As Editor of the Australian Weekend Review, Tim Douglas has experienced the best of art and culture throughout Australia. In January he took his family south to sunny Tasmania for a different type of adventure, and it was one none of them will forget too soon.
A top-of-the-line, brand new Mercedes, a gorgeous woman by my side and the sumptuous drama of the Tasmanian wilderness unfolding through the windscreen to the strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It sounds like something out of a high-end television commercial. And it could be, but this particular Mercedes is the size of a small planet, and I have three kids in the back, one of whom has just poked herself in the eye with a pencil. Indicate. Brake. Pull over. Repeat.
This is family touring, motorhome style, and if there’s anywhere in the world one can handle having to park a vehicle roughly every five minutes, it’s on the Apple Isle. Each sibling skirmish; every emergency bladder evacuation; each pencil-poked pupil (there will be a few on this journey) offers a new, glorious perspective on Australia’s southernmost state.
Just an hour ago, our family of five collected its six-berth Maui River Elite Winnebago in Hobart; we were given a rundown of its facilities and the all-important Tetris-like configuration of beds. It’s only now that I realise I’ve managed to commit to memory just the placement of the wine glasses (this will, however, come in handy). But what of it? We are happily cruising down the Tasman Highway towards pretty Sorrell and on to Port Arthur Holiday Park, a few kilometres from the historic site, where we meet our friends.
They too are touring with three children in a motorhome, and bravely we have resolved to travel in convoy ... van Diemen’s van demons. We pull into position overlooking azure-blue Stewart’s Bay, and as our cricket-mad offspring bowl the first ball, we take a moment to kick the tyres on this glorious behemoth that will be our home for a week.
Seven metres long and 3.5m high, this 2.2l turbo diesel glampervan comes with a fully kitted-out kitchen, stovetop, TV and DVD player, shower, toilet and three double beds. With more USB points than you could point a thumbdrive at, this is mobile cruising for a most modern family. Tasmania has developed a reputation for free camping, but it also has a healthy complement of commercial camping parks, and we are staying with BIG4 Holiday Parks around the state. The allure of power, laundries, hot water, and yes, jumping pillows, is impossible to pass up.
It’s still dark when we rise after our first night’s sleep. We stumble outside and follow a sand track to a secluded beach. Jogging past a pack of pademelons contemplating the water, a few kilometres later we round a bend to witness the majesty of Port Arthur’s sandstone facade in the rising sun. Later, we will return and lose ourselves in this place’s many histories. But for now all is quiet, and for it, Port Arthur is all the more remarkable.
Back on the road, we track north up the spectacular east coast, breaking at Eaglehawk Neck to refuel, mostly on muesli bars. The van, which consumes 13 litres of diesel per 100km, is still full; the kids, however, seem to be working to a ratio of 100 calories to 1km. The impossibly narrow band of land dividing Eaglehawk and Pirate bays was the natural place to apprehend absconding Port Arthur prisoners during the 19th century. Today, the only thing patrolling the crystalline waters is an ebullient seal, which raises its flipper in benevolent farewell or, perhaps, offensive good riddance.
Soon enough the spectacular Great Eastern Drive to Coles Bay is laid out before us. Friendly graziers herding sheep nod in greeting as waves crash just metres from the road. We round a hairpin bend and happen upon Devil’s Corner Winery, offering astonishing views out to Freycinet Peninsula and the Shipwreck Coast. We order a bottle of shiraz, more oysters and drink in the panorama. The kids, bless, have found a cricket bat, and before long we’re all on the pitch. Dads are coming in off the long run; mums are clearing boundaries.
Coles Bay is just a few kilometres away, and as we approach its famous granite monoliths, the Hazards, the squabbling behind the driver’s seat recedes into muted awe. The Freycinet Peninsula has been a national park since 1917, and its greatest treasure, Wineglass Bay, has in numerous polls been voted in the world’s top 10 beaches. We check in to BIG4 Iluka on Freycinet Holiday Park as the sunset explodes over the water. Tomorrow, we will catch a breathtaking sunrise over Coles Bay before enthralling the kids on the 250m elevation, 6km return walking trip to Wineglass Bay with gory tales of its bloody history as a whaling hub.
