The Land of the Brave

That’s why we couldn’t stay there

“How are you with spiders?” Says Holly, my Tasmanian buddy as we put our things in her spare room.

“Not the best” I reply.

“Oh, ok I won’t tell you what I found in your room last night then”. Brilliant.

If that weren’t bad enough, the conversation moves on to huntsman spiders – the intimidating, yet allegedly harmless spiders that stalk the houses of Australia.

I live in fear of encountering one of these brown, chunky monsters – their penchant for snacking on mosquitoes doing nothing to improve their image in my eyes:

Obviously this is not my hand.

In true Blue Peter style, Holly’s mum picks up the body of a relatively ‘small’ huntsman spider that has perished in the house and proceeds to stretch out its curled up (dead) legs to demonstrate the size of it. An unnecessary role play – trust me, I can imagine.

As I wonder to myself if they’ve left the body in the house as a warning to all its (not so little) friends, I ask if she would pick up a live one. She says “no, but Holly would!”.

I long to be this brave.

In my mind, Tasmania is effectively an island full of Bear Grylls types and I ask Holly if all Tasmanians are pretty unfazed by nature’s perils:

“I’d say that Tasmanians generally grow up pretty, erm, hardy” she says. This is most certainly an understatement.

Holly is a 23 year old bushwalking guide, student, and general badass, capable, in my eyes of pretty much anything excellent, from backbends on paddle boards to extreme spider removal. Her most notable achievement I would say, is managing to not be remotely obnoxious despite her youth (we became friends when she was 19 and I was 30). What a legend.

She calls upon her guiding skills now to help us create an itinerary for our week campervanning in Tassie*.

Meet Holly

*Before we continue, you need to be aware that Australians abbreviate EVERYTHING. Christmas is “Chrissy”, Tasmania “Tassie”, Damien “Damo” (more about him later), and much to mine and Ailidh’s dismay, eggs benedict is “benny”.

I know.

It’s awful.

I understand if you are unable to read on.

When asked in the otherwise very excellent Hobart Machine Laundry Cafe, “how were your bennys?” I nearly choked on my egg and got up to leave in protest. I think Ailidh considered cancelling her move to Australia.

Post story note: I walked past a street called Bennie Street in Melbourne after returning from Tasmania and realised that the trauma is still very much real.

Anyway. In Holly’s lovely home, complete with Dotty the cute and cuddly chocolate labrador, we sit and work our route.

We decide on Port Arthur, Freycinet National Park, Bay of Fires (St Helens) and Richmond. Enough to see a good chunk of Tasmania without spending the entire time in the campervan, and with plenty of food and wine stops built in – perfect.

We spend our first Tasmanian evening drinking in the beer garden of a pub in Hobart’s Battery Point with lots of Holly’s friends.

Almost all of these friends are super inspiring girl-boss-meets-Bear Grylls types who are definitely not scared of spiders. When I say ‘almost all of them’ that’s not because some of them were totally shite and uninspiring, it’s because a couple of them were men. And it’s not about you right now.

One friend, who I’m gradually adopting as my own, is Jo – also a bushwalking guide and student, who I was lucky enough to meet when she joined Holly for a trip to Europe a couple of years ago. To me, Jo is a person you can’t help but like. She just exudes kindness.

Meet Jo

With the sun shining, lots of catching up to do, cool people to talk to, and a wine menu for Ailidh and I to work through, the night goes quickly, and before long, we’re snuggled up in the spare room for one last sleep before we hit the road.

We wake to homemade pancakes (I told you – legend), and I ask Holly to tell me the story of what she found in our room the night before (now that we have lived through the night).

She tells me that it was a mummy and daddy spider with a shit tonne of kids. I live in fear of encountering one spider, let alone meeting the extended family, so needless to say, I’m very glad to have missed this particular meet and greet.

As we have hugs and photos with Holly and say our goodbyes, she gives us a quick snake tutorial, because that’s the kind of shit you have to do in Tasmania. It goes like this:

“There are 3 types of snake in Tasmania, and they’re all very venomous and could kill you”.

Of course.

She continues:

“The good thing is, if you get bitten, you don’t need to remember which one it was, because the anti-venom is the same for all of them”.

Oh wow that’s ok then.

She finishes off with the Australian emergency services number, which I think is Tasmanian for “have a nice time”.

The first stop in our rickety, suspensionless wheeled abode, is Port Arthur – home to a dark history and a 5 hour hike to a place called Cape Hauy which we couldn’t really be arsed to do (and probably didn’t have time).

