I had carelessly booked us onto a Jet Star flight out of Melbourne. This meant we had plenty of time to kill in Melbourne airport. Jet Star’s published timetable of flight departures is a work of pure fiction. Tonight they were only running an hour late, which felt like a mini success.
We landed in Hobart at 11pm, after a perilously low approach over some water that almost had me reaching for my life jacket. As we are instructed at the start of each flight, I was fully ready to save myself first, with the kids entirely oblivious to our impending doom, absorbed on their iPads.
The pilot somehow found tarmac and I dashed out of the bijou terminal building to call our car hire company, convinced that we’d probably missed the last courtesy bus. I got straight through to a lovely lady, who told us to wait inside the terminal building and she’d swing round to pick us up in ten minutes.
Not only did this save us a walk to the bus stop, but it also suggested that we would be able to pick-up our car and I could break some good news to the family. We wouldn’t, after all, need to sleep in the terminal building like proper travellers.
I was warming to Tasmania already.
After a bus journey of five minutes we were dropped off in a barely lit gravel car park and given the keys to our 4×4 (Apex car rentals had a special offer, so I decided to upgrade!).
It was already a late night and the kids were starting to doze off in the car as we drove to our new Airbnb house, around an hour south of Hobart, in the Huon Valley. There was plenty of road kill as we headed out of town, and a couple of live wallabies were grazing in the middle of the road, attempting to become the next victims.
Our new home was around ten minutes outside the logging town of Geevston. It had an almost Japanese feel, with sliding doors and neat storage making the most of what was, essentially, a converted shipping container.
In the pitch black of our arrival, our only concern was locating the keys so that we could all get some sleep. After some searching through my emails, I eventually located the lock box code and we were in. Anja stopped searching for nearby hotels and congratulated me on my excellent planning.
The morning revealed a glorious sunrise over the surrounding hills and a sneaking view of the Huon river valley below us. I was extremely pleased with our little of slice of Tasmanian soil and was starting to google house prices in the area.
Compared to the rest of Australia, Tasmania is relatively poor and land is relatively inexpensive. You can pick up an acre plot with coastal views for less than $100k. The same plot in Perth or Sydney would cost millions.
When my writing career takes off and I can live off the royalties, then a little spot in Tasmania could look very appealing. In the meantime I’m not sure we’d be able to survive off the land alone, so we’ll have to settle for visiting.
After spending the previous day travelling, we were ready for some fresh air on our first full day in Tasmania.
A 30-minute drive along a mud road from Geevston brought us to the Tahune Forest, and the prospect of enjoying some fresh air from a wobbly walkway constructed at dizzying heights off the forest floor.
The Tahune Airwalk loops 600m around the forest, at heights of up to 50m off the ground. This may not sound much, but it looks pretty high when all you’re standing on is some metal mesh with a clear drop below.
As usual, the kids ran around the walkway and attempted to give me a heart attack by leaning precariously over low sections of handrail.
The views from up high were magnificent, but I was glad to return to solid ground and tackle one of the loop walks that crossed over a couple of swing bridges on a meandering forest pathway. An information board suggested this walk was an hour long, but the kids were keen to have a good laugh at me on the swing bridges, so off we set.
With various stops to inspect insects and prod mushrooms with sticks, daylight was beginning to recede when we eventually returned to the car park.
There’s something hugely satisfying about spending an afternoon with the kids, just walking and talking and being outdoors.
I’m not convinced the kids entirely agree…
Hobart sits in a gorgeous setting, with Mt Wellington on one side and a natural harbour on the other.
As a job creation scheme in the 1930’s, a winding road was built all the way to the peak of Mt Wellington. At over 1,200 metres above sea level, the top of the mountain is a good 10 degrees cooler than Hobart. I can imagine the summit provides a lovely sanctuary from the summertime heat, but we were there in winter, so it was bloody freezing.
The view across Hobart was spectacular, for a few brief moments, before the clouds descended and we were cut-off from civilisation.
Anja retreated to the warmth of the car, while the kids decided to do some rock climbing to the tip of the summit. I was put in charge of supervising the rock climbing, which meant I could have a go too while asking the kids to wait for me at the top.
