December 2004 - January 2005
Pictures from our December 2004 - January 2005 Tasmania Trip
Shades of Kangaroo Island! As with KI, we knew from our first trip to Tassie back in 2002 that we would want to return. And as with our most recent KI trip, the fact that we had to travel on ferries ensured we were quite interested in the maritime weather reports immediately prior to the trip. We decided to actually celebrate Christmas in Tassie, since we've discovered that Christmas in Adelaide is frequently a little too hot for our tastes. So, on the 21st, we left Adelaide in our more-than-fully loaded Tribute (containing a few Christmas decorations, presents, stockings and even a miniature tree with decorations). One change since 2002 is that there are now three Spirit of Tasmania ferries operating - Spirits 1 and 2 operate between Melbourne and Tassie, and Spirit 3 between Sydney and Tassie. These ferries are newer, bigger and faster, meaning that they don't leave Melbourne until 9 pm and arrive at 7 am, making for a short night for those onboard. Unlike the previous ferries, which took several hours longer, they no longer serve dinner and breakfast to all passengers (although there is a restaurant / eatery on board if desired).
Once again, we asked Mike Booker of Tasmania Travel Company to help us plan our trip. Since we were going at the height of the tourist season, we wanted to stay in out-of-the-way places - especially so since Melbourne and Sydney have finally discovered Tassie as a vacation destination, with the result that Tassie is more crowded in general than on our last trip - never mind the crowds due to it being the height of summer school holidays. We eventually found a couple of places in the southwest and northwest which are still off the regular tourist trail. As before, the arrangements all worked out extremely well, and our thanks go to Mike once again. We highly recommend his services.
We managed to leave the house by 8 am on Tuesday the 21st. Since our ferry reservations were for that evening, we headed out on the most direct route, which still involved approximately 725 km of driving. We went southeast out of Adelaide, over the Adelaide Hills to Murray Bridge (on the Murray River - which is quite slow, wide and grey-brown by this point in its journey). We traveled across the Dukes Highway - a two lane road across farmlands and scrub - through towns such as Coomandook, Tintinara, Coonalpyn, Brimabago, Nhill and Gerang Gerung. There was a great sense of familiarity as we passed through each "town" - in many cases, just a grain elevator with railroad siding, a few houses, maybe a small IGA store and a bakery, and that's about it - perhaps we're becoming more at home with Australia and the unique Australian feel of the landscape (or possibly it is just that the towns are so much alike, and we've driven thousands of miles across similar territory over three years.) We were struck once again by how few people live outside of metropolitan Australia - even in the wide open expanses of the mid-western USA, there are more and bigger towns along the main roads (such as the Dukes Highway - there are essentially no Interstate-equivalent roads in Oz outside of metro areas around major cities). One out-of-the-ordinary item we came across was in one of the towns which had developed a "tunnel of murals" - a pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks, connecting a rest stop and a playfield, with pictures / murals hung along its length - the murals were all done by the townsfolk, from kids in primary school to accomplished adults. We enjoyed viewing the artwork, but unfortunately, we didn't write down the name of the town!!
We continued towards Melbourne, encountering little traffic, and stopping only for "petrol" (gas) and a couple of stretching breaks. At one comfort stop outside Horsham, we pulled up beside Green Lake. Or at least what claimed to be a lake. Here's a picture; in case you can't read the sign, it says "Boat parking and ski-departure area - No swimming". We didn't think that rule was in any danger of being violated, unless sand-swimming is popular in Victoria! We continued on (to quote Lewis and Clark from 200 years earlier), and made it into Melbourne without problems.
Finding our way to the ferry terminal took a little bit longer than it should have, but we arrived well before the ferry, which had gotten a late start from Tassie. We parked and went for dinner at a good waterfront cafe, then returned to find the ferry at the dock, drove onto the wharf and through security. This was a change from 3 years ago, when there was no evident security at all - although how much they actually expect to find by a simple glance under the "bonnet" (hood) and in the "boot" (trunk), we don't know. Perhaps because it is a ferry, not a plane, they figure if a car is not packed with explosives, it's no real danger! We also noticed a couple port security boats patrolling the water side of the ferry and dock, another change from three years past.
We waited in line quite a while, examining our fellow passengers - Queensland in particular seemed well-represented - not surprising considering how hot and humid it gets up there at this time of year. And the Queenslander's rigs seemed to reflect the "loaded for bear" Crocodile Dundee myth we expect of Queenslanders - all the 4x4s were very heavy duty, the travel trailers were equally ruggedized, with plenty of spares - these were definitely not the soft Sydney-siders out for an easy run on a well graded road with their spanking-clean SUVs! We finally rolled on board, took our bags, and went to our rooms (another change from the last trip - the new ferry is quite a lot larger, and the cars are not packed as tightly, so all car passengers ride on in the cars, rather than going up the gangplank separately from the car and driver.) We had a four-bunk room with "en suite" (bathroom), which was quite nice if very compact. Since we were essentially only going to be sleeping in it for a short while, size wasn't important. We did a quick tour of the ship, watched departure (a bit late at about 9:45) then went back to the cabin and bed.
Sidenote: A front had passed across the Bass Strait over the few days prior to our departure, raising gale warnings on the strait. We had been quite relieved when it moved fast enough that by our departure time, the seas had moderated, with waves of 1.5 to 2.5 meters, and swells of about 1.5 meters, which is essentially calm water for a ship the size of the ferry, which incorporates stabilizers as well. So we had no trouble getting to sleep, and no problems with excess motion as we had on the last trip to Kangaroo Island.
We set the alarm with the intention of getting up long enough before the ferry's estimated late arrival to allow us to have breakfast onboard - but they made up time during the night, and we had just started to rouse when the general announcement came, telling the passengers we were only a few minutes from docking! So we got dressed and packed, and soon were heading down to the car. We drove off more quickly than we had loaded, and were in Tassie once again!
Since we hadn't gotten up in time to have breakfast onboard, we found a cafe just around the corner from the ferry dock to have a quick light breakfast. Then, it was off to the south from Devonport along Route 1 - it was wonderful to be in Tassie again, and the relatively green foliage was a noticeable change from the mainland. We had to stop once again at the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm, which had been our first stop last time as well - we were wondering if it would have changed (perhaps for the worse) in three years, but it turned out to have improved. We had a second light breakfast (bringing to mind the eating habits of hobbits - "first breakfast", "second breakfast", "elevenses" - what next!?) The raspberries were wonderful, and we stocked up with a kilo of fresh berries for our Christmas dessert 3 days hence, and also some jam, then took to the road again. (We also noted yet another Queenslander in the parking lot - this time it was a bright orange three wheeled motorcycle with matching trailer which caught our eyes.)
In spite of wanting to explore new territory, our next stop was also a reprise from the first trip (this revisiting of old places was partially to reacquaint Lucy with them, as she was only 4 years old on our first trip, and only a few things stood out in her memory from that time). This was the convict-built town of Ross. The town has a lot of beautiful, historic stone buildings, such as the Ross Uniting Church. We particularly wanted to tour the Tasmanian Wool Centre once again, which has interesting exhibits on the evolution and use of wool within Tassie. Then we walked down to the stone bridge over the Macquarie River, built in 1836. Tim, Clara and Lucy explored downstream a bit, finding piles of "cotton" from some cotton-wood like trees along the river, along with a variety of waterfowl. Eventually, we realized just how late it was getting, and set off in a rush for Hobart. We maneuvered our way through town, past Sullivan's Cove, and on to the suburb of Sandy Bay, where we did grocery shopping for our week on South Bruny Island. From Sandy Bay, we continued south to the small town of Kettering, where we pulled into line for the Bruny Island Ferry. We just had time to get the girls a quick snack in the associated visitor's centre, then it was onto the ferry (quite a bit smaller than even the KI ferries); we ended up at the front of the ferry, with a perfect view of the oncoming waves (and right in their path when they splashed up over the ferry!) Everyone stayed in their cars, and in about 20 minutes we had crossed D'Entrecasteaux Channel and were on North Bruny Island.
Lunawannalonnah (as Bruny Island was known by the Aboriginal people) was first sighted and charted by Abel Tasman (whose name is widely attached to places in both Tassie and New Zealand) in 1642; signs about the island and the marketing literature state "Serving visitors since 1642..." in a game of one-upsmanship with the mainland (mainland in this case referring to Tasmania, not Australia itself). Many other well-known explorers also called in at Bruny Island, such as Furneaux, Cook, Bligh, Cox and Flinders. The Bligh in question is William Bligh, of Bounty fame; more on him later. Bruny Island consists of two bodies of land (called North and South Bruny Island) which are connected by a narrow strip of land known as The Neck. For the first 150 or so years after Bruny's first sighting by Tasman, it was thought to be a peninsula of the mainland. Eventually, Bruni D'Entrecasteaux proved that it was in fact an island, and not a peninsula - for which feat the island and channel took his name. The name was originally spelled Bruni (and pronounced Brew-NIGH) until early in the 20th century, when first the spelling changed to Bruny, and eventually the usage standardized on BREW-knee. Recall that Mathew Flinders and George Bass didn't prove Tasmania was an island (as opposed to a part of mainland Oz) until 6 years later when they navigated the Bass Strait - Bruny was a common stop for sailors and adventurers long before parts of mainland Australia were even discovered.
