LARAINE AND I HAVE travelled to Tas several times, but have usually flown to the island state, hired a car or motorhome and moved about that way. Most of this time was spent in the mountain country or the west coast. For our most recent visit, though, we decided to take our 5.5m (18ft) caravan across Bass Strait on the Spirit of Tasmania. Even though we chose to do our trip in the winter months, this proved to be a good decision for the seven weeks we spent in Tas. The caravan parks were almost empty and the rates very reasonable.
The cost of travelling on the Spirit is directly proportional to the combined length of your vehicle and caravan, and what kind of accommodation you want on the voyage over. I don’t really like tight spaces, so we chose a more spacious cabin, even though it was quite a bit more expensive than the cheapest rate.
We made our initial enquiries on the internet and then booked our passage with a reputable travel agent. The agent was able to improve the internet-listed prices by about 30 per cent.
DEVENPORT TO DERBY
The adventure begins as soon as you set sail from the Port of Melbourne, secure in the knowledge that the caravan and car are tied down tightly in the hold of the ship. Our voyage was a night crossing so we enjoyed our meal in the cafeteria-style restaurant before retiring for a comfortable night’s sleep.
Bass Strait can be rough, as we had experienced seven years earlier, but on this occasion it wasn’t too bad and we awoke to find ourselves arriving at Devonport around 6am.
Our first early morning stop was at the House of Anvers Chocolate Factory for breakfast. The factory is open early to cater for arrivals from the mainlaind. Visitors can see how chocolate is made, and also read about the history of chocolate throughout the world in the small but informative museum.
The nearby cheese factory makes cheese every day and it is possible to watch the process through a viewing window. But be warned: it is impossible to go there without walking out with an armful of freshly made goodies.
On board the ship, Laraine and I had purchased a national park visitor’s pass. It cost $60, was valid for our entire stay and allowed us entry to any national park in Tas without any additional costs. If you are visiting the island state and intend to go to any more than two national parks, this will save a considerable amount in entry fees.
Having spent much of our previous time in Tas in the high country and on the west coast, we decided to tour the east coast and travel to the most southern point that we could reach with our vehicle. Along the way we would visit St Helens, Freycinet National Park, Hobart, Richmond, Dover and Recherche Bay in the south, as well as many points in between.
Perhaps the most important recommendation I could make to anybody contemplating a caravan odyssey through Tas is to think a little differently than you might on the mainland. Distances between towns are much smaller than you might imagine and it makes a lot more sense to base your caravan in several central locations for, say, a week, while exploring the surrounding region.
We chose George Town on of the Tamar River. From there we were able to explore the northern part of Tas, including Scottsdale, Derby and Beaconsfield.
At George Town we visited the Low Head lighthouse, which affords a spectacular view of Bass Strait. The pulse of light has been a reassuring beacon to mariners navigating the notorious waters of Bass Strait since 1833, but the complex of buildings also houses a foghorn, which can apparently be heard about 20km out to sea.
Although no longer needed with modern electronic navigational equipment, the foghorn is still sounded once a week to keep tourists happy. If you happen to be fairly close to it at the time, your whole body will vibrate as the steam-generated horn sends out a rhythmical pattern identical to that of the light.
The nearby pilot station complex and museum is also well worth a visit. We crossed the river and went to Beauty Point where Seahorse Australia has a specialist aquaculture farm that breeds seahorses for the aquarium market. A tour through the breeding tanks takes about an hour and provides visitors with a close-up look at these shy and curious creatures.
Tourists overlook much of this northern part of Tas, but we found many of the back roads fascinating. We visited numerous waterfalls as well as coastal bays, such as those around Bridport. The highway that crosses over to the east coast is quite winding in places, but does pass through some interesting small towns.
At Derby, a visit to the mining museum tells the fascinating story of how tin was discovered in the region and of how in 1929, after an extraordinarily heavy downpour of rain, the Cascade River and its dam burst, sending a wall of water around 30m high surging through the valley. Fourteen people lost their lives that day, and the mine was flooded. It would not open again for several years.
This fascinating story comes to life if you choose to take a tour around the area and visit the places referred to in the audiovisual presentation.
FREYCINET AND PORT ARTHUR
The winding mountain road that crosses from Derby to St Helens passes through some spectacular forest country. St Helens itself is set in the picturesque bay, which has become very popular with people looking for a sea change. We based ourselves here for a few days while we explored Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires. St Helens has a well-deserved reputation for its beauty and fishing.
