Devonport to Sorell, TAS
WORDS BY FRED WRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN HABERFIELD
Oatlands stands as one of the finest examples of a historic Australian village, with the greatest number of Georgian buildings in the country.
Boarding the spirit of Tasmania II at Port Philip Bay, Melbourne was like taking part in a well ordered procession. We were happy to be in the hands of a crew that obviously knew what they were doing and were only too happy to answer questions from first time travellers. And yes, you can take your pets on board but with quarantine regulations addressed first. As soon as you purchase your ticket to ride the waves to Devonport you will receive comprehensive documentation about what flammable fluids can and can’t be taken on board. It’s a good idea to study these regulations in detail, and don’t forget to check out what foods are prohibited.
The biggest issue we faced was finding our way to the Spirit travelling south into Melbourne. A good GPS is needed to lessen stress between co-pilot and driver in heavy traffic, as maps may take some getting used to. Take note of the low bridge that on the way: this one has brought many an RVer to grief.
We timed our arrival at Port Phillip Bay to coincide with the Spirit boarding times whilst others chose to park and wait (If you do, be prepared to feed hungry parking meters!).
The Spirit of Tasmania I and II are truly fabulous ships, with onboard entertainment, bars, food outlets, an information centre and a theatre.
You can choose to travel by day or night. Day travel was our pick but for those who like to arrive really refreshed, night travel may just be the best option.
I don’t quite know what it is about these two ships but they seem to attract lots of happy people who love freedom, travel and the great outdoors. There are various forms of accommodation on the ship that range from comfy chairs to cabins. The cabins may be dearer but almost every traveller we met thought cabins were good value for money and very comfortable, complete with shower, toilet, wash basin and great beds. Cabins have redefined the best use of available space and have a modern feel about them and having a shower before disembarking certainly puts you in the right frame of mind for adventures ahead.
After you’ve driven off the ship we’d recommend you consider stopping at a caravan park in Devonport. It’s not only the waterfront that offers great views, so don’t overlook Devonport which is an attractive and welcoming town.
We came across many RVers eagerly looking forward to their Tasmanian holiday. However, it would be foolhardy to expect that you could travel Tassie in a week and see everything! Some may choose to do the doughnut trail around the outside of the island, and that’s fine if you’re pressed for time, but you’ll miss out on the beauty of the bits in the middle. When you take into account the cost of just getting here, it would be advisable to stay as long as possible to maximise your dollars.
Our objective was to meet up with the Blue Gum Rovers, host chapter of the Annual Tasmanian Combined Chapters Rally. Rally manager, Ken Newman, a man of considerable experience organising such get togethers, told us that they expected up to 250 motorhomes! Once we heard this, we couldn’t wait to join them in Sorell.
If you follow our route please take time to smell the roses. Tassie is our smallest state but for travellers, we think it gives you the best bang for your buck. Check out the camping spots before you set out as many little ones off the beaten track are cheap but with 240v and clean amenities.
Our Journey to Sorell saw us driving down the Bass Highway and onto the Midland Highway also known as the Heritage Highway.
Our intention was to meet with motorhomers and use Sorell as a base from which to explore. We would, however, advise travellers to plan ahead to visit beaut spots along the way such Sheffield, Railton, Deloraine and Launceston, Tassie’s second biggest city.
Some travellers decide to divide Tasmania into sectors and maximise their time, planning to return and explore regions they missed the first or second time; Tassie certainly has the effect of drawing you back. Some travellers we spoke to had last visited 20 years ago, perhaps on their honeymoon? Now they were loving every minute of their return trip.
Travelling down the midland of Heritage Highway we came across Ross Township, which deserves a look. It has the most scenic stone bridge, so you might want a photo or two of your RV driving across it, and don’t forget to go to the Australian Wool Centre for a visit! Oatlands however was the destination we were keen to explore with its breathtaking Georgian architecture and spectacular Callington Mill. Some people became totally absorbed in the background of these historical buildings; Saint Paul’s church here was designed by the planner of London’s Big Ben, Augustus Pugin. Less than an hour’s drive from Sorell, you could also consider this as one of your base locations!
Once envisioned to become the capital of Tasmania, Oatlands stands as one of the finest examples of a historic Australian village; it even has the greatest number of Georgian buildings in the country. Spending days here will not only reward you with examples of the outstanding stone architecture, but with stories of notorious bush rangers, the role of the military and an insight into convict systems.
What you will definitely focus on is the free camping. There are several areas to choose from, even one that borders on Lake Dulverton, boasting abundant bird life. You can stay for free for 3 nights with black and grey water disposal facilities close by.
As you drive down the main street keep looking to your right and soon the majestic sight of Callington Mill will appear. You owe it to yourself to go on a guided tour of this working mill, sample the grain it produces, investigate the colonial buildings within its precinct and check out the well-equipped information centre and cafe.
Governor Lachlan Macquarie was also Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was once known) and described the site for Oatlands as “a very eligible situation for a town”. We think it’s very close to an RVers paradise.
Resetting our faithful GPS (can we really do without them these days?) we punched in our destination at Sorell and headed mostly due south.
Ken and Vi Newman and Ian Hosan were my contacts on the phone before heading over the waves and I was keen to meet them. I was also greatly anticipating meeting members of the host chapter, the Blue Gum Rovers, and the four hundred-plus motorhomers who had come for this Tasmanian combined chapters rally.
The success of the rally would hinge on the support from Sorell council and the mayor, Kerry Vincent, as well as every member of the staff. Motorhomers were welcomed with open arms.
Friendship, fun and laughter were what CMCA members aimed for at the rally and for five days there was nothing but caring, sharing and camaraderie in bucketfuls.
