A Taste of Tas - Eat, Drink, Repeat
We're at it again. This time, back to Australia to see the bits we missed last time, Tasmania and Western Australia.
We flew to Hobart, Tasmania’s capital, over New Year’s -- they even brought a glass of champagne around at midnight to everyone who wasn’t asleep. 35 hours of travel and 11 hours of time difference is getting harder to take as we get older but it’s warm and sunny and there’s a food festival on so, out we go.
The “Taste of Tasmania” festival was on – a week long celebration of food and drink. It brings together all the wineries, distilleries, cheese makers, cider makers, and every other specialty food producer on the island to show off and sell their wares. But, a wine, a beer, some fish pakora, chat potatoes, a little look around, and we were ready for a snooze. We had planned this to be as a basic camping trip, you know, beans on toast and a tinny of beer but it sure hasn’t started that way.
Hobart is a pleasant and walkable city with a lovely Waterfront filled with trendy bars and restaurants. It also has quite a mixture of building styles for being only 220 years old. We stayed in the historic Battery Point area with immaculately maintained pretty little 19th century cottages. Our walk into town took us past Salamanca Place, four-storey sandstone warehouses converted into shops and restaurants. One of the reasons the city grew was because it became a major destination for “transportation”. We visited the Penitentiary (“The Tench”) and had our first introduction to the convict history of Tasmania. In the 1800s, wanting to rid Britain of criminals and to populate Australia, many convicts had their sentences commuted to transportation (to Australia). They arrived in, perhaps, Sydney and thought they were at the end of the world. The harder and repeating criminals, however, were soon to discover there was another, even further “end of the world” and that was Tasmania a.k.a. Van Diemen’s Land. Seeing the cells and hearing about the conditions and treatment, life would have been hell.
We also had a look at Mawson’s hut (replica) museum. Mawson was an explorer from the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration and helped establish Hobart as a prime departure point for Antarctic exploration. He headed down with a kit hut to find a spot to set it up Australia's first permanent base. On a late season expedition inland, one of his two companions disappeared down a crevasse with a team of dogs, sled, and most of their provisions. Desperate, they turned to eating the dogs to survive but didn’t know that dog’s liver is poisonous. His other companion died and he became seriously ill. He made it to a cave within sight of the hut but couldn’t move because of a storm and sickness for seven days. He then made it to the hut just in time to see the boat departing. However, a few of his crew, including the doctor, had stayed behind in case the expedition returned. This meant he had to spend the winter there but this gave him time to recover. As it turns out the spot he picked for the hut, Cape Denison, is the windiest spot in the world so it was never used again. But, they went back 100 years later and the well built hut is still there!
MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) a 20 minute boat ride from the city dock.
Peter: What a load of crap being passed off as “art”. OK, to be fair, the museum building itself is pretty cool and there were some interesting exhibits but “art”? Hmmm. (but, I suppose, it’s worth seeing)
Jackie: I totally agree with the owner’s description – “a subversive adult Disneycascadland” and Lonely Planet’s “it’s sexy, provocative, disturbing and deeply engaging”. I’ve never seen anything like it – not to be missed!
A few days later we took a local bus out to near the airport to pick up the rental car. We got a bit lucky as we spotted a big camping goods store nearby and found a cheap tent tall enough to stand up in. Last time in Oz, we used our little 2-man hiking tent but we’re too old and inflexible to be squeezing into that every night for four months. So, luxury camping! ☺
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_hobart
We moved out of the hotel in the city and into a nearby(ish) campground to try out our new tent and spotted our first wildlife!. From here we did a number of day trips to sites outside of Hobart. At a wildlife sanctuary we saw Tasmanian devils, echidnas, wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, etc. all being rehabilitated after injury (usually human inflicted). At the historic town of Richmond, we saw many nineteenth century buildings and the oldest road bridge in Australia (built by convicts). We drove up to the top of Mount Wellington for views down onto Hobart, toured a cave and swam in a thermal pool near Hastings, trekked in Mt. Field National Park and, of course, stopped at some wineries, breweries and cideries(?) for tastings. We like their tasting paddles! Apples (introduced by the British) are big here and a major export -- Tasmania was once known as the Apple Isle. The industry was nearly wiped out when the U.K. joined the E.U. (EEC) in 1973.
