Landy and ourselves have arrived in Tasmania after an expensive 6 hour sea voyage on The Spirit of Tasmania.
The journey itself was uneventful and as the day wore on the weather became quite chilly and I wondered if we should have sent our warmest clothes and sleeping bags back to the UK. How unlike the mainland was the climate, which had remained warm and balmy in the Autumn months.
A look at the forecast foretold of rain and night-time temperatures as low as 1 degree!
The plan is to take ourselves off on daily bracing walks where we are promised amazing views and wild coastal paths and plenty of opportunities to take Landy off road, without getting into too much bother.
On the boat, we loaded up with maps, a National Park permit and footpath guides and planned our stay whilst we rolled across the seas.
When we arrived in Tasmania it was already getting dark and the parking spot with facilities we had found on the map, off the main road, on arrival in the dark, announced No Camping on Crown Land! We resigned ourselves to driving on and locating a commercial campsite and were contented to have hot showers, heavy rain and noisy geese.
We woke up in the morning to find we were in a delightful riverside spot. It was not until a couple of weeks later that we realised we had camped in the very pretty Deloraine. We missed the museum containing a tapestry of the beautiful Meander Valley.
The forecast was more rain, so rather than head off for our first remote campsite at Fortesque Bay, we decided to drive to Hobart, the Capital of Tasmania, where they had a Saturday Market, which had made Trip Advisor, and to later drive to the much vaunted Mona modern art gallery.
Never try parking in Hobart. There are huge parking restrictions and three cars for every place and time limits which mean you can’t even walk to your destination and back. Good advice given to us in the market, as Jim was nervously eyeing the time, was that the fine for overstaying was cheaper than a daily parking ticket!
We were doing really well at window shopping in the market until, as we were leaving, we saw a stall selling Merino Wool, Possum fur and silk blend sweaters from New Zealand. The claims for this woollen garment were that it was warmer and lighter than cashmere, that it would wash in a washing machine and last for twenty years.
Furthermore they had one just my size. So it had to be done. So far I can vouch that it is a very dense light fabric and beautifully warm and cosy and well suited to the chillier Tasmanian climate.
The possum element (the guilty bit) was from culled possums which have become a pest in New Zealand as they have no natural predators. (Don’t tell my daughter Grace).
The Mona gallery deserves a mention. We only just got in on time as when we arrived they were having a Fire Alarm incident and staff and visitors were milling around outside waiting for fire engines to arrive. As ever, it was probably burnt toast in a staff tea point!
Located outside Hobart on the edge of a sheltered bay with amazing views all around, Mona is unlike any other gallery we have ever visited. An option is to arrive by boat!
This modern premises was opened in 2011, and cost $76 million Aud and was fully funded by a Tasmanian benefactor, David Walsh who had made his fortune by gambling. I am told he was so successful that he was banned from many casinos!
It was not only the buildings he funded but also some (if not all) of the highly prized installations that are such a draw here.
For a start, it is hard to find the front door. You walk across a tennis court and past a trampoline to arrive. This should begin to get you in the zone. In my case I was muttering away about poor signage and having to walk across a tennis court, as clearly I did not get it.
Inside it doesn’t get much better. Whilst you are given a plan, very little is explained and off you go down into the basement. There are very few signs or explanations, and a wise move would have been to take an audio guide, which I did not.
The building itself is an experience. Most of the floors are underground and you just happen upon spaces at the end of dark underground corridors which contain installations. Equally you could miss them as very little is sign posted. Tell children that this is art and they would be amazed at how much fun they would have moving around this massive space and finding such weird and unexpected things.
In one place, visitors were given paper and a pencil and asked to draw a bike from memory. Walk through the next door and it is full of framed drawings by the public. Go into the next room and some of these manifestations have been made by the artist into life sized bikes and clearly they would not work! Such fun.
An unexpected delight was to happen upon a huge wine bar overlooking the bay with a scattering of large settees, where it would have been rude not to order a couple of glasses of Tasmanian Rosé. A large sphere sitting in the room which looked like something out of the film The Prisoner, I ignored. Apparently it too was art and you could climb inside!
My advice is not to go there if you are weary because you need to find your inner child and explore freely.
The next day on our way to Fortesque Bay and some coastal walking tracks, we thought it was Landy’s turn and we found an off road route to our next destination in the Tasman National Park. On the forested route we glimpsed quite a large kangaroo by the track which hopped off when we passed.
