Port Arthur, at the bottom of Tasmania, has a grim history. A place where they sent the worst sort of convicts; those that committed crimes after being transported; and those convicts they couldn’t be put to work, including sadly, boys as young as 11. Despite its painful past, it is an absolutely stunningly beautiful natural area. The Tasman Peninsula’s connection to the rest of the island is only a few 100m wide, the reason it was chosen as a penitentiary. It is covered in lush forests, logging possibilities was another attraction for the authorities, and sandy beaches. Often the weather is wild and stormy even in the summer. I can imagine arriving there as a convict; a solider guarding them; or the soldiers’s families that it would feel like you were trapped at the ends of the earth. Thankfully though we were blessed with beautiful blue skies and sunshine, so we could appreciate its beauty. The huge open air museum of the gaol was very interesting and well done, the girls particularly loved making peg dolls of the commandant’s wife.
We were making our way to the south end of Cradle Mountain-Lake Sinclair National Park. Although the mountains in Tasmania are not very high they are covered with thick bush and tall gum trees. The Lyell Highway wound through gorges with steep sides; at the bottom there was dense rainforest and at the tops view of mountain peaks. It was all stunning. We had a long afternoon hike at Lake Sinclair, stopping at the end to admire the views and climb the fallen trees. That night we free camped in the local pub’s car park and, bizarrely considering we were in the middle of nowhere, had one of the best curries I’ve ever had. Quite how the Sri Lankan chief had ended up there, we never found out, but he seemed very happy about it.
The following day we enjoyed the wild views all the way down to the coast. We passed hydro-electric dams and mining areas, even with these massive areas of human caused damage it seemed that the presence of people was just temporary, soon the forest would take it all back. Ocean Beach, near Strahan, was hot and windy. The roaring forties trade winds come blowing in here from across the oceans. It was hot enough for a quick dip in the freezing surf and a sandblasted play on the beach. That night our car park camping spot filled with people watching the setting sun.
The next day we found one of the most beautiful campsites we’ve had for ages on the shores of Lake Macintosh. It was a tight squeeze crossing the dam wall but we found a sweet spot on a little promontory sticking out into the lake. The weather was changeable, sunny with squalls of horizontal rain but we tried to be outside as much as possible to take in the views.
Cradle Mountain is one of Tasmania’s most beautiful wild spots. It’s understandably popular, so a shuttle bus takes people to see it at Dove Lake. The weather was glorious, so we decided to hike the 8 1/2km in, before circling the lake for a further 6km then getting the bus out. Walking through the button grass plains we got great views of the mountains. The blue-black lake had sandy white beaches and was surrounded by pristine alpine bush. We camped that night beside a stream running into a lake. Tasmania has a great network of free bush camps in lovely surroundings. Although they might not have any facilities, not that we need them anyway, they are far nicer than being squashed in with lots of other campers in a caravan park.
The Walls of Jerusalem National Park is considered remote, even in this rather remote part of Tasmania. Our 6 hour hike started with a long 3 hour slog uphill to reach a plateau, where we were rewarded with hazy views of the “Walls” ahead. The girls have hiked wonderfully over the last few days, as regular readers of this blog will know, they will walk if they can talk. So we’ve had lots of stories, thankfully they are both prolific storytellers as well as enjoying hearing them. That night we parked next to another hydroelectric lake, filled with the skeletons of dead trees, alone on the rocky shore.
On our last day in Tasmania we spent the morning searching for wild platypuses on a quiet stretch of river outside Letrobe. We glimpsed several in the water by looking for their ripples.
Our ferry to the mainland had managed to come away from its moorings the previous week in a freak storm in Melbourne and swung round 90 degrees damaging its car ramp and the dock. Thankfully no one was hurt and they managed to fix it. Fortunately they got it running again albeit on a delayed timetable.
We had a wonderful time in Tasmania, we could have done with at least another week to see more of it. We’ve also been blessed with some fantastic weather, which has made visiting its beaches and hiking wonderful.