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Tasmania in 17 Days

Hobart, Port Arthur, Launceston, Stanley, Strahan, Cradle Mountain, Huon Trail,
Gordon River, Tasmazia


Top  hits  &  hot  tips

Brief nitpicking comments on a short motoring tour of Tasmania - Recommended accommodation, services and attractions - Contacts and links - (Dave  Robinson,  Brisbane,  March  2005)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Riverbella (B&B), Kingston Beach,
near Hobart
The top of Mt Wellington, near Hobart

RECOMMENDED

Natasha Roberts, Huon Visitor Centre
(Tasmania Visitor Information Service)
Anne's Old Rectory (B&B), Dover
South-east coastal scenery
Port Arthur guided tour
Alpenrail Swiss Model Railway,
Claremont, Hobart
Teraki Cottages, Taranna,
near Port Arthur
Kabuki by the Sea, cottages & restaurant,
near Swansea
Tasmazia, near Sheffield
Various forest/wilderness/mountain walks

A BIT DISAPPOINTING

3-hour minibus tour of Launceston

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Introduction
For "American" tourists
National Parks etc
Accommodation - general
Accommodation - a selection
Sights, attractions, excursions
Disclaimer

Wrest Point Casino and Hotel
Wrest Point Casino and Hotel from Hobart harbour

Map of Tasmania
Map of Tasmania



Introduction

This will be the shortest, and possibly the last, of my web travelogues. However, there are more photos (180, about one third of the total shoot) and they are nearly all quite high resolution shots, good enough to fill your screen. Our next jaunt could be a very long affair, away from the world of computers and internet, and my priorities on returning home will almost certainly not include travel writing. So here's Tasmania in a nutshell. Mind you, many visitors cover the island in 5-7 days, and in my view this is almost long enough. Not so according to my spouse, who is threatening divorce unless we pack our bags and settle there. Actually I thoroughly enjoyed every day of our trip around Tassie, but came away with mixed impressions - almost as mixed as the fickle weather in that blustery isle. And this was in late February-March, reputedly the best time for visiting, when the school holidays have ended and the weather is supposedly "settled". I don't think I want to know what unsettled weather is like over there! True, the first week was mainly fine and warm, but the locals said this was exceptional for the time of year.

To be fair, Tasmania is a place for walking in the wilderness and enjoying the scenery (when it's visible), and if you don't like doing those things you might be better off choosing another holiday destination. As casual tourists, I think the way we chose to tour the island was ideal, an opinion that's backed up by other visitors. We flew over on cheap airfares, rented a car and stayed in hotels, motels, B&Bs, caravans, cabins, resorts - anything we could find. Apart from the rental car, we booked hardly anything in advance, except occasionally accommodation one day ahead. Despite warnings from our Brisbane travel agent about the scarcity of accommodation in the remoter regions, we had no trouble picking up single night stays in either town or country. Doing it this way, we were never under pressure to reach particular destinations on time, and in fact our itinerary was quite different from the one we had very roughly planned back home. This freedom and happy-go-lucky approach undoubtedly helped to produce a relaxed holiday.


For tourists with limited time

If you're an "American" tourist, there are some parts of Tasmania you probably shouldn't miss, and others that don't matter too much. My wife and I liked Hobart, the south and the western wilderness areas best. The combination of mossy temperate rain forest and babbling rivers in some places was utterly enchanting. Port Arthur was very interesting and the view over Hobart harbour and beyond from the top of Mount Wellington was spectacular (luckily we were up there on a relatively clear day). Near Hobart it pays to hug the coastline, especially when doing the Huon trail north of Dover. The short stretches of gravel road are in good nick. Incidentally, many of Tasmania's roads are slow and winding and littered with dead animals. We were disappointed with the Tamar valley and most of the north-coast towns. Although Launceston has many fine old buildings, in other respects the town is rather uninspiring, absolutely dead at the weekends and the suburbs are full of fake Victorian homes. Much of the east and centre of the island was fairly ordinary, and the dull weather didn't improve our impressions of the Gordon river and Macquarie Harbour and the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair region. The latter is a place where you really need to walk a lot, preferably in sunny conditions.


