When we booked flights around Australia, they were all with Virgin Australia and as a result our flying process had been smooth so far. Turning up at Melbourne for a Jetstar flight, we were slightly more apprehensive. To put this into a British context, Jetstar is the equivalent of the worst bits of Ryanair (bad legroom and service) and EasyJet (delays and hideous orange logos) put together.
Unbelievably, our flight was actually on time!
I’m just kidding. Of course it wasn’t. It was delayed by 2 and a half hours. Which annoyingly mean the flight scheduled one hour after ours would land earlier.
We arrived into Hobart late as a result and jumped on an airport shuttle to our hostel, quickly slipping into a budget-airline induced sleep. The next morning came and we were on the move again, picking up another Hyundai Accent (this time a nifty electric blue hatchback) from Bargain Car Rentals.
Our first stop was the historical town of Richmond, which was famous for having the oldest bridge in Australia. Despite the inherent dullness of this fact, Richmond turned out to be a charming little place which was effectively a copy and paste of a town from Oxfordshire to rural Tasmania. Due to the author of this blog being a complete childish nerd at heart, we also visited a model village of Hobart (Tasmania’s capital city) as it was when the island was first settled by British colonists. I absolutely loved this and could talk about it for hours, but in recognition of the fact that only 0.5% of the worlds population would find this interesting, and the fact that they’re all currently in sheds tinkering, I won’t. Instead I’ll limit myself to a picture:
With me still wishing I could shrink myself and go and live amongst the model village, we headed on to our next stop of Wineglass Bay. Frequent readers of this blog will no longer be surprised to learn that this is a Bay shaped like a Wineglass.
Well, we think it is. We never actually made it to Wineglass Bay. The Tasmanian National Park authority decided that it would be reasonable to charge $24 per vehicle and an additional $12 per person to see Wineglass Bay.
I know I’m coming across as tight here, and that’s because I am, but frankly we’ve seen some of the best beaches in the world for free on this trip. $50 for another one seemed ridiculous. Instead we found a very lovely beach for free and enjoyed that. It was called Binnalong Bay and it was excellent.
I am of course talking to the National Parks people here. I’m not suggesting anyone reading this is to blame. I’m certain of it – only two people read this blog and they’ve been busy raising me for 22 years.
Beach and greenery completed for the day, we headed on to our hostel in Bicheno (I’ve no idea how to pronounce that either). Arriving at our hostel, we got chatting to a girl from Germany and spent the rest of the evening discussing all the usual backpacker things; where did you come from? Where did you go? Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?
She didn’t take too kindly to being called Cotton Eye and we retired to bed. This hostel turned out to be one of our favourites in Australia, with a ski chalet style decor – wooden beds built into the wall with their own curtains and a kitchen with a stunning view over the bay. We were liking Tasmania already.
The next morning we woke up ready to explore some more, starting with the Bay of Fires in Tasmania’s north eastern corner. Shocked, compared to previous naming tendencies, to find a complete absence of any fire, we enjoyed the spectacular views for a good while and then continued on.
Our next stop had been recommended by our German friend and was a waterfall about an hours drive off the main road. After some unbelievable scenery, which was reminiscent of the Lake District on steroids in the sun, we arrived and trekked down to the waterfall. We were expecting a minor trickle, and were stunned when a waterfall the size of Mount Everest (okay I may be exaggerating) roared from around the corner. It was spectacular. With waterfalls, as with life, low expectations lead to pleasant surprises. I’m not sure that’s a phrase, but it is now.
We spent the next 3 hours driving through some more spectacular scenery, along winding roads, through valleys, mountains and everything in between. It was basically like being in the Lord of the Rings. As our navigator, and being taller than all the other members or in this case, member of the trip, I was in many ways Gandalf.
Anyway, we arrived in
The Shire Launceston happy and healthy. Checking in, we discovered that our room absoloutely reeked of sweat and dead animals (I’m assuming that’s what it was, in any case it was putrid and horrendous). It was so bad, that we actually struggled to fall asleep as it burnt our nostrils to cinders. In the morning, we quickly requested any other room, even if it meant sleeping in the car park.
Luckily we were moved upstairs to a different world of empty, clean dorms and spotless bathrooms. At this point I also discovered we’d been undercharged for our stay. Suddenly the tide was turning.
Buoyed by this set of events we then headed out for the day with the German girl we had met earlier (we never really offended her, if you were wondering. That’s called sarcasm, and no it’s not the lowest form of wit). Our first attempted stop was Liffey Falls. I say attempted because halfway up the gravel track at a 45 degree incline it became apparent we weren’t going to make it to this particular destination. I don’t think Hyundai built their Accents for this kind of thing. The poor cars probably only run around Hobart city centre before, and here we were giving it the automotive equivalent of Chinese water torture. We reluctantly turned away to find alternative entertainment, apologising to the Hyundai all the way down the gravel track hill we’d just brought it up.
We decided on a woodland walk which took us through forests and streams, in a very English countryside fashion. Halfway round we found ourselves at a river which was picture perfect. That might sound good, but we hadn’t brought the camera so it was a bit of a nightmare really. (I’m not even making that up for a joke). Aside from me dropping the German girl’s water bottle into the torrent and having to run halfway along the stream to rescue it, it was idyllic.
Our final stop of the day was the Tamar Valley Wetlands Walk. As we headed over it was pouring it down but cleared up just in time for us to reach the Walk. Now, doing a Wetlands walk after heavy rain – we really should have seen the issues coming, but it had been a long day. Looking back, we should have foreseen that half the walkway would be washed out, especially as most of it was literally wooden planks sitting on top of Hobart’s main river. We really shouldn’t have tried to cross it either. We left with wet feet and dented pride, but despite this we’d had a great day with our German friend and after watching a movie together in the evening, headed to bed happy.
