White water of the Franklin River (Class IV)
Just try to say
“Tasmania” without the whirling image of the infamous Looney Tunes
character “Taz” buzzing across your mind! This hair-brained creature of the
screen we all know and love can claim responsibility for our zany
of this mysterious South Sea island. Yet this enigmatic
Australian state, situated 125
miles off the southeast mainland, is truly a
Mecca for the serious minded outdoor sports
enthusiast. Adventure seekers from
all over the world chose this getaway for the
incomparable white water rafting,
rock climbing, abseiling, caving, salt water kayaking
and a myriad of other
leisure pleasures found only in this pristine natural wilderness.
Hobart's Main Marina
Minutes by air from either Sydney or Melbourne, Tasmania’s
gateway city is the bustling
Hobart. Stretching from the mouth of
the Derwent River on the Southern
Ocean to the verdant foothills
Wellington, Hobart has retained all the picturesque
charm of its early days when
windjammers and tall
ships graced its
deep-water harbor. No measures have been spared in preserving
architectural heritage. The Theatre Royal, Australia’s oldest theater, retains
opulent splendor. The National Trust maintains another eighty-nine
all within Hobart’s city limits. The part of town called
Battery Point has hundreds of
gingerbread cottages and stately Georgian
mansions, seemingly keeping a watchful
eye over the harbor.
City view from Brooke Street
Salamanca Place, famous
for its regular Saturday Market, is an entire esplanade faced
with 19th century
maritime warehouses. These sandstone structures contain a
mesmerizing mix of
specialty shops, boutiques and restaurants. It’s the perfect setting
performers, mimes, buskers and sidewalk painters that faithfully converge here
every day. At 39 Salamanca Place you can dine at Hobart’s finest restaurant,
Open from 6 P.M. until 1 P.M. the menu includes smoked trout, pan fried
creamy pink-eye potatoes, steamed asparagus and smooth tasting cheeses.
For the thrill of a
lifetime, check out the jet boat rides starting near the Franklin Wharf.
Twice daily these demons of speed leave from Hobart’s commercial harbor and then
zoom inanely up the poplar-lined Derwent River estuary. Highly trained,
put these sleek speedboats through an impossible sequence of
guaranteed to make your knuckles white and your sides split
As enchanting as Hobart
might be, landing here is just the first step toward the
you. Not to worry if you don’t have a definite itinerary when
you arrive. Any
one of several travel agents in Hobart or elsewhere on the island
individualize a schedule of activities for you. In fact, the tour operators
highly organized and all have tailored their services specifically for
the overseas traveler.
Any equipment you might need, from backpacks to pick
axes, are all ready and set to go.
Many packages “dovetail,” so you can
effortlessly mix and match your excursions, like fly,
cycle and raft.
Furthermore trips are graded by difficulty and physical requirements,
so you set
your own pace.
I chose to start our
vacation with a three-day wilderness bush walk through
Tasmania’s south coast
region. A spectacular flight from Hobart lands us at
the small Melaleuca
airstrip along a deserted, windswept beach. Together
with seven other jubilant
hikers we get outfitted with our backpacks. The trail
meanders through a World
Heritage area resplendent with fragrant Eucalyptus
forests, sheer cliffs, craggy
granite mountains and foreboding hidden coves.
Awesome bush walks are in each of
Tasmania’s fourteen national parks. Favored
destinations for trekking include
the Freycinet, Narawntapu, Mt.William, Walls of
Jerusalem and Cradle Mountain
Ocean view from roadside along Eaglehawk Neck
I return back to Hobart and rent a car for the remaining
eleven days of our stay.
Triangular in shape, Tasmania is 175mile long and 189
miles across, about the
same land area as West Virginia. The road conditions
are excellent and directions
for the motorist are clearly marked. Tasmania has
mild maritime climate year round
(70 degrees in summer and 50 degrees in winter)
and it rains a little more than two
inches each month. Driving is easy, but you
do need to exercise caution at night.
Wildlife is as unwary as it is abundant.
