Tasmania’s East Coast (Aussie Road Trip, Part III)

[This post is the third part in a series about the road trip I took last month with my mom and V. If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here and here.]

Day 9

The original plan had been to see more of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart on the afternoon of day eight and then move on to Port Arthur on day nine. However, we as human beings had not been able to move at the speed of my paper itinerary, after all. So after a quick redrafting of the plan, the morning of our ninth day we headed to the infamous Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), about nine miles away.

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The museum, owned by Australian businessman David Walsh, is located mostly underground. Co-located with a winery, MONA is the largest privately-funded museum in the southern hemisphere. It feels like a newer and more modern Winchester Mystery House to some extent, with a disorienting labyrinth of hallways and ramps and platforms and stairs, some of which don’t go where you think they do.

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Much of the collection is also graphically subversive, revolving around the central themes of death and sex, and – in my opinion – not suitable for young kids. (My kind of place, ha!)

One of my favorite things at this museum was an exhibit that used wind from outside via a chain series of cause and effects to move a pen across a roll of paper. In this case (above, lower center) the wind made wild circles until the pen almost tore through the page. I wish I had more good photos of the contraption and how it worked, because it was pretty fascinating.

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Museum of Old and New Art – Hobart, Tasmania

Afterwards we found some delicious lunch, and stopped in downtown Hobart for some much-needed coffee. Oddly enough, not one of the three of us took a single picture of that afternoon. Maybe it’s because of all the terrific restaurants in Hobart, I managed to pick one where service and ambiance were ‘meh’ (although the food WAS delicious), and we were in a 30 minute parking spot two blocks from our coffee house (which in typical form also had no bathroom) which made us less leisurely.

If you do visit Hobart, please do a better job than I did trying out some of their incredible restaurants, because their food scene is on point!

In any case, by late afternoon we were on the way to Nubeena and our next AirBnB, about 90 minutes (and 64 miles) away.

It was a pleasant drive, with lots of coastal and low-lying areas. We saw a cool beach and had to stop to check it out.

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Dunalley Beach, Tasmania – halfway between Hobart and Port Arthur

Our AirBnB was in the town of Nubeena, just a few miles from historic Port Arthur. We found the house down a long dirt road, sitting high on a hillside overlooking a meadow surrounded by forest. It was a terrific house and a very peaceful, natural environment. It even had a very modern outhouse looking out into nature! (View below)

IMG_8871And the renovated, state-of-the-art indoor bathroom with motion-detector lights and fans was impressive, and its modernity somehow still complementary of the warm, country aesthetic of the rest of the home. I would have happily stayed there for days. There were hanging photos of the home from prior decades, which helped us understand how long the house had been there and how much it – and the environment around it – had changed, and yet also stayed the same.

That evening we were lucky enough to find the only restaurant in Nubeena open past 19:00, and the pizza, salad, and service were so incredible I literally liked them on Facebook and gave them a review on the spot! When we got back home, it was dusk and I had almost enough time before dark fell completely to go for a 45 minute walk back down to the main road and up again.

As I walked down the rocky road, a possum darted across my path just steps in front of me. As it became steadily darker, I spotted grazing cows and many shy wallabies in a meadow. The former ignored me, and the latter spooked easily and boinged away.

Walking back up the hill, now in near total darkness with only the flashlight app on my phone to guide me, the treetops met above me and created a tunnel effect. I was deafened by the music piped through my headphones and a couple of times whipped around in almost delicious, childlike terror to see whether I was alone. It was only when I stopped the music and the sound of crickets and birds across the night sky returned, that my exercise adrenaline receded and I again felt at peace.

Day 10

We checked out of our Nubeena AirBnB and drove about 15 minutes to Port Arthur Historic Site, making a quick detour to White Beach along the way.

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White Beach, Tasmania

The Port Arthur Historic Site, a former colonial prison, is somewhere I went with A during our 2005 visit to Tasmania. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site (as part of the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage properties) provides a stark, 100-acre reminder of Australia’s history as a penal colony; you could almost be forgiven for letting its present-day bucolic setting distract you from the fact that the corporal labor extracted there from man, woman, and child helped an empire expand.

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Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania: “A machine to grind rogues honest.”

From the 1830s to the 1850s, some of Britain’s most hardened and repeat convicts were sent to Port Arthur. Tasmania, then called Van Diemen’s Land, was so remote and isolated that there was little hope of escape. The prison was closed in 1877.

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One of Australia’s first non-denominational churches, literally built by the labor of young men and boys

Below: 2005 (on the left) and 2019 (center and right). Had I remembered, I could have repeated the shot, but I didn’t review old pictures before I went!

We decided to take the boat tour to get a better look at the area, including a couple of small islands.

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Point Puer reformatory for boys as young as nine years old kept them separate from the rest of the convict population. The boys learned trades, including construction and stone-cutting. We were shocked to hear that the criminal justice system of the day held children responsible for capital crimes that they didn’t even have the intellectual capacity to understand.

