Tasmania is one of the places where you can get great views of the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights. I had been inspired by Joanna Lumley and her travels to the arctic north to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, and decided that viewing an aurora had to be on my bucket list. So when I discovered that I could potentially see an aurora without having to travel for days through snow in freezing temperatures, I jumped at the chance.
I took the opportunity after a work trip to spend a weekend in Hobart with my friend Anne who I met on a trip to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. When I mentioned that I was interested in seeing an aurora, Anne kindly arranged a visit down to their property on the Tasman Peninsular for the evening. It was also coming up to the Spring Equinnox, reportedly a good time for auroras. For more information see the Aurora Australis Tasmania site.
We camped in their (well set up) shed and feasted on chicken curry prepared by Anne’s husband David and a delicious wine from their own vineyard ‘Clarence House Estate’. We went out for a walk in the evening hoping that we would get spectacular views of an aurora but unfortunately the sky was totally cloudy and we couldn’t even see a single star. We checked the sky again periodically on trips to the outhouse – but unfortunately this was not to be the night for me to see an aurora.
The Tasman Peninsular lies south east of Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. It has lots of little settlements and beautiful beaches. It’s most famous attraction is the former convict settlement and now heritage site of Port Arthur. I had last visited here shortly after the infamous massacre there in 1996 when 35 people were killed and numerous people wounded. Because I had already visited Port Arthur, we decided to drive out to Roaring Beach, a popular surfing beach on the west coast and visit the Coal Mines Historical Site – the site of Tasmania’s first operational coal mine, “serving as a place of punishment for the ‘worst class’ of convicts from Port Arthur”.
Wouldn’t you know it! – after total cloud cover the previous evening the morning dawned with a perfect cloudless sky, no wind and temperatures to reach 23C. It was a perfect day for sightseeing and sightseeing we did. First stop was Roaring Beach and a walk along the headland. Most of the land there is owned by artist Peter Adams and his artworks (and those of artists visiting Windgrove) grace many of the tracks. The views of Roaring Beach and beyond in all directions are spectacular. We get to see a huge yellow-tailed black cockatoo enjoying the banksia flowers, and an Echidna (spiny anteater) ambled around a grassy area for quite a while before sensing it had an audience and rolled into a ball. Then we walked down to and along Roaring Beach, watching all the avid surfies.
Next stop was the Coal Mines Historic Site – the first coal mine in Tasmania and the place where prisoners from Port Arthur were sent for punishment. There is not a lot left of the buildings there and on such a beautiful day it was hard to imagine that being there could be punishment. But reading the signs we realised that the prisoners would not have had much of a chance to appreciate the scenery as they were often kept in solitary confinement underground or in windowless cells. It can also get miserably cold there and working in the coal mines would have been no fun either.
After a wonderful day of walking we headed wearily back to Hobart to the welcome thought that David was cooking dinner for us. Anne and David live in a lovely old 1830s stone house surrounded by gardens (and a vineyard across the road), where Anne keeps chickens, ducks and geese. We had stopped in briefly to visit a friend who collects bread to feed the ducks with and when we got home there was a welcoming committee of ducks who could tell what side their bread was buttered on. A very excited string of ducks (and a goose that thinks he is a duck) followed Anne and her wheelbarrow down to the stream for feeding. Then we fed and watered the chickens and got them all back into their respective houses for the night.
We headed for bed early ourselves that night after making the most of a magnificent day.