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Island getaway – Part two

Prodijee recently sampled one of the world's best kept tourism secrets, Tasmania, and found it a natural wonderland that everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime.

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Words: Carol Sheridan.

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Photos: Darren House.

We took the Tasman Highway along the East Coast for our trip to Launceston, through the beautiful coastal villages of Triabunna, Swansea and Bicheno. Stunning scenery often took our breath away as we drove alongside Great Oyster Bay and looked at the Freycinet Peninsula across the water.

Bicheno is a beautiful town with long expanses of sandy beaches and is a popular destination for holiday makers and retirees because of its mild climate and sunny weather. The weather didn’t disappoint as, being the middle of winter, we were surprised that we could comfortably wear just jeans and t-shirts as we wandered the beaches.

Lark Distillery & Whiskey Bar, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Instead of heading all the way along the coast to St Helens, we headed inland again to the small towns of St Marys and Fingal. The road that takes you inland is winds through heavily forested areas before opening out into flat farming land; it is one of the famous roads that is used for the Targa Tasmania (Elephant Pass).

Once out of the densely forested areas and heading towards Launceston, you get magnificent views in the distance of Cradle Mountain and along the road you will find old colonial homes, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I am sure there is a lot of history that surrounds each and every one of them.

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Terrace on Walbourne.

We reached our accommodation and I was pleasantly surprised. While it had been well researched, you never quite know what you are getting until you get there. Terrace on Walbourne is at the end of a quiet little street and hidden behind a high fence. It is within walking distance of everything you could possibly need, supermarkets, pubs and restaurants. It is a two storey terrace house that has been renovated to perfection. Two double bedrooms upstairs, a large lounge room with wonderful heating a massive and extremely well appointed kitchen a small back courtyard and a deck with a barbeque. There’s also pubs, restaurants and a supermarket within easy walking distance.

There is not one more thing I could have asked for with this accommodation, but, I will warn anyone wanting to book there, the stairs to the bedrooms on the second level are very steep and the handrail, whilst strong, doesn’t allow a lot of grip.

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Cataract Gorge.

You can’t visit Launceston without going to the Cataract Gorge, which is just minutes from the heart of town. I will try to be unbiased with what I tell you about this place, but it forced me to deal with three of my phobias. Here you will find walking and hiking trails which are all well signed with distance and skill level required to go the distance. There is a swimming pool, which was not open during our visit, a restaurant, a kiosk, magnificent gardens and of course the gorge itself.

Scenery-wise, you couldn’t be more delighted, but for me, the chairlift ride caused me to be white knuckled. It takes you up through the tree tops and spans the 457 metres over the huge natural basin that is often filled by the surging waters of the South Esk River. It moves slowly, but not slow enough for me, or not fast enough for me – in fact it was just not for me, but then NO chairlift is for me.

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Cataract Gorge.

Once reaching the opposite side and being able to disembark from the swinging seats of the chairlift I sought solace at the quaint café that was surrounded by beautiful gardens and tree ferns – only to find that I was almost immediately confronted with another of my huge phobias… birds! Peacocks and peahens in fact –and who knew those little and not so little feathered creatures could be so brazen?

I didn’t mind when they were wandering around not far from me but when they darted towards our table as our luscious Devonshire Tea was served I knew I was in trouble. There are signs up about the birds being friendly and more than happy to steal your food and PLEASE DON’T FEED THEM. DON’T FEED THEM? Those thieving creatures stole our scones and scared the daylights out of me!

Walking away from the café with coffee in hand, dignity dashed by my screaming because of the birds and still shaken from the chairlift ride, I was confronted with yet another of my fears – a swing bridge! Thankfully the bridge didn’t swing much and after my initial hesitation I was happy to walk across it, even stopping midway to admire the view.

Even though I was forced to face some of my fears I can highly recommend a visit here, even I want to go back and explore more and ride the chairlift again – not sure about having Devonshire Tea with those birds again though.

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One of Cataract Gorge’s many scone-thieving peacocks.

One of our day trips from Launceston took us out through Lilydale and Scottsdale on our way to Bridport and stopping at the Bridestow Lavender Estate located at Nabowla. In December and January, the 265 acre site is a mass of purple as the lavender is in full bloom.

You can stroll through the endless fields, browse for gifts in the Visitor Centre and dine in the Woodcroft Cafe where you can enjoy unique, lavender inspired cuisine. I can highly recommend the Devonshire Tea here – lavender scones with a rhubarb and lavender jelly. I stocked up on jams, jellies, cooking lavender and recipes, and lavender inspired gifts for my family, including one world famous Bobby Bear.

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Bridestow Lavender Estate.