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_around_hobart
A short drive and ferry ride takes us to Adventure Bay on Bruny Island. Named after the HMS Adventure, captained by Tobias Furneaux, that accompanied Captain James Cook on his explorations of Australia in 1773. This bay has been visited by many famous explorers including Captain Bligh and Abel Tasman. But who cares about history when you’ve got fabulous, fresh, soft, smooth, tasty oysters! We bought a dozen and then another dozen and a Tassie pale ale and a glass of Tassie fizz to wash them down. Then on to beer and cheese tasting. The next day it was the Bruny Island Winery for another tasting and a fabulous meal including a wallaby burger. To work that all off we climbed Fluted Cape (and came to the realisation that we're not fit enough to do the 6 day 78km Overland Track we had originally planned to do). What fantastic landscape!
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_bruny_island
On our way to Port Arthur we stopped at “Cubed”, a tiny coffee caravan with fabulous coffee and stunning views of Pirate’s Bay. Lots to see along the way: the Tessellated Pavement, Tasman Arch, Devil’s Kitchen and Blow Hole. Not to mention Doo town (all the houses have humorous names such as “Love me Doo”, “Doo Right”, “Doo Me”, but, sadly, not Jackie’s favourite “Shooby Dooby Doo”).
The main reason for visiting the peninsula is the Port Arthur Historic site. Yet another “end of the world” even further than Hobart Penitentiary. Between 1830 and 1877, 12,500 convicts did hard brutal prison time at Port Arthur. It was chosen because of its proximity to Hobart (by sea) and its natural barrier to escape - the peninsula is connected at Eaglehawk Neck, a 100 metre wide isthmus that could be readily guarded. A line of ferocious dogs and tales of shark infested waters prevented any escapes.
Later in the prison’s life they decided that hard labour and flogging was ineffective on some prisoners and was inhumane, so they created the “Separate Prison”. In this, the reoffending prisoners were subjected to 23 hours a day in dark, silent, solitary confinement and not allowed communication even during their one hour exercise period. Needless to say, they soon had to build an insane asylum next door.
There were many buildings to visit on this expansive site, all built by convict (read: slave) labour. There was also a short boat trip to see Point Puer – the site for the juvenile convicts (aged 9 to 18) and to see they tiny Isle of the Dead (cemetery). In the 19th century Britain, boys of 8 were considered culpable and tried as adults (given that the life expectancy in British city slums was 17, they were essentially middle aged), and were transported to Australia.
Believe it or not there was even another end of the world. The really bad, hard end. Repeat offenders got sent to the Coal Mines on a remote peninsula. Not a lot remains of this historic site but we did spot our first wild echidna!
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_tasman_peninsula
Maria Island (pronounced Mariah)
Maria Island is a car free wildlife national park accessible only by passenger ferry. So, it’s leave the big tent and car behind and on with the backpack and our beloved little tent. Wildlife! Wow! They’re everywhere. On our last trip to Australia (3 months) we saw only one wombat (and just his butt in the dark as he was running away). Here there are thousands of them and they’re totally unafraid of humans. And sooooo cute! Mothers with babies (joeys) and some joeys in their mother's reverse pouches (wombats are diggers and their pouches would fill with dirt if it faced forward like kangaroos).
The island also has large populations of kangaroos, wallabies, Cape Barren geese. Also, introduced, is an insurance population of Tasmanian Devils. On the mainland (well, island of Tasmania) the devil populations are being decimated by DFTD – Devil Facial Tumour Disease – a fatal, communicable cancer which has infected up to 75% of the wild population. Authorities are creating a number of quarantined healthy populations.
Over the next couple of days we do a number of short hikes to places like the Painted Cliffs, Fossil Cliffs, and the Convict Reservoir (oh, did we forget to mention convicts were imprisoned here too). Great views, do have a look at the pictures.
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_tas_maria_island
The East Coast
The drive on up the east coast first takes us to Freycinet. The National Park campsites here are so popular in the summer that they have a lottery in July for booking. We didn't even try and just stayed at one of the big holiday parks in Cole's Bay.
We did several pleasant short walks in Freycinet National Park; Honeymoon Beach, Sleepy Bay, the Cape Tourville lighthouse, etc. But, the main reason many people come here is for a view of Wineglass Bay. This bay has a goblet shape with a perfect curve of white sand but that's not the source of the name. In the early 1800s the whaling industry poured so much blood into the bay it was said to have turned the water red - so, red wine. We did a circuit that took us 213m up to the lookout then down to the Bay then across the isthmus to beautiful Hazards Beach and back up along the coast. A good four and a half hours of hiking. The beaches and scenery were spectacular.
