5 tips for travelling on the spirit of tasmania
If you’re planning a driving holiday around Tasmania and want to travel over the Bass Strait by boat, the Spirit of Tasmania will be your transport.
And if you’re anything like us (and the multitude of people we’ve spoken to), you will completely underestimate just how many people take driving holidays around Tasmania.
That rumour about booking months in advance so you don’t get stuck on the Apple Isle is true! We’ve met three families over the past few days who had to take a significantly shorter trip (three weeks as opposed to six) or extend their holiday to three months because they couldn’t get a return trip between early February – early April.
There’s a few reasons for this, mainly that Tassie’s grey nomads leave the island for the autumn/winter in search for warmer days and mainlanders are returning home after their summer holiday.
The journey usually takes 9-11 hours depending on the weather but considering boarding closes 45minutes before departure you can expect it to be a good 12-13 hour day.
With this in mind, a few tips for travelling on the Spirit:
- Book well in advance and always book a return fare: If you’re travelling overnight you will be required to book a cabin (share, bunk or deluxe with queen bed) but if you’re travelling during the day you can simply use the armchairs dotted throughout the boat. However, those that travel during the day have said how helpful it is to have a cabin to hang out in for a few hours (especially if you’ve got little kids). You can also rent a recliner chair if you don’t want to pay for an entire room.
- Day or Overnight Sail? We chose the overnight sail because we knew it would be easier with four kids in tow. And we were right; once we boarded we spent a few hours wandering around the boat, admiring the views and checking out the features (there’s a cinema, games console area, playground and reading room) and then we settled into bed and only woke when we received our wake-up call at 5:15am. I highly recommend getting the kids to sleep before you reach the Bass Strait as even when the sea is relatively calm, the boat still rocks significantly (you really will be rocked to sleep). The overnight sail worked for us as we didn’t have to spend 9-12 hours entertaining the kids. That said, if we did have to do a day sail we would make it work and we would definitely book a cabin for downtime, naps and a shower.
- Pack food and entertainment: there’s a restaurant and a series of drink/snack bars on board but they are expensive. We took pre-prepared food on board with us (as did every other family I met) and I admit I was jealous of the couples who packed a cheese board with olives, crackers and deli specialties (I wasn’t that organised!). If you’re on the day sail there is plenty to do but colouring supplies, a few books and an iPad wouldn’t go astray.
- Pack one bag with clothing and essentials: If you’re travelling with your car/caravan you’re allowed to take one bag onto the boat with you (one bag for each person travelling). If you like a cup of tea I recommend packing a travel kettle, tea bags, mugs and milk otherwise you’ll be paying $3.50 for a milky tea in a plastic cup. Take all medications with you as you won’t be able to access your vehicle during the sail.
- No photo ID required: Contrary to what the website says, you don’t need to print your ticket or have photo ID. I just showed my email confirmation on my phone to the ticket operator, no driver’s license required.
Once you reach Devonport you’ll be off the boat quickly (once our parking station was called and we made our way to the car we were off the boat within 15minutes). We found the closest open cafe and ordered coffee and bacon + egg sandwiches (we were all starving) and heading straight to Mersey Bluff where there was plenty of space to park the caravan. The children’s park on the foreshore is fabulous and the public amenities are clean and spacious.
We had booked three nights at Mersey Bluff Caravan Park (a 10minute drive from the boat) and checked in at 11am for $40/night for a powered site. The park comes highly recommended and while the location is beautiful, the park itself is a little haphazard. The sites are tiered and very tight and when we were there everyone was tucked in sardine-like. The public road runs through the front of the park and there isn’t a fence separating the sites from the traffic so if you’ve got young kids you might want to request a site further back.
On the plus side, the owners are some of the friendliest you’ll come across and the location is ideal for young families. It’s perched right on a beautiful beach with calm, clear water and an abundance of pebbles, little caves and rock platforms. You can easily walk up to the lighthouse or grab coffee from the cafe on the foreshore (although it doesn’t open till 11am so if you like an early caffeine hit you’ll have to go elsewhere).
I highly recommend the little fruit + veg shop on the corner of William and Best St (about 1km up the road) to stock up on local and organic produce. Buy the bag of mixed lettuce leaves from Thirlstane Gardens – no other salad leaves will ever compare (the local potatoes, toms, carrots and apricots are fabulous, too). If you need to do a bigger shop, head straight to Hill St Grocer; it’s one of the most delightful grocery shopping experiences I’ve ever had. Stock up on Pigeon Whole sourdough, buy free range meat and deli specialties, shop Tasmanian dairy and grab a coffee while you’re there.
And if on that first night you really don’t feel like cooking, Strait Off The Boat offers some of the best fish + chips we’ve ever eaten (the grilled gummy and potato cakes were amazing!).
Happy, smooth sailing!