Chance Meetings

Monday 5 January 2015

The day has dawned bright and sunny for our last day in Launceston.  Our flight is no until late afternoon so we have the day to fill.

Firstly we check out and wander down town.  On the way we chat to a elderly man doing his rounds selling his home made muffins – just a bit of play money he says.  Howard has not had his quota of pies yet so we find a bakery to take up the slack.

Then we head down to Cataract Gorge (#1 tourist attraction in Launceston) which is just on the outskirts of the town centre.  Its a lovely stroll through the gorge – along the way we see a couple of seals sunning themselves on rocks along the river.

Kings Bridge

Kings Bridge

Can you spot the 2 seals on the rocks?

Can you spot the 2 seals on the rocks?

Looking up Cataract Gorge

Looking up Cataract Gorge

Its school holidays of course and its obviously a favourite spot for the local teenagers.  They are jumping into the gorge from a variety of launching rock platforms, music pumping and chip packets and soft drink bottle a plenty.

At the end of the walk there is a lovely park “The Basin”, and to our great surprise we run into Marissa and Ben, who are also taking a stroll around the park.  The happy couple are enjoying a few days off, living on Ben’s boat that he intends to take off into the great blue younder when its ocean ready.

The Basin gardens

The Basin gardens

Finally some wildlife

Finally some wildlife

The Basin

The Basin

Taking the short cut back (the steep bush track) we traverse up and over the cliff on the other side of the gorge.  Its hot and dry walk so we are keen for a drink and find ourselves a pub for a brew.  The good thing about Launceston is there is plenty of pubs!

We still have quite a bit of time to kill before our flight home so we head back across town to the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania.  Its not really my scene so I chill out in the City Park across the road while Howard goes in.  Upon his return, H reports to time that apart from a few old Ford GT’s there is not really much there.

Its now time to go to the airport for our flight to Melbourne and then transfer home to Brisbane.  The airport by all reports is brand spanking new and although check in is fairly efficient, going through security is painfully slow.  We find ourselves still waiting in the security cue after the scheduled departure time of the plane.  They only have 1 scanner working and 3 planes ready for departure at the one time – what a shambles.

Luckily we make our transfer with plenty of time and apart from loosing my glasses (again) everything goes as planned.  We are back in our home by 9:30 – work tomorrow – bummer!

Josef Chromy

Sunday 4 January 2015

This morning we go for a walk through the City Park.  Its small, but very interesting, lots of beautiful trees, an exhibit of Japanese Macaque monkeys plus a duck pond, monuments, a conservatory and children’s playground.

City Park Jubilee Monument

City Park Jubilee Monument

Japanese Monkeys

Japanese Monkeys

Enclosure

Enclosure

After our walk, which we needed to work up an appetite for lunch at Josef Chromy Vineyard.  This is well worth a visit, and just a short taxi ride from the centre of Launceston.  This is going to be our only real culinary experience in Tasmania and we are looking forward to it.  The Vineyard Restaurant is surrounded by summer browned rolling hills with green grape vines everywhere you look, beautiful gardens and a picturesque lake.

Josef Chromey Cellar Door

Josef Chromey Cellar Door

Restaurant from the back

Restaurant from the back

Vista across the lake

Vista across the lake

Vines vines and more vines

Vines vines and more vines

We have a table booked for 1.00 pm and after a short walk around the grounds we are seated in the restaurant and enjoying a glass of the local bubbles and some magnificent oysters from St Helens and Barilla Bay.

Soooooo good

Soooooo good

After perusing the menu we decide on the “Sassafras Smoked White Fish” and “Peas, Ham, Curds and Whey” for entree and “Braised Pork Belly” for H and “Robbins Island Wagyu Porterhouse Steak” for me.  Yum.

Sassafras Smoked White Fish

Sassafras Smoked White Fish

The food is exceptional and we have been hanging out for some decent wine so we order a bottle of Pepik Pinot Noir (2006) from Josef Chromy of course!  After a very enjoyable lunch in this magnificent setting we head back to our hotel to rest our very full tummies.

We are not very hungry in the evening so we go for a long slow walk around the deserted city streets and eventually find a small Japanese restaurant (Kai Zen Sushi Bar) where we have some sushi and a beer.

