Living on the Wild Side

I was pleasantly surprised by Tasmania. I went there with zero expectations, and it exceeded them. I really loved it. After two weeks (27th Nov – 11th December) I still wasn’t ready to leave; Hobart is a great city, right on the coast, with a population of about 221,000 very happy and very laidback people.

Part of the reason I loved it so much was because of where I was staying. If you ever find yourself in Hobart, I could not rate The Pickled Frog more highly. Nice and central, lovely space, café and bar, two gorgeous dogs, and some of the friendliest staff you will ever meet. And it has a dorm room door painted like the frickin’ Tardis! Need I say more?

Generally, my time in Tassie is a story of survival (in reality it wasn’t nearly this dramatic, but a touch of exaggeration never hurt anyone). Tasmania isn’t for the faint-hearted; it’s full of venomous snakes, devils, treacherous mountains and wildly changeable weather. (It’s also full of rolling green hills, little penguins, vineyards, and gorgeous beaches, but they don’t fit in as well with this style of narrative.)

In some ways, I feel like my Tassie trip started as it meant to continue. Day one and I’d been in the hostel for barely two hours when I was suddenly taking up the offer from a newfound friend to head up the winding road to the top of Mt Wellington on the back of a motorbike. My first ever ride on a motorbike I might add. And it was so. much. fun. It’s the perfect road for it, terrifically twisty and beautifully bendy, and the view from the top was definitely worth it.

I thankfully survived the ascent and descent and was soon back on my own two feet. As if I hadn’t had experience enough with motorcycles for one trip, less than a week later I was almost run down by well over 5,000 bikes during the 37th Annual Hobart Toy Run. I stumbled upon it while I was wandering around town and a lovely gentleman in the P1100221.JPGmuseum told me it was kicking off at around 3-ish. By the time I was at one of the barriers and the first bikes started rumbling past, I was in for the long haul, whether I wanted to be there or not, because there was suddenly no safe way for me to cross the road. It was quite the sight though and I’m glad I hung around. The only requirement for the run is that you have a toy attached somewhere to your bike which you donate to the Salvation Army at the end. Cue hardened bikers with fluffy unicorns on their backs, sleek roaring machines covered in tinsel and Carebears, and even an ecstatic looking Elmo beasting down the road on his Suzuki.

 ***

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Yes, I rode a sheep to MONA on the ferry. His name was Baa-rtholomew.

Hobart wasn’t all madness and near-death experiences though. I had a lovely wander around the Salamanca markets – the place to be if you want lavender, bamboo clothing, mead or wallaby burritos – and a great day out at MONA. I’m not normally a big fan of modern art (I know you shouldn’t generalise…), but I loved MONA. Some of it was just downright crazy, but other parts of it were fascinating and unique and beautiful. I also went to a free gospel concert there (I love gospel and I love free stuff), although I was totally unprepared for the sudden appearance of the sun and ended up using a fellow concert-goer’s suncream… (they gave me a carrot and some hommus too which made me very happy. As I said, I really like free stuff). Thank you, kind strangers.

I also went on a day trip to Port Arthur which was really interesting. I went to karaoke at the Grand Poobah.
I played a considerable amount of pool and Monopoly Go.
And then I got to explore the rest of Tassie for five days with Under Down Under:

15349614_10154320766537779_3694781750681913418_nHaving encountered so much danger in Hobart, I decided it wasn’t enough and widened my search for near death experiences to the rest of the island. I started off tame with a short helicopter ride in Strahan (I say tame because I want to sound cool and like a seasoned chopper pro, but really it was super exciting and lucky that my friend could take me up for a ten minute spin), before building up to adrenaline-fuelled day two: a five hour leisurely cruise down the Gordon River complete with afternoon nap. I heard enough about Huon pine that day to last me a lifetime… and then some. And hats off to their marketing department who got us so emotionally embroiled in the story of the ‘oldest living Tasmanian’ that, after the cruise, almost 100% of the passengers were inexorably drawn to a box of Huon pine scraps for a dollar each. It even took me a split second to remember, halfway to the till with an armful of pine, that neither I nor my friends and family had any need for blocks of wood. My rucksack thanked me.