Below right, nothing due south from our tour ship but Antarctica. I double-checked this on a map: it’s true.

Whenever someone died at the prison, they were sent across to the Isle of the Dead. One caretaker, a prisoner, lived on the island for up to a decade at a time and handled all the grave-digging and burials. The tour guide pointed out that this man could sleep, eat, and read when he wanted. To me, this solitude sounded like an assignment much preferable to the close supervision of hard labor and cramped cells on the mainland.

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Isle of the Dead: 1,466 unmarked prisoner graves and 180 marked personnel graves

The Commandant ordered the guard tower built in 1835, and it took the young men and boys on Point Puer about one year to complete the job.

Despite the fact that this was once a sad place, we thought it was important to try and understand how life must have been there. It particularly resonated with me to see the size of the cells that prisoners had. I know that people were smaller 190 years ago, but I’m only 5’9″ or thereabouts, and I don’t think I could have fully lain down in their bed space.

After a successful lunch and visit to the gift shop, we continued, driving north up Tasmania’s east coast. We stopped in Swansea where sadly, we missed the famous Kate’s Berry Farm, but we found a pretty beach, public bathrooms, and probably the best general store tourist offerings I’ve ever seen!

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And finally, we ended our day in beautiful Coles Bay, across the water from the Hazard mountains, named interestingly enough after an American whaler who sailed in the area during the 1820s.

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Day 11

We woke up and decided that since we weren’t leaving the same day (finally!) we should explore Coles Bay…and get some exercise!

We set out for the nearby granite coastline of Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park and the Cape Tourville Lighthouse.

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Although the cape was named in 1802, the lighthouse itself wasn’t constructed until 1971. Standing 126 meters above sea level, and 11 meters tall, the light’s geographic range is 28 nautical miles and can help ships avoid peril along the coastline.

The walking track at Cape Tourville is only about 600 meters long, so we (OK, I) decided we wanted to do a more ambitious hike. This was a decision I don’t regret, but I came close.

We headed deeper into the park. My plan was to hike to Wineglass Bay Lookout, but at 90 minutes round trip on a steep and rocky (yet well-constructed) incline and descent, I was trying not to psych myself out. I’m in drastically better shape than I was a year ago after spinal surgery, when getting in and out of my car was a struggle, but I’m still a long way from athlete status. So hikers would call the hike a grade 3, and I would call it a reason to stop and catch my breath every 2 minutes. Even more reason to go through with it! We loaded up on water at the trailhead and pumped ourselves up.

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Right after the halfway mark, and right before we hit a deadly section of stairs!

It actually kind of annoyed me that of the three of us, I was the one on a diet and exercising regularly, and yet this hike still almost killed me! Ha ha! But the view at the top was. so. worth. it.

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Wineglass Bay Lookout

The way back down was hard too, but at least used different muscles!

All of the exercise called for some serious dinner, and since we’d stocked up at the terrific general store in Swansea, we didn’t have to go out and get food.

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Our AirBnB with a view was seriously legit!

 

We finished the evening with a drive up to Bicheno (about 36 miles round trip) to check out Bicheno Penguin and Adventure Tours. We had a chance to see fairy penguins come back home from a day of ocean hunting. I went there with A in 2005, but these days we aren’t allowed to take pictures of them. However, the tour company was kind enough to provide us with a photo of the penguins trundling up the beach. Such a cute experience!

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Photo: Bicheno Penguin & Adventure Tours

That night, driving back to our AirBnB around 22:00 was a little hair-raising. This was actually the only time on the Tasmania road trip that we drove more than one mile at night; I could not avoid it since we wanted to see the penguins. (The devils tour was right next to our cabin.) I am very comfortable driving in Australia now, but native wildlife can be a serious hazard.

There is a good reason why the speed limit drops from 100 kph (62 mph) to 65 kph (40 mph) between dusk and dawn; I saw so much nocturnal native wildlife during the 25-minute drive (that took closer to 40 minutes, and in which I saw maybe only three other oncoming vehicles), that it was unbelievable.

I was tired, but on high alert: I just kept thinking, do not wreck this car down here, do not wreck this car down here. First I saw a large kangaroo grazing right at the roadside, and then another. My headlights picked up a fat wombat trundling along the shoulder. Those are scary because they are so round and dense, a small car can be totaled by hitting one. They are also surprisingly fast and can run out into the road before you’ve even seen them. Then a Tassie devil: quick, away almost before I braked. I saw some small marsupials scattering that could have been bandicoots or bettongs, and at least three separate small to medium wallabies.

Then, my heart almost stopped on a straight stretch of highway when my headlights suddenly picked up a possum, sitting in the middle of my lane with its back to me, and scratching the side of its head rapidly with its foot. I slammed on the brakes, coming to a screeching stop, and it did not even flinch or run away. My mom, V, and I all exclaimed as I drove carefully around it.

