Revealing the hidden holiday gems of Tassie’s North-West and West Coasts

Based on the number of web hits I get on Family Friendly Accommodation for for family holiday accommodation in Tasmania, this state is becoming a very popular holiday destination for families.

As a Tasmanian by marriage (and having lived there for 4 years, with regular visits since), I am lucky enough to have seen much of the island state, in particular the North-West and West Coasts.

Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple of big name attractions, such as Cradle Mountain and Strahan, many tourists tend to look at this area as the poorer cousin. But that’s just not the case. This region is beautiful and varied in its scenery. There is so much for your family to see and do. And best of all, many of these experiences will cost you little or no money at all.

Tullah

I’ve always been fascinated by this small, almost a ghost town, nestled in majestic mountain scenery. Originally a mining town, it grew in size as home to hydro-electric scheme workers in the 1970s.

A picture perfect day at Tullah, located on the shores of Lake Rosebery.

A picture perfect day at Tullah, located on the shores of Lake Rosebery.

We again visited Tullah in January, staying in a family room in the Tullah Lakeside Lodge – the buildings of which were once the base for many of these workers. The rooms are basic, but the location is not. We were lucky to experience some amazing weather, which allowed for swimming and canoeing.

Setting off in the canoe (Tullah Lakeside Chalet has a small number available for hire or free with some room packages).

Setting off in the canoe (Tullah Lakeside Chalet has a small number available for hire or free with some room packages).

If you time your visit right (which we did not), you can take a 25 minute ride on the Wee Georgie Wood Railway and experience what life was like on the West Coast before the road was opened in the early 1960s (not that long ago really).

The Henty Sand-dunes

Blink and you will miss the turn-off into this hidden wonderland located north of Strahan.

It's hard on the legs, but the scenery at the Henty Sand-dunes is worth it.

It’s hard on the legs, but the scenery at the Henty Sand-dunes is worth it.

Again, the weathers Gods were on our side and we had a picture perfect day to discover this scenic area, which sits between the main road and the rugged coastline.

Toboggans can be hired in Strahan, which will leave your kids full of sand, but loving every minute of it. Ask for details at the tourist information office at Strahan.

How much fun is this? sand tobogganing at the Henty sand-dunes.

How much fun is this? sand tobogganing at the Henty sand-dunes.

Macquarie Heads & Ocean Beach

Make your way out to Macquarie Heads for fishing or just to admire the scenery. If you have a 4WD, you can drive onto the beach (but this also means you have to be aware if you decide to go for a walk with the kids).

Looking back from Macquarie Heads towards Strahan, with Mt Lyell in the background.

Looking back from Macquarie Heads towards Strahan, with Mt Lyell in the background.

If the weather is right, why not take a picnic lunch and watch the sun set across the ocean.

Watching the sun set at Macquarie Heads, at the entrance of Macquarie Harbour.

Watching the sun set at Macquarie Heads, at the entrance of Macquarie Harbour.

Cradle Mountain

You cannot talk about the North-West and West Coast regions without mentioning Cradle Mountain. I love both the natural beauty and history of this place.

Cradle Mountain is spectacular whatever the weather, but encountering a day like this is rare and very special.

Cradle Mountain is spectacular whatever the weather, but being an alpine area with high rainfall, encountering a day like this is rare and very special. This picture was taken in late December 2009.

National park fees apply here. You can pay $24 for a car (up to 8 people) but if you plan to visit a couple of parks, the 8 week holiday pass at $60 might be a more cost-effective option (see Rocky Cape National Park below).

The Dove Lake loop walk is perfect for families with young children (our daughter was aged 5 the last time we did it). Your children will also love exploring the Waldheim Chalet – built by Gustav and Kate Weindorfer as a home and guest chalet in 1912.

The Dove Lake circuit is one that is more than suitable for families. When this photo was taken, my kids were aged 7 & 4.

The Dove Lake circuit is one that is more than suitable for families. When this photo was taken, my kids were aged 7 & 4.

And if you are lucky, you might see a pademelon (small wallaby) or two.

Fossil Bluff

This place is a hidden treasure. You will find Fossil Bluff in Wynyard – making your way through a fairly modern housing estate to a formation of sandstone cliffs that are more than 275 million years old.

Looking across the beach at Fossil Bluff towards Table Cape.

Looking across the beach at Fossil Bluff towards Table Cape.

According to the Australian Heritage Database, Fossil Bluff “contains an unusually rich combined fossil fauna and flora, including terrestrial and marine vertebrates and a wide range of molluscs, leaf impressions and a pollen flora.”

Go exploring with your children and see the amazing sights at Fossil Bluff.

Go exploring with your children and see the amazing sights at Fossil Bluff.

My children loved discovering this area and were fascinated by the shapes they saw in the rocks and by the many different shaped stone on the beach too. But please, make sure they don’t pick at fossils in the cliff-face.

Boat Harbour

Boat Harbour is a favourite destination in summer – an idyllic white sand bay surrounded by national park and farm land.

But white sand makes for damn cold water and in all my visits, I have only ventured into the water twice (not that kids mind).