Our trip took us back through George Town where you can find step back in time at the Historic Watch House and where we were advised by the Tourist Information centre that we simply must go back and cross the Batman Bridge, which crosses the beautiful Tamar River and travel on to Beauty Point. We followed this great advice and discovered even more history and beautiful historic seafarers’ homes that we would have been otherwise unaware of.

There is much to see and do in the city of Launceston – heaps of fantastic restaurants and pubs, the famous Burger Got Soul, which is jam packed in the evening for both dine in and take-away and which serves nearly 40 different flavoured burgers, as well as a fantastic Indian restaurant – Picked Evenings – where the food is top notch and the service is equally as good.

Venturing further on from Launceston towards the west we discovered the city of Burnie, which has a vibrant shopping district that spills onto the beach for seafood and coffee. If you stop into the Makers Workshop along the Bass Highway you can taste local cheeses, discover different forms of art and meet some of the artists in person.

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Head a little further west and you will discover the town of Wynyard, which is located on the mouth of the Inglis River. It is a popular holiday destination for beach activities and fishing and is surrounded by picturesque landscape.

From Wynyard, taking the Murchison Highway for about an hour, will have you ending up in the quiet little town of Waratah, a small scenic town on the edge of the Tarkine wilderness. The town sits on the edge of Lake Waratah and the Tarkine Reserve and was once home to the richest tin mine in the southern hemisphere. Drive across what appears to be a simple bridge and up the small hill on the other side of this small town and you will find yourself peering at a stunning waterfall, pretty much right in the heart of town.

From Wynyard, take the trip back through Hampshire and you will end up back in Burnie but always make sure you leave the highway to the small towns where you will discover so much history – it is always well worth the trip.

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When travelling through other states of Australia, you will spend most of your time on large dual carriageway highways until you are nearly at your destination where you will take a quick off ramp and suddenly land where you need to be. Tasmania is different. A lot of the highways are single carriageway and it is easy to not realise that traffic is running in both ways, so care must be taken.

On our way to Cradle Mountain we started out on a highway, but quickly found ourselves travelling most of the two-hour trip on small, windy roads. We wound our way through small towns, forest areas, farming areas and deforestation areas until we began climbing high into the mountain and started to see snow on the side of the road. The landscape was fascinating and more and more snow was greeting us with each kilometre we travelled. The road was well graded, but the higher up the mountain we travelled, the heavier the snow piled on the sides of the road.

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Cradle Mountain.

Like children, we stopped and had a snow ball fight, struggling to walk through the quite thick snow in our regular shoes – it was cold – but it was FUN!

As you get close to the top of the mountain you will come across what we discovered was the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre and Transit Terminal. There were a lot of buses parked there and the only sign we could see was saying that tickets were available here. Tickets for what? Maybe tickets for a bus ride somewhere?

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Our sure-footed, All-Wheel-Drive Mazda CX-3 proved the ideal, safe vehicle for taking on the slippery, wet roads of Cradle Mountain.

I went inside to mainly look at the souvenirs but found out that the tickets were to enter the National Park of Cradle Mountain. Now, a sign saying that you needed a ticket to go further along the road would have been very handy as we could have very easily gone sailing along without knowing.

I also discovered that the road further on was closed due to snow and only 4WD vehicles were allowed to go any further – all of this information was very handy but it was information that could have been very easily missed – maybe a sign telling people they MUST stop for information before proceeding should be put in place.

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Our trip had come to an end and we needed to head back to the Spirit of Tasmania for our overnight sailing.

We arrived 90 minutes before our departure, this time waiting in queue to board for around 40 minutes, but once onboard we were happy to settle down with a drink in the warm and cosy bar area. As we were sailing overnight we booked a four berth cabin – hmmmm – SQUISHY is about all I can say, though, the close confines made for lots of laughs but not much sleep.

On our arrival in Melbourne, yes, again we managed to drive off with our bags already in the car, but we had to wait between 30 and 40 minutes until our garage level was called to go to our cars.

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Our trip to Tasmania was too short-lived – had I known there was so much to see and do I would have made the trip at least another week longer – from two weeks to three weeks.

To the people who were asking the questions ‘You are going where?’ ‘At this time of year?’ ‘Are you Mad?’

Yes, we went to Tasmania in the middle of winter. The sun was shining the whole time and according the weather reporters we had much better weather than Melbourne and sometimes Sydney. There was so much to see and do there that we barely scratched the surface and definitely need to go back to do lots more exploring.

To the lovely people of Tasmania – you need new people promoting your beautiful state both nationally and internationally.

http://www.launcestoncataractgorge.com.au/

http://bridestowelavender.com.au

http://burgergotsoul.com/

http://www.pickledevenings.com.au/