Van Life, Take 2
– Retired people are our spirit animals. –
Mountains, Marsupials & Monotremes
We enjoyed our 2017 van tour of S. New Zealand so much we wanted to experience a similar longitude by camper van. Tas is slightly smaller than the south island of New Zealand, so we knew we’d have time to do a slow roll around Tas, which is how we like to roll.
P&P’s Top 10 Tassie Shout Outs:
- Tas has the sweetest creatures we’ve ever encountered (aside from Lulu the Corgi). Top 5: Echidna, Wombat, Wallaby, Tasmanian Devil (endangered) and Platypus. The Thylacine tiger (or wolf) was hunted to extinction in the 20th century. It was the largest known carnivorous marsupial. Some claim it’s still alive, but there’s no scientific data to support this.
- Freycinet National Park (Wineglass Bay) and Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park (Cradle Mountain)
- Most tourists are Aussie retirees from the mainland. They bring their camper vans via a 9 hour ferry from Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania.
- Australia has the most beautiful and thoughtfully designed currency. #1. Notes include varied bright colors, sizes and a tactile brail feature for the sight impaired (campaign led by 15-year-old Connor McLeod, who is blind). #2. Material is plastic, a polypropylene polymer with areas that are transparent. #3. Women are featured on the $5 (Queen E. II), $10 (a writer & journalist) and $50 (a social reformer).
- Very safe and kind. No issues with theft, road rage or hooligans.
- Drones are banned from all National Parks.
- No tipping. It’s not expected, ever. As with Asia, including Taiwan, people are paid actual wages and don’t need to survive off tips. This model is superior to the states in so many ways.
- Public, clean, well stocked bathrooms all over the island! Kudos to the Tas government – makes for a comfortable trip.
- Pinot Noirs of Tas are phenomenal (if you love cold region, light and delicate reds): No shortage of happy hours: Tas Beer Trail & Wine Tas guide.
- Golden Crumpets slathered with butter are a must have breakfast for every camper. Available at all supermarkets.
Hobart takeaways: MONA museum, Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (free and the ONLY subantarctic plant house), Jackman & McRoss cafe in Battery Point, Daci & Daci cafe, Stag cafe, Urban Greek restaurant (we loved so much *** FETA*** we ate twice coming and going – call ahead for a res).
Port Arthur Historic Site
Port Arthur & surrounding area takeaways: Port Arthur Historic Site, Cape Huay Trail, Tessellated Pavement (a roadside pit stop sightsee/walk), Fortescue Bay Campground in Tasman Nat. Park (closest to Huay trail head), Taranna Cottages & S/C Vans camp ground (this was a fav, ask to camp in open field in the back).
Freycinet National Park
Freycinet was the next stop on the National Park tour. Freycinet is home of Wine Glass Bay, considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We knew the park would be popular and when we reserved our campsite we didn’t know how crowded the campsites would be. Turns out the campsites are AMAZING (request non-powered which are OK with vans). They were clearly designed by someone who enjoys the outdoors. Quiet, private, no bright lights, clean bathrooms with the basics (cold shower, toilet and sink), path access to the beach and views of the mountains. We loved it so much we stayed two days so we could hike Mt. Amos the next day. $13/night. Highly recommend a camp res. during peek season (we called 1 day in advance).
Freycinet area takeaways: Camp at the Freycinet Nat. Park campground, $13/night, hike Wineglass Bay Lookout (short 1hr hike) then continue on to hike Hazards Bay (take suits for dips in Wineglass or Hazards Bay). This combo hike is a full day and loops back to parking lot. Mt. Amos summit, 4-5 hrs, only possible in bone dry conditions, superior views of Wineglass Bay. If you need a place to camp between the east coast and Launceston: Myrtle Park Camping, a fav., quiet, laundry, hot showers! Ask to camp in open field to left, $10/night AUD.
Bay of Fires
Launy for short. Tasmania’s second largest city, up north, was a nice pit stop to eat some great food and stock up on supplies at Woolworths super market. We found a great campsite called Old Macdonald’s farm tucked on the edge of town. We loved this site so much we came back later in the trip. Launy and Hobart are absolutely beautiful cities in Tasmania – could live in either one in a heartbeat.
V-day at the Nut & 150 km winds
Our drive along the North coast took us through the town of Penguin, named because colonies of fairy penguins nest on the shores. Penguins can be seen in the early morning going out to sea to forage for food and then again when they return at dusk between 9:30-10:30 pm. We spent our evenings on the beach with red headlamps and binocs and saw some dim silhouettes waddle ashore. A real highlight!
There was news of a storm coming to the island so we delayed going into Cradle Nat. Park and instead found a short hike in the NW corner of the island called The Nut.
