Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tasmania - Travel Notes

Based on our friends' comments about their recent trip to Tasmania to hike and see wildlife, we decided to go there 12 days. Our recent routine has been to identify where we want to go (country or region), search the web for a domestic travel agent, and ask for proposal. We request budget accommodations (usually ** or ***) and a tour that covers wildlife, historic sites, and any scheduled musical or dance performances. We specify that we don't want any animal rides. Tasmania is not South Asia and booking through a travel agency would have cost a small fortune.

Accommodations: Tasmania is a state/island crammed with small towns and national parks. We contacted a travel agent to arrange our accommodations. We stayed in self contained units - kitchen/sitting area, two bedrooms (one with a double bed and the other with two bunk beds), and bathroom. All the units were clean and relatively well equipped. The knives were usually dull. We stayed at Discovery Holiday Parks in Strahan, Cradle Mountain, Launceston. and Coles Bay (Big4 Iluka on Feychinet Holiday Park) and in Stanley at Seaview Inn. All the holiday parks had self contained units, sites for tents and campers. They were surprisingly quiet and private. At Cradle Mountain we saw wallabies and at Launceston and Coles Bay parrots. We particularly liked Seaview in Stanley with its good view, better kitchen, and speedy Internet!

The picture below from Coles Bay suggests the layout of the Holiday Park facilities with its self contained units and trees. All had laundries and barbecue areas. Over all, the parks were a well maintained campground.

For our non-hiking portion of the trip we stayed at an airbnb between Port Arthur and Holbart. The location and b&b suited us. We recommend selecting a place based on host's write up and guests comments. No place is perfect for everyone. We were happy with our choices - although an entire vacation of interacting with hosts might have worn us out.

Sunset at Primrose Sands (location of our airbnb)

What we did: On driving days we seldom took hikes (the only exception was Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain). After checking our first stop was the local travel and information centre. Typically, they were well stocked with free brochures, but the best resource was their staff.

We would tell the staff what type of walk we were looking for (6-8 km) and they would make recommendations and give us basic trail maps. Undoubtedly they make the same recommendation over and over, but we would never know it. They were consistently friendly and engaged. They were a good source for restaurant recommendations and knowing the local IGA's hours (they close early).

Our "Bible" was the 60 Great Short Walks in Tasmania, available at information offices and on-line. For the most part the trails were well marked, and the signs gave estimated times to the end of the trail. We came in consistently slower than the time estimates, but we expected that when we started. We found that the time estimates in the Blue Mountains were closer to fiction, but that may have been due to poor signage.

In Port Arthur we only went to the historic site. I had thought that we would have time to go to the Tasmania Devil Conservation Park, but we didn't. At site overlooking Port Arthur information signs told about facial tumor disease that threatens to wipe out the devil population.

Overlooking Port Arthur

A place for everyone at

the market

In Hobart we stopped at the Cascade Brewery, but decide to skip its tour.   The brewery tour was AUD 25 with a sampling of beer.  Its cafe was crowded; apparently the brewery is a popular weekend site. We did go to Hobart's other must-do activity - the Saturday Market. It was worth the hype. Broad rows with stalls selling a bit of everything: snacks, whiskey (with tasting), honey, leather goods (Doug bought a belt), and so on. Also, a fair number of buskers with limited talent. 

We arrived at the market around 10 and left a few hours later went to the Female Factory which left us little time to explore the town and its other activities.

Buying apples

Hard to resist, but probably not meant for a cold climate

I think that they have been doing this a long time

(and probably not making a lot of money)

Cascade Brewery

Food: To manage our budget and preserve our waistline we prepared most of our meals. We brought an insulated bag, which allowed us to stock up when we found a large grocery store (Launceston and Burnie). We forgot to bring spices, but most of the stores sold Indian and Asian spices that could be added to chicken. They weren't bad and Tabasco sauce helped if something was dull. The one airbnb place fed us - and we were spoiled with excellent home cooking. Stanley, Cradle Mountain, and Coles Bay had the smallest stores with limited selections. Our best meal out was the oysters and mussels at Freycinet Marine Farm.

Telecommunications: At the Melbourne Airport I purchased my mobile service at the most convenient the International Terminal.  I was told the by the service provider that they covered 97.7% of Tasmania ("It's part of Australia you know").  But Tasmania has a small population mostly in small communities and a couple of urban areas.  So most of Tasmania was not covered.  Telstra is the major mobile carrier and has the most coverage in Tasmania, but that is no guarantee.  Internet service was slow and not widely distributed.  Many towns have libraries and free internet may be available, but not wifi.  We did not visit the "American Consulates" better known as McDonalds to see if they had wifi.  We also skipped Starbucks.

National Parks: Over 40% of Tasmania is covered by National Parks.  It is possible to purchase a two month parks pass for AUD 80.  If you are traveling by car and have two or more people it can be a cost saving purchase.  It does not apply to some of the historic parks.  Best value was the Port Arthur park fee.  But remember in Australia...nothing seems to be free and bargains for few and far between.

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