Taking on Taz – Part 1: Nature vs. Blisters

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Taking on Taz

Sitting at my Melbourne desk whilst drowning in essays, I remember escaping to google images to find release in my prospective travels. But, alas, beyond the utopian beaches upon my screen I was forced to confront the constraints of Real Life.

Without the time or money to travel around Western Australia or Northern Territory, I finally narrowed down my options to holiday-favourite Queensland, or the somewhat underdog destination that is Tasmania. The tropical weather, endless beaches, and wild parties of the former seemed to make the decision a no-brainer. Yet amongst my Tasmanian housemates, I heard whispers of amazing hikes, haunted penitentiaries, and hyper-contemporary art museums. It was too tempting to pass up. I could not help but wonder if I would regret taking the less mainstream option, if Tasmania would prove far less fascinating than it did in my mind.

Yet looking back, aside from a spell of terrible weather, spending two weeks in Tasmania was the best decision I could have made. It was a sanctuary of wildlife and beauty, so much so that before I knew it, I had jumped on the Instagram bandwagon, never to look back.

In terms of travel, the flight from Melbourne to Launceston was perhaps the shortest I´ve ever taken. In no time at all I was on a Scottish-lookalike landscape, with clouds of all colour and character. Upon landing, my Tasmanian friend guided me in a ten-minute walk from the city into the lush Launceston gorge that was not only gorgeous but featured the longest chairlift in the world, a very old-timey bridge, and swarms of peacocks in heat (peacocks cocky enough to block our path in favour of some bird-on-bird action!). There was also a surprising amount of things to do in Launceston, ranging from swimming (of both pool and gorge variety), to back in the city where there were quaint Victorian parks which housed surprising chimps in small zoos, and quiet, unassuming fountains.

In and around the capital, Hobart, more impressive but perhaps less quirky surprises were in store. A short bus ride from the city left me on Mt Wellington, the mistiest, piniest mountain this side of Oz. My hiking trail (courtesy of Lonely Planet Walks) was definitely more complex than the described medium-to-easy five hour walk, because (surprise!) it was entirely uphill and a bit of a slippery nightmare. I recommend, perhaps obviously, proper soles and layers to wear at the top, to ease what was a somewhat painful hike. However, the views of Hobart Bay from the top are spectacular. Blisters come and go but the memory of the waters shining under a sea of clouds is here to stay.

A ten minute drive from Hobart to the sleepy town of Kettering takes one to a ferry that is FREE for walkers and bikers to the overlooked Bruny Island. My Hobart friend and I chose to take a car as our time was scarce, and so we joked about doing ‘Blockies’ on Bruny, a trashy Tassie custom of driving around city blocks for fun. Amidst such gaiety we managed to do some easy hiking and came across a multitude of wallabies, only to reach the ocean and find the floor littered with a thousand starfish. “Surprise!” yelled Nature, once again.

An hour and a half drive from Hobart took us to Tahune ‘Treetop Airwalk’ in which we walked two-hundred feet above the ground in a canopy of redwood look-alikes. The view from the top certainly rewarded us for putting up with all the brats jumping around the fragile structure. Indeed, Hobart is a city of amusing juxtapositions: one can breathe the cleanest air in the world and live next to a Chinese takeaway, all in one. It seems to me that the uniqueness of Hobart is the way that such natural marvels exist within arms’ reach of the city.

Having explored Hobart and its surroundings, my plan was to make my way up into the seemingly postcard-perfect Wineglass Bay, some 200 kilometers away. Without a driving license, I relied on buses, but they proved scarcely reliable (*spoilers ahead*) leaving one to be likely stranded. Triabunna was the first stop, in order to take the miniature ferry to Maria Island. Named after the wife of Van Diemen, it once hosted a short-lived colony and is now a nature reserve, ripe with wild geese in heat (birds in heat, everywhere).

