I wond’r why there are 151 vaginas on the wall? Entertaining art galleries while house sitting in homely Hobart

It was odd wandering through the town of Triabunna with nothing but my boxers on, in the dead of night. But as the public toilets were across the road from the back of the pub, where we were staying – I didn’t have a choice… Despite my best ninja efforts scampering along the tarmac in bare feet, my return journey featured a herd of drunk AFL supporters jeering me on! In need of a good brekkie following my exhibitionist escapades the night before, we treated ourselves to a stunning brunch and coffee with froth “the size of Alaska” at ‘The Colonial’ – a rather upmarket eatery decked out like it was still the 1800s. 

Fortunately we had time to drop in past the picturesque town of Richmond, en route to our next house sitting assignment in Hobart. Funnily enough it has quite a few similarities to the original British town of the same name; specifically an impressive bridge (Australia’s oldest) and plenty of cutesy boutique shops. Once we’d had a look round and given in to buying some of the handmade ‘convict’ soap, it was time to meet our furry friends for the next week!

Jen the owner was wonderfully welcoming, as she gave us a tour of her modern, homely town house perched high up overlooking Hobart and its famous harbour in the distance. Most importantly however, Meg – a stocky black lab, and her sidekick Belle were friendly bundles of fur, who seemed more than happy to have us stay 🙂

Running on fumes trying to summit Mt Wellington

At a respectful 1,200 + metres high, it’s difficult to ignore the towering slopes of Mount Wellington, standing tall like a big brother watching over his little sibling of Hobart below. Understandably we soon found ourselves tramping along the 9km ‘Organ Pipe circuit’, a name given to some impressively tall, pillar-like rock formations. Dense fog initially dented our spirits, preventing us from seeing much more beyond the surrounding trees and huts (similar to bothies in Scotland) hidden among them. Luckily we persevered and eventually the soup dispersed, giving way to glorious blue skies and views over gorgeous Hobart, stretching South as far as the Port Arthur peninsula!

Our athleticism made light work of the trail, completing it in 2.5 hours, despite the estimated 4. So once back to the car, we set off for the summit to enjoy our hard earned sandwiches.  As we climbed the steep bitchumen, our fuel gauge popped on, although it wasn’t an issue given how short the drive was. Not long later however, an unfamiliar alarm suddenly began aggressively bleeping at us, together with a dramatic fuel warning that read ‘VERY LOW’. Not wanting to be stuck high up a mountain, I soon chucked a U-turn, allowing us to desperately coast down the windy road in search of the nearest petrol station. As the road began levelling off, the fuel light vanished, and our range mockingly jumped from 0 to 80km – doh! 

Rude sculptures & other random art in Hobart’s famous MONA

With our tickets booked, we excitedly set off towards the World famous MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). Ever since my Dad had recited entertaining (and darn right disgusting) tales of toilets offering views below, on his visit a few years ago, this place was high on our list. We could tell we were in for a treat before even setting foot inside, as the car park featured weird and wonderful sculptures dotted about. After finding a space, we made our way towards the entrance of the quirky complex, that’s probably best described as looking much like an evil Bond villain’s lair!

Once checked in, and having picked up our ‘O’s’ (iPod audio guides), we snaked our way through the labyrinth of vast exhibition spaces, strangely shaped corridors and staircases that reminded us of Hogwarts – the building alone was worth the trip! During our 6 hour exploration, we encountered a feast of clever and creative pieces, including:

  • A bright red, lifesize car, made to look fat, representing consumerism today
  • Wacky animations within giant copper heads
  • Vast arrays of lightbulbs that pulsated in time with people’s heartbeats
  • Rows of computers with scientific projections, emitting loud beeps, based on CERN
  • An 8-bit rain machine, printing trending words, within falling streams of water

I thoroughly believe the artist behind casts of 151 vaginas lined up along one wall, was purley invested in the reactions, rather than the piece itself. It was thoroughly entertaining to watch people carefully contemplating the art in front of them, before realising what they were looking at and swiftly moving on; occasionally glancing round to see if anyone had spotted their perceived perversion!

History, hardship and heartbreak in Port Arthur

Despite being 2 hours drive away, making a trip to Port Arthur while in Hobart is a must. Although principally famous for having been a prison colony during the mid-nineteenth century, a more recent event catapulted the historic site into the public eye: A mass shooting in which 35 people tragically lost their lives in the hands of a lone gunman.

