I don’t know why a lot of people pick on Tasmania and give its residents a hard time about having 11 fingers and two heads!
Yes, it is only a small island dangling off the bottom of Australia, and perhaps it is off the ‘main drag’ of tourist destinations, but it punches well above its weight on a whole lot of levels.
Until 2011, I had never spent much time in Tasmania. Sure, I had seen plenty about it on TV, and had once been locked in a conference room in Hobart for a week, but I had never had the opportunity to really explore. Many people had told me it was green and lush, like a mini-England, but it was time to go and find out for myself.
Luckily for The Brave Man* and I, we have some good friends in Hobart who invited us to go sailing with them around Bruny Island for a couple of days. I will talk about that in a separate post at a later date, as it was such a special experience – a true feast for all the senses.
There is nothing like exploring a place with the locals to get all the inside information on their patch. The thing I particularly enjoy is that you get to explore a place at a much deeper level – the economy, the politics and what makes a community tick. A true warts-and-all picture.
I can safely say that Tasmania won our hearts. Tasmania is the complete package when it comes to the variety of things to see and do. It’s a terrible cliché, but ‘there is something for everyone’ in this postage stamp-like state.
Hobart is well-known for its convict and pioneering heritage. Settled in 1804, many of its handsome sandstone buildings remain intact, giving the city a feel of grandeur and grace. Other than a stroll around the distinctive wharf area – the final port for the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race – a journey to Hobart would not be complete without a visit to MONA.
MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, just has to be seen to be believed. Even if you are not an art lover, go there for a complete reorientation of your senses. I do not have an artistic bone in my body but even I could appreciate the diversity and depth of most of the art works.
The MONA experience started with a relaxing ferry ride from the Hobart wharf, up the Derwent River, to the foot of a sandstone cliff that encases the Museum. Where things started to challenge normality was when I had to walk four storeys underground to disappear into a world of wackiness and confrontation.
I spent most of the next four hours laughing outrageously, laughing nervously or being completely gobsmacked! I have no idea whether those were appropriate responses, and perhaps I was showing my complete lack of culture and civilisation. There was the Fat Car, a plump and pumped up Porsche, as a commentary on our flabby and obese lifestyles. There was a tribute to Madonna which included a wall of 40 televisions, each featuring a person singing ‘Like A Virgin’ off-key. There were Egyptian sarcophagi and a truck in a hall. Yes, a full-size semi-trailer four storeys underground, wedged in a hallway. Go figure!
By the end of the visit, I was physically exhausted and almost sore from the sensory overload. Such an assault on the senses, both positive and negative, has left a deep and lasting impression. Call me crazy, but I think it is worth a trip to Hobart just to experience MONA. It has not converted me to become a modern art fan, but it has certainly put Hobart on the cultural map!
Reeling from all that ‘culcha’, we borrowed a car and headed west out of Hobart to see as much of Tassie as we could in the short time remaining. In another post, I will talk about the excellent range of day walks we enjoyed, but here I will focus on the ‘built’ tourist attractions.
A postcard showing the level of detail and the skill of the art of The Wall
If you have the opportunity, another ‘must see’ is The Wall in the Wilderness. Located at Derwent Bridge, midway between Hobart and Strahan, a sculptor is creating a breathtaking work of art in wood. The Wall is made up of three metre high panels of wood, all joined together to form a solid visual expanse. These panels are being progressively carved to highlight the history of the central Tasmanian highlands, starting with the Indigenous people and including the timber industry, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers. The skill involved is simply outstanding – a wagon has every spoke, chain and rope carved individually and separately to stand out in relief. When we visited in 2011, the wall was around 40 metres long, with the final length to be 100 metres. I agree that sometimes wood turning and wood carving can be a little twee, but this is art in a wooden form. Don’t miss it.
Back in the car, we joined the stream of grey nomads heading west towards Strahan. It gave me pause to wonder whether we had automatically and involuntarily joined the Grey Nomad scene, and although I wasn’t overly happy about it, we were travelling out of school holiday time, and we simply had to roll with it. Literally! Get stuck behind a grey nomad in a caravan or camper, and even though Tasmania is small, it takes a long time to roll anywhere!
The star of the West Coast Wilderness Railway
The West Coast Wilderness Railway was a highlight for the train nut in our travelling party. The steam train puffed its way from Queenstown to Strahan, through some of the most remote and picturesque landscape you could ever come across.
Queenstown is a bit of an anomaly in the normally leafy Tasmanian countryside. It is a moonscape, battered and barren as a result of over 100 years of copper mining. It is a tired community with little going for it other than being the starting point for the tourist railway. I am sure the loyal locals would beg to differ, but the down-at-heel feel and multiple empty shops indicated to me that its time has passed.
The toxic Queen River
The negative impacts of the copper mining history can still be seen today with both the Queen and King rivers classified as toxic. A perfect example of paying for the mistakes of generations past.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway is unique because it includes an ABT Rack and Pinion system on part of its track to manage the steep inclines. It strains and groans as it rattles and ratchets its way up the mountain. I wondered if we were going to make it, while the train buff was almost hanging out the carriage window, counting every rack and every pinion. Constructed in 1897, the rail line’s main purpose was to transport massive loads of copper to the port at Strahan, but now it specialises in massive loads of tourists…or loads of massive tourists. Other than being a very pleasant way to spend a day, we were educated about the pioneering history of the region as we rattled along the route, with a number of stops where we could pan for gold, explore ruins and stretch our legs.
The harbour at Strahan
Returning to Strahan, we spent the rest of our visit wandering around the streets and docks. Strahan is a charming port town, perfectly set up for tourists with a range of intriguing art and craft stores, and plenty of top quality food and beverages. Wood carving, wooden artefacts and timberyards are prominent, and The Brave Man* bought a few Huon pine offcuts as a memento of his visit. Not the most exciting souvenir in my opinion, but each to his own!
Unfortunately, time beat us and we had to point the little car back towards Hobart. I have only covered a few of the highlights we experienced. There is just so much history and beauty crammed into this gem of an island. One day when we sign on as full-time grey nomads, we will return.
Tell me, what do you recommend we see the next time around?
What: MONA is open every day except Tuesdays. Entrance fees are $20 for adults or free if you are under 18 or from Tasmania. The Wall is open seven days and entrance fees apply. West Coast Wilderness Railway is $100 per person including a shuttle bus from Strahan to Queenstown.
Where: MONA is located 11 kilometres north of Hobart – approximately 25 minutes by water, or 20 minutes by road. The return ferry ride costs $20.
When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.
Why: Choose Tasmania if you would like a short break with lots to do in a small space.
How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to move about.
Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and multiple senior citizens.
Related Posts: Watch this space…
Related Blogs: I am not the only one to wax lyrical about a road trip in Tasmania. For a younger and groovier perspective have a look at http://www.worldofwanderlust.com/life-time-tasmanian-road-trip/
*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!