We have now completed our 18 day Australia holiday, and this is the first trip report I will be posting.
I had posted a question on these forums several weeks ago wondering if three days in Tasmania in August was worthwhile. Everyone agreed that it was - although not enough time to see most of the island. We picked Hobart and Port Arthur, since I love history. In looking back on our trip, I now think our time in Tassie was not just worthwhile, but as enjoyable as any we spent on the mainland (on what was a spectacular trip all around).
We flew into Hobart from Sydney on a Friday night. As an aside, how long do you all think it will be before JetStar starts charging to use the restroom? I never felt like cattle more in my life. Anyway, we got into Tasmania around 8:30pm. Coming from Sydney, where the late July weather was my personal form of perfection (16-19 degrees C, wall to wall sun), the biting 30-40km winds and 8 degrees did not feel too good. We got our bags and car rental and headed on the 15-20 minute trip into town. This was my first driving experience in Australia, although I had driven on the left for a week in Ireland last year. I was a bit nervous, but it was much easier this time than last (in fact, within 2 days I felt entirely comfortable on the left, and within 2 weeks driving on the right was difficult for a bit when we returned). One funny note: In Ireland, although you sit on the right side of the car, the turn signal was still on the left side of the steering wheel, as in the US. In Australia, the wipers are on the left and the turn signal on the right. I cannot tell you how many times I turned on the wipers when trying to turn. It was comical. Now back in the US, I have done the same, having taught myself in Aussie. Funny how quickly one adapts.
With great debate (on these forums), we chose to stay at the Henry Jones Art Hotel (I will post a review of that as soon as a I can). To me, this was the correct decision. Not a 5 star, but 4 star all around. Heated bathroom floors - sublime! And the location was great. Jam Factory for breakfast is also wonderful and affordable.
Saturday morning came and we prepared for the worst of Tassie weather, bundling up in multiple layers, hats, gloves, scarves, etc. Now keep in mind we are wussies from North Carolina, where it's 35 degrees C right now. Although my wife grew up in Michigan, and me NY. Again, adaptation! On to the Salamanca market, Hobart's jewel highlight. We went to several markets in Aussie (Sydney, Melbourne, in between), and while this one is not super big, there was NONE of that cheap crap that exists in almost all the others. Each booth had quality merchandise, and I could have found something I liked at any of them. We bought a couple of great souvenirs, some of the best we got. I'd say only the Sunday market in St Kilda, Melbourne, compared favorably, and this was better. Back to the weather, which was gray, 9 degrees and windy at 9am. By 11am, when we were walking back to the Henry Jones, the sun came out, and we saw (and photographed) one of the most amazing rainbows I have ever seen, full arc, over the city. Wow. From this point on in three days, it only showered once when we were awake (one overnight did have a huge gale, but passed by dawm), was beautifully sunny, and one day even got to 15.
Next up was a tour of the Cascade brewery, which was excellent, although unfortunately for us they don't work Saturdays so it was quiet. But this would be a tremendously worthwhile trip from a beerphile during the week, they take you through the whole works! Stunning building, as well, and great beers, to boot (although I found the First Harvest overrated and overpriced). Another aside while on prices - most in Aussie were reasonable. But why are little bottles (500ml, 16oz) of coke $3? Everywhere, the whole country. Why so much? It's crazy! Even two litres in supermarkets were like $5. They're $1.29 here. That and beer (routinely $8 a pint) were the only things that seemed particularly expensive. Odd.
We finished Saturday touring Moorilla Winery and Meadowbank Estate, while on the way to Richmond. In Richmond we wandered through the amazingly well preserved jail for 30 minutes and admired the old bridge for a bit. An hour in Richmond seems about right, and on the way out we walked around and picked up provisions for a "carpet picnic" back at our hotel that night.
Sunday morning we awoke and wanted to drive up Mt Wellington, but alas it was fogged in (although sunny in Hobart), so we just started our drive to Port Arthur. On the way we walked out to a few of the natural attractions (blow hole, which was nothing compared to the blow hole on the Great Ocean Road), the Arch, which was gorgeous, and the tessellated pavement, which was unique and a short walk from the street. We stopped briefly at Eaglehawk to check out the old dog line (scary!). We made it to Port Arthur Historic site around 1pm. These gave us, to me, plenty of time to walk around and see what we wanted, and take their short harbour cruise. I was saddened (and surprised, had not seen of this) that most of the historic buildings are in ruins due to fires. While the site was still wonderful and 100% worthwhile, I wished they had done more to restore the buildings when they had burned (100 years ago). Probably too late now, but it kind of felt like the old Roman Forum, and that was odd for a two hundred year old site. We took the ghost tour at night which was great fun, and highly recommended. Although I would totally skip their dinner, their Felon's Bistro, which is located in an uninteresting, modern outgrowth of the visitor's center. I thought it would be within an historic building, at least! No atmosphere at all.
On Monday we took a three hour boat trip down to Tasman Island with Tasman Island Cruises. Now had it been 10 degrees C, windy, cloudy/raining, or foggy, this trip would have been somewhat torturous. As it was, it was 10 degrees C and windy, but wall to wall sun. So although it was cold on a fast boat on the water, the scenery was so astonishing that who cared about the cold? Thousand foot sheer cliffs into the water, amazing rock formations, this coast made the Great Ocean Road, for the most part, look misnamed. Wow was this awesome. I have heard New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but this has to be right up there. Better than GOR, as stated, better than Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, better than Big Sur in Cali. Just wow.
One final story. After the cruise we headed back to the airport for our flight to Melbourne (Qantas this time, thankfully). We stopped off to get gas before we returned the rental. One of the striking parts about Aussie in general was how genuinely friendly people were, and we'd been there for a week by now, so I was not surprised when the gas station attendant struck up a conversation. People were always so curious about our trip so far, our plans, etc., and to ask advice about their own plans for a US trip. Anyway, in Aussie everyone seems to have credit cards that are attached to a PIN number, so people don't usually need to sign for things. As an American, with no PIN number, I always had to ask to "sign" when I gave my card. Well, after talking with this guy for a minute, I hand him my card, and he asks me to key in my PIN. I say, "sign," and he looks up and says, "Oh, you're from the States!" I said yes, and he told me how lucky I was to be traveling around the world. I asked what he meant exactly, and he looked right at me and said, "Cause your economy is f-ed, mate!" This just made me totally crack up. No one in the US would ever be so flippant and forthcoming to a stranger, and I just thought it was so welcoming and friendly, not to mention accurate!
So that was it, three wonderful days in a wonderful Aussie state. We will be back some day. If anyone has the chance - regardless of time of year - give Tassie a go, a great experience is to be had.