I looked out the wall-sized window to the sea, hoping to spot three humpback whales as a sign that I would live through the night.
“Just let me see three,” I prayed to my higher power.
It was 5:30pm and I was already in bed, fully clothed because I was too weak and feverish to unpack. As I gazed out the window, I lost consciousness. Hours later, I awoke surrounded by darkness, except for three beams of light shining through that same window where I’d searched for whales. Instead of whales, three stars shone before me as a sign I would survive whatever illness had taken over my body.
By the time I arrived in Tasmania, I realized something wasn’t right. On the drive to the newly opened MACq01, my driver pointed out spots of interest, such as the Salamanca Markets, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Mawson’s Hut Replica Museum and Lark Cellar Door & Whisky Bar, all of which I’d hoped to explore. But, I had no interest in anything he was saying. My head ached with every word he spoke, my patience was challenged and I had an overwhelming urge to take a nap before I began my exploration of the former convict town of Hobart. “All I need is an hour to lie down,” I thought.
On every room’s door and in the entrance way of my room at MACq01 was a mug shot of a former British convict. Inside my room, a note on my television screen read, “Ms. Peters, Your Story has Begun.” The image under the text was of a keyhole, meant for me to open with my Tasmanian Tale. My story had begun, indeed, but not the tale I’d predicted.
An hour later I awoke, still out of sorts, and decided the bathtub, which was pristine clean, would be the perfect solution before I ventured out to visit a museum. I soaked for a while and then stepped out of the tub, dried myself off, and that’s when I felt the towel hurt my skin to the touch – the sign of a fever. I tore open my larger suitcase and dug around for the thermometer I’d packed. I found it and confirmed my fever of 102 degrees. I dug in my bag again, this time searching for Advil, but all I could find was baby aspirin. I settled on taking two aspirin, but it didn’t help.
I called the front desk for assistance, but the man who answered advised me to meet him at the front desk to retrieve directions to the nearest pharmacy. It wasn’t an option for me at that point, as I was increasingly delirious with fever. Another option was to find some sort of medication mixed within the mini bar items, or so I was told. I found nothing but tea bags and assorted nuts. A few minutes later, a knock on the door signaled me to cover up with what I best remember about this hotel -- the sweatshirt material hooded robe with the hood showing a map of Tasmania. Very comforting over my Virgin Australia pajamas I wore for two days straight. I later learned Panadol was in the drawer of my mini bar and that it is the same as Tylenol.
Instead of enjoying dinner at Peacock and Jones and taking The Long Lunch Wine Tours the following day, I spent the next two days in a blur of alternating sleep, cramps and Panadol intake. By the time I was ready to check out, I called for room service, requesting toast. A friendly Thai woman entered my room and suggested some ginger lemon tea. With a sip of tea and a small bite of toast in my system, I called the front desk for help with my bags, as I was too weak to lift anything at all. I exited my room to a hallway I didn’t remember. I hadn’t known where I was or on what floor or where to check out.
My driver, Paul, of Corporate Cars Tasmania, greeted me with a comforting smile. I explained my situation and apologized that our lunch stop at Devil’s Corner Cellar Door was not going to be possible. All I wanted to do was to head directly to Saffire Freycinet, a luxury resort about two hours away in Coles Bay. Weak, but able to check-in without problem, I headed to my room and ordered room service of tea and crackers of which I barely ate. Before dinner, to which I skipped, I attended a cooking class led my Chef Todd, who taught a small group how to maneuver sea urchins into a menu, and then took a walk to view the Tasmanian Devils in captivity. I did order room service of grilled cheese and chicken soup later, and was able to eat a few bites without issue.
