We flew out of Canberra on Easter Sunday morning and landed in Hobart via Melbourne on Ansett. We booked places with 2 bedrooms and a kitchen (Taz Villas) along the way mostly because they were the only places that had a pool for the children.
We toured the waterfront in Hobart. They have some very old buildings that have been turned into shops called Salamanca. It turned out to be the best place to shop in all of Tasmania. We've heard the Saturday market at Salamanca is terrific. From there we could walk to the oldest residential area called 'The Battery'. The houses had no front yard and the front doors emptied right onto the sidewalk. It is quite a site to see. John kept mentioning it was very 'San Francisco' in its look. But then since Australia is a relatively new country, Hobart would have been built round bout the time San Francisco was. We ate at the Hog's Breath Cafe.
The next morning we headed to the tallest place in the area: Mt. Wellington (4000 ft). It was surprisingly easy and fast to get there (1/2 hr). Once up there we had a great view of the entire area but the gusting winds and cold temperatures kept us from staying too long. One of the suggested towns to visit was Richmond. It was a quaint little town about 20 minutes drive away. It boasts the oldest bridge in Australia, built by convicts (as everything was) in 1823. There we found a tea shop which had Devonshire tea (scones, cream, jam, tea). With bellies full, we walked to the gaol (jail) to see how the McManus family who were sent to Australia might have lived. The town was small enough that the family could walk all the streets without getting tired. That night I wanted to try some sea food so we headed down to the waterfront in Hobart. The restaurants that had been suggested were to fancy for kids and too expensive for us. We followed some sailors from a US ship docked nearby and found a fast food fish place. Upstairs was a more upscale version, no kids meals. We asked if they could accommodate children and they said the kids could order anything off they menu and they'd make it. We had a great meal and a great view. What more could you want? Perhaps a plastic dolphin in your lemonade (Sprite)?
Since the kids and I get up much earlier than John, I took them to the beach across the road. We were staying at the PinesTaz Villa near the airport where there wasn't much development. There were so many shells on the beach we couldn't walk without crushing them. Olivia, Patrick and I filled two buckets (we packed the buckets with lids for just this opportunity) full of great shells. It was low tide so I took them way out and we found some big shells (10 inches long), but as they were still occupied, I put them back. Port Arthur was our destination for the day. You may remember that it was Port Arthur that made the news last April when a crazed gunman killed 35 people at a Cafe within Port Arthur settlement. Since Port Arthur was the site of the largest and most brutal prison in Australia, it made it very eerie to visit it after the modern tragedy last year. (Inmates Chapel) Port Arthur is located on a peninsula south of Hobart. It takes about an hour and a half to drive it. The peninsula is still isolated, not very populated and doesn't have a bank in any of the communities (we found that banks were few and far between). At the toll booth entrance to the settlement was a sign asking all visitors not to mention last years tragedy to any staff member as many lost family members and friends and needed to get on with their lives. If we wanted information as to what had happened, they would give us a information sheet. The tour of Port Arthur was very interesting as many of the stone buildings still stand even though the roofs, floors had windows were burned out in brush fires long ago. We found a McManus listed there but have no idea if he's one of us. There aren't too many places to stay on the peninsula. We stayed a 15 minute drive away in a 'Luxury' motel built (my guess) in the 50ies. I say that because nothing had changed. The furniture and drapes were straight out of the 50ies. The 'luxury' part was how clean it was. There was not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere. AND there was a 9 hole golf course attached to the place. The proprietor warned us that there was only one place in town to eat, and if we wanted to eat there we had to tell her by 4 pm. Since there was a path through the golf course to the restaurant, we thought the proprietor might be in cahoots with the restaurant. It turned out to be another good meal complete with chocolate sundaes for the kids. Also at the restaurant that night was a motorcycle gang, all in leathers. They turned out to be a club of Harley Owners Group (HOGs) who were on vacation. They were the nicest bikers we'd ever seen.