Tasmania has ample first
class hotels, fashionable resorts, convenient motels and
But there’s also a company operating here and throughout
Q-Beds. This referral service lets you enjoy accommodations in a
It’s a great way to get a glimpse of local life and to jumpstart your
opportunities for meeting “friendly natives.”
Set with wheels, Tom and
I zip up the island’s Midland Highway for the four-hour
drive to the north
coast. The “base camp” for our exploration of the area will be
Tasmania’s second largest city with 70,000 residents. A powerful
movement has succeeded in sustaining Launceston’s turn of the
and old world charm. Graceful Victorian era buildings with their
designs of brick and granite line every street. A portion of Brisbane Street
the business district has been designated a pedestrian only mall. Strolling
you feel like you’ve slipped backward to 1910. A peep at the electronic
gizmos in a store window, however, will quickly restore your sense
Tom and I choose our
sleeping quarters in the nostalgic Batman-Fawkner Inn.
It was in this drafty, old boarding house in 1835 that John
Batman (no relation
to the cartoon character) and his cigar-chomping entourage
of founding fathers
wrangled out a set of designs for Australia’s second
mainland city, Melbourne,
as well as for the exploration of the unconquered
First on our agenda is a
full day of white water rafting through the Cataract
George Reserve. Our travel
agent in Hobart hooked us up for this outdoor caper
with two other guys and
a newly-wed couple. Instant friends, we’re soon facing
the category three rapids
that swirl down this narrow canyon, its imposing volcanic
hovering over us. All of us are thankful we passed on the
Tasmania’s world acclaimed descents through the Franklin-Gordon
National Park. Those runs have exclusively grade four and five rapids,
grueling expeditions lasting six to ten days.
Our next morning we take
the forty minute drive west of Launceston through the
drowsy village of Deloraine to the entrance to the Mole Creek Karst National Park.
highlights are two spectacular limestone caverns: the King Solomon with
glistening, crystallized stalactites and the Marakoopa, with its gurgling
streams and star-like canopy of florescent glow-worms. The guided
tours of each
of these natural wonders requires about forty-five minutes, so you
can experience both
in a single visit. The treacherous, deadly vaults of Kubla
Kahn and Croesus are only
accessible by permit.
Just a few more miles
west starts the spectacular trek in the Cradle Mountain National
world famous Overland Trail twists around the azure blue waters of Lake
Clair to the spiky summit of Cradle Mountain. This primordial landscape
abundance of wildlife including falcons, eagles, wombats and
wallabies as well as a
proliferation of vibrant wildflowers.
Forty five miles east of
Launceston is the Ben Lomond National Park. Situated on a
some 4000 feet in height, Ben Lomond is Tasmania’s favorite winter
offering the best-developed ski fields in Tasmania. Downhill and cross-country
skiing as well as tobogganing and snowboarding are ever popular. Winter season
from July until September (remember we’re in the Southern Hemisphere).
In summer the
precipitous cliffs in the park are a magnet for experienced rock
other climbing areas include Adamsfield, Hillwood, the
Organ Pipes and Frenchman’s Cap.
Launceston itself is
centered in Tamar Valley, the heart of Tasmania’s wine producing area.
Brightly colored signs mark the Northern Wine Route, directing you through a
vineyards, farmlands and rolling hills. Visitors in summer and
autumn enjoy wine tasting of
the region’s award winning pinots, chardonnays and
Rieslings. Vintners take turns in
sponsoring weekend music festivals. Because
of the purity of the air, water and land, the
valley is acclaimed for its
organic products such as honeys, gourmet fruits, handmade
jams and distinctive
Heading south from
Launceston, Tom and I follow Tasmania’s beloved Heritage
Highway, which meanders
through the sleepy villages and Colonial towns of the
island’s heartland. The
shops and homes, all constructed from gold hued sandstone,
unchanged for past 160 years. The yeasty aromas of crusty
drift through the tree-lined streets.
As we press forward, we discover the Tasmanian National
Trust has opened many
mansions, homesteads and historical sites to the public. A
dark fascination for me i
s the Trust’s Richmond Gaol, Australia’s oldest
jailhouse standing in its original condition.