Part of the reason we didn’t have time, is due to a stop we made on the way to a place called Eaglehawk Neck Viewpoint. Clearly someone was properly engrossed in a game of I Spy when they came up with that one.

We veer off the road like Cruella De Ville and immediately forget all other plans when we see a little sign for coffee, and once again our inability to be nice to each other without caffeine pays off.

We happen upon a ridiculously cute coffee van at the top of a hill overlooking a beautiful view just as it is about to close.

Our clear caffeine dependency and the look of crazy on Ailidh’s face encourages the barista man to make 2 final coffees for his own safety and we take a seat in the sun.

Not bad ey

It is here in this beautiful spot, that we record Ailidh’s Valentine’s Day music video and begin the “me and my boyfriend” photo series. Yes, we find ourselves hilarious.

Ailidh and her boyfriend

It is also here that I think I see a family ask a passer-by if he’d take a picture of them, and he misunderstands and takes their phone but goes and gets in the picture with the family.

(I realise afterwards that this is not what actually happened, but I laugh as though it did and set Ailidh off. We’re very easily pleased once caffeine has been consumed.

When we arrive in Port Arthur, our Eaglehawk Neck coffee and comedy stop having put pay to any plans for a long hike, we decide to pack a bottle of wine, and go for a walk to the beach near our campsite.

This turns out to be an excellent idea – the beach is glorious and practically deserted, and the wine god that watches over us has put two perfectly placed sun loungers out for us with a little table in between.

While Ailidh sits with her boyfriend some more, I go for a quick dip in the freezing cold waters, dunking myself in only when Ailidh dares me.

Will travel for wine

I spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in my swimwear on the beach drying off in the lovely warm sunshine as I drink my wine and wonder if what I saw in the water was a dead crab or a red rock. I am a deep soul.

Ailidh sits in her fleece with goose pimples drinking hers, probably thinking about how great I am.

Our romantic Valentines evening on the beach is interrupted only by the occasional passing dog (with human) which Ailidh can’t help but throw herself at. The dog, not the human. I realise I have made that sound creepy. She likes dogs, that’s my point.

Day and night number one in the camper van go without a hitch, apart from a near ambush by a pack of Potoroos just before bedtime. They’re definitely not the worst thing that could come for you in the night in Tasmania, but they can approach stealthily by land or by tree, so that’s quite intimidating. They look like the lovechild of a rat and a wallaby and they’re total scavengers.

My mother was a wallaby

Ailidh makes the genius discovery that they’re scared of the sound of a rustling plastic bag, so we become a really low budget percussion band in order to protect our hummus and crisps.

We wake up all excited the next morning because we’re booked to go on the much-recommended Pennicott Wildnerness Adventure boat trip. We join our group at 09:30 after inhaling a coffee, and board our boat where we are greeted by Damo (see abbreviation note above) and are presented with a red, extremely attractive waterproof onesy for the journey.

It’s cold this morning, and although we’re already wearing pretty much all of our clothes (and me also some of Ailidh’s), we take the onesy gratefully.

2 total hotties

As we prepare to set off, a very gorgeous skipper appears, with cute curly hair poking out of his beany, and waterproof dungarees that he somehow manages to make look good.

He introduces himself, but we can’t remember his name because cute boys are just pieces of meat to us.

When we stop drooling and start listening again, he tells us we’ll be encountering some ‘swell’ and some ‘weather’ but that the boats are designed for these conditions and we’re going to have a great time.

He comes round and gives everyone a couple of ginger tablets and some water, noting that “they’re 100% ginger, so if you’re allergic to ginger, don’t take them”.

Followed by:

“If you try to chew the tablets rather than swallow them, your adventure starts a lot earlier”. Ailidh and I think he’s hilarious but totally play it cool.

The boat sets off and once we’re out of the protection of the bay, we hit that ‘weather’.

‘Weather’, to a Tasmanian, means 2 metre swells, whipping wind, intermittent rain and sea that looks and feels like hills of blue.

Damo and the beautiful skipper are however, totally chilled and I think about how learning to do pretty much anything outdoorsy in Tasmania probably makes the rest of the world feel rather tame.

Our wild and wobbly journey takes us to amazing cliffs, cool rock formations and caves, and then to the ‘end of the world’ – Tasman Island.

There are sea birds everywhere- much to Ailidh’s horror, and sea lions hanging out on what seems like every available rock.

