Travel Story Blowing away the cobwebs with a week at sea in Tassie

Photo of Shirley Stephenson

A bargain buy and a healthy serving of cruising bonhomie prove that a week is enough to come home feeling thoroughly refreshed. 

We were tired, jaded and feeling old. A March week in Sydney at a business conference of my husband’s was fun but not restful. Lo and behold! An ad in this very paper offered a six-day cruise from Sydney to Tassie, flights included, for about $1300 per person. Jackpot! 

But would a week, in an inside cabin, be enough to brush away the cobwebs?

First, the cabin on the Sun Princess. It was neat, with plenty of storage, and the most comfortable king-sized bed. No early-morning light to interrupt the holiday snooze-in, a small fridge and adequate bathroom.

But no one stays in their cabin. The ship provided an array of eating places, bars, pools, state-of-the-art gym, quiet spaces and an internet cafe. And a giant outdoor screen on the upper deck for open-air movies and the Melbourne Cup (which we did not see, for the first time in our Australian lives).

Next, the food. The buffet in the Horizon Court excelled at fresh fruit, juices and vegetables, but the hot food wasn’t very. And it paid to pick a quiet time, or it seemed the 2000 passengers were there all at once. The other restaurants were very good.

And the fellow passengers. Our dining arrangements at the Regency restaurant meant we could choose any time to eat, as long as we were willing to share a table. Talk about speed relating! We met so many interesting people ... the beautifully named Maggie Pye and her friend Margaret Standaloft, for example. But best were John and Elizabeth from Bunbury. They are lapidarists — they polish stones into beautiful gems — and leave their mark on the world by giving these objects to people they meet on their travels. A lovely couple and I’ll treasure my pink and purple gem.

After the first night, which was a bit wobbly, we were blessed with excellent weather. The first scheduled stop was Burnie, where we walked by the electoral office of soon-to-be history Jackie Lambie. I wish I’d got a selfie ... We dropped in at seaside venue Fish Frenzy, which had huge portions of fresh-cooked fish, chips and salads for small prices, and walked along the boardwalk to the Makers Workshop, an artists’ collective with all kinds of high-quality crafted goodies.

I bought some handmade Murano glass earrings by Gail Hart. The Burnie Regional Museum re-created a Burnie Street scene from the early 1900s, with little shops full of old artefacts. 

A fun night was the captain Rikard Lorentzen’s welcome champagne fountain party. The handsome man is from Norway but has lived in Ireland for 20 years. When I asked him why, he gave an enigmatic smile and said: “There is always a woman involved.” Swoon ... 

Entertainment included a Blues Brothers Tribute and a soul evening, which were lively and fun, with great singers and dancers and a top-class band. Also a draw, which we hadn’t known about, was the Travelling Film Festival At Sea curated by Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley and which was a deal-maker for cinephile cruisers. And dry Scottish pianist/comedian David Moore was a must-see in the Atrium bar. Just don’t leave while he’s speaking ...

Next stop Port Arthur. Divided thoughts. The modern outrage and the historic horrors made it seem uninviting but as the tender took us to shore on a serene sunny day, we felt at peace. A sense which was reinforced by our volunteer guide, who explained Port Arthur’s role in prison reform.

The prison was the first in Australia to stop flogging inmates, in the 1830s, while mainland jails were still meting out the brutal punishment in the 1950s. And Port Arthur had a visionary approach to rehabilitation, where prisoners could work their way up to learning a trade and being released. His words put a positive spin on the historically maligned port. We didn’t go to the massacre memorial, leaving behind the ghosts ancient and modern.

Now on to Hobart. We moored at 4pm, which meant we could see the yachting capital by night. We were next to Constitution Dock and close to the CBD. After a walk around the harbour we found The Music Bar, where talented singer-guitarist Seth Henderson entertained beautifully.

Next day in Hobart.

A sightseeing bus tour. Unfortunately we were just too late for the speccy open-top vehicle, and caught a 1973 vintage Shire of South Yorkshire (UK) bus with no power steering, no open roof and a strangely disconcerting smell. The driver explained the influx of cruise passengers meant the old warhorse had to be recruited. Anyway, it got us to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, an oasis of flowery peace with spectacular views of the Derwent River.

Back to Sun Princess and the calm at-sea day to Sydney.

Most of the passengers on this cruise were elderly, some using sticks and wheelchairs, and I’ve never met such a feisty bunch, climbing stairs, slopes, dancing and savouring spectacular cocktails at happy hour. And talking. We must have heard a score of fascinating life stories.

I felt ashamed of my wimpiness when I met these elderly Energiser bunnies. While the cruise itself was a tonic, the life-enhancing attitude of these lovely older people was an inspiration. And yes, a week is enough to refresh when fellow passengers and destinations are so fascinating. I didn’t feel so old any more.

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