Tasmania (1): mainly in words

tassie nature

“We have just closed the kitchen.”

It was the Australia Day long weekend, we were in Tasmania. After a day walking around Freycinet national park, we couldn’t find accommodation there. Instead, we stumble into Swansea, a nearby town, at 8.10pm.

The tavern and a restaurant – one of only two – had closed their kitchens (see first paragraph).

At the second restaurant, Salt Shaker, the owner asked us to come back at 8.30pm for the last seating. We did, to find two groups of hungry American travellers ahead of us. The owner looks over their hungry eyes at us, and I say desperately, “we were here first…” Miraculously (it seemed miraculous to me at the time), we were seated (as was the first group of American travellers, but I don’t know if the second group went hungry that night).

A sigh of relief, we settled down to a really excellent dinner, with fresh-as-can-be crayfish, salmon, locally made ice cream. Water front views of Swansea’s bay was lit by a picture perfect 9pm sunset.

We found the best of Tasmania in summer after all.

Swansea is a lovely little town, if you get in before 8pm. If you are coming from Freycinet, remember it can take 50 minutes to drive along the winding 32km road. Find accommodation early if you want to stay in Freycinet around Australia Day, since mobile phones may not have a signal there so you can’t find hotels on the run (Vodafone, I’m looking at you). 

Other than this tale of desperation, we had a good weekend. Tasmania well deserves a longer leisurely visit, where you can settle back into the local communities’ unhurried rhythm.

The people are friendly, with open smiles, broad Australian accents, and time for a chat. The island was so … effortlessly picture perfect. Every turn of the road brought new views of wide azure coves, seven or nine mile long pale grey-silver beaches, and irregular mountains inland.

These are photos of the Tessellated Pavement, Eaglehawk Neck: can you believe this is a natural phenomenon, created by nothing more than sea salt crystals and an unusual type of rock?

tassie nature1tassie nature2

Port Arthur, the site of so much history, and most likely so much misery during the convict era, presented a picture of rural idyll. During the rain, the not-so-distant hills are almost shrouded in mist, the ruined buildings become more gothic, and we were more aware that the wind blows from the Antarctic (and this during the middle of summer!). I was reminded of Prior Park, near Bath in England, where we also found ourselves surrounded by white fog, damp and mystery one early morning.

port arthur21port arthur17

Mona: Museum of Old and New Art, a truly monumental private gallery up the Derwent River. I was mesmerised by the architecture, sights, sounds and the experience, and envied the local artists who could meander through its passages and cavernous halls whenever they wanted.

The capital city, Hobart, had maintained many buildings and monuments from its colonial past. Parts of the city had the air of a modestly rakish seaside resort from the nineteenth century. Fishing boats are moored to the dock next to a steam powered boat and some of the oldest sailing boats in Australia. Every time I looked up, I saw a glimpse of the harbour, or of mountains rising behind the city.

hobart2

Tasmania is known for the quality of its produce. We had seafood every day of our trip. Fish and chips with blue eye trevally, stargazer (monk fish), red bream, salmon. Scallop pie. Crayfish. Seafood risotto. The fish have the firm texture and sweetness of the ocean. The sweet briny flavours of the scallops and crayfish sing on the plate without need for any dressing. There are also people showcasing local produce in exciting ways. I particular remember the ice cream in flavours like lavender, and roasted wattle seed and macadamia. 

The food portions are generous, like the people. Coffee, French toast, ice cream, fat chips (no skinny fries) are bigger than the ‘artisan’ portions I have grown used to in Sydney. On our flight back, it felt like we were leaving an earlier, simpler Australia behind.

Next post: Tasmania in pictures

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