made the Gordon River Cruise and Wilderness Railway a waste of money, so we contented ourselves with a waterfront campsite, overlooking Lettes Bay.

 

 

Next day saw us in Queenstown, where the tourist sign proclaims it a Land of Riches and Beauty. Riches were certainly extracted  – tin, silver, lead, copper, zinc and gold – but whatever beauty there once was has long gone.

 

 

The steep hillsides are a mine-blasted wasteland and the scene wasn’t aided by incessant rain and low cloud. We were pleased to see it retreat in the rear vision mirrors.

 

 

Much, much better, next day, was crossing the Franklin River and venturing part of the way along the Frenchman’s Cap walking track. There’s much more on walking tracks later in this story.

 

 

However, the undoubted highlight of the day was spending time at the amazing Wall in the Wilderness sculpture site. A snapshot doesn’t do it justice, so you’ll have to go and see it for yourselves. 

 

 

“On the 1st March 2005, in one of the most beautiful parts of Tasmania I set out to undertake sculpting a wall that would be three metres high and over 100 metres in length. 

“The material was Huon Pine.

“Through an often arduous at times, but also immensely satisfying journey and, over a decade and half later, I welcome you to visit what is simply known as The Wall,” invited sculptor Greg Duncan.

 

 

We camped that night in an excellent free camp at Dunrobin Bridge. It was tempting to walk across the riverside grassland to the river bank, but the foreshore was deceptively boggy and we nearly lost our thongs in the goo. There was evidence of an earlier serious bogging, where deep furrows indicated Big Trouble for some 4WDer.

 

 

The next day’s trip took us up the Gordon River Road, to lake Pedder, but along the way we took time to wander through the walking tracks in Mount Field National Park, where our thirst for old-growth trees was slaked somewhat amid these stands of magnificent old forest giants.

 

 

The steep, winding road to Ted’s Beach on Lake Pedder took us past mountain scenery and the waters of Lake Gordon.

 

 

Beyond Ted’s Beach was the last climb to the Gordon Dam. This carefully shaped, slender dam wall holds back a seemingly impossible amount of water, wedged between impossibly steep rock walls.

 

 

From the heights of the Franklin and Gordon sources, we descended to the historically significant Salmon Ponds at Plenty, where the first trout eggs were hatched in Australia, back in the 1860s.

Then we headed for Geeveston, where we suffered a disappointing reality. We took as many back roads as we could find, but deliberately avoided Hobart en route, because our schedule involved attendance at Hobart’s Wooden Boat Festival a few days later.

 

 

Geeveston was disappointing, because as great fans of the ABC comedy series, Rosehaven, we were excited to be in the town where it was filmed…or that’s what we thought. As it turned out, Rosehaven was filmed at several locations in southern Tassie and we didn’t see a single recognisable place in Geeveston.

 

 

However, this little town did serve as a suitable base from which we sallied south down the Huon Highway to Cockle Creek, the most southerly point to which you can drive in Australia.

 

 

To attend Tasmania’s justifiably famous Wooden Boat Festival we had to camp in the Hobart Showgrounds that was a convenient, if somewhat scruffy venue.

 

 

We caught up with some visiting sailing buddies on the waterfront and enjoyed looking at the collection of beautifully presented vessels. However, we’ve owned a couple of wooden yachts and know how much work is involved in their restoration and upkeep!

 

 

Another must-see for us while near Hobart was the historic town of Richmond, with its beautifully kept old buildings and famous bridge.

 

 

By now we were getting used to campsite visitors. By far the most insistent were Bennett’s Wallabies that pursued us for food, but we resisted, in concert with National Parks’ requests.

 

 

The other cheeky locals we encountered were Tasmanian Native Hens that scooted across the ground at high speed, but paid little attention to our comings and goings.

 

 

From Hobart we took the B68 to Kettering and then the short ferry trip to Bruny Island. Our first Bruny camp was at the appropriately named Neck, followed by a couple of nights at Cloudy Bay Lagoon on South Bruny. Getting to this campsite meant a beach drive across the bay foreshore, on firm, damp sand.

