Guide to Travelling Around Tasmania
I have put together some information that I have gleaned from my recent trip to Tasmania. I hope you will find the following useful when planning for your Tassie trip:
While everyone visiting Australia needs a visa (with the exception of New Zealanders), visitors from certain countries need only apply for an online ETA (Electronic Travel Authority), including Singaporeans. If you apply it directly with the Australian Embassy, it will cost you S$20 per person.
But you can also get the ETA from travel agents and airlines too, sometimes for free or at a much cheaper price. I took a risk and gave www.eta.sg a try, and I was glad I did. It merely cost S$8 per person and I was able to enter into Australia without any problem. I am not affiliated with them and so, please feel free to get it elsewhere. Do give sufficient time to get your visas in order prior to your trip.
If you are a visitor from New Zealand, UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland and Singapore, you can use the Smartgate Kiosks on arrival. That greatly speeds up immigration clearance. You will need to scan you passports at any of the kiosks on arrival, get a ticket and and proceed to the immigration gates, insert the ticket, look into the camera and you are through! For more info: https://www.border.gov.au/Trav/Ente/Goin/Arrival/Smartgateor-ePassport
Australian Customs and Quarantine:
Agriculture plays an important role in Asutralia’s economy. So, it is only natural that it seeks to protect its farms from pests and diseases from overseas. It is mandatory that you DECLARE any food and controlled items, even food you got from your flight. Failing which you will have a severe fine or even jail term. So, please respect this requirement. See: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/travelling/arriving-in-australia
Getting to Tasmania:
There are no direct flight from Singapore to Tasmania. I had to transit in Melbourne and take a domestic flight into Tasmania. Domestic flights from Melbourne to Tasmania, especially into Hobart, can be as cheap as A$50 one-way if you book early or managed to catch hold of a promotion. You do need to go through immigration first and collect your luggage before checking in to your domestic flight to Tasmania.
From Melbourne, if you prefer, you can also get on the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’, on a 9-hour sea journey that takes you into Devonport, in the northern part of Tasmania.
There are buses that you can take to get around Tassie, but I feel that driving is probably the best option. Driving allows you to stop and go as you wish and you are not constrained by bus schedules. For my trip to Tasmania, I didn’t bother with reading any maps. All I did was punched in my destination into Google Maps. One thing though, if you could plan ahead and enter your destination ahead of your departure, you have the option of download the maps so that in an area that has little or no mobile reception, your GPS still works. However, I didn’t have to do that since I have mobile reception everywhere I went in Tasmania. If you are using Google Maps on your phone, it pays to bring along a mobile phone holder that you can affix to the windscreen.
I have spent considerable time looking at all the car rentals in Tasmania. I finally settled on Bargain Car Rentals. Price was the sole determining factor. Car Rental in Australia doesn’t come cheap, which doesn’t make sense because cars are so affordable here. I got a late model Hyundai Accent, with 6-speed auto transmission. The car was very economical to run: I only spent A$85 on fuel for the entire trip from Launceston to Cradle Mountain to Coles Bay and finally Hobart (Aussie petrol was cheap too)! The Accent was a nice enough drive for city driving, and its pickup was rather quick but road-holding on country roads could be better.
I picked up the car from Launceston airport at 4.30pm, which was well-within the office hours of the depot there. However, on arrival, I was surprised to find out that the car I booked was already parked at the airport carpark and ready for collection. The car was unlocked and I simply drove it out of the airport without having anyone verify my driver’s license. Aussies are very relaxed people, I surmise. Dropping off the car at Hobart Airport was also a fuss-free event. They did not even bother checking the car for damage.
If your driver’s license was issued in English, you do not need to get an International Driving Permit in order to drive in Australia. For example, driver’s license issued in Singapore is also valid in Australia.
Voltage / Adaptor Plug:
Australia supplies electricity between 220 and 240 volts. Most of us though, would need an adaptor plug, unless you are from China or New Zealand. Along with my passport, this is probably among the first things I pack in my bag before any trip.
Mobile Data / Wifi:
Most airports in Australia provide free internet access and both Launceston and Hobart airports in Tasmania do too. Your accommodation should generally have free wifi too. But generally, getting around Tasmania is much better served when you have your own mobile data, especially when you rely on Google Maps to get to your next destination.