Happy Valentines Day
Tassie’s wild weather
POST STORM TURBULENCE
Launceston & Northwest area takeaways: Stretch your legs and/or take a dip in the Cataract Gorge Reserve and The First Basin pubic swimming pool. Metered parking lot on site by pool. Check out the Platypus (& Echidna) House on north coast, an up-close and informative learning center of monotremes. If you have the time, hike The Nut (we only went because it was close and the weather wasn’t good enough to head to Cradle Park). Camping: Near Launy, Old MacDonald’s Farm, $10/cash only. On coast, Blue Wren Tea Garden Campsite w/ penguin watching across way. Eats in town: Stillwater (Contemporary Tasmanian Cuisine $$$), Burger Got Soul (great post hike sustenance $).
Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park
After penguin watching and Nut climbing we drove south into Cradle country, but the storm lingered and it was socked-in. Luckily we brought head to toe waterproof gear so not to miss one second of precious outdoor time. Instead of summiting Cradle Mtn. which would have been precarious, we opted for the flat 2-3 hr. hike around Dove Lake.
This park is so big it has two entrances. Cradle Mountain is accessible from the north and Lake St. Clair from the south. There’s no cut-though access. Camper vans aren’t even permitted to enter the park. This cuts down on traffic and pollution so it’s a good thing. The park offers efficient and timely shuttles and all vehicles park at the visitors center.
We camped at the ONLY campsite near the park and the most expensive of the whole trip at $47/night, Discovery Parks – Cradle Mountain (make a res online at least a day ahead). Includes full facilities: hot showers (our second one in 12 days – YAH!), camp kitchen with a fireplace. The grounds are literally across street from visitors center so it’s convenient for getting an early start on all park hiking. TIP: At dusk walk to “Peppers”, the park lodge and look for wombats! They’re everywhere especially along the Enchanted Walk. Bring headlamp for walking on dark park road.
A short 10 minute walk from the campground is Devils at Cradle, a wildlife conservation. It focuses on Tasmania’s three carnivorous marsupials, Tasmanian Devil, Eastern and Spotted – tail Quolls. We highly recommend this stop, $18/pp AUD includes a guided tour. This is NOT a zoo. It’s a legit conservation org that is helping to save the endangered Tas Devil from extinction due to an infectious cancer called facial tumour disease.
Cradle’s North Entrance Park takeaways: Many hikes here, these are what we did: Dove Lake (2 hr. flat loop), the laid back Enchanted Walk at dusk is great place to see wombats, and Cradle Mountain if conditions are good (8 hr. steep hike). Stop by Devils@Cradles, $18/pp AUD to see and learn about Tasmanian devils and quolls, the carnivorous marsupials! From campsite, walk to Peppers Lodge at dusk and keep eyes peeled for wombats along way. Lodge is cozy place to warm up and have a pint by the fireplace. Only place to camp is at Discovery Parks, $47/night AUD (we felt it’s worth it due to location and amenities).
Lake St. Clair
We drove from the north entrance around the West side of Tasmaina to reach the south entrance of the park (no access through the park). Stopping to see a few sights along the way like Iron Blow Lookout and Nelson Falls.
Once at the south entrance
There are no campsites in or near the south entrance of the park, but we noticed a Motel that had a number of camper vans out front. Clue #1! We parked the van in a corner of the parking lot and went inside to have a look-see. While the outside was a bit rundown the inside was cozy and filled with chatting and laughing travelers having a great time around massive fireplaces. The motel offered free parking/camping plus lovely clean bathrooms for all. It’s a clever business model as we more than paid for our parking/camping space in beers. It’s the best launch pad for early access to the park.
Cradle’s South Entrance Park takeaways: It’s a long drive to wrap around from the North to South entrance – roads are narrow and winding. We went via the west side and stopped in Queenstown, a rather uneventful town, but had the best soup, toastie and savory pie at Cafe Serenade. As you’re leaving town, Iron Blow Lookout is worth a 15 minute stop. Very limited camping at the park’s south entrance. Best place in our opinion is the parking lot of the Derwent Hotel. It’s FREE and right outside the park entrance. Enjoy pints and dinner inside. It’s very cozy with fireplace. In park, Shadow Lake Circuit is a flat 4 hr loop hike.
As we made our way back towards Hobart to complete this counter clockwise tour, we were intrigued by Bruny Island known for both it’s wilderness and foodie culture. The ferry departs at Ketttering and takes vehicles so we floated over to explore this small island.
Echidna = trip highlight!
The echidnas are named after Echidna, a creature from Greek mythology who was half-woman, half-snake, as the animal was perceived to have qualities of both mammals and reptiles. These are very timid animals. If endangered they curl up in a ball. We didn’t want to cause them any stress so we kept our distance and used our zoom lens. They’re fascinating animals. There’s nothing like them in the states.
