14 Days in Van Diemen’s Land (Part 1)

Well, it has been a very long time since my last post! 2019 was a bit of a work year for us, and while we did do a bloggable trip to Margaret River, I never got around to writing it. Then 2020 happened. Therefore, I have been paying to have a blog site that I haven’t contributed to in a while. However, this year is hopefully going to be different!

Being very fortunately from Western Australia, where lockdowns and border closures happened very soon last year, we have been allowed the luxury of opening borders up between Tasmania and Queensland this (Australian) summer. This meant that we had Callum’s parents over for New Year’s and that we were able to fly to Hobart direct and enjoy a holiday while much of the world still cannot fly anywhere. This post is not meant to brag or make anyone feel sour that we are gallivanting around Australia, but merely to share the bit of travelling we have been able to do!

The last trip we did was a year ago when we visited my family over Christmas.  We were meant to go to Europe in June/July of 2020, but those plans were obviously foiled. I was truly (naively) astonished that there was very little chance of going anywhere in 2020…and we didn’t. But we have just returned from a two-week trip to a state that we otherwise might not have visited quite so soon if all this COVID-19 nonsense hadn’t occurred. Simply, we went because it was one of the only places we could go.  And it has been on our list to see.  I expect 2021 will include some other “list-checkers” of trips while we are still bound to this continent.

As mentioned, we flew into Hobart direct from Perth (four and half hours) and arrived in the afternoon. We stayed at the casino hotel and it was meant to be one of the nicest accommodations we were going to enjoy on our trip.  I did insist that since this was our only holiday, we should live it up and pay for a water view.  Look, the room was fine, but we were a bit underwhelmed as the whole place reeked of old-fashioned, out-dated décor, carpets, and furniture.  Our king room was a bed of two singles pushed together. The pool was a cesspit of children and chlorine and the building seemed a bit forgotten. However, it is not the hotel you are caring to see when visiting a new place. We went and had a fantastic burger for dinner at Burger Got Soul, which is worth mentioning because they were delicious. The large fries were a bit much; a regular would suffice between two people. We walked off the calories along the beach near our hotel and spoke of how happy we were to be in a new place.

The next day, our first full day in Tasmania, was a Saturday, which was perfect as Saturdays in Hobart are market days. So, we caught a cab to the Salamanca Markets and had breakfast at Harbour Lights. Our driver suggested it and I was glad of the suggestion. I quickly checked the menu: did it have eggs benedict? Yes, yes it did. That is a requirement for Callum. I will eat anything for breakfast, but Callum must have his poached eggs and hollandaise sauce on a nice piece of bread with proper bacon and a good flat white, thank you very much. Once finished we were able to walk to the start of the markets but soon realised we would have to stand in line and have the “Check In Tas” app ready on our phone. We have “Safe WA” in WA and downloaded the Tasmanian equivalent before we left our hotel room. We encountered a few other options as well, and it made me wonder what people do without smartphones in this day and age.

Anyway, once we were in the markets we enjoyed strolling through and looking at all the typical market fare. I bought two pairs of earrings in quick succession and wanted to buy a third but was discouraged to, it being only the first day. In retrospect, I should have just got them…but more about that later.

We timed our market visit perfectly with the need to get to the MONA ferry, which was a short walk away. MONA stands for Museum of Old and New Art and is a must-see in Hobart. It is only ten years old and was started by a professional gambler who wanted to contribute something to society. The museum was considered to possibly fail miserably but has since become the so-called ‘must-see’ and has increased tourism into the state possibly single-handedly. I’d like to think Art is that powerful. Now, this museum is not for the squeamish or overly pious. It is full of genitals. Like a lot. There were lots of interesting exhibits, and plenty of very strange ones, and a couple that made us go “Why…?” and a couple that made us go “Wow, that is so neat!” So basically, it was a typical art museum, I suppose. The building is interesting in itself as it is mostly an underground labyrinth. And the 30-minute ferry ride is a pleasant way to get there; more interesting and more of an event than driving there, which you can also do.

After the art gallery we found some lunch and discovered the Tasmanian company Liveat. It reminded us of Freshii which we loved while in Canada. After lunch we were ready for a bit of a rest. I actually full-on fell asleep in a public park while Callum people-watched and looked at his phone. For like an hour and a half. I tell ya, travelling tires me out. Because of this nap the shops were all closed by the time I was ready to arise from my grassy slumber. But we did have a stroll through the old part of Hobart, admiring the heritage houses of yore and delighting in their quaintness. We made our way back ‘home’ (we always call where we are staying ‘home’ whilst travelling) to pick up our car and drive up to Mount Wellington. It was about a 30-minute drive up narrow roads and many twists and turns. It is from here you get a spectacular view of all of Hobart. We were a bit shocked at how chilly it was up there and foreshadowed how we would feel later in the trip. It was so cold that we didn’t stay up there long and drove back down to hunt down some dinner. We just had a simple cafeteria dinner at Mures. Callum had a seafood chowder which he enjoyed a lot.