Day 12

After leaving Coles Bay, we headed back to Bicheno to visit East Coast Natureworld. One of the things I love about Australian nature reserves is that they are much more like small sanctuaries than American-style zoos.

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East Coast Natureworld – Bicheno, Tasmania

The animals often free-range around and there is plenty of opportunity to interact with them. They also often have a marked no-people zone where they know they can retreat if they need to be away from us. One little orphaned roo took a particular liking to V and followed him everywhere. She literally tried to follow us inside the nocturnal animal house, and stood pitifully blocking the door from closing until V came back out. Luckily we had bought a few bags of the A$1.00 animal food!

I didn’t get a good picture of them, but there were two funny sulphur-crested cockatoos that had been rescued after their elderly owner passed away (the birds can live in captivity for 80 years, and often outlive their owners). The cockies continually said, “Hello!” to us and also ‘coughed,’ which was odd and funny until we read the plaque that said their prior owner died of emphysema. It was one more indication of how smart these parrots are.

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So happy to share this part of Australia with V

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Heading northwest, we stopped off in Launceston for some fish and chips, and to enjoy the water. It would have been nice to spend a little more time there, honestly, but we had a ship to catch!

We re-boarded the Spirit of Tasmania ship in Devonport in preparation to sail overnight back to Melbourne.

We had the same type of cabin as before (see below), and fortunately for me, the seas were calm and I did not experience the horrifying vertigo as before. I slept peacefully through the night and was ready for a long drive back from Melbourne to Canberra the following day.

If you are traveling with a family, there are different sizes of cabin you can select. Just for grins, we took a walk to the reclining chair seating that A and I had booked on our 2005 passage. My recollection of it (and I will have to double-check with A on this) was that it was in the bottom of the ship. I don’t know whether that is true, but now it’s somewhere around the eighth floor and looks a lot nicer, and even has windows. There are also signs posted that you must stay in your seat (i.e. cannot sleep on the floor), so I expect that if you don’t find it difficult to sleep in an armchair/airplane-style seating and are looking to save money on your passage, this might be a good option.

We went to the ship’s small casino and saw a disabled elderly gentleman win quite a large sum of money on a slot machine, which was exciting! My mom also won, although not as much – she treated us to a delicious buffet.

Day 13

We woke up bright and early, and after a terrific breakfast near the port in Melbourne, we hit the road north, 424 miles to Canberra (plus any detours).  Once we crossed the state line between Victoria and New South Wales, we were seeing billboards for a diner. I feel like billboards in Australia are a bit odd, and after seeing three of them for one particular diner, we thought, why not make a stop there?

So…we found the place, and it turns out that not only was it part of a gas station, but it was closed! Um, it it had been advertised as a 24/7 diner! Silly me, I’m not in Kansas anymore, evidently. We drove down the street, and found a hotel where the kitchen also ended up being closed. It was like one of those times where I had to pout that I got my hopes up and fell for something, and then I got over it and we found a unique little spot in Holbrook, NSW. We had an incredibly inexpensive and simple, but attentively-prepared meal, followed by a trip to a lovely cafe and a stroll to a local antiques dealer to break up the trip.

It was at about this time that I had to give up my driver’s seat to V, because I was getting too drowsy and aggravated about small things. I proceeded to doze most of the way back to Canberra, unusual for me; my mom was not comfortable enough to share in the driving because she had never driven on the left side of the road before, so I took the bulk of it (I love to drive, and usually drive when it’s the two of us) and nominated V whenever I couldn’t go on, or when he really felt like it. As I was listening to podcasts and nodding off, it occurred to me that I was probably missing a lot of orange cars for our count. Ha ha!

That night, it was wonderful to get back to Canberra. We ended our road trip with some Thai food takeout, laundry, and general happiness to be back in our place (as it were, for my mom). Our backyard bird visitors were also very happy to welcome us back as soon as we put out the usual seeds and bread!


Road trip from Canberra to Melbourne, to Tasmania and back: 1,866 car miles and 548 ferry miles, by my calculation

Orange cars officially counted: 101 (There were so many more, I promise!)


It was a fantastic time! The only thing I wish for it – like with many other trips – was that we would have had more time. I think it must be an American thing to go to Tasmania for less than a week, where people from other places spend weeks or even months. But to each his or her own budget and timing, and the best plans and wishes that can come from it.

No matter how sick we got of being in the car, or re-packing our bags, or trying to negotiate whose turn it was to pay for something, it was definitely a trip that we will never forget. If you get a chance to go to Tasmania, please take the chance and go for as long as you can to fully experience all its unique wild wonders.

  2 comments for “Tasmania’s East Coast (Aussie Road Trip, Part III)

  1. April 1, 2019 at 03:13

    I laughed out loud at the part about why the bird was coughing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 1, 2019 at 04:01

      So did we, and we felt bad, but then we laughed again anyway because life is so weird.

      Liked by 1 person

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