Left Port Arthur for parts north. Patrick started figuring out we were always in the middle of nowhere. Olivia continued to look for hot chocolate as though it were a given. We saw some natural wonders (Devils Kitchen, Tasman Arch, and Blow Hole rock formations) and manmade wonders (Officers' Mess) on our way up the east coast to Bicheno. To get to the wonders we passed through a community where every house was named with a 'doo' in it. We had fun reading all the creative ways to incorporate 'doo' into a name. Bicheno boasts the best weather in Tasmania. It was a beauty of a spot, but what we loved was the place we stayed. It was a community of chalets with a western cowboy theme. They had a canoe on a man made lake, a pool, a ship (ok, not cowboy) for the kids to play in, and a swing. As it was a long drive that day, we decided to just settle in. Since we didn't have any cash (no banks, remember), we had to find a place where we could use our cash card. This turned out to be at the BP petrol station. Here we met our first what HAD to be direct descendent of convict stock. He was grumpy, surly and didn't want to give us cash on top of the purchase of overpriced petrol. But he did. We finally had the cash to buy dinner! We found the perfect place and waited until 6:00 pm (common time for restaurants to open in Tasmania) only to find they were booked full for the night. Excuse me, but how can you be booked full on a Wednesday night in the middle of nowhere? We settled for the local tavern which was also the local gambling establishment so we were warned to keep our children in their seats OR ELSE!
Yet to see a live Tasmanian Devil. The road kill kind (upside down, sharp menacing teeth barred toward the sky, red, red gums) were a dime a dozen. We figured it was time to PAY to see a live one. Bicheno had just the place. It was called a Wild Bird sanctuary, but had many non-flyers as well. We got there early when the owners were chipper. After entering the gate, we saw a baby wombat in a cage. The owner took him out and let us all pet and hold him. Then she got out the possum and stuck in on Olivia's leg and told her to walk around a bit. This pleased Olivia ever so much because she considers herself to be a 'fraidy cat' and thought herself to be quite brave to have a possum on her leg. (Also Patrick chickened out for the first time in his life - something that wasn't lost on Olivia as she recounted the 2 minute experience over and over again to him for the rest of the trip) As we walked around the park, we saw all kinds of birds native to Australia while some were not. There are species of wallabies and kangaroos only found in Tasmania there as well. We splurged for the 50-cent bag of feed so the kids could bond with the kangaroos. We'd learned at Pebbly Beach that kangaroos who are used to being fed by humans can get very aggressive. So we made John hold the brown feed bag. Sure enough the largest male of the group started to jump up on him. This amused the other tourists immensely. We were almost out of the park when Olivia found the Tazzie Devils enclosure. They were all sleeping. I didn't pay all that money for sleeping devils. I took some photos of the sleeping beauties because they sleep on their backs with their feet in the air, just like road kill. We were about to leave when one of the owners announced on a loudspeaker that he was going to get one of the devils out to pet. Pay dirt. These of course were tame devils, but even then, he didn't let anyone else hold a devil.
The park done, we had a long drive to the north coast with a lot of middle of nowhere in between. We saw a lot of sheep, horses and cows on the way. The sleepy little town of Bridport was our destination. We got there in late afternoon to be greeted by gusty cold winds. We were booked into a brand new place. It turned out to be the best accommodation of the trip, and top on the list of places we have ever stayed. Each chalet (they had a round roof-can't call it a chalet, but what then?) was HUGE, had a washer and drier, full new kitchen balcony, you get the idea. It also had a great pool, spa, and gym. Even though we had kitchens in all of our places, I had not offered to cook until I saw this sparkling new kitchen. So off to the market we went only to find that the market suited the quiet little town, not the big fancy place we had booked ourselves into. The only vegetables we could find were onions, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage. We could have found meat, but with the high prices of everything decided to keep it simple and bought frozen pizza. To buy everything to make a proper dinner (had we been able to find ingredients) who have been cost prohibitive. It rained and rained that night, and in the morning we had more cold gusty winds. Good enough, move on.