Boags

Boags

 

Bay of Fires Walk – Kayaking

Friday 2 January 2015

After a very comfortable nights sleep we are up and ready for breakfast.  Some of the girls were up at dawn for a yoga session, but not me I’m sleepin in (well until 7:00 anyway).

After feasting on scrambled eggs, toast and roasted tomatoes we gather at 9:30 for todays adventure.  We head inland to meet a bus that will take us down Ansons River for a spot of kayaking.  Its about an hour’s walk (that is becoming a very familiar expression – everything is about an hour – even after you have walked for an hour it’s still about an hour!) first through the beach scrub then through some lovely forest.  Its pretty warm but Ben is setting the pace so its pretty leisurely.

Forest walk

Forest walk

As the kayaks are unloaded we are all given a crash course on how not to capsize.  In our kayak I’m at the front (I set the pace) and H is at the back (he’s in charge of steering) unfortunately the rudder peddles are stuck and we are constantly veering right.  After about 5 minutes of paddling and seemingly getting nowhere I come to a personal realisation – I’m not fond of kayaking. In fact I loathe it!

Ansons River

Ansons River

Ansons Bay

Ansons Bay

By the time we stop for a short break where the river meets Ansons Bay I realise I hate kayaking.  By the time we make it half way across the bay I am in the middle of a personal crisis and have a meltdown.  Poor Howie has to take over and do all the work.  I would rather hike another 15 km than spend another second in a frickin kayak.  It is only 6 kms but the combination of our constant zigzagging and fighting the strong headwind across the lake we reckon we have covered twice the distance.

Finally we make it across the bay for our packed lunch. As I disembark I’m blissfully happy to have finished.  However, the happiness is only temporary as we have to get back in these dreadful devices and cross to the north side of the lake for the walk home.  NOOOOOOOOOOO. Fortunately it is only a short distance.

Marissa with her little yellow ducks

Marissa with her little yellow ducks

Even though I am in a world of kayak pain I can still appreciating the beautiful scenery.  Along Anson River we see a massive Wedgetail Eagle and other birdlife.  On the beach we spot a huge swarm (what do you call a group of crabs?) of soldier crabs.  I remember seeing crabs in these numbers at the beach at Byron Bay and Caloundra when I was a kid.  But as development moved in they disappeared – its great to see them surviving in this beautiful, pristine location.

Soldier crabs

Soldier crabs

Now all we have to do is walk (thank God) back to the Lodge – the beach here is slightly more populated due to its proximity to St Helens.  Its quite a walk (yep about an hour) and I need to be back at 4:30 for my special spa treatment.

Last stretch

Last stretch

I will let the photos speak for themselves

The Spa

The Spa

A perfect spot to relax

A perfect spot to relax

Yes yes yes

Yes yes yes

Bath in use

Nearly there

Now thats what I call a bathroom

Now thats what I call a bathroom

View from my bath

View from my bath

You can just see Eddystone Lighthouse in the distance

You can just see Eddystone Lighthouse in the distance

Oh no all gone :(

Oh no all gone 🙁

OMG – I have died and gone to heaven.  I’m having an “Ocean Dreaming Oil Bath”.  The water is the perfect temperature; the oil’s fragrance is devine, view incredible, all I can hear is the chirping of the robins in the bushes. The chilled glass of wine waiting for me is the cherry on the cake.  If only I had a bottle of wine instead of a glass I would stay here all afternoon.

After an hour or so of soaking I don’t have a sore muscle left in my body – in fact I think all my muscles have turned to mush.  Delightfully pruney I head back to the Lodge for more wine in a state of total zen.

Nothing much left to do this afternoon except relax over a few glasses of wine and chill with the other guests.  Dinner is another delicious affair of organic baby carrots and quinoa for entree, then meatballs, roast potatoes and salad followed by a delicious lemon tart and cream.

The Lodge at night

The Lodge at night

Our room is the last one

Our room is the last one

Bay of Fire Walk – The Big Walk

Thursday 1 January 2015

We are starting the new year with the THE BIG WALK!

Officially it’s approximately 15 km – but we suspect it’s more!

