Tasmania Trip - April 2002
Pictures from our April 2002 Tasmania Trip
Tasmania was one of those places we had always wanted to explore - and since it is relatively close to mainland Australia, we decided that it would be our first major vacation (or holiday, as the Aussies tend to term it) destination. We had done some research, but not nearly enough to make us comfortable organizing the trip ourselves. When Tim discovered a Tasmanian travel company run by Tassies on the Internet, we decided to give it a try in hopes of avoiding disastrous mistakes. Thus, we began e-corresponding with Mike Booker, of Tasmania Travel Company. He turned out to be just the guide we needed - he has several friends and clients from Washington State, has toured the US (including New Hampshire) - and in general, was in tune with us and our desires. For anyone else traveling to Tasmania, we highly recommend his services. As we traveled about, we had to agree that his recommendations and warnings were spot on - some of the places that had looked good to us on paper turned out to be inappropriate (as he had warned) - thanks, Mike! On the flip side, his recommendations for places to stay turned out to suit us perfectly, even though all three places were quite different. He also found us a good accomodation in Victoria, for our one night en route, even though that was outside his usual domain. Our only regret is that we never actually managed to meet up with him in person - perhaps next time.
One of the things Mike advised us on was to take the Spirit of Tasmania car ferry from Melbourne, Victoria to Devonport, Tasmania. This would provide the adventure of a short "ocean" crossing (of the Bass Strait), and allow us to take our car with us (a big attraction for us). Since we had left our preparations so late, we couldn't get the travel dates we wanted, and ended up leaving a couple days earlier, before the school term was over. So, we decided to take two days getting to Melbourne, letting Clara and Lucy get in a last half-day of school - especially since trying to get to Melbourne by the 4pm boarding time, in one day, would have pushed (and worried) us a bit, since we didn't know the road or Melbourne at all (and we had heard horror stories about the traffic there).
So, on Tuesday, April 9, we picked the girls up at Wilderness about lunchtime, stopped by home for a snack and a change to travel clothes, and a last look through the house to see what we'd forgotten (our landlords were also planning on using our vacation absence to replace and resurface some of the wood flooring, redo the master bath shower, install curtains, etc. - so we had been busy moving furniture, packing away anything out in the open which could collect dust, etc., for the last few days prior to leaving - as well as trying to pack for the holiday.) Then we were off!
We had a good trip to Halls Gap, in the Grampians. Along the way, we passed through a lot of wheat fields, reminiscent of Kansas in places - as long as you didn't look closely at the trees! Many of the fields were being (or had recently been) burned off. As we were approaching Halls Gap, we discovered that our Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (like the AAA in the states - with the exception that each state has their own equivalent) map of the area had different road designations than the actual road signs - so we overshot our turn off from the main road into the Grampians, and had to backtrack (when we checked our Road Atlas - which we expected to be less up-to-date and accurate - it actually had the correct road designations - we should have trusted it from the start!) But, we arrived at the Best Western Colonial Motor Inn in Halls Gap eventually, had dinner, and settled in for the night.
We had a leisurely departure the next morning, and drove south through the Grampians on our way on towards Melbourne. We decided that we really did need to come back and spend some time exploring this area as well (this is also the nearest "trout-centric" fishing area to Adelaide, so Tim wants to come back for that reason as well). One of the interesting differences we noticed was the prevelance of "Slippery When Frosty" road signs throughout Victoria. We also saw lots of tree farms, which, from a distance, looked like Blue Spruce Christmas Tree Farms, but, on closer examination, turned out to be Eucalyptus (Gum) Tree plantations - the blue-green color is very similar. (Interestingly, some of these plantations are apparently intended as carbon sinks - places to store carbon besides the atmosphere, to counteract global warming - and many of the plantations in Australia are actually owned by foreign entities - the US life insurance company John Hancock owns 150,000 hectares in Victoria - possibly some of the ones we drove by.)
Approaching Melbourne, the roads became wider, more lanes joined, and we realized we were approaching a city of several million people - this drove home again just how different Adelaide is - a major city with in excess of a million residents, which however seems more like a large, friendly town, with no freeways. We drove over the Melbourne West Gate Bridge, which, at nearly 200 feet from road surface to water, was the tallest bridge the girls have ever been over. Then, on to Port Melbourne, and the Spirit of Tasmania terminal. Tim dropped Sandy and the girls off at the passenger gangway, with some overnight bags, then drove around, and, fairly quickly, on to the ferry.
The current Spirit of Tasmania takes 14 hours for the crossing, and travels only at night, which means you can only travel every other day to Tasmania. (The current ferry is scheduled to be replaced by a pair of faster, even larger ships in September, which will allow traveling each way every day). They have a variety of accomodations, ranging from airplane-style seats (the advantage over planes is that you have the run of the ship, and they have a piano bar, game room, and other attractions) to suites with a bunkbed and a queen-size bed. We were in one of the suites, and Clara and Lucy thought it was all a great adventure, as can be seen here. (On the return trip, Tim wished we had gotten one of the four bunk rooms instead, as the greater rolling of the ship made it harder to stay in position - and thus to sleep - in the queen bed.)
