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Sat 26 Aug - Devonport to Strahan, Tasmania.
The colossal 'Spirit of Tasmania' ferry glides out of the atypically calm Bass Strait in to Devonport, gleaming white in the clean sunlight. The calm weather is a good thing, as the cheapo hostel accomodation on board is right down at the bottom of the boat, literally just above the keel, far from natural light and air and would be a very bad place to be if your fellow passengers were to start 'blowing chunks'!
Winter bus timetables in Tassie make public transport unfeasible, so have completely blown my budget hiring a little red noddy car. Emerge on the west coast after several hours drive through tangled wilderness at the Henty Dunes - miles of towering white sand, relentlessly shaped by the world's cleanest air.
At Ocean Beach, lashed by surf driven by the ceaseless winds of the roaring forties round two thirds of the world, steel blue clouds break to allow an orange sun to drop into the sea.
Strahan - the only port (and practically the only town) on the inaccessible West Coast is tranquil (some might say catatonic - the youth hostel is like the Marie Celeste). Yet Sarah Island, just out in the natural harbour, was once arguably the most brutal of all the convict colonies. Tasmania became a convict colony to house second-tier exiles from the rapidly-gentrifying Sydney colony, and sentencing to Sarah Island became the final, furthest and worst fate.
Now that good, fast, and mostly empty roads cross Tassie, it is hard to imagine the isolation and desperation that this place held. Escapees usually didn't get far, those that did almost all disappeared, presumed starved, in the impenetrable bush. The sole enterprising chap who made it all the way across the island to Hobart survived by eating his fellow escapees.
Apparently, when recaptured he confessed to this, presumably in an attempt to avoid being sent back to Sarah Island, however, the authorities didn't belive him.
Back in the prison, he found himself feted as a master of escapology, and found no shortage of willing companions for a second breakout. He lunched on his companions again, apocriphally producing a half-eaten morsel of one of them from his pocket in proof when again recaptured.
Sun 27 Aug - Strahan to Port Arthur, Tasmania.
The magic of Tasmania comes from it's endless procession of stunning, and different, landscapes - on the weather lashed West Coast with dark and claustrophobic temperate rainforest; a large patch of recent fire damage - white and black tree skeletons surrounded by a lime green beard of new growth; black crested mountains flour-dusted with snow; heather-purple moorland; flat plains of firey orange grass broken by spinneys of gum trees; tall, airey eucalypt forest; dark water river gorges, walled in sandstone and green; finally rolling dairy farmland on the balmy east coast (Hobart is warmer on average than Madrid).
The descent into the mining community of Queenstown comes as a shock in the middle of this natural lushness - the scraped-bare ochre and cadmium valley slopes look like the limbs of a flayed cadaver.
Drop in on the Eaglehawk Neck Dive Centre hoping to squeeze in a dive or two. No luck - two metre surf makes diving unfeasible. However a video of the local attractions - thirty metre tall Kelp forests, cavernous swim throughs, Octopi, Squid, Boxfish, Leafy Seadragons, largely complete wrecks - is more than enough to put Tasmania firmly on my 'Must Dive Some Day' list.
Mon 28 Aug - Port Arthur to Coles Bay, Tasmania.
After scraping the ice where the sun hasn't reached from the car windscreen with my Australia guidebook (Baden-Powell would have been so proud!), go on a tour of the tessellated pavements, sea arches and blow holes of the Tasman region coast. Pop in to Hobart to buy camera batteries and provisions. Fail to spot any two-headed people, but do spot an alarming preponderance of men matching shaved heads with enormous patriarchial beards, and rebelliously cute grunge kids.
Pass a roadkill Tasmanian Devil. As far as I am concerned, this counts as seeing one in the wild. OK, so it may not have been alive, but frankly, that is just splitting hairs!
My very own bonnet has close calls with an early morning Kangaroo and a late night Wombat. The 'roo, stupid animal, bounces away down the middle of the road, and would have done a fair amount of damage. The Wombat thankfully manages a surprising turn of speed - by all accounts, hit one and you are looking for a new car.
Tasmania has so much roadkill, they have teams employed to go round shovelling it off the carriageway. This is not so much to protect the delicate sensibilities of tourists, as to prevent opportunistic (and possibly endangered) scavengers becoming the next victim.
Tues 29 Aug - Coles Bay to Devonport, Tasmania.
Up unsociably early to walk over the pink granite Hazards range to Wineglass bay before speeding back to Devonport for the ferry back to Melbourne. Get a couple of hours of early sun completely alone. A perfect curve of transparent eggshell-blue surf hisses up a gleaming white beach scattered with pink and peach sea shells, small fluffy clouds play through the eucalypt covered hills. Who would have thought that wild and forbidding Van Diemens Land could hide somewhere so idyllic?
The first person to emerge is a birdwatcher from Essex. He's happy cos he's just spotted a yellow-throated warbler (or somesuch) found only in Eastern Tasmania. Me, I'm just happy to have had a couple of hours alone in somewhere that comes very close to my idea of paradise.
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