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Tasmania: Down under the Down Under

I can officially say I’ve been to the ends of the earth, or at least the farthest one can go and still spot the golden arches.

Mention the name Tasmania to most people, and images of swiftly twisting cartoon characters or castle dwelling vampires come to mind (that would be Transylvania, folks). Unless you’re en route to Antarctica, you can hardly stop by on your way to someplace else. And if you do find yourself in Tasmania, let’s hope you meant to go there.

Myself, I’m always being compelled to visit these out of the way places of the world. Places too remote, too cold, too hot or just too real for the conventional tourist. Let’s face it, authentic places with authentic people are getting harder and harder to find. This developing problem of homogenization was eloquently summed up years ago in an Eagles song, “Call a place paradise, and watch it go.”



Well, as far as I know, Tasmania hasn’t been widely claimed as paradise … yet. But all the ingredients are there, and I witnessed first hand the beginning stages of a genuine location in grave danger of being commodified, packaged and sterilized like other destinations too numerous to name.

So why am I sitting hear telling you about this secret little pearl at the bottom of the world? Because I believe in you, fellow adventurer, amazing travel experiences shouldn’t be reserved only for the well-monied. Tasmania still has budget-friendly experiences to be had by anyone willing to trade some of the unnecessary comforts for a good pair of boots and an adventurous spirit. I have a hunch that anyone inspired by this will also possess the sustainable values needed for a healthy economy, most importantly their own.




The U.S. dollar is currently strong in Australia, back-packing hostels can be found islandwide, (as well as affordable hotels and B&B’s for those inclined) mom and pop cafes, fruit stands, campgrounds, public beaches and state parks, all these elements and more can pull a real world-class trip back into reach for many who might find themselves “financially challenged.”

Allow me to put it this way: if this starving college student can pull off a complete three-week circumference tour on little more than it would have cost to stay home, (minus air fare,) so can you.

Why Tasmania?

Australia is an immense country nearly the size of the U.S., but Tasmania is the smallest state, which gives the traveler a sense of manageability and completion. In many ways, it’s a land apart, having little in common with mainland Australia. One could think of it as the “down under of the down under.” Australians often tease “Tassie” (as the locals call it, as well as any other word they can shorten and stick a “ie” on the end) as the land of the “two-headers” and other freaks and oddballs, not unlike the rousing the deep American South sometimes gets. Indeed, I found the locals to have an air of quirky simplicity and cynicism abolishing openness that was down right refreshing.

A big part of this unique island personality seems to stem from having nearly the whole Western half of the island left roadless unspoiled wilderness designated as a World Heritage Site. This natural area functions as a sort of physical/metaphysical link and physic myth generator, which embodies stories about Tasmanian tiger sightings and feral tribes of lost convict decedents.

In a world on the verge of complete and utter disenchantment due the logic’s triumphant conquering of all matters irrational, I savored the possibility that I might stumble across the last living Tassie tiger (believed to have died in captivity in 1939) or share my lunch with a man who couldn’t tell me what year it was.

Not disappointingly, the closest I came to confronting the unexplainable was watching a platypus swim within five feet of the river bank I was exploring, take notice, then plunge beak first into the shadowy depths. He resurfaced awhile later to float on his back and watch me fish. Until this indisputable example of God’s sense of humor is witnessed with your own eyes, descriptive attempts hardly do it justice.

Hobart: An English Village at the Bottom of the World

Being a small port city with no real strategic markets other than Antarctica, Hobart is another example of Tasmania’s unconventional charm. Situated on a series of hills, not unlike San Francisco, almost any narrow, winding street you choose to explore will end up with some sort of vantage point in which to view the city arching its way around the dark blue harbor.

Due to no conscious planning of my own, I was lucky enough to find myself exploring Hobart’s cobblestone streets and softly lit harbor walks during the height of autumn, when giant hardwoods sprinkle yellow and orange leaves on the paths like announcing the arrival of nobility. I would guess spring has an equally magical quality about it, I’m sure these two seasons show off Tasmania at its best.

See it While You Can

On top of the highlights mentioned above, Tasmania is also home to the surreal mining settlement of Queenstown, with its moonscaped eeriness and aura of by-gone and more straightforward times. It also has some of the oldest standing churches found this side of Europe.

I obviously could go on and on, but allow me to finish this way. A few years ago I spent an evening drawing circles around some the lesser-visited corners of the world; Iceland, Newfoundland, Tasmania and the upper peninsula of Michigan to name a few. With the exception of Newfoundland, I’ve made my way to all of these places. Tasmania has without a doubt made some of the most lasting impressions on this vagabond traveler. If you can find your way down there before the rest of the world inevitably does, I promise you won’t regret it.

ooo

Brenton Netz lives in Nevada City and is a world traveler.


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