H is finding the back pack makes him feel top heavy and he wanders about like a drunken sailor, so he will definitely do more than 15 k’s. Ben has it all figured out being the experienced walker that he is, and he shows us how to adopt a relaxed slightly slouched movement, little happening at the top end but giant strides at the bottom end.

We had a rather disturbed nights sleep as the wind has picked up and we are not used to the slapping of canvas, also that sleeping bag was way too hot.   In the morning we wake early to a slightly overcast day.  After an enormous breakfast of pancakes and a debrief on todays walk we pack up, load up and hit the beach still heading south.

Time check - departure in 30 mins

Time check – departure in 30 mins

We don’t get far before we head over the sand-dunes edging the beach and walk though a series of marsupial lawns.  These areas are kept clear by the wallabies and wombats that emerge from the bush (usually at dusk and dawn) to feed on the grass shoots.  We haven’t seen much by way of wildlife so far, apart from birds.  They don’t like the heat so they nap during the day when we are about.  Sounds like an excellent strategy to me.

Marsupial lawn

Marsupial lawn

Back on the beach we are told to set our own pace and keep going until we get to a creek “Deep Water”.  Luckily it the dry season and the creek is down to a foot of water over the sand.  It’s boots off to get across and we stop for morning tea.  Every time we stop Ben or Marissa pull out a block of chocolate or a bag of cookies.  I’m coming to the realisation that there is no chance that I’m going to lose weight from all this exercise – in fact I’m beginning to suspect the opposite will occur.  But the cookies are so good, there is just no saying “no”.

Boots off! It feels sooooo good

Boots off! It feels sooooo good

Exploring the red rocks of the Bay of Fires

Exploring the red rocks of the Bay of Fires

Morning tea - Sarah and Caroline show us the finer points of the selfie

Morning tea – Sarah and Carolyn show us the finer points of the selfie

The walk continues during the rest of the morning – broken by detours around middens, rocky outcrops and shell coves.

Crossing a shell cove

Crossing a shell cove

One of the many amazing rock formations

One of the many amazing rock formations

A lesson from Ben

A lesson from Ben

Then it up the sand-dunes and over Eddystone Point for lunch in a cove under the Eddystone Point Lighthouse.

Crossing the dunes at Eddystone Point

Crossing the dunes at Eddystone Point

Eddystone Point Lighthouse

Eddystone Point Lighthouse

How amazing is this beach?

How amazing is this beach?

Its now straight up the Bay of Fires Beach in bare feet for a few more hours. Its the last stretch to our home for the next two nights at the Bay of Fires Lodge.  Its very exclusive – you only get to stay here if you walk here.  But to get there we need to do the slog up the the headland to the Lodge.  Its been a long day, its pretty hot and this last 500 metres nearly does me in.  But is well worth the effort at the top we are greeted by Sara the lodge manager. After a welcome drink, a hot foot bath and a brief run down on the lodge facilities its off to our room.  I can’t tell you how good that bed looks after hiking over fifteen k’s with a back pack!

Front deck

Front deck

Can't wait for a nap

Can’t wait for a nap

Our room

Our room

The facilities

The facilities

After that all that is left to do is grab a quick shower and a nap before a few pre-dinner drinks.  The lodge’s main room is a long thin rectangle with the deck overlooking the beautiful Bay of Fires, there is a lounge with a  fireplace, then the kitchen/eating area.  A long table on the right (a table for 25+ no less) and the kitchen benches on the left.  Tonight there is a full house – a group of 10 that got here yesterday and will leave tomorrow, their guides, our group, Sara the lodge manager (I love Sara – she always has something yummy baking in the oven), and Cecelia (the goddess of all things spa – more about that later).  The atmosphere is relaxed, casual and cheerful.  Sara and the guides are working at a million miles an hour whipping up our feast.

A beautiful haloumi and chickpea salad, chicken wrapped with prosciutto, roast vegetables and couscous and for desert, a pannacotta!  All delicious and the wine keeps coming too.  I’m sitting at the end next to Cecilia who is drumming up business for the new spa which she runs.  She is booked out tomorrow but we come up for a special treat for me – can wait!  Its just my style.