Now. You may have noticed that I haven’t referred to this German girl by name yet. There is a rather good reason for this. She’s called Fridwulfa and I thought you’d all laugh.
I’m kidding. For all I know that might be true, but she never told us her name. Not once. After 3 hours it had become too awkward for us to ask too, so a full day passed. I still have her written down in my blog notes as ‘German girl from Bavaria’. We shared a full day together. She was in our car. We counselled her over her recent breakup. We know the decor of her flat. All this, and I still have no idea what on Earth her parents chose to call her. There you are. That’s travelling, and she will forever be Fridwulfa to me.
Anyway, departing from our nameless ally the next day we returned to Hobart. Our next destination for our final day in Tasmania was Port Arthur and we set off the next morning with our history nerdiness in overdrive.
Port Arthur is a very dark and yet intriguing place. It originated when Tasmania was a colony of the British empire and at first was used to produce wood for the ships of the empire due to the high concentration of excellent shipbuilding trees.
Just to clarify, the wood from the trees in the area was high quality, there weren’t 40ft Oaks and Pines skilfully constructing hulls, bows and masts on Tasmania’s south coast.
Anyway, Port Arthur was soon transformed into the prison at the end of the earth. Now, we in England sent plenty of convicts to Australia. But the only way to end up in Port Arthur, which was fast gaining a reputation as the worst place to be in a pretty horrendous place overall, was to re-offend again in Australia. As a result, it expanded into a prison camp with the worst of England’s worst holed up there, where they couldn’t escape due to the narrow isthmus at one end which was easily patrolled, and the great big bloody sea leading to Antarctica at the other.
A very fascinating walking tour of the site and an equally interesting boat ride around the harbour gave us more facts and stories about the place than you could shake a stick at.
My favourite was the convict who tried to escape the prison, making it as far as the narrow spit of land mentioned above. Seeing two soldiers patrolling it, he displayed some fantastic ingenuity which led to me only holding admiration for the bloke who was probably an evil arse. He found a dead kangaroo, skinned it and put the skin over himself. He then started hopping towards the guards. Genius.
So you’d have thought. Unfortunately, the diet of the guards at this point was pretty much gruel for breakfast, followed by gruel sandwiches (no bread) for lunch and gruel casserole for tea. The two guards stationed couldn’t resist the prospect of real meat and began shooting at the hopping kangaroo. At this point the convict threw off the kangaroo skin and gave himself in, bringing an end to his dreams of skipping town and leaving him hopping mad. (Forgive the pun. Or don’t, I’ll still be making them).
The other equally sad legacy of Port Arthur is Australia’s gun control laws, which were brought into force by John Howard after a lone gunman massacred 37 tourists at the site in 1998 on a busy day. I mention this for two reasons; firstly that it doesn’t seem appropriate to leave it out, and secondly that some conspiracists believe this was deliberately organised by the Australian Government to bring about their gun control agenda. Anyone who believes that to be true, in my opinion, can go and join the 9/11 conspiracists in the ‘Arsewipe Plonker’ section of the world and continue to mutter about how we’re really being run by a race of hyper-intelligent lizards.
Rant over, (sorry, there’s a lot of Donald Trump related frustration in that one) and visit over, we left Port Arthur feeling intrigued but also sobered by our experience. However, it has to be said that it had proved to be much like Tasmania itself in delivering well over the odds in every respect. The whole island feels like a much less touristic version of Australia itself, higher in quality with the best bits of England, Australia and New Zealand combined. It has history, greenery, beachery and likeability all over it and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
We departed early on the next morning for a shockingly on time JetStar flight (though it was the first flight of the day, so they’d have had to actually not turn up to work to be delayed – a worrying possibility in this case) and arrived in Melbourne looking forward to 3 days of relaxation.
Whilst we were in Tassy, inhaling noxious gases in our awful room in Launceston, we had both decided that we needed a little bit of luxury in our lives. We’d shared too many rooms, queued for too many showers and washed up too many things before using them over the last few months.
We already had a hostel booked in St Kilda on Booking.com at $185 for three nights, so we went looking with a price range of anything cheapish. Katie, in miraculous fashion, found a hotel about 15 minutes from both the CBD and St Kilda for $180 for three nights. It was another turning point in our luck and as we headed there on the 21st of December I’m not ashamed to say it seemed like a Christmas miracle.
This rang even more true when we walked into a sleek and shiny lobby, with a swimming pool and jacuzzi out the back and a huge room with our own bathroom and the joys of free tea, coffee and toiletries. I could have cried.
We spent the next two days mostly enjoying lie ins and nice showers, exploring the area around our hotel and having a fantastic curry as a Christmas treat. It doesn’t make for great blogging but boy was it fun.
On our last full day in Melbourne we went to explore St Kilda, stumbling across a lake with a perfect view of the Melbourne skyline on our way.
We returned to St Kilda in the evening to see the Fairy Penguins which come onto the rocks at the end of the jetty at night. It more than made up for the fact we hadn’t seen any Tasmanian Devils the week before and left Katie in a penguin-induced buoyant mood.
The next day was Christmas Eve and we would be flying back to Sydney. It was time for friends, family, beaches and some of the oddest and most memorable days of my life to come.
Alex Odlin would like to stress that our German friend was very nice and probably not called Fridwulfa. Probably. If you would like email updates on when his blog is posted, because lets face it his social media presence really isn’t big enough, hit the follow button in the right hand corner. They’re always funny, in a sad way.
NEXT TIME ON
CORONATION STREET, SORRY, THIS SILLY BLOG:
“The games then, inevitably after a few beers, descended into competitive farce and ended up with two teams claiming victory and one team drawing rude phallic symbols on their answer paper. And that kids, is the true spirit of Christmas.”