We watch one young seal decide to leg it into the sea, taking a belly flop off the last rock into the water. Except it wasn’t the last rock, so he totally embarrassed himself.

In my mind, it’s like that moment where a crowd clears and you walk into a bollard (Brian? 😂) – in this case the crowd is the sea, and the bollard is the actual last rock.

Don’t worry though, I think he was ok physically, and there were no sharks or killer whales about to capitalise on his fail.

As we begin our journey back to our starting point, Ailidh asks Damo whether we’re likely to see any dolphins. And as if by magic, not more than 5 minutes later, a small pod of common dolphins appears by our boat, swimming, jumping and playing around us, close enough to touch.

With my “IPhone 1” as someone once put it, barely able to make out the difference between the sky and the sea, Ailidh takes on the role of wildlife photographer and we marvel in the wonder of these amazing creatures until we have to leave them to go back.

Dolphins are the best

As we’re approaching the harbour, Damo says that the swell was between 1.5 and 2m today, and I ask if that’s normal? He says it can range from 1 – 10m and I ask “at what point would you not run the boat trip?”

“9” he says, with zero hesitation. Like I said – land of the brave.

It’s time to get off, and I manage to resist throwing myself into the sea to see if curly-haired skipper would rescue me. In all likelihood, it would be Ailidh and I think she’d be pretty pissed off.

We hit the road, in the direction of Freycinet which involves going back some of the way we came yesterday.

There is a concerning amount of roadkill in Tasmania, and as we travel the same route again, I swear I recognise some. Navigation by dead wallaby is a new concept for us both.

Our campsite for the next two nights doubles up as a paintballing venue, bringing back painful memories (emotionally and physically) of Jenny Wall’s 17th birthday party – I got shot once in the arm and refused to play anymore.

When we rang and spoke to the campsite the day before, we were warned off, on account of the 45-strong ‘Bucks Party’ staying there for a couple of nights.

We decided to ignore the warning for 2 reasons:

1. There’s no way it can be worse than a British stag party.

2. This is the only campsite with showers (well, shower) in the area and as you’re probably starting to gather, we’re not that wild.

It turns out we needn’t have worried. A Tasmanian Bucks Party is a pretty civilised affair (well at least this one was) – basically just beer drinking around a campfire.

Insert a British stag party into this environment, and you’d have one dead, one stuck up a tree, one lost in the bush, one who thought it would be a good idea to catch a snake, one naked and tied to the entrance post. We were actually a little disappointed.

Our stay in Freycinet includes a leisurely 4 hour walk in beautiful sunshine to a place called Wineglass Bay, and by accidentally doing the walk in reverse we get most of the scenery to ourselves! Ailidh turns full scale paparazzi on me and takes a creepy amount of “I’m behind you” photos:

Definitely creepy

Morning comes and it’s time to head to St Helens to see the famed Bay of Fires – the drive once again littered with squished balls of fluff and the occasional live fluff ball crossing the road that we manage not to squish.

We arrive at a beach with the whitest sand I’ve ever seen. The sea is calm and a beautiful mixture of blues. The rocks hemming the beach in are red and orange and there’s hardly anyone here. I find an excellent sitting rock from which to bask in the views and the sunshine, and Ailidh takes herself off for a swim. When she returns (2 minutes later), she’s practically blue like the sea and spends pretty much the remainder of the day trying to restore her body temperature to something vaguely normal.

Bay of Fires

Later, we see a sign on the road for Hall’s Falls and decide a little impromptu hike to a waterfall might be nice. The waterfall itself is pretty underwhelming, but the (definitely deadly) snake we spot right next to the walking trail was definitely not. As we approach, the snake eventually decides to slither off lazily. Phew, no anti-venom required.

We sleep well after a huge portion of fish and chips in St Helens, and wake in the morning ready for our final drive – to a place called Richmond.

As we drive through the quaint little town on the way to our campsite, we see people feeding birds down by a postcard-perfect river.

I decide to return alone later, partly because I’m in a foul mood, but also in order to avoid the risk of Ailidh throwing herself in the river to avoid bird contact.

Later, as I skulk along the banks of the river in my bad mood, the scene before me reminds me of a Constable painting, and I know for sure that this is the most cultured thought I’ve ever had.

The inspiration for my most cultured thought

My own culturedness (which is definitely a word) cheers me up, and with our week campervanning around Tasmania now almost at an end, I think about Holly and Jo – about all these cool, inspiring, outdoorsy people we’ve met and about how much they love their land, and I vow to try to be much braver from now on.

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