Crystal clear waters at Boat Harbour Beach.

Crystal clear waters at Boat Harbour Beach.

The usually calm waters make it perfect for toddlers and in winter, it is a lovely spot for a beach stroll.

Stanley and the Nut

Yet another stand-out natural formation is The Nut at Stanley, a quaint historic town about an hour and 45 minute drive from Devonport.

While your children might not like the thought of walking up to the top of the Nut, there is a chairlift available for most of the year (it is closed from about late June to late August).

The Nut at Stanley - a lovely historic town with plenty to see and do for the whole family.

The Nut at Stanley – a lovely historic town with plenty to see and do for the whole family.

Stanley is also about history and you can stay a night or two in a charming historic building and visit the historic farming property, Highfield House.

For those interested in history and politics, visit the restored 19thC settlers cottage in which Tasmania’s only Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons was born in 1879 (and if you want to take this theme a step further, you can see his family home in Devonport, where he lived with his wife and 12 children)

Aboriginal heritage

Another hidden treasure is Rocky Cape National Park. It is an area that is rich in Aboriginal history, with middens and caves, but also an area of rugged natural beauty. There are a number of walks in the area, including short walks suitable for children.

National Park fees apply (or you can use the 8 week holiday pass (as I detailed in the Cradle Mountain information).

Paper making tour

This is one of the most expensive things to do on this list – at $40 for a family of 4). But it is also a unique one where your children can learn how paper is made using traditional methods.

They will also learn how many different sorts of fibres can be used in the process – including roo poo, which I know your children are bound to find either hilarious or horrifying!

What is great about this tour is that it is also hands-on and your children can make and keep their own sheet of paper.

The tour runs at the Makers Workshop in the Burnie Visitor Information Centre.

Little Penguins

If I had any advice for tourists wanting to see fairy penguins, it is that I believe Tasmania offers a much more exciting, close-up experience than what you can see at Victoria’s famous Phillip Island Penguin Parade (but don’t tell them I said that).

The penguins arrive back on land around dusk from September to March. At Burnie’s Little Penguin Observation Centre at West Park, the Friends of Burnie Penguins have free interpretative tours.

North-West Tasmania is one of the best places to see Little Penguins up close.

North-West Tasmania is one of the best places to see Little Penguins up close.

There is another official viewing area at Lillico Beach near Ulverstone.

But here is my top secret viewing tip. Make your way to Ocean Vista Beach on the western side of Burnie. Here the beach is close to the Bass Strait Highway. Sit quietly in the shadows, and the street lights will provide just enough light to see the penguins as they make their way out of the water.

In nesting season, you may be lucky enough to see babies come out of their burrows, impatiently waiting for their food to arrive. This is a magical experience and if you still really still, they may come quite close to you.

But please, please, please respect these beautiful, timid birds. Do not sit in front of burrows, sit quietly and still.

Stay in one place (penguin footprints in the sand at the back of the beach will give an indication of well-trod routes) and do not walk up and down the beach waiting to see one. You will only annoy people doing the right thing and delay the penguins reaching their young.

The Parks and Wildlife Service has a guide to penguin viewing.

I know I have just touched the surface with what you and your kids can enjoy while visiting Tassie’s North-West and West Coasts

Chances are you will take a Gordon River cruise cruise or hop on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. These are amazing experiences, but they do cost a bit of money.

But what these other places offer is a wide range of cheap and cheerful additions to add to your holiday itinerary that will have you experiencing so much than expected from your Tasmanian holiday.

Where to stay

More information on the West Coast

More information on the North West Coast

 

Stretching your family holiday dollar further

It seems we are being informed on almost a daily basis that more & more Australians are losing their jobs as companies cut their budgets. In the meantime, costs continue to rise and families have to tighten their belts.

So, can the average Australian family still afford a holiday? I would like to think so. And in saying this, I want people to think outside the square about what they consider to be a holiday.

A holiday can be anything from free camping through to a 5-star resort experience. It can be one night away, through to weeks or months exploring Australia or experiencing life in another country.

No matter what type of holiday your budget buys, it is about spending quality time together as a family outside the home environment. Getting away from the humdrum of daily life can help us focus on each other and bond again.

So, these are my 10 money-saving tips to help you start planning a holiday or weekend away.

1.    Sign up to newsletters

By signing up to airline & other travel e-newsletters, you can get alerts about up-coming sales and last-minute deals.

Last year, I found myself organising a spur-of-the-moment New Zealand holiday after I received an email alert about cheap airfares and purchased them on the spur of the moment after I got an email alert.

Experiencing the sites (and smells) near Rotura, on New Zealand's North Island.

Experiencing the sites (and smells) near Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island.

Many airline deals are for flights months in advance, which also means you can purchase the tickets – then spend more time to save up for accommodation.

Then, last winter (off season), we had a weekend away after I saw last minute rates for accommodation in a popular Victorian seaside resort. For $174 a night, we got a 2-bedroom cabin for four of us, including a buffet breakfast.

This beachside location is booked up in summer, but not as popular in the depths of a cold Victorian winter, when less people want to stay, so deals are offered. Which leads me to my next tip.

