9 Days Exploring Tasmania
In February 2013, we spent nine days travelling around Tasmania in this camper van. Though in the middle of summer, Tasmania doesn’t tend to get the extremely hot temperatures that we get in other parts of the country (I’m looking at you, Perth!). The day time highs reached around 25 degrees, so perfect weather for exploring. By mid-February, the school holidays were finished, so it was us and mostly retirees out on the open road. Perfect weather and limited crowds … what could be better!?
After landing in Launceston at 10pm, we quickly found a (as it calls itself) ‘hole in the wall’ pub, called the Ciderhouse. Since we were there for Festivale, it seemed only fitting to indulge in a drink or two, which seemed like what everyone in the town was doing that night. Our accommodation, Hillview House, was a quick walk into town.
By the time we woke up it was past 10am (thanks jet lag!), so we ended up missing breakfast at all the bakeries in town. After a panini at Banjo’s Bakery (salmon and cream cheese … YUM!), we drove over to the Cataract Gorge. I was pleasantly surprised at how big and beautiful the area was. We walked up to the bridge, had a good look at the gorge itself and the family area complete with riverside swimming pool. I was tempted by the chairlift but decided against it so we could start the drive to the Tamar Valley.
Our first, and only stop on the wine trail was Rosevears Vineyard, set up on a hill with some fabulous views. The man at the cellar door was fantastic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more enthusiastic and knowledgable wine taster! We ended up buying a bottle of the Pinot Gris to take on the camping trip.
Wanting to stay in the Tamar Valley, but needing to get to Cradle Mountain before dark, we headed west, stopping for snacks in Sheffield, the town of murals (and a creepy fake baby on a roof).
By late afternoon, we arrived at Cradle Mountain. For details on our two days in Cradle Mountain National Park, click here.
After two nights in Cradle Mountain, we packed up the van and headed east. Since the map showed alternate routes to Deloraine, we decided to try a different route than the one we took to get to Cradle Mountain. Lucky for me, I accidentally told Jarrad to turn right about 15km too early, so we ended up driving through Mount Roland Regional Reserve, down a paved road with no middle line, saw about three cars during a half hour of driving and ended up driving through a beautiful forest and crossed the Mersey River (not the same one as in Nova Scotia…).
From there we continued on a more ‘main’ road through Mole Creek, where we saw a giant (fake) Tasmanian Devil, and then onto Highway 1, past Launceston, onto the A3 to Scottsdale. The driving times and distance looks very deceiving when looking on a map. One minute you’re driving along a (sort of) main road, going 100km/hr. Next minute you’re driving up a mountain with a dozen switchbacks, then back down the other side, and if you’re unlucky like we were, following a car that would slow down and drive part way onto the middle lane on flat, passable sections of the road, so we were unable to pass!
Arriving in Scottsdale just over three hours after we left Cradle Mountain, with no stops other than a quick picture of the Tassie Devil, we had some of the best sandwiches ever at the local bakery. We found it accidentally when trying to find the cheapest place to buy petrol. It’s called Cottage Bakery and was next to Woolworths on Victoria Street. They make sandwiches to order and also had a huge selection of baked goods (I got a cream puff to go .. very yum later in the day!) and fresh bread.
After paying way too much for petrol, we continued east until we reached Pyengena to stop into the Pyengena Diary Company. This place was quite a treat after all the driving. They had a few cheeses to taste (the cheese is fantastic – think mild cheddar with chives and chilli), made the best vanilla bean ice cream I’ve ever had, and it was a working dairy farm, so we were able to watch the cows. We got a kick out of watching the cows leave a pen single file, then walk along the fence, through a tunnel under the road and then onto the other side. How do they know where to go?!
After filling up on cheese, we continued down the road to St Colombia Falls State Reserve and saw the 90m waterfall (about a 20 minute return walk). The falls were ok, but there wasn’t a lot of water in February! With the driving time off the main road, it’s a good half hour detour, which I probably wouldn’t recommend unless you really like waterfalls.
Back onto the main road, we arrived in the cute, seaside town of St Helens. The town had everything we needed: a petrol station, a couple of IGAs, a bottle shop and two candy stores. Our first stop was our caravan park for the night – St Helens Big4 Caravan Park. After trying to check in but the office having no record of my booking, I was very happy I’d printed off all my booking confirmations. After a bit of discussion, we were assigned our caravan site for the night. Good thing the place wasn’t booked out!
The caravan park is unlike any I’ve come across before. The caravan spots are between the cottages instead of having all the campers together. So on both sides of us we had a cottage, which I’m guessing are mostly full of long-term campers. To me, the set up isn’t great as I was trying to enjoy not being in the van, sitting out on my camping chair, but had to listen to the tv blaring from the cottage next to us. Not ideal, but it was only for one night.
After getting our spot, we ventured into town and filled up on chocolates and fudge and a giant beer for Jarrad. From what I’ve gathered, the main site in the area is the Bay of Fires. Unfortunately, most of the Bay is reachable by gravel road and our campervan has an excess of $9,900 for damage on unsealed roads. So the farthest we could go was Billabong Bay. Fortunately for us, Billabong Bay is a gorgeous, soft white sand beach, so we were happy as Larry! The sky was very much overcast, but so far the rain has held off. A perfect night for a beach stroll.
