We did so much research in the lead up to travelling on the Spirit of Tasmania (SOT)! Where to stay the night before, what quarantine restrictions are in place, can we take food on board, should I sedate the dog, is booking a room worth it? So many questions! I’m an over thinker in case you hadn’t realised yet. So here are all of the question that we had in the lead up to travel – answered for you! Along with a few other tips that we picked up along the way…
Booking Your Ticket
If you’re travelling with a caravan in tow like us, make sure that you book your ticket well in advance! Like at least 4-6 months in advance. And most definitely BOOK YOUR RETURN at the same time as booking your departure! We have heard stories of those coming across to Tassie on an open ticket being stranded here for an additional 2-3 months longer than expected because they didn’t secure their return journey early enough. This is not so much of an issue with a car, but the additional length of a van may see you come unstuck.
We can’t stress how important it is to get your measurements right too! That includes both height and length. We booked our tickets whilst we were away from our vehicle and van by going online and downloading specs for the van and ute to ascertain length and height. This is not a wise thing to do!!! We under estimated our vehicle length by 1m (didn’t allow for spare tyre over hang etc) and were almost not allowed on the boat. We had to go on a wait list for a couple of days prior to our sail and if we didn’t have an opening free up would have had to wait 2 months to sail. The most nerve wracking 2 days we’ve had in a while! Needless to say, we got on the boat, but don’t be blasé like us!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Currum Downs Holiday Park after reading recommendations online. Currum was only an hour drive to Port Melbourne and was one of the only places that we found within cooee of Melbourne that allowed dogs! Not a flash park by any standards, but clean and convenient. The sites were long and narrow which meant that we didn’t need to un-hook that night, making it quicker to get away in the morning with 3 sleepy kids. It was also relatively well priced at only $59 for a powered site for the night.
After studying Wiki Camps on the way across to Tassie, we felt like Forth was a good central location for our first night, plus it was FREE! We were all set up at Forth Recreational Grounds by around 8pm, with some travellers still arriving from the ferry up until 11pm that night! We ended up staying at Forth for 2 nights so that we could get groceries and do a few odd jobs in Devonport before heading West.
On the way home we shook things up a bit and stayed at Devonport East Recreational Grounds, also know as Girdlestone Park. A council permit is required at this park which you can easily obtain by visiting the Devonport Visitor Centre. Self contained only, 48 hour time limit, clean toilets, rubbish bins, $10 per night and only 5 minutes to the ferry terminal!
(Our campsite at Forth Rec Grounds. There was lots of space, including full sun sites for those needing to charge up. We chose to stay beside this beautiful big tree.)
Departure from Port
We chose to do a day sail as it was much cheaper than the night boat. We didn’t need to be at the docks super early, however because we were one of the first in line (arriving at 6am) there were added benefits! Not only were we off the boat nice and early on the other side, we could ‘reserve’ a good spot on the boat as we didn’t book a cabin. (Read more about why we didn’t book a room below.) And by ‘reserve’ I mean just simply claim the comfy chairs in a quiet corner. We did pretty well, we snagged two long bench style chairs and a couple of club lounges with our own table. This meant that the kids could spread out their colouring and even lie down and have a sleep if they wanted to. We didn’t leave this spot all day which made for comfortable sailing. The only regret that we have would be that we didn’t grab a corner with a power point!
On the way back to Melbourne we thought we’d try the same technique and lined up at 7am to board nice and early. But we got burnt, and our theory was totally thrown out the window! Despite being one of the first few inline, we were one of the last cars to be directed onto the boat 😦 We struggled to find enough chairs for a family of five, but ended up scoring an area up on deck 10 next to the playground.
Booking a Cabin
We didn’t book a cabin and were quite happy with that decision! However, we had a day sail and don’t have little kids. If we sailed at night or had kids under 5, we would most definitely book a room. Our kids are aged 7, 9 and 12 so day sleeps aren’t an issue for us!
Be careful when booking a room with 3 or more kids! The rooms are typically designed for a family of four. We have heard of families with 3 or 4 children booking 2 rooms, only to discover upon boarding that the two rooms were on differing levels of the ship! We would suggest perhaps making your booking via phone if you are needing your rooms side by side. Another handy tip that our friends Chaos In A Tin Can posted on Facebook, was the space comparison between and internal and external cabins. The internal cabins have, apparently, far more floor space for kids to spread out and play.