The walks are easy enough, and clearly delineated to hike without maps or guides, and the island can be seen in a day. As is the nature of such islands, upon my return to Triabunna, I found that the bus would not come for two days. Thus I was left alone in this small wasteland, my own Tassie Groundhog Day. On the upside, I hitchhiked my way to the nearby Orford beach. It was spectacular, empty, and quiet, with views over Maria, and so my Queensland craving for beach was satisfied. So despite missing the Wineglass Bay, having pretty terrible weather for most of the trip, and getting stranded in godforsaken Triabunna, I feel my itinerary gave me a well-rounded experience of the diverse nature so present and particular to Tasmania.

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Taking on Taz – Part 2: All Things Strange and Spooky

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Taking on Taz

My decision to spend two weeks in Tasmania was largely based on its cultural destinations that have made the island a pilgrimage for the Australian artsy and clueless in recent years. So I thought where better to visit than MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art)? But never from that title could I have guessed what lay within. Inside the museum is an art installation that produces human faeces 24/7. It is called ‘Cloaca’, or ‘the Pooh Machine’ (words do not do it justice, this must be Googled!). The smell of excrement that perfumes the room is a small example of the constant sensorial attack throughout the museum. You are also given an iPod Touch to navigate through the pieces and so everyone is staring at their own screens – which only adds to the unsettling atmosphere.

In addition to this, a walk-through tube emits strange sounds to the beat of one’s feet. You then walk into a small, enclosed room and twenty people upon twenty screens are belting out Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ in the opposite of unison. Further on, a plain thirty-metre wall contains nothing but explicit porcelain vaginas of all shapes and personalities. I could go on and on about this Disneyland of the subversive, but might as well just end with my anecdotal visit to the latrine (note: a real latrine for one’s toilet purposes) with strategically placed mirrors so that every angle and detail of the Number 2 process would be subject to the subject’s gaze. Yes, even the toilet was some kind of art installation.

After the physical shock of MONA, I sought something more relaxed and so I headed to Port Arthur – this was definitely not more relaxing. Port Arthur is a penitentiary town from the early 1800s that was infamous as the worst destination for prisoners throughout the British Empire. It contains an Isle of the Dead made exclusively of, you guessed it, mass graveyards. In the mid 1850s, a psychiatric ward was erected for rebellious prisoners, banning all form of speech within its walls and removing any sign of one’s identity. It would certainly turn the insurgent into the insane. Modern history does not redeem Port Arthur – it was subject to a mass shooting in 1996 where dozens of tourists, children and the elderly, perished instantly. The entire place has such a spooky reputation that ‘paranormal tours’ are routinely offered at night for 200 Australian dollars. For an extra 50 they make a DVD out of one’s audiovisual recordings of what’s ‘out there’ to keep at home and supposedly show guests over wine and cheese. The whole place hosted an interesting contrast between the authentically interesting/historical and the tacky world of fridge magnets and key chains that has become commonplace. The erudite guide tours relished giving away facts that were definitely disturbing, and throughout the entire site there was almost no Wifi to be found… definitely extra spooky.

It’s interesting how anyone I told about my impending trip to Tasmania undermined it with passing comments about how quiet, uneventful or downright ‘boring’ it is. This state is synonymous with ‘retiree destination’, and upon telling a Tassie friend that I was going for two weeks the reaction was: ‘Two weeks?! What are you going to do there with all that time?!’ Yet two weeks was hardly enough time to see anything other than the east coast. Perhaps it was my own experience of the island, as solo-travelling led to encounters with all types of characters on the road. It could never have been uneventful even if I’d tried! Eternally ditzy me, I got lost in the woods of Port Arthur at night (the spookiness was out of control) and that was distressing to the max. I had both fantastic hostel experiences and disturbing memories from backpacker lodges, delicious meals at the Salamanca Market and one day where I only ate grapes and stolen cashews. Perhaps there would have been more booze and sunburns in Queensland, but Tasmania was outstanding in its unexpected weirdness and unbelievable lushness. It surprised me every day, consistently, for my entire stay.

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