Breathing Room

My daughter just gave birth to my second grandchild. I’m staying with them, in the expansive state of Texas, for a few weeks to help out. Accustomed to a great deal of mental space and alone time, I must admit to struggling here in this small, two bedroom duplex where I’m bunking in the living room and sharing living space with two other adults, a nine-going on thirteen-year-old, an infant, and an Australian cattle dog who is constantly trying to supervise me. I find my mind turning to the idea of spreading out and comparing relative spaces in my world. I’m remembering Tasmania ranging before me last November, as we drove our rental car away from Hobart to begin our six day road trip around the island.

Secluded beach on South Bruny Island. Photo courtesy of Shaedow Photography

Having never been to Tasmania and not knowing if we’d get a chance to return, we wanted to sample all the diversity the island offered over its 26,410 square miles. In most every spot we stopped, we found ourselves wishing we had a full week to spend just there. First on the agenda was Bruny Island; we drove south from Hobart down to Kettering, where we boarded the car ferry to North Bruny Island. Tassie, as it is affectionately known, has a population of approximately 520,630 people, with well over half living in the greater Hobart and Launceston areas. Traveling south on the almost deserted main road that traverses North Bruny Island to South, I felt at times like we were the only people on earth. The bliss was palpable, as I felt myself unfurling into the open.

At home in Sydney when I think of America, I think of wide open spaces: streets you can turn a six horse hitch around in, spacious back yards, gargantuan grocery stores the size of big box stores in Sydney, McMansions housing single families, with kitchens large enough to park a car in. All that environmental space translates into large personal space, that inviolable circle we draw around ourselves into which only our intimates are invited to cross.

The total population of the US is somewhere around 325 million people spread out over 3.797 million square miles. Meanwhile, Australia’s population of 24.77 million is mostly concentrated into the eastern and south eastern coastal areas of a land that stretches for 2.97 million square miles, with a smattering of population centers on the western and northern coasts. Needless to say, when I’m running through Central Station in Sydney, trying to catch a train, I’m in much closer proximity to my fellow commuters than I’d like to be. Even when the station is not crowded, people will walk elbow to elbow with me when they could be a pleasant ten feet away, where I can’t smell them.

Fresh oysters at Get Shucked! North Bruny Island

With a population of barely over 600 people, Bruny Island is the perfect escape from the crowds, while still having plenty to offer its visitors. All of Tasmania is a foodie paradise and on Bruny you’ll find a full and varied plate: cheese, BBQ, oysters, chocolate, with whisky, cider, and wine to wash it down. There are secluded beaches for romantic sunset walks, a fairy penguin rookery on the neck between North and South Bruny, and a colony of fur seals off the coast, that can be viewed from one of the available cruises. On South Bruny, you can contemplate the site where Captain Cook landed in 1777 or visit the Bligh Museum of Pacific Exploration.

In Sydney and the surrounding suburbs, I often find myself frustrated over the lack of breathing room and the hoards of people invading my personal space. Even the sky seems squeezed out, because the built structures, though not high, are crammed in close together. From my vantage point near the ground, I don’t notice the sky unless I intentionally look up. A vast blue sky stretched over us in Tasmania.

Salvation at the Crossroads in Ross. Photo courtesy of Shaedow Photography

Way too soon, we left the solitude of Bruny and headed back north, past the metropolitan area of Hobart, through rolling countryside, on our way to our next stop, the sleepy village of Ross. This little town is a gem often missed by tourists because of its location off the main highway. Convict labor built this English-style village in the early 1800s, and today it remains well preserved. The center of town is known as the Crossroads. Here you will find Temptation, Recreation, Damnation, and Salvation on the four corners. You’ll find typical pub fair at the Man O’Ross Hotel (Temptation), and don’t miss the bakeries for a tempting breakfast. We had scrumptious meat pies at Bakery 31. The Tasmanian Wool Centre was an interesting stop, and I’m sure the Female Factory would have been had we remembered to go.

Convict built bridge in Ross. Photo courtesy of Shaedow Photography

Tasmania is reported to have the cleanest air on earth. It was in Ross that this was most apparent. We were walking down tree-lined Church Street that first evening, when I became aware of the sensation of oxygen filling my lungs. It was like drinking a cool glass of water on a parched afternoon. I had to just stand there on the sidewalk and breathe for a few minutes, until my husband finally got bored with that and urged me on.

Ross is a place I would love to spend a writing week or two holed up in one of the darling lace curtained bed and breakfasts housed in a historic sandstone building. I would wander out every now and then to eat at the bakery or visit one of the antique shops. On we went though, to Launceston.