Once off the ferry (which docks on the North Island), we found ourselves in the midst of a cavalcade of cars / vehicles, all apparently in more of a hurry than we were, or at least more certain of their destination and the road surface! We wound our way southward, crossed the neck onto South Bruny, and found our way down Cloudy Bay Road through the towns of Alonnah and Lunawanna to Inala. To paraphrase from their website, Inala is a family owned and operated company that specializes in wildlife tours, run by Dr Tonia Cochran, a professional biologist. In addition to being a company, Inala is a "Land for Wildlife" property. At Inala is a 3-bedroom cottage located on 500 acres of land near the South Bruny National Park. This is where Mike had arranged for us to spend a week. As you will be able to tell from all the bird pictures accompanying this trip journal, Inala is a wildlife (and especially birdlife) haven, of which Tim took advantage. Inala translates as "place of peace", which it certainly was for us, and a much-needed restorative after a hectic year.
We arrived in good shape, met Tonia, and settled into our very comfortable cottage. The girls immediately started exploring and were delighted to discover an excellent climbing tree (see here and here) and creek in the backyard (the backyard just being the immediate property around the cottage; with 500 acres to explore, we only scratched the surface during our week on the island.) We were greeted by a flame robin, honeyeaters and lots of rabbits. Unpacking took a while, and we had a quick supper, and eventually to bed - the girls hated to come in and stop their explorations to sleep.
We had allowed for the next day, Thursday, to be a "rest day", to finish unpacking, get the Christmas tree and stockings up, and just recover from two days of constant travel. The girls put up the tree and decorated it, but couldn't wait to get outside, and started exploring the creek, which had, to their delight, fish. They started building boats of leaves and sticks to race down the creek, which then evolved into a very elaborate "stick game", which entertained them for the rest of the trip (and which they are still playing back in Adelaide - it involves a lot of sticks, each of which has a specific personality; the "family tree" of the sticks is quite complex, and they spent a long while working it out on paper.)
Tim decided to head over to the town of Adventure Bay to get a few groceries, petrol and see the lay of the land. He went across Coolangatta Road, a good gravel road that goes up and over the flank of Mt. Mangana, through beautiful temperate rainforest and eucalypt forest, with views out to Adventure Bay to the east and Cape Bruny to the south from near the top. Adventure Bay itself is really just a collection of houses with a store/petrol station, caravan park, museum and cafe. The beach and bay are beautiful, and historically significant; this is where Cook came ashore to rest and refurbish/replenish his ships, as did Bligh years later, en route to destiny on the Bounty. The Guide to Bruny Island History claims that Adventure Bay is "the most historical bay in all of Australia." In addition to the history, much of the south island is in reserves and South Bruny National Park.
Sidenote: When we planned our trip, we didn't realize what connections we would find between various historical events and the places we stayed. However, it turns out that Adventure Bay was heavily visited (and documented by artists no less than 17 times) prior to the settlement of Tassie in 1803. In addition, Bruny was the birthplace and home of George Robinson and Trugannini, who were instrumental in the later attempts to salvage the remaining Aboriginal population of mainland Tassie and move them to Flinders Island - and that activity was based near Marrawah (in the far northwest of Tassie), where we went on the second half of our trip. George Robinson's name was even captured in the name of the boat we took up the Arthur River - more later. And both Tonia and Geoff King, our host in Marrawah, are friends and colleagues, working towards restoring their parts of Tassie to support and preserve native plants and wildlife. Truly a small world!
Back to Adventure Bay: As mentioned, it was first sighted by Abel Tasman in 1642 - however, as he was trying to land in Adventure Bay, a storm came up and blew his ships back out to sea, leading him to go elsewhere. It wasn't until 1773 that the bay received its current name, from Furneaux, who named it after his ship. Furneaux was part of Cook's expedition which had left England in 1772 to explore the South Seas, but had become separated from Cook during the voyage; Furneaux used Tasman's chart, and hence arrived at Adventure Bay, where he bestowed it's current name, replenished his supplies, and continued on to New Zealand. From that point, visitors were frequent. Cook stopped here on the Resolution in 1777 (with William Bligh as sailing master). It was from here that Cook sailed to his death in Hawaii. Bligh returned in 1788 on a mission to bring breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies (documented in Bligh's Mutiny on the HMS Bounty book). He spent considerable time here, building a saw pit to saw lumber for the ship, taking onboard supplies and even planting (with his botanist Nelson) the first apple trees in Australia (he returned in 1792, at which point one of the apple trees was still alive; supposedly this was the first Granny Smith apple tree which would ultimately lead to Tassie becoming known as the Apple Isle). From here, Bligh sailed off on the Bounty and into a mutiny. The story of his survival in a small boat after the mutiny is told in the previously mentioned book. He survived, returned to England for exoneration and a promotion, and came back to Australia to be governor of New South Wales. However, his last contact with Bruny was again unfortunate - in 1809, he returned to Bruny to spend six months on his ship Porpoise after being deposed as governor.
And now back to the present - Tim thought that the area, beach and scenery sufficiently compelling to return back to Inala, gather up the girls, and head back again. Any mention of a beach (and the possibility of exploring/wading/swimming) is sufficient to get the girl's immediate attention, so we were soon heading back over Coolangatta Road! We stopped at the Cape Bruny overlook for a family picture, then continued down to Adventure Bay and the beach. In spite of it being a generally nice day (the temperatures throughout our stay were quite nice - no higher than low 70s, and perhaps into upper 40s at night), there were very few people about, and the girls had a good time exploring and paddling about (see here and here). They found the beginnings of what was going to become a sizeable collection of shells, sponges, etc for their "natural history museum" (see here, here and here.) We eventually returned to Inala to find haying in progress in the field next to the cabin. Tim and the girls went for a bit of a wander up one of the tracks on Inala, past some waterholes. They found quite a variety of birds - lapwings, ravens, fairy wrens, honeyeaters and a couple of kookaburras.
Christmas Eve started with thunderstorms, but then the sun came out, making all the foliage glisten. We had originally planned to go on a half day nature tour / walk with Tonia, to see the island and learn about the flora and fauna, but all three girls were still trying to recover from colds / sinus infections, so we decided a quiet day would be best. However, we did want to see some of the island, so after the girls played a bit around the creek, we loaded up and headed south to Cape Bruny. We stopped along the way at Mabel Bay lookout, then continued on to the Cape. Cape Bruny is the site of the second oldest lighthouse in Australia, completed in 1838. (Although the Lighthouses of Australia site considers it the third oldest...) Originally, the light had 15 lamps with parabolic reflectors, and burned a pint of sperm whale oil per hour. It was updated 1900-1902, and is the oldest continually-manned lighthouse in Australia. We walked up to the lighthouse for a look around (see also here and here), then headed back to the car and north to Jetty Beach. There were quite a few wild flowers about, including the spectacular Christmas Bells throughout the scrub.
All that remains of the jetty at Jetty Beach are a few timbers laying on the rocks at the west end of a beautiful, broad - and has been our experience more often than not - empty beach (that's Sandy, Clara and Lucy in the distance in the photo - see also here). Even at the height of summer there was no one else on the beach, and only a couple of the campsites were taken at the beautifully-sited campground overlooking the beach and bay from the low bluffs above. It was a little surprising to us that the campground in Adventure Bay could be packed, and this one almost empty - what a beautiful view to wake up to, and no traffic right outside your tent as in Adventure Bay! Granted, it was Christmas Eve, and there are fewer travellers about the week of Christmas - but we still saw very few people on any of the beaches we visited throughout our stay.
Then it was time to head back to Inala along the west side of Cloudy Bay Lagoon. We ate Christmas Eve dinner outside in the early evening sun and early to bed, in hopes that Lucy's letter to Santa Claus made it to the North Pole in time, so that he would know where to bring the presents! Christmas dawned with a beautiful, sunny day (we had checked the climate averages for both Bruny and Marrawah while planning the trip, and had come expecting the days to be largely cloudy, with rain at least a third of the time - this was part of the reason for the overloaded car - we brought a variety of clothing to suit all weather, and a lot of indoor activities, just in case! However, the weather turned out to be generally drier and sunnier than expected - but with very nice temperatures.)
We should also mention that we hung six stockings this year, rather than the usual four. Both Kirsten and Samantha (Clara and Lucy's dolls) also had stockings to hang which Sandy and the girls had made while Tim was in the States. We awoke to find all six stockings overflowing - and both Kirsten and Samantha received tiny dolls of their own in their stockings! We opened some of the stocking surprises, then had breakfast, followed by the remainder of the stockings, regular presents (see here and here) and then lunch. After lunch it was outside to play for the girls (see here), and another wander about for Tim in search of birds to photograph. Here are a few of those pictures: Black Headed Honeyeater, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, a bird enjoying the rain, Tasmanian native hens, a pair of juvenile Grey Fantails (who spent much of our holiday chasing each other and two friends about the yard) and two younger fantails fluffed up together against the cold (the third one flew away just as Tim was snapping the picture). However, in a continuing frustration for Tim, the flame robin was never again to show up while he was around - after that first night, it only came back when he was off walkabout in the fields or bush away from the cabin!
