13 Nov TASMANIA: DEVILS AND VAN (DEMONS) LAND
Is Tasmania full of tigers?
The Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, was abundant in Tasmania. It was far from being a tiger though – it was a carnivorous, dog-like marsupial (yes, it had a pouch!) which lived across the island. Interestingly it was also living on mainland Australia until about 2, 000 years ago. The Thylacine was mostly wiped out in the 1800s when greedy (and I’ll say it – stupid) humans hunted them into extinction supported by a bounty for each one shot, given out by the government. The last Tassie Tiger was shot in 1930.
If there is a place to start in Australia – it would have to be Tasmania! This tiny island packs a real punch – it is like a fun size version of Australia, only with more fun.
You can find real untouched forests (about one-third of the island is National Park), spectacular and uncrowded beaches (woo!), plus you’ll see more Australian wildlife that you have ever seen in your life (put together). To add to the mix, Tassie is easily driveable and has endless free (or really cheap) campsites throughout nature, many with facilities you could only dream of.
Being Sydneysiders we had never really thought of going that far south, we thought it was too cold, too small, too boring, too whatever. Gosh, were we ignorant. Thankfully we got our wits about us and after a little bit of maturing and anecdotes from friends who had been, we realised that Tasmania would be paradise for us. And it certainly was.
To us, Tasmania is all of the best things in Australia joined together, close enough to easily get between them. On mainland Australia you might have to drive 10 hours to get to a different landscape, where as in Tasmania you can go from the top to the bottom in only a few. This means that you can spend more time exploring on foot through its Great Walks tracks, than sitting in traffic or on a boring highway like in other *ahem* places. It has beautiful rustic Australian farmland, extensive lush green forests, wild rocky coast, wildlife-sanctuary islands and funky Hobart, with a food culture akin to Europe, all within a couple of hours of each other.
The framework for our trip, which started off with a one-way ticket, turned into nearly two months (this is kind of a pattern for us!) We planned to hire a hatchback and take some camping gear, to explore nature, wild camping, wildlife and the cool vibes of Hobart. We decided very quickly that we had fallen in love with the place, so we applied for some WorkAway places and got them- one in the north on a horse farm and one in the South near Cygnet, where we would also work at the infamous Salamanca markets on Saturdays selling (and making) artisanal preserves.
For those interested our itinerary panned out like this: we drove from Launceston to the East Coast to explore the Bay of Fires, then Freycinet to explore Wine Glass Bay, to Maria Island, to Hobart, to Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair, the Wild West coast, Burnie in the North to work on a horsefarm, to Woodbridge to work on with growing organic veges and work at Salamanca markets, Bruny Island, Port Arthur and part of the Three Capes Track; plus a lot of small towns, wineries and forest campsites inbetween!
Our highlights were definitely:
- Camping at Friendly beaches, at the Bay of Fires. The lichen growing on the coastal rocks burns bright against the perfectly sky-blue calm waters of the bay, plus there are resident wombats and wallabies which visit newcomers at the free beach campsite!
- Waddling with Fairy/ Little Penguins at Bicheno – we literally walked alongside these little guys who were so dressed up in their tuxedos for their evening walk on the beach
- Camping and hiking on the wildlife sanctuary of Maria Island – this no-car island was chosen as a place to repopulate Tasmanian Devils and you can hear them howling through the night, whilst wombats dig and pademelons sniff around your campsite
- Exploring the stunning, untamed landscape of Bruny Island – the size of Singapore and only a population of 600!
- Doing a mini-course on acid free paper-making in the community centre in Burnie: you can choose to make it from fibres from apples, old towels from hotels and even kangaroo poo!
- Doing hiking circuits around Lake St. Clair and Cradle mountain, breathing the fresh air and soaking in the incredible views!
- Spending a day contemplating art with a few glasses of wine in between, at MONA, Hobart – they have the famous robotic digestion installation which you can watch being fed, digesting and, yes, excreting throughout the day!
Here are some of our tips for making the most out of your Tassie trip:
- Go at the right time of year, without fail!!
This tip is so important, it had to go first and underlined. Tasmania, isn’t like the rest of Australia, it is a lot closer to the South Pole so it gets chilly, even in the summer. We travelled to Tasmania between January and March, and even in the peak of summer we were wearing all of our warm clothes to bed, including thermals, when camping. It is known to snow in winter and sometimes Autumn, so if you plan on hiking, summer is your best bet. If you plan to have a weekend stay in Hobart however, any time of year would be fine – especially during the middle of winter when MONA (Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart) hosts Dark MOFO, a festival with awesome contemporary art, music and all winter seasonal foods to warm you up, just remember to bring your coat!
