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Tasmania
Nick Richards discovers a world apart


Just an hour Melbourne, but a world away from the hustle and bustle of Australian city life.
Along with taking the mickey out of the English cricket team, almost every Australian I had spoken to on the mainland had made my week in Tasmania to be akin to visiting the sort of remote backwater that had been forgotten by the hand of time.
People talked of Tasmania’s wilderness and beauty but would also laden those same sentences with such words as ‘backwards’ and ‘primitive’’. Few Australians ever get over to the small island for it is often derided as a place where not much ever happens. Although this was certainly mere light-hearted japery from the cheeky Aussies, it was with some intrepidation that I decided to see if they were right.

Tucked down to the bottom right of Australia, Tasmania is quite different to anything else Down Under. Its about the same size as Ireland and, like the Emerald Isle, it bares the brunt of as many jokes from its near neighbours. Ireland and Tasmania also share delightful capitals - Hobart, in the south of the island is as cozy and ramshackle as Dublin.
Many visitors, notably naturalist David Bellamy, have fallen in love with Tasmania’s capital, and as one of only two arrival points (the other being Devonport if you go by ferry) it seemed like a great place to start. By day, Hobart feels like a large sleepy fishing village, but boy is the fish tasty! Most of the fish and chip outlets on the harbour are actually boats and how you order your fish depends on the time of day. When the tide is out, the service counter is usually below foot level and I found myself ordering my dinner from the quayside on my hands and knees. When the tide is in however, you need to climb the steps to stand any chance of getting your fish from the hatch.

This little Tasmanian idiosyncrasy came to typify the island for me – why bother with shops when you can use a boat – and why bother serving fish at ground level when you can give your customers a challenge to get their fish!
It’s worth the effort - especially for the moist, flaky bream, served lightly battered and fresh from the nearby sea, and I got the feeling fish had probably been served this way for decades.

By night and at the weekend, the area around Salamanca Place is buzzing with bars and cafes. This is the trendy side of Hobart where artists and students congregate particularly on each Saturday when the whole area is taken over by a huge market here with loads of books, records, photographs, pictures and more fish for sale.
Salamanca Place is a world away from the Tasmanian stereotype for it has a cultured Beatnik air – coffee shops which share their space with hundreds of books, people reading poetry, art galleries with pictures for sale and street artists. There are plenty of day tours available from Hobart and also plenty of chances to hire a car and venture off on your own.

In a week I saw almost the entire island and there’s no need to hire a four-wheel drive car as the roads outside Hobart make for enjoyable driving. The area surrounding Hobart is full of lush green mountains with the pick of the bunch being Mount Wellington. It towers over Hobart like a protective parent and offers the best view of Tasmania’s capital. The road to the top is long and winding, but gradually the stunning view reveals itself. At the top, the entire city of Hobart surrounded by mountains is visible, as well as the mouth of the River Derwent, which flows out into the Pacific.
Just outside the capital is Bonorong Wildlife Park, which is home to all the famous Australian animals and, traveling by car, I headed east to check out some true Aussie wildlife.

My favourites were koalas, which are about the size of a two-year-old baby and have a thick wiry fur. It’s actually against Australian law to hold a Koala, but that’s by no means a problem – they have big claws and they make some rather interesting noises that didn’t really encourage any kind of passionate embrace on my part!
Stroking a koala in Tasmania was, for me, just about as Australian as things get – it was a world away from the bright lights of Sydney or Melbourne but it stood for everything the island is: peaceful and idyllic.

Tasmanian Devils are equally as cute, but again, I was wise to keep my distance. The park warden reminded us that, although only a foot long, they have a strong bite, which, for their size, is equivalent to that of a shark. As I watched the Devil grind his way through the leg of a rabbit, I could quite believe that.

Wildlife parks are great places to look closely at all the famous Australian animals and the park at Bonorong also has emus, kookaburras, possums and echidnas. But to experience some of these animals in their natural habitat, I spent a couple of days exploring Freycinet National Park while staying in one of the park’s two youth hostels.
Follow the road up to Bicheno and the beautiful bays are everywhere, each one looking like the most unspoilt and unique part of Australia. The beauty seems to peak at Freycinet with baby wallabies roaming around the car park and plenty of walks into the unknown just waiting to be tackled by eager hikers. The Freycinet National Park is the eastern-most part of Tasmania and the peninsula hangs down on the right hand side of the island.

The park has several walk routes, varying in length from 10 minutes to five hours. Most of them lead upwards along bush tracks and all have spectacular views. I walked the one-and-a-half hours to Wineglass Bay for the famous lookout view of the choppy Tasman Sea meeting the bay’s glorious white sand. On the way, it’s possible to get up close to the sort of creatures you would normally only see on a TV documentary.

I saw small nectar-feeding birds such as honeyeaters and spinebills and there we re large yellow-tailed black cockatoos flying in groups as I made my ascent. The wildlife is a particular plus point in Tasmania and like the locals, responds well to being treated with courtesy.

As I drove back through the picturesque Great Lakes towards Hobart, I had the chance to sudden chance to test the view of many Australians and see just how unfriendly the locals really were.
My car broke down as we drove through a small village, and before thoughts turned to anything people on the mainland told me, the friendliest Tasmanian couple you could ever came to my help with some spare engine oil. Whether I would have had the same help on the mainland is open to question, but there is no doubt that Tasmania has a much different feel to anything on the mainland.
This is a very positive thing so don’t let any Australian tell you otherwise!

© Nick Richards
nickrichards52@hotmail.com

DEATH IN VENICE Redux
Nick Richards retraces Aschenbach's steps at The Lido

More World Journeys in Hacktreks

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