Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mastania 2013

Having caught a bad case of the travel bug on our US trip, staying at home for the holidays has become unthinkable and so we made a last minute decision to travel over the seas to Tasmania for a few days.

I last traveled on the Bass Strait ferry back in the 80s but Geoff and Taine had never taken the voyage so we decided it would be fun but reasonably affordable adventure to tick off our travel bucket list. The beauty of the ferry of course, is that you can take your own car so you don't have the hassles of deciding what can and cannot fit in your baggage allowance! It also allowed us to throw our bikes on the back of the car in the hope that we might get some exercise as well.

The queue for the ferry is quite similar to a Disney attraction queue. When you arrive at Station Pier it looks like you are about to drive straight on the boat ( like the ads on TV) but in fact the first check point is just the beginning of a a winding route to the three lines of waiting cars at the garage bay. Although check in begins 2 hours before sailing, they don't actually start loading till about 45 minutes before, so there's a fair bit of sitting in your car waiting.

Deckside on the Spirit
The cabins on board are functional but tiny. Thankfully we only took a little bag with our toothbrushes and clean undies from the car because there is no room for storage in the cabins. Food choices on board are pretty limited and expensive. You can dine very expensively at the a la carte restaurant or fill a plate for $30 at the buffet. Cheapskates that we are, we made do with a couple of bags of chips and a bottle of wine from the bar!

We were blessed with beautiful, calm weather for our crossing. The sunset over the Westgate was pretty and the hum of the engines made for a fairly good sleep. Our trip coincided with the end of Daylight Saving but we forgot to change Taine's watch so he woke us in a panic at 5am, worried that we'd missed the 6am wake up call! Needless to say we were well and truly awake and ready to leave when our 6.30 disembarkation call came.

Luke warm coffee at Maccas put us in the mood for real food so we stopped at the supermarket in Devenport to stock up on food for our 5 day road trip (another bonus of having the car with you!). Having toured down the Tamar Valley and Hobart & surrounds a few years ago, we decided to devote this trip to the West Coast and set off in that direction. Our first stop was in Sheffield, a quaint little artsy crafty town about 30 minutes away. At 9am it was virtually deserted so we had a wander down the street, checking out the many murals for which the town is noted and the shops, most notably the marble shop and the lolly shop. Having made a few purchases (honey infused with Jim Beam - a dream come true), we meandered a few more kms to Tasmazia, a tourist attraction in Lower Crackpot. Tasmazia is someone's labour of love. Acres of hedged maze are dotted with quirky fairytale features and jokes handwritten on wooden boards and a whole miniature town has been painstakingly created within the maze. Taine enjoyed it but I'm afraid the grown ups found it a bit twee. A sign out the front says a South African tourist firm has listed Tasmazia in it's top 10 attractions. If this is true then I think their travel bucket has been quite limited!

Next stop was Cradle Mountain where we checked in for the night at the Discovery Holiday Park. Accommodation at Cradle Mountain is ridiculously expensive so we were happy to have a 2 room tourist cabin for $150. As a bonus, the park is just across the road from the Info centre and shuttle bus so we were easily able to get across and grab a shuttle down to Dove Lake. The views to Cradle Mountain were pretty spectacular and we did a couple of little walks around the lake before heading back to the cabin where we cooked up a yummy dinner from our supermarket supplies.

Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain

Next morning we were up bright & early to visit Devil's @ Cradle, a tasmanian devil sanctuary. The first guided tour was at 10.30 and I was glad we had timed our visit right because the ranger talk was very interesting but without it I would have felt pretty ripped off. Devils and quolls prefer the dusk and aren't very active during the day time so there's not a great deal to see. I was happy enough that our entrance fee was going toward the conservation effort though.

From Cradle Mountain we traveled down the island to Strahan, stopping off at the Rosebery Bakery for the most delicious bacon and tomato sausage roll and chocolate eclair I have ever tasted.

