While most of Tasmania – and in a way, Australia – is a British legacy, it is interesting to know that the prologue was quite different. It started with the intrepid Dutch explorers who were already based, not far away, in the Dutch East Indies islands of Indonesia. The island’s name – Tasmania itself, is a tribute to Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who sailed these waters way back in the 1640s – more than 120 years ahead of James Cook, the British Pioneer who mapped Australia in much greater detail, leading to its establishment as a penal colony for Britain in 1788. When Tasman sailed these waters, he called this part of the Australia ‘Van Diemen’s land’, after the then governor of the East Indies. It was also Tasman who named these countries New Holland (Australia in those days) and New Zealand (Zealand is a province in the Netherlands). Later on, in British times, explorer Matthew Flinders is credited with coining the name ‘Australia’. It was also Flinders who sailed through the Bass Strait that separates Tasmania from the mainland, thereby proving that Tasmania was indeed an island, contrary to popular beliefs in the 1800s.
Coming back to our first halt for the tour, we stayed in the sleepy coastal village of St. Helen packed with just enough amenities to balance tourism with solitude and peacefulness, just a few kilometres south of the gorgeous beaches of the Bay of Fires. The drive from the Launceston airport to St. Helens was my first exposure to the Tasman lands, and to be honest, traveling in end autumnal April, the greenery was disappointing. Maybe I made the mistake of comparing Tasmania to lush green New Zealand, another island not far away. But as soon as I self-corrected that, I was able to appreciate the terrain far better. Stark, dismal and dry, yet beautiful – stretches of the road were hilly, and extremely fluctuating. While some parts resembled a lifeless dull grey cold desert like area (think Ladakh), the next minute you are driving by a gurgling stream that had miraculously made its banks verdant with green shrubs and tall trees. This variance in the vegetation, coloured in yellow, brown, green and grey, interspersed with the rare reddening of leaves in preparation for Autumn made for an interesting drive.