Planning a Bass Straight Crossing? Here’s what to expect.
By Jan Hawkins
Crossing Bass Strait has always been an iconic journey for Aussies. It is a trip right up there with The Ghan, The Indian Pacific Rail and flying across the ditch to visit New Zealand. The crossing is something Aussies have done since the earliest of colonial times, albeit not as comfortably as we can today and finally, we did it too.
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Despite all the welcome anxiety of a new adventure, we happily boarded the Spirit of Tasmania at Port Melbourne, with our caravan in tow for our 9- to 11-hour day sailing across Bass Strait, in the teeth of the Roaring Forties – the same infamous winds that bought the Europeans to this land in the era of great sailing ships. The lure in the adventure of travelling through Tasmania is rich and varied, from the beautiful and pristine wilderness to the wonderful local foods. Having flown into Tassie and hired vehicles on more than one occasion, we already knew something of what to expect and this is what drew us back for an extended adventure.
The scenery is simply spectacular and the Apple Isle welcomes the traveller with open arms. This is why we have decided this time to spend several months exploring Tasmania in our caravan and we have just begun our journey. I would recommend that you book your passage around three months out and booking your return at the same time is easiest. The Tasmanian crossing is becoming a popular journey as people realise there is simply so much to see and do, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time.
There are so many questions that you have when you book and many of these can be answered in the FAQ section on the Spirit of Tasmania website. A great deal of info can be found on the website and it is an easy process to make your booking. They even allow for mistakes and later amendments when you tap in all your details and manage to mess it up, as I did. We chose a day sailing for our first crossing and these day sailings only operate in summer. This meant finding overnight accommodation somewhere near Melbourne, which is not a straightforward thing by any chance,
particularly with a caravan in tow.
Street parking is available around the ferry terminal but don’t expect to camp up there overnight… it isn’t going to happen too easily. Hanging around the terminal in daylight waiting for a night sailing is much easier to do. Devonport is another matter as it is a country village compared to Melbourne, but we managed it all with a bit of inventive planning.
Boarding the ship turned out to be something of a snitch. It is an easy process with friendly staff readily ushering you through customs and into the bowels of the portly ship. There you leave your vehicles and are guided up onto the four passenger decks above. It was an early start for the day sailing, with boarding beginning before full sun-up, mostly because someone introduced daylight saving. Being a Queenslander I, like the cows and wildlife, am not in sympathy with this oddity.
You can travel quite economically as a day passenger and many Tasmanians do. You can book a cabin or opt for the recliners in the secure sections that require a handy little key card pass. We chose the Recliner Lounge at the back of the ship where the floor to ceiling windows are particularly clear and the area is quieter than the general lounges.
The ships are grand and offer not only seating and cabin accommodation but also entertainment, including live performances and cinemas, cafés and restaurants. There is a tourist hub or a handy services counter where you can book your National Parks pass, selected discounted ticketing and even a fishing licence, among so many other things.
For security and passenger accountability the vehicle decks are locked before departing so you are restricted to the four upper levels for the duration of the voyage. You have full access to these passenger decks and they provide outside and inside areas with lounges, bars and even wooden deck chairs if you really want that authentic cruising experience.
What most friends have asked up first up was ‘Why take the van when you could just as well have hired one?’ The answer is simple, this is an extended trip for us having realised just how much there is to see and do in Tasmania.
This was a trip we planned for over the summer and apart from the economics, as travellers and adventurers, the van is our permanent home. We hanker for the convenience that a turtle would enjoy, rolling along slowly with our own home at our back. Time and distance, we have come to realise during past visits to Tasmania, have different meanings to Taswiegan’s than they do for us mainlanders in Australia. It might be a small island, but it has a big heart and so much to experience.
As can be usual in Melbourne the weather was changeable as we slid out through Port Phillip Bay, with the sunshine peeping out at different times through most of the day. We met the Roaring Forties half way and most people by then were settled into a comfy seat, napping in their cabin or totally oblivious to the excitement as they shared a drink or three in the entertainment areas. The ships movement was reminiscent of the Manly Ferry as she crosses the heads in Sydney and I loved it.
The two red and white, monohull, Spirit of Tasmania vessels are huge, loveable and pretty damn stable in all conditions, with the hum of the motor a comforting thing as we plied our way across the Bass Strait. I even forgot to take the sea-sickness tablets I had so diligently bought the day before, and this without regret or consequence.
It was, however, the sport of whales frolicking in the sea as we neared Devonport that I loved seeing the most. We are definitely looking forward to our return adventure across the Tasman at the end of summer, this time a night sailing in one of the premium cabins. But for the moment, it is time to discover Tasmania.
Cost: Cheap seats – unassigned can be as low as $76 one way. Usual cost is around $89 each, unencumbered with a vehicle. Specials on the SOT website from time to time.
Your vehicles: You can take up to four vehicles, including boats, however, price is dependent on overall length and height. Our van is 8.3 metres (we tow a 20-footer) with a total length of 13.8 metres of tow vehicle and van. The vehicle is over 2.1m high (inc the kayak and man crap), and the cost was $720 (subsidised) for the two of us, and vehicles, one-way, including assigned lounger seating.
You add to the base carriage price your choice of accommodation. That is free unassigned seating, and then upwards to a posh cabin and all the in-betweens. It is worth noting that the federal government heavily subsidises the cost of crossing with a vehicle, this keeps the fare much cheaper than it would otherwise be. Our subsidy, one way, was $430 in total, which automatically comes off your fare.
Extras: Meals, drinks and snacks are available at reasonable cost. Seating in the restaurant area is exclusive to the eating of food. They frown upon anyone taking up residence for the duration of the voyage on the Deck 7 restaurant area. They are more forgiving in the spacious lounge areas, which are very comfortable and well appointed.
You can also bring your furry friend and they travel in a special kennel area. There are quarantine and vet passes required as Tasmania has a highly sensitive wildlife population.
Fixed gas bottles are not a problem, however, if they are unfixed then they will need to go into a special container. Jerry cans (unless fixed to the vehicle) must be empty, the generators must be air dry.
Entertainment: There is plenty to do, from watching the latest movies in the cinemas, vegging out in the Game Zone for kids or the Gaming Station and Gaming Lounge for big kids. You can enjoy the ride on the Top Deck Lounge, or in the unassigned seating where ever you find it. There is the secure Recliner Lounge, which is assigned seating, or the option of a more private cabin, which is ideal for the popular night crossings.
RV DAILY READER OFFER!
Sail into your next touring adventure from $79* per person, each way. Simply book a return night sailing with your caravan, campervan or motorhome by January 31, 2017 to save on your passenger fare. Travel on selected sailings
between May 14 and November 30, 2017.
*Terms and conditions apply.