Dinner at the Bay of Fires Lodge - Greg, Meryl, Caroline, Sarah and Howard

Dinner at the Bay of Fires Lodge – Greg, Meryl, Carolyn, Sarah and Howard

 

Bay of Fires Walk – Introductions

Wednesday 31 December 2014

Well, its finally here.  The first day of our epic walk.  We are being picked up at the Sebel at 7.50, so its up, and down to breakfast to fuel up for the big day.  We meet Carolyn, Sarah and Susan who it turns out are also doing the walk.  After a two hour drive to Quamby Estate its time to unload our suitcases and fill our back packs.  Janet informs me that whatever I need for the next four days must fit in my back pack.  The back pack which I must now carry.  Right, maybe I don’t need all of this stuff after all.  Even after a cull it still weighs 11.5 kilos, plus 1.5 kilos of water!  We finally head off to Bridport for a short muffin break and then further into the country to the east coast where we say goodbye to transport and hello to Shanks’s pony.  Yep, we are walking about 9 km’s today (probably about 12 the way I am wandering) along a beautiful white beaches and up and over red headlands, lead by Marissa and Ben our tour guides.  Later on we find out Marissa from Michigan and Ben from Devonport are an item!

Susan, Howie, Greg, Meryl, Sarah, Caroline, David, Miriam, Zalie and Marissa

Susan, Howie, Greg, Meryl, Sarah, Carolyn, David, Miriam, Zalie and Marissa

And off we go

And off we go

We stop for a late lunch of healthy wraps, fruit and chocolate and are soon loaded up again and on our way.

Al Fresco lunch

Al Fresco lunch

Ben is a teacher and marine biologist and is eager to share his knowledge of the local marine and bird life.  But its the scenery that is the winner – beautiful blue sky, crystal clear water, pure white sand, red rocky outcrops.  And we have it all to ourselves. Red, white and blue – amazing.

Not another headland!

Not another headland!

Howie and Ben

Howie and Ben

Local wildlife

Local wildlife

As the afternoon closes in its getting cool and I am pretty tired and the “are we there yet” starts.  Its always another ten minutes or so!  Eventually we are lead up the beach out of the wind to the semi permanent camp site known as Forresters Beach Camp.  Its grab a cabin/tent unload the pack, hit the open air bush shower and grab a drink.  It is after all New Years Eve!

Forrester Beach Camp

Forrester Beach Camp

Bunky Doo

Bunky Doo

Our scenic shower

Our scenic shower

Kitchen and dining

Kitchen and dining

There has been the occasional chat with our fellow travellers along the way, but this is the first time we can all sit around a table, wine (or beer) in hand get to know each other.  What a great bunch of travellers we have with us.  Different ages and back grounds, but everyone is friendly and I think we have made some great friends.

David and Miriam (our intrepid trekkers just returned from climbing Mt Everest)

Greg (who has been more places than Lucky Starr) and Meryl (Why are we stopping!)

Zalie (the leader of the pack always miles in front)

Susan (who puts us all to shame)

Carolyn and Sarah (the fun loving kings of the selfie and jump photos)

I am feeling a bit guilty for Ben (long and lanky) and Marissa (the pocket rocket) and Jenny (who had treked in earlier) have to prepare the dinner, make up table, organise the drinks while we watch.  Oh hell, they are young I am old, I am on holidays and they are at work! Enough of the guilt!

The meal they prepare for us is pretty impressive given the basic kitchen facilities they have to work with.  Starting with antipasta, then asian style buckwheat soba noodles with salmon and a fabulous chocolate desert to finish.  All delicious!

Somehow a good dose of fresh hot chilli gets into H’s desert.  His reaction (red face and sweats) is a source of amusement to our fellow hikers, but the guides are mortified!

Before we know it its 9:16 and we make a group decision to bring New Years Eve forward and have the countdown and crack open the bubbles that they have shipped in especially for the occasion.  We have a 15 km walk tomorrow and no-one wants to face that with a hangover!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

 

Strahan to Launceston

Tuesday 30 December 2014

This morning its an early start for us as we have to get back to Launceston for our big day tomorrow.  We checked out of All In Strachan, which while it was a bit too far out of town to walk it was very comfortable.  H is hungry and there is not a lot open this morning in Strachan.  Thankfully the Bakery is open and H wants to test their pies.  After about twenty minutes of dealing with the most stupid woman in Tasmania we get out of there with a pie, sausage roll and some ham and salad rolls for the journey.  I don’t know what she was on but it wasn’t the same planet as the rest of us!

