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Monday, September 2, 2019

Tasmania - The island that has it all

Just over a year ago, I made it to the part of Australia I’d been desperate to see – Tasmania.  Tasmania is one of the more underrated destinations, should you ask most mainland Australians, yet it would prove to be my favorite place in the country.  An Oregonian, born of vast forests and easy-access camping, who over the past years has added California sunshine, New York culture and Sydney beaches to my list of destination demands, I was impressed to find Tasmania has all of these things.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The flight from Sydney to Tasmania was a breeze, even with a vast array of camping equipment.  It was an after-work flight, so my friend and I landed with just enough energy to grab our rental car and drive to the Quest Savoy in downtown Hobart – the hotel was pretty basic but served our quick overnight needs.  We were hoping for a quick bite at a nearby restaurant – we would soon learn that Tasmania completely shuts down over the Easter holidays.  NOWHERE was open.  Confused, tired and starving, we did the only thing we could do – pass out.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The next morning, we were up first thing to take advantage of the short four-day holiday trip.  By 9:30am, we were on the Mona Roma ferry ($22 one-way) to the Museum of Old & New Art (MONA).  I would revise that to the Museum of Weird Ass Art (in the best way possible).

The ferry ride was beautiful, passing along the coast of Hobart, arriving at the waterfront museum.  It was VERY windy though – a video for your entertainment.  Also, the coffee and baked goods on the ferry are delicious!  I was shocked that a ferry would have such good food.

We arrived by 10am and spent the next 2.5 hours (which is plenty) covering all the levels, including the ones with queues (it’s $50 for entry and the return ferry).  I highly recommend downloading the museum tour app, because it shows you which exhibits have the biggest queues/lines.  Event Horizon, one of the most popular, was VERY cool.  I also wanted to check out “Unseen,” but it books out in advance.  There is a loophole where you can buy the “Art & Dinner” evening package which comes with access, but we didn’t have time.  Below are some photos of my favorite exhibits – very weird, very wonderful.  My New York itch for culture, weirdos and art had been satiated.

Hungry, yet again, we decided to check out Salamanca Market, just down the waterfront from the ferry exit. It’s primarily one street of bars, restaurants and shops.  We ended up at Jack Greene – great beers and burgers. 

It was a good thing we’d packed so many activities into four days, because Hobart was a ghost town, so we decided to jump in the car for the long drive to Binalong Bay, home of the famous Bay of Fires.  We tried to stop at Sullivan Cove Distillery (my boyfriend is a huge fan) but the last tour was at 3pm (it’s way cheaper to do a tasting with the tour) so we decided to come back on our return to Hobart.

It – was – such - a – long – drive.  It was such a beautiful drive, with speeding “guidelines” for maximum driving enjoyment, but 3.5 hours straight was over-kill.  We kept looking for places to stop to buy supplies, since we’d be camping the next few days, and not a single open place.  I almost crashed the car driving through the tiny, quaint Campbell Town, because there was ONE open bakery (Banjo Bakery) – pretty sure we purchased everything in the store.

Driving like a crazy person, we arrived at Pelican Point Sanctuary in St. Helens (the town just south of Binalong) just in time for sunset.  One of the most picturesque places I’ve ever stayed – highly recommend for a honeymoon or stay-cation for one.  My only annoyance is that you pay $200/night, which isn’t cheap for that area, and still must clean and put away any dishes you use – but I did have the world’s best sleep.

Saturday, April 1, 2018

Our cabin was floor-to-ceiling windows with an incredible view, so I woke up early for sunrise.  Thank God I did! My friend had also kindly gifted me a new Gopro HERO6 for the trip, which captured this sunrise photo – probably my favorite of the trip. I was so impressed with the picture quality!  Note: Most of the photos in this post are using that camera.  GET ONE.