Needless to say, after we had made good progress and passed Pirates Lookout, we found one of the bridges we needed to cross had collapsed. The sign wqs not one we could ignore as rotting timbers had left a gaping hole and this was not Tajikistan.
On this occasion we turned back, but not before at least considering whether we could ford the stream. Common sense eventually prevailed where it had not in the Pamirs!
We were forced to take the grown up route to Fortesque Bay where we had spied a campsite right on the sea, which had umpteen walking routes along the sea coast. We were tickled to pass tiny places called Lewisham, Richmond, Melton Mowbray, Bagdad and wondered how they had been so named.
We arrived and set up camp in an amazing spot with sea views, and then set off for a proper walk accompanied by the sounds of crashing waves and bird song in the trees.
We walked until we had passed a shipwreck, the William Pitt. It was originally a Dutch Trading Vessel named ANDR REBONCAS built in 1907 and was sold to the Hobart Bridge Company for 500 pounds in 1941 and renamed at that time. It was registered in Hobart as a Coal Hulk.
She ended her working life to aid the war effort during the Second World War to act as an artificial breakwater. Its new purpose was to provide shelter in Canoe Bay from high seas for a canning industry, an ice making works and a timber mill on the Peninsula.
Locals can recall how in the early 70's a storm lifted the wreck filled with chains and ballast and moved it to its present position. It is now in 6 metres of water, a visible wreck in the water and complete below the waterline.
We turned around a bit further on at Bivouac Bay and headed back to the beautiful Fortesque Bay where the winds were now picking up and heavy rain was forecast.
Walking through the woods, we were no longer surprised to see a Kangaroo on the side of the track. They are just everywhere.
And indeed in this camping spot they were there when you woke and there when you slept. Presumably hoping to be fed, along with the seagulls and the rather aggressive crows.
One of these thieving culprits helped themselves to our lunchtime sandwiches the following day, of which there was no single trace. Not even the plastic bag in which they had been placed.
What would be good to see is a Tasmanian Devil. These mammals are plentiful here, but nevertheless reducing in numbers and sadly I have only seen roadkill so far. So many small mammals are killed by traffic on these roads in Tasmania.
Mistakenly that night, we left up our camp awning and fairly early on, a massive gust shook the car and the poles were blown down. In the calm of the morning a small possy of campers were wandering around trying to locate their guy ropes and pegs.
In our case, one of our guy ropes plus its peg was located high up in a tree right behind the car. It must have flown through the air and over the car in the storm. Luckly I was able to jump and pull it down, including the metal peg.
On the second day, in the fine weather, we decided to tackle a more serious walk to xxxxPoint. Armed with the remaining sandwiches and poles we set off for a strenuous uphill slog (albeit on well maintained paths) through coastal woodlands followed by a massive downhill path that led out onto a headland with extensive views of the coastline and memorable rock formations.
The only downside was that there were some 600 steps to climb back up again on our return.
Serious walkers were tackling this coastline’s long distance footpath, the Three Capes walk over a number of days and nights through the Tasman National Park.
We watched the sun go down over the bay from our camping spot and cooked a basic supper on our single ring burner. This night we did not risk the awning and a repeat of the previous nights mini drama. It was at times like this when the night time temperatures dipped to 4 degrees, in Landy, that we were glad of our diesel space heater, particularly when shimmying into our clothes in the cold mornings.
The next day, we moved on to visit the infamous Port Arthur Gaol complex which was a major Unesco World Heritage visit undertaken across two days. There are many car parks to cope with the huge numbers of people attracted to this historical spot. Landy did well to find a space next to a vast number of much larger cousins. Australia, and Tasmania in particular is chock a block with campers of every size and budget. Landy looks quite prehistoric in comparison.
As ever on this trip, Port Arthur, in Tasmania was something of a surprise.
Those who know my husband Jim, will recall that he is a bit sniffy about Unesco sites with a rating earned after 2000. However, this one was a much merited exception.
It was constructed as a Secondary punishment prison and was in use between 1830-1877. The visitor experience is pretty top notch and the ticket includes an introductory guided tour of the site. We were glad to return for a second day as we needed more time to explore. More fun when the sun is shining!
What I had not been expecting was the sheer beauty of the site, surrounded by water, magnificent forests and historic buildings of some quality. Additional buildings constructed by convicts were added over time and as the land was cleared of forestry.
The main church now lies in ruins having been caught up in serious Forest fires but most of the retained buildings on the site are either very well restored and maintained, or if ruined, well preserved.
