The Amazing Race Tasmania

Tasmania. It always was such an intriguing name… I learned about it in school. Named for the Dutch explorer and sailor Abel Tasman, this island always conjured up images of steep, dark jungle for me.  I have never been this close to Antarctica!
Tasmania seems to us, now, to be the opposite of the Australian mainland:
– its roads are windy instead of endlessly straight,
– it is green and hilly instead of red and flat,
– it is wet and cold, instead of dry and hot!
It probably is not right to generalize. I’m sure it’s hot and dry here, too, at times. But right now Tasmania is the perfect transition to home for us. With its mountain tops shrouded in clouds and drizzle, it looks much like British Columbia. I’m so glad my friend Anne moved to Tassie, as it is fondly known, otherwise we might never have ventured here. I’m glad we did since it is gorgeous.
We took the ferry to Bruny Island – an island off an island.
And felt we were back on Salt Spring. Bruny Island has sheep, a cheese maker, a winery, lovely little villages and beaches.
But, unlike Salt Spring, it also has sand beaches and a penguin rookery.


Rain. Pounding rain and storm. Thunder and lightning. This is spring in Tasmania? Locals say it is unusual. I don’t have enough warm clothing. I just have sandals. The scenery is gorgeous: steep hills, green valleys, tree ferns (they look like a cross between large ferns and palm trees).


But oh, the weather. It is pouring, thunder and lightning!

The landscape feels very British: today we were in Exeter, Devon, we see tea shops and butchers…
Green fields with cows. Lots of sheep. This northeast side of Tasmania was settled first, in the 1800’s. Most of the wild forest is gone and it has been tamed to produce crops and keep livestock. Yet, throw in some wild gorges, a waterfall, some rain forest – and you have today’s Tassie.
We’re staying in a Backpackers’ Hostel. Large private room with our own, large bathroom. The owner managed to find us a little electric heater. Trying to defrost our toes…

Woke up to sunshine and blue sky. And a sodden, drowned world. Creeks were overflowing and whole fields seemed like marshes. But we enjoyed seeing the countryside without fog. After tea and cereal in the hostel’s kitchen, we slowly tuffed up and down hill sides. Stopped for coffee in a lovely used bookstore with a Marklin train… Walked on a beach. Made a picnic lunch next to a beach. We both love these quiet days of driving and seeing new places. No rush, no traffic. Kees took a sharp right turn at a sign “Kate’s handmade chocolade”. Discovered a lovely berry farm with a cafe. Kate was one busy lady. And she knew Salt Spring well. We are surprised at the number of Aussies who have been to Salt Spring! We sat on the patio with cappuchino’s and… chocolate covered licorice…

By late afternoon we made it into Hobart. Enjoyed seeing downtown with lovely old buildings on the waterfront. We found a nice room in a backpackers’ hotel (read: lower prices than a luxury hotel). Right in the center of town. Walked through the Tasmania Museum, had a beer in a pub housed in an old customs house. Then a burger in an Irish Pub. Life is good.

The next day we left on an adventure around Tassie in our little rental car, driving first north of Hobart and west. Immediately we were in a vast wilderness. Green valleys, tall peaks, and lonely roads. To our thrill we met a cute cuddly wombat! We spent the night in a delightful, renovated gold rush hotel in Queenstown:

Then drove through more wilderness, past Tasmania’s highest peak Cradle Mountain, via many hairpins curves to Strahan on the west coast, and on to Burnie on the north coast. Tomorrow, we continue our amazing race around Tasmania!

Random Aus-servations

 • Have you ever seen a drive-tru bottleshop?! In Australia you don’t need to get out of your car to buy booze! Just go through the drive-through, order your beer, load it, pay and drive off. Just don’t drink and drive…

• Tassie seems to have much more internet access then the mainland did.

• Hotels and homes don’t seem to have any central heating systems. Just an electric heater in a room. But almost all beds have electric heating pads. In the south this means cold houses; in the north you won’t need any heat.

• Aussies love cake! Every town, even the smallest one, has a bakery with an enormous assortment of pastries and cakes in the window. They also always have meat pies.

• To send a postcard costs about three times more than to buy the card itself. Postage to Canada for a card is a whopping $2.65.

• No left turns allowed on a red light.

• ‘Tea’ means evening dinner. People will say “I’m having steak for tea.” Or “I still have to give the dog his tea.”

• ‘Lollies’ means candy, not just lollipops.

• The ferry to Tasmania costs 95.- one way. It cost us $39.- to fly from Melbourne.

• Size: Tasmania is about 62,000 sq km, The Netherlands a bit smaller at 42,000 and Vancouver Island smallest at 32,000.