It’s a terrible day, raining and very windy.  Typical west coast weather we are told!  The drive is up and over the ranges and lots of tight turns.  We take our time.  I want to stop at Nelson Falls, but as we arrive, the wind and rain pick up and we decide to can the walk up to view the falls and continue of our journey.  We take a short cut, which turns out to be a long cut, along dirt roads which seem to go on for forever.  But we see some specular lakes, mountains and lots and lots of forest along the way.  We stop at Deloraine for lunch, which is a nice town about an hour or so from Launceston.

When we eventually arrive at our hotel, the Sebel in Launceston we are tired and thirsty and decide to drop the car off straight away, grab a beer and head back to the hotel for a rest.

We have decided on the Jailhouse Steak House for dinner.  I have the pork ribs and H has a steak.  Not bad.  Washed down with a nice Tassie pinot and a couple of beers, its time for bed.

Gordon River

Monday 29 December 2014

They say in Tasmania “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes”.  So it’s no great surprise when we wake to dark clouds, thunder and pouring rain.  This is not boding well for our Gordon River Cruise.

Have I mentioned that there is no Optus coverage in Strahan?  In fact there seems to be no Optus coverage in most of Tasmania!  We are both in a blackhole – no phone, no internet.  Blissful, but I can’t check my booking to find out what time the boat for our cruise leaves – 8:30 sound right.

Wrong, we get down to the wharf at about 8:10 to find the catamaran loaded and waiting for us.  With a scheduled departure time of 7:45 we are lucky that they are still there.  We are quickly ushered on board and shown our seats on the upper deck – with 2 cushy seats angled towards the panoramic windows.  And off we go, across the harbour towards Hells Gates.

Lady Jane Franklin

Lady Jane Franklin (taken post cruise)

Macquarie Harbour is the 2nd largest harbour in Australia – its bigger than Sydney Harbour.  Hells Gates is where the water from Macquarie Harbour – fed by the Franklin and Gordon Rivers and 3 metres of rain a year meets the Great Southern Ocean.

Hells Gate - between the land on the left and the lighthouse

Hells Gate – between the land on the left and the lighthouse

Hells Gate Lighthouse

Hells Gate Lighthouse

There is only a small gap of about 100 metres wide between land and a small island that can be used to navigate boats in and out.  On the other side is a sand bank that is impossible to pass.  Hells Gates was notorious for wrecking ships along the isolated and rugged coast, as it is the only safe harbour on the dangerous West Coast.  But to get to the relatively calm waters of the harbour you have to face the Gate.  Not something I should like to be doing in stormy weather in a sail boat.

We pass through the Gates and then back again across the harbour towards the mouth of the Franklin River.  We pass numerous salmon farms on the way and get to see a semi trailer (like a milk truck) on a barge harvesting one of the enclosures by sucking up the fish with a massive hose – sea water and all.  These fish will be in the fish markets of Melbourne and Sydney tomorrow morning.  Its big business.

Salmon Farm

Salmon Farm

On board we are offered snacks and drinks – bubbles please, and keep it coming.  And it does, there is no shortage of food or refreshing beverages.

Once we reach the mouth of the Gordon the boat slows down and we get to see this World Heritage listed site.

Gordon River

Gordon River

Rainforest

Rainforest

We stop at a jetty and get to go for a brief rainforest walk and then its back on the boat for lunch and our next stop Sarah Island.

Huon Pine

Huon Pine

Sarah Island was home to the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station which operated between 1822 and 1833.  During its 11 years of operation, the penal colony achieved a reputation as one of the harshest penal settlements in the Australian colonies.  It was the prison of choice for convicts that had re-offended – the worst of the worst, because it was so isolated and the conditions so desperate.  The book For the Term of His Natural Life was written about Sarah Island (note to self – must read this book).