Indigenous people formerly occupying the lands were removed and that is a story in its own right. The site occupied a huge natural harbour and the forested landscape provided huge lumbering opportunities.
Eucalyptus wood was the Structural concrete for the Britain of the 1800’s. The story goes that when the British Navy had plundered all the massive fine oaks in the UK, new wooden ships were constructed from Eucalypts from Tasmania. Admiral Nelsons Flag Ship took 1000 oak trees to construct and we had the largest Navy in the world. The timber was also used in the construction of the railways.
As well as working on lumbering, prisoners also worked in the brick factories where not only were bricks fired to create the prison estate, but profitable surpluses were provided. Clay Pits and kilns generated 65,000 handmade bricks a month. The gaol exported both bricks and timber.
Whilst conditions in the prison were harsh, under many of the Governors the regime provided opportunities for betterment, for those who were prepared to toe the line. Those who came with skills, were given chances to work up to four years without pay, in the prison as draftsmen, medical practitioners, gardeners, technicians, policemen, musicians and so forth. Some would have been tending gardens to grow food and vegetables, others at various times were permitted to fish for food, until it was banned, as the catch (crayfish, barramundi etc) was considered too luxurious!
10% of the inmates were juveniles. Street gang members. They had four or five times the reconviction rate of adults. The crimes included theft and Substance abuse. These juveniles were frequently undernourished and very small and not much use for heavy labour. On one of the off shore islands, Point Poor Prison was established as a specialist Juvenile Prison for boys from the UK.
The idea, ahead of its time, was to train them and give them a trade. Eventually it was considered non-economic and it was closed down and a new prison was established for juveniles in the uk. Pentonville?
Some prisoners were permitted to work for prison management and to return to their cells to eat and sleep. Some taught in the local school which was attended by the children of prison staff.
For those illiterates and violent offenders for whom there was less hope, these were sent out daily to fell trees and to other forms of hard labour, perhaps in chain gangs with manicles around their ankles day and night.
Prisoners were detained on average for two or three years and up to four years and there was hope of rehabilitation for some.
Some repeat offenders returned and by the time the gaol closed the governors’ job was largely caring for elderly and infirm older prisoners, destitute returnees in need.
Our guide explained that the weather was not a huge problem to the prisoners. That Port Arthur was a better climate than perhaps, Belfast, Glasgow or Birmingham.
On a cold and windy day at Port Arthur, he explained that Tasmania was on the same latitude as the French Riviera. I cant say, that wrapped up in everything warm I possessed, I was totally convinced!
For our final days in Tasmania, we took ourselves off to the St Clair Cradle Mountain National Park which again caters for day trippers and walkers like us, plus those on serious 6-8 day yomps.
On the way we stopped briefly in Richmond which was a delightful town which tempted us with nice food and other local produce including locally grown wines from nearby vinyards. The Richmond stone bridge, the oldest bridge still in use in Australia was built by convict labour. A rather over -zealous gang master came to a sticky end on this very spot when the gang he was supervising turned on him and he drowned.
The town had its own gaol and accommodated prisoners including a 20 person chain gang in a couple of small rooms.
We visited the Pooley Vineyard which we discovered was owned and run by an Englishman.
The main house was one of the earliest Colonial property constructed in Richmond by an aspiring wealthy settler.
The small Church in Richmond was also a true gem.
We selected two walks which suited our appetite, one along the shores of Lake St Clair. We arrived at the start of the walk halfway up St Clair Lake at Echo point. The boatman told us that the tourist board of Tasmania, many years ago, had photographed this peak and implied that it was Tasmania’s Matternhorn in order to bring in keen mountaineers. Its shape is probably the only aspect of this small mountain that resembles the Matterhorn!
And the other, a more mountainous circuit we undertook was the Shadow Lake Circuit under under the slopes of Mount Rufus. (Echo Point Walk and Shadow Lake Circuit.) Both were fab and we felt we deserved our dinners.
When we left the National Park to return to Devonport, we stopped off to visit the Mole Creek Caves, inside which a Blues guitarist was holding a short concert which was due to finish in a local cafe.
We had time to kill before our late night sailing back to the mainland and we joined locals in the cafe with a further concert by Julian James, who had just split with his band, Catfish Voodoo, whilst we ate our tea.
Tasmania was a great experience, a fab walking and camping destination with many National Parks. A beautiful place well worth preserving.