Since Clara has been studying Australian history, especially the First Fleet and early settlers, she was very interested in everything to do with Australian history - any structure built by convicts was fair game. In addition, she was quite interested in how the Spirit of Tasmania compared with the eleven ships of the First Fleet. The Spirit is approximately 530 feet long, weighs over 31,000 tons, has 1300 berths, and can carry 250 cars and 35 semi trailers. In comparison, the largest of the First Fleet ships, the warship Sirius was 540 tons and about 110 feet in length; the smallest was the Supply, at 170 tons and 70 feet. They carried a total of 1530 people. (For another comparison - the Titanic was 883 feet long and 46,000 tons, and had accomodation for 2566 passengers).
The Spirit has a roving photographer (along with roving cartoon characters - in this case a Tasmanian Tiger and a Tasmanian Devil.) Lucy and Clara got their picture taken with the Tasmanian Tiger while roaming the ship prior to bed. We ate in one of the buffet-style cafeterias, and then went to bed. We arrived in Devonport, Tasmania on schedule at 8:30 the next morning after a very smooth crossing. Breakfast was in the same cafeteria, then it was time to pack and leave. It took about an hour before it was our turn to disembark. The girls were quite excited that the Quarantine Dog came on board to sniff everyone's luggage (for contraband fruit and vegetables which might import pests or diseases to Tasmania). We also had to go through a cursory inspection once we rolled off the ship - but the quarantine officer took one look at the load in the back of our Tribute, and just asked if we had any eskies - so we showed him the eskie, and he waved us on.
We found our way out of Devonport, and onto Route 1 without problem. It was a beautiful blue-sky day, and we were quite happy at how things were going. Passing through Mottema, we spotted a place advertising fresh raspberries and hot breakfasts / lunches, named Christmas Hill Raspberry Farm Restaurant. We decided to stop, and had various raspberry-based items (muffins, cream puffs, etc.) on a deck overlooking a pond, and the girls immediately took off to explore. Then it was on down the road, next stop Ross, where we had lunch then visited the Tasmanian Wool Centre, and the convict-build bridge.
After Ross, we continued on to the Tasman Peninsula, and to Taranna House, located on Little Norfolk Bay. (Taranna house is managed by Dot and Mike Evans, who also manage the Norfolk Bay Convict Station right across the road; the convict station is Australia's oldest Railway Station, which has been converted to a B&B.) This was a heritage-listed house, with three bedrooms, plus plenty of room to play. Outside was a duck pond, frequented both by ducks and fairly uncommon Cape Barren Geese.
The following morning (Friday), Ruth Brozek of Tasman Nature Guiding met us at the house and took us on a wonderful introduction walk to the Tasman Pensinsula along Waterfall Bay (in Tasman National Park). Ruth was extremely knowledgable, and great with the girls, matching their pace, and pointing out items which captured their interest - from a waterfall they could walk behind (here and here) to trigger plants. We walked from a car park overlooking Waterfall Bay to the top of Waterfall Bluff (shown here). The dark section of the cliff approximately in the middle of the bluff in the previous picture is where the waterfall exists in wetter seasons (it has been a very dry summer in Tassie). This picture is looking from the top of Waterfall Bluff out to sea, while this one is looking back to the car park (you can just see our Tribute parked on the dirt at the top of the cliff approximately in the middle of the picture). There was a bit of haze, and some low clouds moving in and out, but it was a beautiful day all told.
We walked for approximately 3 hours through dry sclerophyll forest. This term was new to us - basically this is a low-rainfall forest, with gums - stringybarks in this case - as the overstory, and an understory of bushes such as myrtles, wattles, banksia and laurels. Flowers tend to be small, to conserve water. Roots tend to be shallow, since the nutrient layer is shallow - plus the shallow roots help to help soak up rainwater - however, this also means the trees fall over more easily. Most of the animals in such a forest are nocturnal - and most of Tassies most unique animals live in such forests. The forest was alive with birds when we were there, with Tim trying desparately to remember all the different songs and calls as Ruth identified them. There were various honeyeaters - including the Crescent Honeyeater - which we heard more than we saw, the Strong-billed Honeyeater, which does a fair job of tearing the bark off the gums in its search for food, various parrots / rosellas / cockatoos, ravens, Grey Fantails (known as Cranky Fans because of their twisting and turning flight), magpies, and kookaburras.
After the walk, Ruth treated us to morning tea (coffee / tea and biscuits - or cookies as we know them). The biscuits were Anzac cookies, the same as Clara's class had made a week before. (In fact, Ruth, along with Dot Evans, the manager of Taranna house, pretty well cleaned up the 1st and 2nd place ribbons for baked items at the Tasman Country Fair the following day!) We returned to Taranna House via Port Arthur, where we visited the book store for maps and nature guides, and the cafe for lunch. Once back at Taranna House, there was more excitement for the girls, as the house actually had a bathtub! The girls have been in severe bath withdrawal since leaving Seattle, since our house in Glenunga has only showers. They quite enjoyed the treat of a long, leisurely bath.
