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Member Article: Tasmania! A Wonderful Adventure

Tasmania is a beautiful little corner of the world. Earlier this year I had my fifth visit there when it was the finish line for the Shitbox Rally. Tasmania reminds me a lot of New Zealand, with a natural environment and climate completely different to most of Australia.

Each of my visits to Tasmania have included a trip to Hobart, with two of them being just Hobart. In addition to Hobart, I’ve also visited Bruney Island, Launceston, Queenstown, Deloraine, Strahan, Zeehan, Port Arthur and Devonport.

One of the reasons for signing up for the Shitbox Rally you’ve been reading about was the finish line in Tasmania. I was hoping to get across to the west coast, but the uncertainty of whether or not I’d have a car made me decide not to book somewhere too remote.

You might have read about Motafrenz trip to Tasmania in October. This article is intended to give a bit of a rundown on some of the places we’re visiting.

Hobart

My last two times in Hobart I’ve stayed at the Astor Hotel, and old hotel created in 1922 by joining two adjoining Georgian townhouses. It then had a major update with hot and cold running water and basins added to each room (although bathrooms were still shared in the hallways), and not much has happened since. I love the atmosphere, and the owner is a character. It’s located in the Hobart CBD, just 3 or 4 blocks from Salamanca Place, so it’s easy to walk out for dinner and sight-seeing. There aren’t too many places like this left in other capital cities, land values have seen them demolished and redeveloped.

A standard inclusion on any visit to Hobart is a wander around Salamanca Place. Salamanca Place is the original Port of Hobart with the old stone warehouses being converted into restaurants and cafes. Right next to Salamanca Place is Battery Point, one of the most expensive suburbs in Hobart. It’s a great place to visit for a meal, or to spend some time having a few drinks.

As a Town Planner I love wandering around cities I visit, just seeing how the city functions, the differences in architecture, and just some of the unique places a city has to offer. Hobart’s early settlement, convict history and historically lower property prices has meant that more of its history has survived, and it’s a wonderful place to visit.

Just further around into the Derwent River is the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens and Queens Domain. The Hobart Zoo was located in the Queens Domain before its closure in 1937, but there’s a handful of the original buildings still there, as well as the main entrance.

On two visits I’ve been up Mount Wellington. On my first visit to Hobart (one October) I got to see snow for the first time in my life on the top of Mount Wellington. More recently I visited in March 2021, when Tasmania’s weather didn’t disappoint and Mount Wellington greeted me with rain and gale force winds. But it’s definitely worth a visit as the view is spectacular.

A visit to Hobart wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Mona. Mona has probably been one of the biggest tourism catalysts in Tasmania’s history. Started by a wealthy blackjack player, it has an eclectic mix of art, much of which he’s commissioned himself. At times it can be confrontational, at times it’s fun. Even each toilet cubical is designed by a different artist and provide an interesting experience. I spent the afternoon with them reminiscing about the rally and talking about life in general.

Mona didn’t exist on my first visit to Tasmania, but on each visit since I’ve been. I’m not a huge art lover, but you don’t need to be to love Mona. Monas is owned by a very successful blackjack player who used a lot of his winnings to purchase and commission art. A lot of the art is quite whimsical, and makes you smile. At times it can be confrontational, at other times it’s fun, and occasionally it may seem more science experiment or theme park than art. But it demonstrates art is different things to different people. Even each toilet cubical is designed by a different artist and provide an interesting experience.

My most recent was with three friends from my buddy group on the rally. None of them had heard of Mona, but all decided to come have a look, and were amazed by it, and making sure it was on their list for next time they came back to Tasmania.

Like so many other capital cities, Hobart also has a hop on hop off bus, river cruises, amazing historical architecture and a lot of other things to keep visitors busy.

Cascade Brewery offers the choice of a history tour, or a factory tour. On the day I was there they only offered the history tour, so that I did. Where I also learnt that their staff used to have unlimited beer to drink at work. After they were taken over by a corporate beer company, their new owners decided it was not conducive to workplace safety having staff operating heavy machinery drinking all day long. Naturally this came to an end, but not after a long and arduous battle with staff.

Launceston

I have a soft spot for Launceston. It always feels like it’s on the brink of something big, a city that’s up and coming. Their CBD still has lots of little laneways, arcades, courtyards and open air carparks that haven’t been developed, providing a peek into earlier times. It feels like lots of the 50’s are still there.

Cataract Gorge Reserve is a public park that seems very much like 1940’s or 50’s public infrastructure, and has an old chairlift, that contains the longest single span chairlift in the world. Normally I wouldn’t dare go on that sort of thing or anything that’s more than about 4 metres off the ground, but in buoyed on by overseas holidays with alcohol inspired height confrontation I decided to give it a go. It was fine. Then I got about a third the way across and I decided that it wasn’t so fine, and my legs started shaking so I ended up closing my eyes for most of the way across.

