After a wonderful but long day on Victoria state’s Great Ocean Road, we looked forward to a day of sightseeing in Melbourne, followed by an overnight ferry trip with the car to Tasmania. I hadn’t sailed on the Spirit of Tasmania since my grad school days in 2005, and I was excited about getting back to one of my favorite places in Oz. Only this time, I would sleep in a cabin with a bed rather than on the floor, and I wouldn’t have to drive on the left for the first time upon arrival!
[This is the second post in a series about the Australian road trip I took last month with my mom and V. If you missed the first post, you can find it here: Bush Capital to Great Ocean Road (Aussie Road Trip, Part I).]
Our last morning in Melbourne, we bade the view from our fantastic downtown AirBnB farewell and walked down a few blocks to Flinders Street Station and Federation Square.
We walked through the Queen Victoria Gardens, King’s Domain, and the Shrine of Remembrance, and on to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Afterwards we paid a visit to Stalactites for way too much delicious Greek lunch…
Eyes on the clock, we went and got the car from a nearby parking garage, and made our way through rush hour traffic down to the Port of Melbourne.
Our plan was to sail on the Spirit of Tasmania from Melbourne leaving at 19:30, across the Bass Strait and arriving in Devonport, on Tasmania’s northern coast, at about 06:00.
The ship is just over 194 meters (212 yards) long, and has a dead weight of just over 5,600 tons. It’s licensed to carry 500 vehicles and 1,400 passengers, who have a choice of accommodation across 222 cabins and 121 reclining chairs. With an average speed of 27 knots (or 50 kph/31 mph), the Spirit crosses the 429 kilometers (267 miles) between Melbourne and Devonport in 9-11 hours, depending on weather conditions and wind speed.
We queued up, went through security, and then I *carefully* drove up the ramp and onto the ship while trying not to hold my breath at the narrowness of where the attendant directed me to park.
Below: We’re doing it! We’re driving onto the ship! Stay on the LEFT, mate! Ahhhh!
One of the most important components of my mom’s trip to Australia had been the possibility of going to Tasmania. I had suggested it over a year in advance, and luckily she was interested, because 12+ years after my first visit, I really wanted to go back and also share the experience with V. My mom asked me if she needed to bring her passport, and we laughed about how we both used to think Tasmania was its own country.
Located a couple of hundred miles south of the Australian mainland, Tasmania is Australia’s island state (in red, below).
Often shortened by Australians to Tassie (pronounced TAZ-zy), the island’s flora and fauna seem to be on a unique evolutionary track to the rest of the world, and even to the rest of Australia. From mountains, to forests, to breathtaking coasts, to lush valleys, to dry plains, to delicious wine and food and convict history and hip small towns, Tassie has it all. There is also something mesmerizing about looking due south from Tasmania’s Port Arthur and knowing that all that lies between you and Antarctica is more than one thousand miles of cold sea.
We enjoyed a pre-departure cocktail, gathered on the deck for some photos as Melbourne receded into the distance, and then enjoyed a buffet dinner as dusk turned to night.
A and I bid our mutual college friend L goodbye before we boarded the ship. L lived and worked in Melbourne as a speech pathologist, and we’d had a couple days to catch up with her while touring the city. But now A and I were off to Tasmania, where we planned to rent a car right at the port and learn to drive on the left for the first time (gulp).
To save money, we hadn’t rented a sleeping cabin, opting instead for movie theatre-like ‘recliner’ seating. Little did we know the seats didn’t recline more than a couple of inches, and as soon as the lights went down, passengers would make a mad dash to spread out their sleeping bags and blankets, occupying every bit of floor space until there was hardly even space to pick your way through the dark to the toilets.
Thus began a night of freezing cold hell, in which I shivered all night using my sweatshirt as a pillow, trying to drown out the obscenely loud snoring from other passengers as a distraught woman eventually began to weep pitifully and beg for quiet. Yep. I thanked my lucky stars for the then-good battery on my one-year old iPod. I gritted my teeth and counted the hours until it would be over. I probably only slept two hours at the most that night.
Needless to say, on the way back nine days later, A and I splurged on a four-person, female-only cabin with bunk beds, to which the other two passengers never showed up. It was very comfortable, and we slept peacefully as the Spirit sailed all the way back to my home in Sydney.
Little did I know as I brushed my hair, donned a nightgown, and prepared to retire with V in our cabin, that I was about to have another most unpleasant night on the Spirit of Tasmania, but not because of snoring, crying, using sweatshirts as pillows, or the vague unease of waiting for an absent stranger-cum-roommate. Oh no, my friends: this night, there would be seasickness.
Usually before I fly or sail, I take Dramamine non-drowsy shortly before the travel begins, and then repeat the dose every 4-8 hours thereafter depending on how I feel. A normal dosing schedule is a pill every eight hours, however, I have been taking it for many years and must be somewhat resistant to it. It usually does not let me down; I would have been toast on the Great Ocean Road without it. But your author and boats are not friends, and 10.5 hours is a long time, so in addition to taking precautionary, baseline doses with lunch and before boarding the ship, I also wore my acupressure sea bands, hoping it all would add an additional layer of protection.
Shortly before 22:00, it dawned on me that by then the ship would have left the protected waters of Port Phillip Bay and entered the open ocean crossing the Bass Strait. I recalled my mom recounting a warning she’d overheard from some men to their wives, already deep in the drink before dinner – something to the effect of, You hens better be in bed early because the seas will be rolling tonight, or something like that, mate.