The following morning we set off for Lime Bay Nature Reserve, discovering another beautiful beach with no one around (the picture was taken close to high tide, so it is hard to tell how far out the tide goes). The highlights for the girls included an injured possum (it's rear legs weren't working well, but it still managed to pull itself around to try and hide from us), plus a large dead stingray on the beach - and just climbing on the rocks, and blazing trails out of sight of Mom and Dad. There were also lots of green rosellas roaring about the gum trees, and anemones all over the shallows.
From Lime Bay, we went to the Coal Mines Historic Site (Clara has been fascinated with convict history since she has been studying it in school). Clara insisted on a picture of herself in one of the underground cells to show kids back at school. Here is another view of the above ground ruins. The Coal Mines were just about the end of the line for the convicts in Australia - even harsher than Port Arthur.
We continued on past White Beach, and then to Maingon Bay, where we walked down to see Remarkable Cave. The cave is actually a tunnel through the bluff, hollowed out by the water, and which the tide fills at high tide. The cave occurs inside a dolorite intrusion into sandstone layers, and various events have occurred to cause a unique deformation of the sandstones. As the excellent book Step into History in Tasmanian Reserves by David Leaman points out, the remarkable aspect of this cave area is not the cave itself, but the folding of the rock layers, which occurs no where else in the world.
On our way home, we stopped for the tail end of the Tasman Country Fair, watched a bit of the sheep dog herding competition, admired the garden produce and the lovely needlework on display, congratulated Ruth on her prizes, and got to see one of the local ladies spinning wool into yarn, using a spinning wheel, which quite fascinated the girls. Back at Taranna House, Clara and Lucy also took a bucket out to the yard and scavenged some end-of-season blackberries for our supper.
Another item we had first noticed in Victoria (especially when we were trying to find our way to Halls Gap) was the use of kilometer markers. These are short posts which have only one or two letters plus a number, which are the initial(s) of the next "major" town, plus the remaining distance. Thus, the marker located 30 km outside of Halls Gap would be labeled HG 30. On the Tasman Peninsula, we found the markers were made of stone, with the numbers carved in - and we eventually figured out that the distances were MILES, not km - since they dated from long ago. We were also interested to note the use of Roman numerals in many of the old convict-era structures to indicate distances.
Saturday morning we set off for Port Arthur. We had a great tour guide named Ken Lee, who clearly loved researching the history of Port Arthur and sharing it with others. Both criminal and political convicts were sent to Port Arthur; in general, the political exiles were treated better, and given better accomodation. One such was Thomas Francis O'Meagher, who was sent to Port Arthur, escaped, made his way to the US, and there became a governor of Montana! As you wander about Port Arthur, the beauty of the place today is striking, especially when compared with the horror that must have been suffered by the average convict here 150 years ago. The site feels much like a park at times - partly since there are far fewer buildings standing now, making the grounds seem spacious; in addition, the trees and other plantings have grown well over the intervening 150 years. Regarding the trees - there were very bad fires years ago, which burned most of the native trees in the heart of Port Arthur (along with many buildings) - only the imported decidious trees (oaks, elms, etc.) survived, due to the high water content of their leaves!
We also took the short catamaran ride around the harbor - this travels close to Port Puer, where the boys (as young as age 9) were kept. The boys were separated from the older convicts, in order to try and provide them with education in the four 'R's (Reading wRiting, aRithmetic, and Religion), and, hopefully, change their future course in life. In general, Port Arthur was the end of the line for older convicts, who usually ended up there after having caused trouble at other "easier" prisons in Hobart and elsewhere. From Port Arthur, the only places left for the truly incorrigible were the previously mentioned Coal Mines near Saltwater River on the northwest of the Tasman Peninsula, or to Norfolk Island. The harbor cruise also circumnavigated the Isle of the Dead, where the deceased convicts and workers were buried. There was usually a convict gravedigger living on the Isle - a job not conducive to the best mental health.
Apparently there was one serious and nearly successful escape by boat from Port Arthur. Five convicts managed to get into the commandant's boat and sail it out of Port Arthur. The reached the open sea, and turned north, making it most of the way up the west coast of Tassie to Macquarie Harbor, another convict camp. At this point, they decided they better try another route, so they turned around, and came all the way back around the south of Tasmania, past Port Arthur again, and back up the east coast, across the Bass Strait to the mainland, and on up the east coast of Australia, this time getting to Sydney - where they were promptly captured. Two of the men died on the journey or soon after arrival in Sydney, two were sent to Norfolk Island - and one was sent back to Port Arthur as a reminder to the other convicts that there is no escape from Port Arthur...
One of the interesting bits of technology from the Port Arthur era is the use of semaphores for communication. (Click here for an overview of early Australian commications methods). The semaphore tower at Port Arthur was part of a chain used to communicate rapidly (15 minutes for a round-trip message) with Hobart- a restored tower exists at Port Arthur on the hill above the Commandant's house.