The UNESCO historic site of Port Arthur which is now mostly ruins, was once home to over 3,500 hardened criminals. Despite bloodcurdling tales of floggings in which convicts received so many lashings by the ‘cat o’ 9 tails’ whip, that their backbone could be seen; it was hard to feel entirely sorry for these poor souls. Port Arthur’s population was made up of repeat offenders – those who’d carried out acts of criminality since being shipped to Australia. Worse still, many convicts became insane, while the Governor practised new methods of rehabilitation, namely, the ‘silent system’. This saw prisoners hooded and kept in solitary confinement, leading to the need of a mental asylum being built.

It was fascinating wandering around the 100 acre grounds, learning what life was once like here. The guided walk and narrated boat trip around the ‘Isle of the Dead’ provided a brilliant introduction, after which we were free to roam amongst the various buildings scattered across the site. Many are now ruins, although some are home to museums that transport you back in time – all decked out like it’s still the 1800’s. Our visit came to an emotional close while paying our respects in the Remembrance Gardens, to the victims of the 1996 massacre. Thankfully some learnings resulted from what was a truly shocking act of brutality, with strict gun law reforms being implemented just 12 days later.

A feast for the eyes (and belly) in Salamanca and Farmgate markets

Based upon our Tasmanian travels so far, it was clear to us that independent arts and crafts lie at the heart of what this small island lives for. If the many boutique shops, galleries and makers workshops we’d visited so far can be described as an introduction, then Salamanca Market would definitely be the climax to Tasmania’s creativity. Featuring over 300 stalls, Salamanca Market is bursting with the finest wood work, pottery, jewellery, food and drink than you can imagine; weaving around the historical heart of Hobart’s picturesque waterfront.

Pleasantly the maze of artisan goodies was far less busy than those we’re used in London, allowing for a far more relaxing stroll around. Given that we were sadly nearing the end of our Australasian Odyssey, our purse strings loosened a little while we picked up a few goodies for friends and family. An explorer’s book, detailing his travels by land and sea from London to Hobart caught my eye, and even signed it for my Dad 🙂 Joella couldn’t resist picking up local teas and a few more jars of local honey (after some free tastings of course), to add to our Manuka collection from New Zealand. After refuelling on pastry treats, we spent an extended coffee break writing our last lot of postcards – next time we’d communicate with the addressees, would be face to face! 

The following day was spent exploring more of Hobart, including the myriad of independent shops of Battery Point, before enjoying some flaversome mushroom jaffles, and chicken bao at the Farmgate market.

That evening we were taken out to dinner by Val and Phil, whom we’d fondly house sat for back in Sydney. It was wonderful catching up with them, and getting to see Rosie and Pistachio again. Before dinner, Phil showed us his impressive photos from the famous ‘Quilty’ 24 hr endurance horse race, which sounded exciting and tiring in equal measures. The beer that evening was especially memorable, given that James Squire’s ‘Wreck Preservation Ale’ is made from the World’s oldest yeast – saved from beer found in a 1979 ship wreck off Tasmania’s North East coast! What a lovely way to spend our last night in Tasmania – now one of our favourite places on Earth 🙂

I wond’r if we should move here? Falling in love with the wonders of Tasmania

After having our apples confiscated by the savage quarantine officials, just half an hour after buying them, we resentfully but excitedly nonetheless, boarded the ferry South. Not too dissimilar to the Titanic I suspect, Spirit of Tasmania II offered floating, dry conditions on board, as well as the usual maze of decks that could only be navigated by recalling the differing styles of seating on each. Figuring out where our reclining seats were for the night became even more challenging, while feeling more spaced out than a hippie on acid: I’d irresponsibly washed my pizza and more problematically, anti-seasickness tablets down with a crisp, cold, golden XXX lager…

Cradle Mountain’s mirror lakes and a dream come true

Following a broken nights sleep constantly interrupted by hyperthermic air conditioning and thunderous snoring, we perked ourselves up with coffees and breakfast at a nearby Maccas in Devonport. Despite feeling rather groggy, we bravely opted for a full days walk up Cradle Mountain – we didn’t want to waste the day, given that it was only 7am and had the entire day ahead of us. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves marching in the direction of snow capped peaks, having already spotted some creators of wondrous square poo: Wombats!

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The trail kindly offered a civilised boardwalk to ease us in, although this didn’t last long, as flat wood became a gravelled incline, and finally gave way to sheer cliff face! Fortunately chains to help our step prevented an untimely demise, although required careful handling, as we shared this lifeline with other walkers traversing back down. It was all worth it though, once we’d reached Marions lookout. There we were treated to stunning views of Crater Lake’s mirrored perfection, making us question which way was up, as reflections of fluffy clouds soothingly drifted by. Casting our eyes up towards the real sky, rewarded us with views of Cradle Mountain’s unique crown-like peak. Topped with a dusting of snow, we were reassured this was more than a casual morning stroll – we’d just climbed up a flipping mountain and it wasn’t even lunchtime!