From my experience of the U.S., there is room to stretch out even in large urban centers, mainly because those urban centers themselves expand over more territory. The exception would be places like New York City. As you leave the city centers, the space rapidly opens up. It’s not uncommon to find large stretches of open land outside of cities. In Sydney, by contrast, although I live in a suburb (even that has a different meaning there) I can still smell my neighbor’s deodorant when she applies it. The downside to all that U.S. space is it takes forever to get anywhere, and walking is rarely an option. Every time I come back to the U.S. to visit, I feel like I spend half of my time in the car. I love a road trip, but it’s not the same thing at all.

On the Launceston Ghost Tour. Photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

Compared to Sydney, Launceston is a small town, but after Bruny and Ross it was a thriving metropolis with entirely too many cars. Gone was the clean air, replaced with exhaust and pedestrian passersby blowing cigarette smoke in my direction. The internet descriptions of the town read better than what my experience turned out to be. A big part of that is owed, I believe, to the fact that the afternoon we arrived, I completely neglected to consult my itinerary of places to visit. For some odd, completely unlike me reason, I decided to totally wing it. While I don’t like a rigid itinerary, I do find some planning helps make the most of a visit and this experience cemented that idea for me. The one highlight of our visit was the ghost tour. Sign up beforehand, and meet on the corner outside of the Royal Oak Hotel, in whose basement the tour begins. From there, you’ll wander around the city, your skin crawling as you visit plenty of creepy places like churches and the old mortuary, while learning the history and lore of one of Australia’s oldest cities.

The next day, I was happy to escape the “city” again, and head west on the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail. Here is where my fellow rover and I butted heads. I wanted to stop at each and every destination, sampling the tastes and filling my suitcase with jars of hazelnut butter and bottles of whisky. He wanted to arrive in Penguin and relax at our AirBnB. We compromised. Next time though, and there must be a next time, we’ll book accommodation in Penguin for a week, and take foodie reconnaissance missions out from there.

Our light-filled AirBnB looked out over the rocky northern coast, a popular location for sighting bioluminescence. That night, after dinner, we headed out to find the rare phenomenon, one that depends on perfect conditions that you can’t plan for. We followed the map to Preservation Bay, and then we were stuck. It was pitch black out there. Blind in the darkness, away from city lights, we couldn’t see any way to get down to the beach or even near it, and our view of the water was blocked by a brushy hill. We continued on the road back toward Penguin until we found a drive cutting off toward the beach, where we got out and walked. This spot was closer to light pollution and hard to determine just what we were seeing. We may or may not have witnessed the illusive bioluminescence, but we had a fun adventure none-the-less.

Imaginative letter boxes on the road to Cradle Mountain.

It was time to leave the coast and head to Cradle Mountain. On our drive across Tasmania, we’d noticed how the colors of the landscape had changed. On the road to Cradle Mountain, the tilled farmland turned rust-red. English-style flower gardens had been prevalent across the island, and on this drive I was thrilled when I saw a sign proclaiming peony bouquets for $10 or maybe it was $5. I know it was very little. “Go back! Go back!” I urged my accommodating husband. We pulled down a gravel path to find peony paradise. I chose my bouquet, and she kept adding more to it! I walked away with an armload of peonies and no idea what I was going to do with them.

On the road somewhere between Moina and Hobart. Photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

After a night in our wooded cabin getaway in Moina, we reluctantly got back on the road to return to Hobart, to ease back into city life. Hobart is the second oldest city in Australia, and actually a place I’d like to experience more of. It’s a lovely city with its waterfront and historic sandstone buildings. The Salamanca Market on Saturdays is body-to-body crowded again; I think the entire population of Hobart shows up, but full of fun finds from unique, tasty bites to beautiful handcrafted jewelry.

Salamanca Market in Hobart. Photo courtesy of Shaedow Photography

Our week in Tassie came to an end, and we were once more on a plane returning to real life in busy Sydney. Here in Texas, this cattle dog is herding me back to the present space and time, and I’m being handed a baby. Newborns smell every bit as good as fresh air, and this little one is welcome in my personal space.

What to do while in Tassie

Get Shucked! Fresh and delicious oysters on North Bruny Island

Bruny Island Cheese Co. Enjoy a beer and a cheese platter on the patio. They also have delicious cakes, coffee, and things in jars that you can take home.

Hotel Bruny where everyone gathers. Make a reservation to enjoy great seafood and a view of the sunset over the water.

Get spooked with the Launceston Ghost Tour

The Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail is a must! Chocolate and cheese and whisky, oh my!

Find treasures and eats at Salamanca Market in Hobart