The girls also loved exploring the Commandant's House - since it was built on (and up) the side of a hill, and was essentially a rabbit warren with lots of rooms, passages, stairs, etc. Each successive commandant apparently added on, according to the size of their families (or egos). Below the Commandant's House was his stone dock - where his boat was kept. There were some beautiful gums in the area, with interesting gumnuts (more correctly, eucalyptus seed cases) scattered about, which of course got the girls going, trying to find and collect different types.
Along with the church, the most famous view of Port Arthur is probably the Penitentiary as viewed from the bay. This building actually began as the flour mill. Since there wasn't enough fresh water coming in the lone creek to waste on a water wheel, the grindstone was run by a convict-powered treadmill. This proved far too easy to sabotage, and the mill never accomplished much - so it was eventually converted to an alternate use as housing for convicts.
After Port Arthur, we ventured on to Fortescue Beach. The beach was covered with cone shells and interesting star fish and interesting rock pools to explore - and no people, once again, even though it was a sunny weekend day. Then it was back to Taranna house, to pack up for our departure on the next leg of our trip the next morning.
Monday morning, we finished loading up, then watched a low flyby from a pair of Cape Barren Geese as we dropped the keys off with Dot and Mike. They were probably glad to see us go, so they could have the duck pond back to themselves! We headed back up across Eaglehawk Neck (where the land is only about 100 meters wide - in convict days, this was the site of the Dog Line - dogs staked every few meters to discourage escapees trying to make it back to the mainland.) As we drove along, we saw a kookaburra sitting on an electric wire. This prompted Clara to burst into the Year 3 variation on the old song:
Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree.
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh Kookaburra, Laugh Kookaburra.
Gay your life must be."
The Year 3 version goes:
Kookaburra sits on an electric wire.
Jumping up and down with his pants on fire...
(The Year 3s apparently don't know the rest of that version "Fry Kookaburra, Fry Kookaburra - what a good meal you'll be!") For another variation on this and other rhymes, check out the "Rotten Rhymes" site.
From there, we continued on towards Hobart. Mt. Wellington comes into view first, dominating the skyline even though it is only 1271 metres in elevation. We entered via the Tasman Bridge - not as tall as the Melbourne West Gate bridge, but pretty nonetheless. We stopped at Sullivan's Cove, to get some necessities (more postcards for Sandy and the girls, another memory card for the digital camera, some tourist brochures, books, and maps - and a visit to the Lark Distillery for Tim.
Bill Lark was the first person to take out a distillation license in Tasmania in 1992, and has been distilling ever since. This picture shows him next to his current combination spirit / wash still, used for distilling his single malt whisky. (He has other, smaller stills for other products such as his Bush Liqueur.) Next month, he is getting a new, larger wash still, built by a local engineering firm. This will allow him to increase his output, since he currently has to run the wash still three times to generate a single charge for the spirit still. Current production level is approximately 130 litres of spirit per week. All the malt he uses is peated to a level of 20 ppm. Most of the output goes into 110 litre barrels, remanufactured from sherry casks (the inside is then shaved, to avoid "pink" whisky, then recharred). He occasionally uses new American oak barrels, in which he stores sherry for 3 months to get rid of the worst of the overpowering "new wood" flavors / effects. These are substantially smaller than barrels commonly used in the industry, which results in his spirit maturing much faster. At the moment, all of his whisky is released at 3 years of age; the small barrels result in it having a maturity equivalent to 7-8 year old scotch whisky. He has reached the point where he can start maturing some spirit longer, up to 10 years; until now, he has had trouble meeting the demand for his 3 year old product.
We ate lunch at one of several floating seafood stands (build on barge / houseboat type boats which are anchored to the shore along a wharf at Sullivan's Cove), then headed south to Taroona. This was the location of the first place Lucy found in her research (through various Tasmanian picture books) that she wanted to visit - The Shot Tower. The Shot Tower is a the largest freestone (no mortar) tower in the world at approximately 157 feet tall (around 300 steps; we didn't climb it since the stairwell is not well suited to kids - especially rambuctuous kids!). It was built by Joseph Moir as a private enterprise in 1870 to manufacture lead shot for firearms. It was only in operation for 30 years. There are older shot towers in existance (including in the US) - but this is the oldest round shot tower.
We had intended to spend more time in the general area, to investigate the Huon Valley (home of Tasmania's reputation as the Apple Isle), and to drive up Mt. Wellington, but we decided we were running short on time, and left those areas for next time. However, one interesting footnote from the Tassie Visitor's Bureau regarding apples: William Bligh of Bounty infamy planted Australia's first apple tree at Adventure Bay on Bruny Island in 1788. It thrived in the temperate climate and so Tasmania became Australia's orchard. Bligh actually had three mutinies, the Bounty in 1779 when he fell out with Fletcher Christian and his crew, in 1797 when he was ousted from command of another ship during the Nore Mutiny and in 1808 when he was promoted to Governor of New South Wales. Bligh ruled the colony like a battleship and outlawed rum trade, believing it to be both illegal and immoral. No blood was shed in the mutiny and sightseers and children looked on as red-coated military dragged Bligh from where he was hiding under a servant's bed. He spent a year in prison before escaping south to Tasmania and eventually heading back to London where he was exonerated and promoted to the rank of rear admiral.
