Planning the Trip
We decided to approach this trip by creating an overall itinerary that dictated where we were to drive each day, the places we slept each night, and a general idea of many of the attractions and sights we wanted to see on the way. This required researching (rather thoroughly) what is on offer in Tassie before even setting foot there. We started by figuring out the locations of interesting things we wanted to see, which ended up roughly being: Launceston, Freycinet, Hobart, Port Arthur, Strahan, Cradle Mountain, and a slew of other tiny stop over places in between. With this we were able to start putting locations into day and night slots to form a rough itinerary. Then we could start to call around for accommodation so that our path around the island was solidified. There were a few aspects of our particular trip that made it difficult for us to plan. Below are explanations of the problems we had and how you may be able to avoid them.
We found out the hard way that the Christmas holiday season is the most popular time for people (mostly Aussies) to vacation in Tasmania. Kids are on Summer break and many offices close for two to three weeks to allow families to travel, gather, and relax (hopefully) together for the holidays. Additionally, with the recent downturn of the Australian dollar, many Australians decided to stay in their home turf for the break and many of them ended up in Tassie.
So, you can understand how Tasmania was a busy place in late December and early January this year. Tassie didn't seem bombarded with people once we were there, but peak season was extremely obvious as we tried to book our accommodation beforehand. Everywhere was full. Big places, small places, even places without websites. I was truly scrounging to find places to stay, and it got worse the closer to the trip we got (no surprise there). We started booking motels in early November, but didn't finish until the day before we left. Each night we stayed there probably took me an average of three hours at home beforehand calling places and emailing booking inquiries. It was ridiculous. I have two pieces of advice for you if you are planning to go around the New Year: 1) either plan way ahead to avoid the last minute rush, or; 2) try hiring a camper van or staying at camp sites as that may be less congested (though I really have no idea if they are any better). And if you aren't able to do one of those two, prepare for hell when booking places. But if you're persistent, it's definitely possible. Be creative, be flexible, and be ready to pay top dollar for not top quality.
Additionally, traveling over the holidays works against you in another way; many places are closed for Christmas Day and some for New Year's. Some places (restaurants and service places mostly) close for two to three weeks around the holidays, just like businesses elsewhere that we're vacationing from! With this in mind, we made sure that any activities planned for the actual banker's holidays were open that day. Fortunately, tourist-related activities are mostly open for business since they are aware that this is the peak time of year. We didn't have too many problems with places being closed during our trip, though we did book an Indian food restaurant in Launceston in advance for Christmas dinner so that we didn't end up at the servo (though I bet even the servos are closed on Xmas in Tassie).
Peak Season Prices
All of this talk of peak season brings around one of the next largest pains-in-the-bums. Obviously, like anywhere, the hotels, restaurants, and all other Tas natives know about the flood of visitors this time of year. They know we are committed to coming and once we're there, we have no choice about buying food, drinks, and doing tourist activities. And with this knowledge, they graciously knock up the prices of any and all things that you, as a tourist, need or want to purchase. Everything is more expensive. The flights, the rental cars, the hotels, the food. I estimate, with no basis for this claim, that we spend probably 1/3 more $$ than we would have at another time of year.
One mitigating factor for this, typically, is that Tasmania usually has nicer weather around this season. Late December is just shy of high summer and one of the warmest times of the year, which isn't really that warm for one of the closest inhabited locations to Antarctica on the planet. But still, it makes sense that you pay high prices for the most statistically desirable time of year to visit. As we found, the weather is extremely unpredictable (even more so than Melbourne, who knew it was possible!) and even though we battled the crowds and paid our extra moo-lah, we still got hit with rain and even snow. But, what can you do but make the best of it.
My advice to a potential traveler who can pick any time of the year to go to Tasmania (do you exist, ideal traveler?) is to go in late January or February. I would imagine that this is still peak season and would be more expensive than, say, July, but you would avoid the massive influx of people and it wouldn't be quite as expensive as Christmas time. And you would still be likely to get the weather to make it a vacation rather than a sit-in. But, alas, some of us are forced out of our office and into a vacation at undesirable times and, once again, must make the best of it!
Tourist Attractions, but not totally a Tourist Place
This is just a bit of a silly thing that I noticed, but I thought it might be helpful to pass along the info. Unlike New Zealand, which seems to be a country thoroughly prepared for a constant influx of sightseers, Tasmania is really just a series of small towns that just happens to have a bunch of people who visit often. This means that during high season, every single tiny town is booked out, every tourist attraction still closes at 5pm, and all the shops and restaurants close at 7. This is untrue for Hobart, Launceston, and some other parts (Strahan had a couple places open until 9pm), but for the majority of the tiny towns interspersed between the "big" cities, that's what you get. We did not expect this and were rather put off by it, especially after arriving to one particular town around 7pm (mind you, it's still light outside for two hours) and having to drive 30 minutes to get nibbles at a servo in an adjacent town since nothing was open. Needless to say, it's obnoxious. However, if you're prepared for such nonsense, I would anticipate it being far more manageable.
I think this is just the fate of any traveler or resident of Victoria or Tasmania; the weather is all over the place. A man said to me in Tasmania, "They say if you don't like the weather in Melbourne, wait an hour. If you don't like the weather in Tasmania, wait ten minutes". And indeed, that was what we experienced. Not only was there rain and snow (in certain areas) in the dead of summer, but the weather did change seemingly from minute to minute. With that in mind, all you can do as a potential traveler is to keep you hopes up, understand the statistics, and arrive prepared for anything. If you are sensitive to the cold, I would advise bringing a heavier jacket than you would expect necessary, it may come in handy on a randomly cold night.