The biggest challenge of a Tasmanian holiday is how to pack it all in, as the Perkins family recently discovered. Model mum/TV presenter Symantha Perkins kept a tour diary of their fabulous Tassie adventure.
“Mum it’s bigger than a skyscraper!” screamed Georgia (10yrs) as the Spirit of Tasmania loomed into view. We’d flown Qantas from Sydney to Melbourne, picked up a BMW four-wheel drive and headed for Port Melbourne. About 6.30pm we drove onboard the ship and quickly checked out our cabin (a four berth, one cot suite). What it lacked in size (we’re a family of five) it made up for in novelty value, complete with a porthole view of stunning Bass Strait. By 7.30pm we sat down for dinner and felt the boat set sail as the main course arrived.
We arrived in Devonport on Tassie’s northern tip and headed straight for House of Anvers chocolate factory. Anvers makes all things chocolate, including breakfast so it was kid heaven! Large windows frame the factory floor and we marvelled as rich chocolate slabs were fashioned into fudge and truffles.
Next we walked off the chocolate at Cataract Gorge, a bushland oasis in the heart of Launceston city. A chairlift goes to the top and we walked back down past peacocks fanning their turquoise feathers and over a bouncy suspension bridge. We settled into Launceston’s Country Club Villas for the night.
Following an exciting round of mini-golf in the Tamar Valley, we visited Beauty Point for a hands-on lesson in conservation. At Platypus House, the kids were smitten by ultra-friendly echidnas they got to pat and feed. Across the wharf we enjoyed a local marine life tour at Seahorse World. Two-year-old Charlie picked up an elegant seahorse, while the older kids felt spider and hermit crabs in the 'touch pool'.
The BMW’s DVD player made the two-hour drive south-east pass quickly before Freycinet’s rugged coastline popped through granite peaks. “I’ve never seen sand so white and water so blue, Dad,” said Harry (9). Breathtaking Wineglass Bay is the tourism icon but we liked local favourite Friendly Beaches, where we met a tame wallaby who even posed for photos. On the beach Harry enjoyed nature’s playground, climbing jagged rock formations.
Despite my initial reservations about two-year-olds and the open sea, paddling at Freycinet was a family hit. Our guide Simon from Freycinet Adventures assured us his kayaks were toddler-safe and also chose a protected bay. We took two boats out and pulled up at a secluded beach for morning tea of fresh muffins and hot coffee. Georgia marvelled at the shell abundance and Simon told her some were 2,000 years old.
“Bye-bye boat,” shouted Charlie as we ventured south. Just outside Port Arthur we reached the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park where Harry finally got to see cheeky Tassie devils and Charlie loved feeding the kangaroos.
Having just studied convicts at school, Georgia was looking forward to visiting Port Arthur Historic Site. Set on 125 hectares, the site boasts more than 30 historic buildings and ruins and was a prison for 12,700 convicts between 1830 and 1877. “Mum, I can’t believe how tiny the cells were,” mused Georgia. “Yeah,” said Harry. “I thought my room was small.”
At nearby Pirate Bay we bushwalked to Tasman Blowhole and Devil’s Kitchen. The tracks were rugged so we ditched the pram and although our toddler walks well we still carried her a lot, but the rocky ocean vistas were worth every step. Next up was Hobart, voted the world’s third most photogenic city, and some relaxation at luxurious Wrest Point.
We drove south and jump-started the day with a wild jet boat ride up the Huon River. Be warned - rug up and hold onto anklebiters because the thrilling, 360-degree spins are, in Harry’s words, “scarier than a rollercoaster”.
Equally thrilling, Tahune AirWalk is a treetop trail almost half a kilometre long and suspended up to 48 metres in the air on steel towers. Our kids insisted it was a “must see” and although my heart said yes, my head said no. “Come on Mum, don’t be a wimp!” Georgia encouraged and it was awesome, if not terrifying.
Everyone kept warning us about “the drive” to Strahan, infamous for hours of unrelenting bends. To break the trip we stopped at Something Wild, a rescue centre for devils and other Aussie natives where the kids enjoyed patting a wombat. Back en route, the endless winding road played havoc with our stomachs until Strahan finally appeared.
We freshened up in our vintage brick cottage at Strahan Village and wandered down to an outdoor theatre on the riverbank to see “The Ship That Never Was”. This hilarious play is about a group of convicts and their cunning plan to escape from the penal outpost, Sarah Island. But with only two company actors on stage, audience members are picked to play many parts. Ecstatic, Georgia was cast as a parrot and Harry played a heroic convict. With ingenious costumes and set (the actors fashion wooden planks and fabric them into a replica sailing ship) we ranked the play a trip highlight. Don’t miss it!
The Wilderness Railway snakes along 35kms of Tassie’s wild west, across 40 bridges down to Strahan. Our authentic steam train chugged up to the first bush station and Harry watched wide-eyed as the driver refilled the engine with water. Fresh regional cheeses and red wines kept coming all day, yet despite the staff’s boundless enthusiasm I found the six-hour journey geared better for my older kids than our squirming toddler.
I was nervous about doing the Gordon River Cruise, being another full-day trip in a confined space, but upon boarding we were immediately directed to seats opposite a large box of children’s toys and colouring books. This time we did enjoy a glass of wine and barely noticed the ocean swell as we entered treacherous Hells Gates. We stopped for a guided tour of Sarah Island where the sheer beauty is at odds with the island’s brutal history.
We woke up at glorious Cradle Mountain and walked around stunning Dove Lake. The kids were thrilled to see snow on Cradle’s ridgeline and we even met two die-hard locals heading up to ski the peak. We Perkins were content to walk but even so sturdy footwear was crucial on the rough track.
On our return to Devonport we loved Tasmazia, a labyrinth of hedge mazes. After a few false starts we successfully negotiated a giant maze, to reach the miniature fantasy village of Lower Crackpot.
Tip 1: We invested in a See Tasmania Smartvisit Card, which is accepted at most tourist attractions. Like a credit card, it’s a universal payment system and made our holiday hassle free. www.seetasmaniacard.com
Tip 2: We took a Bugaboo all-terrain pram because many Tassie tourist spots have rocks/steps but the view always makes the effort worthwhile.
Country Club Villas, Launceston – www.countryclubtasmania.com.au
Swansea Holiday Park at Jubilee Beach – www.swansea-holiday.com.au
Wrest Point – www.wrestpoint.com.au
Strahan Village – www.puretasmania.com.au
Port Arthur Caravan and Cabin Park – www.portarthurcaravan-cabinpark.com.au