Strahan is like the land that time forgot, a beautiful coastal village at the mouth of the Gordon River. Again we stayed at the caravan park , choosing economy over the pricey harbourside accommodation. We were really pleased with our choice because Strahan has a great shared pathway that runs all the way from the park, around the waterfront to the other side of the harbor. Just perfect for us to ride our bikes in the unusually calm and cloudless weather. After our ride we rewarded ourselves with some ice cream from the lolly shop and watched the cray boats unload their catch on the wharf. Unfortunately, despite the hundreds of kilos of beautiful fresh crayfish caught in the harbor, it's impossible to buy fresh cray fish in Strahan. This seems quite bizarre to me!

Strahan harbour

We had set aside a whole day for the Gordon River cruise and we weren't disappointed. We bought discounted tickets on the Spirit and based on TA reviews just took the cheapest option of downstairs seats. I'm so glad we did because once on board you are allowed to roam free on the boat so I couldn't see any benefit in paying for the gold class, top deck seats. The cruise took us out through 'Hell's Gates', the narrow entrance to the harbour and because it was such a calm day we were able to travel quite some distance out into the sea. We did the whole 'King of the World' thing at the front of the boat and even though it was so calm the sea breeze was enough to blow all the cob webs away. From there it was off to Sarah Island, the site of Tassie's first penal colony. This is a fascinating place, full of history and great stories about the inhabitants. Very little remains of the penal colony itself and on such a beautiful day it seemed more like an island paradise than a gaol so it was lucky there were tour guides available to tell us what really went on.
Sarah Island
Back on the boat a sumptuous buffet lunch was served as we glided down the pristine Gordon River. There was an abundance of food, including locally produced salmon and camembert. Yum! A short walk through the rain forest and a very informative talk about Huon Pine helped to put us in a very relaxed mood for the return voyage.

We were back on dry land at 3 o'clock in time for another ride/walk to a Hogarth Falls near the People's Park before going to 'The Ship that Never Was', an hilarious, interactive performance near the info centre.

Taine getting into the act at 'The Ship that Never was.
We were on the road fairly early the next morning to negotiate the long and winding road to Stanley. Foolishly, we took Google Maps first suggestion for our route back up the island. It took us on a much windier, slower road than we'd come down and worse still, it by passed Rosebery so I missed a repeat purchase of their yummy food! In fact, we drove over 130kms without spotting another living soul, finally arriving in beautiful Stanley mid afternoon. Thankfully there was still enough daylight for us to take the chairlift up the Nut and do the 2km walk around the summit. This provides magnificent views of the ocean and the town. My terror of going down the chair lift won out over walking down the path but my calves were screaming by the time we reached the bottom! For dinner we chose the local hotel bistro. The food was ok but not startling and a little over priced for pub fare. We stayed at the holiday park, perfectly situated at the base of the town in walking distance to everything.

View from the Nut

On our last morning in the Apple Isle we rode our bikes down to the Stanley Wharf. It was like a picture postcard. We visited the Seaquarium, which was vaguely interesting and then hooked the bikes back on the car to head back to Devonport for our 7pm sailing. On our way out we drove up the hill to a honey farm honesty box where I picked up a huge tub of Manuka honey for $20. We drove back along the coast that is dotted with beautiful little bays and tiny fishing villages. Unfortunately, one of them was so beautiful we felt compelled to stop and wander over the rock pools. I say unfortunately because I lost my footing and landed heavily in the rocks, smashing my elbow and submerging my beloved Canon dslr in the process. It was a painful end to an otherwise relaxing and stress free holiday.

Stanley Wharf

I should have kept my distance from these rocks!
With any further physical activity ruled out we stopped at The Makers in Burnie to check out the crafty stuff and eat lunch. I was pretty underwhelmed by the crafts on offer although the paper making was fascinating. We bought a huge bag full of Tasmanian cheeses to take home and then wandered around the shops in Devonport until it was time to re board the Spirit.

Once again we had mill pond conditions for our voyage and arrived back well rested, just in time for a spectacular 6am sunrise in Melbourne.

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