Sometimes exploring a corner of your own country can unearth more than you expect, as Tomo found out during his trip to Tasmania.
By
Mike Tomalaris

20 Mar 2017 - 10:52 AM  UPDATED 20 Mar 2017 - 10:52 AM

So many people return from holiday boasting of the amazing experiences they’ve had overseas.

Whether it is experiencing the natural beauty of Queenstown or catching a show at London’s West End, I’ve had my own share of amazing international experiences, but recently I was given the nudge to explore a bit more of my own country.

Having spent a bit of time in Tassie over the years, I am more than familiar with the experiences you can have on two wheels (I’m a little too familiar with those deadly Tasmanian hills.) So, I thought I knew what to expect from our most southern state.

Amazing east coast vineyards. Tick.

Breath-taking natural scenery. Tick.

The urban vibe of Hobart. Tick.

But it wasn’t until I neared the end of my most recent trip that I began to truly appreciate just how many corners of our country (and of our southern state) I still have to visit and experience: there are so many historical stories of national significance left to uncover.

This travel epiphany hit me in a most unlikely time, during a visit to one of the smallest Tassie towns around, boasting a population of less than 600 permanent residents, Strahan. But then again, sometimes you just need a small-town tourism push to truly appreciate the breadth of our national charm.

Nestled on the coast in Tasmania’s western wilderness, it certainly takes some effort in reaching the isolated village of Strahan, but on arrival you soon realise it is worth every kilometre travelled. Make no mistake - Strahan is a flourishing harbour side village. There’s so much history, scenic beauty and welcoming love to tourists from those who call this area home.

The journey around the vast Macquarie Harbour, a waterway six times larger than Sydney Harbour, is a must for every visitor. Although the skies turned grey and the summer air was cool on the morning of my cruise on board the modern Lady Jane Franklin II, it didn’t take away from the day. If anything, it loaned it character.

Sitting on the upper deck of the two-level catamaran felt like being perched in the pointy end of a commercial airline – so luxuriously comfortable. An abundance of quality refreshments and beverages are served by the hosts on board, not to mention the offering of a tasty gourmet lunch brimming with local produce.

Culinary pampering aside, it was the World Heritage listed wilderness, which I got to see during the cruise, that left me in awe. The journey up the Gordon River was a breathtaking highlight. The calm deep water surrounded river banks filled with lush, green untouched vegetation. I got the chance to observe Australian wilderness that has been untouched not only for centuries before European settlement, but for tens of thousands of years. You experience it, eye-to-eye, the same way that those who came before you did. 

Upon learning that many of the plant species have been growing for thousands of years, I was reminded how important it is for our generation to continue preserving such an area for other generations to come. Having been born and raised in the urban sprawl of Sydney, viewing and learning about Tasmania’s wilderness, gave me an appreciation of how we have slowly been neglecting parts of our planet.

My environmental day-dreaming and nature sightseeing came to a stop when the boat arrived at the former penal colony of Sarah Island. This is where a little known story came to light to remind us of the importance of local stories within our national history. Around 1500 convicts lived a life of brutality on Sarah Island in the primitive years of Tasmania’s early settlement. The harsh conditions of the times are clearly described and portrayed by tour guides. However, it made me think that for many, this slice of Australian history might be unknown.

One thing many mainlanders forget is that after Sydney, Tasmania (named Van Diemen's Land) was the second area of Australia to be settled by early European explorers in 1822. Strahan is such an isolated part of Tasmania and Australia; it has become an underappreciated relic of our country’s earliest white history. All Australians with an interest in Tasmania and it’s fascinating past should pay a visit to Sarah Island.

One resident who unconditionally adores the Strahan region is Kiah Davey. When first meeting Kiah, I felt a real sense of why this town is so special. In my mind, when I think ‘Strahan’– I think of Kiah.

As the unofficial ambassador for the town, Kiah is a wealth of knowledge and exudes so much passion for everything this place has to offer. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone in Strahan who doesn’t know and love her.

Kiah is responsible for keeping her late father’s dream alive as she continues to translate the story of Van Diemen's Land and Tasmania into performance events. Richard Davey, her dad, passed away four years ago. He wrote the play “The Ship That Never Was” – a true story about the last ship built at the convict settlement of Macquarie Harbour in 1834. It’s a unique live tale of a voyage that’s about to set sail for the new prison at Port Arthur – but the convicts on board change the course of history.

The stage production is Australia's longest running play with more than 6,000 performances in 23 years. It can be seen daily between September and May in the local amphitheatre. Kiah plays the main role. On the night I attended, the buoyant mood of the 100 or so crowd was noticeable. There are only three permanent actors playing the part of three different characters. However with 10 convicts in the storyline it requires 10 more personnel. You guessed it: this is when the audience plays a starring role.

It was a night of so much fun and entertainment with an intriguing twist at the end. I wasn’t sure what to expect but left pleasantly surprised with lots of laughs and satisfied at learning more of Tasmania’s history and Australia’s national story.

My visit to Tasmania’s “wild west” was completed with an after-dark visit to Bonnet Island – home to a thriving colony of the cute little penguins. Gourmet delights were also served before being provided with a special filtered torch to see these wonderful and timid birds without threatening and frightening them. The little penguins gave me a thrill when leaving their burrows and coming within close proximity to allow me to observe their cute behaviour.

Strahan may be one of the most isolated towns in Tasmania, yet it has so much to give.

I encourage anyone who is planning a trip to Tassie to make the effort to visit this magnificent area. It truly is a microcosm of natural history that allows us to slow down and appreciate the rich stories of our country. 

Map your Tassie story.

A taste of Tasmania’s Great Eastern Drive with Mike Tomalaris
Known to the locals as the "Great Eastern Drive-Thru" this road boasts some of the best wine and seafood in Tasmania.
Mike Tomalaris takes on Tasmania's Blue Derby
Tomo switches his road bike for a mountain bike.
Mike Tomalaris tries his hand at kayaking on Tasmania's Derwent River.
Mike Tomalaris took on Tasmania's picturesque Derwent River and managed to tick off a few health and fitness goals in the process.