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After our wonderful first week in Tasmania, we met up with my parents and my aunt on the Tasman Peninsula. Our last few stops on our roadtrip around Tasmania were Fortescue Bay, Port Arthur, Hobart, Mt Wellington and the Mole Creek Caves.
Fortescue Bay, Tasman Peninsula
We had mostly been staying in caravan parks and I was looking forward to “real” camping in the National Park. To get to our camp site at Fortescue Bay we had to meander down a rough dirt logging road for quite some time, but it was worth it once we set up camp. The camp sites are located right near a beautiful beach and is a jumping off point for hikers doing multi-day hikes. With rain in the forecast, we made the most of our first day in the sun with a hike to Canoe Bay. The turquoise water was spectacular and for me the best part was seeing an echidna up close. Before we moved here I had no clue what these animals are. They are one of the cutest little things and my personal Aussie favourite – a small porcupine like creature with a cute pointy nose and their feet face backwards.
There were wallabies all over the campsite and by the end of our time there, the kids were feeding them branches. Having my Dad and his guitar around inspired Ella to bring out her guitar and it is always great to see them playing together. We had campfires nightly and met some lovely people at the campsite.
We visited EagleHawk Neck, a skinny piece of land that in the penal days contained a dog line of menacing beasts to keep the inhabitants of the Port Arthur Convict Site from crossing. We visited some of the geological wonders of the Peninsula including the Tesselated Pavement, which looks like poured cobblestone pavement, but was in fact created naturally by the sea.
We also visited the Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen and the blowhole.
Unfortunately the rain that was in the forecast came fast and furious one night and the next day and so after having the kids couped up in the trailer and tent all morning, we were looking for some warmth and something to do.
This was a place I was really looking forward to visiting as a place to teach the kids about Australia’s history. Port Arthur is the best preserved convict site in Australia and was actually a penal colony for the penal colony. Before we started exploring we enjoyed warming ourselves in the canteen and escaping the rain. A family pass was $90, which included up to 6 children; usually we have to pay extra because we do not fit the 2 child mold. The entrance includes a 40 minute introductory tour, a 25 minute boat cruise and entrance to the vast complex of buildings and ruins. You can also add on a tour of the Isle of the Dead (final resting place of 1000+ convicts and officers) and/or Point Puer Boys’ Prison, where children as young as 9 were imprisoned in the mid 1800s. It was still raining, but our kids were great as they listened attentively to our guide’s description of the site. The kids are aware of Australia’s penal history and while in Freemantle, Western Australia we toured Freemantle Prison and the original Gaol. The site does a wonderful job of showcasing the history and explaining the various buildings and exhibits and I could have spent hours reading the stories of the men that spent time there. The kids especially enjoyed hearing about the escape attempts.
Port Arthur is a fascinating place due to its historical significance not just from the convict era, but in more recent times as well. I was familiar with Australia’s gun control history and the fact that after one brutal massacre the government took extreme action to change the gun laws to prohibit semi-automatic weapons. What I hadn’t realized was that, that massacre in 1996 had happened at Port Arthur as visitors toured the site. Thirty-five people lost their lives and the Australian public were horrified. Twenty years on and the government’s action has proven successful with a decline in mass shootings and firearm deaths. While not wanting to weigh into other country’s’ politics, I would think the US could learn a lot from this case study.
Next up we visited the largest city in Tasmania, Hobart. Before moving over here, I had only heard of Hobart in the context of the famous Syndey to Hobart sailing race. We absolutely loved Hobart and it is definitely somewhere I could see myself living. It is a large enough city to offer great cultural events, but it also feels down-to-earth. We made sure our visit coincided with the famous Salamanca Markets and were so glad we did. The markets are a food lover’s gem with beautiful fresh produce, local honey, preserves, oils, spirits and many food trucks and stalls to tempt you. The market also offers unique handcrafted goodies from wood carvings to merino socks to handmade clothes. We had no problem emptying our wallets and returned with loads of edible souvenirs, my favourite.
Hobart is famous for being home to MONA, the Museum of Old & New. It is a privately funded museum that the owner describes as “subversive adult Disneyland” and for many, it is the highlight of their time in Hobart. Since we had kids with us and since we aren’t that great at appreciating modern art anyway, we skipped it. We did spend a day wandering the lovely waterfront, ducking into the cute shops and visited Mawson’s Hut Replica Museum. We were familiar with Shackleton’s trips to Antaractica, but had never heard of famed Australian, Sir Douglas Mawson who explored Antaractica in an expedition from 1911-1914. In Hobart they have recreated exactly the hut that they build and lived and worked in at Cape Denison, Antaractica. This was another great educational opportunity for the kids to learn more about Antarctica, the polar explorers, and their scientific work.
Another activity we really enjoyed in Hobart was driving up to Mount Wellington. Mt. Wellington rises up over the city of Hobart and cloaks the city often in mist. You can drive to the summit along a narrow sealed road; in fact cycling up the mountain seemed to be a popular activity (I am not sure why!). The views from the top are spectacular looking out over the city and the bays and beaches nearby. Being 4000 ft above sea level, it gets quite chilly at the top and even snow in summer is not unheard of.
We took advantage of having babysitters with us and Paul and I escaped into the city one evening for a dinner out at the lovely Hearth. We stayed at the Discovery Park Hobart and while they were really nice and I am sure the cabins are lovely, it wasn’t a great place for trailers or tents. It is right beside a busy highway, which is quite loud and the tent sites are mostly in a very hilly area.
Mole Creek Caves
Since we were going home on the night ferry back to Melbourne, we had the whole day to drive the 280 km back to the north of the island. We stopped for lunch at the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm & Cafe, which is a tourist hot spot, but for good reason. The food was quite good (a little pricey) and the atmosphere sitting in the gardens is quite pleasant. Don’t forget to try the chocolate dipped raspberry samples!
We had heard good things about the cave tours around Mole Creek and we were so glad that we visited here. The caves are impressive and we enjoyed another geology lesson with the kids. The highlight for them was seeing the glow worms, which aren’t actually worms, but glowing fly larvae (doesn’t sound quite as good). The 50 minute cave tour cost $47.50 for a family (with 3 kids!) and there are a few caves you can visit. We toured the Marakoopa Cave. The temperature in the caves is 9 degrees year round so it was nice to emerge into the warmth at the end of the tour.
The walk up to the cave entrance is a lovely walk along a creek with lush vegetation and the kids had a blast climbing the fallen logs. Apparently you can often see platypus at Mole Creek Caravan Park; we stopped in but didn’t see a platypus:(
So herein ends our wonderful trip to Tasmania. Well really it ended with our rear windshield being broken in a car wash, but we will pretend that didn’t actually happen. (Except we are still waiting to have it repaired!)
We are so glad we chose Tassie for our January holiday. It really is a special place and we feel very fortunate to have seen a lot in our time there.
Once we were home in Melbourne, we saw the film Lion. It is an incredibly powerful film about a boy from India that becomes lost and is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. The film is set in Hobart, Melbourne and India, which made the film that much more interesting for us. I strongly recommend it!