I’d like to welcome back Andrew as a guest blogger. Have you ever wondered if anyone actually wins those competitions on Facebook, well this jammy git recently liked Jetstar, typed 25 magical words and voilà a trip to Tassie…
Recently I visited the Wild West of Tasmania thanks to a competition win with everything arranged by Discover Tasmania. A four day self-drive tour with set itinerary and free time in between various check-ins and pre-arranged activities to explore a small ¼ of Australia’s biggest island. So, MM and I, set off early one Friday morning from Adelaide airport, on a journey that would actually have quite a few nice surprises along the way.
By lunch time we were in Launceston in Tasmania’s north. On landing at the small airport I was immediately reminded of Londonderry in Northern Ireland. With a few hours to kill we took in some of the sights in this small historical city, home to James Boags, the local brewer and quite a nice beer. After lunch we had a great coffee/hot chocolate stop at an interesting little café called Amelia espresso. Our first night was spent at the Country Club Tasmania, a golf resort style hotel set in beautiful grounds with all the added trimmings. After a sauna and fab meal, we ended up in the casino. Not really a big gambler I had a flutter and I’m glad I did; starting with $50 (know your limits) I left about an hour later with around $175 in my pocket.
It was a usual start to a hotel stay with a buffet breakfast where eyes are often much bigger than your belly. We then trekked west to make our first scheduled stop on the itinerary, Strahan. The night before a friendly local had given me a few tips of places worth checking out on route and by 10am we had stopped at the first, Christmas Hill Raspberry Farm Café. Having driven through quaint villages such as Westbury and Deloraine we eventually stopped at the raspberry farm which serves everything on its menu with a little bit of raspberry. As a chocoholic, with a liking for raspberries, it came as no surprise that the Hot Chocolate with raspberry syrup was a winning combination.
Surprise number two came, as we wound our way through the country roads, when I noticed a large bird of prey. Clearly an eagle I slowed the car to watch it glide. But then, in what can only be described as a David Attenborough moment, from nowhere came another whiter eagle. Boom, in seconds both had locked talons, circled 360 degrees, wings arched whilst descending fast before releasing. MM and I looked at each other as if to say ‘wow, that’s not something you see every day’ and for the next 15 minutes drove on discussing what an amazing sight it was. (Google suggests one was possibly a Sea Eagle and the other a rare territorial Tasmanian Wedged Tailed Eagle).
On route to Strahan we also stopped at Railton, the Town of Topiary, Sheffield, the town of murals, by mistake Lake Barrington and a quick stop not far from Cradle Mountain to experience our first snow in almost a year and a half since leaving the UK. Finally we arrived in Strahan at around 3pm after some amazing mountain roads. All checked in to the Strahan Village hotel, where most of the seaside village harbour houses are various forms of accommodation; we had around an hour to kill so had a quick stop at a harbour café and the tourist office.
At 4.15pm we met with 3 staff from Discover Tasmania and the other couples who had won the chance to experience Western Tasmania. So now 15 strangers were to board an afternoon cruise through Port Macquarie Harbour and down the Gordon River, to experience fine dining, Tasmanian style. On board the Captain welcomed us with fizzy and the usual safety demonstration of if we sink etc. The setting sun on a smooth and darkened river provided great photo opportunities, whilst the Discover Tasmania staff, Mark, Tim and Liza, told tales of how Strahan was settled by convicts. Our dinner included a starter of tasty local crayfish, followed by even tastier wallaby and finally a dessert of chocolate and pistachio mousse with chocolate infused with popping candy, all whilst the drinks never stopped. After 4 hours we disembarked all quite jolly and full. The tourism staff obviously in good spirits decided to continue the party and invited us all to the local pub for wine and chat.
Another morning, another hotel buffet breakfast, but after all the previous night’s drinking fried eggs and bacon were welcomed. Today we were slightly back tracking as we were to be staying near Cradle Mountain in the Chateau and taking a guided walk around Dove Lake. Our first stop on route was Ocean Beach, 10 minutes from Strahan. A rough and wild beach where the wave mist is so thick it looks like fog and the crashing of the surf is so loud it sounds like a freight train passing. Amazingly we were the only ones there, which added to the experience.
After checking into the Chateau by 12, we quickly made our way to Devils@Cradle, a Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary. This was a must, as we were unlikely to see a devil in the wild. They also have a family of Quoll who on our visit were giving the keepers the run around.
Back at the Chateau we changed in to walking gear and headed to the Cradle Mountain Lodge, which with its many open fires and log constructions reminded you of something you see in an American movie. Here after 20 minutes of waiting with the other competition winners we understood our guide wasn’t coming. A booking mistake led to a compensatory offer of a wine and cheese tasting session later in the day and another surprise as I became an unofficial walk leader for the group, which was now down to 6 as others went off to do their own thing. So into the park we went on the free shuttle bus, a great concept as its stops too many vehicles entering the national park where loads of wildlife roams free including what seems to be a healthy population of wombats.
At the lake I signed us in, jokingly welcomed the group to Dove Lake and pointed out Cradle Mountain, before reminding them not to break a leg. Taking the 2 hour Dove lake circuit we passed an old boat shed, through thick forest, under the mountain, past Glacier rock and back to the car park, only to find 6 had become 4. Fearing I would have to wait to ensure the other 2 ladies returned safely I was glad to see they had returned back and responsibly signed themselves out. Phew!
Back at the lodge the group became 3 for the wine and cheese tasting. Having catered for 12, once the proceedings of swirl, sniff, sip and taste were over, 3 very happy walkers left the lodge for dinner. We decided that for our last meal together, as winners, we should sit together and continue the fun. Now back to 4 we enjoyed a great evening with toasts made to competition winning, Discover Tasmania and new friends.
Our final day started with a thick frost, which in the morning sun produced amazing glistening images in the grass and a last chance to enjoy some of the freshest air I had breathed for a long time. Today’s objective was to just make it back to Launceston. Having swapped stories with the other couples there were a few things people had mentioned that MM and I decided we wanted to do on route, so again we set off as soon as we could. Eventually we found ourselves driving through the Meander Valley where it seems Kookaburras thrive, via a valley floor and forestry route, then on to Mole Creek Karst National park, home of Marakoopa and King Solomon’s Caves. King Solomon’s Cave was amazing with stalactite and stalagmite formations, however Marakoopa was even better. Not only because the guide was excellent but his awareness of where to spot a rare Tasmanian Cave spider and the big ugly cave crickets made the visit special. The highlight of Marakoopa comes at the end when after lights out the ceiling resembles the night sky as hundreds of Glow worms light up above your head.
Back on the road we made a few last stops including the very tasty 41 degrees South Salmon and Ginseng farm and Tasmanian Pure (Continental Small goods) where we picked up some great local products for home. Finally in Launceston we decided to return to the little Amelia espresso café where to our final surprise, the barista who had served us on Friday welcomed us and remembered our exact order from 3 days earlier, now that’s impressive!!!
Discover Tasmania had certainly laid out the red carpet with regards to the accommodation and led us down the right path of what the wild west of the island had to offer. Thanks to the local knowledge of friendly islanders and some wrong turns we also discovered other little gems in our free time. For me having an itinerary set by someone else started as a fear but with the ability to relax in-between point A and B, and knowing that on arrival everything would be sorted with good food and a good bed, I actually think I managed to experience the better side of Tasmania and travel in general. Thanks to a competition win and not the self-organised devil we can sometimes find our self-experiencing I can certainly recommend travel by competition win and especially Tasmania. Kudos Discover Tasmania, I will be back.
This is a non-sponsored post by Andrew Coulson
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