We drive north, through the seaside hamlet of Bicheno, where we purchase oysters and lobster rolls from the famous Lobster Shack. A mid-summer squall greets our arrival at the east-coast resort town of St Helens, and the BIG4 Holiday Park’s hot showers are a welcome relief. We warm up the following morning with coffee at the cute Lifebuoy Cafe and Quail Emporium, before traipsing across the famous orange-hued granite boulders of the Bay of Fires. We pause a moment to take in the Tasmanian air (they’re bottling the stuff now and selling it to China, I tell the kids), but before I can explain that a variety of lichen is the cause of the rocks’ curious colouration, they have spied an Everest-sized sandhill to tear up and down.
Our two vans, full of sand, meander in sometimes comical convoy through rainforests and over misty mountains as we trek west towards Launceston. I muse that Mick, my counterpart, is an “A to B” man; I am more of an “A to Gee, was I supposed to turn there?” man. Happily, though, we have found ourselves on the Tamar Valley Wine Route, and we make landfall at Delamere, Jansz and Piper’s Brook vineyards. There are two good reasons we stay at the latter — Fred Strachan and Luke Whittle. Strachan, the chief viticulturist greets us with a smile and a cheese platter the size of a small mountain range, before being joined by senior winemaker Whittle. The kids are busying themselves (cricket again) outside and we enjoy in peace a mini-degustation at the cellar door. It’s heavenly, but too soon it’s time to depart. Tasmania’s second largest city awaits.
It’s late afternoon, and my family is walking the streets of Launceston dressed in matching pink polka-dot jumpsuits, courting wolf whistles (and only the occasional abusive taunt) from passers-by. Our situation is so curious, it seems, that a stranger has stopped their car to pap us in the street. Obviously, they didn’t get the memo: there’s an entire army of onesie wearers on the other side of town. Launceston this weekend is hosting the Museum of Old and New Art’s summer festival MONA FOMA in its first year away from its Hobart home.
We have just left the free Block Party, where a host of dressmakers have been creating onesies for patrons. We wear ours with pride, and check in to the BIG4 Launceston Holiday Park. As night falls, I abscond with my eldest son into the city. We have scored tickets to see singer-songwriter Gotye’s festival show. We recline in beanbags in the front row at beautiful Albert Hall, smiles as wide as Cataract Gorge and beers (ginger, naturally) in hand.
Cradle Mountain, further west, calls us, and we roll out before dawn, beating the morning rush at the famous peaks. We circumnavigate Dove Lake before lunch, load the kids full of carbs and take the scenic route north to Stanley. There we scale its rocky monolith The Nut — the kids still are wearing their onesies — and all but contract hypothermia swimming in the outpost’s frigid waters. We cruise across the rugged northern coastline — Fossil Bluff, Doctor’s Rocks, Burnie and Penguin (its pie shop alone is worth the trip across Bass Strait) — and on to BIG4 Kelso Sands Holiday and Native Wildlife Park, on the west edge of the northern Tamar River. Wombats waddle past as we arrive, watching with muted ambivalence as we dive into the heated pool.
Tracking the Tamar south, we stop at historic Rosevears Hotel on the water for a delightful calamari lunch, and continue down the river on the unofficial cider trail. We drop in at start-up cider farm Muddy Creek Apples, and sample the impressive wares before pushing south to Hobart where we check in late to the BIG4 Hobart Airport Tourist Park. It’s quieter than it sounds, and convenient. We rise early, and head into the city, where the kids set about emptying the remaining contents of my wallet at busy Salamanca Market. We eat fish and chips on Constitution Dock and marvel at the vertiginous beauty of Mount Wellington looming above the city.
It’s our last night in Tasmania. We sweep a cubic metre of sand out of the van, pack our things, and crack a final bottle of wine with our friends. The kids, in their onesies, sit together in the van, smiling and playing cards. The simple beauty of this one moment rivals every inch of Tasmanian scenery. My wife and I dig into our suitcases and locate our garish MONA jumpsuits. We pull them on, laughing, and join our pocket-sized pink people in the back of a van at the end of the earth.
This article first appeared in The Australian and was republished with permission. Tim Douglas was a guest of BIG4 Holiday Parks Australia and Maui Motorhomes Australia.