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Little did we know that our first day in Tasmania was going to finish off with a life long ambition achieved… While driving through the coastal town of Burnie, we’d spotted some unusual road signs, warning drivers of crossing wildlife. Pulling over to investigate further, we discovered a dedicated observation area, that left us with no choice but to stay put for the night. As dusk arrived, our excitement climbed, higher than our morning hike. First we heard them, frantically calling to their mates who’d spent the day out at sea, fishing their feathers off. As our eyes became accustomed to the dark, my black and white obsessions soon came into focus. It was mesmerising watching this animal drama play out in front of us; as more and more fairy penguins appeared from nowhere, welcoming their loved ones back home, or chasing others away who’d mistaken them for their own. It was truly a special evening, witnessing my favourite animals in their natural habitat for the first time 🙂

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Breathing the purest air while on ‘The edge of the world’

Given the wonders of our first day on the island, we’d honestly have been happy to leave already, although fortunately we still had many weeks ahead of us on Tassie! So after our morning shower and a slice of banana bread (why can’t we get away with eating cake for breakfast back in the UK without feeling guilty?) we were ready for another day’s adventure. Following a brief stop in cutesy ‘Boat Harbour Beach’, we continued driving West along the coast, until an enormous site began to fill our horizon. At first we were confused – were we back in Uluru? It turned out that this giant monolith goes by by the name of ‘The Nut’, and forms a striking backdrop to the old town of Stanley, perched below. Opting against the gondola, we took the healthier (and cheaper) option, in the form of a steep path up. There we circumnavigated the top, like a secret garden in the sky. 

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While continuing West we entered the Tarkine, and were ominously welcomed with a large warning sign: ‘No more petrol for 140 km’. Given that the Tarkine is awe-inspiringly referred to as ‘one of the last, great wilderness regions on earth’, I guess it’s understandable. On tenterhooks, we looked down at the fuel gauge; nope, our range was closer to 120km, but that didn’t stop up pushing on to find close-by excitement… When you spot a place name on a map by the likes of ‘The Edge of the World’, one can’t help but become transfixed. Although it sounds rather dramatic, it’s a fair title as looking West from here is the largest empty expanse of ocean on the planet, stretching over half way round, all the way to Argentina! After taking time to gaze off into the distant roaring seas, then reading the stirring poem by Brian Inder inscribed on a plaque, we set off, fairly certain the Earth isn’t flat… 

Before heading back to Stanley for the night, there was just enough time to enjoy an amble down to the beach from Bluff Hill lighthouse. Despite having to navigate near impenetrable bushland, our efforts were rewarded in a variety of ways. First were some archeological curiosities in the form of ‘Middens’, where Aboriginal people left the remains of their meals over many generations. Then there were natural wonders; a gorgeous display of pink wildflowers, followed by two sneaky Echidna’s we almost mistook to be boulders 🙂 

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Imaginary tulips and a giant penguin

The following day started with a drive past ‘Table Cape’; incredibly home to such a perfect tulip growing climate, that they’re supposedly shipped over to Holland! Unfortunately we were a few weeks early, so had to rely on our imagination to paint in the colours. Next was the University of Tasmania’s ‘Makers Workshop’ back in Burnie, offering stunning woodwork, jewellery, prints and edible delights. I couldn’t resist picking up some tasty ‘tilsit’ cheese, after having tried at least a dozen others. 

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Despite Joella’s very best efforts to convince me otherwise, we soon found ourselves pulling over in the wonderfully named town of ‘Penguin’. Before we knew it, a local spotted Joella taking photos of me, so frantically veered off the road and embarrassingly for Joella, insisted on taking photos of both of us in front of the giant penguin statue, flapping our arms like flippers! Content (well, I was), we drove South to the mellow melodies of Meander Valley FM – a local community radio station broadcast from the arty town of ‘Deloraine’, which inspired us to be our next stop. Another inspiring arts collective caught our eye, and we were even given a personal guided tour of the eclectic works by a friendly artists, who passionately educated us on the colourful and unique fungi of Tasmania. Following a quick browse of the upmarket boutique shops, we sourced a caffeine hit in a coffee shop surrounded by old motorbikes, seemingly more hipster than Hackney!