Salamanca market in Hobart runs every Saturday and we spent several happy hours wandering up and down the rows of stalls.
The surrounding area is a hub for apple growers, so there was a fair proportion of apple stalls, as you might expect. Otherwise, the market contained a fairly standard looking selection of food stalls and crafty objects, with the odd whiff of homemade soap mixed in with the coffee and hot dog aromas.
At one end of the market, a British guy, Jamie Maslin, had set-up stall selling signed copies of his book “The Long Hitch Home”. This was based on his journey from Hobart to London, which he accomplished over several months via hitch hiking. I eagerly snapped up a copy and spent the rest of the week feeling like an inferior traveller every time I jumped in our hire car.
While I was browsing books, the kids were sat enraptured by a street performer, who for some unknown reason was trying to squeeze himself through a tennis racket. Having finished contorting his body in ways that I couldn’t even bring myself to look at, he finished by inserting a sword down his throat. After nearly an hour of extreme busking, the guy did at least collect a decent amount of cash from the surrounding crowd. Whether it was enough cash to warrant a potentially life-threatening injury, I doubt.
Port Arthur is a world heritage site, originally home to thousands of convicts that had re-offended following their original transportation from the UK. It is also the site of the world’s first dedicated boys prison.
I was expecting to find a desolate place, surrounded by shark infested waters and inescapable depths of forest. Natural fortifications to contain hardened career criminals from the rest of humanity.
Instead, Port Arthur was both beautifully tranquil and picturesque in its late Autumn colours. It was hard to picture this scene as a place of imprisonment. It looked the perfect setting for a holiday camp.
Plus, of course, most of the criminals did not appear to be hardened villains, but desperately poor people who had been transported from the UK for stealing food or poaching.
We spent all day wandering around the various buildings that formed the village of Port Arthur, which wasn’t just a prison, but also a thriving industrial centre and army barracks.
The main prison is now in a semi-ruined condition following several bush fires in the late 1800’s, but it was possible to get a sense of the conditions in a separate block that was built to isolate particularly difficult customers. Modelled on London’s Pentonville jail, the new prison kept inmates in perpetual silence, with the guards even going so far as to wear soft slippers to avoid the sound of footsteps on the hard stone floors. Unsurprisingly, the new prison was next door to the insane asylum.
A brief aside, but on the road home from Port Arthur we parked the car at a crazy angle on the side of the road. This was a reflex response on my part to seeing a small crowd of people standing at the roadside, peering out into the surrounding water.
A few of the locals tutted at us as they had to pull around to pass our car on a blind bend. No doubt cursing us inconsiderate tourists.
But we didn’t care, because after a few possibilities of seeing whales previously on our travels, we got a sighting of a mother whale with her calf, sheltering in the shallow inlet waters. They were very close to the surface and came up for air a few times. They were several hundred metres from the roadside, but we could see and hear them clearly, even if my pictures don’t quite prove this.
Having studied a map of our new surroundings, I was excited to learn that we were within striking distance of the most southerly point in Australia. Or, at least, the most southerly point that you can reach in a car.
After Cockle Creek, the next stop is Antarctica.
Before Cockle Creek, there is miles of bumpy dirt roads.
I was confident that we’d be fine with a touch of off-roading, on the basis that I had the foresight to book a 4×4 and hadn’t bothered to study the hire agreement small print in too much detail.
There wasn’t anything much at Cockle Creek. An empty camper van in the car park was evidence of the last known visitors, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves.
Despite the less than optimal bathing temperatures, we headed to the beach to enjoy the solitude and eat our hastily arranged picnic. French bread and cheese.
The kids managed a brief dip in the icy waters, and then we decided to retreat to the promised warmth of Hastings Thermal Pools. We’d passed a sign for Hastings on the way down and the kids needed de-frosting.
The thermal pool turned out to look very much like a normal outdoors swimming pool, albeit in a nice woodland setting and surrounded by several potential walking trails. The water was not very warm, at 28 degrees Celsius, but it was warm enough for us.
Just a short hop across to Melbourne, for a few days whizzing around on free trams.