Built in 1825, this austere
structure with all its creaky planking and dimly lit cells
incarcerated gangs of
Australia’s most demonic convicts, some headed for the gallows
Hobart. One of the notorious inmates was the London swindler, Izzy Solomons.
Legend has it he was the inspiration for the character of Fagin in Charles
“Oliver Twist.” I confess a collection of creepy metal contraptions
(trust me, you
don’t want to know) gave me a near lethal case of goose bumps and
forced my premature
departure back into town.
We continue with a short walk to
the magnificent Richmond Bridge,
crafted by more congenial convicts in 1823.
One of our more humorous
discoveries along the route is Woolmers Estate, an expansive
sheep ranch started
in 1815 with a land grant from the King of England. Overlooking the
Macquarie River, the Main House remained a modest, single story structure until
1958. The last son of the Archer family, however, then commissioned a Gargantuous
neoclassical addition, cramming it with the finest of European
furniture and works of art.
Royalty such as Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and
Lady Diana have all made their
way to this “jewel of the island.” When he died
without any heirs, he created a foundation
bearing his name and bequeathed his
beloved Woolmers to the people of Tasmania.
As the Heritage Highway
ends we veer toward the southeast corner of Tasmania and the
city of Cygnet. A
crunchy gravel road snakes halfway up a hillside checkered by orchards
farmlands and leads to the Talune Wildlife Park. Owned by a former science
Mike Jagoe, this nature center allows wallabies, wombats, potaroos,
emus, possums and
kangaroos to roam freely. Unlike any other exhibit in
Australia, visitors here can walk
among and actually feed the animals.
Tasmania’s most visited area is the southeastern
territory called the Tasman Peninsula,
named after the Dutch explorer Abel
Tasman, who was the first European to drop anchor
at the island in 1642.
enter the peninsula by crossing a bizarre isthmus called Eaglehawk
stretch of land only a few hundred feet long and thirty feet wide. It was a
perfect natural barrier against any prisoner trying to escape from the penal
colony that was
built here in 1830. Records show only one felon made an
attempt. He shed his prison
uniform completely, wrapped himself in a Kangaroo
skin and hopped awkwardly along the
shoreline. His masquerade, unconvincing to
the humorless guards stationed here, was
less than short lived.
Tom and I drive across the Neck and soon spot tour
guides that can arrange the most
phenomenal scuba diving and sea kayaking trips
imaginable. With waters renowned to
be the clearest in the world, the eastern
coast of the Tasman Peninsula is nothing less
than breathtaking. Ferocious
surfs have carved contorted rock formations like the Devil’s
Blowhole and Patterson Arch. All can be viewed from the Tasman Trail,
dramatic backpacking path skirting the edges of the highest sea cliffs in the
The Peninsula also features the Tasmanian Devil Park
where you can see the elusive
critter that Tasmanians have embraced as their
feisty mascot. Just down the road is
the Bush Mill settlement, a working
replication of a logging camp that operates the world’s
steepest steam railway.
Tom and I hold on tight as the engine squeaks along a rickety
trestle into the
forest of Cypress Pines.
The heart of Tasmania, however, is to be felt amongst
the ruins at the Port Arthur Historic
Site. From1830 to 1877 Port Arthur was
the severest penitentiary of the British Empire.
1,200 convicts and 1000 guards
and support staff lived within the complex at any one time.
In addition to the
90-minute walking tour of the grounds and buildings, Tom and I linger
newly created museum. The sensitive displays recount compassionately how many
of the prisoners coming from England had committed such minor offenses as
stealing a loaf
of bread. Australians consider this age of imprisonment to be
the darkest of chapters in the
continent’s history. You sense that in reaction
to the adversities suffered here emerged the
inspired human values and
camaraderie that are echoed today in the “G-Day, mate” you
hear so pleasantly
As our two-week vacation draws to an end, I sense that we have discovered for
this paradise that the Australians have long time called their
“Holiday Isle.” Tasmania is
a unique and special part of the Land Down Under.
One to which we will soon return.