National Parks, Heritage buildings and State Forestry areas

Tasmania has a number of National Parks, and even the casual visitor is almost sure to want to go into some of them, such as Freycinet and Cradle Mountain. Unfortunately, even if you only want an hour or two in there, it's going to cost you $20 per park for two people (or for a carload). That is, unless you can find some way of avoiding the fee. As a conservation-minded person I can't encourage avoidance tactics, but, surprisingly, some of the locals do. $20 does seem a bit steep for a quick visit and, besides, shouldn't the open countryside be free for all to enjoy? I doubt that walkers are doing much harm. The worst damage to Tasmania's countryside has already been done by farmers and loggers. Anyway, it seems that at present you don't really have to pay a cent to go into the parks. Some tourist industry personnel are quite happy to give you free tickets (whether they've paid for them or not I don't know) and they'll tell you how to (mis)use them to get into any park, anytime, even if they're only 24-hour tickets. And if you enter a park without tickets and you're caught, the fine is only $25. We never saw anyone checking for tickets.

Fees are also charged for tours of heritage buildings and gardens and certain forestry areas, notably the Tahune Forest Airwalk near Geeveston. You can "avoid" some of these fees too, although they are usually quite reasonable. Many hotels and other accommodation places will offer you tickets as part of a package. Just ask probing questions when booking in and use your bargaining abilities.

As usual, these brief critical comments focus mainly on accommodation, services and value for money rather than on the sight-seeing. I did not keep a log of our travels, so inevitably there will be many significant omissions. All prices mentioned are in AUD.

Accommodation - general

No single brochure lists all the available accommodation. The RACQ directory probably has the largest selection. Some travel brochures (obtainable from agents) contain a good selection of 3-5 star accommodation, but, at least for stays in Tasmania, I cannot recommend booking at the rates they quote, nor would it be wise to trap yourself in one of the schemes provided by various hotel chains. Much better rates are obtainable either on the internet (e.g. at Check-in, Accommodation Line, Need It Now, Wot If) or by getting a walk-in rate upon arrival. Always lay your cards on the table (concessions, motoring organisations, unions) and find out if there are any perks such as free breakfasts, tour discounts or park entry tickets. It's advisable to see the room before signing in. I can thoroughly recommend the Tasmania Visitor Information Service for finding and booking accommodation at short notice.

The most important item in any type of travellers' accommodation is, of course, the bed. Most establishments have learnt to provide a non-saggy, squeak-free base and a firm mattress, but a personal problem I had with most of the beds I slept on in Tasmania was the dreaded doona. In my opinion the doona is one of the worst inventions in the history of mankind. It simply can't provide any degree of temperature control, and you spend all night pulling it up and down and alternating between searing heat and freezing cold. When you discover the doona you just have to pray that there are spare blankets in the cupboard so you can make a substitution.

Tasmanian motels and B&Bs usually have different breakfast arrangements to the Australian mainland. They supply the ingredients and equipment and tell you to do it yourself. Sometimes the ingredients are supplied, not to your room, but to a common area or refrigerator outside your room. We thought this system worked well and seemed to have advantages for both the hosts and the guests. (One advantage for skinflints like us was that we were usually given enough stuff to make a light lunch as well as breakfast.)

We paid between $50, for a caravan, and $169 in a 4-star resort. Double rooms with ensuites in pub-style hotels were usually around $75, motels $80-$120, resorts $130+, city hotels $95+, and B&Bs $90-$110.

Accommodation - a selection

Corus hotel, Hobart
A large hotel, much used by business people, quite close to the centre of the city. Standard rooms are badly ventilated and can get unbearably hot (32.5oC on my accurate thermometer) as ventilation is almost non-existent. De luxe rooms have sliding glass doors opening onto small balconies. There is off-street parking, including some undercover, even for rental cars. Helpful, pleasant front-desk service. This place is reasonable value only if you can get a de luxe room at the corporate rate for a standard room (around $108, excluding continental breakfast, $13.50 pp). If you can't manage that, steer clear.

Teraki Cottages, Taranna, near Port Arthur
Charmingly different, old but clean timber shacks in a bush setting. At first sight my wife screamed "I'm not staying here", but after looking inside she changed her tune and we both ended up enjoying the Teraki experience. There was heaps of room and we ate a good breakfast. Only $80 for the cottage, or $75 without breakfast. Cash only. There was an excellent restaurant nearby (The Mussel Boys).

Kabuki by the Sea, cottages & restaurant, near Swansea
Actually we only had coffee and snacks in the fabulous restaurant. Terrific ocean view! Same view from the units, so I'm told. We called in here upon a recommendation and because we happen to know that the hosts, Terry and Mitch, are a fantastic pair.

Artnor Lodge, (motel), St Helens
Nothing special: roomy rooms, thin walls, ample level parking, pleasant manageress, a decent continental breakfast, and a good Asian restaurant nearby.

