Jan 8, 2015
Driving to the island of Tasmania was out of the question. Flying was possible, but it's my least favorite way to travel. Luckily, there was another option: a ferry called the Spirit of Tasmania.
I headed to the Station Pier in Melbourne, where the ship was docked. When I stepped aboard, a woman searched my carry-on bag and immediately found my lunch of bread, cheese, avocado and carrots. Before I came to Australia, I had heard about the country's strict policy of quarantining fresh food. Now that I was leaving Victoria, I was learning that a separate quarantine applied for interstate travel. The woman made me throw away my illegal avocado and carrots. At least I could still bring the bread and cheese aboard.
After passing through the quarantine, I checked out the rest of the ship. There were several outdoor decks, where passengers took in the salty air of the Tasman sea. There was also a bar, a restaurant that served avocados for an exorbitant price and an artist. Lining the ship's interior were loud televisions showing game shows and advertisements for the island. Luckily, I had paid a bit of extra money for a cushy “ocean recliner” in a private lounge at the ship's stern. It was the only part of the ship that was free from the annoying TV screens.
The Spirit of Tasmania sped out of Melbourne at twenty-seven knots. Before long, we went through a narrow channel to exit Port Phillip. The ship rocked side to side as we entered the open sea.
I stayed parked in my assigned seat for most of the day, sleeping, eating my cheese and bread and catching up on my photos. My Australian journey had been amazing so far, and I still had about five weeks to go. I had no plans for Tasmania, but whatever I ended up doing, it was sure to be an adventure.
At 6:30 PM, the Spirit of Tasmania docked in the city of Devonport, on Tasmania's north coast. I stepped ashore and examined a brochure I had picked up on the ship. Along with a map of the city, several options for accommodation were listed. I called the only youth hostel in town, but they were full. Next I called a campground and was happy to learn that they had vacancies. The only problem was getting there. When I examined the map more closely, I realized that the ship had docked in West Devonport, and there was only one bridge connecting it to Devonport proper. The city buses had already stopped running. (I later learned that Tasmanians have a joke about the lack of public transportation on their island: “There's only one bus on Tassie, and it's in the garage.”) I could take a taxi, but the five-mile trip to the campground was guaranteed to be overpriced. Instead, I lowered my head, sucked in my pride and started walking along the palm-lined shore of the Mersey River.
Soon I spotted a deli with a sign outside that said “All Cheeseburgers $5.” I stepped inside and ordered a cheeseburger. The girl at the register turned around and asked the owner how much to charge. “Just charge him three dollars,” she said with a smile. I devoured the burger and continued walking, cheerful from the unsolicited discount.
Ten minutes later, I was thirsty. I was about to stop for a swig from my water bottle when I heard a guy shout, “Hey!”
I thought: I'm carrying this huge backpack. Now you need to harass me for it. You're so cool because you laugh at my misfortune.
I looked up and saw the guy who had shouted. He was standing on the second floor balcony of an apartment building, and now he was waving to get my attention. Suddenly I realized that he wasn't harassing me. He was holding a can of beer, and he was motioning for me to take it. I smiled and held up my hands, and he tossed the ice-cold can to me. “Thanks!” I said, and continued walking.
I wasn't sure if it was legal to drink in public in Devonport, Tasmania. While I pondered whether I should open the beer while it was cold, or wait an hour until I was at my campsite, I heard another guy shout, “Hey!”
An old white station wagon was parked next to the road, in a gravel lot. I thought: Great, now this guy wants to harass me.
The station wagon's windows were open. A young blond man was sitting in the driver's seat. “You need a ride?” he asked.
“Maybe,” I said. “Here's where I'm going.” I took out my map and showed him the campground.
“Sure, I can take you there,” he said. “Hop in.”
I threw my backpack on the back seat and climbed aboard. The generous man's name was Cabe. He was from Devonport, and recently, he had spent a year hitchhiking around the west coast of Canada and the US. Finding a ride was never an issue, and he met a ton of great people along the way. Now that he was back in Tasmania, he liked to return the favor. I was grateful.
Cabe drove me to the campground's office. I got out, put on my backpack and thanked him for the ride. Then I remembered: I still had the can of beer. “Here you go,” I said, and handed it to him.
The campground was packed with RV's, but there was a small area reserved for tents. I set up my tent under a pine tree and went for a walk. The campground had flush toilets, hot showers and a laundry room. A hiking trail led to the nearby beach, and away from town. I had successfully shipped to Tasmania. Now I just had to figure out what to do while I was there.