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The concentration.

The drama was ramped up again with what I like to call the Cradle Mountain Death Walk. Picture a cold, wet, miserable, windy day. Rain hammering on the windows of the bus all morning, mountains invisible behind thick swathes of heavy cloud, wind violently whipping the branches of the trees on the side of the road. It was in this setting that we were given the option of two walks in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Walk one was described as slightly more sheltered, shorter, and flatter. Walk two was up and down, left and right, slippery, and exposed. A show of hands was requested for walk two… and I was the only one of twenty-four people to raise mine. In the end we managed to gather a ragtag group of six intrepid adventurers who were willing to take on Antarctic conditions and danger at every turn.

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Sod’s law, the weather started to clear up just as we were finishing the walk, but despite all that, I really enjoyed it. True, the lookouts were just grey, the path at some points had become a stream and the steps waterfalls, and we only finally saw Cradle Mountain when we were back at the bus, but I’m one of those weirdos who likes the rain so I was literally in my element.

 ***

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The next day was all about adrenaline-fuelled rock hopping and parkour at the Gardens beach (although less of the parkour because those guys are insane). Naturally, I found the highest rock, climbed it, and christened it Pride Rock. But it was only on the final day of the tour, the last hurrah, when I played out my most death-defying stunt. The day I literally locked eyes with the (Tasmanian) devil.

After a morning at the gorgeous Wine Glass Bay, we visited a wildlife sanctuary just outside Hobart. I wasn’t too thrilled about this because I’m not very keen on zoos, but like a dutiful passenger I stood at the enclosure’s edge while the sanctuary guide talked about their three Tasmanian devils. While she was talking I happened to find the two marbles I had in my pocket (we’d gone to a town famous for marbles – standard – and I’d been suckered into buying some. It’s a long story*). So, of course, I started playing with my balls. (Please. Keep it clean.)

*It’s not really, but I wanted to imply there was slightly more depth to my impulse buying.

Before I knew it, there was a slip, fumble and light thud as one of my marbles hit the dirt below. Luckily it was a cream and brown marble so it didn’t attract too much attention, but I was silently freaking out. What if a Tasmanian devil found it and choked? I could picture the headlines: ‘Endangered animal murdered by clueless tourist’. I had a minor heart attack every time a devil ambled past the marble. I couldn’t leave it there. I couldn’t relate my ridiculous story to the sanctuary staff. There was only one option. I was going to have to go into Mission Impossible mode. I told a friend about my plight (he found it incredibly funny…). As soon as the guide and the group had moved on, I looked left, I looked right, coast clear. I lent over the barrier, my valiant friend holding my legs (although he told me afterwards how amusing it would have been if he’d let go, so maybe not so heroic), and retrieved the renegade marble, all in about two seconds flat. And then we both continued as normal, in true spy mode. No devil was going to die on my watch.

***

Now, you may think, surely that’s it for the adventure? How much danger can one person face? Trust me, it wasn’t over. Despite the fact that I had only one night left in Tasmania, p1100369it went out with a bang and it was probably the best night out I’d had for a long time. On one of my first days in Hobart I’d been given a fantastic list of recommendations by one of the nicest receptionists in the world (apparently from a genuine review although I’ve never seen it) of unconventional things to do in the city. I had been an excellent friend and visited none of them. He decided, fair enough, that this wasn’t good enough and what started out as a night of eating burgers and drinking, turned into an epic adventure climbing trees with incredible views, exploring tunnels, singing Disney songs, and spotting platypuses (my first one!).
If you read this, thank you. I haven’t laughed that hard for a long time.

And so ended my jaunt in Tasmania. I’m sure you can see why I was so reluctant to leave and I know you’ll now be itching to go. I may have a few new grey hairs from the experience, but each one has a memorable story.

***

Disclaimer: at no point did the tour guide endanger me or any of my fellow passengers. All decisions were my own, and nothing was ever actually that life-threatening – I’m just a storyteller who likes to let the imagination reign free every once in a while.

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Port Arthur – the best-preserved convict site in Australia, operating as a penal colony for reoffenders between 1830 and 1877.

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