Walk on the wild side in this island paradise

With direct flights between Perth and Hobart making Tasmania easier to visit, here's a way to soak up country hospitality and Jurassic beauty.

There  were some curious distractions but essentially we were in Tasmania to walk — north-west of Hobart, then around the Tasman Peninsula in the south-east and finally south on Bruny Island, reached by a car ferry from Kettering.

Google “walks in Tassie” and you’ll come across more walks than you can poke a trekking pole at: Best 60 Short Walks, Great Walks of Tasmania, guided walks, long walks, overnight walks, three-day walks — it’s walking unlimited.

First, we chose the Central Highlands, and more specifically Lake St  Clair, the end point of the Overland Track which begins at Cradle Mountain, 85km north.

That was a walk too far for Leonie and me, so we had our hearts and legs set on trudging up Mt Rufus (1416m), an achievable seven-hour round trip from Lake St Clair Lodge and the rangers’ headquarters in the national park.

That planning was shot down by the weather gods who were particularly agitated before and during part of our stay, dropping snow like dandruff on the mountain, near to where the mighty River Derwent has its source before it meanders in some places and gallops in others on its downhill journey of almost 200km through Hobart before emptying into Storm Bay.

The bloke at the national park headquarters put us straight about a few things; Mt Rufus was out of the question because there was a metre of snow on the track to the summit.

Still, nature has a way of compensating, and the 90-minute loop walk along the Platypus Trail, and the next day’s five-hour trek to Shadow Lake and return, provided a visually nourishing package of rainforest, highland eucalyptus forest and subalpine moorland terrain, where snow gums, buttongrass and sedges flourish, with pencil pines growing along the lake’s edge.

And, more than that, only bush sounds with barely a soul  around. Alas, platypuses and echidnas were playing coy, along with wombats, those short-legged muscular marsupials prone to leaving substantial calling cards for unwary walkers.

Following a cold snap on Saturday night which left 5cm of snow on our hire car, it was time to head back down to Hobart and on the way we again passed through New Norfolk where we stayed our first night. 

It’s an unusual joint where a prayer and a pint play a part in its history. In a town of about 6000 people, New Norfolk claims Tasmania's oldest church, St Matthews Anglican Church (1824) and the oldest continuous licensed pub in Australia (1825), the Bush Inn Hotel.

Just as important for us was the  more contemporary New Norfolk Hotel where the locals eat and drink and are merry. The lamb shanks for $23 will stop a lion and the drinks at the bar all seem to be $5, with little attention paid to the Plimsoll line on the wine glasses. We call them country pours.

The small village, whose first house was built by convict turned policeman Denis McCarty in 1808, has eight antique shops, and it gets curiouser and curiouser. A substantial gun emporium where rifles in cabinets, out of reach on a wall, line up like soldiers on parade is right next door to a lolly shop.

Off to the big smoke, we spent three nights at the Henry Jones Art Hotel, converted from the IXL Jam factory warehouses dating back to the 19th century and housing outstanding work from Tasmania’s artists. It was as brilliant as its location on Victoria Dock, overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf.

Much has been written about Hobart but any capital city with a CWA store, featuring all manner of produce, especially cakes, in one of the main streets is worth a visit.

So, with some warmth back in the bones, we consult Siri for directions to Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula, and more specifically, Stewarts Bay Lodge, our home for the next three nights.

Humour is often close at hand in Tassie, and when we stopped at a local supermarket on the outskirts of Port Arthur to stock up on a few provisions, we were entertained by two congenial old fellas whose every sentence was spoken with theatrical intensity. 

“The cooking oil’s in the second aisle," could have been delivered by Hamlet.

A few days later when I was online checking  bank details, I saw the transaction at that supermarket was paid to Two Old Queens Pty Ltd.

Leonie and I tackled several walks but the five-hour Cape Raoul circuit in the Tasman National Park was by far the best. In the main, the path was sound and manageable, first through heathland, then up through a eucalyptus forest which included a walk along the clifftops 300m below an angry sea, and finally along a firm track through coastal banksia shrub. Emerging from the head- high banksia, we get our first look at Cape Raoul and its soaring dolerite columns that stretched skywards like giant organs in a cathedral.

Distractions again become as valued as the main events as we snap a picture of a blue wren against the backdrop of this colossal work of nature that dates back to the Jurassic Period, some 185 million years ago, and soon a  sea eagle circles above a seal colony out from the base of the columns.

Our bush cabin was superb, as much for its comfort and cleanliness and bay views as it was for the neighbours, cute  critters called pademelons — marsupials that look like a wallaby crossed with a quokka.

Sadly, it was time to leave the bay, and so down to Bruny we went, to stay with friends on South Bruny, a gloriously tranquil part of the world on this 100km-long island which again features superb walks, and volumes of history involving Captain James Cook, William Bligh, whaling stations, abuse of Aboriginals, endemic flora and fauna.

We were shown a superb small rainforest walk featuring massive tree ferns, and all manner of fungi, before we had a challenging climb at the end of Adventure Bay Road to Fluted Cape, where we  found ourselves 200m or so above the ocean.

We barely scratched the walking surface on Bruny but Cloudy Bay, renowned for surf, was magnificently wild the day we visited. A passage from the Cloudy Bay Lagoon which surfers use on an outgoing tide to get to surf breaks, is heaven for budding artists.

Walkers of all abilities can enjoy the challenges of Tasmania, and with the new direct flights, it’s an area where Leonie and I will pop back for a few more treks before the knees raise the white flag.


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