From Hobart we headed up the Derwent River valley. We drove through the Bushy Park hopfields - which, at first glance, from a distance, we thought were still growing due to the residual leaves/vines caught in the wires they grow on - but once we got up close, we saw that they had recently been harvested. Not surprisingly, one finds many products in the area made from hops - teas, soaps, etc. - not to mention the estimated one billion stubbies of beer (including Budweiser) that are made using Bushy Park hops. Thes hops are particularly prized because the lack of parasites, diseases, and competing vegetation allow them to be grown with use of herbicides, pesticides, etc. - so there are no residues accompanying the dried hops (they are not entirely organically grown - but pretty close compared to other hop-growing regions).
We soon arrived at Tyenna Retreat and met Vickie, our host. She immediately made us feel at home, and thrilled the girls by introducing them to Lambsie the sheep (their organic lawnmower), their chickens (inclduing Ladybird and Mr. Grumpie - the only two with names; Clara and Lucy promptly set about naming the others), Bear, their dog, and encouraging them to run through her beautiful gardens, including three fish ponds.
The Derwent is a beautiful river (Derwent is Celtic for "clear water"), with many equally impressive tributaries. It is not surprising that the first fish hatchery in southern hemisphere was developed in 1868 on one of those tributaries - the Plenty. The Hathery is known as "The Salmon Ponds" - even though there are no salmon there, and all the salmon ever raised there disappeared down the rivers to the ocean - and never came back. The trout, however, were a little more successfull. We stopped there for lunch on Tuesday, after running into New Norfolk on an errand, and had lunch at their cafe, the Wiley Trout. Afterwards, we toured the grounds, feeding the huge (5-10 pound - possibly even larger) trout - Brown, Rainbow, and Brook (while Tim has seen, and attempted to catch Brown and Rainbow trout of this size before, he had never seen Brook trout anywhere near this large, even though he grew up in NH, where brook trout are the primary trout to be found.) They also had some rarer cross breeds / hybrids, including tiger trout (a cross between female brown trout and male brook trout) and albino trout (mutated rainbow trout which are white except for the red stripe on their sides). This picture of the albino trout makes them look a little yellow / orange due to the water color and surface reflections - you can see the true color on the trout at the upper left. These fish were in the 18-20 inch range. Lucy really liked the "Booker Trout" (her way of saying Brook Trout).
Although it was getting late, we decided to continue on with our planned trip through the Styx River valley, aka the Valley of the Giants, home of the tallest hardwood trees in the world. This is one of the last untouched areas of old growth Eucalyptus Regnans forest in the world. It is home to many trees in excess of 90 meters tall. We walked in to see the tallest tree (here's the top, and here's the bottom - couldn't get it all in one shot), and enjoy the wonderful rainforest climate, with tree ferns, moss, and fungi everywhere. Even though the sun was going down, we stopped for a few minutes for Tim to try his luck in the Styx River, and for the girls to explore animal tracks and look for bugs and frogs.
Wednesday, we were planning to visit Mt. Field National Park, but an overturned logging truck prevented us from following through - so we went off to visit Hamilton, and tour some backroads. Among other things, we saw kookaburras and some bright yellow clicking grasshoppers. We stopped at the Glen Clyde house for lunch (to Clara's pleasure, it was built by convicts in 1870, originally as a coach inn.) They had gardens full of plants and paths for the girls to explore while waiting for lunch - as well as a pile of objects which they had dug out of the gardens (including convict irons and ball and chain - "I could walk in one of those!" says Clara as she struggles to lift the ball.) On the way back, we got delayed by a flock of (mostly) newly-shorn sheep being herded down the road by a sheep dog and shepard. We also stopped for a snack along the Repulse River - which allowed Tim to wet a line for a few minutes, and catch a few very small rainbows, so at least he wouldn't go home completely skunked.
Upon our return from the Hamilton area, Vickie asked if we'd like to see a baby wombat, and watch for platypuses. We excitedly agreed, and followed Vickie to meet Wombie, a baby Wombat whose mother had been killed by a logging truck. He was seven months old, and was being raised by Ray and Nigel and their two dogs. When he's about fifteen months old, they will take him to a remote place in the woods, and let him go. They will come and visit him regularly, at first, until he becomes adapted to living in the wild again. Wombats are interesting creatures - note the thumb on the paws, which allows them to use their paws as hands. They are also built like little tanks, and have a bony plate across the top of their hips which they can use to crush anything which tries to follow them into their burrows.