- Pack the right clothes
On that note, bring a selection of clothes – remember that it is much colder than on the mainland, especially at night time. But of course it can also be scorching hot too, and somewhere in between. Bringing a range of clothes and layering is your best bet and not forgetting proper rain gear and hiking boots for the outdoors – weather can change at any moment.
- Bring a car/ rent a car
There are no trains and buses are few and far between, as well as fairly expensive. Plus this will only take you to populated areas, which is not really where you want to spend all of your time! You can easily rent a car at either airport and this gives you the freedom to get off the beaten track, check out awesome campsites and get to different hikes. And of course if your really get stuck on a super rainy night, it is good to have a back up dry spot to sleep if you haven’t been able to set up your tent – this saved us a couple of times! Another tip is if you are flexible with dates – have a look at relocations on the popular car and camper sites like Wiked, Cruisin’, Juicy etc. You can find deals where you pay as little as $1 a day to relocate the vehicle back to the mainland and the trip for 2 people is included on the Spirit of Tasmania.
- Do your research
The best places to see aren’t all centralised, nor are they easy to access at times. Being informed means that you can really see the sweet spots around the island eg. Mariah Island and Bruny Island are only accessible by ferry, which might have limited times depending on the day of the week. These are both unmissable places in my books, so figure out where and when you’ll be around so you can fit them in. (FYI, Bruny is a car ferry, but Mariah Island is a passenger ferry, which means you leave your car in the carpark and pack what you need for a night or if you are lucky, a few). Another thing to check is if you plan on doing multi-day hikes, you need to register and reserve the mountain huts (which can be booked out months ahead) and also checking when farm gates and wineries are open – they are really not to miss, so make sure you fit a few in!
- Be in Hobart on Saturday – and a non-weekend day too, for MONA
Hobart hosts the Southern Hemisphere’s largest pop-up markets – Salamanca markets. They are huge and not to miss! You can find amazing artisanal products, local produce, handicrafts and delicious food. Plus the atmosphere is great! If you have a couple of days in Hobart, don’t miss MONA (you’ll regret it!!). This fantastically quirky, architectural spectacle of a contemporary art museum plus food venue (also home to a few bars and a winery) is really worth checking out. It gets really packed out, so try and squeeze it in on a non-weekend day if you can. Book your ticket beforehand to avoid the crowds and give yourself a full day to see it all – the collection is massive.
- Don’t be afraid of a little bit (or a lot of) camping
We used this website for finding almost all of our free campsites which are almost all over the island. There are a few exceptions if you want to stay in a National Park where you must stay at a designated campsite and pay a relatively small amount which goes toward maintenance, facilities and conservation! Bring as much gear as you need with you as apart from Launceston and Hobart, there a few big shops between. When you set up camp and watch wild Platypus swim by, or pademelons hop around your tent, you will be so happy you chose the wild life.
- Plan your trip so that you don’t drive at night, and stick to the speed limit
Ok, here is the tough chat. Tasmania is the road kill capital of the world, more animals die here per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. This wild life paradise is literally crawling with beautiful marsupials but driving between dusk and dawn is the leading cause for seeing more of them on the asphalt than in the bush. If you really care about preserving the lives of these little beauties, plan your driving in the day (before dusk) because what are you really going to be doing at night in Tasmania anyway?! Tasmanian Devils are incredible, fierce little beasts and one of the top reasons for them being on the endangered list is – you guessed it – motor vehicle collisions. Night time is feeding time for most marsupials, so give them some space and don’t be active when they are. If you do have to drive – SLOW DOWN. Stay at 50km/hr and stay vigilant. If you want to spot wombats, wallabies, pademelons and Tassie Devils near your camp like we did, you need to make sure they are still around!
- See the Southern Lights
Finally: did I mention that you can see Aurora Australis from Tassie? You know, the Southern version of the great Northern lights, which people trek all the way to Norway to watch and not those in our own backyard? Yep. We were lucky enough to watch a beautiful display of dancing purple and green skies while we camped on the East coast of Tasmania. With enough flexibility and planning you can track and watch them too – and they look even better in photos than to the naked eye, so it really is worth catching them if you can! Follow the Aurora Australis Facebook page for updates, for when and where you can see nature’s incredible lightshow! You can also see the forecast for the visibility here to plan ahead!
Here are some of our favourite snaps from our favourite Australian destination!
N & G