We didn’t have a lot of time for the fishing, but we managed to enjoy the local product by buying freshly cooked fish and chips from a floating restaurant on the waterfront.
Heading down the east coast to St Mary’s and down through Elephant Pass we rejoined the highway near the Chain of Lagoons. This section of road hugs the coast, affording very nice driving conditions and one of the most enjoyable parts of the Tassie experience. We headed down through Bicheno to Freycinet National Park, where we stayed at Coles Bay Caravan Park for several days.
Laraine and I had never seen Freycinet National Park before and although the weather was not very kind we enjoyed the walking tracks that took us to the spectacular Wineglass Bay. The entire Freycinet Peninsula embraces a sensational outcrop known as The Hazards. It takes on some amazing colours in the light of sunset.
No trip to Tas would mean anything unless it allowed time to investigate the fascinating story of its early history using convicts to carve out a colony in the wilderness, when this was the most remote and wildest part of the world.
Nowhere is this more graphically illustrated than in the Port Arthur convict settlement. This was a very impressive prison system. The buildings that were once there have mostly lost their grandeur, but when walking among the ruins it is possible to get an impression of what they were like.
The so-called model prison is a fascinating insight into the way in which prisoners were treated. Forced to live in isolation, they were not even able to speak to or see any other prisoners. On Sundays they were led into a specially built chapel to sing hymns. The only person they could see, however, was the preacher, because they were enclosed in small wooden cubicles. They were unable to see their fellow prisoners in the adjacent cubicle.
These extraordinary treatments were supposed to cure prisoners from their criminal tendencies. In reality, they just embittered them to their gaolers.
RICHMOND TO IDA BAY
Richmond, not far from Hobart, is home to the oldest bridge in Australia. Built of stone, it is usually on everybody’s must-see list for the island state. I must admit that I have visited the bridge on many occasions and still enjoy walking across it, photographing it and simply marvelling at the manner in which the bridge was constructed, with its simplistic yet aesthetically pleasing arches.
There is much more to see in the town than the bridge, however. A visit to the old gaol is a real eye-opener and the main street houses many art and craft shops. It’s not difficult to fall in love with Richmond.
Even though at the time of our visit the grounds were sloppy mud, there is a caravan park conveniently located on the outskirts of town.
Hobart itself has many points of interest and we spent several days investigating them at our leisure, but for us, our trip would not be complete without a visit to the Salamanca markets. Laraine loves all markets, and even though it poured with rain all day we had a great time and picked up many presents for our friends at home.
Heading south to Dover we took our time investigating the Huon Valley and Geeveston. From Dover we visited the Hastings Caves. These limestone caves have been open to the general public for a long time and a guided tour is well worth it. Our main objective in this part of the country was to go as far south as we could. We ended up at Ida Bay, where we took a ride on the recently restored train.
To us, the great advantage of touring Tassie by caravan is that, like caravanning everywhere, there is a feeling of familiarity with the surroundings that you’re towing behind your car. Having all your own bits and pieces handy, and having the time to enjoy each day, is what caravanning is about.
The roads in Tas often have very narrow shoulders, and in some cases none at all. So drive with caution and keep in mind that logging trucks use many of the mountain roads.
We enjoy all parts of the state and spent the last part of our stay in the north. We couldn’t reach the high mountain country due to heavy snowfalls but we have been there several times, on one occasion even walking from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. It took 12 days carrying heavy backpacks, but that was long ago when we were a little fitter.
Penguin and Stanley on the north coast proved to be two of our favourite spots. At Stanley it is possible to take tours to the nearby colony of fur seals and watch the little penguins coming ashore at night, getting back to their burrows after a day of feeding at sea.
Having spent almost two months travelling Tas with our caravan it is difficult to include all of the interesting things we saw and did in the limited space available. I would like to think that in future editions of Caravan World we would be able to bring you more detail on some of the highlights that we enjoyed.
In the meantime, if you’re planning a trip to the island state, we would both say, “Go for it!”. The cost of crossing Bass Strait is certainly worth it provided you allow a minimum of six weeks.
In addition to the many well-equipped caravan parks there are a large number of RV-friendly towns where free camping is available. Make the most of them and enjoy the experience.
Source: Caravan World Feb 2011