We then had Christmas dinner (including raspberry shortcake with scones made by the girls and fresh raspberries from the Christmas Hill Raspberry Farm), followed by games of Blokus (pronounced Block-us, we think), a strategy game that the girls got for Christmas, which was to be very popular throughout our vacation. Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) started cloudy, and we spent a leisurely morning about the cabin, before making a lunch and taking it to Cloudy Bay. Another common theme between the two locations we chose for our Tassie trip is that they are both near exposed beaches (i.e., there's nothing south of Bruny until you hit Antarctica; similarly, there's nothing west of Marrawah until you hit Argentina). Given this, the waves and surfing are some of the best in Oz. So, we were not surprised to find a number of surfers taking advantage of a little "surfer's cove" (near Whalebone Point) adjacent to the main Cloudy Bay beach (which, as expected, was nearly deserted; there were a few cars in the parking lot, primarily belonging to surfers - only a couple people could be seen walking a kilometer away down the beach. We wouldn't see many cars in any oceanside parking lot until we made it to The Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road on the way home)
Cloudy Bay has also been known as Bad Bay in the past; we're not sure of the origin - perhaps due to shipwrecks (it's hard to find a place around Bruny that hasn't seen a shipwreck or three!) Also, the water is distinctively reddish-brown, apparently due to algae in the water. As waves come in, you can see them change from blue-green to reddish-brown as they approach the bay itself and hit the algae; the girls also suggested it might be because of the clouds in the sky, since it was largely cloudy while we were there!) The girls enjoyed exploring both beaches - the main sand beach, with its freshwater rivulet running through it to the sea, and the surfing beach with rocks and ledges all about, lots of seaweed, rock pools, and interesting critters (or bits of critters.) See also here. Then we headed back to Inala via the other (east) side of Cloudy Bay Lagoon.) Once home, the girls dove into their stick game while Tim went walkabout, and followed some Green Rosellas around the bush. After dinner, Lucy read while Tim, Sandy and Clara played a round of Hand and Foot.
Monday brought more of the weather we expected - off and on rain and wind, heavy at times. We mostly stayed about the cabin, enjoying a fire in the woodstove (amazing considering the usual Christmas time temps in Adelaide would be in the 90s!) Sandy, Clara and Lucy did some cross-stitching, the girls did a bit of drawing, and we all did some reading and played games (more Blokus, another new game Sequence, backgammon and Hand and Foot.) Tim had been contemplating going fly-fishing at the Big Lagoon, on the south side of the North Island, just above the neck, but the wind was pretty bad. He decided to head up that way anyway, and stopped at the neck. The wind only got stronger as he climbed the stairs of the overlook, but the views were wonderful (note that the bit of blue sky in this picture is a bit misleading; this is looking south - turning north, the sky was completely black. He explored the ocean side beach a bit as well, but decided that the wind was probably too heavy to be worth trying out the lagoon, so he headed back to Adventure Bay by a new, very scenic route, got a few groceries, and headed back by an alternate route to Inala. We spent another restful evening playing games with the woodstove burning.
Tuesday saw another late start (we were really enjoying just relaxing about the cabin, and the girls were extremely content to continue their explorations and games - their games seemed to be taking in more territory and more "players" each time we looked. We eventually headed over to Adventure Bay and the Penguin Cafe for lunch, followed by a visit to the Bligh Museum of Pacific Exploration. The Bligh Museum is a private museum (currently in discussions with the government to become public) which is based around the collection and bequest of a Hobart dentist. The building was constructed in 1954 (the foundation brick was laid on Bligh's 200th birthday) using bricks originally made by convicts at the time of the building of St. Peter's Church in 1846, at the Variety Bay kiln on North Bruny. In addition to Bligh, the museum covers regional explorers in general, including Cook, Flinders, Mawson and others. There is an extensive library and collection of papers and maps as well. Since Tim has been reading Mutiny on the Bounty with the girls, this museum and the beach/bay really seemed to come alive for them.
We then headed north along Adventure Bay, past Coal Point, to the neck. Along the way, we saw parrots and a black rabbit. Once there, we climbed the stairs (150 or more - we didn't count exactly, only estimated!) to the top. These are known as the Trugannini Steps; at the lookout, there is a small memorial plaque to Trugannini, one of the most famous Tasmanian Aboriginals. She had a long, hard life, and when she died, she was thought to be the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal (that has since been learned to be incorrect). She was born on Bruny in 1812, the daughter of Chief Mangana (for whom Mt. Mangana on South Bruny is named.) When she was a child, her mother was killed by a soldier, and her sister carried off by a sealer. Later, when returning from a trip to the mainland (Tasmania), her party was attacked by white men, resulting in the death of her husband-to-be. As previously mentioned, she also joined with George Robinson, to aid in his (ultimately futile) efforts to save the remaining Tasmanian Aboriginals by relocating them to Flinders Island.
Returning to Inala, we finished most of our packing (it was hard to believe we only had one night left here!), and Tim went for one final walkabout while the girls were showering. They were quite disappointed when he came back with pictures of some Bennetts wallabies he discovered in one of the upper meadows! Then we settled into the usual evening routines, this time playing a game of Quiddler. Wednesday morning, we had breakfast, loaded the car, said goodbye to Tonia and her dog Bonza (an ex-Antarctic husky) and headed for the ferry. We arrived to find quite a line, and saw the ferry approaching across the channel. We got on without problems (the girls were disappointed we didn't get a front row seat this time!) and made the crossing quickly.
Since Marrawah (pronounced MARE-a-wah) was a long drive away (it is the westernmost "town" in Tassie, and the furthest from Hobart), over somewhat twisty roads at times, and with us needing to do grocery shopping before arrival, we had decided to spend a night halfway in between in Longford. So, we had some time to do a little exploration of the Huon Valley on the way (we had hoped to make a day trip off the island to explore the Huon valley and into the Hartz Mountains, but with the girls under the weather, and with a lot of driving ahead of us, we decided to save this for a future trip to Tassie.) The Huon River is the life blood of the Huon Valley and its orchards and fields. The area is beautiful (as was the weather), and the drive very scenic.
From the ferry terminal at Kettering, we first headed south to Woodbridge, where we stopped in at the Woodbridge Hill Handweaving Studio and Gardens, run by Anna Maria and Bob Magnus. We found Anna Maria in her weaving studio, working at a loom, which fascinated the girls. They primarily raise cut flowers as their business, and not surprisingly also have a beautiful hillside garden overlooking the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. In addition, Anna Maria does weaving, using wool, mohair and synthetics - rugs, shawls, cushion covers, etc. It turns out she was originally from Bern, Switzerland, where her mother (who is a quilter) still lives. She primarily works with lighter yearns but spends only 1-2 months making rugs each year, since it is very heavy work.
From Woodbridge, we headed north and west a few miles to the small community of Nicholls Rivulet, where we met Adrian Hunt of The Deepings. Adrian is originally from Sydney, but has been doing woodturning at The Deepings for over 20 years. It was fascinating to walk around his shop/office/showroom - on one side are all the machines and tools he uses, overhead, under tables and on walls are the raw or partially finished materials of his trade - blocks of wood, chunks of burl, partially finished bowls - and everywhere are hundreds of turned items. In addition to the woodturning, Adrian and Roslyn make the Deepings Dolls - these are small, turned dolls which have been painted. As we arrived, Adrian was making rolling pins, so the girls got to see a piece of lumber turned into a pin on a lathe. Then, they found the dolls - hundreds of them - including chess sets in different themes. They would have stayed there for hours, but eventually, we decided we needed to go - we found some beautiful Myrtle burl bowls while the girls each chose a 3-4 inch tall doll.
We stopped for a rather mediocre lunch at a cafe which shall remain nameless, but recovered from that with a visit to the Huon Valley Apple and Heritage Centre, where we had some of the best apples ever (Croftons), even though they are out of season by nine months. This is effectively an "Apple Museum", with a variety of apple-related artifacts and equipment on display such as sorters, grinders, peelers, and hail dispersing rockets. In particular, they have a working apple peeler/corer which was designed to be belt driven. It was made in the USA in 1909. One of the guides operated it for us, and it peeled and cored two apples in about a second - one can only imagine how fast the attendants had to be to keep up with this machine, since the apples had to be inserted on the prongs manually (they were cored, peeled and ejected automatically, though). There was also a "wall of apples" with over 500 varieties listed, each with its own spot - in season, they actually have most of those spots filled - since it was now the off season, there were only a few (a dozen or so) apple varieties on display. The Croftons which we had are not common any more - formerly, they were very popular due to their great keeping quality - the ones we had were certainly the best apples we've had in some time - they had more character than is usually found in the standard apples found in grocery stores these days. The Croftons are more of a heritage variety, like the Macintosh of northern New England which is also in short supply these days back in the States.
We also sampled some fresh-squeezed cider and apple butter - if we had better refrigeration available we would have taken cider with us, but we decided on apple butter only. The museum also had display rooms showing life as it was 50 to 100 years ago - quite a nice set of exhibits overall. But, eventually we had to move on again, as it was getting late and we still hadn't even gotten as far north as Hobart - and we had to go all the way to Northern Tassie by evening. We continued north towards Hobart, skirting around the sides of Mt. Wellington through the associated national park, dipped briefly into Hobart to get to Route 1, and then straight north to Longford. The Longford area is one we would like to spend more time in, but decided to avoid (other than one night) since we were coming at the height of tourist season.
