As I’m writing this, we are in Tasmania, which, when you look at a world map, appears to be one of the remotest places on Earth. Indeed, it is. Officially, it’s a state or province of Australia, lying about 400 miles from the Australian mainland. With fewer than 500,000 inhabitants on an island comparable in size to West Virginia (1.85 million) or Scotland (5.2 million), the population density here makes both places seem like sprawling metropolises.
The name Tasmania itself evokes feelings of remoteness and alienation in me. Indeed, the place was a notorious penal colony of the British Empire, where the worst of the worst criminals were confined in the harshest and sometimes downright brutal conditions. Hobart is the capital. In its early days, it was a rough and tumble, crime-ridden port city where fights, murders, prostitution and hard-drinking were part of daily life. Hobart seems safe enough to walk around in after dark these days. Once you leave Hobart, you are treated to the really lasting allure of Tasmania — a landscape largely populated by pristine eucalyptus forests, beautiful bays and beaches in the coastal regions, with prairies and mountains inland.
We stayed at two of Tasmania’s national parks — Freycinet and Cradle Mountain — in addition to spending a few nights in Hobart.
Freycinet is a jewel celebrating the beauty of the Hazards Mountain range soaring high over pristine bays of turquoise water like Wineglass Bay. The Southern Right whale and dolphins call these waters home. In fact, Wineglass got its name in early whaling days when the water reportedly turned red like wine from all the whales slaughtered here. An inglorious history indeed. These days, whales are protected and treasured. If you spend time in Tasmania, you come can’t help recognize the importance of marine life to the local diet. Fish and chips, oysters and a variety of local catch shows up more on the menus here more than any other place we have visited during our RTW journey.
The 5 mile hike to and back from Wineglass Bay includes an overlook with a spectacular view of the bay and its golden crescent slice of white-sand beach, perennially voted one of the top 10 in the world by the magazines that make a living off of that sort of stuff. All along the national park coastline rust-colored granite rocks dotted with orange and green lichens are especially beautiful in the light of the setting sun and just after sunrise.
Seeing Cradle Mountain required four-hour drive to Tasmania’s west side. The mountain has a strong aboriginal folklore behind it, and is best seen from Dove Lake, which beautifully reflects its east face when the water surface is glassy in the early morning.
The eucalyptus forests around and inside Cradle Mountain National Park are dense and some of the most beautiful in the world. We got to see our first wombats and Tasmanian Devils here.
Team RTW also got to compete in a trivia contest while staying at a lodge near Cradle Mountain. Everything went well for us as long as the questions revolved around world geography and movies. But when they started throwing in questions about Australian cricket, Australian horse-racing and local TV shows….well, that’s when the wheels started to fall off the bus. I’ve tried watching cricket here in Australia a few times and am still scratching my head about how you score. I must admit I have no clue as to what’s going on. It seems nothing like American baseball, which seems downright fast-paced compared to cricket.
We are now in the Whitsunday Islands near the Great Barrier Reef for several days. Our next stop before leaving Australia for South America is the rainforest around Port Douglas, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.