The kids want to see Tasmania from the back of a motorhome. We prefer some comfort. The answer: a holiday of two halves.
The excitement hits fever pitch as our aged motorhome rumbles into the pick up zone at Launceston airport, in Tasmania’s north. Our seven and ten year old sons have been counting down the days until this moment like an impending birthday. Ahead of us – five days of touring Tasmania’s spectacular east coast – the open road, the chance to camp wherever we feel inspired and some time for a bit of family bonding over a deck of cards. But just in case I need a comfortable bed after all that inspiration, I have booked a few nights at Cradle Mountain Lodge to finish the holiday.
Our first destination is Binalong Bay, at the southern end of the Bay of Fires. It’s a long drive over the mountain range from Launceston. Our motorhome labours on the ascents and lurches on the way down. My husband struggles to control our cubby house on wheels and there are complaints from the children that their diner-style seating at the back is more like a fairground ride. It’s making them sick. The tension begins to rise.
The sight of Binalong Bay restores everyone’s sense of humour. The beach is regularly rated one of the most beautiful in the world and it’s easy to see why. The sun is glistening on the water and massive burnt orange boulders spill into the sea, providing a dramatic contrast to the vibrant blue of the bay. A recent shark attack and the unfeasibly cold water keep my children and me on the perfect white sand, but my husband enjoys a refreshing dip.
We are delighted to find that Binalong Bay also boasts one of Australia’s best cafes, but are soon disappointed to learn it is fully booked. We resort to jam sandwiches from our mobile eatery, taken al fresco on the rocks. The food’s nothing special, but the view can’t be beaten.
It’s early evening by the time we reach our camp for the night, half-way down the east coast on the Freycinet Peninsular. I have won a ballot for a campsite in the National Park. The site on Richardsons Beach is pretty basic, but the setting is fantastic. The massive pink granite Hazard Mountains tower over the beach. Our fellow campers are making the most of the summer evening, enjoying a drink in their fold up chairs.
We eschew the motorhome staple of sausages on the gas stove (campfires are banned), in favour of local Coles Bay oysters and fresh crayfish at the Freycinet Lodge bistro. The Lodge is a short stroll down Richardsons Beach. It’s not really an authentic camping experience but it’s definitely more tasty than another jam sandwich and the view is stunning.
We spend the next few days kayaking across Coles Bay, traversing the Freycinet National Park by foot and admiring the view from the Wine Glass Bay lookout. We spot possums in the trees around the campsite and watch fairy penguins feeding their chicks at a rookery in Bicheno. We even manage a night of free-range camping after the rookery visit where the inspiration (and fatigue) takes us, in a car park, overlooking the bay at Bicheno.
We return to Launceston via the Heritage Highway. The road connects Launceston with Hobart in the south and can be driven end to end in two hours. It’s dotted with quaint historic villages, all with a story to tell about Tasmania’s pioneering past. In Campbell Town a path of bricks records the fate of hapless convicts who have passed this way. A 12 year old boy sentenced to 14 years in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land for stealing sheep and a 19 year old girl given the same sentence for stealing a tablecloth are among the tragic cases.
Our last night in the motorhome is spent at a lovingly tended campsite on the banks of the Macquarie River. The historic town centre of Longford is just a short stroll away as are some appealing eateries. But we’re staying in tonight. It’s a river-view picnic table, BBQ bacon burgers and a game of cards for us. Just when it’s time to hand back the motorhome keys, we’re finally getting the hang of it.
At Cradle Mountain Lodge I am almost overwhelmed by agoraphobia when I enter our accommodation. For little more than the nightly cost of our motorhome we stay in a two bedroom cabin with bush-view spa bath and log fire. There’s a pademelon (a little like a wallaby) outside the front door to keep the grass down, a full buffet breakfast to look forward to, a choice of restaurants for dinner and some spectacular walking and wildlife on our doorstep. This is a holiday.
In three days we trek through alpine heathlands, around glacial lakes and between lichen- laden trees in the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Claire National Park. We spot a Tasmanian devil, watch wombats grazing and see an echidna foraging outside the Lodge. We relax in front of a fire (even though it’s mid-summer), sample some great local produce at the Lodge’s Highland Restaurant and admire the scenery from the comfort of our balcony – all without ever bumping our heads, having to renovate to get into bed or cross bushland to use the toilet. It certainly feels like luxury. Probably because it is.
In the end it’s the Tasmanian devil encounter that wins out as our children’s top event of the holiday. The motorhome is a close second. My husband is just happy to have escaped mobile phone network coverage for a week. The whole Cradle Mountain experience is my top pick. But then a strange thing happens. On the way to the airport, we pass an immaculate campsite. At O’Neils Creek is the most spectacularly positioned public toilet I’ve seen. A wave of nostalgia washes over me. Could I be pining for the motorhome? I’m not certain. But one thing’s for sure, a bit of discomfort makes the comforts much more luxurious.