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