The Boarding Process
Quarantine – Melbourne
When we approached the Melbourne docks, we drove straight up towards the SOT and commenced lining up at the boarding gate. Inspectors approached each car and asked whether they had fruit, veg or firearms on board. They asked to inspect inside our van and car, and thoroughly looked through our fridges. There were bins provided to dispose on any food items that had been forgotten.
Quarantine – Tasmania
We found the quarantine process when heading back towards mainland Australia far simpler! Whilst inspectors still asked to peak inside the van, it was mainly for stowaway purposes rather than quarantine. We did not have to dispose of any food or veg prior to returning to Melbourne.
The best booklet we have found on interstate quarantine restrictions is included in the link below. It’s handy to have printed out and in the glovebox as a reference guide when phone reception is limited and your approaching a state border!
Australian Interstate Quarantine – A Traveller’s Guide
Boarding with a Dog
We found that there was limited information provided on the boarding process with a dog, and we were slightly confused on arrival as to what was expected of us! However, when we approached the boarding window, we were given a tag to attach to his kennel as asked to walk him to the kennels once the car had been parked.
The kennels were nothing flash. In fact, in my opinion they are not all that pleasant at all! A very simple metal box with a forward facing metal cage door. A metal water dish is included in each pen. But anyone is able to walk past (during boarding, not sail!) and interact with the dogs, there’s no division or privacy curtain. It’s incredibly noisy and Barkley was visibly shaking when we left him which left us feeling really guilty!
On the way home we made the decision to leave him in the caravan for the entire sail. We simply had to fill in an indemnity form at the boarding window to be allowed to do this. We feel like this was a far more humane approach with our dog who gets a little anxious.
Barkley was not sick on either sail, nor did he wee or poo in his cage or the van. But he is reasonably well trained and certainly not a high maintenance dog. We did not choose to medicate him in any way but I do know of others who have sought sedatives from their vet prior to travel.
Our poor, sheltered children thought they had walked onto the World’s fanciest cruise ship when they stepped on board the SOT! Not only was there a movie theatre on board, there was an arcade room, free X-Boxes, a roving face painter (it was school holidays on the way across to Tassie!) and indoor play equipment for the little ones. The day went much faster than we expected because we were prepared with additional entertainment including fully charged laptops full of movies (thanks to Sophie’s Mum!), colouring books, reading books, card games and small board games.
Two of our very favourite activities to take with us for long days like this are our Geeky Kids play dough and Colour Away poster. I can honestly say that 3 solid hours went to play dough critters and colouring in, which makes for pretty relaxed sailing and a fast trip across Bass Straight! One other thing that I really love about our Geeky Kids dough is that its all natural and scented with essential oils. I was feeling pretty crook throughout the afternoon on the return journey and the lavender scented Wildflower dough smelt so calming, blocking out any smells of the nearby cafeteria and fellow travellers food! A heavenly reprieve when feeling seasick and a waft of deep fried food is floating through the air!
(photo obviously not taken on board as we are in the van, but taken the day prior to departure!)
Gas, Fridges and Solar
We had wondered how our fridges in both the ute and van would handle the trip across and whether our batteries would be completed draining once we arrived. The way that we have set up our vehicle ensures that the fridges run off their own two batteries and do not draw from the motor battery. The two lithium ion batteries that run our two canopy drawer fridges were drained when we arrived, but our fridges were still cold and no food had spoiled! All gas must be turned off when you get onto the boat, so caravan fridges are not allowed to run on gas while travelling. Therefore, a nice sunny campsite may be high on there priority list on arrival. The three above mentioned camp sites that we used, Girdlestone, Forth and Carrum Downs, were all full sun sites.
Whilst we were fully prepared for breakfast and snacks throughout the day, lunch we purchased on board. It was a self serve buffet style lunch offering things like roasts, Asian style noodles, curry, salads, breads and a whole gamut of condiments. There was also burgers, toasties and pizza served on other decks. We felt that all food was reasonably priced. Our three kids shared one heaped plate from the buffet lunch line-up, equating to roughly $8 each.
(We celebrated Grace’s 12th birthday on the return sail. The cake was purchased at my all time favourite supermarket, Hill St Grocer, in Devonport prior to departure.)
(Our seating area on the sail back to the mainland. I packed two baskets as pictured full of snacks and activities which worked well for us.)
Keep an eye out for further posts yet to come on our adventures across Tasmania!