After both girls got a chance to hold and play with Wombie (who particularly liked trying to crawl under them and snuggle with his nose tucked in the crook of their arms) - we headed off to the river behind the local golf courses, where three platypuses live. Unfortunately, we didn't see them (we heard a loud "plop" as we approached, like something entering the water quickly. After watching for a while (the girls were quite patient and quiet) we headed off for dinner at the Cockatoo Cafe in Maydena. On the way home, after dark, we saw a lot of local wildlife, including several brushtail possums (one of which did NOT want to yield right-of-way to us!) and a Tasmanian Devil (the devils tend to cruise the roads at night, looking for fresh roadkill.)
And then, when it was time for bed - more wildlife - in the house! Sandy found a tiny scorpion (approximately 1 inch long) in the bedroom! We put it in a jar for the girls to see in the morning. Vickie told us that these are not poisonous, but they still pack a sting like a bee. We were surprised to see them in this locale and climate.
Thursday morning, we tried again to visit Mt. Field, and succeeded this time. We stopped at the visitor center for a quick look around and a snack, then headed up to Lake Dobson. We walked around the lake, with the girls "fossicking" for interesting things. (Fossicking is Australian for searching or exploring - for example, Clara had read nearly all her books, so when Tim went to Launceston to visit a fly fishing store, he also stopped at a children's book store; one of the people there took him up to their "school supplies" area and told him he could "fossick around in there to see if you can find something for your daughter.") Clara and Lucy found many things, including a spider with blue body and bright red legs, yellow mushrooms, wombat tracks and wombat scat (it is distinctively cubic in shape).
While on the walk around the lake, we stopped to take a family picture with the timer on the camera. In the process, Sandy's fanny pack got left behind. However, we didn't discover this until we had returned to the visitor center, 16 km back down a gravel road. So we drove back to the lake, where Tim & Clara circumnavigated the lake, while Sandy and Lucy made inquiries of people near the carpark. No luck. We had seen signs of workmen (tools, wheelbarrow& backhoe) near where we took the picture; these signs were gone when Tim and Clara returned, so we hoped a worker had picked the bag up. Back down the mountain - we found the back hoe en route, so stopped and asked the driver - "A blue bum bag? Yup, down at the visitor's center." We were very happy to hear that! Off down the road, and yes, they had it - in fact, we found the fellow who had turned it in, and thanked him profusely - he refused a reward "Just part of the service..."
On our way back to Vickie's, we stopped at the Possum Shed, run by friends of hers who had moved here from the mainland years ago. We had stopped in the day before, when the road was closed, and had seen a traditional dot painting by Tasmanian Aboriginal artist "Mick Q" which we really liked. The painting features the Tree of Life, with a mountain backdrop. We decided that this would be a perfect souvenir of our trip to Tasmania as well as Australia, so we bought it and had it shipped home. We returned home, and decided that we had enjoyed the Cockatoo Cafe so much (and the wildlife on the way home) that we'd eat there once again - turned out that the only other person eating there was the only one we'd seen the night before - he was visiting from the mainland, and was the leaving the next day, as we were. On the way home, we saw 2 possums, 2 unknowns (one might have been a devil), and one bandicoot.
Friday morning, it was time to leave. We had almost finished packing the car when the sheep shearer arrived (Vickie had arranged to have Lambsie sheared while we were still there, so the girls could see the process.) He and his wife set up his electric shearing kit, then set to it. Afterwards, the girls each got handfuls of wool to take home as a memory. When Tim and Sandy had finished packing, they went looking for the girls, and found them with Vickie, who was giving them feathers from a hawk, a peacock and her former golden pheasant to take home as well. We left, promising to return before too long.
We headed north to the Central Highlands, which is covered with lakes and lagoons (the lagoons are man-made lakes which are used to store water for Tasmania's vast hydroelectric network) - they also provide some of the best trout fishing in the world. Tim wanted to drive through the region, in order to see the area that he intends to return to and fish some day. Along the way, we passed a dead tree with two Wedgetail eagles sitting in it - pretty unusual, as there are supposedly only 80 pairs in all of Tasmania.
Before we climbed up to the central plateau, we detoured to Lake St. Clair, the southern end of the the Overland Trail from Cradle Mountain. While we didn't see any platypuses in the river, we did see a stuffed one at the Lake St. Clair visitor center. They are surprisingly small creatures, about the size of a small cat. This one is about 40 cm (16 inches) long, as you can better tell from this picture with Clara and Lucy.
We then continued on up into the Highlands, stopping at Little Pine Lagoon and Bronte Lagoon (approximately the geographical center of Tasmania) so Tim could scout for fish. On the way down out of the highlands, we found some interesting lichen-covered rocks. Most of the road we covered in the highlands was gravel / dirt - so the car was looking pretty well caked with dirt by the time we got back onto sealed roads. By the end of the trip, we probably put 500 km on the truck on gravel roads. Coming out of the highlands, we thought we were going to run into our first storm (while we had expected it to rain at least 50% of the time, given the time of year and historical statistics, we had in fact had beautiful weather so far for the entire trip) - there were storm clouds gathering over the hills - but it never actually rained.