Carrying on up the coast we made a quick stop at the Bicheno blowhole then on to St. Helens near the Bay of Fires. Because it was the Australia Day weekend, we were worried that we might have trouble finding a national parks campsite so we booked into another big private place for 5 days. This gave us time to do a trip back to Iron House Brewery -- definitely worth it. They had many lovely beers (even a good lager) and we took a supply with us (you don't always find much other than bog standard lager in the regular bottle shops). Peter partook, Jackie drove back to the campsite.
On the Saturday St. Helen's was packed. There was a fun fair with rides, a helicopter doing short trips, a lumberjack competition and fireworks at the end of the day. Sunday we wandered about the little town (now empty), did a walk around St Helens Peninsula to Beer Barrel Beach (and actually went in - ankle depth, that was enough - we're holding out for the warm water in Western Australia) and did some laundry (hey, that's just part of long-term travel). Monday we went to Binalong Bay (some guy walked 42 miles from the Goulds and commented to someone; “been a long way”). Here we took a boat trip up the coast along the Bay of Fires. The name, given by Captain Furneaux, comes from the fires set by the Aborigines to force the wildlife to the coast where they could more easily be caught and killed. It could have been named for the bright orange lichen that grows on the boulders along the shore. Potassium in the rock is what gives it its distinctive colour. The Bay of Fires is actually a 28km-long sweep of white beaches, turquoise waters, boulders covered in orange lichen, huge sand dunes and rocky headlands. Stunning.
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_tas_east_coast
On our way inland towards Launceston, we visited a dairy farm and saw the cows come home (on their own), a pub with a beer drinking pig, a lavender farm (the largest in the southern hemisphere), and a couple of small waterfalls (although, St Columba Falls is Tasmania's highest waterfall at 90m). Our destination for the night, however, was the historic Weldborough Hotel (1876). This was once the middle of a big tin mining region but now is very much in the middle of nowhere. The hotel is famous for its great selection of craft beers and its 'authentic' Ozzie feel (read: not been updated in 50 years). Stayed the night so no driving needed after sampling their offerings.
We picked a good time to be in a city and in a hotel with air conditioning. The temperature soared from a high of 22°C on Thursday to 38°C on Saturday. Then, two days later, not far away in Mole Creek we woke up to 6°C. Crazy!
Anyway, Launceston is Tasmania's second largest city. It's very hilly with a magnificent gorge running through the middle. This gorge, river and lake have been made into a delightful park and walking area with a little chairlift across the lake. We walked the 6.7km Duck Reach track to the old power station and back. Launceston had some forward looking leaders back in 1895 and was the first town in Australia to be electrified by a publicly owned hydroelectric power station. The Duck Reach station was built with some revolutionary new design ideas and was frequently upgraded (Launceston added electric trams in 1911). It was severely damaged and nearly destroyed in heavy flooding in 1929 (flooding that cost 22 lives) and has since been replaced by the much larger Trevallyn Hydroelectric Power Station . The building is now a museum with some of the old equipment still in place and a video about its interesting history.
We did the usual museums, art galleries, design centre, parks and sights and had a lovely Indian meal but we're really not much for cities -- who needs a bed with sheets when you've got a Thermarest on the ground and a sleeping bag, so onward.
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_launceston
From Launceston we drove to Mole Creek stopping at a salmon fish farm along the way (an interesting walk around and a very yummy lunch). The reason for coming here is the Mole Creek Karst National Park and the caves that are open to visit. The land is riddled with caves but we chose Marakoopa Cave - a wet cave - and King Solomons Cave - a dry cave. The formations are just incredible. There are two rivers running through Marakoopa Cave so there are also glow worms. Of course, it's quite impossible to photograph them but they look like a starry sky up on the roof of the cave. Fly larva float in in the river, hatch, then fly up towards the lights and are caught in the glowworms' webs.
Next we drove to Penguin with a stop at the spectacular lookout at Leven Canyon. A very long, very twisty, very windy road up and up and up then a bit of a walk got us to the lookout. But, it was cloudy and raining and we couldn't see a thing! Fortunately, we've been in Tasmania long enough to know to wait 5 minutes and sure enough it cleared. Fabulous view of the canyon to which no photo can possibly do justice.