The worst prison in Tasmania

The worst prison in Tasmania

We are given a tour by a member of the local theatre group who does a great job of bringing to life the struggles of the prisoners here.  Of particular note are three prison breaks.

James Goodwin was pardoned after his 1828 escape and was subsequently employed to make official surveys of the wilderness he had so successfully navigated during his escape.

Alexander Pearce who managed to get away twice, on both occasions he cannibalized his fellow escapees and was recaptured.

The final escape was the best – when the prison was abandoned in 1834 a handful of prisoners and guards were left behind to finish up on the island.  In a calculated and audacious bid for freedom, 10 prisoners seized The Fredrick, a boat they had built, and made their escape on the open seas and sailed all the way to Chile.

The wind has picked up to a howling gale and the rain is coming down in hard, blustery gusts.  Its not hard to imagine the miserable life that the convicts and their jailers had to endure.  Isolated on Tasmania’s wild west coast, surrounded by water and  then beyond with rugged mountains and impenetrable rainforest.  Viscous floggings, bad food, cold and wet weather.  It’s a sad but fascinating chapter in Tasmania’s book.

The Penitentiary

The Penitentiary

Jail block

Jail block

Kitchen

Kitchen

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Sunday 28 December 2014

Its an early start cause we have a train to catch.  A steam train!

When the mine first opened in Queenstown they needed a way to get the copper down to the port of Strahan.  With no passable roads they built a railroad, but with a mountain in the way, and no way around, they had to implement a new technology to get the train up (and down) the steep hills.  The Abt rack and pinion system, which effectively is a third rail in the middle of the track (that is notched for a cog wheel on the train), that ensures the ore laden train does not slip on the rails.

Full steam ahead

Full steam ahead

Our beautiful carriage

Our beautiful carriage

The Abt rack and pinion system

The Abt rack and pinion system

The rail line fell into disuse but has been recently rebuilt and now takes train enthusiasts and children (not much difference between the two) on half day or full day train rides using beautifully restored, immaculate carriages and the original steam trains.  I have my doubts about putting my little boy, Howie on a train for a full day, so we are doing a half day.

Down at the train station we grab our tickets and some breakfast before boarding.  There are several planned stops along the way to stop, stretch our legs and learn more about life along the rail line in the old days – wow what a miserable place.  The locals say it rains everyday and then the rainy season hits – 3 metres of rain a year.  Long cold wet winters, living in a dense rainforest on a side of a mountain, isolated and poorly provisioned.

First stop is at Lynchford, once a bustling town, now just a stop on the rail line.

First stop - Lychford

First stop – Lynchford

Gold panning station

Gold panning station


 Second stop

Second stop - Rinadeena

Second stop – Rinadeena

Old mine entrance

Old mine entrance

3000 litres - thats a big drink

3000 litres – thats a big drink

On the way to the third and last stop Dubbil Barril (Double Barrel – misspelt by a local) we pass Kings River Gorge.

Kings River Gorge

Kings River Gorge

Kings River Gorge

Kings River Gorge

At Dubbil Barril the train turns around for the homeward trip while we go for a little rainforest walk.

Look Howie a trellis bridge!

Look Howie a trestle bridge!

Topping up the water for the return journey

Topping up the water for the return journey

The journey is made more interesting by the continual commenatary of the guides on the history of the line and the race between two rival Scotsmen to have the biggest and best mine in the area.

On the whole it was a entertaining morning and fabulous journey.

Back in Queenstown we decide to head to our next stop Strahan and have lunch there – just 40 minutes away.  But there is one flaw in our plan, when we get to Strahan we can’t find anywhere to eat and we end up going to the IGA and grabbing some snacks.  Our home for the next two nights is at the All In Strahan Holiday Units that turn out to be a collection of new brick houses.  We have a spacious two bedroom house all to ourself complete with massive bathroom, kitchen, dining and lounge.

For dinner that night we head to the Regatta Point Tavern.  Regatta Point is the other end of the rail line – if we were taking the full day train trip we would depart from here.