Bruny Island takeaways: Take auto ferry from Kettering. Camping: We camped 2 nights. Night #1 at Jetty Beach $10/night (it’s a LONG drive on a rough dirt road – leave plenty of time to avoid dusk driving), Night #2 at ‘Bruny Island Landscape Supplies‘, a random but good enough spot as there aren’t many options, $6/pp (price seems to vary based on reviews). Hikes: The ‘Neck Lookout‘, a quick run up stairs for good views. Labillardiere Peninsula Circuit, 5 hour loop. Eats: Bruny Island Cheese Company (we ate here twice is was so good). Get Shucked oysters looked good, but didn’t go.
We were in the mood to chase some sun beams as the weather had been a bit overcast on Bruny Island. We decided to drive south to explore Harz National Park because we read there were 360 degree views from the summit. TRUE and it was SUNNY! It’s a 3-5 hr return, 1,254 m. This park is off the beaten path as most flock to Cradle so it’s quiet here. Note: There’s an unsealed and bumpy road for 21 km to get to parking lot. Plan ahead to avoid driving at dusk.
Hartz Nat. Park takeaways: Hartz Mtn. Summit. We loved this hike, but it was only sought out because other parts of Tas were socked in with clouds, phenom 360 degree views and few people here (likely due to the 21k dirt road to access park). Camping: Heritage Park campground in Geeveston is convenient as we didn’t want to drive back to Hobart in the late afternoon (spots in Hobart are slim pickings too). PRIMO PLATYPUS SPOTTING!
Cradle Mountain Take 2
We met a fellow hiker on Bruny Island who mentioned that the weather in Cradle was starting to break so we kept our eyes on our weather apps and the Cradle Mountain webcam. When the weather broke, as predicted, we saw a cloudless cradle from the webcam, it was too much for us to ignore. We had just enough time to drive through central Tas and back to Cradle to tackle the summit. This was the most driving we did on the whole trip and it was worth it as Cradle Mtn. is often socked in. We called and booked a night at that expensive camp ground, Discovery with one leg stretching pit stop at the hop growing Seven Sheds taproom.
Absolutely worth it
Cradle Mtn. is slightly gnarly to summit with lots of rock bouldering and holds to get up and over. Our wedding rings took a beating and at times I wished for a helmet. I’ll admit, I had some flashbacks to the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Hawaii (a hike that made had me think a living will would be a good idea). Definitely do this hike in solid hiking boots and dry conditions. It’s an 8 hr. return hike, steep, no water source (each person should carry at least 2.5 liters). Hike starts out flat and easy at 900 m and climbs to 1,545 m. Recommend catching the first shuttle from the Visitors Center at 8am and start at Ronny Creek. Worry-worting aside, THE VIEWS ARE STUNNING. We hope all who travel here receive a sunny day to summit.
BEFORE & AFTER STORM
See why we just had to return?
WE DID IT!
Hike completed at the Dove Lake entrance (there are a couple options to route back). We then hopped on the park shuttle to the visitors center and bee-lined it to Burgers Got Soul in Launceston for some much needed sustenance and vitamin B(eer).
Some nice to haves/knows for Tas travel (note: this trip occurred Feb. 3-24, 2018):
- The 60 Great Short Walks app/book (book available in Nat. Parks for $5.00). We preferred the book as the app crashed a lot.
- WikiCamps app (camping and caravanning for Australia).
- CamperMate app (camping and caravanning for New Zealand and Australia – we used both as some camp sites are not listed in both apps).
- All weather gear as the weather was the most fickle of all places we’ve traveled (waterproof boots, wool layers, gloves, hat, etc.) and long pants (for bush hiking).
- Vessel(s) to carry at least 2.5 liters of water per person for long 3+ hr. hikes. Conditions are hot and water access limited.
- Sim card available in the airport for $15 AUD, 10 gigs.
- Apple Pay is widely accepted, but carry cash for Nat. Parks and smaller campsites.
- A National Park pass. The most cost effective is the Holiday Pass at $60.00. It covers entry into all of Tas Nat. Parks, your vehicle and up to eight people, up to 8 weeks, and free use of the Cradle Mt. shuttles (no camper vans allowed in North part of the park – shuttles are efficient and run often). Purchase at any Nat. Park or campground. Park Camping & Cabin Fee Info Link
- Binoculars are wonderful for the copious amounts of wildlife
- Plan driving times & stay left, always. Tassie roads are not safe from dusk to sunrise due to the vast amounts of nocturnal animals, unlit, winding and unpainted roads. We’ve never seen so much road kill. 🙁
- Here’s our google Tas map with all campsites, hikes, foods/sights pinned. Enjoy! Map Link
In summary, we’re grateful for the National Parks on this planet, even more so since we live in a dense, metropolitan city. Without these protected areas we’re not sure where we’d collect our sanity. Furthermore, it’s a humbling reminder of how small we humans truly are. Power to the creatures who still have habitat. May we not squeeze more to the brink of extinction.
Get out and frolic in the vastness, dear ones. The stars are bright out there.
Pickles & Passionfruit
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