Day 2 we drove to the town of Port Arthur, which used to be a penal settlement from 1833-1877. As the historic site’s webpage states: “Over its long history, Port Arthur has been a place of hardship and punishment, a place of opportunity, and a place of leisure. Now it is one of Australia’s most important heritage destinations, where the story of Australia’s colonial history is written in stone and brick.” (https://portarthur.org.au/history/)

Upon arrival at the entry, we were given a playing card each with a picture on it. In the museum we had to find the corresponding drawer with the same number, suit and picture which then revealed the name of a person who had lived in the settlement. I got George Hunt. While a prisoner at Port Arthur, he tried to escape by draping a kangaroo hide over him, and trying to hop like the animal. The officers thought he was a real kangaroo and decided to shoot him for food. Hunt had to surrender and received 150 lashes as punishment for trying to escape. Fascinating! Horrible!

Both Callum and I were surprised at how attractive the 100-acre site was. Neither of us knew much about it, just that we ought to visit it. We were expecting just a jail…but it is quite a vast site and had several buildings of various uses still standing for us to explore. It was a settlement, after all, so there were homes with gardens in addition to the penitentiary and additional prisons. One notable building was the ‘silent prison’ where it was believed that if you completely isolated a prisoner and disallowed him from all speech, he will reform. This of course didn’t work, but it was interesting to see the separate exercise yards, the unique way they kept the men from seeing one another during church services, and to hear about the whole prison and why they thought it would work. The prisoners even had to be covered from head to toe so that they weren’t recognized by anyone, completely taking away their individuality.

Our tour also included a short boat ride where we saw the Isle of the Dead where over a 1000 people were buried: unmarked graves for convicts, and nicer marked graves for military personnel and their families. We also saw remnants of the boys’ prison across the water and viewed Port Arthur from the water.

All in all, we probably spent 3.5 hours at Port Arthur. We also made note of the memorial on site of the terrible massacre which occurred in 1996, with 35 people losing their lives. The perpetrator is currently in prison and will never get out, and the incident sparked the harsh gun laws that currently exist in Australia.

We used the rest of the day to visit a couple more places: Remarkable cave, which was like it sounds. Also, a Lavender farm which served many products one being Lavender flavoured ice creams, which I obviously had to try. For dinner we didn’t have many options, as Port Arthur is a sleepy little town, even in the summer/tourist season. We were not expecting much from the pub at Fox and Hounds Inn but were pleasantly surprised as each of our meals were quite good. I had a pumpkin pizza and Callum had a meat pie which cost entirely too much, but he had to admit it was delicious.

Day 3 we drove towards Bicheno and stopped to see the tessellated pavement, a neat geography thing where erosion and salt water has made the flat stone form perfect squares. We stopped in at Freycinet National Park and did the Wineglass Bay lookout hike (3km) before heading up to Bicheno.  We would have stayed in the national park but couldn’t find accommodation. It was tough to book places to stay in Tasmania, as many people around the country wanted to go. While we were there, though, borders with a few places closed so many people had to cancel their trip. We benefited from a few cancellations, but the park was too difficult to get a place to stay for a price we wanted to pay. We stayed 35 minutes away and had to drive back down the next morning to enjoy the park further.

That evening, we were part of a wonderful penguin tour. The little penguins (or, also known as blue or fairy penguins) are busy taking care of their chicks at this time of year, so they are easily spotted coming in after dark from their fishing expeditions. They come up out of the water each night to get to their burrows where they have chicks waiting to be fed. We learned so much about penguins and loved seeing them stroll right up to us from where we were watching, to get to their homes. The penguins don’t detect red light so that is why my pictures are all in red, as the guide showed us where the penguins were using a red flashlight. However, the nice professional shots are by the company we went with, and the link given to us for free after the tour. It was special as well to witness the actual feeding of the penguins, as that is usually done in their burrows. We saw two chicks hassling their parent for their meal right out in the open! Altogether we saw over 60 penguins on our hour-long tour which was just fantastic.

Our Day 4 we returned to Freycinet National Park where Callum did a longer hike, and I re-did the one from the day before. Once at the top I was planning to do a watercolour painting. I had checked my supplies that morning, paying close attention to my paints, pencil, sharpener, water container, brush, etc., but forgot to bring my book!  I was so sad and mad at myself for forgetting the watercolour paper booklet and could not believe my stupidity.  I did find an old thick napkin among my things—presumably for me to dry my brush in between rinsing colours. I started drawing and painting on the napkin, thinking the whole time ‘this isn’t going to work, I’m wasting my time’. But after awhile I got the hang of it. It was sort of like painting on rice paper, which is a thing. So, I did a painting after all, but it is horribly inaccurate, and I will do a proper one on actual paper later.

After our hikes and finding some lunch in Coles Bay, we located an interesting blowhole and sat and watched it and all the people acting funny around it for an hour or so. It was something to do.

3 thoughts on “14 Days in Van Diemen’s Land (Part 1)

  1. I’m so glad you’re back doing your blog, Rachel. I, for one, have missed it.

    Loved reading about your trip and the photos are brilliant. It’s over thirty years since we went to Tasmania when we visited most of the places you’ve written about. There’s so much to see in Tasmania that’s really beautiful.

    Will be looking forward very much to the next instalment.


  2. Beautiful pictures! I love the lavender ones (you and your ice cream) and that white, sandy beach reminds me very much of Hornby Island. Love, mom


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