I’ve been promising H a lobster since we got to Tassie and I’ve figured that this was the best option.  Turns out I’m wrong, wrong, wrong.  You cannot get a lobster in Strahan for love or money.  All lobsters caught have to go to Hobart (thats 4 hours away) to be sold as per quota requirements and then be shipped back.  How does that make sense?

It’s been a spectacularly beautiful day, I hope it holds for our boat trip tomorrow.

Bushwalking Cradle Mountain

Saturday 27 December 2014

We wake to another crisp and sunny day, perfect conditions for a walk at Cradle Mountain.  So its boots and saddles and off we go.

Before we leave we stock up on provisions for the day at the local bakery that has re-opened after the Christmas break.  Howard has saved himself for a pie and sausage roll.  The sausage roll is pretty good but the pie goes straight in the bin.  Alas the search for the perfect meat pie continues.

Officially its a 1.5 hour drive from Penguin to Cradle Mountain but the expectation of driving at 100 km per hour around windy, narrow and unfamiliar roads is not something we are going to rush, so it takes about 2 hours.  The farms along the way have personalised their letter boxes, there are dogs, cows, Tasmanian tigers, santas, motorbikes, mini houses – you never know whats around the next bend.

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain

As we approach the Cradle Mount-Lake Saint Clair National Park the weather goes from beautiful, blue sky to overcast as the clouds settle in and the landscape become more barren.  By the time we park in the packed car park the weather has settled into a constant misty drizzle.  The Visitors Centre seems to be no more than a series of demountable buildings and there seems to be no particular organisation.  This is one of Australia’s most visited National Parks, there are dozens of tour buses jamming the carpark and it’s a disgrace.  After milling around in the confusion we eventually find out we need to buy a National Park pass and then wait outside in a shed for a shuttle bus to take us further into the National Park.

Its about a 20 minute drive to Dove Lake with a couple of stops along the way.  We are planning on walking the Dove Lake Circuit a leisurely 6 km walk around the lake.  Unfortunately hundreds of other people have the same idea, so our trek into the wilderness (of sorts) is not as peaceful as hoped.

DSC_3983

In fact the constantly jabbering idiots in front and behind us are positively irritating.  But there are moments when we find ourselves alone when we can really appreciate the serenity and beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Feeling Strong

Feeling Strong

 

DSC_4005

Howard stops to get a refreshing drink (much to the fascination of the Chinese tourists)

Howard stops to get a refreshing drink (much to the fascination of the Chinese tourists)

Glimpses of the mountain

Glimpses of the mountain

Boat Shed on Dove Lake

Boat Shed on Dove Lake

We would love to stay and explore some of the other walks but we still have a fair drive to get to our overnight accommodation.  It’s about another 2 hours to Queenstown (yes, Tassie has a Queenstown too).  We go as fast as the windy, hilly, tree lined road will allow us.  Luckily the roads are in pretty good condition and there is not much traffic.  To our great surprise one of the few cars we see is a Lamborghini hurtling in the opposite direction – where the hell did that come from?  We are literally in the middle of no-where!

Eventually we make it to Queenstown and do a quick recon of the town (that takes about 2 minutes) and then check into the “in-aptly” named Silver Hills Motel.  Why in-aptly? Well, Queenstown is a mining town, a copper mine actually, and the mountains surrounding the town have been denuded both by logging to feed the smelters and the chemical toxins that the smelters emitted during the refining process.  Without the trees to hold the soil together, the heavy rainfalls has washed away topsoil leaving behind the dirty orange rock, nothing silver here!  There is obviously attempts to reforest parts of the mountains but I think some of the scars are permanent.

A tribute to Queenstown's mining heritage

A tribute to Queenstown’s mining heritage

The hills of Queenstown

The hills of Queenstown

Copper coloured Queen River

Copper coloured Queen River

On the surface Queenstown is a sleepy little town, but closer inspection you see dozens and dozens of empty derelict houses, it is a town that is slowly dying (like many of the small towns in Tasmania).  The mine is currently closed after a series of accidents, hopefully to reopen in 2015.  There is a mining museum in town which attracts some tourists, but it is the West Coast Wilderness Railroad that most come to experience.   But more about that tomorrow.

