Tasmania By Campervan, Easter 2009

We’re looking forward to finally making another trip to Tasmania next year, for the first time in ten years… having meanwhile bought a farm, built a shed and outbuildings and farmhouse with our own hands, planted thousands of trees, looked after animals, planted an orchard and permaculture garden, etc etc. In celebration of that, here is a version with extras of an article on a past trip that was originally published by Grass Roots 247 in June/July 2018.

Tasmania is a real jewel of a place for anyone who enjoys nature. It is the least deforested state of Australia and one of the few places on Earth that still has vast areas of real wilderness. There is mountain range after mountain range, all of them spectacular in different ways, and the coastline is gorgeous all the way around. It is a bushwalker’s paradise. If you could live for a thousand years and walk every day, you could still be walking new tracks in Tasmania that had you oohing and aahing and happy to be alive.

Hobart and Launceston are cities on a human scale, sitting in sublime landscapes in which they seem only to be an afterthought. The architecture and parks are pretty, many people have lovely gardens, and there are a plethora of bookshops and places of interest to enjoy. You can breathe fresh air even in the city centres, and there are always natural landmarks to steer by, so it’s hard to get lost driving. The concrete monstrosities that infest so much of mainland Australia haven’t made many inroads into these cities, in part because of comparative economic poverty, which has kept the place rich in other and more important ways.

Tasmanian farming operates on a completely different scale to mainland farming. The fields are smaller and there is more diversity in the landscape. Volcanic soils in the north are rich and chocolatey and grow amazing potatoes. Things can change drastically just around the corner, at any corner. You see old livestock breeds all over the place that are hard to find on the “North Island”, as Tasmanians like to call the rest of Australia. There are lots of curves in the roads and lots of uphills and downhills. Little churches jump out at you, Gothic graveyards invite a visit for reflection. Place names make you laugh: Penguin, Nook, Nowhere Else, Promised Land, Snug, Flowerpot, Electrona, Paradise, Bagdad, Tomahawk, Lower Crackpot.

Brett and I had our first holiday in Tasmania in 2007, and after that we couldn’t stop going back. Early on in our marriage we were farmless and very free to travel. If we had two weeks off and a little money for plane tickets, we said, “Let’s go to Tasmania again.” On our first trip to the Apple Isle we hired a tiny yellow car whose gearbox went “clunk” every time we shifted into third gear, stayed in little chalets and walked over 200km of magnificent tracks in two weeks. In 2009 we went in our own car for an extended working holiday and packed a tent into the back for camping trips. Once we just spent a fortnight going around in a campervan. This was great fun, and we’d do it again in a flash.

If you live all the way over in Western Australia, like we do, it’s not economical to drive your own car across the Nullarbor to visit Tasmania just for a short holiday. There are reasonably-priced plane tickets to Tassie now, booking specials or stand-by seats on a no-frills airline. If you can schedule it, fly on the 13th of the month, it’s heavily discounted due to people’s superstitions.

If you have to fly in, you will need transport. A bicycle tour could be just the thing, perhaps with camping equipment in panniers. If you specifically want a walking holiday, motorised transport is helpful, and a campervan is your transport and accommodation in one. So for our Easter holidays in 2009, we hired a little campervan. It was small enough to manoeuvre easily and handle well on the road, yet we slept and ate in it comfortably. The back of the van contained a sink, pantry, small fridge, microwave and gas rings, and a comfortable double bed with a storage loft above where we kept our suitcases, toiletry bags, towels, jackets and backpacks. Living in a small basic space is a good exercise: It hones your organisation and creativity, and helps you focus on the things that really matter.

It was great to have everything with us on the road and to never have to unpack and repack every time we changed bases, and so handy to be able to stop and make a coffee anytime, get changed anywhere, and have a bed with you in case you get deadly tired in the middle of the day and need a power nap – as does happen when you have a walking holiday. Once we drove up Mt Wellington after an overnight snowfall there, took in the views, and made a snowman. When we got hungry we cooked a hot lunch right there on the mountain, before going outdoors again for a long hike in the white wonderland. The next morning, we were walking on a sunny beach in our T-shirts. That’s Tassie for you.

Tasmania has amazing produce, with which you can stock your campervan fridge to become your own roving restaurant. This is a fun and economical way to eat wonderfully well while sampling the local wares. We often had local mueslis with yoghurt and fruit for breakfast. Favourites on the lunch and dinner menus were steak sandwiches with caramelised onions, mushrooms and capsicum, and loads of fresh salad vegetables; eggs scrambled with mushrooms, tomatoes and handfuls of parsley on local sourdough bread; avocados and lemon on rye bread; pasta with mushroom, olive, feta and tomatoes; microwave jacket potatoes with mozzarella, parmesan and rocket; substantial salads; and our post-big-walk “resurrection soup” made with chicken stock, soup pasta, parsley, and slices of cheddar cheese added at the end until it just blends. These kinds of meals are straightforward to prepare when in a campervan – you can leave your baking and complicated cooking for when you get home.

Snacks are easy: We were buying marvellous apples, cherries, berries, peaches, etc, all over the place including roadside stalls. The Hill Street Grocer in West Hobart, our favourite shop in the world, sells exquisite fruit and vegetables, cheeses, memorable nut mixes, and a wonderful taramasalata which is great for dipping crunchy fresh celery in. We raided the Sandy Bay German Bakery repeatedly for their great bread, pretzels, nut horns, beestings, and other delicious morsels. We often ate wholemeal toast slathered with butter and gorgeous leatherwood honey. So you can see it is very easy in Tasmania to stay fuelled up for walking four to six hours a day on its fabled nature trails. The food and the walking go hand-in-hand, and allow you to come away from your holiday toned and glowing, with serious improvements in fitness and endurance, and unforgettable memories of adventures in scintillating landscapes.

When travelling by campervan, we would overnight in trail head car parks so we could head out on a day hike straight after breakfast. Good toilet etiquette is paramount in the bush: Take a trowel and bury absolutely everything under the litter layer away from footpaths so it can compost away invisibly. It is amazing how many people seem to be unaware of this courtesy to nature and other walkers; don’t be one of them. Don’t wash your hands in the campervan’s kitchen sink afterwards either, as we’ve seen people do. You can use a simple water bottle turned into a tap by your spouse, or hand sanitiser if you prefer. When you need to do laundry or have a hot shower you can stay in a caravan park. We tended to do strenuous day hikes every second day, and drive to a caravan park after. Next day we would sightsee and do shorter walks and then stay in the bush somewhere.

Our favourite overnighter was in a layby off a tiny country road in northern Tasmania. There was a field of cattle next door and tall forest everywhere else. We had driven in at sunset, very slowly because there was so much wildlife crossing at that time – the sheer amounts reliably stagger mainlanders. After dinner and lights-out we lay snuggled up in the dark listening to a cacophony of sounds from insects, frogs, birds, bats and various marsupials, and looked out of the van windows at a crystalline Milky Way, far away from big-city light pollution. To us, those are the true riches of life!

…as you can probably imagine, we are a little nostalgic about time flying and adventures past. It will be lovely to get back out to that island next year to make new wonderful memories…

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