In preparation for our trip to Tasmania, we went and bought Claire a new jumper having been made well aware of the infamous weather on the island (Tassie is by all accounts the Scotland of Australia). I had never been to Tasmania before and call me mad, but after the heat of South Africa I was quite looking forward to a bit of rain, wind and the possibility of snow. Finally, after a record number of rescheduled flight times from Tiger Air, we excitedly boarded our flight to Hobart admittedly wearing what should have been our checked baggage (it won’t be long before they start weighing the people as well as the bags). Much to our surprise, and Claire’s delight, we were treated to glorious weather over the coming ten days and truly fell in love with the beauty of the state.
On our first day, my great-uncle Jimmy and his wife Maura decided to test our courage by taking us to the world famous Museum of New and Old Art. Despite its rather uninspiring name, MONA is brilliant – probably the only art gallery where I’ve spent more time looking at art than testing the various seating and playing stick cricket on my phone. The owner of MONA, David Walsh, apparently describes it as a Disneyland for adults, but in my opinion a better description would be that it’s a building full of the stuff that the Tate Modern refused to exhibit because they thought it would annoy the English people. My favourite ‘artwork’ was a fat car, but I’m sure Claire will have much more detail to give about the other stuff below!
The next day we drove up Mount Wellington in order to get our bearings before heading into town for a coffee and a walk around the harbour. We returned the following morning for the Salamanca market which was a great opportunity to pick up some hand-made souvenirs and a couple of little gifts for people back home (don’t get too excited!) We then returned to the house for a barbecue where I got to meet more of my extended family and we had a great time trying to figure out what to call each other (we decided upon second cousin once removed, although this is very much still up for debate). On Sunday, Jimmy and Maura very kindly lent us the car and we drove to Port Arthur to check out one of the original convict settlements in Australia. It was a pretty amazing place and we spent the best part of five hours walking the grounds, going on guided tours and comparing the prison facilities to those we saw on Robben Island not long ago (Claire reckons it’s sad that we are becoming prison experts on this trip). If you’re not afraid of ghosts, can pretend that the prison ruins were in fact a stately home and aren’t put off by the cage they used to keep the lunatic prisoner in, I think it would be a pretty nice place to set up shop.
On Monday, we once again took the car and travelled along the east coast to Bicheno. On the way we stopped in various little towns for coffee, enjoyed the views along the windy roads and truly understood why Tasmania is, as we would later be informed, the road kill capital of the world. I will spare you the details, but will say that Claire wasn’t impressed when I suggested we count the animals as a way to pass the time. Instead, we pulled over at Devil’s Corner (a view point which also happened to be a vineyard!) and tested the riesling before continuing on to Wineglass Bay (unfortunately not a vineyard this time) The hike to the view point took us around forty minutes in total, not including the fifteen minutes spent intently watching a young wallaby who we came across on our descent. We would later arrive at the car park to see a wallaby standing next to the driver’s door… We were spending the night in Bicheno so drove back carefully in the dark and went to pick up some fish and chips from The Gulch, which had been recommended to us by some locals a few days previously. Claire opted to just have chips and I went for some perch. I think that the local population of Fairy Penguins also had the same idea as we came across three in the car park before heading to our overnight accommodation.
Tuesday was Anzac Day, and having never attended a dawn service in my life, I decided it was my duty to drag Claire along and spend the morning standing in the pouring rain with the rest of the country. It was really quite a moving experience for me, made more personal by the tales of sacrifice by Tasmanians in WWI, as well more recent veterans who were in attendance. It also made me reflect a little bit on my own relatives who fought in the wars and I intend to look into more of my family history when we get to Canberra in a few weeks time. After the service, and due to the poor weather, we decided to drive slowly back to Hobart and skip our planned excursion to Maria Island (I guess we have to leave something for next time!)
