Among the places we’ve always wanted to say we’ve been, Tasmania, has for years been near the top of the list. Up until this year it’s just been way too far away to even consider – but last weekend we were pleased to discover that “Van Diemen’s Land” is only a simple 90 minute flight from Sydney – although it’s a world away.
The bottom of the world -- what an incredible place! The rugged, remote beauty of Tasmania is simply remarkable. Tasmania is an island off the southern tip of Australia that is about the size of Switzerland, or the state of West Virginia in the US. I don’t know if there is anywhere on earth quite like it. And, while I’m sure there are people who might say it’s like parts of Scottland or Ireland – rugged, green, pastoral – it’s at the same time a completely different place unto itself with some of the most rugged and beautiful coast in the world, and the characteristic red earth of Australia, it’s much larger parent to the north.
Interestingly we visited in mid-February (Happy Birthday Wendy), and although beautiful, it was still colder than you would expect it to be at the end of summer. We drove to the top of Mount Wellington just outside Hobart and it snowed most of the way up and there were probably 3-4 inches of new snow on the ground at the summit (and it was right at about zero degrees), which I can honestly say I’ve never experienced in August in the States. It’s so tropical here in Sydney that it’s easy to forget just how far south Tasmania is. (The capital of Hobart sits at a latitude of about 43 degrees South – which is interestingly just about as far from the equator to the South as Boston is to the North.)
All five of us also had the chance to experience something completely incredible on a three hour eco cruise off the Southern tip of Tasmania. The scenery was absolutely stunning with soaring cliff faces, rock formations towering hundreds of meters above the crashing waves and abundant wildlife including both New Zealand and Australian fur seals (they don’t like each other), majestic albatross, Sea Eagles and dolphins who leapt from the water so close to our speeding boat that you could almost touch them. The true highlight of the adventure was when the relatively small boat turned past the tip of Tasman Island into the great Southern Ocean. With the tip of the boat pointed South there was nothing between us and Antarctica (except for thousands of miles of rolling ocean). And boy did the sea toss us around. Unprotected by land on any side, the waves must have been 20-30 feet high. I thought for sure the boat was going to rattle apart, thankfully it didn't and despite being drenched we made it back in one piece.
Port Arthur, Tasmania also served as a history lesson and reminder of Australia’s roots as a penal colony. In fact Port Arthur was the prison within the penal colony – so the men (and boys as young as nine) housed there were truly the worst of the worst, having proven themselves repeat criminals in a land full of criminals. I’m sure it wasn’t a pleasant place to be a prisoner, but every angle I examined of the geography showed another incredible vista of rolling wooded countryside surrounded by wild and beautiful sea. About 150 years after the prison closed for good, it feels a bit more like summer camp than the site of horrors I’m sure it was.
In all it was an incredible visit. We were only there for three days, and if we had been able to explore more we would have loved to seen the rest of this magnificent island. If you want to see our pictures, some of them are here.
Oh, and one final thought… it goes something like this. We went to Tasmania… it rained… we almost didn’t care it was so incredible.