The last group tour out of Tasmania 2020
by Anne Davy
Red flags went up at the very beginning of this holiday. Originally Aldinga’s Grande Tour was fifteen days. I’d watched the website daily. Cancellations came thick and fast because of the bushfires down South. It went to eleven days and now flights instead of The Spirit of Tasmania. Talking to the Operator the group was now down to eleven, a small group. I booked at the end of January paying the full amount.
In the months following Covert 19 arrived. Would the tour be cancelled? I spent many a sleepless night worrying. I’d saved for three years for this trip. Tasmania surely was safe. A text message confirmed we were going.
A phone call, the first flag, there was a truck accident on the highway could I be ready half an hour early in order to catch the flight? Boarding the Shuttle bus on 17th March I meet the first of my fellow travellers, Margaret. We then hooked up with the rest of the group now thirteen.
The flight was uneventful. In Launceston we were now travelling in a small shuttle bus fitted with coach seats. A quick glance at my fellow travellers revealed that the average age was 75. I later found out that Bert 98 and his neighbour Margaret 84 were from Blacksmiths. There were strict precautions for hand sanitization before entering the bus and it was wiped down nightly. The trip began as per the revised itinerary with visits to Launceston’s city sights.
I’m a rather timid traveller. Meeting Bert and Margaret soon changed that. At Cataract Gorge the next day they lined up for the chair lift. It’s the longest single span chairlift in the world. Bravely I took my seat in the chair behind them. Great views of the river winding through the Gorge!
As many of the attractions closed around us the tour operator Paul, phone fixed to his ear, sourced new activities. Mona had just closed. One was a visit to the Seahorse Factory. Who knew that they were a species of fish? Were we up for a jet boat ride around Bruny Island? It turned out to be the highlight of my trip. Clad in long red coats we had the ride of a lifetime with Captain Ahab. I kid you not, he laughed scarily like a pirate aaaargh!
We managed to meet the Tasmanian Devils at East Coast Nature Park. Following the Tasman Highway through Swansea, we stopped to take photos of the convict built Spikey Bridge. Crossing the Derwent River, we entered Hobart.
It turned out we were the last tour group to visit Port Arthur. There was only a skeleton crew on site. Our guided tour became larger as other tourists joined our group. We were nervous about the social distancing rules but joined others sailing out to circle The Isle de Mort where convicts were buried. As Salamanca Markets, arts, crafts and bakeries and cafés closed it was difficult to find morning tea venues. Staying at Wrest Point Casino for three days, the last breakfast served by all those open young faces was touching. The Casino closed a few days later.
We had become a tightknit group as our fear of the virus amongst us receded. Our flights had been cancelled, then changed again to out of Launceston. Heading to Queenstown past Hops fields we stopped in the National Parks for rainforest walks with their fabulous waterfalls. The second highlight of this trip was The Wall, carved in Huon Pine. At one point the carving of a man, back turned, carrying his Gladstone bag stopped me in my tracks. As an artist myself the fine detail of the bag mesmerised me.
One night at Queenstown. At midday the next day in the local old Cinema the Paragon, Paul informed us that our Virgin flights were cancelled. We had to immediately pack. We were to board The Spirit of Tasmania in Davenport at 5pm. That evening I stood at the stern with new friends as we left Tasmania.
There was a problem with disembarking the next morning. Those using wheelchairs had to wait until the ship was unloaded. As this was two- hour wait “Uncle Bert” decided to walk to the waiting coach, an arduous walk for a man nearing 100.He was adamant. He would not let his fellow travellers down. This was just the beginning of a gruelling 14-hour bus journey home before N.S.W borders closed.
We remained healthy. Despite the trip being cut short I have little regrets. I certainly lost money as venues promised shut their doors. Tasmania with its soft light and natural beauty was all that I ‘d hoped for. Maybe I’ll return.
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License