A city appears suddenly on the horizon, neatly wedged in a valley with an unusual step-like building to the right, but there's no time to take in the view. Within moments, the Midland Highway descends like a roller coaster and before you know it you're in a somewhat bewildering loop of one-way streets.
This is the Launceston initiation.
When moving to Tasmania, you have images of clean air, pristine water and sprawling fields dotted with quaint towns that give way to untamed wilderness. And aside from mine tailings-tainted waterways on the West Coast and logging of old growth forests elsewhere, this is mostly the case.
Except in Launceston, of course, where the air quality ranks among Australia's worst and the river has more sewage in it than you'd probably like. But what the city lacks in winter breathability, it more than makes up for in charm. Buildings in Victoria, where I moved from, only go back to the 1850s - if that - but in Launceston you can see immaculately-maintained 1830s buildings in neat terraces, no problem.
You make your way into a pub with the guarantee there'll be good beer on tap. Far from weighing in on the North-South rivalry, Boag's Red and Cascade Draught are both fine choices - the envy of mainland pubs.
And the further you get from a major town, the better the historic photographs on the walls of the pubs. Marrawah Tavern's selection of fully submerged cows being led through floodwater is rivalled by Southport Hotel's mustachioed timber workers, with an honourable mention to Hamer Hotel in Strahan's wall of lost fishermen.
For tea, why not enjoy one of the surprise Thai restaurant crossovers? There's one in a pub in Queenstown, but the pinnacle must be the Thai restaurant at the Axemans Hall of Fame in Latrobe - a very abstract combination.
It's just one of the reasons why hitting the open road is so worthwhile, and the open road in Tasmania is a curious place. Drive the speed limit on the Midland and you'll pass 19 out of 20 vehicles, wowing unsuspecting motorists with your mainland overtaking lane prowess. But turn onto a rural road and you'll soon have a group of Landcruisers fitted with outrageous lift kits tailgating you. It's easier for everyone if you just yield to them because you're usually less than an hour from your destination anyway. You're in Tasmania, remember?
Not everyone is in a rush, particularly when confronted with the most befuddling physical obstacle for Tasmanian drivers: the roundabout. Even with no other vehicle in sight, it's standard practice to come to a complete stop and wait for another vehicle to arrive so you can be confused together. And when stuck in traffic, why wave just one car in? Wave them all in, one, two, three, so we can all sit idle together. Just don't stand still too long as a pedestrian, you only get a few seconds to scurry across the lights before the traffic starts up again.
But the longer you wait, the more likely you'll spot a mullet. Tasmanian specimens are examples of the mullet in the purest form. Growing up around Adelaide's northern suburbs, the mullet usually had a threatening quality, reserved for blokes prone to scrapping. The Melbourne mullet is worn ironically - the worst kind. In Tasmania though, they're natural, they fit, they appear on the most appropriate melons in the most appropriate circumstances and, yes, there really are a lot of them.
Perhaps they are worn to protect the neck from the biting sun? Despite rarely topping 30 in summer, the Tasmanian sun is incredibly piercing. And in winter, it means shorts and thongs are completely fine, essential even. Everyone has a theory, but most think it's the hole in the ozone layer miraculously hovering overhead all year round. No, it's actually Tasmania's latitude meaning the sun is lower in the sky. I don't know how many times I need to argue this.
It could be an example of how steadfast Tasmanians are in their beliefs. You learn a lot moderating Examiner Facebook comments. When it comes to an AFL team for Tasmania, there's only one category of Australian that's opposed to it: Tasmanians themselves. There's only one category of criminal that gets sympathy: bikies. And politicians, particularly federal - no matter their position on the political spectrum - will always attract a strong cohort of people ridiculing them. Except Jacqui Lambie, who seems to get unanimous love in Launceston, but extensive scorn in Burnie, go figure.
Irregardless of what direction you travel in Tasmania, even in the dead of winter, there's something to discover. From the mainland, a Tasmanian winter sounds like something you'd get in northern England: miserable grey skies and icy winds. That might be the case in the Highlands, but there's been multiple weeks of pure sunshine in Launceston the past few months. Even at Lune River in the far south, a week of calm conditions made for a perfect getaway, offering uninterrupted views of the night's sky with the Milky Way as clear as you'll ever see.
It's an island full of surprises. You can't get much further from the troubles of the world.
- Adam Holmes is an Examiner journalist