We arrived at Hawley Beach and missed the entrance the first time, but found it soon thereafter. We drove to the main house, where Simon Haughton and his crew host gourmet multi-course dinners every night, overlooking a couple duck ponds to the ocean. We got directions, and continued on up the hill thru the vineyards to our house, the Vinepard Pavillion or Hill House, surprising some rabbits in the road, and a flock of peacocks which were scattered about the house (on the porch, deck, etc.) The girls immediately set off exploring the house, and soon came back to beg and plead to be allowed to sleep upstairs - the entire upstairs was essentially one room, with two beds, sitting area, play areas, etc., plus the biggest bathroom in the house - with a shower AND a bath! Sandy and Tim made them wait, but eventually, the girls got their desire. There were three more bedrooms downstairs, so we could have easily hosted a full family sleepover. We had scraped up a few groceries on the way in, and had a pick-up supper - especially as the stovetop wasn't working. We settled in for the evening, and watched the sunset. (Here's an aerial view of Hawley House; our house is in the lower left hand side, mostly hidden by a row of trees.)
Saturday morning, Tim, Clara & Lucy headed for the beach, while Sandy decided to do some cross-stitching. The girls insisted on counting things, and by the end, they were desparately reciting / singing the list of what they had found so they wouldn't forget before they told Sandy: "104 starfish (orange, pink, blue, purple...), bunches of dark red blobs of jelly (we didn't realize at first that these were closed-up anemones), lots of soldier crabs, 3 pebble crabs, a piece of a sunken ship, millions of mussels, etc..." The girls were pretty tuckered after the walk to and along the beach, and then back up to the house, so they were happy to play in the surrounding fields, and then upstairs, where they promptly set up a school and took turns as teacher (at one point, Lucy had the Marine Creatures book out, and had assigned Clara to draw pictures of all the critters they found on the beach that morning!) Clara also did a bit of cross-stitching with Sandy.
Meanwhile, Tim took off for Launceston to visit the Essential Fly Fisher, his first real fly fishing shop in Australia. The proprietor, Ross Pullin, was from New South Wales; he and his wife came for a visit 10-12 years ago, and decided to "shift" down here. He also visited a book store, to get more books for Clara and Lucy, since Clara was just about out of chapter books.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, with no clouds - and although we had intended to slow down once we reached Hawley, and actually relax - we decided our weather luck couldn't hold much longer, and Tim really wanted to see Cradle Mountain - so we headed off. We passed through Sheffield, The Town of Murals (similar to other towns with a declining livelihood, they cast around in the 1980s for a theme to drive tourism - and came up with Murals - now there are scores of murals on the sides of town buildings, and they have become quite a tourist destination.) Near Sheffield, we passed Mt. Roland, a rocky monolith that stands mostly alone.
We soon entered the hills, and followed the twisting roads up to the highlands again, and on to Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake - the standard view from the north edge of Dove Lake is considered the most familiar / recognizable icon of Tasmania these days. We also took another self portrait from the same location. We wandered around a quarter of the lake, and climbed up on the 5 story boulder on the left side of the lake (not visible in these pictures), then headed back. We stopped at Cradle Mountain Village on the way out and had lunch. We didn't spend a lot of time at Cradle, since Tim also wanted to take the girls into a cave - so, we took off in hopes of reaching Mole Creek Karst National Park (and, specifically, King Solomon's Cave) before the last tour was over at 4 pm. We made it, and had a very nice tour - only one other lady besides the 4 of us, so we weren't rushed or crowded. We heard once again the standard line "Stalactites hang tight to the ceiling, and stalagmites might reach the ceiling some day" that helps keep straight which are which.
King Solomon's Cave is currently a dry cave, which means there is no water running through it (no stream, that is), so therefore no cave-adapted lifeforms as exist in other nearby caves. There is plenty of water dripping from the ceiling, usually, so we were once again lucky it had been dry for a month, and only a few stalactites were dripping. Since there were no light-sensitive creatures, we could take flash pictures. Here is the garden of parsnips, carrots, and straws (the straws are hollow, and grow by water running down the inside) and a corncob (which weighs three quarters of a ton). Note also that the colors are all from the limestone; the light is standard white light. We really appreciated the path through the cave, after the guide told us the original entrance was via a ladder, and showed us some of the places the original explorers had to crawl!
Monday morning, all four of us headed to the beach; we drove to the end of the road, then walked along a path for a while (the girls found lots of "echidna" seeds - prickly seed cases from the sheoaks - which look more like pines than oaks; one of the crafts one sees about Tassie are little echidnas made from these seed cases; the girls had collected some on our first walk with Ruth.) In places on the beach, the sand was quite torn up on a small scale - lots of tiny mounds like earthworm casings - and as we approached one of these, the whole beach seemed to move! It turned out to be an army of soldier crabs - tiny blue and purple crabs, less than an inch across, which "process" the sand to extract nutrients. When disturbed, they take off running across the sand - if they sense immediate danger, they burrow into the sand with a corkscrewing motion. The girls gathered another batch of shells. When we got home and washed the shells in fresh water, we discovered that they had brought along a hermit crab by mistake! Tim spent the afternoon tying flies, and the girls spent it in the spa.
