We came to Australia with the stated intention to explore this beautiful part of the earth. So far, we haven’t done too much exploring. We were busy living. Time to change! And what better place to start exploring a country than its heart?
The Australians like to call Tasmania “The Heart of Australia ❤️“. It’s usually a bit concerning when the heart is disconnected from the body and lies a fair bit next to the patient. Normally, this indicates that the patient is dead (just to be clear, in no way would any of us call Australia dead). But Tasmania happens to be a beautiful island about 100km south-east of Australia. It may have earned its nickname not so much from being a vital organ to the countries livelihood, though. It’s more likely called that way because it is roughly heart-shaped (if you squint a bit).
Since we just passed our first year in Australia, we really needed to get back into explorer-mode and break out of our daily grind. The tail end of summer can be quite hot around Sydney, but it also happens to be a great time to explore Tasmania. Its southern location gives Tasmania a very moderate summer (and it can get really cold in winter). Perfect for us to get back into our traveling mode and start exploring. As usual, we just booked flights and the first two nights in Hobart – the islands biggest city. The next steps in the journey usually reveal themselves along the way.
But the way can be very, very long in Australia. Thus, exploring Australia is for many also closely associated with epic road-trips, van-life and endless stretches of emptiness. It’s just a very logical way to explore a vast place like Australia. And even though Tasmania is a relatively small island (about the size of Bavaria), it mimics Australia in many ways – It’s sparse population being one of them.
Long story short, we also needed wheels! Therefore, we booked a small camper van to be our mobile home once we had left Hobart. But let’s start this story where it began…
We arrived in Hobart on a Friday afternoon and were immediately enchanted. Hobart has a flair of small port cities. Beautiful old buildings, a vibrant Harbour-area and some culture going on. To be honest, it can get quite bland pretty quickly when you leave the center. But as long as you stay in the center, there is a lot to fall in love with. Small breweries, cozy pubs, lively markets, shady fish-n-chips-shacks and high priced seafood restaurants. What more could you wish for? We had a great time enjoying the city on our first evening.
Most of our second day in Hobart was spend in the Museum of Old and New Art. No matter if you like art or not, you shouldn’t miss this place. It’s… It’s an experience. The MONA is the biggest, privately-owned art museum in the world. It’s funded and run by a local Tasmanian, who made most of his money in gambling and then used it to build a huge underground museum to host and showcase his private collection, ranging from classical art all the way to truly weird and controversial exhibits. Do you need any more reasons to be curious?
Even though the museum itself is located a bit outside of Hobart, the experience starts in Hobart. The museum runs its own ferry service, shuttling visitors to and from the museum. And the shuttles give you a first taste of what to expect. They are camouflage-painted and give you the option to sit on a fake tiger for the duration of the ride. Or you can book a plushy, private lounge, serving drinks and canapés. Since we are boring Germans, we preferred a regular couch next to the bar and enjoyed the short ferry ride to the museum.
The grounds of the museum also host a high priced hotel and fine-dining restaurant. Along with a few outdoor exhibits. But the real exhibition starts with a long spiraling staircase leading some down about 20m. The museum is mostly carved into the underground rock and while you make your way back to the surface, you pass some truly weird and memorable exhibits. Down in the caves, you will also find a fancy cocktail bar because why not?
Currently, one of the more controversial pieces of art is probably the tattoo of a Swiss dude. He just sits there in the museum all day, every day. Silently meditating, while thousands of people look at his tattooed back. But this is by far not the only weird thing you encounter in the museum’s caves.
The MONA is clearly one of the highlights in Hobart. And while we were ferrying back, we had some fun discussions about art and the meaning of life. We carried those discussions into another brewpub and enjoyed our second evening on Tasmania.
The next morning was finally the day we could pick up our van and start our road trip. Neither of us had ever done that and we were truly excited. Pick-up of the van was fast and painless. We were lucky and got a fairly modern van, that was easy to drive and would serve us as our home for the coming week.
We had no real plan and only a few landmarks that we knew we wanted to visit. So we started our small journey quite similar to how we started our last big journey. We headed east…
Since this was our first road trip, we had no real idea of what to expect from the campgrounds in Tasmania. We knew that staying overnight at random places is usually illegal and can result in heavy fines if you are unlucky. So we decided to stick with official campgrounds. But what to expect from those campgrounds? Should we call in advance? How crowded are they? Can they be “full”? Are they nice? We would soon find out.
Our first stop was Lime Bay Campground. A beautiful piece of earth, located on a remote peninsular. The Lime Bay is a shallow and white bay, looking back at Tasmania’s mainland. The campground was right next to the bay and even though it wasn’t empty, there was enough space in between campers to never feel violated in your personal space. We set up camp and made our first dinner on the road. What a fantastic way to start a road trip!
We spend the next few days traveling north along Tasmania’s east coast. And even though the weather wasn’t always on our side, we made some great memories. Due to the sparse population, we sometimes drove hours without seeing another human. Combined with the weather and the beautiful nature, we were reminded of the Scottish hinterland more than once.
When traveling along the coast, we were always torn between the fantastic coastline and vast forests further inland. We tried to keep a healthy mix and had some wonderful hikes and strolls along both. We enjoyed stunning views along some rough cliffs and we hiked along wonderful paths through lush green nature.