Longford used to be a regular stop on the Formula One road racing circuit, and is still the location of Australia's oldest continuously-used horse track. It is also in the center of some wonderful fly fishing rivers - in particular, we were staying at Brickendon, which is located on the Macquarie River, with exclusive fishing rights for a portion of the river. As we drove into the Longford area, and followed the signs for Woolmers and Brickendon, the British heritage is clearly visible through the landscaping (such as the hedges along all the roads) and the large buildings. As Mike told us, this region reminded the early settlers of south-west England, so it is not surprising that it was apportioned and developed in a similar manner, with the rich immigrants taking large grants of land, and shaping them into vast estates, with houses and landscaping reminiscent of home. We were staying at Brickendon, one of two such estates still in the Archer family - the other is Woolmer, which is a national museum, run by the family trust. Brickendon is a working farm, with a restored "farm village" which is open to the public. We were staying in a pair of cottages adjacent to this village. The girls were quite excited, since this meant they would have their own cottage for the night!
We arrived a bit later than we had hoped, but found a note and the cabins waiting for us, so we moved in our minimal overnight stuff, then took a quick look around before heading into Longford to the Racecourse Inn for a good dinner. Afterwards, we returned to Brickendon and wandered around the farm village while the sun sank lower. The village is based around the original buildings that Archer built when he first arrived in the 1840s. This includes his original bachelor cottage, with many of the original furnishings, including a rather small bathtub the girls found interesting.
The girls enjoyed all the animals - pigs, sheep (including lambs), a very entertaining goat who stood on his back legs trying to reach something in a big tree, donkeys, chickens, two cats (which they immediately adopted and named) and a flock of ducks which followed us home. Apparently the ducks are used to spending the night on the lawn outside our cabin, where the sprinklers run in the evening. Eventually, the girls went to bed, followed by Tim and Sandy. We have a feeling the girls slept better than we did, since every time we heard a noise (particularly a group of active possums on our tin roof), we wondered if the girls also had some possums nosing around their cabin, causing them concern. In the morning, however, we found they didn't hear anything, not even the rooster that started going off not far from our window at 4:30 am! We had a quick very light breakfast and headed off up the road to - you guessed it - the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm, which was just an hour away, and on our route to the Northwest. There were only a few people there when we arrived, but the place rapidly filled up, even though it was fairly early in the morning - now that Christmas was over, the Aussies were shifting into full vacation tourist mode, and hitting the roads. We were glad that we were heading to a place far from the beaten path very soon! We had a good breakfast, picked up some more raspberries and raspberry jam, then took off to the west.
Our first stop was Burnie, the largest town in the northwest (with a population of just under 20,000) for groceries. We found a Coles and a bottle shop, stocked up, and continued west. We passed through Spreyton, with Tim stopping for a picture of the Big Apple (see our giant giant Australian Roadside Attractions for more items of this type!) Next stop was the town of Wynyard for a seafood lunch, and then a trip out to adjacent Table Cape. The geology of northwest Tasmania is unique, and a hint is given by the name applied to the region, Circular Head. This name primarily applied to the town of Stanley and its famous Nut, but the usage has been broadened by the marketeers to encompass much of the Northwest Coast. (Note: tourism marketing has increased significantly in Tassie since our last trip, with even more official "routes" for tourists of a specific persuasion - you can follow "the nature trail", or the "Huon Trail" or the "Wine trail"...) In this instance, Circular Head refers to a fairly common feature - the remaining core from ancient volcanoes. That is what these capes are; the most famous is Stanley's Nut, which is quite impressive when seen from a distance - quite like a tiny Uluru rising from the sea. Table Cape is also famous for its tulips, and a standard postcard shot is taken from the edge of the cape, overlooking tulip fields ablaze with color, and a very photogenic lighthouse overlooking the fields and the sea. We came a couple months late for the tulips, although a few were still blooming, as can be seen here. See also here.
We intended to do a more thorough investigation of the northwest coast, in particular Rocky Cape National Park (the next cape / circular head west from Table Cape) and Stanley, but as usual, we were running short of time, so we headed straight on to Marrawah, bypassing Rocky Cape and Stanley for the moment. We found our cabin (GlenDonald Cottage, run by Margo Jones and Geoff King), unloaded, figured out who was sleeping where while the girls explored (and discovered a huge Norfolk Pine which was to serve as the perfect "hotel" for their stick game), then headed to the nearest beach at Green Point to cook dinner. One of the great things about many Aussie parks - even ones a long way from anywhere, such as Green Point, is the provision of electric grills. When we first drove up here, we saw only charcoal/wood grills, and thought we might be out of luck - but a quick look around and we found an electric grill inside a shelter - and no one around to use it (although there were a few people around, again mostly surfers).
While Sandy cooked dinner, the girls went off to explore the beach. We had lucked out and arrived around low tide, so there were rock pools aplenty, with all sorts of interesting creatures to capture the girl's interest. In particular were some "eating creatures" which we thought might be sea slugs or sea cucumbers - but we had left our marine creatures guide back in Adelaide, along with a lot of our other heavy reference books. There were a variety of different-coloured starfish, small fish, various shellfish on the move, crabs, etc. As per the norm, the girls didn't even want to break for dinner! Eventually, we did get them to eat, spent a little more time on the beach, then headed back to GlenDonald cottage to settle down for the night and watch the light fading across the hayfields. Our first surprise was a couple of spiders - large enough to startle the girls at maybe 2 to 2 1/2 inches across, but not a patch on the wolf spiders of KI. These were Huntsman spiders, the "gentle giants" as Geoff King, our temporary landlord described them. We dispatched the spiders, and went to bed.
Friday morning, it was clear that while Sandy and Clara might be getting better, Lucy was not, in spite of more than a week of antibiotics. So, it was off to Smithton, the biggest town in the region this side of Burnie, which had a practice with four doctors, one of whom could see Lucy in spite of it being New Year's Eve. He agreed she was sick, and had an ear infection, so he renewed her prescription for another week. This time, Sandy got swallow pills (rather than the liquid, or the chew pills which, according to both Clara and Lucy, taste terrible.) However, Lucy had never swallowed a pill before, so it took a fair bit of coaching and practice with banana bits before she managed to get the first one down. However, a little more practice, and she was handling the pills like a champ. While in Smithton, we also picked up a few other supplies, including some fizzy apple juice and party poppers for our New Year's celebration.
On the way back, we stopped at Dismal Swamp, which is a Blackwood forest which has been turned into a sort of tourist attraction. It is billed as the Dismal Swamp Maze, and is an attempt to attract people to a nature preserve in a non-standard way. Unfortunately, it doesn't work all that well - or perhaps it's just not our cup of tea. The swamp consists of some hilly Blackwood forests, scattered through and around a swampy area. At the top of the hill there are parking lots, a building housing the admissions desk, cafe and gift shop, and the entrance to the maze. There are two ways of getting down the hill and into the swamp - a slide for those older than 13, and a path (with intermittent golf cart service for the weary). The slide is a hundred meters long, and enclosed; sliders pull on a coverall and helmet, then slide on stiff rubbery "sleds". It looks like a lot of fun if you like that sort of ride. At the bottom, you find yourself in a maze of boardwalks, with essentially no signage anywhere, and a rather cryptic map provided at the topside entrance. The maze winds about throughout the swamp, crossing itself, and here and there are "art works" - for example, wood carvings of eyes and faces on tree burls, an aluminum chair positioned to allow the sitter to view a 500 year old myrtle cluster, some mechanical crayfish moving in and out of mud-volcano-like burrows, praying mantis sculptures - and a 2D, life size cow "billboard." Now, many of these things are fun or interesting, and the swamp is certainly pretty, with interesting plants and wildlife - particularly these land-based burrowing crayfish which we eventually theorized were responsible for creating all the little mud volcanoes throughout the swamp. However - there was not one word of explanation or education anywhere - and at the shop up above, no useful notes or books - only a "FAQ" about the swamp which had no answers or information, only bits and pieces of word jazz and a fancy wood cover. We were quite disappointed to leave without actually learning much about the ecology and flora/fauna of Dismal Swamp - it seemed a great place to spend time and learn - but bring your own educational resources (the following link has good reference material, but appears offline at present: Forestry Tasmania website on Dismal Swamp - they provide a fair bit of good info, and we agree with their statements that Dismal Swamp is an amazing place - but we can do without their "...contemporary interpretation of an ancient environment..." We did have a good time enjoying the walk through the rather-dry swamp, and exploring many of the crayfish-related artworks (see, for example, here and here.)
Late note: in 2006, we discovered the following on the Foresty Tasmania website: "Lonely Planet writer, Tom Hall, has named Dismal Swamp as one of the top five destinations in the world for 2005. Writing for the Guardian in London, he notes “as unlikely as it sounds, the place to be in Tasmania this year is Dismal Swamp. This remote area, containing one of the world’s largest areas of blackwood swamp forest, is in the north west of the island and has just opened to visitors. “It’s a great place for a family, with a 110 metre slide that twists throughthe trees to the swamp floor.”"