 

 

Bruny was well worth the ferry trip, particularly for those with a penchant for oysters. We voted them the best oysters of the trip, narrowly outpointing the ones we found later in the Bay of Fires.

 

 

From Bruny our next scheduled event was the Penny Farthing Races and Country Fair that’s held annually in the picturesque town of Evandale, so we visited the historic village of Richmond en route and free-camped at Oatlands. Then it was on the Old Mac’s Caravan park at Launceston, to be close to Evandale and the Red Hot Summer Concert for that same evening.

 

 

The Evandale event was brilliant, with varied penny farthing events being held and a very interesting vintage and veteran car show as well. The locals dressed in Victorian costume and singers, including Tania Kernaghan, entertained visitors in the park.

The Red Hot Summer Concert was an entirely different affair that was oversold by at least 100-percent. Hardly any bring-your-own-seating could be arranged at ninety degrees to the stage and many of us had no view of the stage at all. 

Even a view of the large screens was obstructed for most people by a plethora of advertising signs. We asked for our money back on the spot  by email and were ignored, so we won’t get sucked into another Red Hot Ripoff, thank you. Be warned, people!

 

 

After the crowded campsite at ‘Lonnie’ we needed some solitude, so we headed north west to Narawntapu National Park and were blessed with a couple of days of seafront bliss. The drive across the range into the Park was well maintained gravel, with great views of Bass Strait through the trees.

We swam on the kilometre-long stretch of Bakers Beach and were the only people there.

En route to Narawntapu we stumbled across a paddock campsite in Hagley, where for a paltry overnight fee we camped on flat grass and had free use of a games room, library and lounge, plus a help-yourself vegetable garden. Brilliant!

 

 

We also spent a few hours in the time-warp at Pearns Steam World museum in Westbury, where there was a reconstructed farmhouse kitchen as well as a plethora of steam-powered relics.

 

 

We had Tasmanian-based mates to catch up with at Cosy Corner, on the Bay of Fires, but we took the scenic route over there, passing through historic Fingal, in the beautiful Fingal Valley, where we enjoyed bacon and egg rolls from a street-side ‘pop-up’ travelling kitchen.

 

 

Given the absence of open cafes in many of the towns we visited, this was a very welcome stop!

Interestingly, there was a potato shortage in Tasmania when we were there and many fish and chip shops were shut as a result. Some famers in ‘the know’ told us that the crop had been oversold to China and there were none left for local consumption. A bit like Australia’s domestic gas supply, we thought…

Speaking of fish and chips, the best we bought on our trip and, indeed the best F&C we’ve ever had anywhere, was from Strait Off The Boat, in Devonport: fresh, firm fish, lightly battered and home-cut, crispy chips with soft centres. Yum.

 

 

The Bay of Fires is justifiably world famous for its beachfront camping, but that popularity often means disappointment. However, our Scottsdale-based mates had already secured a dune-top spot, where we were very close to the water, but not hemmed in by neighbours and spent couple of very enjoyable days.

 

 

From the east coast we journeyed to Mole Creek, where we had some business to attend to, for our other website, historicvehicles.com.au. Side benefits of that visit were a tour of the R Stephens honey factory and a forest drive though the Mersey River valley.

 

 

En route we spent some time in the shady wonder of Weldborough Pass rainforest walk and drove through Bridport – no fish and chips available.

We also spent an interesting half-day at the Beaconsfield Mine, site of the famous rock collapse and miraculous rescue.

 

 

The final road climb on our Tassie odyssey was around the lakes of the Great Western Tiers, where we felt a weird mixture of welcome and rejection by the owners of huts perched on the edge of the Great Lake.

 

 

Once back on the warmer plains we voted the bakery at Longford the best in Tasmania and marvelled at the outdoor mural artworks at Sheffield.

 

 

Then it was down to a last overnight stay at Devonport, before a return voyage to Geelong. We were lucky to have calm conditions to and fro on Bass Strait.