• Twice now we have met the Huntsman spider. I do not care to repeat this experience. Google it. The Huntsman spider is an average of 10 – 12 INCHES. Big, black and ugly as only spiders can be. People tell me they won’t hurt me, they only eat bugs. I don’t care. I don’t ever want to see another one up close and personal…
• Aus is expensive. While the dollars are at par, minimum wage here is very high – some 20.- or 25.- dollars for a waiter. In the States a waiter would make perhaps 8.- and 10.- – 12.- in Canada. As a result, everything here is expensive for us. Groceries are about 1/3 higher. Eating out and accommodations are often about double.

• I love shopping in second hand stores, looking for a treasure.  The shops usually benefit a good cause like a hospital or such. In North America these stores are always called ‘thrift’ stores – which, I think, makes them sound cheap and terrible. Here in Australia second-hand stores are called Op Shops. Op is for ‘opportunity’ – now, doesn’t that sound a lot more exciting?

MONA – What is Art?

Tasmania’s number one tourist attraction used to be Port Arthur, the convict colony where ruins of prisons tell the story of its gruesome settlement. Now, Tassie’s prime attraction is a museum built by a man with a lot of money made through gambling, a man who wanted to prove something to the world.
MONA – The Museum of Old & New Art.
The publicity surrounding the opening of David Walsh’s pet project, MONA in January 2011 extended around the world. The unique characteristics of the location, buildings and exhibits continued to please tens of thousands of visitors every month making it the most visited single attraction in Tasmania. MONA has encouraged people to visit Hobart, who would ordinarily never have contemplated it. Lonely Planet named it the top attraction.
And so we felt compelled to see it, even though we are not ‘into’ art and certain don’t love contemporary art. 

The least I can say is ‘MONA is unique and thought provoking’. The overall experience of a visit is interesting. I admired the architecture, the way the building unfolds and embraces the natural landscape is a piece of art in its own right.
As far as the art inside is concerned – well, I did not care for any of it. Weird. Outlandish. Bizarre. After a while I felt like I was on drugs.

Each visitor is given an iphone with a menu that highlights and complements each piece of ‘art’. You can listen to the artist’s musings, read the ‘idea behind the piece’ or a bio. The iphone will give details on which ever piece you approach and is interactive. You can even save your tour, email it to yourself and continue reading about each piece when you get home. Pretty advanced, and cool, use of technology.

Art includes a handful of ancient Egyptian artifacts but mostly outlandish modern pieces, like a room full of TV’s blaring different channels. I’m sure there’s some socio-economic level of interest to it, but it’s kind of lost on me.
A wall full of bees: each one suspended from a thread on the ceiling, creating a 3D piece. Provocative paintings. A video of people crossing a street. A room simulating the inside of a computer. Two brooms on a wall.
A few humorous touches kept us on edge. The museum owner’s parking spot is identified as ‘God’s parking spot’. He must have a sense of humor. I hope. But mostly he must have a lot of money. Personally, I think there are better ways to put that money to use than to spend it on a trampoline with buddhist bells underneath or a blank library, a room entirely filled with blank white books.

Do I think it’s worth a visit? I’m not sure. In a way it was a waste of time and money. On the other hand, it got me thinking. What is art?
And perhaps that was the only motivation that drove David Walsh to build MONA…

“As a boy I had limited access to the great repositories
of artefact but I, like most of us, held a library card.
A real treasure. If a museum is a cultural gemstone
then a book is cultural Lego.”

-David Walsh

From Sydney to Sidney!
Two more days to explore. We drive our little rental Suzuki around the southern tips of Tasmania. One day along beaches, picturebook towns. I like the typical pubs and old hotels with their white, wooden lacework along the verandahs. I splash in the cold waves of the Southern Ocean.
We picnic on Roaring Beach: buns, chicken, fruit, cheese.
The very last day we drive all the way south to Port Arthur. This is one of the main attractions of Tasmania. But we decide that we don’t want to spend a fortune in admission fees to see ruins and learn more about the gruesome penal colony history than we really want to know.
So we walk along yet another white sand beach, have coffee in a lovely orchard and marvel at natural wonders along the coast: The Devil’s Kitchen, Blowhole and other amazing rock features with wild ocean water. On the way we are lucky enough to spot a real live echidna – a kind of small, Australian porcupine with a cute velvet snout that makes me think of an ant eater.
When we come home to our friend Anne’s place, we are even luckier. We are invited to crew on a 37’ sailing yacht in a sail race between the mainland and Bruny Island. So we spend a gorgeous sunny evening, with the perfect amount of wind, sailing across the bay. A glorious end to our three months adventure in Australia.

The next morning we flew from Hobart to Sydney. And just now I stepped off the plane from Sydney to Vancouver – 7900 miles, 14 hours. Then a short flight to Victoria, a taxi to the ferry terminal in Sidney and the ferry to Salt Spring. It’s been an amazing experience to have three whole months to roam and explore. We saw so much natural beauty, met many interesting people and visited places we had only dreamed of.

Splashing in the Southern Ocean