Wed 16 Feb 2011
Have you ever planned a Tasmanian holiday and thought, ‘gee, the ferry to Tassie will be a fun adventure with the kids!’? If you have, think again. I don’t get seasick, but travelling with three kids, two of whom get carsick, meant I was anxious the whole time. Also, as we were trying to do this on the cheap, I booked an internal cabin, which meant no windows. Whatever you do, book a cabin with windows. Otherwise, prepare yourself for an experience much like returning to the womb, but not your mum’s. And make sure you take your own food, as what we saw on board had the predictable monopoly pricing and appeared to be pre-masticated.
But enough about the ferry. Some of you may even like it. This is meant to be about Tassie, its beauty and the richness of its produce, not about how far it is by sea (it’s rather close by air, of course). I’ve already detailed our feasts from this trip, as we explored the many excellent producers across the island state.
First of all, for those who take the overnight boat, you will arrive very early in the morning. A voice will harass you to get out of bed and off their boat, and most of you will obey, but not all, leading to delays for the tight line of cars stuck behind Those Who Selfishly Sleep In. Oh, wait, I was trying to move on from writing about the interminable ferry rides…
So it’s early, and you’re in Devonport. My advice, based on our trip and the advice I received, is keep driving. If you’re headed in the direction of Launceston, whatever you do, do not stop at Etc in Elizabeth Town for breakfast. It may look like the first decent food on this route, but books/covers, okay? Just imagine the precise texture of a croissant straight from the microwave and you’ll get it. I dearly wish we had gone to Utsi Cafe in Perth, which is a very short detour from Launceston.
We also made a brief stop at Ashgrove Cheese Factory, and I’m going to recommend giving this one a miss as well, at least if you’re looking for cheese. Their ‘Green Milk’ (un-homogenised full cream), on the other hand, is lovely and we enjoyed many litres on our travels.
But on to the camping! Our first week was spent in the northeast at the very beautiful Bay of Fires, where we camped in the ‘Cosy Corner’ campground. Our site was just back from the beach where we were sheltered from wind and enjoyed the added protection of sparse trees. Fires are allowed, something we hardly ever experience as we typically camp in national parks and/or during total fire bans.
The real reason to go to Bay of Fires is for the intense colour saturation. The mixture of red-lichen-covered granite rocks, silky white sands, unfathomable aqua seas and Big Blue Skies left me with a sense of synaesthesia, as joy washed over me one tint at a time. The beaches are gorgeous, but it’s worth mentioning they’re not exactly swim friendly for kids. Not that it matters, as the lively rockpools and little protected shallows are ample playground for inquisitive little people.
We stopped for a night in Bicheno, a lovely little fishing village, to wash some clothes and bodies on our journey south before setting up camp again. We had a fried feast at the Sea Life Centre, where I’d recommend sticking to the local catch of course. The Trevalla and scallops were a definite highlight, but the oysters were a disappointment, even though they must have come from the marine farm where we’d been buying them live up above Binalong Bay. I guess we spoiled ourselves with all that fresh shucking…
Before making our way to Freycinet, we popped up for a picnic at Douglas Apsley NP, which was a nice, inland change with a decent river running through it attracting plenty of locals for an afternoon swim (okay, paddle). We feasted on lovely local produce sourced from Pasini’s Cafe in Bicheno (which included some divine pickled walnuts, as well as a Bruny Island ‘Tom’ and a luscious beetroot dip…) and watched the kids delight in the age-old pleasure of rock hopping.
We also popped in to Nature World for the kids to see some Tasmanian Devils, and were pleasantly surprised to find them in a healthy condition (unlike the mangy ones we saw nearly 20 years ago). There were quite a lot of them, as well as some snakes in grassy enclosures that certainly got the kids excited. Overall, for a place with animals in enclosures, it was a mostly positive experience (I still maintain, along with many others, that birds should simply never be enclosed in cages).
Next stop, Freycinet National Park, where we knew we had to at very least do the walk up to a view of Wineglass Bay. We also knew that much like Wilson’s Prom, there is a lottery some months before the summer peak season to get a campsite, but we were lucky that a friend from Hobart recommended we just cruise in to Friendly Beaches, which doesn’t require bookings. Friendly Beaches is only about a 10 or 15 minute drive from the carpark where all the bushwalks commence down the peninsula, and as promised, even in peak season, it was quiet and lovely.
I won’t mention how much it rained while we were at Friendly Beaches, except to say it’s lucky we got out of the Bay of Fires on time, just before St Helens had to close (and then lost) roads. It’s also not ‘normal’ for the time of year. Fortunately, as @crazybrave says, at least we have a ‘good camping spirit’.
As for the Wineglass Bay walk, we set off with three (mostly) keen kids, and by the time we’d made it the 1.5 km straight up to the lookout, with every intention of making it the 1.5km down the other side, we’d pretty much convinced the wee Jonai trio that the extra 8km around the point would be a flat easier option than the return mountain-goat route. And so the full 11km we did go, and even if it did start raining on the walk, it was a lovely family outing. Never mind that the visibility for about half of it is a rather short forests’ understory and Atticus was wearing a generic version of Blundstones for this walk… it actually was lovely, and the kids were proud of themselves for making it so far.
After a few soggy days around Friendly Beaches, we stuffed our saturated gear into the car and set off for Port Arthur. A stop at the Sorell Fruit Farm was a fun break as we picked kilos of fresh stone fruits and berries, but the business model is rather irritating – you can’t even go along with the kids if you don’t buy a punnet yourself, which is pretty expensive. However, we did in fact want all that fruit, so it was fine for us.
At Port Arthur we stay in the Port Arthur Villas, which, while not cheap, were still excellent value at $240 for a two-bedroom flat with good-sized kitchen/dining/lounge areas. If you buy your tickets for Port Arthur from them (at no extra cost), they give you the key to the back gate, which is a stone’s throw from the property. We stopped at the delightful little fish market in Dunalley on the way down as well, where we not only picked up a beautiful trumpeter fish to cook that night for Ev and his mate Steve, who were similarly rained out, but also got the kids fish and chips for lunch which included delectable baby octopi! Now that is what I want from fish and chips!
As a fascinating way to bring history alive for the kids, you cannot go wrong with Port Arthur, by the way. During summer they have short performances in some of the restored buildings, which offer a really interesting and lively interpretation of the convict settlement’s grim past. The restored houses further offer great opportunities to discuss changes to the ways people live over the past 170 years – of course my kids were particularly unimpressed with kitchens relegated to the back instead of being the heart of the house.
To be continued… next up, gentle Hobart, stunning Bruny Island, hobby farm life and the charming Cygnet.