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A little daunted by the lack of choice, we headed in the direction of ‘Quamby Corner’. Yet again Wikicamps proved it’s worth – Quamby Corner Campsite, originally just a 200 acre dairy farm, run by a friendly, semi-retired English couple felt like the middle of nowhere. The low ominous clouds with Quamby Bluff occasionally poking through, also added to the dramatic setting. Our modest meal of beans on toast was sophisticatedly followed by our boutique tilsit cheese on crackers, washed down with a tin cup of ruby tawny from the Barossa 🙂

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Exotic fungi and stunning beaches on Tassie’s East side

Helpfully, the campsite’s information point provided us with the next day’s itinerary, taking us first in the direction of a hill that had been looking down upon us earlier. Apparently there’s a walk up Quamby Bluff, although we found little more than a lay-by and viewpoint. Liffey Falls was next on our list, featuring water cascading down numerous step-like rock formations, occasionally littered by fallen trees. While taking in the soothing sounds surrounded by lush ferns, a local outdoorsy looking lady pointed out to us some rather exotic looking fungi – just as the artist yesterday had spoken about. Hilariously the locals then managed to digress from our oohing and ahhing at pink growth on the forest floor, to laughing about the ‘205 vaginas’ installation at the Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)!

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For lunch, our appetite took us past the historic town of Evandale – famous for its prestigious John Glover painting prize and eccentric Penny Farthing Championships. Sadly all we found was a large statue in honour of these odd Victorian contraptions, although the general store was fabulously decked out like it was still the 1800s 🙂 Continuing East led to some rather windy roads, going by the creative name of Elephant Pass, before finally revealing golden Lagoons Beach and the deep blue sea beyond. Once we’d arrived in Bicheno, we wasted little time in exploring its lovely coastal walk, which culminated in an angry blowhole finale, surrounded by coach loads of selfie-stick waving tourists. Drinks that evening were rather more awkward than usual: All the locals were sat round the bar, while we sat alone in the middle of the room at the only table – the place was being redecorated, so most were stacked, out of the way…

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Not usually ones to follow the crowds, we couldn’t resist a trip to Wineglass Bay – one of the most photographed spots in Tasmania, and that’s saying something. Bravely, with only a couple of cereal bars and apples between us, we set off on the 5 hour long walk. Luckily most tourists were there solely for a quick vanity Instagram shot at the lookout, so things soon quietened down. The walk offered everything we could have wished for; stunning views of the bay below, beautiful beaches scattered with mysterious shells and starfish, strange rock formations and even an unexpected encounter with an inquisitive wallaby 🙂 

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While driving South, our valiant exercise efforts were rewarded in the form of GIGANTIC blueberry and chocolate ice creams at the Pondering Frog cafe. There the friendly owner recommended staying at the Pub in Triabunna. Little did we know, but it was AFL final night and saying the pub was rowdy would be an understatement. So after a brief schooner, fish and chips down the quayside and another episode of the heart-warmingly funny Detectorists, we hit the hay. The next day we’d be checking into Hobart for our first house sit in almost a month – we could hardly wait!

I wond’r if we’re going to bump into Karl Kennedy? Roadtripping South from Sydney to Melbourne

It was touch and go whether we’d be allowed to leave New Zealand, well, at least for Joella. We’d forgotten about re-applying for our Australian tourist visas, and only remembered the night before. Mine came through but there was no sign of hers… Fortunately, after running around departures in Christchurch like those idiots you see on airport documentaries, a member of staff managed to sort things out for $50NZ – phew! So after a warm welcome back in Sydney from Uncle Martin, Auntie Christa and excited Lilly the American Staffy, we were ready to sink a few beers over a Mexican (meal, not a person).

New adventures travelling on familiar roads to Narooma

Having been thoroughly organised before we’d left for Middle Earth, our car was packed and ready to roll, leaving time for a relaxing brekky. It was good to be back on the road again with Pelly our trusty(ish) white Holden Commodore, and even more so to be joined by Sam! We were headed for Melbourne, but our first days drive was to Narooma, where we’d enjoyed a lovely beach holiday back in January. This allowed us to enjoy the familiarity of the road and surroundings, whilst feeling like experienced tour guides, impressing Sam with knowledge and sights along the way.

First stop were the glorious views from Bald Hill lookout, mesmerised by swarming hang-gliders gracefully looping their way dow to Stanwell Park Beach, far in the distance. Our surroundings continued to impress, as we drove along the aptly named ‘Sea Cliff Bridge’ that slowly snakes its way over crashing waves hitting the steep cliffs below. Jealous of the treats our eyes were gorging on, the sounds of rumbling stomachs soon became the soundtrack to our drive. Successfully making it a little further South to Kiama, we made peace with our appetite in the form of flavoursome Banh Mi and meatalicious pies. Before leaving town, we couldn’t resist checking out the giant ‘Kiama blowhole’, whose watery tantrums briefly created colourful rainbows in the spray overhead.