We returned to the cabin, made pita-pizzas for supper, played a game of Quiddler, then celebrated New Year's (3 hours early) with fizzy apple juice and party poppers. Saturday started leisurely (which seems to be a theme for this trip!) with the girls working on the first version of their natural history museum (note the use of Norfolk Pine branch tips they found on the ground to spell out "Museum") under the big Norfolk Pine outside the door. After lunch we took off to explore more of the immediate west coast. We headed down to Arthur River (both a river and an adjacent, small town) to scope out the starting point for tomorrow's trip up the river, and also to visit the "Edge of the World." This is essentially an alternate name for Gardiner Point which is between Arthur Beach and the Arthur River mouth - from here you could, in theory, set sail to the west and hit nothing until Argentina. Not surprisingly, there was a fair amount of wind and waves. We explored around the Edge of the World rocks a bit, then headed a little south across a soft sand road in four wheel drive, until we got to the point Tim decided enough was enough, so we parked, and walked the last hundred meters to Arthur Beach itself. Another beautiful beach, this one with a lot of rocks, ledges and seaweed, and lots of seabirds (primarily gulls and oystercatchers) working the piles that had been pushed up on the beach - lots of bits of crabs and fish, lots of shells, etc. Tim and the girls explored quite a bit, while Sandy pulled her anorak tighter and tried to stay warm. (See here, here, here and here.)
Since we wanted to explore more beaches / coastline, we had to leave sooner than we would have liked. We retraced our path, managing to avoid getting stuck in the sand, and headed north back through Arthur River. Our next stop was Bluff Hill Point, an area of significance to the Aboriginals, with many important sites. We drove out to the lighthouse and looked around a bit, then headed back to the main road and north to the next beach at West Point. Yet another pretty beach, no people. We explored once again, then headed home for dinner and a game of 5 Crowns.
Sunday we got up more expeditiously than in past days, and headed back down to Arthur River for our cruise. We had been hopeful that it would be a less-than-full boat, but not surprisingly given the holiday season, it was overbooked, with one family misreading their tickets and coming the wrong day. We were pretty much the first onboard, so Clara, Lucy and Tim got to sit outside up front on the bow, while Sandy went inside for a little warmth. Eventually, the boat (named the M.V. George Robinson, after the previously mentioned gentleman who was part of the effort to relocate and save the few remaining Aboriginals) got under way.
The Arthur River winds it's way into and through the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area, part of the larger Tarkine Wilderness. This is an area made up of temperate rainforests, eucalypt forests and buttongrass plains. The wilderness area doesn't have any official standing, and the name has been given to it as part of a campaign by the Wilderness Society to protect this general area. As they say, "It is Tasmania's largest unprotected wilderness. It contains the last rainforest wilderness in Australia, and an incredible concentration of wild rivers." We can certainly vouch for the rivers - more on this later.
As we headed up the river, our tour guide gave us a brief introduction to the river and where we were going. After a couple bends in the river, we found our first Sea Eagle. These are magnificent large white birds, which mate for life and maintain a stable nest for many years. This particular eagle was over 40 years old; her mate had been killed a few years ago at the river mouth, and she had found a new younger mate, who was only 20 or so - her "boy toy" as our guide said. She was sitting on a dead snag high up on a hillside beside the river; the boat nosed in, and our guide tossed a couple scraps of meat on the shore in an attempt to entice her down, but no luck. We then headed on up the river, slowing down again near her nest - it was easily spotted - a huge collection of sticks in the largest eucalypt around (the eagles and the tree have a symbiotic relationship of sorts - each spring, the eagle cleans her nest, dumping all the bones, food scraps, droppings, etc. around the base of the tree - which in turn serves to fertilize the tree and help its growth.
Once past the sea eagle and her nest, things quieted down. We saw a few ducks, cormorants and other smaller birds, and enjoyed the tranquility of the river - we thought about how wonderful it would be to be here in a small boat, and just turn off the motor and drift, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature all around. We traveled 14 kilometers up the river, passing through various types of forest, until we came to the confluence of the Arthur and Frankland (not to be confused with Franklin) rivers, where we anchored, and went ashore. We walked a hundred metres or so to a picnicking area set up with tables and a cooking area. Then, while two of the crew prepared our BBQ lunch, our guide took us off on a walk through the forest, explaining about the flora and fauna of the region. She also mentioned that one of the commonest questions (and one she had, being originally from the Northern Territory) is "Where is all the wildlife?" The answer is that most of it is nocturnal or diurnal, coming out at dusk, and/or dawn, but staying mostly in dens, burrows, etc., during the day. This is true even of much of the birdlife. So while we saw a lot of flora, from large eucalypts (including the brown-topped stringybark eucalyptus, aka the Tasmanian Oak for furniture-marketing purposes), blackwoods, "Tasmanian Beech" (which, as our New Zealand trip journal reports, is unrelated to any other tree known as beech) to various types of tree ferns and fungi, we saw minimal wildlife. In fact, Sandy was the first to spot an baby currawong hiding in a bush on the walk back. We arrived back at the picnic area to find lunch ready, and we all enjoyed the "snags" (sausages), hamburgers, and various salads.
Then it was back to the boat, and back down river. As we left the mooring, we went around a corner, and spotted an azure kingfisher. Unfortunately, of the four of us, only Clara was fast enough to see it! We reprised our positions on the front deck for the journey back, with some other photographers joining Tim in trying to capture a sense of the river, in between discussions of digital vs. film cameras, lenses, etc. We noticed a couple of other kids getting a turn driving the boat (we also noticed a fair bit more swerving than normal, as well!) so Lucy and Clara each had a go at the wheel as well, doing a fine job. We stopped once again by the sea eagle's feeding ground, and this time she partially cooperated, flying down to a nearby tree to see what was happening. Then we continued back to the dock, offloaded in good order, and headed back to the cabin.
Then it was once again dinner time, followed by some Hand and Foot for Tim, Sandy and Clara (Lucy has decided she doesn't really like Hand and Foot anymore!) Then, after Lucy was in bed, Tim and Clara (with Clara in her PJs) headed down to Green Point to see if they could get some sunset pictures. However, they got diverted on the way by Tim's continuing impulse to prefer new, undiscovered roads to those previously traveled, and ended up at Nettle Bay, along with a few evening surfers enjoying the good-sized waves. Unfortunately, the sun and clouds didn't fully cooperate (although Tim did get a nicely-glowing picture of Clara sitting on a sea-side rock waiting for the sunset). They did a little exploring, and Clara did acquire a few more items for the museum, and then we headed home before it got completely dark. We found Lucy emulating Abe Lincoln in front of the fire (one of the great things about visiting Tassie in the summer, and especially the places we chose, is that the temperatures rarely go much above 20-21 degrees C - about 70 degrees F - and they cool down nicely at night - unlike Adelaide with its summer temps routinely topping 100 degrees F!)
Monday, Tim and the girls decided to go on a loop through the northern part of the Tarkine Wilderness, and see what they could find (particularly looking for rivers, after all the beaches and salt water we'd seen so far!) They headed south past Arthur River again, onto unsealed roads, continuing south to Couta Rocks, and then headed inland. We crossed the Rebecca and Nelson Creeks, which seemed to be barely trickles, then came to the Frankland River (the same one we had anchored at few kilometers down the day before.) We stopped and got out to explore. The first thing that strikes you is the brown water, colored by all the tannins leached out of vegetation upstream (analogous to the peat-colored waters of parts of Scotland.) It was a beautiful little river, very rocky, lots of green trees and underbrush overhanging it. From the Frankland, we continued on east, and came to the Kanunnah bridge over the Arthur River (again, a few kilometers upstream from yesterday's boat stop.) This scene was somewhat reminiscent of New Zealand, and all the one-way bridges over rivers - however, the foliage was not quite as green and dense. We stopped and walked out on the bridge, but didn't explore any further. One interesting feature of the bridge was a roundabout - here in the middle of nowhere, a roundabout for an approach to the bridge where three roads converged - it seemed a bit of overkill, especially considering we were there at the height of tourist season and had so far only seen one car all day!
From the bridge we continued on the south side of the river, stopping for a look at the Sumac overlook (where we encountered our second vehicle, a family in a caravan.) At this point we were getting into the area known as South Arthur Forest Drive, with several smaller reserves, generally organized around rivers. We passed by the Julius River and Lake Chisholm Forest Reserves, but stopped once again when we came to the Rapid River with it's bridge made of very large logs - this one reminded Tim greatly of the Forks of the Snoqualmie River in Washington State - as long as you squinted a bit so you couldn't see the foliage details, and ignored the brown water! Once again we explored a fair ways downstream, stopping to give Lucy a lesson in rock skipping (she eventually managed a skip or two.)
Then we headed out again, for what had been our ultimate destination all along - the Milkshake Hills Forest Reserve (aka the Milkshakes). Why is it called Milkshakes? Good question - Tim and the girls hypothesized various reasons on the trip out, but we never found out. On the way, we passed Lawson Airfield, a little airstrip out in the middle of nowhere - a nice place to fly into if you had a folding bike with you (or someone meeting you). As we drove into the reserve, the forest grew lusher, and the tree ferns began to dominate. We parked (only ones there, at a quite nice little picnic area with restrooms), and wandered off amongst the large trees (see also here) and very large (20 feet tall and a couple feet diameter!!) tree ferns. We followed a currawong into the bush, and Clara and Tim took turns trying to coax it back by matching its call, but to no avail. As we walked, we noticed more of the little "volcano" mounds signaling the presence of burrowing crayfish here as well. Eventually we came out on another road, and turned around to retrace our path. Fortunately, Lucy needed to use the toilet, so we wandered over there and found a couple of pademelons (small, chubby kangaroos) snoozing/eating in the low ferns nearby! We watched for awhile, until Tim got too close and they casually hopped away. By this time, another family had arrived and was setting up a picnic lunch, so we headed out. On the way, a blue-tongued lizard crossed the road in front of us; we managed to straddle it and then went back for the usual photos. A while later, Tim thought he saw a four foot snake trying to cross the road; he stopped and went back, wanting to see if it was a snake or a stick - since it wasn't there anymore, he concluded it was a snake; it was just as well it was gone, as ALL snakes in Tassie are poisonous.