But it’s a beautiful park with a grassed area, an in-ground swimming pool (probably from the 1950’s), the chair lift, a suspension bridge, two cafés or tea rooms, and walking paths throughout the park. It would actually be a lovely place to come visit if you lived locally.

Launceston is also home to the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania. Part of it is a permanent fixed collection, and part of it rotates. I’ve been each time I’ve visited Launceston. My most recent Tasmania trip included a trip to Launceston specifically for the museum after fellow Motafrenz member Ian had been and posted a photo of a Clio V6, one of my three dream cars.

Because of my delays in organising accommodation last visit, my choices in Launceston were really limited. So I ended up staying in Deloraine. Deloraine is a typical little Tasmanian town (about 3000 people) that actually reminded me a lot of Rejkjavik. It had one of the few remaining train lines in Tasmania running through it, and I heard a freight train going through each night. It was a postcard perfect type of town, and while there’s not a whole lot for tourists to do (you’ve done it all in a morning or afternoon), it works very well as a nice base.

Port Arthur

Port Arthur is probably one of our best known penal colonies, but it wasn’t the biggest, the harshest, or where the most hardened criminals went. But it’s one that’s been developed into a pretty good tourism location.

It’s a very extensive site, I arrived at opening time, and left as they were closing and there were still parts of the site I didn’t get to see, but I didn’t rush any parts of it. There’s a good mix of ruinous structures, and buildings that have been conserved and restored.

There’s a number of tours you can go on, I jumped onto the Isle of the Dead, a tour of the cemetery island, hearing stories of many of the people buried there and escape attempts. There’s also interactive displays to learn about some of the convicts sent there.

Port Arthur is also the site of the deadliest massacre in modern Australian history. The site includes a memorial garden to the massacre, and that was quite a confronting part for me given I was alive when it all happened.

West Coast

The West Coast was probably the highlight of my trip, it was a place so at odds with itself. In Strahan parking was dearer than Hobart, yet in Queenstown you could have your choice of house for under $10,000 less than 20 years ago. Its natural environment is so unspoilt in some places, yet it’s been decimated by mining elsewhere.

The west coast was my first port of call for three days when I visited in 2021. Rosebery was my first port of call for morning tea, reminding me in a lot of ways of Rosehaven, the ABC TV series. What did absolutely shock me was the size of the mine less than 100 metres from houses. It cemented just how big a role mining plays in the local community, regardless of the amazing environment it operates in.

From Roseberry I headed to Zeehan. I didn’t know much about Zeehan other than that also had bargain priced real estate 20 years ago. But I was a bit dismayed when I arrived. The main street had some of the most grand ornate turn of the century buildings, yet it was also one of the most dishevelled main streets I’d seen in a while with many of the buildings in a state of disrepair.

Zeehan was once the third largest city in Tasmania, battling it out with Launceston for number two. But its population peaked in 1910, and is now under 1000. Seven of the grand old buildings in the Main Street now house the West Coast Heritage Centre. The whole region was once far more dominant location than it is now, and the heritage centre has a excellent display of it all. Zeehan was also the setting of Mystery Bay in the ABC series Bay of Fires. If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s well worth a look on iView for the backdrop of the west coast.

Strahan has positioned itself as the tourism destination of the west coast and was also the stop for the sixth night on the Shitbox Rally Summer 2023. The downside though is that it’s very expensive. For everything

Strahan was originally developed as the port city for the west coast, and still has its port side timber sheds recognising the strong timber history around Macquarie Harbour. It’s also one end of the railway line that traverses the rugged wilderness through to Queenstown.

Queenstown is probably my favourite town. It’s gone through a series of booms and busts. Originally there was no road connection through to Hobart, so the only way to get there was to trek through the bush. In 1897 the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company opened their railway line to Teepoolana, which extended to Regatta Point and Strahan in 1899. That enabled goods to be sent to the port at Strahan, then shipped to Hobart. One of the challenges was the steep terrain, and the inability for the trains to get traction (especially in the snow). To overcome this a rack and pinion system was developed for the steep sections. A road link to Hobart was finally completed in 1932, and the train line closed in 1963. On 27 December 2002, the line recommenced as a tourist line. It operates through some of the most breathtaking scenery in country. Due to the remote environment in which it operates, there are often times parts of the track are closed for repairs after storms and landslides. But if trains are running it’s well worth a visit.

Words and photos by Daniel Borton.

Paul Hollingworth

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