Parklane Motel, Launceston
Not very central, cramped parking on a steep slope, lots of steps, helpful proprietors, not very good value but what is in Launceston? Still, we quite enjoyed our 2-night stay in a comfortable de luxe room on the front side overlooking a park (the one with the monkeys!) Email: parklane@trump.net.au

Elimatta Hotel Motel, Devonport
Indifferent budget motel rooms ($75/night), smelt smokey and the curtains looked like they hadn't been washed for at least a century. Still, it was comfortable and quite well equipped. The hotel has gaming rooms (most do in Tasmania) and an excellent restaurant overlooking the estuary and equipped with, um, rather nice waitresses. The restaurant went to a lot of trouble to cater for our vegetarian needs (vegetarian food is certainly not their forté) and it turned out exceptionally well. Ph: (03) 6424 6555

Touchwood Cottage, Stanley
My better half said she felt like a queen in this place, and wrote a glowing report in the guest book. Unfortunately I (the grumpy half) gathered an entirely different impression of this 1840s, supposedly 4-star, upmarket, 3-bedroom cottage (the largest of three run by hosts Kathy and Trevor). First there was the nasty gash on my head caused by (a) the ridiculously low doorway into the first bedroom and (b) me not ducking low enough. I blame the doorway, of course (or rather, the owners' failure to do something about it). It's not the first time I've struck low lintels whilst on holiday. After regaining consciousness and mopping up the blood, I was in no mood for the next fright - the scorpion crawling around on the floor of the toilet (I'm a zoologist and, even with tissue paper stuck to my head, I know what a scorpion looks like!) Finally I have to say this is not the place for a one-night stay. It's just too complicated. By the time you've found out where they keep the knives and forks it's time to go home. The entire house is a pretentious clutter of period furniture, Victoriana and other bric-a-brac, and you might find you have to interact with some of this stuff to get your coffee or breakfast. Having said that, it's also exceptionally well outfitted, including a large, well-equipped laundry. As well as a tasty, nicely presented do-it-yourself breakfast, there's free port on offer in the comfortable lounge and a bowl of fruit in the kitchen. No very convenient off-street parking. It cost us $150 for the night. What can I say? Touchwood lived up to its name and certainly left its mark on me.

Cradle Mountain Chateau/Hotel, (eco resort), Cradle Mountain
A new and quite nice resort run by Federal Hotels & Resorts. A great restaurant with a bushy outlook, buffet and excellent à la carte service.

Strahan Caravan & Tourist Park, Strahan
In this busy little town we stayed in an on-site van because other accommodation seemed unduly expensive. In fact we enjoyed the change. The van, though old, was clean and well equipped and the nearby facilities were also clean and afforded a sense of privacy. $50/night. Ph: (03) 6471 7239

Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel, (semi-resort/pub-style), Derwent Bridge, near Lake St Clare
In a very useful, rather remote situation, this hotel sports another good restaurant (though the pumpkin soup was watered down), and our room was comfortable. In the bar and restaurant they play recorded modern jazz for breakfast, lunch and dinner - doesn't aid the digestion one bit. Otherwise a good atmosphere. Ensuited room including breakfast was $105. Rooms without ensuites are around $85. There are also backpackers rooms, but the accommodation we were given deserves better than its 2-star rating. Ph: (03) 6289 1144

Kermandie Hotel, (pub-style), Port Huon
No complaints at all about this accommodation and the restaurant with great water views and great food too. (Not to be confused with the Kermandie Lodge motel next door.) A pleasant and hard-working hostess. Ensuited room with breakfast and 2 tickets to the Airwalk (normally $11 each) cost $105.

Anne's Old Rectory, B&B, Dover
A wonderful place to stay. Elegantly furnished, homely, beautiful garden, verandah, relaxed atmosphere. The friendly proprietor, Sophie Grenfell, served us a full cooked breakfast at a table set with English-style crockery and silver cutlery. Although the menu was completely illogical, our choices were somehow correctly interpreted, though we wondered about the tempting jam and marmalade without any toast to put it on! Only two guest bedrooms and (down the passageway) two bathrooms. No laundry, but there's a launderamat close by. (We had to watch our clothes as there were a few weird characters hanging around.) Around $100 per room per night. Long-term stays can be negotiated. Email: info@annesoldrectory.com.au