I was sad to leave Pelican Point, but my #1 destination was our goal for the day – Bay of Fires.  For those unfamiliar with this natural phenomenon, it’s a ~30km stretch of beach covered in orange-hued granite made from lichen, that makes the bay look like it’s on fire.  It was a quick 15 min drive to Binalong Bay.  It’s a little unclear where exactly the best spot for (safe) photos.  I recommend staying on Binalong Bay Road until it becomes Main Rd and the bay appears on the left.  Park in the lot near the playground and walk down, to the left of the tennis court, to access some of the better rock views - and a good swim too, if it’s warm enough.

Once you leave, I also recommend turning left out of the parking lot (if you are in an SUV) and continuing along Skeleton Bay Road (dirt) for a fun scenic drive through the bush that with a close eye on Google Maps will bring you back to Binalong Bay Road.

It was a gorgeous day, and the next day was meant to bring rain, so we decided to book it down to Freycinet National Park to hike the famous Wineglass Bay.  Suggestion here – search “Freycinet Visitor Center” in Google Maps rather than “Freycinet National Park” just to ensure you get to the actual trail-head.

We bumped a bunch of Griz songs as we drove south along the coast.  The chain of lagoons and Douglas River area before Bicheno looked amazing.  ARG Australia – why must you always be so big and beautiful.  I never have enough time to see it all!
If you haven’t noticed a theme yet… we stopped at the Bicheno IGA for picnic items, because we knew we’d be hungry and there doesn’t look to be too much near the national park.

Two hours after leaving Binalong Bay, we arrived at the visitor center.  The park pass was $22 each.  If you need to use the restroom – now is the time!  Another 40 minutes of fast-paced walking and we were looking out over Wineglass Bay.  The view was nice, but the bay is so far away, it’s hard to really enjoy the full beauty of it.  I thought Bay of Fires was better.  You can hike to Hazard’s Beach on the other side if you’ve got the time – perhaps those views are better?

To be honest, it wasn’t until we were driving out of the park that we found the most beautiful spot on the whole trip – Honeymoon Bay.  WOW.  I think the photos say enough.  Great spot for a picnic and leisure day laying out and swimming in the clear, warm water.

We drove back to Bicheno and stopped at tourist center to find out about seeing beach penguins and Tasmanian Devils. Both are night tours and cost $30 and $50 respectively, which didn’t seem worth it to me, especially because you can’t take pictures and during other times of the year you can just see penguins on the beach for free.

Instead, we checked into Seaview Holiday Park.  Another learning – Easter is apparently a VERY popular time to visit Tasmania.  We were lucky to get the last non-powered campsite.  Apparently some people book a year in advance, so I highly recommend booking all accommodation in advance.  The lady at the front desk was such a legend!

It was a cute campsite with friendly, yet respectful, neighbors – felt really safe which was nice for two girls.  After a hilarious attempt to pitch the tent, we pour wine into some water bottles and decided to enjoy a sunset beach walk.  Turns out there are red rocks here too! 
After some lovely sunset photos and singing stupidly to the Creed song, ‘With Arms Wide Open” (why? I have no idea) we decided to stop at Sails Restaurant for some prosecco and ice cream.  We got a beach view table, but unfortunately the windows were so dirty, we couldn’t see outside.  Filled to the brim with sugar, we walked back to camp.

Sunday, April 2, 2018

Woke up early for sunrise and then decided what to do next over a yum camp breakfast.  We’d originally planned to stay in Bicheno for two nights but had already seen Freycinet, and Bicheno town doesn’t have a ton going on, so we decided to move on.  We’d heard Bruny Island was beautiful, and near Hobart, so after a warm, delicious cup-a-joe at Pasini, we hit the road again thinking we’d spend the night on the island.

It was another gorgeous drive, this time through lush green farmland.  We stopped at Devil’s Corner for some wine-tasting - the view was great; the wine so-so.  We then stopped at Triabunna for another bathroom break and saw signs for Maria Island – apparently covered in adorable animals like kangaroos, wombats, etc.  Our original plan went out the window and next thing we knew we were on a midday ferry to the island ($50 per person). 