Our next stop was the Arthur River once again, when we came to the Tayetea Bridge. We stopped to look around briefly, but we wanted to get back roughly when we told Sandy to expect us (especially since we had another special outing planned for the evening; more later.) We left the reserves / forests (where there was a lot of logging going on, or signs thereof - a couple sections had several acres set aside for each of several different methods of regeneration as an experiment - i.e., burning the brush then planting, planting amongst the slash, no replanting, etc.), and passed into the farming country of the Duck River valley (where Tim set Clara and Lucy into gales of laughter by telling them it was named for the famous cow painter George Duck, who had painted all the cows in the area - the ones with white noses were the ones he held by the nose and dunked when he was getting too lazy to paint a pattern - this sent the girls into hysterics, and they continued the story about George and his antics, passing it on the Sandy the next day when we crossed the Duck River again.) We passed by Irishtown and Scotchtown (along with Nabageena) and ended up in Smithtown, where we turned west for Marrawah and home. We arrived back at GlenDonald cottage in good stead, got cleaned up (the car was even filthier than it had been given all the dusty roads so far), had dinner and then at 7pm, Geoff King arrived to take us on our evening's adventure.
Geoff King is a 4th generation local, whose ancestors drove cattle down the coast around 1880, before there were any settlers in the area. They took up some land near Arthur River as a holding area for their cattle, which was known as King's Grass. In 1887, they decided the land near Marrawah had possibilities, and they decided to take up land there. He and his brother each farm about 800 acres on the coast below Bluff Hill Point, along with other land closer to Marrawah. They both ran cattle until about seven years ago when Geoff got to thinking about the land, the wildlife and the Aboriginal history evident in the area, and how it was being slowly eroded. At that time, Geoff decided to break with the family tradition of grazing cattle, convert his coastal land (which is known as King's Run) to a "land for wildlife" preserve (a concept the Tassie government supports to the level of providing signs to that effect - but nothing more to encourage people to preserve the land.) He has put some of the land under covenants, to protect it from development, clearing, or grazing forever; he has left a bit uncovenanted in case his two sons (currently 7 and 9) want to run cattle someday.
As part of his efforts to restore the land, Geoff is working to educate people about the land and its possibilities, and working to convert the general usage of the land to low impact tourism instead of grazing or people 4x4ing along the foreshore area. As part of this, he has become a true "Devil's Advocate" (as one of the people signing the GlenDonald guest book referred to him) - he runs Tassie Devil tours based on his coastal land. We got to experience this first hand when he picked us up at the cottage.
We loaded into his 4x4, and headed south towards Bluff Hill Point, while Geoff explained a bit of his history and how they had just gotten the road from Marrawah to Arthur's Point paved, in a more animal-friendly way. Previously, the gravel road would tend to blow out and require resurfacing twice a year; now, it is fairly wide, with broad white shoulders and a cleared verge to make it easier for people to see wildlife either on the road or about to cross the road at night. Geoff patrols this stretch of road daily, picking up the road kill (as in other parts of Oz, much roadkill occurs when scavengers, such as Devils or Wedgetails, land on the road to feed and become roadkill themselves.) In Geoff's case, the roadkill is used to feed the devils on his property (although he limits this to 5 nights every fortnight, so they don't become dependent on him.) We stopped at a rough track and turned west towards the coast. At this point, we got out and had a quick tour of the bush for birds - Geoff identified a number by call alone, and then pointed out devil tracks on the sandy road, along with lizard sign.
Geoff attached a dead wallaby to a rope trailing from the rear of his vehicle, switched to four wheel drive, and headed further into his property. The dragging wallaby would establish a scent trail to encourage the devils to follow us to the blind. We checked the sandy portions of the track every so often, and were encouraged to see that a number of devils had passed through since Geoff had driven on the track the previous evening. At one point, we stopped to let Tim out to sneak around the corner to a spot where Bennett's Wallabies (the largest animals on King's Run) frequently come out in the early dusk to feed. Tim managed to startle the wallabies, but wasn't quick enough with the camera, so we got back in the 4x4 and continued on to Geoff's shack (shack is the usual Aussie description of any holiday house or weekender - whether it's a true shack or a 5 star house.) In this case, Geoff's shack is in a beautiful location, adjacent to Church Rock, a large formation looking like a church and steeple. We wandered about the foreshore, while Geoff set the stage for the devils by hauling the wallaby to a point a few metres from the side of his shack and stringing up battery power lights to illuminate the carcass.
Geoff returned and took us on a tour of the immediate area, especially the foreshore, where he pointed out a variety of birds (including Red-capped plovers (can you tell the birds from the rocks!), lapwings and various ducks) and let everyone look at them through a spotting scope. The foreshore area up and down the coast is covered with Aboriginal middens, where the shells discarded by the Aboriginals built up over hundreds of years. It is crown land, meaning it is open to all. 4x4 vehicles are allowed on it with permission, which they frequently don't bother to request; Geoff and others are trying to reduce 4x4 traffic along the foreshore, to reduce disturbance of the Aboriginal sites and of the animals which make homes there. Geoff also pointed out his secret abalone hole, where he can usually go out at low tide and collect a good meal of eating size abalone in 4-5 feet of water (the girls were quite envious of this, since ever since New Zealand, they've scoured beaches for abalone shells - or Paua, the Maori word for it) He also pointed out various plants, including the Aboriginal "walking carbs" available on the land - pull up a stem of swordgrass and eat the bottom root portion - plenty of carbs to keep you going on a walk up or down the coast. We circled back around, and found more Bennett's wallabies about, getting pretty close to them once we got the wind in our faces. The wallabies tend to come out early, whereas the pademelons wait later in the evening. Along the way, we found the remnant of a devil feed - one wallaby paw and a piece of its jaw with lip attached.
As darkness drew closer, we headed back to the shack, took a few sunset photos, then went inside for a bit of tea (including some excellent garlic hummus Geoff had made). Tim set up his camera on tripod adjacent to the window, and Geoff placed one more light to the side to help out a bit, but left it turned off for the moment. Then he closed the curtains, turned on the baby monitor (the other end was tucked in the grass next to the dead wallaby), and we settled down for the "crunch" that would tell us a devil had arrived. In the meantime, Geoff showed us his amazing records - he's been doing this for over 5 years, several days each month, and keeping track of what time various devils show up (or in some cases other scavengers such as quolls.) His record is 22 devils in one night! He's had scientific observers to his shack, and an IR camera crew recently (there will be a special on devils on the ABC on 26-January-05 for those in-country, which may include some pictures from his place.) He also showed us the wildlife list he's developed over the years - it is an amazing number of animals and birds that call King's Run home. A recent visitor, a naturalist from New Zealand, remarked that the list was bigger than the species list of the national parks in New Zealand! He had a cast of devil footprints and a devil skull which intrigued the girls - you could see how the jaw was designed to give the devil the tremendous leverage it needs for cracking and chewing bones - it is 40% stronger than an equivalent-sized dog. They have large canines in front for tearing, and grinding/crunching bones in the middle for cracking bones.
And then - the crunch came. Geoff and the girls peeked through the blinds - yes, there was a young female Tassie Devil there. Geoff went to the back of the shed to turn on the other light - and either the light or a noise must have startled the devil, since it was off like a shot. We settled down to wait some more, and pretty soon the crunching sounds came back. This time, we opened up the blinds, and the devil stayed put. Thus began a fascinating evening - a couple hours flew like nothing. Geoff knew most of the devils on sight, since he keeps detailed records, and each devil has its own personality. In the early years, he did a lot of videotaping, but has now gone to a paper description system which allows him to keep track of individual devils without watching through horrendous amounts of tape. First was the young female, who was later frightened away by a very old male. (A devil's life expectancy is no more than 5-6 years.) Geoff remarked that it wasn't long since this devil was one of the "kings" of the local population - now he is quite scarred and battered, and probably getting close to death. After the old devil, a mature male devil arrived. The devils seemed somewhat skittish, which Geoff said was a bit unusual. They kept pausing and looking at the blind, or checking the grass around them for other approaching devils. We could sometimes see an approaching devil before the feeding devil could. They tend to be solitary feeders, with usually a maximum of two on a carcass at the same time, and that not often. They also tend to wander all night long, so could feed multiple times.