Riverbella, B&B, Kingston Beach, near Hobart
(Unfortunately this accommodation may no longer be avaiable)
What a pleasant surprise! From the point of view of accommodation and value (as opposed to style and environment) we both thought this place was the best ever B&B within our travel experience, not just in Australia but world-wide. No thatched roof or pixies here, no jungle creeping through the window or waves lapping at the door. Just plain, damn good lodging. On the ground floor of a modern suburban house, this very private, professionally presented, roomy living space is immaculate, spotless, stylishly furnished, comfortable, practical, well-equipped but clutter-free, well-serviced and you can park your car at the door (your own private entrance). Considering the friendly but unobtrusive proprietors, Kate and Grier McVea, have only been in the tourism industry for 6 months, this is a remarkable achievement and a monument to their research and professionalism. Actually the surroundings are not bad either. The house is perched on the side of a hill and enjoys good views over the bay through sliding glass doors. The short driveway up is steep but easily negotiated. We found more than we expected here (including free port in the dining area) and couldn't find any faults apart from a creeky bedroom door - something that could be easily fixed. The neatly framed note about laundering towels and saving the environment - a common sham in Australian hotels - was distinctly overstated and, well, it sucks! Breakfast, the usual do-it-yourself set-up, was a bit limited but wholesome and healthy. Riverbella is a little off the beaten track, but only about 3 minutes drive to shops, restaurants and Kingston Beach esplanade, and a little longer to downtown Hobart. An ideal spot for anyone visiting Hobart by car but not wishing to stay in a cramped room in the city. Excellent value at around $110/night for two people, less with a concession. Email: riverbel@bigpond.net.au

Sights, Attractions & Excursions

This is just a list of some of the more interesting places we visited, mostly on the tourist routes:

Hobart - Battery Point, including Arthur's Circus
Hobart - Salamanca Place
Hobart - Mount Wellington
Hobart - Harbour cruise
Hobart - Half-day city tour
Hobart - Museum & Art Gallery
Hobart - Botanic Gardens
Hobart - Alpenrail (Swiss model railway)
Hobart - Mount Nelson Signal Station and lookout
Hobart - Bayside suburbs e.g. between Lauderdale and Bridgewater
Richmond
Coastal villages and scenery between Dover and Police Point, Cradoc and Cygnet, Cygnet and Snug, Sorell and Port Arthur
Coastal scenery near Eaglehawk Neck, including the Tessellated Pavement
Port Arthur
Coles Bay and Freycinet National Park, including Wineglass Bay
Countryside between St Helens and Scottsdale
Lilydale Falls
Swan Point - lookout over the Tamar estuary
Evandale
Clarendon House
Launceston - Cataract Gorge (cruise, chairlift and walks)
Westbury (church)
Marakoopa Cave (near Mole Creek)
Sheffield (murals)
Lake Barrington area, including Tasmazia
Annsleigh Gardens, near Ridgley
Guide Falls, near Ridgley
Nut Chairlift, Stanley
Cradle Mountain/Dove Lake area
Strahan
Macquarie Harbour/Gordon River cruise with World Heritage Cruises (not Gordon River Cruises)
Queenstown (horribly fascinating)
Nelson Falls, near Queenstown
Lake St Clair
Russel Falls, near Westaway
Tahune Forest Reserve Airwalk, near Geeveston, and points along the road to the airwalk

We were put off from experiencing the West Coast Wilderness Railway by local comment, poor timing and rather high cost (Strahan to Queenstown one way by train and return by bus, approximately 37km each way, total cost $102-169 depending on class - includes lunch), and the fact that we've travelled on this type of railway before (the Abt rack and pinion system, used on the Snowdon mountain railway in north Wales, the Nilgiri mountain raiway from Mettupalayam to Ooty in southern India and the Monte Generoso railway in southern Switzerland (as well as numerous other Swiss railways and other lines worldwide which I haven't travelled on). In this respect the Tasmanian train is hardly "unique", as the advertising often claims. However, it is clearly a great ride and we probably should have done it.

As I've already mentioned, we were disappointed with Launceston and the Tamar valley. Although the city has a number of very fine old buildings, there is no part of it that you could describe as "quaint". Which is probably why we found the 3-hour city bus tour a bit of a waste of time. Some nice suburbs with great views, but why all the faked "period" architecture?

Because of the weather, we didn't go too well with the World Heritage Cruise from Strahan either, but I felt we chose the right cruise operator to do this trip. It really needs sunny, calm conditions to bring out the best in the scenery and water. At Cradle Mountain we were again stymied by the weather, though the mountain was, at least, visible. Rain and our lack of suitable footwear prevented us from walking far on the muddy tracks.

Disclaimer

All opinions expressed are mine alone and would-be travellers should make their own enquiries. While to the best of my knowledge the factual information in this article was correct at the time of recording it, I cannot accept responsibility for any inaccuracies.

.......Dave Robinson........23/03/05..........................HOME