Looking at the map we saw a place called George Town. Lousy weather, what the heck. It had to be nicer than Bridport. Wrong. It was windier. I didn't want to get out of the car except we passed a discount store called 'Chickenfeed' with a giant picture of a chicken on it. We had seen commercials on one the channels (usually a choice of 3 channels in places we stayed) in the motel. Yes, definitely a locals hangout. Everything you never needed was there. We gave the kids $2 because after all, driving in the middle of nowhere is not always top on kids lists. That was all we needed to see of George Town. Our destination this day was Launceston, the second largest city in Tasmania, sure to have banks and shops. We stayed at the Penny Royal Village. It was yet another theme hotel, this time old Australian military. All the rooms were named, not numbered. We stayed in Lieutenant Hodson. The hotel was an old stone building brought stone by stone from another town. It had windmills and water mills, and a little them park. But to get into that side you had to pay $20 a person. No thanks. Our set of rooms consisted of two bedrooms upstairs and a little sitting room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom downstairs. It was the smallest place we had stayed in that week. There were a few advertisements for wool factories in the tourist stuff so we thought we'd see what these sheep could do besides graze. The factory wasn't too exciting. The guy at the hotel had told us to go to the Launceston city park where there were monkeys in an open 'pit' (like at a zoo), a miniature train ride ($1) around and through the park, and a play area. Something unexpected but just the thing the kids needed. The cataract gorge also sounded like an adventure. After driving through the old hilly part of town we found the entrance to the park surrounding the gorge. As in the rest of Tasmania, the locals have a way of enhancing their surroundings to make things more interesting. At this place there were more than 20 peacocks running around an award winning restaurant. A chair lift could take you from one side of the gorge (it wasn't the deep part of the gorge) to the other or you could walk a path. There was a great playground for the kids and a pool on the other side. The information kiosk said that this area was magical for all who lived in Launceston because it was where families had picnics, had adventures on the trails, couples fell in love, etc. John wanted to pass on the chair lift, but Patrick talked him into it. And glad we were that he did because it turned out to be a simple ($5 per adult $3 per child) pleasure that made the park special. (Olivia) That night we looked and looked for a restaurant but for some reason couldn't find the right spot. This is the first time we were stumped. The last time we had seen a McDonald's was in Hobart, and we were trying to avoid the urge to go to McDonald's. But we were hungry and we knew the kids would be delighted so we succumbed. It turned out to be the nicest McDonald's we have ever been to. It looked just like a regular McDonald's with a play structure outside. The difference was in the service. The employees cleaned the bathrooms twice in our 45 minute stay. They brought refills of coffee and tea to the tables. They brought Easter treats to the kids at the tables. McDonald's in Tasmania must be a treat, not a given.
We woke up to find about a dozen black worms crawling up the walls of our old stone hotel. The hallway outside the room was made of concrete and had dozens more worms. This motivated me to get packed up and see what other sites Launceston had to offer. Our first stop was to Yorktown markets in the centre of town. It had a few upscale stores and some eateries. There were a few stalls in the middle of the square selling veggies and jams. Nothing spectacular so we headed off to the little village of Evanston 20 minutes outside of town and right past the airport. Evanston turned out to be a bust. I had expected it to be more like Richmond, the town near Hobart. It wasn't. Our plane didn't take off until 5:30 and we were touristed out. We drove back into town, had lunch at Yorktown square, walked to Launceston City Park, and John watched the kids while I looked for the definitive stuffed Tasmanian Devils. I went to every tourist shop along Brunswick Street (of which there were many), and became intimately aware of all the differences of the devils. The ones made in and by Australians were much more authentic but cost $20 for a little one. The cheapest were $5 and made in China. Since I had to buy 2, I settled on the ones that were $8, made in China and didn't have teeth sticking out. Of course that's the first thing Patrick complained about-he wanted the mean looking one. I told him since the one we got to pet wasn't mean, I wanted him to remember that one. Whew, I think he bought it. We got to the airport early, the plane was late. Only a 20-minute delay and we were heading home, via Sydney this time. We took a cab ride home with a very friendly driver who explained in a subtle way that since his wife was due to have a baby that day and he was buying a house for the first time, that it would be ok to tip him. We were glad to be home.