Wednesday became a bit of an admin day and I spent the lions share of it completing some frustrating online tests for a job application. On Thursday, Jimmy and Maura were looking after their grandchildren (my second cousins according to Google!), so we went to Bonarong Sanctuary and had a brilliant time feeding the kangaroos, one of whom took a particular liking to me and kept punching the other Roos who tried to butt in on our friendship. We also had a guided tour of the park where we learnt about wombats, tassie devils and Claire’s favourite, the koala. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she realised that we would get to pet the koala at the end. Jimmy then took us to play some golf in the afternoon and Claire agreed to tag along on the understanding that she could drive the golf cart. My beginners luck quickly faded on the course and I spent a large part of the time running after my ball in the woods, apologising to the local hen community for nearly killing them and raking the bunker of my footsteps. I did hit a couple of nice shots though, one in particular that I’m annoyed wasn’t caught on camera, but as Jimmy says, I did enough to think that if I went again I might actually improve and that’s how people get addicted to the sport!
The next and final day was Friday and we decided it would be nice to check out the Hobart Museum and have a walk around the shopping centre. When asked what I thought of the museum, I said that it was the most random collection of things I had ever seen and I stick by that assessment. They had exhibits on the Tasmanian Tiger, puppets, taxidermy, French maps of Australia, the Antarctic and Lego… Anyway, it was good fun and we capped off the day with a game of snooker in the Hobart Working Men’s Club followed by a curry in Salamanca.
As you can probably tell by the length of this post, I really enjoyed our stay in Tasmania and Claire and I really can’t thank Jimmy and Maura enough for their hospitality. It was really great to get to know them better and meet my cousins of differing degrees for the first time as well. And the cherry on the icing on the cake was to grab a few old photos of my dad in an assortment of dodgy ties, itchy jumpers, short shorts and “vintage” trousers!
- MONA – By far, the strangest yet most amazing place I have ever been to in my life. Jimmy and Maura did give us a glimpse at what the character of David Walsh was, but left enough mystery for us to make up our own minds. I couldn’t tell you which was my favourite piece – as it ranged from corridor with mounted sculptures of vaginas, or an enormous steel skull that has the sole purpose of giving you epilepsy – but I can tell you it is well worth visiting. I got into a bit of trouble for the first time of my life in a museum because I was touched an exhibition, but to be fair, it was a room full of book that had no titles or covers, which is absolutely creepy and intriguing. I also followed David Walsh himself across the museum, trying to see for myself how that human work of art acted, only to realise that his security guard was following me as well. Overall, I had a blast. It is fascinating how such a bizarre place came to be in one of the most remote places in the world, but I am so glad we went, as it made me realise how I shouldn’t criticise British modern art anymore.
- Bonarong – Even though it was not our first time going to see Australian wildlife on this trip so far, Bonarong was our first sanctuary. The first aspect that intrigued me was how, right by the entrance of the sanctuary, a white board showed how many injured or orphaned animals arrived there in the last 24 hour, needless to say, there were many. We finally were able to see a non-sleeping wombat who was probably one of the cutest things I have seen, and – on top of our sightings list – did not only see one Tasmanian Devil properly but six! Most importantly for me, I was finally able to be near a koala (so soft, I wanted to keep it), and had a lengthy conversation with a black cockatoo that probably made me look like a three year old. Oh and I almost got sucker punched by a male kangaroo who had its ‘stuff’ out, truly exhilarating.
- Port Arthur – I was expecting a town, with a couple town-run buildings that served as museums for the convict history of Tasmania. Boy was I wrong. Port Arthur was a town, that has seen better days, but a town containing so much history and creepy stories it’s difficult not to have goosebumps (also likely to be cold down there). The day we went, some fancy wedding was taking place, I didn’t know whether to envy them or find the concept delusional. It truly is a historical ground, there is so much to see and do, so much to learn about. We had the best tour guide that gave such good history of the place, our group grew from 30 people to about 100 by the end of the hour – and that includes a group of 80 trying to take pictures of the private wedding. Apparently, having Australian heritage through being a convict now is something all Australians want, and I won’t lie, it ‘looks’ cool. Glad I’m not one though, or I wouldn’t have come out.