For this episode of Travel Tips I have the honor of introducing you, my beloved readers, to a very special corner of the world: Tas-mania! (Don't you think they should write it this way officially? It adds a little je ne sais quoi to proceedings).
The "Apple Isle" as they call it, is a small crop of land which is separated from the World's Most Livable City by a deadly strip of water known as the Bass Strait. This violent pelagic mass is so terrifying that even my daredevil step father balked at taking his fabled homemade sea kayak out into its waters. However, nature seems to have a reason for such precautions: if the mainland were to know about all of the amazing attractions Tasmania had to offer, Van Diemen's Land would be overrun by throngs of tourists.
Consequently, Tasmania is pretty much left to its own devices (according to my shower curtain which deems it a whole 'nother country):
*An aside: This is not the only choice made by the shower curtain design team that I take issue with. Not only is there no Melbourne(?!) there is no New York City or Amsterdam, and Scotland has seemingly ceased to exist. Thankfully, Sverdlovsk and Qaraghandy are lovingly rendered. Phew.
It was illegal to be gay in Tasmania until 1997 which I think provides a helpful guideline when one is attempting to figure out precisely how far behind the times a place really is (much like how I determine New Zealand's cultural backwardness by Invercargill's High Street fashions).
There are so many Travel Tip-worthy activities crammed into such a miniscule island that I will document them in three parts. First up: getting there and the North.
When faced with the choice of taking a short, painless flight or the 24 hour-long Spirit of Tasmania ferry ride, I think you know which option I will suggest.
A hulking behemoth of a ferry, the Spirit departs from an abandoned dock on the outskirts of Melbourne. While driving your car along the sagging pier, try to avoid the portions which have been eaten away by the ferocious breakers of Port Phillip Bay. As the mist parts, a solitary man in a fluorescent vest will slowly put down the human skull he has been feasting on and commence pacing around your vehicle.
Don't be afraid, despite his menacing snuffles and the eerie sounds of his nails scraping at your paintjob, he is just trying to locate any items considered contraband in Tasmania, like front teeth, natural fibers and dignity.
Once the gatekeeper waves you through, proceed toward the belly of the maritime mothership. If you have succeeded in securing a private room, make your way there, lock the door and use all non-secured objects available to barricade yourself in until daybreak. If not, head to the entertainment deck.
Ahh ship travel. When entering the communal lounge one can't help but be transported back to the days of luxury liners. My brother's tuxedo looked slightly out of place and, despite fervent searches, we could not seem to locate the craps table.
Undeterred, we roamed the other decks in pursuit of the aforementioned entertainment. At long last we found it! Tucked away on the upper deck was the Galactica Games Room. I recommend bringing a hefty supply of dollar coins or else you won't be able to spend the time it takes to truly master the Claw Crane.
Return down below and settle in at "Horizons" the main bar. Here you can watch Lord of the Rings on repeat along with your shipmates. A word to the wise for you salty seadogs: the Horizons staff (much like many of Australia's service professionals) don't earn tips. As I was straight off the proverbial boat from the U!S!A! I hadn't yet adapted to the customs of my homeland. Laying down a few paltry bucks was akin to presenting Darren and his crew with Draupnir itself. Consequently, I was treated like a god amongst men with heavy pours and "clean" drinks. If booze isn't your thing, try the waggishly-named "Lattetudes".
If you haven't secured a private room, don't fret; there are still a few options available. You can thank me later.
The Spirit of Tasmania is, at heart, a democratic and fundamentally inclusive luxury liner. As such it has provided a more "affordable" alternative for those of you who are doing the legendary backpacking- around-Tasmania summer vacation (it is a well known known rite of passage, after all). This option comes in the form of their "Ocean Recliners".
When I went to check out the Ocean Recliner Lounge, I had read that it was only accessible via "swipe card", giving it an air of exclusivity. As I made my way upstairs I mused that perhaps I had made the wrong decision. Maybe I, too, could have passed a serene night, reading by the glow of my individual reading light, swaddled in a complimentary blanket.
Upon approach, the Ocean Recliner Lounge looks less like a luxury enclave, and more like the entrance to an Eastern European refugee camp. Old toothless women lie on the floor imploring passersby to drop a few coins in their plastic gambling cups, while young barefooted children repeatedly slam into the protective plexiglass of the Ocean Recliner Lounge's compound walls.
Although the ORL does indeed require a "swipe card" to enter, it is possible for the wily traveler to circumvent these rules. I observed many a bow-legged miscreant loitering near the door, waiting to follow an unassuming Loungean into the complex, much like those sketchballs who linger outside the ATM room at the bank. Take their cue, readers. Australians are far too nice and conflict averse to pipe up about behavior like this. I watched many people throwing futile dagger-eyes at these seat stealers hoping their veiled anger would be enough to convince them to move, but to no avail.
I should mention that, once you have your seat, the Lounge is hardly a bed of roses. It looked eerily similar to Ben Linus' brainwashing room at Hydra Station. Compare:
Sorry about the above picture, but you get the idea. At least Karl has some gaddamn privacy.
If this doesn't work, or if you are forcibly ejected after stealing a non-Australian's seat, you can always try hiding out in the movie theater.
Once you arrive at your destination, the fun really begins!
Disembark in the lovely port-town of Devonport. The Lonely Planet recently described Devonport as "a sedentary, mildly menacing place: speeding rednecks yell, ‘FUCK OFF!’ at unsuspecting pedestrians, and the McDonald’s drive-thru is the place to be on a Saturday night."
That's what I'm talking 'bout! Sadly, many people not only speed through the McDonald's drive-thru, but also Devenport itself. By doing so, they miss the spectacular natural beauty that Tasmania is so proud of:
Take the time to soak it all in. While preparing for your next destination, load up on snot boxes and truly excellent (readers, this is one of the only sarcasm-fee sentences on this entire blog - they were un.freaking.believable) eggie cheese sandwiches at the "All Things Nice" bakery in downtown Devonport.
As you hop in your car which has been belched out of the Spirit's cavernous bowels, use a permo to mark the first, and possibly greatest, stop on your Tasmanian tour: Seahorse World!
(Look for my next installment of Travel Tips: Seahorse World! Coming soon).