Keen to work off our carb heavy lunch, we pulled off the main highway to take a stroll on Hyam’s beach – said to one of the whitest on the planet. Although after a quick Google we discovered this is very much fake news, we were more than happy with our surroundings, especially the comedic squeakiness of the sand between our toes. Successfully making it to Narooma just before dark, we parked up under the glowing eyes of a hairy possum, then fittingly enjoyed a documentary on Australia’s past presented by Tony Robinson.

Making a (Lakes) Entrance

Despite failing to catch a glimpse of migrating whales from the cliffside golf course, our early morning wasn’t completely wildlife free. Fortunately a herd of playful and lazy seals alike, were ready to greet us down on the quayside, as we posed for cheesy photos at the peculiar shaped ‘Australia rock’. As Sam, like I, lives for food; we made a ‘brie’-line for Central Tilba and its famous dairy, to satisfy our lust for cheese. Having pushed the limits on what’s considered samples, and possibly crossing the boundary into theft, we made some token purchases and hit the road once again.

Before reaching our destination for the day, we were pleasantly rewarded with some exciting driving in the form of numerous rickety wooden bridges criss-crossing the numerous waterways that feed the inland Gippsland lakes. Lakes Entrance, our stop for the night turned out to be rather more quiet than expected, feeling more like an old people’s home than a holiday town, so we struggled at first to find drinking or dinner options. Having told Sam tales of whale sized chicken parmiganias, the Bowls Club buffet certainly wasn’t going to do. Luckily my gamble of pushing us on to the Community Club further afield paid off, where they knew how to make these Australian pub staples.

A cheeky drive-by on Ramsay Street in Melbourne

Keen to make Melbourne in decent time, we departed the slower coastal roads and headed inland towards the gumtree forests. One of the highlights of our drive that day was unashamedly the splendid array of pies we came across in Warragul. Regretfully I can’t recall the exact fillings we went for, but I can assure you they they were of the usual high standard we’d come to expect down-under. Feeling a touch of pastry regret soon after, an outdoor adventure was very much needed. What we thought would be a quick stretch of the legs turned out to be a half day detour, encompassing nearly 2 hours of driving down dirt tracks. I’m not sure whether seeing the Ada Tree – the oldest in Victoria – was necessarily worth it, but it certainly helped break up the day!

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For our 2 nights in Melbourne, Sam’s welcoming Aunt Nora and Uncle Max kindly took us in, and looked after us like long lost relatives (although Sam is their nephew, so that probably helped). Their hospitality was very much welcomed, while they fed us local travel tips on Australia’s second largest city, as well as plenty of hearty, home cooked meals – it was great to have a roast dinner again!

The general vibe in Melbourne definitely felt more urban than it’s sunnier counterpart Sydney; in fact it very much reminded us of being back in London. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why, but the colder climate, greyer skies and fact that it doesn’t seem squeezed in between numerous beaches definitely plays a part. Our first morning was spent whizzing through the maze of buzzing tramways taking in the giant street art, while trying to pick which cutesy eatery we’d dine at. Once filled up on brunch and people watching, hipster Brunswick street kept us busy with it’s lovely independent boutique shops.

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Unexpectedly, the next morning led us somewhere we really should have paradoxically predicted – Ramsay Street of course! Feeling rather like criminals breaking into a TV set, we parked up at the far end, and took a wander, then a cheeky drive down the famous cul-de-sac, half expecting to be shouted at. The fond memories of our uni days rushed back, as we attempted to recall the residents of each house – Karl and Susan Kennedy, Harold Bishop, Toadie…

Once over our adrenaline fuelled shenanigans, we headed over to the seaside town of St Kilda, where we enjoyed incredible cake and coffee, before our day came to a comedic close: My poor eyesight coupled with penguin obsession caused me to become mesmerised by a black and white critter sitting on some rocks opposite the pier. Disappointingly and rather embarrassingly the creature flew off, leaving me perplexed, and Sam and Joella in hysterics!

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It was lovely spending time with Sam, who’d travelled so far to be with us. So much so, it felt like a holiday within a holiday – if that’s even possible to contemplate. Time to wave goodbye to ‘Melbs’ and it’s urban charm; the wilderness of Tasmania beckoned…