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Tasmanian Sojourn: How Does The Southern Isle Drive?

Constitution Dock, HobartMy spouse works for a university and has a role which requires her to attend interstate conferences. Last week it was a ride to Hobart; three days of work then a bit of down time.

Day one: arrival on a cloudless Sunday and hotel right next to Constitution Dock (finish line for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race). Do the basics of unpacking and walk around the immediate harbour precinct; some wonderful fish and chips (bad luck if you’re a vegetarian seeking anything other than fried potatoes though, as my partner is) and a topless double decker bus ride around to Wrest Point, to the base of Mt Wellington and the Cascade Brewery, through town and back to the harbour. What becomes increasingly obvious is Hobart is a living museum, locked in a time bubble with regulations forbidding development and buildings of a residential nature past a double storey. Being Australia’s second oldest city is one thing, making it look like a time traveller’s paradox is another.

An odd piece of road design has the main north western entrance streaming past Constitution Dock, leading to Hobartian gridlock morning and afternoon. I say odd as it is right next door to what is the town’s main tourist attraction, in real terms and having to wait for traffic that should be a block or two away isn’t tourist friendly. Having said that, at least the delay between greens and reds and turns is minimal to NSW’s laughably titled “world class system”. Sadly, Hobart is even more infected by colour blind drivers than the rest of the country, with eight of ten drivers having no idea what an amber or red light stands for, to the detriment of pedestrians that thought they were safe to cross….

20130918_144539Come Wednesday lunchtime (whilst the boss was at work, the kids and I had visited the Cadbury factory, overrun with American OH&S laws and a trip to a wildlife refuge), after solid rain since Monday and no chance to visit the 1200+ metre peak of Mt Wellington as a result, it’s a lazy 90 minute drive to Port Arthur. The one thing about maps, which brings to mind the old stories about tourists visiting the mainland and going “it was only this far on the map (spreading finger and thumb)” is that everything really isn’t that far away. Cold, wet and grey skies dominate the landscape and here is another sign that the insiduous desease of bad driving has clearly spread to our southern cousins; no one, but no one uses headlights if they are locals. Our hire car, a Nissan X-Trail (thankfully upgraded from a what would have been too small i20, with petrol and CVT box), with a West Aussie trained driver at the wheel, has lights ablaze, only to be greeted by confused Tasmanian faces.

Port Arthur itself, a marvel of convict construction, is probably best seen when it’s not being covered in Niagara Falls….sadly, poignantly, there’s  no apparent acknowledgement of those that lost their lives during the mass shooting in 1996 with that absence overshadowing what we should have felt. The roads themselves are generally well built and maintained, plus there’s a welcome reliance on the driver to be more aware of road conditions on hillside roads in some areas by having only the vertical reflector posts rather than the crash barriers automatically expected.

20130919_155126Thursday morning, still wet and the schedule is to drive to Cradle Mountain. Due to a minor navigational hiccup we end up heading north on the highway to Launceston rather than the planned route through the mid western coast. Again, the roads are easy to drive, causing the X-Trail no issues although I had switched it into torque-sensing 4WD for the expected wet roads. The highway to Launceston is not particularly engaging until we head west, south of Devonport, with the spectacular bluffs of the Mt Roland and Gog Ranges in view. Unfortunately the route taken takes us north and out of view of the beautiful Lake St Clair but leads into some tight and steep roads through the quaintly named Mole Creek before finally arriving in 5degree air temps and Cradle Mountain.20130920_090014 The X-Trail has performed well; two adults, two kids and probably 70kg of luggage for around 570kms from the unleaded fuel. Cars passed: not that many. Cars with headlights on: not that many. Cars of a dark colour: just about every one. Safety factor:….ummmmmmmmm…..

Friday morning; it’s back down to the Cradle Mountain view point at Dove Lake as it’s a clear and almost cloudless day; it’s a spectacular sight but the wind chill precludes a planned walk. To drive to the lake, the authorities have put in place a 40kmh limit along a 8km long road most of one lane. It’s smart, simple and effective but surprisingly not to do with traffic control, as a night time animal spotting tour the evening before confirms. It’s solely to do with minimising animal fatalities, with wallabies, possums and “paddy melons” (a almost kangaroo version of a quokka) plus the declining Tasmanian Devil population finding their lives ended by vehicles. A quick visit to the Tasmanian Devil refuge just up the road, an effort to help stem the shocking facial tumour disease that’s decimated a terrible 80+ percent of the island’s devil population shows them as they are; a surprisingly cute, almost puppy like creature curled up in the morning sun.20130920_100616

Most of the state limit is either 100 or 110 kmh; that’s most comfortable enough with the roads generally not straight enough on the western side to offer a higher velocity, whilst the highway north to Launceston clearly had room to increase. From Cradle Mountain, to Burnie, across to Devonport and finally Launceston (with a diversion to the cataract chair lift ride on the western fringes, plus a Devon Tea shared with the 20130920_153700_LLSnumerous peacocks and peahens) was a leisurely drive, along some quality surfaces. For the most part, Tasmanian roads are smooth, maintained and ask the driver to be aware of the conditions and take responsibility for their safety. A noticeable not quite downside is having a sign, say 300m before a turnoff alerting you to a potential sight to see….yet no sign AT the actual point you were meant to turn and the distances certainly weren’t always accurate….Another noticeable lack was police or highway patrol cars. I genuinely don’t recall seeing one until Friday evening coming into the airport at Launceston where JetStar lived up to their reputation with another two hour delay….

Mainland drivers should visit Tasmania, to experience a less restrictive, less “nanny state” way of doing things. For example, the road to/from Port Arthur and up to Cradle Mountain encompasses plenty of areas where there’s no speed advisory signs nor crash barriers. You, the driver, are expected to do what a driver SHOULD be doing: be aware, drive to the road and the conditions. The downside is the lack of genuine safety enforcement, not just in Tasmania but Australia wide, when it comes to wet road situations. Using headlights and indicators is a basic safety function, as is stopping for red lights. The argument for speeding as a revenue raising exercise is fair yet, mitigated somewhat, by the fact that there’s no police action on other safety aspects which WOULD also contribute to revenue. Currently, NSW’s stance on non-indication is 2 demerit points and $140 per infraction; if policed as a safety initiative it would be a massive contributor to the coffers, yet……

One final point of note: the Government provided indication signs with two markers; one each for a fatality or a crash, each clearly defined. Thankfully and welcomingly, we didn’t see many at all….so, perhaps, apart from the lack of regard for other drivers under dark skies, there may be safer drivers in Tasmania due to the lack of other over policing….

3 comments

  1. Russell L says:

    quote>there’s no apparent acknowledgement of those that lost their lives during the mass shooting in 1996<end quote

    You obviously didn't look hard enough…Behind the remains of the old Broad Arrow Cafe there is a "reflecting" pool, memorial gardens and memorial complete with all the names of those that lost their lives….
    See: http://www.portarthur.org.au/index.aspx?base=2594

    September 24th, 2013 at 10:12 pm

  2. John Aquilina says:

    Tasmania is a Driver’s delight. Everyone who goes there either goes back or want to. There is so much to see, and is a perfect destination during the Summer. I can’t wait for my next trip, each one I’ve spent longer. Need at least a week to get a good feel for the place

    September 27th, 2013 at 4:14 am

  3. Dave Conole says:

    Good morning Russell; the weather was largely against us and we didn’t cover the whole complex. Thank you for providing the information and that’s a place we didn’t get to; I guess my point is also that the visitor’s centre didn’t appear to have anything; as the front door to the site that was our expectation. Thank you again. Dave

    September 27th, 2013 at 9:45 am