Taswegians and the fifty mainlanders who came down to join them really know how to have a good time, from fantastic skit performers (a particular political one blew me away) to accomplished professional musicians and readings by poets. There were stitch and bitch sessions, disc bowls competitions, and stand-out ‘happy hours’ every night. There was even one day when all members of the public were invited and the scouts worked the BBQ to make some hard-earned dollars.
Before long it was time for us to explore and we set out for Bothwell. If you choose to stop here on your way to Sorell, you’ll turn off the midland highway some 16km south of Jericho, then another 20km or northwest will see you at your destination.
Why stay here, you may wonder? Well it’s the birthplace of golf in Australia for one thing. Bothwell boasts our first golf course and the Australasian golf museum. There’s plenty to see and do as you discover Bothwell’s Scottish heritage and enjoy a beaut camping area behind the golf museum. This camp area has powered sites, toilets, showers and a laundry and will also take big rigs. It’s not free but as I write this you’ll pay $10 for unpowered and $15 for powered sites, and it is equipped with a dump point. We thought that was a pretty reasonable deal as you’re right in the heart of Bothwell. You can walk to the town at your leisure, or to the nearby shop.
There are some spots you should not miss on your trip and Richmond (a short drive north of Sorell) has got to be one of them. A town frozen in time, it will take you back to the 1820s when Hobart town was still in its infancy.
Richmond Bridge is one of the most photographed stone free standing bridges in Australia and despite some minor irregularities caused by drought it is used regularly by all traffic. This may be the perfect place for a cuppa, lunch or for that super photo of your trip.
You may enjoy a visit to the gaol. It’s the best of its kind, left as it was when the last inmate sought a new postcode. Story after story comes tumbling out and you’ll learn about some of its famous convicts, punishment and even the quirky practice of leaving a boot behind after escape to ward off any evil spirits that might be thinking of following you.
At Sorell, the Blue Gum Rovers organised a coach and more than twenty travellers came with us while we stopped off at Zoodoo, Richmond’s wildlife park. I have to confess that I’m not normally a fan of such parks but this one won me over. I was taken by the care shown to the animals and especially the interactive nature of the experience, where you can come up so close in safety and feed many of the animals.
A hands-on white lion experience was wonderful, as was the chance to interact with larger white lions. Judging by the reactions of the group that came with us, the experience of feeding the emus, camels and llamas was something special.
Our coach even stopped off at the Wicked Cheese Company and if you like really special tasty cheeses, try the taste test here. We figured that ‘wicked’ meant highly unusual but highly enjoyable and this stop didn’t disappoint.
It was time to go back to Richmond on our way home , but before we made a cellar stop at Pooley Wines close to town, we sought out old Hobart Town historical model village, in the heart of the township.
This model village of old Hobart town in the 1820s is historically accurate and authentic. Over 60 buildings and more than 400 period figurines to tell the story of bygone days. Our particular interest was finding hidden features such as Tasmanian tigers, a woman chopping up a snake and someone hanging out of a tree.
Whoever composed and designed these miniature scenes had a sense of humour, eye for detail and told many stories of hardships and life as it was through the medium of figurines. I’m sure you’ll enjoy fossicking about as much as we did – and try the bakehouse or hotel for a quick meal. We’d recommend making this a full day’s trip from Sorell.
We checked out the local Sorell markets, which had just about everything you could imagine, and then jumped on a coach heading for Hobart, Constitution Dock and particularly Salamanca Markets. They’re open every Saturday, free to enter, and you’ll be assaulted by colour, sights and sounds in what the locals proudly claim is the best outdoor market in Australia.
Many of the motorhomers with us purchased fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the farm, as well as some of the fattest and most succulent cherries you’d ever wish to see.
Buskers performed throughout the markets and when you wear out your walking shoes you can stop for a restaurant coffee/tea and snack, and watch the passing parade as thousands go by. When you’re refreshed, take a walk to Constitution Dock nearby where the Sydney to Hobart yachts tie up, and maybe sample some fresh fish and chips.
On reflection, our stay at Sorell was too short, but it was made memorable by the host chapter, the Blue Gum Rovers, and the hundreds and hundreds of happy RVers who made this rally so special.
Perhaps I’ve left the best ‘til last but it should never be forgotten that rallies such as this generate a lot of revenue for local communities, with this rally pumping up to $100,000 into the local economy! This can be proven as members save their receipts from purchases made in town.
Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that here is a classic example of Aussies volunteering their time and effort not only to laugh more and live longer but to unselfishly benefit others. Congrats to the Sorell Council for being so supportive and recognising the benefits to their community.
So is Tasmania “more English than England” as the early colonialists once thought? We’ll let you make your mind up but after you’ve travelled here you may confess to being rather proud to be an Aussie and be able to see colonial history, warts and all, at its very best.
Be sure to follow part II of our Tassie adventure in the next edition of Caravan and Motorhome on Tour! I wouldn’t want you to miss it!
WHERE TO STAY
SPIRIT OF TASMANIA II
Station Pier, Waterfront Place, Port Melbourne VIC
P: 1800 634 906
ABEL TASMAN CARAVAN PARK
6 Wright Street, East Devonport
Powered sites affordable, unpowered free.
P: (03) 6427 8794
LAKE DULVERTON CAMPING ARE
A via the Esplanade, Oatlands
P: (03) 6254 1212
BOTHWELL CAMPING GROUND
Market Place, Bothwell $5 – $10 per night
(03) 6259 5503
DEVONPORT TRAVEL AND INFORMATION CENTRE
92 Formby Road, Devonport
P: (03) 6424 4466