You can probably guess why we came to the little seaside resort town of Penguin - we thought we might see penguins. We were wrong, there are no nesting sites here. However, a 15 minute drive away in Burnie there is. The only penguin that nests in Australia is the “little penguin”. It used to be called the “fairy penguin” but some woke authority decided that that was offensive to fairies so they stopped using the name ☺. Actually, it's because they are known as the “little blue penguin” in New Zealand due to their dark blue plumage and the fact they are the smallest species of penguin. So, we drove to Burnie at dusk and stood around in the cold wind near the beach. The volunteer staff at the blind told us that most of the penguins were gone for the season and we were unlikely to see any. However, a little patience and persistence paid off, we saw five come ashore to their nests! The nesting area is protected but the rules are not too oppressive and we were able to walk along the boardwalk quite close to them. They are so cute, the way they lean forward like little old men when they waddle along. Photography was difficult because camera flashes are not permitted but we could use a torch with a red filter.
From here we drove on to Stanley to see The Nut. On our way stopping at Fossil Bluff (275 million years old and you can guess what's in the rocks), Table Cape for great views, and Boat Harbour Beach. Last year we wrote that we'd seen the most beautiful beach in the world -- Starfish Beach on Panama's Bocas del Drago https://pbase.com/mr2c280/image/168497579). Well, this beach challenges that in all but one way - water temperature. It looks like a Caribbean beach but it's cold Tasmanian water. (We never did swim in the ocean in Tasmania, ankle deep was as far as we got.)
Stanley - The Nut is the remnant of an ancient volcano. There's a cable car but we decided to walk. It's an extremely steep but, thankfully, short climb to the top (with a rest stop to say hello to a wallaby). There's a circular track on the top and we get some really good views.
The next day we drove the “Tarkine Drive” around the northwest corner of Tas. It took us via the small villages of Marrawah and Arthur River and we stopped at “The Edge of the World” lookout. We also stopped at the Sumac Lookout - a nice view but nothing compared with Leven Canyon - and Trowutta Arch - a collapsed sinkhole that forms an arch. Normally the water is clear but that day it had a bright green algae covering the surface. It actually looked quite amazing with the sun reflecting off of it. Really pretty and utterly impossible to get a good representative photo of (we do hope you're following along with the photos as you read this).
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_tas_north_west
Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park
Cradle Mountain is Tasmania's premier national park and one of the most popular tourist destinations. We had planned to do the famous Overland Trek (78km over 6 days although somebody ran it in 7½ hours) but then thought the better of it and did some days treks instead. We did the Crater Lake Circuit, which actually covers part of day one of the Overland Trek and included the steep climb to Marion's Lookout. It was quite tough (there's a chain to help you up some of it) but it was definitely worth it. The views are stunning and Cradle Mountain itself is really impressive. We also trekked the Dove Lake Circuit and a few other trails. All have beautiful scenery.
Skipping ahead, after Strahan (below) we drove to Lake St Clair at the southern end of the Overland Trek. We walked the Shadow Lake Circuit (5+ hours) and saw an echidna on the path, it walked right through Jackie's legs. He was utterly unperturbed by our presence - they are unbelievably cute. We also spotted a black Tiger Snake who lay sleeping long enough for us to get some pictures before slithering off (and two more that disappeared before we could get the camera out). We also walked to Platypus Bay. Try as we might, everywhere in Tasmania where they said there might be platypus we went to look, but to no avail. Alas, we will just have to remember the elusive creatures we saw in Eungella National Park last time we were in Oz.
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_cradle_mountain
Strahan and Queenstown
Given the high winds we'd experienced throughout the rest of Tasmania, that scared us in our cheap flimsy tent, we briefly thought of skipping the famously wet and wild west coast. As it turned out we had the warmest, quietest weather yet. Apparently, they normally have 300 days of rain per year and we were here during three of the 65 dry days, yipee.
First we took a ride on a steam train on The West Coast Wilderness Railway. When it was first built in 1896, this train and its tortuous route through remote country was a marvel of engineering. It clings to the steep-sided gorge of the King River, passing through dense myrtle rainforest over 40 bridges and on gradients that few other rolling stock could handle. The railway was the lifeblood of the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co in Queenstown, connecting it for copper ore and people haulage to the port of Teepookana, and later with Strahan. The original railway closed in 1963. We board our wood-lined heritage carriage with its shiny brass trimmings and settle down for our four hour steamy trip. There are a few stops, one where we pan for gold (it was originally gold that drew people here) while the train fills up on water. Another stop to get close up with the rainforest and the steam engine - you can chat away to the drivers and get a look at the workings of the engine. The engine - Loco 3 was built in 1898 in Glasgow and it's still going strong today. We then tackle the steepest section of the railway - it uses the ABT system. This is after Swiss engineer Carl Roman Abt, who invented this in 1882 - it's a rack and pinion system that was able to take us up the 1 in 15 gradient - 6.67%. We make it up to Dubbil Barril station. Here the engine drives on to a manual turntable and switches to the other end of the carriages to take us back down to Queenstown. The turntable got stuck so Peter and a few other men helped push it around. Great fun.
