The first thing that always comes to my mind when I hear about Tasmania is, of course, the Tasmanian devil. Though we saw plenty of postcards sporting its image, unfortunately, we never saw one in real life. However, aside from that minor disappointment (we didn't see any wombats, either, and only caught a brief glimpse of an echidna) Tasmania delivered on all over accounts. We loved it!
Our decision to fly to Tassie, as the Aussies call it, was rather last minute. We were going to drive south from Sydney to Melbourne but were feeling a little overwhelmed with the enormity of Australia. Tassie seemed so much more accessible to us. So, we flew from Sydney to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. We knew that Tassie is located south of Australia so we expected a small drop in temperature, which was the case in Hobart. October is like March for us, very early spring—"in like a lion out like a lamb". By the time we got to Cradle Mountain we realized we were still hearing the roar of the lion.
Hobart is the largest city on the island with a population of 128,000. It had a very welcoming, small, but bustling town feel to it. It was sunny, but quite cold, especially for two people who had just spent 2 months in brain-melting heat of SE Asia, but we really enjoyed the spring freshness. The vegetation is very reminiscent of home—a lot of the same flowers plants just coming into bloom. We realized we missed spring and enjoyed the change of season.
While we were in Hobart we took a day trip to historic Port Arthur about an hour away. Port Arthur is the site of a prison from the 1800s where 2nd strike offenders were sent. As many of you know, Australia was settled by outlaws and convicts sent from Britain. If they committed another crime once in the colony they were sent to Port Arthur, chose because of its location on an isolated peninsula, rumored to be surrounded by shark-infested waters—deemed a "natural penitentiary" by Governor Arthur. The prison only operated for 43 years and was largely built by the prisoners from stone quarried from the area. It is now a very well maintained tourist attraction, though we missed out on what is said to be the best part, the Ghost Tour after dark. Several of the buildings are said to be haunted and there are countless stories of ghostly sightings.
One of the best parts about Hobart was the accommodation we scored. In Australia furnished studio, one or two bedroom apartments are often available for shorter stays, like 2 or 3 nights. We've taken advantage of those several times throughout our time here and have loved have a living room and reasonably equipped kitchen. In Hobart our place, The Crow's Nest, was absolutely palatial and, as the name suggests, had an unobstructed view of the whole bay Hobart is built on. It felt so decadent to be able to cook a pasta dinner and a blueberry pancake breakfast. I could have happily stayed there for a week, but alas, we had to move on.
Pouring rain followed us north through the middle of the island on our 2 hour trip up to Launceston, the second largest town. The drive was incredibly scenic, rolling green hills artistically dotted with sheep and cows, accented with quaint farmhouses and barns. We felt like we were driving through rural New England or Maine. The locals in the small towns along the way are very friendly, welcoming, and chatty. Somehow Tasmania has managed to maintain a quaint small-town vibe without feeling like the small towns are dying and becoming obsolete. All the towns we passed through were thriving and busy.
From Launceston we headed west on small country roads to Cradle Mountain National Park. As we gained elevation to the park, the temperature continued to plummet. By the time we entered the park on the park shuttle we were in the middle of a blowing snowstorm. From the visitors center there is a really well maintain network of trails, some that are actual boardwalks through the park to minimize impact on the area. We took the shuttle up to the furthest point, about 10km into the park. Our shuttle driver, probably in his mid 50's, grew up in the area and told us stories of his childhood there and about the development of the park. He remembers having the full run on the land as a child before the park was established and he and his friends couldn't understand why anyone would want to build a lodge up there. But, once it was built and offered beer at a reasonable price, they were sold---true Aussies at heart.
Despite the snow swirling around us we set out on a 2 hour hike around Dove Lake. Having sort of planned our trip to follow summer around the world to say we were not outfitted for snow is an understatement. We were bundled up in all the clothes we have and figured if we just kept moving we would be fine. We were so excited about the snow we were not about to miss out on it because we lacked gloves. You would have thought it was the first time either of us had seen snow.
After about 10 minutes into our walk the snow stopped, the clouds broke and we had sunshine and a beautiful view of Cradle Mountain right in front of us. It was stunning! We quickly whipped out the camera (carefully wrapped in a plastic bag and protected under Snow's raincoat to keep the snow off of it) to capture the fleeting view. Then 20 minutes later we were back in a snowstorm, then sun, then, yet another flurry. In the 2 hour hike we must have put on and taken off our many layers about 4 or 5 times.
The next morning there was about 2 1⁄2 inches of snow on the ground. We were in awe of it all. The new snowfall kept the park shuttle from running into the park in the morning however, because we had 4 wheel drive on our Hyundai Santa Fe we were able to venture in on our own. Making the first tracks in the snow with it still quietly falling around us and watching a lone wallaby hop along the river right by us was a magical way to start a day.
We stayed in a cabin just outside the park. Fortunately, the heating was very good so it was a cozy night for us. We were rather excited about the satellite TV. After dinner we watched a replay of the 3rd Presidential Debate. Throughout our trip we have been following the race as closely as possible (as is the rest of the world) but were disappointed to not be able to see any of the debates so we were happy to catch the last one. We received our absentee ballots here in Sydney so we will be able to vote in this election.
Our trip to Cradle Mountain with its breathtaking scenery, extreme weather and an opportunity to clomp around in the great outdoors was one of the highlights of our time in Australia. We are looking forward to much more of the same when we arrive in New Zealand.