You can either purchase a prepay SIM card from any of the local telcos or, if you are from Singapore, buy a Starhub “Happy” prepaid SIM, which provides mobile data at Singapore prices. The prepaid SIM card itself costs S$15 but gives you $18 value (get it from Cheers, 7 eleven or Starhub shops – some neighborhood mobile shops will try to sell it to you at $18). It is best to download the Starhub “Happy Prepaid” app and activate the SIM card PRIOR to departure. Thereafter, you can purchase a data plan from within the app that suits your duration of travel and data usage needs. I chose the 30 day, 1.2GB option that cost S$10. The SIM card leverages on Telstra’s network, which is the most extensive in Australia. In most places in Tasmania, I did get decent connectivity. But some out-of-the-way places like Cradle Forest Inn in Moina, the connectivity was very patchy and slow. Even in downtown Hobart, while it says 4G on my phone, sometimes, the speed I experienced feels more like EDGE, a ramp up version of the dated GPRS technology. All the same, the Starhub Happy prepay SIM card was more than adequate for my needs during this trip.
Airbnb has a S$10 prepay SIM card joint-promotion with Yes Optus (a Singtel-owned telco). But this special offer requires you to have booked a accommodation with airbnb in Australia and you must present the reservation number when purchasing the SIM card. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the quality of their network as I didn’t use them on this trip.
Holiday accommodation, be it hotels, motels, holiday houses (self-catering) and hostels are aplenty in Tasmania, with something to suit everyone’s preference ad budgets. You can book for these ahead at hotel booking sites like booking.com and airbnb.com.
Best Time to Visit:
There is really no correct answer to that. If you want to experience snow, then winter (June to August) is probably the best time to visit Tasmania. If you would like to visit the lavender and fruit farms, then summer is ideal. But summer is also a very busy time and so your vacation may be dearer and the weather can be rather warm at times. If you prefer the cooler and quieter months, then Autumn (March to May) and Spring (September to November) will be good times too. Tasmanians like to say that they have four seasons in one day (Kiwis say the same things too). What this means is: regardless when you are visiting, be it winter or summer, be prepared for sudden and drastic changes in the weather. My advice is to layer up. When the weather turns cold, put on more layers of clothing and if it gets warm, you can easily remove them.
Eating out in Tasmania averages A$20 to A$30 per meal. We did find some cheap Asian eats in Hobart. We had Japanese Ramen at Koma Ramen (115 Elizabeth St, Hobart TAS 7000) for only about A$11. Not the best ramen, but it will do on a cold day.
Perhaps the best value can be had by cooking your own meals. Tasmania has plenty of fresh produce and you can virtually buy anything from their supermarkets. Food items are very reasonably priced in Tasmanian supermarkets. If you fancy that sirloin steak, why not put together your own feast, particularly if you have access to a kitchen? Having a beef steak in a restaurant will probably set you back by at least A$30; buying it from the supermarkets will definitely cost you much less. When I have time, I may put up a blog post on making the perfect steak.
As mentioned earlier, I find that car rental is rather expensive in Tasmania. On average, I spent about A$65 per day on car rental. I could get the same for half the price in New Zealand or the USA. Take note of the excess you need to bear in the event of an accident. You may want to check with your local insurer to see if their travel insurance has a component that covers the excess for car rental.
For the 7 nights my wife and I spent in Tasmania, our expenses were:
1. Accommodation: A$800
2. Car rental: A$430
3. Petrol: A$85
4. Food and miscellaneous expenses: A$700
Total: A$2015 for 2 persons. That excludes shopping and airfares.
Driving in Tasmania:
Tasmania has only about 500,000 people, but about 95 times Singapore’s size. So you can expect far fewer cars on the road. Often, on rural roads, ours were the only car for long stretches of time. But it is still important to keep your eyes on the speedometer. The speed limit on open country roads is 100kmh and in nuilt-up areas, 50kmh. There are also stretches of road where the speed limit is 110kmh. Do exercise care as there are lots of bends on some of the roads, such as the B34 we were on. Tasmania has very good roads, but do exercise care and drive to the weather and road conditions and observe the speed limits.
Tasmania motorists are generally very courteous and patient on the road A few times, when I was trying to make a right turn into a smaller lane on a busy road junction, I have people slowing down on the opposite side of the road, and flashed their headlamps to indicate that I should go ahead and turn. I am sure you will enjoy driving in Tasmania.
The use of drones use, while not prohibited, are subjected to requirements under the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and National Parks and Reserved Land Regulations (2009). Certain places, like Cradle Mountains, have specifically prohibited the use of drones. So, please check beforehand if you may fly your drones in any particular area. See: http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=41796