The first thing that comes to mind when you mention Tasmania to most people is the Tasmanian Devil. That’s where the conversation ends because unfortunately very few of us know where Tasmania is or anything about it. Having just returned from a fabulous tour in Tasmania, which is part of Australia by the way, I can tell you there’s a lot more than just the “devil” downunder!
Thanks to the generosity of Tourism Tasmania and PedalTours, our partner in Australia and New Zealand, I had a fantastic time exploring Sydney and bicycling along the East Coast of Tasmania. For your own reference Tassie, as the locals call it, is about the size of West Virginia. It is an island located 240 kilometers south of mainland Australia, which is referred to as the “north island” when you are in Tasmania. It’s an hour and ten minute flight from Melbourne to Hobart, or one hour and 45 minutes from Sydney to Hobart. There are plenty of flights available through JetStar Airways (www.jetstar.com.au) an Australian based discount carrier, or you can check with (Quantas), the national airline, who sometimes offers deals that combine roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles and three flights within Australia for as low as $999.00 U.S.
Tasmania is an outdoor person’s fantasy realized. It is still possible to drink the water from most streams in Tasmania without fear of disease and it is recognized as having the cleanest air on the planet. If that’s not amazing enough over a third of the state is preserved in a network of National Parks and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, a refuge and habitat for rare plants and animals, including survivors of the ancient southern super continent, Gondwana. There are over 2,000 kilometers of walking and hiking tracks. And with a population of less than 500,000 over two- thirds of which is concentrated in four cities (Hobart (the capital city with 195,500 people) Launceston (98,500) Burnie (18,000) and Devonport (25,000) the roads are a cyclist’s dream come true.
Did I mention the food? Tasmania is world renowned for its wineries, cheese and seafood. Several breweries provide a good selection of local beers, though most are fairly light, I did find a few dark beers and loved Toohey’s Old! The beef and lamb are extraordinary, must be all that green grass, and the Tasmanian salmon also receives rave reviews. There is nothing in the world quite like whole-fat dairy cream and in Tasmania you will not find a low or non-fat version anywhere. I highly recommend you go ahead and splurge and have some of the finest ice cream in the world. They also grow olives in Tasmania so the local olive oil was another unexpected treat. Because just about everything in Tasmania is organic there’s no need for them to label things as such. I was there from March 28 – April 8th which is early fall and was shocked to find fresh asparagus, strawberries, honey, raspberries, arugula (or rocket), pumpkin (any kind of squash is referred to as pumpkin), beets, and more. The Salamanca outdoor market in Hobart has all of this and more every Saturday!
Traveling with people from the US, Australia and New Zealand, our tour leader Bob would often shake his head, sigh and say, “three countries divided by a common language.” In fact we send out a vocabulary sheet for people who join us on these tours. So you’ll know, for instance, when someone ask if you’ll “shout for the next jug” that you’re being asked to buy the next pitcher of beer. Or how about this one: “Before you go tramping in the bush or find yourself in the wopwops be sure you wear your beanie and a jersey, stop for a hokey pokey or you’ll be buggered and brassed off in no time.” Translation: Before you go hiking in the woods or find yourself in the middle of nowhere by sure to wear your hat and a jacket, stop for ice cream (special flavor) or you’ll soon be tired and angry. As with any “foreign” language comprehension is accelerated if use your hands a lot and speak very slowly.
Tasmania is all about well-maintained, quiet roads, fabulous food, spectacular scenery, and friendly locals, so even if you don’t quite understand the language, take a chance and join us with the devil down under.