 

 

Cradle Mountain and other rocky destinations

 

 

Why no visit to Mona in Hobart, to Port Arthur or to Cradle Mountain, we hear you ask. Well, we’re no fans of modern art, for a start and also the Wooden Boat Festival had attracted so many people to Hobart that Mona was busy, busy busy. As for Port Arthur, a close friend was involved in that tragedy and it was still too raw for us.

In the case of Cradle Mountain, our various age-related constraints prohibited a proper visit, so we left that to the new generation. Our travel mates’ daughter is a keen bushwalker and climber, so we left it to her and then boyfriend to record some rocky adventures.

They camped at Cradle Mountain Holiday and Caravan Park, where a windy 12-degree temperature in January and poor visibility at Cradle Mountain had them nervous for the traverse attempt. 

A 6:30am start from camp led them to the Cradle Mountain Traverse Climb, but heavy wind-blown rain was unrelenting, so they hiked Dove Lake, Hansen’s Peak and climbed Cradle Mountain proper instead.

 

 

The 2000 year old pine trees were incredible, but views from the top of Cradle Mountain were non-existent in white-out conditions. Some 20,000 steps later they were keen for a Spice Tailor curry (Kezzie from OTA HQ’s best camping-meal hack) and an 8pm bedtime!

Because too much adventure still isn’t enough, the couple then went canyoning with the Cradle Mountain Canyons company, in Dove Canyon – with very thick wetsuits. The tannins in the water from the tea tree didn’t deter them as they abseiled down into the canyon, splashing through a series of natural water slides and jumps. They highly recommend these guys as a guiding company!

After the Canyon experience they headed towards Lake Saint Clair, via Franklin Gordon National Park. Walked a little off track and saw their first (of many) tiger snakes on the banks of the Franklin River. They finished the day at Lake Saint Claire Lodge, where they watched the sunset from the Lake Saint Clair jetty, dangling their legs above the water.

 

 

The next destination was Fluted Cape, on South Bruny Island, for for a hike starting at Adventure Bay. Spectacular cliffs and rock pillars are a climber’s paradise, they reckoned. 

Then it was back on the ferry with some Bruny Island cherries and heading for the Tasman Peninsula, to set up camp at Fortescue Bay, meeting a local fisherman at their campsite who caught the biggest crayfish they have ever seen. 

The Cape Huay hike involved many stairs but some incredible sea stacks and rock pipes. They eyed off the Totem Pole from Cape Huay lookout –  one of Tasmania’s most infamous rock climbing routes. In true Tasmanian style the day ended with a lightning storm.

Next day they snorkelled at the Canoe Bay shipwreck and visited the Devil Unzoo. They were luckier than we were most of the time and enjoyed fresh fish and chips at Dunnalley.

Their trek led north and they climbed over scrabbly rocks on Mount Amos at Freycinet for an awesome view over Wineglass Bay. Then they did as we did and headed to the Bay of Fires. However, they camped at a private campsite at Swimcart Beach, beside lichen-covered rocks.

Before farewelling the east coast they visited Eddystone Lighthouse in Mount William National Park and drove on some of the short 4WD tracks found nearby.

 

 

The couple then swapped their comfy swag for their hiking tent set up and headed into the Walls of Jerusalem National Park – a very special park with beautiful alpine climate and no road access. 

The only way to explore the park is by hiking in and hiking out. They caution visitors to take care stowing surplus gear in vehicles when doing multi-day hikes, because thieves target this area. 

Their two-day hike involved detours around five tiger snakes, on the way to Wild Dog Creek camping platforms.

After this hike they luxuriated at an AirB&B, before boarding the Spirit of Tasmania and heading home. 

 

 

So, there you have it: two different ways to experience the Apple Isle. Dedicated 4WDers may have found our odyssey somewhat tame and ‘touristy’, but it’s expensive to get there and we didn’t want to have an experience that involved only off-road destinations. 

Now that we’ve done the tourist bit we’re saving the off-road tripping for next time.

 

Check out the young adventurers’ video:

 

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