Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dress warm for Hobart

Snow on Mount WellingtonFrom 4 to 12 September I had a holiday in Tasmania. Normally I would blog as I went along, but was a bit busy this time and had limited Internet access and so am just catching up. The trip started in Hobart, Tasmania's capital city. When visiting Tasmania, you should bring warm, waterproof clothing. This applies even if you are only intending to visit the city. The first thing my host did was take me on a hike up Mount Wellington, which is covered in snow at this time of year.

Montgomery's YHA turned out to be very well located in the Hobart CBD, close to the tourist area around the waterfront. The accommodation is basic. The rooms on the street side of the building are noisy due to traffic. The rooms above the bar of the hotel are very noisy on Friday and Saturday nights (I have suggested the windows be double glazed).

Hobart waterfront

Hobart waterfrontThe Hobart waterfront is only a few block from the city centre. This is still a working port and you can see icebreakers, such as Aurora Australis of the Australian Antarctic Division, between double deck tour buses and cruse boats.

Icebreaker Aurora Australis There are also several square rigged replica sailing ships. On a previous trip I found USAV Spearhead (TSV-1X), an experimental US warship, at the wharf.

Hobart Water TaxiHobart people appear to have not yet got over the collapse of the Tasman Bridge in 1975. The bus driver on the way from the airport mentioned it, just as the bus reached the span which had collapsed into the river, killing 12 people. The water taxi driver mentioned it, as the taxi headed for one of the pylons.

Salamanca Markets

Salamanca Place markets operate on Saturday morning, just behind where the icebreaker is docked. It is best to arrive early, around 8:30 am when the markets officially open. There is fresh produce, leather and wood handicrafts. On this occasion I spotted one of the stars of the ABC Collectors TV program, which is produced in Hobart, so I guess there are some collectables.

There were numerous leather goods stands. Just to make their jobs more difficult I went around asking for a leather bag to hold a 10.5 inch netbook computer, about the size of an A4 pad. In 2008 I purchased a bag for my 12 inch laptop in Athens, near the Acropolis, but this is a bit big for the new netbook. None had one suitable, so this seems a gap in the market (Henk Berg Leather had some which were a bit big).

The snow covered top of Mount Wellington is visible above the colonial sandstone buildings which line the markets, making a dramatic setting.

Cascade Brewery

Cascade Brewery beer tasting boardJust outside Hobart on the way to Mount Wellington, is the Cascade Brewery. This has an excellent visitors centre, featuring light lunches and beer tasting. The highlight is the beer tasting paddle. This is a wooden board, with holes to hold several small glasses of beer. The taster is challenged to name the beers presented, with a souvenir cap as a prize. On the board were: Cascade Blond (brewed with wheat), Cascade Green (not green in colour, it is claimed to be Australia's first 100% carbon offset beer), Cascade Pale Ale, Cascade Draft, Cascade First Harvest (made with first harvest hops from the Derwent Valley near Hobart) and Cascade Stout. My favourite was the Blonde.

Tourism Electronic KioskIn the foyer of the visitors centre I noticed a "See Australia" tourism touch screen electronic kiosk from Datatrax. Unlike many such devices I have seen, this one appeared to be fully functional.


If you want to get away from it all, you can in Tasmania. My Vodafone mobile phone was out of range, about 40 km west of Hobart and was not usable again for the next week. Heading west from Hobart up the Derwent Valley are trout hatcheries and picturesque hop farms (hops feature on the Tasmania coat of arms).

Penstocks to the Tarraleah power stationFurther up into the highlands is Tarraleah. This town was built for hydro-electric construction workers and is now a tourist resort with an arts and craft feel to it. Next to the main building is a dizzy descent to the river below, down which run six huge water pipes ("Penstocks") to the hydro-electric power stations below.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Booking Rental Cars in Tasmania via the Web

After my difficulties with booking accommodation online a short trip around Tasmania, car hire was very easy. Europcar offer a discount for YHA members, so I just had to click on the bottom of my room booking to go to the car rental site. This already recorded that I was a referred and gave me a discount. I still had to enter my name and address details, but this was reasonably easy. Selecting a car is complex and the small, enviornmentally friendly car I wanted was not avilable, so I had to settle for a larger less fuel efficient one.

What is still a problem with Tasmanian bookings is the YHA accommodation. While YHA offer a central online booking service, the smaller hostels do not appear to be covered. I emailed Strahan Backpackers YHA and Cradle Mountain Backpackers YHA getting very prompt, useful and friendly replies.

I wrote to YHA's travel service to ask if it was possible to book the smaller hostels online and was told: "I would suggest that if the web does not work, I would try to call them ...". YHA seem to have a problem with their web site and a more serious problem with their customer relations. This will be harming Australian tourism.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Booking accommodation in Tasmania via the Web

After my difficulties with booking airline flights via airline web sites for Jetstar and Virgin Blue in the end I gave up using the airlines web sites and use and using the WebJet airline booking website. Now I have started booking accommodation online for the same short trip around Tasmania.

After a pleasant stay at the Newcastle Beach Youth Hostel I thought I would try Tasmanian hostels in the system. YHA have a very good online booking system. This worked well for the central Hobart based Montgomery's. One catch with the system is that YHA members get a discount when they book a room, even if it is a shared room with non-members. But you have to separately account for the members and non-members on the booking web page.

One point of confusion is the smaller hostels, such as Strahan Backpackers YHA. There does not seem to be any way to book this via the web site. The hostel has a "Rapid Room Number" (0245) which is supposed to be used to identify the hostels to the system. But this number doesn't seem to be listed in the system.

There are no YHAs in Launceston. The Arthouse
in Launceston taks a minimalist approach to booking, having an e-mail address to send a query. What they do have on their web site which is useful are google maps to places, such as the city Transit Centre. These links are more useful than the maps usually found on hotel web sites. You are able to customise the map, for example, to see how long it will take to walk, rather than drive.

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