I learned a few fun facts about these devils, such as how its jaws are the strongest muscle and that they have the one of the strongest bites in the world, second to the African Hyena. They have poor vision and rely on smell and audio. They are marsupials with a lifespan of 5 years; females have a pouch like a kangaroo. They can emit 40-plus sounds and Tasmania is populated with 23,000 devils who dine on road kill – bones and all, so they’re referred to as the cleanup crew within the bush. I thought they were cute, especially when they made the same sounds as the cartoon character my son loved watching as a toddler.
I skipped almost every meal during my stay; the staff tailored my itinerary to accommodate my weakened physical state. I didn’t get to hike Wineglass Bay, but Chef Todd took me on a little morning hike to the water’s edge to show me his culinary ingredients of succulents and various flora that grow wild.
The beauty of Tasmania stuns the senses.
Although I wasn’t able to enjoy kayaking and bird-watching in the waters of Muirs Beach wetland, or for that matter embark on a Freycinet Vineyards Tour, I did muster the energy to walk across the resort to receive a 40-minute massage. If anything, it helped calm my anxiety over my undiagnosed illness. Was it something I ate in Adelaide? Or was it the tap water I drank on Kangaroo Island? Eating was not in the cards for me, but the chef at Saffire Freycinet took care of shifting my five-star itinerary so I could experience a visit to a nearby oyster farm, where I donned waders and enjoyed a few oysters and glass of bubbly at the table set up in the water.
I’m not sure if it was from the amazing experience of wading to a dinner table or if I were feeling better, but I was ravenous by dinnertime. I hadn’t eaten much in days, so I was ready for dinner. The staff at Saffire Freycinet knew about my illness, so when they spotted me at the dinner table, I could see they were about to offer a round of applause. Ordering something bland isn’t easy, though. I did the best I could but by morning, my illness re-surged. And I had to check out to head to Thalia Haven, a house far away in the middle of nowhere and without WiFi. On the way, we had lunch at Freycinet Marine Farm, which was jam-packed with Asian tourists who had arrived via bus. I wanted to devour the oysters, which are deemed some of the best in the world, but I was afraid. I watched my driver enjoy as much as he could before we hit the road to Thalia Haven in Little Swan, where Paul had to stop the car a few times to unlock the gates that led to the edge of the world.
By the time Paul was ready to head home, he questioned my state of health and handed me his card so I could phone him if I took a turn for the worse. I was alone in this house that I entered around 4pm. By 5:30, after swatting as many flies as I could, I went to bed in my clothes and thought I was dying. And then I saw those three shining stars.
When Paul arrived next morning, I cried uncle. I needed medical help and it couldn’t be delayed. Paul took care of everything for me, knowing the best plan was to avoid a long wait at the emergency room of a hospital; he made a doctor’s appointment for me, took me there, sat with me and then took me to the pharmacy to pick up my antibiotics… for E. coli. Yes. I was near death, and that was no exaggeration. I was relieved to have purchased travel insurance to cover the medical costs, although they weren’t as costly as if I were back in the U.S., I must admit.
I had two more days in Tasmania and headed back to Hobart, this time to stay in the former jam factory, now the Henry Jones Art Hotel, and next door to the MACq01 where I stayed my first two nights. I pushed through my weakened physical state to explore as much of Hobart as I could, starting with MONA at Moorilla Estate. This contemporary/shock art museum made me question my state of mind, but it was all too real, right down to the chair with a bowl of water filled with a few goldfish and a butcher knife.
The winery at Moorilla Estate is a tour with limited wine tasting, and for me it was limited more so as I was on medication. The restaurant was probably tasty as well, but I could barely eat, so my visit was shorter than planned. After a rest at my hotel, I took a walk to the ferry area again, past a hotbed of shanties on the waterfront where you could buy freshly caught fish and chips. Live music was about to start; if I were feeling better, I would have really enjoyed this former drop shed for British convicts.
For many years, I’d dreamed of visiting Tasmania for its Devils, the clean air and water. I departed with gratitude for the kindhearted people like my driver, Paul, and Chef Todd at Saffire Freycinet, who helped take care of me during my challenged days on one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.