We began hearing sounds and getting glimpses of another devil lurking about in the grass; after a while, Geoff identified her as a mature female. We watched the interaction over an extended period, with the female moving closer and then retreating, growling and yawning (opening her mouth wide to show all teeth). Both animals were a bit skittish, and moved away and back, but eventually, they both settled down and fed from the carcass together. After the male left for the last time (it was clear he had already fed recently before arriving, since his belly was bulging; devils can eat up to 40% of their body weight at a sitting, and need 15% per day to survive - and the body weight of an adult is about 10-12 kg), the female continued feeding. She remained skittish, and we got the sense (as we had throughout the evening) that there were a number of other devils around the area, who we would hear or see glimpses of, but which never came in while we were there. The wind was blowing pretty well, which may have made them skittish, since they rely on hearing and smell to navigate and tell if food or danger is about, and the wind was interfering with both. Once the female was as settled as she was likely to get, Tim went outside and crept around the shack in the dark, making his way towards the feeding female, in hopes of getting one better shot with flash (even with the battery-powered lights it was still so dark that relatively long exposures were required, so the only roughly un-blurred pictures were those where the devil was standing absolutely still, usually because we had intentionally made a noise to get its attention.) She continued to feed, but was showing signs of realizing Tim was there, so he took a flash picture from a distance, and she was instantly gone. He waited a few more minutes, but she didn't return. Since it was already after midnight, we packed up and left. We made a separate page with all the devil pictures; since they were all taken at night under low light, they are not very good, but they give a feeling for the variation in devils and the scene where we watched them.
During the evening Geoff told us some stories about the devils, including one female who took up residence under the shack! The devils are generally free-ranging, and only hole up when they have young (and then only the females). This female therefore got first cut at any wallaby he laid out in front of the shack. One night he watched her take on a full load in about an hour and a quarter, and thought, "Surely that will keep her for a couple nights" - but the next night, there she was again - eating for five, apparently! Each breeding female will have on the order to 30-40 young, but only four will find a teat inside her pouch and survive. At birth, the four would fit on your fingernail. Not a lot is known about devils in the wild. At some point, they are weaned and transition from mother's milk to food she brings back (and presumably regurgitates for them). Then, they are kicked out, with minimal skills. Younger, smaller devils can make a meal of the large moths that frequent the area about that time, but many end up straying onto roadkill and becoming roadkill themselves.
On the return trip, we followed a different path, and Geoff held a spotlight out to the side, scanning it around to see what wildlife was about - it was amazing! We saw scores of wallabies and pademelons, and four wombats! As part of our return trip, we crossed over into his brother's land, which is adjacent to his, and continued "spotlighting" for animals. We saw one wallaby - and that was it! It was a very dramatic demonstration of the difference between land set aside for wildlife, and land on which cattle graze and take the majority of the animal food. We came back out via the Arthur River campground, and headed north again, taking care to avoid animals on the road. In addition to some wallabies/pademelons and a joey kangaroo, we saw a juvenile Tassie Devil (probably very recently ejected from its mother's care; it tended to run straight down the road, knowing no better, and Geoff said this was a typical and often fatal thing; he managed to herd it off the road, hopefully to a safer hunting ground!) Geoff mentioned that he came across on the order of 20-30 dead devils a year in the area. The current big concern is the disease which is decimating the devils east of the mountains, over near Cradle Mountain. There, the devils are dying from a facial tumour which has caused the population to crash. So far, no cases have been seen by Geoff, but it is a growing concern.
We also saw a young wombat on the road, which appeared confused by the bitumen surface - it had come out to the edge of the road, and was just standing there examining it - Geoff noted that it was possibly the first time it had come across a paved road. And we found one recently dead wallaby, which went into the back of the truck for later. As we drove into the cottage, a pademelon took off from where it had been browsing by the back door - a fitting end to a wonderful night! The efforts of people like Geoff King and Tonia Cochran give us hope that there will be a beautiful Tasmania for others to experience and enjoy in coming years!
The next day was to be our last at Marrawah - the trip had gone all too fast. So we spent it about the house packing, with the girls continuing their stick game, until it was time to pack up the museum for transport home, and return the sticks to their homes. We had noticed another bit of "small world" synergy in GlenDonald cottage's guestbook - Mick "Q" and his wife Vanessa had visited earlier in the year. Mick is the one who painted the wonderful dot art picture we bought on our first Tassie trip. It turns out Mick has family in the nearby town of Montagu, just north and a bit east of Marrawah. We had mentioned Mick to Geoff, and he said that Mick and Vanessa were thinking of establishing a similar tour over on the east coast where they currently live. Tuesday night was quiet, with a game of Quiddler and then bed.
Wednesday morning we were up and off fairly early - just in time to catch Geoff leaving his barn down the road, and thank him again for a wonderful night. Then it was straight on to Stanley. As previously mentioned, the first thing you notice on approaching Stanley is the Nut - this volcanic core dominates the town. We had been thinking of either walking up the Nut or taking the available chairlift, but settled instead for having a snack in its shadow, then heading on east so we would have time to visit Leven Canyon, a scenic area which Mike had suggested as an alternate place to stay - we wanted to see it both for the scenic values and for future reference. For this reason (lack of time) we also decided not to investigate Rocky Cape National Park, which we had missed on our way out. Unfortunately, the weather started deteriorating (although we had had a repeat of our first trip Tassie luck, and generally had great weather throughout the trip.) We decided it was worth a visit anyway, so we headed east through Burnie to the town of Penguin, where we had lunch at the Wild Penguin Cafe (and where there is a giant penguin in the center of the town, and penguins on all the waste cans - can you sense a theme here? This is also a spot where the fairy penguins come ashore, not surprisingly.) We then headed south through Gunns Plains, which proved to be a beautiful, somewhat bowl-shaped and isolated farming valley. We came down one side of the valley, crossed the center, and went back up and out the other.
We eventually arrived at the Leven Canyon trail head. We grabbed our coats against the wind and spitting rain, and headed up the path to the Canyon overlook about half a km away. When we arrived at the overlook 20 minutes later, it was misty and windy - however, it was an impressive vista, with a very pretty river several hundred feet below. We made our way back to the car park, then continued a bit further down the road to where we could see up into the canyon, and tried to spot the overlook we had been standing on, without any success, however. From Leven Canyon, we headed back north and east, aiming for Devonport by an alternate route.
Sidenote: Throughout our Tassie trip we saw fields covered with what appeared to be poppies. We had noticed these fields our first day back in Tassie, and noted that some were not yet in flower, but only showing large round buds at the top of two foot tall stems, and other fields were covered with white flowers. At the time, we hypothesized these were poppies - but it was not until we passed the fields of NW Tassie, and noted the signs on each field saying "DANGER - Prohibited Area - KEEP OUT - Illegal Use of Crop May Cause Death" that we became more certain. On our return, we did a little online research and discovered that Tassie is one of the largest legal producers of medicinal poppies and poppie seeds in the world (along with India and Turkey), producing about 50% of the world's morphine, codeine and thebaine supplies. See here for an interesting article on the history and current status of Tassie Poppy growing.
We arrived in Deveonport right by the Don Railway by complete accident. This was yet another place we had hoped to have time to explore - the Don railway is a combination railway museum with a working steam train which takes passengers on a few mile trip. However, we were running late enough that we decided to head straight into town to visit a craft store we had visited on the previous trip for a few last postcards, books and a couple gifts. Once we finished, we went in search of a restaurant for dinner. We were congratulating ourselves on not coming on an Aussie holiday (unlike last time, when about the only open restaurant in town was Subway!) However, we noticed a lot of closed stores and restaurants as we went along - finally realizing from the hand-lettered "Closed" notices on some doors that we had arrived on a local holiday - Devonport Cup day! Just as Melbourne shuts down on Melbourne Cup day, and Adelaide shuts down on Adelaide Cup day - so does Devonport! It was started to look like Subway all over again, when we found an open Yiros shop(as the Aussies spell Gyros), which are a quite common thing throughout Oz. This one offered a variety of "international" yiros (including an American one with ketchup - or tomato sauce, as the Aussies call it). We had a good meal, then headed over to the docks on the Mersey River where both Spirit of Tasmania 2 and Spirit of Tasmania 3 (from the Sydney run) were docked.
We pulled into the "queue" (line), and parked. Eventually, the security team made it back to us, and did a cursory inspection of under the hood and inside the back again. Then we got to sit and wait for 45 minutes or so, before the line started moving. We noticed 8 or 9 Corvettes up at the front of the line, and when we finally worked our way onto Spirit 2, it turned out we parked right behind them. Apparently it was a group of people who belong to various South Australian and Victorian Corvette clubs who had gone to Tassie for holidays. We were loaded on deck 1 this time, instead of deck 5 as before, so we figured (correctly) that we would be among the last off the ship in Melbourne. We went upstairs and found our room, then explored the ship a bit. Eventually, we departed, which required the captain to swing the ferry 180 degrees in mid-river (which wasn't much wider than the ferry was long - as we spun past Spirit 3, we noticed some scrapes on its port aft side - perhaps the captain hadn't quite gauged the turn right once before?? This time at least, there was a crew member standing in the aft corner, watching as we turned.) Then we were headed down the Mersey to the Bass Strait, and on our way back to the mainland. We were pretty tired, so we headed back to our room, read a bit and then went to sleep.
