It’s an amazing thing that I’ve been around to a lot of places in Australia, but somehow, I’ve probably seen not even 10% of what this country actually is! “Antipodea” posts will focus on my travels to new places in Australia (FYI, not a real word, but The Antipodes simply means the lands of Australia and New Zealand, so it works if you don’t think about it). And where better for me to start than Tasmania. This is Australia’s smallest state and, locally, tends to be shunned as the ‘other’ island. Even international recognition is hard to come by…
I’ve wanted to go to Tasmania for some time, but it’s one of those places that, speaking in terms of travelling locally, would be pushed down the list by other things. But with a recent long-weekend, there was no better opportunity to book on short notice and get an introduction to the “other island” through it’s northern city of Launceston.
Day 1: Whirlwind Tour
Landing at Launceston, you would be forgiven for thinking that you’re about to land on an actual mountain! Unlike many airports, you can’t see that you’re about to land at one. The airport itself sits among some farmland, isn’t particularly large, but obvious signs of growth in new construction are evidence of the fact that more and more people are heading here to throw off their preconceptions. 15 minutes after picking up the hire car (a plucky, red Hyundai), you pass through what seems like nothing much and come down the hill into the very suburban looking Launceston. First impression is a bit strange. It’s clearly a country town, there’s a few ramshackle buildings, surrounded by various hills and bushland with a large river flowing through… But, then there’s the many modern, urban style cafe’s and restaurants, frequented by many a hipster. Our first stop was a record store/cafe, where you could grab a Cappuccino and a newly pressed Stevie Nicks LP. Looking past the rustic exterior, this is a place which is greeting change, becoming an oasis away from the stresses of the “mainland”.
With an intriguing start, we wanted to see as much of what this region offers as we could! So rather than check in, thought we’d head to Devonport, 100km away on the northern coast, stopping at nearby Cataract Gorge on the way…
The Wilderness Nearby…
Across the river on the South side of Launceston, through some small suburban streets, the houses stop all of a sudden and you come to the gates of Cataract Gorge (Thanks to a slightly misspoken direction, it became known as Cataract George, which we decided would be the imaginary older brother of Mad Max’s Immortan Joe). This park opens up to a lake in the middle, fed by a river carving its way through the mountains and genuinely raises the question: “Is this even still Australia?” This is exactly why we came here. We’d driven no more than 15 minutes and already we’re surrounded by some cute local wildlife and unspoiled, natural beauty that you simply cannot find (as easily, that is) in Sydney. We could have walked for weeks from here, but wanting to fit so much in (including lunch) we settled on a dash to Devonport.
Town and Country; Old vs New
Tasmania is a deceptively large place! Things are certainly far away from each other, but it’s amazingly easy to get around. The drive to Devonport took little more than an hour and on our arrival, we were greeted with a bridge into the sleepy little coastal town. Unfortunately, being a bit smaller, Devonport wasn’t the best place to go for lunch at 3pm since everywhere, barring the local Charcoal Chicken takeaway, was closed. Best option: Chicken, chips (fries) and a parking spot at the beach, watching a helmet-clad surfer risk his bones surfing amongst the rocks! Unfortunately, we’d seen almost everything there was to see in Devonport. So when the sun started getting lower, we headed back to Launceston. After a seriously early morning, a nap at the hotel was well earned! We had dinner at a local Thai restaurant and packed it in for an early night… We had a massive day ahead!
Day 2: The Road…
To be fair, this trip was pretty quickly planned. In fact, I didn’t even realise Cradle Mountain was “nearby” (230km is kind of nearby) but this wasn’t something we wanted to miss out on, especially with the benefit of a car. And holy-crap, was it a good thing we decided to go! Sure, it was about seven-degrees Celsius, windy and raining… But that’s why they invented jackets! Not to say that the trip there wasn’t without actual issues… say, taking a couple wrong turns to get petrol so we wouldn’t be stranded in the middle of nowhere… Which ironically, would have been close to Nowhere Else… Yes that’s an actual town and that’s its actual name! But, besides the range anxiety, there was the lack of other cars, the isolated roads winding over mountains and rivers. Everywhere you saw was different to the last and no less spectacular. A good distraction from having to head in the wrong direction to find civilisation developed enough to have a petrol station!
…And the Mountain
Two hours later, finally we were coming up to the mountain. There’s only so many trees and so much mist you can look at… But the closer we got to the mountain, the more the question changed from “is this even still Australia?” to “is this even the same planet?” I’ve only seen a similar landscape in the Arctic, but it was one of those moments where you had to pull-over, get out and take in the landscape in silent admiration.
Ten minutes down the road, we finally made it to the gates of the Cradle Mountain National Park. Only two and a half hours later! As it was lunch time, we figured the cafe would have some good food to eat… This was wrong… Quite wrong! Unfortunately a bit of a tourist trap since you’ll pay over $20 for a sausage roll and wedges! So we moved on quickly, deciding we’d do the Dove Lake walk, two and a half hours around the lake at the foot of Cradle Mountain. If you’re lucky to come here at some point, be prepared! Bad weather means some of the other walks are definite no-go’s unless you’ve got the gear! Luckily, the Dove Lake walk is a bit easier, if a bit long. But you know it’s a good walk ahead when this is what you see first.
The Dove with many Faces
As I’ve said before, the landscapes of Tasmania change everywhere, but that’s in terms of every twenty minutes while driving… Walking around Dove lake, it changes at every corner. I’ve never been more curious about how different areas of the same place could be so diverse.
Open trails come to tight, raised boardwalks, wetlands with snow-fed waterfalls and rocky cliff faces fall into thick, dark rain forest and then open again to exposed hill trails surrounded by odd, red shrubs. It’s almost like no one could decide what kind of place this would be, so put everything in the same spot. It’s immensely beautiful and shows a side of Australia that I had never suspected to be as amazingly different from what I know and where I’ve been.
Capping it off
Driving back to Launceston was a bit of a challenge after such a big walk. We left not long before the sun went down, but when it did, the true sense of isolation kicked in. The roads were pitch black, the clouds meant there were no stars or moonlight and the trees made sure corners snuck up on you. It was a challenging drive, even more so when you’re exhausted from such a big trek! The good part? There’s no one else around to crash into you anyway!
As soon as we got through the door, we ditched our wet clothes, showered and went straight back out again! All that walking gave us an appetite. So we headed to a restaurant in the middle of town which sources some of the best beef in the country! Nothing is better than amazing food, some good Italian wine and some good company to nail the end of a great day!
If there’s one thing I’ve taken from this trip, it’s that not only is Australia unique within the world for what it has, but there are so many places in Australia itself, unique and different from the rest of the country. It says something, that a person can travel their own country and discover that they knew so little about a particular place they hadn’t been before, so nearby, yet only heard of through others. It’s the same for travel anywhere though, I suppose.
The best way to find out what a place is really like, isn’t to listen to the news, or watch travel shows or even listen to your friends who’ve been there! If you want to understand a place, or its people, then you’ll need to go there. And when you do, and you see it for what it is for yourself, then you’ll not only appreciate that place more, but also your place in the world (And now I’m going to end on a quote, even though I made a rule to NEVER end on a quote… but it seems appropriate).
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes