Fantasy Island: Fishing and Four-Wheeling on Tasmania in a Land Rover Defender 110
It's the stuff dreams are made of to be able to cross a treacherous stretch of ocean by ship and arrive at an island full of natural wilderness. Tasmania is well-known to nature lovers, a place where you can explore terrestrial and marine environments at their best. An eagerness to drive along the unknown west coast is what drew us from the mainland of Australia to the tiny "apple isle." An overnight voyage on the Spirit of Tasmania took us 150 miles from Port Melbourne to Devonport across the famous Bass Straight. At dawn, we sighted Tasmania, just as Abel Tasman had in 1642. We drove our Defender 110 and Conqueror camper trailer off the ship and headed to the North West region seeking adventure.
Tasmania is just under 185 miles at its longest point and just over 185 miles at its widest. The west coast of the island is the gateway to the wilderness, where the fishing is popular and the clean air is second to none. The landscape is made up of timeworn volcanic soils ranging from gray to white. The rough and rugged coastline contrasts starkly with the pristine blue water visible as far as the eye can see. Strong winds known as the Roaring Forties ravage the west coast and lead to an extremely harsh climate year-round. In days gone by, the only way in and out to places like these was by sea, and winds and rough seas continue to make marine travel a dangerous pastime.
"The Defender, being off-loaded below at the campsite, easily accommodated all the necessary provisions."
There are still only tiny coastal shack towns dotted along the west coast of Tasmania. One of these is Granville Harbor, nestled on the beach. This location offers interesting four-wheel-drive tracks and fantastic views of the land and the sea. We found a sheltered spot to camp on the northern end of the beach, where freshwater streams run off the slopes of thick forest and into lagoons where black swans swim. The Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area is close by and features Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.
We continued farther inland on the west coast of Tasmania to the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. This park is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and is said to have a greater range of natural and cultural values than any other region on Earth. The jagged silhouette of Cradle Mountain in the mist embodies the wild and wonderful wilderness. We were surprised to learn that it rains here 300 days of the year, or approximately 90 percent of the time. The National Park is a great place to see wombats, wallabies, pademelons, and some of the region's more exotic creatures. It is the one spot on Earth where you'll find the endangered Tasmanian devil. Lake St. Clair, at the southern end of the park, is deep and still and surrounded by some of Tasmania's other remarkable mountain peaks. Here we saw a black tiger snake and heard terrific stories about the wildlife from the local rangers. To be able to camp within the National Park close to Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair is a privilege, and we highly recommend it.
Traveling south on the west coast, we visited Mt. Field National Park, where the last known wild Tasmanian tiger was captured in 1933. You feel dwarfed looking up at the enormous snow gums, which are among the tallest trees in the world. One of the many highlights of our trip was spotting a platypus swimming in the river at dusk.
Our Land Rover Defender 110 was ideal for a trip like this. It seemed to prefer the cool temperatures and the short distances on the twisting and winding tracks. The engine's ECU was reprogrammed, and the diesel was given a 33 percent larger intercooler and a 2.5-inch exhaust. Airbags in the rear springs assisted with towing our UEV440 Conqueror Camper trailer, which had a dual battery setup, two double beds, 42 gallons of water, a diesel hot shower, and plenty of storage.
Traveling south toward Port Arthur, we found Eaglehawk Neck. This thin strip of land, known as an isthmus, is approximately 440 yards long and 33 yards wide at its narrowest point. Its interesting history dates back to the convicts. In the 1830s, the British chained ferocious dogs to posts lined across the Neck to alert the prison if convicts attempted to escape. Although hidden away, the area has a deep historical significance for early Australia, and is colored by stories of unimaginable escapes through shark-infested waters.
The area also features the intact shipwreck of the S.S. Nord, which lies close to Hippolyte Rock. The distinctive landscape is a product of the remarkable geology. There are dramatic and monumental fluted cliffs, stacks, and caves such as the Devil's Kitchen, where the ocean roars onto the rocks, and the Tasman Blowhole, where the sea water rushes in and shoots into the air.
The fishing here is sensational. Apart from the catch and the sport itself, whales, seals, dolphins, and penguins frolic in the spark-ling water at most times of the year.
Forty percent of Tasmania is protected as national parks and reserves, which means you don't have to travel far to experience natural surroundings. This tiny island is an example of the rich culture and unique heritage that exists nowhere but Australia. Tasmania is one of the lesser-known but magnificent gems.