A Road Trip to Van Diemen’s Land

For this B.C. retiree, the flight from Vancouver to Melbourne, Australia, was just the beginning of an unforgettable adventure.

The travel bug hit me hard when I retired, egging me on to see the world and what it had to offer. In February of 2018, I decided the time was right to take a trip to the land Down Under.

The trip checked two items off my bucket list—to meet with my “rellies” in Australia and to capture the essence of the country through photography.

In the early planning stages, the idea of a road trip came up. I gave it some serious thought, especially after my cousin Tom, who was living in Melbourne, decided that he was good to go.

Tom was just as interested as I was in seeing the rellies. Before that, however, he wanted to take a major detour to see his longtime friend Ella Miller.

She lived in a place I knew nothing about, the island once known as Van Diemen’s Land: Tasmania. Given the high priority Tom placed on visiting his friend, I agreed to adjust my plans. After all, I was looking for adventure.

On March 21, 2018, I arrived—jet-lagged—in Melbourne. For the remainder of the day and the middle of the next, family stories were traded around the kitchen table with my aunt Teri and cousins Juliet and Tom. This naturally brought about an insatiable hunger and thirst that could only be satisfied by Teri’s homemade Hungarian cuisine and an ample supply of red wine.

Spirit of Tasmania ferryGabor Dosa
The Spirit of Tasmania ferry departing the Port of Melbourne.

The next evening, Tom and I packed our clothes and camera gear into his car and drove to the Port of Melbourne to catch the Spirit of Tasmania.

The ferry across the Bass Strait was uneventful but entertaining. A guitarist in the lounge sang “oldies and goldies” into the wee hours. Beer in hand, we hummed along until neither of us could keep our eyes open.

Dove Lake BoatshedGabor Dosa
The Dove Lake Boatshed in Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park.

Welcome to Tasmania

When we disembarked in Devonport, the weather was typical of autumn—overcast, drizzling and cool. Tom and I were groggy from our overnighter, but when we reached our first point of interest, Cradle Mountain, we took a short hike to the Dove Lake Boatshed. The park was nothing short of mesmerizing. In my mind, this was a place that a movie sequel to the Lord of Rings trilogy could be filmed—Peter Jackson, are you listening?

At the Miller ResidenceGabor Dosa
At the Miller’s home in Launceston (from left) are Ken Miller, Gabor’s cousin Tom Bacskai, and Ella Miller.

After a short stay in the park, we headed to Launceston, the home of Ella and Ken Miller.

In addition to being a longtime friend, Ella was a gardener, an accomplished artist, a retired school teacher and, like Tom and myself, a refugee of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. She treated us to a feast of cabbage rolls and schnitzel, with cherry strudel—my favourite—for dessert.

The next morning, Tom, Ken and I toured the highlights of Launceston—the Duck Reach Power Station and Brady’s Lookout—before we finally had to say our goodbyes to the Millers.

Van Diemen's Land - Wineglass BayGabor Dosa
Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park.

Exploring Van Diemen’s Land

After driving a few short hours, we reached the welcoming gates of Freycinet National Park. A hike up to the Wineglass Bay Lookout was in the cards as a sign at the gate showed that the peak was a mere 230 metres away. We took the trail, an arduous uphill hike and definitely not a “walk in the park.” Nevertheless, it offered an unforgettable view of Wineglass Bay.

We continued on our journey to Port Arthur, the site of the former Port Arthur convicts’ colony. For prison guards and the social elite, the grounds provided manicured gardens, walkways and chapels—for those incarcerated, it was hell on Earth.

At nearby Eaglehawk Neck, we saw a landscape that might be described as one of utter desolation while being uniquely beautiful at the same time. It gave me a sense of what the world might look like following a nuclear holocaust.

View From Mount WellingtonGabor Dosa
The view from Mount Wellington, looking down at Hobart.

End of the Line

We moved on to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, taking some downtime to walk the corridors of the city, see the Victorian architecture and have a cappuccino. When we were done, we made a beeline for Mount Wellington. The road to the top was long and winding, but at an elevation of 1,271 metres above sea level, it provided an incredible view of the city and countryside.

West Coast Wilderness Railway - Van Diemen's LandGabor Dosa
The West Coast Wilderness Railway at Dubbil Barrel Stop, Strahan.

Next on our itinerary was Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Here we boarded the West Coast Wilderness Railway—an 1800s-era steam locomotive that chugged slowly through a virgin rain forest. At the end of the line, Dubbil Barrel Stop, the train’s locomotive was turned around by hand for its return journey to the home station. Wow! Who would have known?

After seeing the former Sarah Island Penal Colony within the park, Tom and I called it a day and rushed back to Devonport for the ferry back to Melbourne.

The week Tom and I spent touring Tasmania was long and hard, but the trip was worth every bit the effort we put into it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. But next time at a more leisurely pace—maybe over a month or longer.

Now that you’re familiar with the attractions of Van Diemen’s Land, check out 10 of the world’s greatest hikes.

Originally Published in Our Canada