2.    Travel off-season

Once your children are at school, you are tied into taking your holidays when everyone else does – and you will pay top price for the privilege!

You will find some really good prices outside the peak holiday seasons. Sure if might not be as warm, but it will be less crowded and you might be able to have a longer stay than if you were paying peak-rate prices.

Holiday off-season - it's cheaper and you can have the whole beach to yourself.

Holiday off-season – it’s cheaper and you can have the whole beach to yourself.

This is especially so in popular holiday destinations, which have with an abundance of accommodation for peak periods, but will offer some amazing rates as they struggle to fill rooms during the off-season.

3.    Stay close to the popular tourist town

So, you want to see all the attractions of the popular tourist town, but find all the accommodation overpriced? Can you stay in a less-popular town close-by? You might find it will save you money.

You may well find some towns cheaper than others in a region, while larger towns and cities can have varying prices depending on where they are located (eg, staying in suburbs rather than the city centre).

4.    Take a city break

If you live close to a major city or regional town, why not become a tourist for the weekend?

I live less than an hour from Melbourne’s CBD, where I have also worked for many years. But travelling in for a weekend and staying the night is a whole other experience.

Discover your home town.

Discover your home town – in this case, Melbourne.

Leave the car at home & catch public transport to save money and discover the local parks and gardens or just wander through the streets. Some cities also provide free public transport for visitors, such as the City Loop tram in Melbourne.

If possible, try to find a package including breakfast. Finding accommodation with a kitchenette can make it even cheaper.

5.    Self-cater

Self-catering is one of the best ways to save money on a holiday.

There is no doubt that eating out as a family can cost a fortune – especially if you are eating 3 meals a day. Often it is these extra costs that can really blow out the budget.

Staying in an apartment or a hotel room with a kitchenette so you do not need to go out for meals all the time will save you heaps.

Self-catering saves money - and saves you from dragging tired children into a cafe or restaurant.

Self-catering saves money – and saves you from dragging tired children into a cafe or restaurant.

To make it extra special, consider allowing for treats – for you and the children. Maybe a pack of Magnum ice-creams in the freezer. My children are allowed to eat Coco Pops when we are on holiday instead of their healthy Weetbix. I will sometimes sneak a bowl of it in too!

6.    Deal direct

In creating my website, I wanted to list properties only and leave all the bookings and negotiations to you, the customer.

That is because many booking websites charge booking fees and/or take commission for bookings made via their websites (even if these fees are hidden in the overall price). This can result in you paying more and/or the property owner receiving less.

In most instances, the days of finding cheaper accommodation on booking websites are gone and the accommodation provider’s own website will provide you with the best deals.

Have a look at what you like, then ring and talk to the owners/managers direct. Ask them what specials they have or what the best rate is they can give you.

Some apartment complexes are managed on behalf of different apartment owners. You might be able to negotiate a good rate depending on the apartment’s location in the complex & its furnishings. There is no harm in asking

7.    Stay in older-style motels & houses.

This leads me to my next point. Generally, the less modern the property, the less you will pay. So, another option is to stay in older style motels. Yes, the decor may not have the latest, ultra-modern look, but most are still comfortable and clean.

You can also try older style holiday houses or apartments through real estate agents or holiday house websites – again, older houses with more dated decor can sometimes be available at quite cheap rates.

8.    Share accommodation

If you are looking at holiday houses, have you considered sharing with friends or relatives?

This can be particularly money-saving in summer, peak-periods. In January, we stayed for a couple of nights with friends in a lovely town-house, sharing the costs for the two nights we were there.

Sharing accommodation with family & friends can get you bigger bang for your accommodation buck.

Sharing accommodation with family & friends can get you bigger bang for your accommodation buck.

In recommending this option, I also suggest you read my tips on travelling with extended family and friends as living with others, even for a short-period of time, can have its challenges.

9.    Travel auction sites

There are a proliferation of websites with daily deals. While I have never used them and am not personally recommending them, friends have successfully booked accommodation through sites, such as Scoopon.

Just be aware of the conditions so you do not get caught with cheap accommodation – but only a very expensive way of getting to it.

Another option which my parents are almost addicted to is travel auctions. Again, this will be of best value if you can travel out of peak seasons, as some have block-out dates over holidays. These properties are usually 3-star rated and you can score some cheap deals by bidding what you are prepared to pay for your stay.

10.  Camping

Many Australian families love camping. There are many state and national parks that offer free and cheap camping experiences around Australia. All you need (at the very least) is a tent. Although you can buy accessories galore to make it more comfortable.

There is also a growing trend towards glamping. This can offer a cost-effective solution for basic comfort at a great price. See these static tents at Tathra Beach Family Park are a great example.

Glamping it up at Tathra Beach Family Park in NSW.

Glamping it up at Tathra Beach Family Park in NSW.

If some of these tips have got you thinking, why not create a family holiday fund and set a holiday goal? Even if you can only get away for a couple of nights and can’t travel far, your family will appreciate it.

And in the meantime, enter every holiday competition you see. Remember, someone has to win. Maybe one day it will be you.