One evening we head to see Australia's longest running play - The Ship That Never Was. It tells the tale of a group of convicts who escaped Sarah Island in 1834 by hijacking a ship that they were building. They succeed and make it all the way to Chile. Of the 10 who escaped only 4 were eventually brought back and tried in Tasmania - spoiler - they get off on technicalities (the ship was never commissioned so all they stole was lumber)! The play is really funny with lots of audience participation.
Another day we head off on a Gordon River Cruise. The day starts misty as we head out of the huge Macquarie Harbour to the Southern Ocean - we pass through the narrow 60m wide Hells Gates (named by convicts). Most boats won't head out here as the Roaring 40s sea makes it extremely choppy. We're lucky, today is not bad and we get to see Cape Sorrel lighthouse before turning around and coming back through Hells Gates. Back in Macquarie Harbour we stop to see some fish farming pens - full of salmon and trout. Next stop, Sarah Island - in 1822 this was the first penal settlement in Tasmania. It was used for convicts who had committed further crimes in Australia. Their severe punishment was hard manual labour - cutting down Huon pine in the rainforest. In time, due to the trouble of getting the logs out, boats were built here. We get off the boat and have a tour of the island - there are ruins of convict built buildings and wooden slipways still visible that were used for the launching of ships. It all looks so peaceful now. We then slowly motor up the Gordon River, passing dense rainforest. We stop for a brief walk through the forest at Heritage Landing. Here we also see a 2,500 year old Huon pine tree. Huon pine was highly prized by shipwrights and furniture makers for its rich golden hue, rot-resistant oils, fine grain and fragrance. It is one of the slowest growing and longest living trees in the world. Individual trees can take 2,000 years to reach 30m in height and can live to over 3,000 years, a situation overlooked by 19th century loggers and shipbuilders. It is now a protected species but there are so many cut and abandoned logs that the artisans still have a good supply (the shipbuilders wanted the straight perfect trees, the artisans prefer the gnarly twisted ones). Back on board we head back to Strahan and have a brief visit to a sawmill. A good day out.
Photos at: https://pbase.com/mr2c280/australia_strahan_queenstown
So, we end our Tasmanian adventure back where we started in Hobart. The time here was mostly about getting ready for Western Australia as well as doing the photos and this episode. We did take another run up to the top of Mt. Wellington because last time it was too cloudy for good photos of Hobart. Also, re-took some pictures around town that Peter accidentally deleted on our first day here (he claims jet lag and that the camera was in the wrong time zone).
Tasmania is the road kill capital of the world. The silver lining is that this does mean they’ve got lots of wildlife to kill. Happily we didn't contribute to the statistics.
We have driven passed many purple poppy fields - nearly half of the world's legal poppy crop is grown in Tasmania. The opiate alkaloids that are extracted are used in painkillers and other medicines. The growing and harvesting is strictly controlled and access to fields is illegal.
In Scotland they say that if you don’t like the weather just wait an hour. Well, in Tasmania you only have to wait a minute. And, I’d add, if you don’t like the season, just wait a day. All in all we had pretty good weather in Tasmania. Mostly sunny and very little rain, a bit too much wind for living in a tent but we really can't complain. Well, I say that, but you all know Peter can always find something to complain about. The problem is that Tas's latitude is roughly equivalent to Spain's in the northern hemisphere. This means the sun is really hot in summer. But, Tasmania is surrounded by the Southern Ocean (OK, technically the Bass Straight and Tasman Sea, but you get the idea - next stop south is Antarctica). This means that there is almost always a cool wind. So, one second you're boiling in the sun and the next, a passing cloud or shade from a tree, and you're reaching for your fleece. Annoying.
Tasmania is nearly the size of Scotland with only 1/10th the population. Nearly 40% is National Parks - keep Tassie wild!