Australia Trip 2020: Part 2 – Tasmania

STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on a trip with his wife to Australia in February 2020. Moving on from the mainland, he now reports on the island state of Tasmania.

Tasmania: Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain
Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain

We flew into Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, and stayed three nights at the Comfort Hotel Foreshore, Lauderdale, which proved difficult to find in the dark. The hotel, or more correctly motel, was very clean and smart and its large bistro offered good quality meals at reasonable prices.

On our first day in Tasmania we drove down the Tasman peninsular to Port Arthur, a 90 minute scenic drive with coastlines, lakes and hills. We stopped at several viewing points on the way including the Devil’s Kitchen, Tasman Blowhole and Tasman Arch.

Port Arthur is the site of the old penal settlement which closed in 1873. The site entry fee of $A32 (about £16) for seniors includes a walking tour and a harbour cruise. The informative tour set the scene, enabling us to appreciate some of the history and to plan our own leisurely tour.

Tasman Peninsula near Devils's Kitchen
Tasman Peninsula near Devils’s Kitchen

The site contains many buildings including the penitentiary (ravaged by fire in 1897), the church, hospital, guard tower, the Commandants house. It is generally easy walking, but being a large site, it is good that a buggy is available for those with walking difficulties.

The harbour cruise was interesting and also gave us the opportunity to sit down for half an hour as the sights were explained to us.

It took us around the island graveyard (Isle of the Dead), the children’s island prison (Point Puer Boy’s Prison) and also afforded good views of the penal settlement from a different perspective.

On our second day in Hobart we used the red hop-on-hop-off bus to see around the city followed by a pleasant walk around the Botanic Gardens.

Tasmania: Port Arthur
Port Arthur

We could have easily and usefully spent more time in Hobart, as we did not really explore the city very well or have time to go to the Huon Valley with its history and wineries.

The following day we drove 200 miles to Strahan on the West Coast of Tasmania through the Western Wilds. This took seven and a half hours, including stops at Hamilton for coffee, Derwent Bridge (which only had a hotel, petrol station, café and campsite) and Queenstown. Near Derwent Bridge there is a famous carved wall but as we were unaware of this, we missed seeing it! The area around Queenstown has been ravaged by mining.

Strahan is a small, quiet  village with a pretty walk along the sea front and harbour.  Our first morning at Strahan was spent seeing the memorial/details of Alexander Pearce (a convict who escaped, and then ate his fellow escapees!), and walking to the Hogarth Falls. This is a 25 minute walk each way through the forest, on a level path except for the last 200 yards up a hill.

Hobart Harbour
Hobart Harbour

In the afternoon we went on the historic West Coast Wilderness Railway. The track runs from Strahan to Queenstown, but the afternoon train only goes halfway to Dubbil Barril. This was an interesting, informative ride ($A99 for seniors) through the forest and along the King River. To my dismay the train was pulled by a diesel locomotive as the steam engine was having boiler repairs!

River cruises were available from Strahan, including to the harsh convict penal settlement on Sarah Island, but we had insufficient time on this visit.

From Strahan we drove to Launceston via Cradle Mountain. The travelling that day was another slow drive of 200 miles in total. The final 100 miles from Cradle Mountain to Launceston took two and a half hours along a very winding road for much of the way.

The Cradle Mountain National Park entry fee is $A18 for seniors. There are numerous walks in the park, but as we had only a couple of hours, we went directly to Dove Lake. From there we did two short walks alongside the lake and to the Glacier Rock viewing point, which provides excellent views of both the lake and the mountain. This large National Park is very scenic and we could have easily spent a whole day there.

West Coast Wilderness Railway
West Coast Wilderness Railway

We stayed at the Penny Royal Hotel in Launceston for two nights. This proved to be extremely well positioned. The famous Cataract Gorge (free entry) is a five minute walk from the hotel and the city centre about 15 minutes away.

By the time we had unpacked and were ready to go out for a meal it was 8 pm on Friday. The restaurants around the hotel were all full (and/or very noisy) and we ended up in a food court in the town centre. To our relief it had a good choice of food and was pleasantly quiet and relaxing. As the following day was Valentine’s Day the restaurants were already fully booked and so we again ate at the food court and enjoyed chatting with friendly locals!

We took a morning amble along the Cataract Gorge Walk – an easy path close to the river, with good views of the steep gorge. On the opposite side there is a steep zigzag walk, but as well as being steep it appeared to have less good views. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the scenery, the café, the bandstand and the suspension bridge. That afternoon we took advantage of the free Tiger Bus to view Launceston and then ended the day with a short river cruise along the waterfront and into the gorge.

Tasmania: The Cataract Gorge
The Cataract Gorge

Our final drive in Tasmania was from Launceston to Scottsdale (about an hour’s drive), where we relaxed, had a coffee and walked the small main street before continuing to Saint Helens, at the start of the Great Eastern Drive.

It was an easy drive to Swansea, a pretty coastal village, where we broke a journey for one night before reaching Hobart for our return flight. The Great Eastern Drive was scenic with beaches and some views, but we were somewhat disappointed with this drive in comparison with our memories from 14 years ago of the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne.

In retrospect I had planned too much driving for the time that I had allowed. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our nine day tour which gave us a good feel of the remarkable island state of Tasmania.

See also: Australia Trip 2020: Part 1 – Jakarta, Darwin and Brisbane
and Tasmania – Round the World in 50 Days