Since the ship had gotten off roughly on time, we had an even earlier arrival, so we were up and ready to go well before seven. However, as expected, we had to wait for all the other car decks to unload first. Our turn came, and we drove off the ship and onto the freeway, headed west towards Geelong, the second biggest city in Victoria. Once again, we hadn't had time for breakfast on the ship, so we were hoping for a cafe or restaurant where we could get something to eat. We stopped in Geelong to see if the visitor's centre could help direct us - but they weren't open yet. They did have a playground for the girls, and something of interest for Tim - a still from the old Corio distillery mounted next to the play equipment! A plaque on the base of the still stated:
This 2000 gallon steam jacket copper pot still was one of the original units imported from Scotland in 1928 by the Distillers Company of Edinburgh, when it established the Distillers Corporation at Corio. It was used to make the famous Corio Whisky until 1949 when it was replaced. The Corio Distillery closed in 1980 and the plaque commemorates the link between the shire of Corio and the Scottish Distillery Company over a period of 52 years.We also discovered that Geelong is the home of the Ford Discovery Centre. This is a literally a centre to show how cars are made, along with many museum type exhibits; it's located in Geelong due to the large Ford plant there. However, we didn't feel we had time to stop (even if it had been open), and still needed to find breakfast. The miles rolled past, with everyone getting hungrier and hungrier before we finally found a small cafe in the town of Torquay, advertised as the start of the Great Ocean Road. However, the true Great Ocean Road is a much smaller segment, which has, we found, expanded in both directions to take advantage of the fame and marketing. As Tom and Rob of "A River Somewhere" said, towns that have nothing else to offer can always call themselves the gateway to somewhere else and make a living.
As we passed Anglesea, the road moved closer to the ocean, and we began to feel that we were at least on an ocean drive. From the marketing brochures, one is led to expect a few hundred kilometers of breathtaking cliffs and beaches, with the road following hairpin curves as it hugs the edge of the ocean. The reality is much less dramatic until you get considerably further west. We were running into a lot more traffic, and more people in each of the villages we passed (they seemed quite full in fact - people and cars everywhere.) We made a couple stops to walk down to the beach, use toilets, and take pictures (see here and here), but nothing exciting until we got near Lorne, and drove into a "tunnel" of eucalypts hanging over the road - Tim remarked on the very strong eucalypt scent in the air, and next thing we know, we turn a corner and see several vehicles parked beside the road, with people out and looking up in the trees - koalas! We stopped, and walked back - the koalas were quite unperturbed by all the people, and the traffic just a few metres below them - they wedged themselves (precariously, it seemed to us) into the fork of a swaying branch over the road, and went to sleep!
We continued on, passing the town of Apollo Bay, at which point the road moved away from the coast again, and into the Otway Ranges and Otway National Park. This is a very pretty area, which would be well worth another visit - there are waterfalls and an "Air Walk" of the sort that are becoming popular in various parts of Oz - but it was too far off the main road for us today. We did see a Wedgetail eagle, a fox, and several kookaburras. The road continued on through a mix of forest and farmlands, generally quite green. We stopped for a forgettable lunch in a cafe in one of the small towns, then resumed our westward trek. Eventually, we came back to the ocean near Princetown, and the environment and scenery both changed dramatically as we entered Port Campbell National Park. We were into the most famous section of the Great Ocean Road, where the road travels along the tops of sandstone cliffs, with many impressive wind-and-water carved towers and arches along the coast. Our first stop was at the Twelve Apostles, a set of 12 large "rock stacks" in a group. There is a visitor centre, and walkways out onto a point which has yet to be separated from the mainland by erosion. The weather was nicely dramatic as we stopped, with lots of clouds, occasional rain/mist in the distance, pretty good seas - and a very strong wind. Plus, the place was absolutely packed with people. Tim got stopped half a dozen times by people asking him to take their group photos (apparently they thought his SLR camera suggested he was a pro, and would take a good picture.) We wandered about, admiring the scenery, while the girls carefully counted the apostles, and came up two short. Eventually we learned that two of the stacks can only be seen from the sea side - or from the beach or the air. As we were leaving, and Tim was taking a picture of Sandy and the girls in front of the Apostles, a man came up and offered to take a picture of all of us - and he turned out to be an American from Oregon! Here and here are pictures of some of the Twelve Apostles.
From the Twelve Apostles, we headed towards the next set of attractions, Loch Ard Gorge. We pulled in, and had a bit of a walk around. The girls walked down to the beach, while Sandy observed from the top of the cliffs and Tim wandered about taking pictures. There are hours of trails here, with a variety of different places worth exploring, including Thunder Cave and a Blowhole where the water will blow through with the right tides. However, our litany of not enough time continued, so we gathered everyone up and continued on to Port Campbell. The landscape continued dramatic where the sea meets the land; inland, it was pretty scrubby and dry. Port Campbell turned out to be a pretty little tourist town, with a nice in-town beach, and lots of people; it looked as though it could be a nice place to stay, and well-positioned to thoroughly explore the national park if one were to return in the off season. West of Port Campbell, we stopped at The Arch, and walked out to watch the action of the waves on the arch, and admire the color of the ocean. A little further west is London Bridge - another arch which collapsed in 1990, stranding a couple of tourists on the remaining stack, and requiring their rescue by helicopter - fortunately, no one was hurt. Bay of Islands came next - a bay full of little islands and rock spires. At this point, the road once again diverged from the coast, essentially marking the end of the Great Ocean Road. We continued through Nirranda, Nullawarre and Mepunga, stopping in Allansford at "Cheese World" - essentially a large country store, selling various products including a wide variety of locally-made cheeses. There was also a small museum attached, which the girls found interesting - yet another opportunity to explain to them what those strange things that looked like computers were - typewriters! There were also a couple of wood carvings which caught the girl's attention. From Allansford it was only a short drive to our overnight destination, Warnambool.
We checked into our motel, made dinner reservations at the seafood restaurant next door, then headed off to explore a bit. After our experience that morning, we first wanted to locate a cafe that would be open when we expected to be ready to leave in the morning (recall the trouble we've had trying to get breakfast on the weekends in Adelaide before 8:30 am). We found Puds Coffee Shop, which opened at 7:30, and claimed to have famous coffee as well as hot breakfasts, so we made a note and then continued our explorations. The town is right on the coast, so we headed to the beach, where it was cold and windy and high tide - we explored a bit, but then headed back into town. On the way, we passed a large park, full of interesting activities which caught the girl's attention - but we needed to get back to the motel. We drove down a very pretty street, lined with huge magnificent Norfolk Pines. We had dinner, and then early to bed, so we could get a relatively early start in the morning, since we still had nearly 600 kilometers to Adelaide, and wanted to make a couple stops en route.
We got an early start, and made it to the coffee shop before they opened. After a good breakfast, we were on our way. Our next stop was Mt. Gambier, which is just over the border in South Australia, and is the largest town in the southeastern part of the state. From Mt. Gambier, we had a decision to make - whether to continue along the coast past the Coorong, or turn inland, over what would likely be a faster route (with fewer towns and tourists on the road.) We were leaning towards the inland route when we stopped in at the Mt. Gambier visitor centre; there we discovered that the place we had thought was in Mt. Gambier (the Mini Jumbuk Centre) which we wanted to visit was actually in Naracoorte - along the inland route - which made our decision easy. The lady at the visitor centre did try to interest in some of the attractions Mt. Gambier has to offer, but mostly to no avail. We did visit a small Aboriginal art gallery which showcased local artists, but then we headed north to Naracoorte. We really gained a feeling for Mt. Gambier being the centre of the logging industry in SA - we passed plantation after plantation in various stages of growth all around the area.
We were back on the familiar country roads - a two lane road through sparsely-populated and relatively dry farm country (see here for a glimpse of the past and the present - although many paddocks still have operating windmills, such as this one.) Coming into Naracoorte, we decided to eat lunch first, then headed for the Mini Jumbuk Centre. The centre started out years ago as a producer of handcrafted souvenir sheep made with pure wool, which was the original source of the name. Since then, they have expanded into woolen bedding and other products. Their factory is attached to the shop, and normally it is possible to watch the products being made - but we had the poor timing to arrive on the last day of their annual two week Christmas shutdown - so no work was being done! We still had a look around, and the girls each got a small piece of sheepskin for blankets for their dolls, and Sandy got a great bargain on some wool batting for quilts - however, most of the small sheep available to buy were actually made in China - pretty sad, considering how the company started out!
From Naracoorte, we headed north through the Coonawarra and Padthaway wine regions to Keith, where we left the Riddoch Highway and rejoined the east-west Dukes Highway we had left Adelaide on. We saw a Wedgetail eagle, trees full of cockatoos, and galahs - along with lots of farms. We were also struck by the relative dryness of the countryside, after a couple weeks in green Tassie, and then another couple days in the relatively green Victorian coast (just the opposite feeling we had on our trip back from Alice Springs, when even the dryness of country SA seemed very green in contrast to the Red Centre!) We stopped in Talliem Bend for a restroom break, and ended up going to another Aboriginal arts store, this one pretty much a one woman operation run by Muriel, who produces artwork under her grandmother's traditional name of Mothelang. Muriel was very outgoing, and we had quite a long talk with her - she has done murals for one of the big Adelaide hotels, and tends to work on paintings on fabric, along with reproduction prints, cards and wrapping paper. She showed us a beautiful woven rush basket/mat her son had done, which took 150 hours to complete.
Finally, it was just a short run through Murray Bridge, up and over the Adelaide Hills, and we were home again - after 3600 kilometers and many lasting memories.
Pictures from our December 2004 - January 2005 Tasmania Trip
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