After getting our beach fix, we ventured back to the caravan park and made dinner in the campers’ kitchen. Seeing as the sun only sets around 9pm, we still had time to walk into town and check out the small marina. There’s a restaurant overlooking the water that looked very nice. I’ll remember for next time!
After a fabulous bacon and egg breakfast, we packed up the van and headed south. After mistakenly driving back towards Scottsdale, using a random driveway of a house with two very aggressive dogs as a turnaround spot, we managed to get going in the right direction. One of the dogs ran straight at the van and if Jarrad hadn’t stopped in time, he would have been ran over in front of the owners … crazy dog!
Our first stop was Bicheno, a small town set on the ocean and famous for its pies and its blow hole. The former was AMAZING (chicken and camembert with a lamington on the side), the latter was a bit of a disappointment. Lucky for us, the ‘blow hole’ was only a minute walk from the carpark. If we’d walked much further, I would have been much more disappointed. On a windy, stormy day, it would be really neat to see, but on the windless, calm, sunny day, there wasn’t much blowing action. Jarrad walked up close to it and discovered that the Bicheno ‘Blow Hole’ should actually be called the Bicheno ‘crack hole’, but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
After convincing myself not to buy out all the pies in the shop (Blue Edge Bakery), we continued south until we arrived in Coles Bay. I wish I would have listened to the advice I’d read on Trip Advisor, because there really isn’t much of anything in the ‘town’. There are two convenience stores, but prices are high and there is a lack of real selection. Make sure to stock up in Bicheno!
Just around the corner from Coles Bay is the entrance to the park. After checking in to our pre-arrange National Park campsite, we checked out our dirt patch for the next two nights. It took about a minute to decide to walk down to the beach (walkway about 30 seconds from our site). Oh my, what a gorgeous view! I took a few pictures, but they don’t quite do it justice.
Seeing the very calm bay, it looked very inviting and I was keen for a swim (lap pools aren’t very plentiful around here). To say it was cold is an understatement. It must have been 18-ish degrees.
After checking out both grocery stores, it was agreed that the store near the boat ramp was the clear winner. Picking up some Ashgrove Cheese and crackers, we drove up to the Cape Tourville Lighthouse and had a pre-meal snack looking over towards Wineglass Bay and the mountain range. Too beautiful for words!
Our second day was set aside as our ‘National Park Exploring Day”. The first stop was Wineglass bay. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as great as I was hoping for, but it was still beautiful from the lookout spot, about an hour walk mostly uphill from the carpark. The walk also branches off to a trail leading down to the beach, which has some patches of rather slippery / rocky walking (wear good shoes – though Jarrad did the walk in thongs, so you don’t need hiking shoes). Unless it’s a sunny day and you plan on hoping in the water for a swim, the better views are definitely from the top.
Our next stop was one of the highlights of the trip – Honeymoon Bay, which is a short drive south of the campground. There were lots of massive rocks to clamber across and well, the wallabies were very photogenic. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After a second night at the very picturesque Coles Bay campground, we had an early start to get to Port Arthur’s Historic Site and the onto Hobart before dark.
On the drive to Port Arthur, we bypassed Dunalley and the surrounding area, which had been hit but a devastating bushfire only a month before (January 2013). We drove for kilometre after kilometre and saw not much other than burnt forest and the occasional intact house (over 100 houses and buildings were destroyed in the fires). It was a very sobering and sad drive through the area knowing how many people had lost their homes.
After passing Eaglehawk Neck, we took a detour from the main road to Port Arthur. If you have extra time, I recommend taking the C338 Blowhole Road to the coastal formations at the (yet another) Blowhole, Tasman’s Arch, the Devil’s Kitchen and Waterfall Bay.
After rejoining the main road, we arrived in Port Arthur. The historic site is known for being Tasmania’s most popular tourist attraction, a formal penal convict settlement and a prison from 1853 to 1877. Sadly, the site is also known for being the site of the last mass shooting in Australia’s (post-colonisation) history, when a lone gunman shot and killed 35 people and 23 wounded others in 1996.
Considering it is a popular tourist site, the area had a rather somber feel to it. Since it was a beautiful day, we joined the boat tour to see the bay and the island which was the area’s cemetery. The tour guide on the boat provided a lot of interesting facts and tried to paint the picture of how hard life would have been back in the 1850s (imagine being there in the dead of winter!) and how the only way to escape was to make your way to Eaglehawk Neck. If you made it that far, it was heavily guarded and next to impossible to get across (only a handful of people successfully escaped).
Back on shore, the tour continued and afterwards we did a bit more exploring on our own. While the tour guide provided a lot of history on the tour, no mention was made of the shooting.
While I enjoyed our visit to Port Arthur, the scenic location has such a sad history. We left the area in quite a somber mood and were looking forward to getting to Hobart, about 100km away. We had two nights but only one day to explore the city. Unfortunately that wasn’t quite enough time because we loved the city.
We spent our full day visiting the Salamanca area with its beautiful cottage lined streets, perusing all the food stalls at the Salamanca Markets, wandering around the waterfront area, drinking a tasting paddle of beers at the Cascade Brewery (Australia’s oldest operating brewery) and driving to the top of Mount Wellington for views over the city and beyond.
We absolutely loved our nine days in Tasmania. Having seen the northern part of the island, if I were to return, I would spend my time focused on Hobart and Freycinet National Park, camping next to the water and spending the days exploring the park.
Have you travelled to Tasmania? What were some of your highlights?