The Silver Hills Motel has a restaurant and as we did not see much signs of life down town we decide to dine in.  This is a surprisingly good choice.  Howard orders a lamb curry and it turns out to be a cracker – jam packed with succulent lamb in a very tasty sauce.  And the servings are huge!

After dinner we need to walk off our meal and wander back downtown in the evening light.  Apart from a few teenagers, bored out of their brains and walking home, the only other life we see are hordes of rabbits feasting on the green grass of the town park.

Saturday night in downtown Queenstown

Saturday night in downtown Queenstown

Its still light when we get back to the motel for an early night.  Big day tomorrow – toot toot!

 

Swamps, Luges and Pub Searches

Friday 26 December

The Madson puts on a pretty good cooked breakfast – eggs on sourdough, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes with juice and/or cereal plus tea or coffee of course.  Fortified and armed with some ideas from our hostess we are back in the car and heading further west.  About 1 hour west in fact and then another 45 mins south west. Destination Tarkine Forest Adventures.

As we drive along a see a sign for Boat Harbour, which we have been told is a nice place to stop.

We take a wrong turn and happen across a couple of opium poppy fields – the barbed wire fence and warning signs are a dead give away of the unusual crop.  But boy its a lovely sight.

Poppy fields

Poppy fields

Danger Danger

Danger Danger

We double back and find Boat Harbour (or Boatless Harbour as we call it), and what a beautiful spot it is too.

Boat Harbour

Boat Harbour

There are a few local families (we can tell they are locals cause they aren’t rugged up like us) enjoying the gentle sunshine.  We walk along the beach and admire the scattering of beach homes, fine white sand and the gorgeous blue water.   There is one lonely swimmer bravely swimming the length of the beach.  Too cold for us!

Tarkin Forest Adventures at Dismal Swamp is a 600 hectare blackwood sinkhole and by all accounts a very rare occurrence.  To get down into the sinkhole – you have two choices – walk down or take the much quicker luge ($20 per adult + $2 for the luge).  I choose the luge!  Its brief, bumpy and very, very fast; before I can regret my decision – its over.  I’d love to do it again but am not prepared for the 10 min walk up the very steep hill to do it again.  Howard is stuck with the backpack and my camera so he has no choice but to do the hard yards on foot.

Dismal Swamp

Dismal Swamp

Pademelons

Pademelons

Sounds delish

Sounds delish

As I wait by the bottom I sit quietly and watch a small family of small Pademelons feed on the undergrowth. There is a system of boardwalks that are about 1 foot above the swamp floor.  Its lovely in an eerie, dismal way.  Blackwood, King Billy Pines, Sassafras, razer sharp grasses, ferns, fungus and moss abound.  Dismal Swamp is also home to a mud dwelling crayfish – we don’t see any, only their weird tunnels into the mud.

Back on the road again heading back east we first call into Smithton, ummm nothing to see or do here. Then onto Stanley, this turns out to be a lovely little old town on a thin peninsula nestled under a hugh rock headland lovingly call “the nut” by the locals.  We wander around the  streets admiring all the gorgeous little wooden cottages and then make our way down to the wharf area and Hurseys Seafood for some battered prawns and grilled scallops.  Its blowing a cold gale but the sun is warm(ish) so we sit outside to enjoy our little feast.

The Nut

The Nut

Stanley cottage with The Nut in background

Stanley cottage with The Nut in background

Next we briefly stop just outside town to admire the view and to check out Highfield House Historical Site.  An old homestead that is being transformed back into its former glory.

Highfield House

Highfield House

Bucolic bliss Tassie style

Bucolic bliss Tassie style

H is thirsty.  But being Boxing Day and a public holiday we have very limited opportunities to cure him.   We stop at Hellyer (love the name), Wynard and Burnie searching for a pub thats open – but alas they are all closed.

Luckily back at Penguin we find The Neptune Grand Hotel open and ready for business.  We hit the public bar and help ourselves to the platter of treats on the counter (you have to get the timing right cause there are a couple of locals closely guarding the goodies).  Buffalo wings, mini meat pies, fried dim sims perfect with a beer or wine.

Its then off to the bistro for a quick meal (steak for me and the turkey roast for H) and a chat to a lovely retired couple, dairy farmers, who have lived in the area their entire lives.