And occasionally, we came by small villages or populated areas as well. We tried to eat as local and as regional as possible and stopped at many small producers – usually with great success. The clear waters around Tasmania obviously also lend themselves to fresh seafood – not really one of our staples, to be honest. But we are always open to try new things. And when you visit a place called “Oyster Bay” – there is no excuse not to try your first Oyster. Fresh from the ocean! The Melshell Oyster Shack sold us a minimum of 6. Our first Oyster was weird… Is this disgusting or delicious? Well, there are still two more, each. Let’s try another… Maybe this is delicious? Not sure… Well, let’s not waste the last one… Oh hey, we are out of Oysters – Let’s buy another round! Fresh Oysters may not be for everyone and they may be an acquired taste – However, Tasmania is great place to acquire that taste.
Besides seafood, Tasmania is also a famous wine region and we made it a habit to visit at least one small vineyard a day. Many of them are small, family-run places and the tastings were always fun (for one of us – don’t drink and drive!) We usually got a bottle straight from the winemaker to enjoy with dinner in the evening. We even got the occasional visit from a local marsupial for dinner (or breakfast). Not sure if they were hoping to get a glass as well, but dinner with Kangaroos is always a memorable and fun experience.
Never miss a Side Quest from a Shopkeeper
Let me take the story back to Hobart for a second. On the morning before we picked up our van, we enjoyed a fresh coffee on a small market in the heart of Hobart. The Tasmanians are usually even more friendly and communicative then Mainland-Australians. So we got into a chat with the guy that sold us the coffee. We told him about our plan (or lack thereof) and he told us about a wonderful walk in a national park that he himself always wanted to do but never got to.
Naturally, we checked out the hike that he recommended. It was in a park that we probably would have ignored otherwise but not a huge detour. I don’t know if it is my video game upbringing or a weird sense of intuition. But when a shopkeeper in the town’s market gives you a side-quest, you don’t ignore that side-quest! It is always worth it! Shopkeepers know it all!
Even though the weather on the day was less than optimal, we decided to walk the walk. It was a hike up to a small waterfall. The full hike then round-trips back along the gorge of the stream to the starting point. The way up to the waterfall was well marked and the waterfall itself was well worth the hike. But the way back was unmarked and only possible when the stream isn’t carrying too much water. We attempted it and had to cross the stream many times, hopping over stones, walking in the gorge as it curved through the valley. All the time, we were completely alone and the weather cleared up significantly after we passed the waterfall. This was one of the most beautiful and fun hikes of our journey and a lasting memory for sure!
Thanks, shopkeeper of Beansmith Tasmania – we really enjoyed the gorge and the coffee that we brewed each morning from your beans gave us the necessary energy.
Country of Lakes
Once, we had reached the stunning Bay of Fires, we changed direction. We turned inland to finally return to Hobart roughly through the middle of the Tasmanian Island. We continued visiting fun and weird places, like a fake Austrian village or a vast cave full of glow worms.
And then we crossed a region called “Highland Lakes”. It’s an area with some enormous lakes that is famous for fishing – and probably not much else. We spend our last night on the road at a campground that was full of Australian fishermen. This was the first time, we’ve been to a campground where we were the only “Tourist Campervan”. Everyone else had heavy-duty pickups (or as the Australians call them: ute), trailers with fishing boats and some serious long-term camping equipment.
We felt a little bit out of place – but not for long. The locals were friendly and welcoming. We joked a bit with the old guy running the campground and then settled in between two huge mobile homes. As the evening went on, more and more huge utes with equally big boats on trailers arrived. Yet, we remained the only “Tourist Campervan”…
One more thing about that place – even though we got up reasonably early, we were no match for the fisherman. When I started to brew our morning coffee, the campground was nearly empty. All the boats that impressed us the evening before were gone. There must be great fishing dawn…
We were in no rush at all. We tried to enjoy our last breakfast on the road. It consisted of thin coffee (we were running out of beans) and a mix of all the scraps of food that we still had in the car. It was mostly cold since we were running out of gas (and I was too stupid to properly connect the last bottle). It was clear that we needed another coffee and a proper breakfast.
At that point, our phones maps app showed us why that place may not be too famous with the “Tourist Campers”. The next cafe was about 2h drive away… But at least it was worth the drive – our second breakfast was fantastic.
Hobart, sweet Hobart
The return to Hobart felt premature. We would have loved to spend more time on the road. Tasmania may not be huge. But it has so much to explore and discover. And we missed so much, we couldn’t even cover all the obvious highlights (*cough*cradlemountain*cough*) during our short week on the island.
Returning our mobile home was a bit melancholic. But luckily also trouble-free – we had read a few nightmare-stories about rental companies making a big fuss and claiming damages etc. None of that happened. The agent took a brief look around the car, then released our deposit and wished us a nice day. No worries, mate… No worries at all…
Our first van-life road trip was a huge success. And we are certain, that this will neither be our last road trip nor the last time we’ve been to Tasmania. But most important, our desire to explore and travel is tingling again!
On our flight back to Sydney, we were already discussing where to go next…
As usual, find more pictures of our road trip over in the gallery.