Tuesday morning, Tim took off on an exploratory fly fishing trip to the St. Patricks River. It turned out to be more exploration than fishing, including another 100+ kilometers on gravel roads. He did eventually briefly wet his line in the North Esk and the St. Patricks, though to no avail. Meanwhile, the girls went to the beach - and got trapped on a sand bar by the rising tide! After they got home, and got dried off and de-salted, the girls played around the house, and Sandy cross-stitched some more.
Wednesday morning, Tim and the girls walked down to the ponds in front of the main house. There are a lot of animals at Hawley house - we've mentioned the rabbits and peacocks - there were also several very frisky horses in the fields, which Clara and Lucy made friends with. In addition, there are three very large (and friendly) German Shepards at the main house, and numerous water fowl. We discovered the dog's important responsibility when Simon came out and spread some bread for the various waterfowl - the dogs are trained to chase the sea gulls away from the food - the other resident birds (peacocks, cormorants, ducks) are used to this, and just ignore the dogs and go on feeding - and the dogs ignore them. Oh, and there is a resident cockatoo named Alfred, who spends most of the day sitting on the roof yelling (he speaks a few words of English), sqawking, or making a sound like a child. Today, we got caught by rain at the main house - the first rain we'd seen on our trip!
We walked back to the house when the rain slackened, and didn't get too wet. There was a chess set at Hawley House, which the girls had discovered right away (in fact, Clara had gone around the house right after arrival, and had checked every drawer, every closet, etc., to see what was there - when Tim started searching for new light bulbs, Clara knew exactly where to look!) So, with a rainy day, Clara and Lucy wanted to learn to play chess. We had gotten them a book about how to play chess - but we had forgotten to bring it. So Tim wrote down the basic rules, and off they went. Here's Clara contemplating a move, and here's Lucy. They eventually took on Sandy, and fought her to a draw. Later, they wanted to try the spa again - but it was much colder, and it was easy to convince them after a couple minutes to trade the spa for a bath in the inside tub!
It continued to rain all night, and into the next morning. Tim loaded the car during the slack periods, and by late morning, we took off on the short trip to Devonport. We parked downtown, and started looking for a place to eat when we realized that today was Anzac Day! Most of the shops and restaurants were closed! We had lost track of the date while on holidays, and had been thinking the holiday was on Friday, not Thursday. So, we ate at a Subway, stopped at a Tassie crafts shop for a few last postcards and sourvenirs (the girls each found a stuffed Wombat [both named their's Wombie] and a stuffed platypus). Then, we headed off to the Mersey Bluff Lighthouse guarding the entrance to the Mersey River where the Spirit of Tasmania docks.
After a wander around the lighthouse and grounds (including a group of very large Norfolk Island pines), we headed back down the hill to a playground we had seen on the way. And what a playground! It was packed with equipment - including carnival-like whirling ride which the kids pedaled to make go. It was by far the best playground we've ever seen. It was hard to tear the kids away, but we did, and headed for the Spirit. Once again, Tim dropped the girls at the gangway, and drove off - this time to sit for a considerable time before it was his turn to load. The ship sailed on schedule - and we watched with interest to see what the Captain would do to leave dock; recall that he had "parallel-parked" upon arrival, and was still facing upstream - a very narrow upstream, scarcely wider than the length of the ship. Well, he pulled out and upstream a bit, then spun the boat around, without touching either bank - and off we went! Sandy had noted the rougher water out in the ocean while we were docked; it was clear once we left the river (which we did just about when Tim was returning to the table with both hands full of dinner - he did quite a dance to stay upright and not spill anything when the ship hit the first swell) that this passage was going to be rougher. It never got too rough, but it made sleeping in a queen bed a challenge.
We arrived on schedule the next morning, and got off a bit sooner - plus no quarantine on the way back - so we got under way for Adelaide - we soon left the city, and the sign said 707 km to Adelaide. We stopped for lunch in Ararat, then stopped again in Dadswells Bridge to see the giant Koala - as Bill Bryson noted in his book "In A Sunburned Country", published as "Down Under" for some reason in Australia - Australia abounds with oversized tourist attractions, some in the strangest, most out of the way places. For some more, look here. Note also that the very last item on their page, The Giant Worm, is NOT an artifical worm - these are real worms, 6-10 feet long...) The girls were once again great travelers, and we made it home by 6 pm.
Postscript: We mentioned that while we were gone, our landlords were busy. They had all the warped / sprung hardwood floor replaced / reglued and refinished, plus the curtains for our family room arrived and were installed; they also redid the floor in our master shower, so it would drain properly, and installed large planters (with plants) throughout the courtyards. They did a fabulous job of taking care of the place in our absence, and making sure everything was clean to come home to.
The End (for now!)
Pictures from our April 2002 Tasmania Trip
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