A devil of a time

24 Dec

We weren’t quite ‘driving home for Christmas’ but we were flying –  back from Hobart after a week’s trip to Tasmania. With only half a million people populating this entire island state, we expected it to be a fairly quiet, laid-back place but were not expecting it to be quite so empty. Picture England several decades a go and you have a rough idea of what Tasmania is like.

Our travels from Hobart, up the east coast and back down through Launceston took us through some stunning rolling countryside, beautiful white sand coastlines and picturesque old villages. They say Tasmania is as close to England in Australia as you can get. The scenery was certainly reminiscent of areas of rural England and Scotland, the old English-style villages with their Georgian architecture were also reminders of the ‘motherland’ and yes – even the weather, with one day of rain and a couple of overcast mornings, bore some resemblance to the UK!

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We had hired a campervan for the trip, well camper-car would be a more accurate description, but it had everything we needed, including a fold down sofa-bed in the back, a compact ‘kitchen’ in the boot and the Huntsman spider (perhaps not so necessary and certainly more scary on the first morning.) Fortunately we got to spend our final two nights in Hobart in the relative luxury of a friend’s house because five nights is probably the most you could do on that bed without really testing the relationship…

The iconic Wineglass Bay was our first stop after arriving and the hike up the hillside was worth it for the incredible views.

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We headed north up to the Bay of Fires and at the risk of repeating myself, there were more gorgeous beaches. Then it was on through Bridport and Georgetown, via the Bay of Fires winery for a quick tasting and ending in Launceston.

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We loved Launceston with its Victorian buildings and the old industries, which are still operating along the river such as the James Boags brewery.

The following day our journey took us straight down south via several very quaint villages including Oatlands with its fully working windmill and Ross with its village green, stone cottages and tree lined streets. The things you notice when you’ve left, which epitomise England, are the gardens and hedgerows – and in Tasmania, we saw plenty; proper hedges and even the odd dry stone wall (built by the convicts of course.)

On the subject of convicts, which form a substantial part of Tasmania’s heritage, we drove all the way down to Port Arthur, south of Hobart, a former penal colony where the hardened criminals and reoffenders were sent after being shipped to Australia. Home to some of the ‘most haunted’ buildings in Australia, James and I had to brave the night time ghost tour round the site; standing in the shadows of ruined churches, by the fire place in the lounge of the old parsonage and wandering around the old solitary confinement prison, lit only by lanterns. We saw no ghosts, felt no presences and even had a bit of a laugh at the barely-out-of-school guide who sadly lacked the gravitas you might expect when recounting ghost stories. We may not have had a salty old bearded raconteur but it was definitely atmospheric and quite good fun. We went and saw Port Arthur in the daylight the next morning with the old prison, the Commandant’s house and a boat trip around the bay, passing Isle of the Dead. It was certainly an interesting and worthwhile stopover.

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From a convict settlement and sleeping in campsites, we headed back to Hobart to meet Hugh, a sprightly septuagenarian who met James when he was last in Hobart for a run ashore with a ship. He invited us to stay with him and his wife, Gail, for our final days in Hobart and made us feel very welcome in his home, situated right on the beach at Sandy Bay. He is one of those men who knows everyone and made his fortune in the antiques trade and in various businesses he dabbled in around Australia. He’s a lifelong member of any club you care to name in Tasmania and his runaround is a 1954 Bentley. He has raced in the Sydney – Hobart yacht race more than a dozen times and now he is approaching eighty, he says he is too old to keep up the sailing so has got his pilot’s licence instead.

Gail was a very kind and elegant lady, who apologised in advance but she hadn’t realised we were ‘so young.’ Had she known, she said she would not have invited her recently widowed friend and fellow seventy-year old friends for dinner with us that evening. Still, the ‘oldies’ always have a few stories to tell to be honest, they can probably put away a fair few more than either of us can so it made for quite an entertaining evening.

Salamanca markets are held every Saturday and are a major tourist attraction in Tasmania, being Australia’s biggest outdoor market. When we got down, it was buzzing with two long rows of stalls, selling everything from fruit and vegetables to clothes, pottery and toys. We walked the length of the stalls, picked up some rocky road and a milk jug (!) and headed to the waterfront for fish and chips. That evening, we met up with a few friends who happened to be in Hobart at the same time. In fact in total there were about eight of us who had decided to head to Tasmania just before Christmas and six of us all went out for a few drinks and a meal on our last night. It was a brilliant evening and for us a bit like a pre-Christmas Eve as it is just the two of us for Christmas this year.

On that note, the tree is now up, the house has a few decorations, the mince pies have been made and the presents are wrapped.

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Merry Christmas!

(More Tasmania photos will be posted at a later date!)

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2 Responses to “A devil of a time”

  1. gpcox January 9, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    I thought the Tasmanian prison had a huge fire – way back when, no?

    • Louise & James January 9, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

      Yes, there was a fire end of 19th century in the old prison house, so only the ruins remain. The old separate (isolation) prison is still standing though.

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