We had turned the cabin’s thermostat down as far as it could go and bundled into our parallel twin beds, each fastened to an opposite wall and separated in the middle by a permanent nightstand. I took another Dramamine just for good measure and lined up my anti-seasickness supplies right next to my head: medicine, eye mask, water, phone, headphones. The ship’s motion on the sea was really starting to bother me. Back, forth, up, down. Back, forth, up, down. My head started to slowly pinwheel and my stomach did a slow lurch. V suggested we roll up the shade to let in some moonlight. It was a great idea, as the darkness combined with the motion had been instantly disorienting. I somehow balanced against the movement, going into it somehow and equalizing it (thanks, Dramamine!) and I slipped away.
Sometime around 23:30, I woke in a cold sweat. Whatever had been anchoring my center of balance had stretched, and then snapped. Zero gravity, my old enemy, you snuck up on me. Too hot, I ripped the blankets off, and my teeth began to chatter, slowly at first, and then violently. Had I not felt the weight of my body on the mattress, I could not have told you for certain that gravity existed, or where my limbs were in relation to my torso and head. I chugged some water, but realized it was already too late. My head felt like a yo-yo with a broken string. I stayed in the bathroom off and on until nearly midnight, alarming V (and probably anyone sleeping on our corridor).
I laid back down, one foot on the floor. Rock, rock, roll. Rock, rock, roll. The nauseating rhythm continued. I won’t die, I thought. I just have to maintain. I had turned over my arthritis medication syringes to the medic upon boarding for refrigeration, so I knew that there was help from medical personnel available if I really needed it. I wondered if they ever gave people injections to stop seasickness-induced vomiting. I wondered how my mom was faring, but was so dizzy and worthless myself, I hoped she would bang on the wall or come to the door if she needed our help. The worst thing I could have probably done would have been to wake her if she was somehow sleeping through that (turned out later, she mostly was). Put one hand on the wall, V said in the darkness. Why didn’t I think of that!? It helped.
I made myself as cold as possible, put some ambient music through to my headphones, and did my visualizations. Usually, when I have extreme vertigo, I imagine that I am an old oak tree. My boughs are strong, immobile, stretched toward the sky. My roots run deep, pushing like tentacles through the dirt below in every direction, holding me tightly in place. Around me the ground and sky shift, but I continue standing strong and still, looking at a fixed point as far away as possible. Usually after some time, the vertiginous symptoms abate. But I found this visualization hard to do in a rolling-ocean context.
And then the next song my iPhone playlist delivered up was Pacific Drift by the Daniel Pemberton TV Orchestra, which gave me an idea. Instead of being a big tree in a meadow, I could be underwater coral. Slowly I began to imagine it. The waves can’t affect me, because I’m rooted deep in the sand, connected to my neighbors in our nightly no-holds-barred battle for expansion. Tropical fish drift past, nibbling here and there on algae only they can see. An explosion of color and coolness envelops me.
Slowly, for more than an hour, I worked on picturing this scene. I focused on it, held onto it for dear life. I did the occasional calculus of, How bad does this have to get before I go to the medical unit and ask for help? and I decided, My misery is a 7 out of 10, let me keep it from getting to a 9 so I don’t have to get up. I floated into the music and the cabin’s cold air, putting my head back into a pattern that was spin-free. Eventually, slowly my ears corrected and my center of gravity returned. Around 01:15, I realized the rocking had righted, and I was drowsy enough to cease reliance on my music. I pulled my headphones out, drifting off to sleep.
We docked in Devonport around 06:00. Around 06:30, the deck on which our car was parked received a disembarkation notice over the PA. And a short time later, we had Google-mapped our way into town and coffee and breakfast awaited:
We drove up a couple of hours to Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, marveling at how green everything was. We all felt a little residual motion from the trip, and I drove as far as I could – better a driver than a passenger when I’m mildly spinning – but eventually the windy road led to more driver-swapping and rotating to the front seat than normal.
Eventually we arrived at Dove Lake, only to have our opportunity at a 2-3 hour circuit hike be completely washed out. I was so disappointed, as the hike had been the main reason for me wanting to visit this part of Tasmania where I’d never been – to see the 1940s oft-photographed boat house, to walk through the temperate Ballroom Forest, and check out the lake’s various glacial features. I tried not to be bitter, because the rain was forecast to continue into the next day and we were only staying one night. We all surrendered to a nap, checking into our cabin early and enjoying a to die-for dinner at Pepper’s Cradle Mountain Lodge, where to our delight, wombats and wallabies appeared through the windows at dusk.
The next morning the rain was still pouring down, so we abandoned any hope for a Dove Lake bush walk. I was so disappointed and tired somehow still, I forgot to take a picture of our cabin in the woods, which was pretty comfortable except for some very squeaky floors. No midnight snacks! We proceeded to the south coast towards Hobart, Tasmania’s capital.
Funnily enough, here’s a picture from my prior visit to Cascade Brewery in 2005!
After that, it was time to check into our AirBnB so we sought it out, and after another minor snafu of me reading the address incorrectly we arrived safely. Let me tell you that we were very pleasantly surprised!
V got some Chinese takeaway for us and we enjoyed the view from our balcony – in the shadow of Mount Wellington and across from the Tasman Bridge. That night, I went for a long walk along the water, and hustled up and down the hilliest streets I could find to burn some calories for my FitBit report (and even added a couple of orange cars to our count!).
In the next post of this Aussie road trip travelogue, I’ll talk more about our time in the rest of Tasmania – Hobart, Nubeena, Port Arthur, Coles Bay, Bicheno, and Launceston. So many animal and road trip adventures await!