Tasmania is just full of surprises.  Every excursion proved to be better than the last and Maria Island was the new favorite.  We rented bikes for $33 and biked all over the island.  You can go anywhere you want.  Some areas are huge cliffs looking out over the ocean, other areas have beaches and dense forest.  Warning there are some pretty big hills so need to be in somewhat good shape!  There were kangaroos and wombats everywhere – we got up close and personal with one of the wombats.  I want one!!!  Apparently, there are Tassie devils at night if you camp (just watch out for your shoes!!)

We started off biking along the beach to the right of the ferry (facing the ocean) to Fossil Cliff.  Make sure you walk to the far end of the quarry for a spectacular view of high cliffs in the distance.  Then take the inland track back and you enter a cool forest before coming out behind the little village of Darlington - they sell delicious fudge by the way.

But the best part of the whole island is the Painted Cliffs.  You want to arrive here around 3pm, when the tide is out, so that you can walk along these amazing cliffs.  It was my second favorite thing about Tasmania, after Honeymoon Bay.  We couldn’t spend too much time there because we needed to get the last 5pm ferry back, but I got fantastic pictures!

By the time we got back to Hobart it was dark and I was very over driving (Bicheno to Hobart is 2.5 hours).  Once again everything was closed, because it was Easter Sunday, but we managed to sneak a spot at Peacock & Jones because someone was late for their reservation!  I was so tired I could barely stay awake, but the restaurant was lovely – I had the wallaby which was pretty good but maybe a bit “one-tone” in taste.

While in the car, we decided to “go big” on the holiday and still see Bruny Island.  We booked an Airbnb room in Snug, just outside Kettering and Bruny Island. It was a little frustrating to pay for another night when we’d bothered to bring all this camping gear but $73 seemed reasonable for a soft bed and shower.  Also it was a weird, yet adorable little cabin.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Another early morning catching the Bruny Island car ferry at 10am.  Thirty minutes later and we’d arrived and drove straight to the famous “Neck” (the thinnest, highest point of the island) to battle a bunch of other tourists to get that perfect Instagram shot.  Another “meh” in my opinion…right up there with Wineglass Bay.  I’ve been far more impressed with the remote, random places in Tasmania so far.

Next we drove to Adventure Bay on a quest to see a white wallaby.  If I were to stay on Bruny Island, I’d stay here.  It’s beautiful.  We sadly didn’t see any of the evasive white wallabies, but we did get in a nice beachfront walk. 

It was on this walk, that I started to feel really apprehensive.  The last ferry of the day is at 4/5pm and they are first-come first-serve and our flight out the next morning was first thing so I was a bit panicked about getting off the island.  I’d definitely recommend staying at least one night on the island so that you feel less rushed.

Needless to say, we took our time heading back to the ferry stop.  I bought some chocolate licorice from the Bruny Island Chocolate Co. and had a delicious lunch of pizza, cheese and beers at Bruny Island Cheese & Beer Co.  They make a lot of stuff on this island!  The lunch stop had a great atmosphere – outdoor picnic tables in a lush green garden area.

We arrived at the ferry stop and spent the next 2 hours waiting – we decided to hangout on the side of the road and have a picnic “second lunch.”  It at least made the waiting a bit better.  If you find yourself in that same line with no snacks you can walk down to the ferry station. In general, you should stay the next and leave on the first ferry out.

Back on the mainland, we completed our final drive to Hobart, had a good sleep and then headed out on our 10am flight the next morning.

As I write this blog post over a year after visiting, I’m contemplating a visit back, but unfortunately, it’s October and it will just be too cold.  I loved this trip so much, even with the 10 hours of driving over 3 full days and waiting 2 hours for the Bruny Island ferry (680 km/422 miles).  I was so impressed with the kind, relaxed nature of the people, the weird art at MONA, the world-class food in Hobart and the incredible beach and forest landscapes of Binalong Bay, Freycinet, Maria Island and Bruny Island.  It’s such a beautiful place with so few people that you kind of feel like you are the only people in existence which adds something to the experience.  I cannot wait to visit again, and to think I only did the east coast of the island.  There is so much more Tasmania has to offer!