Australia - Tasmania
Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
124Trip End Ongoing
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To celebrate our last night in Manly we decided to go to dinner at 'Artichoke' - a quaint and funky little restaurant right outside our apartment block that we hadn't gotten around to going to in the whole 6 months that we had been there. We had planned to go there many times as it looked like a really nice little place with a great ambience but had just never gotten around to it for one reason or another.
Having finally finished all the sorting and packing we headed out to Artichoke for a jug of Sangria, some good food and a bit of live Brazilian music. The food was really tasty and god value, with Andrew particularly chuffed to finally get a paella (Verdi doesn't like seafood)....unfortunately Andrew got more than he bargained for and wasn't so chuffed with the paella when it made a reappearance at 4:30am!!! Yep, half an hour before we had to be up to head to the airport, Andrew was up being violently sick with food poisoning!!!!!
Verdi busied herself with getting the bags ready and checking nothing had been left behind while Andrew became intimately related to Percy the porcelain in the bathroom. Andrew valiantly dragged himself away to make it down to the taxi on time to head for our flight and even more impressively managed to make the entire 45 minute journey to the airport without having to ask to pull over.
Needless to say that walking through the food court with a vast array of aromas wafting past his nose did not ease Andrew's churning stomach any. What a start to our first day back on the road!
Having left his mark in the departure lounge toilets, Andrew continued to grace the toilets at both ends of the plane during the two-hour flight. The poor thing managed to get a bit of sleep but spent most of the flight taking deep breaths and sipping a bottle of water.
Finally on terra firma in Tassie we headed to the 'Thrifty' desk to pick up the hire car that we had booked and paid for three months earlier....they had lost the booking, the day was just getting better and better. Too tired to kick up a fuss we just waited patiently (with a no nonsense look on our faces!) while the receptionist booked us another car. Verdi noticed that all the other car hire desks had queues of people waiting to book and collect their cars...there was no one else at Thrifty. The conspicuous absence of any other customers spoke volumes.
Back out in the fresh air we finally located our little orange Toyota Yaris that was to be our run around for the next six days. With Andrew still feeling volatile and somewhat fragile, Verdi opted to get behind the wheel only to stall it on the first attempt! After nearly 9 months of driving a 24 year old, stick shift with no power steering and slightly dodgy breaks, Verdi appeared to have temporarily lost all ability to drive a modern car.
As a long term sufferer of travel sickness (oh the irony!) Andrew decided he would feel less ill if he drove (Verdi's kangaroo petrol might have helped in the decision!?) so we got on the road and made the short 15 minute journey into Hobart.
As always, first port of call was the tourist information to pick up maps and some advice on local attractions and accommodation - ever on the quest for cheap accommodation, we had not booked anything for Tasmania in the hope of some good last minute deals. This turned out to be a fortuitous plan as we swiftly decided that there was not enough in Hobart to warrant spending the evening. One of the biggest draws to the area is the food, in particular the seafood - funnily enough that was not high up on our wish list! Acting on the tourist info's advice we booked a night at 'Masons Cottages' in Taranna, 10 minutes north of Port Arthur further around the South East coast.
Port Arthur is an hour and a half away from Hobart and one of the key tourist attractions in Tasmania; hailed as 'Australia's premier historic site' where prisoners who had committed further heinous crimes in the colony, were sent - over 12,500 of them in total.
The Tasman peninsula is a network of penal stations with the main attraction being Port Arthur's 'historic site', where you can pay one inclusive fee to tour around; historic buildings and ruins, the old lunatic asylum, the museum, theatre and gallery and take a harbour cruise that circumnavigates the Isle of the Dead, finally taking in a night time ghost tour - all for the bargain price of $38 per person.
So after a stroll around Hobart's famed Salamanca markets, a quick trip around the main high street, a tootle around Battery Square and Sullivans Cove and a couple more visits to the bathroom for Andrew, we got back on the road and headed for Port Arthur. Verdi drove this time while Andrew slept.
The original plan (if deciding and booking a couple of hours earlier can be classed as a plan!?) was to find Mason's Cottages, dump our bags, have a nap to help Andrew recuperate and then head down to Port Arthur for a drive around, get some dinner and do the highly recommended ghost tour.....we found the cottages easily enough; nice new accommodation with friendly helpful staff, we unloaded the car fine and Andrew was asleep before Verdi finished making her cup of tea.
With Andrew still fast asleep two and a half hours later, Verdi went to the cottages reception and cancelled the ghost tour (no mobile phone reception), booked for a second night at the cottage and got a continental breakfast in for dinner.
Unable to face any food (he'd only had a Mr whippy ice-cream all day...not that ill!) Andrew went back to sleep again while Verdi got about the business of sorting through all the brochures and notes on Tassie to work out a rough itinerary for the next few days.
Overall it was sadly not the best day or introduction to Tassie that we'd hoped for. We did pass some beautiful sweeping scenery en route from Hobart to Port Arthur but with Andrew in no fit state to stop to admire the scenery, the photos would have to wait for another day. Quite a few people had told us that Tasmania is reminiscent of England and Wales - there certainly is a resemblance and true to form it rained on and off all day with the occasional sunshine breaking through to tease us with the countryside's potential.
With Andrew feeling a lot better but still a tad fragile we got ready at a leisurely place and headed out into Port Arthur for the day.
Just five minutes down the road from where we were staying was the Tasmanian devil sanctuary so we called in there first to hunt out the little native critters that had proven to be so elusive to date.
With the entry fee at $22 each we thought twice before parting with our money but decided that this might be our only chance to see a Tassie Devil as our previous attempts had only turned up a ball of fluff fast asleep deep inside a log...not good photo material.
After gawping for a while and asking lots of questions we made our way to the next enclosure which held 5 of her grandchildren who were even more eager to run, fight and feed (PICS). They were certainly more boisterous than their granny and got most of their exercise from the fights that ensued over food - they were not the sharing type.
The final enclosure held the 4 parents of the babies. The two females seemed happy to plod around the pen mimicking one another while the two males spent their time growling, snorting and chasing one another. (PICS)
Leaving the Tasmanian Devil park we made our way south to historic Port Arthur and the convict penal colony. The prison at Port Arthur was set up during the 1800's to house those convicts who committed a further crime once reintroduced into Australian society - which was basically full of convicts anyway! Tasmania and Port Arthur in particular was seen to be sufficiently isolated and dangerous to reach (or escape from) that it was considered to be the perfect location for such a prison.
We wandered throughout the historic site looking at restored houses and other convict buildings until we reached the solitary confinement block, or the 'Separate Building'. The cells in this building were completely closed off from one another and each inmate had to spend 23 hours a day in complete silence, only allowed out for one hours exercise - again in total silence with a hood covering most of their face - not a great way to spend your days!
Continuing around the site we came to the church which purposely hadn't been restored but simply maintained since the bush fire destroyed its roof. Apart from the obvious lacking of any shelter it was in very good condition (PIC).
In the knowledge that we would be back at the prison for the Ghost tour in the evening, we left and headed around the peninsula, taking in Remarkable Cave (PICS) before enjoying the buildings in Doo Town. Doo Town is a small town of shacks and corrugated houses with one thing in common - they all have names based around the word 'Doo'. For example; 'Doo Mee', 'DigeriDoo', 'Just Doo It', 'Love me Doo', 'Wanna Doo' and 'Gonna Doo' are some of the better ones.
On our way back to our cottage we took a detour and went to see yet another blowhole (they crop up all around Australia!). It was actually more of a tunnel through some rock and wasn't even that loud! Luckily we were right by a highly recommended ice cream van so decided to take full advantage - Ice cream with fresh strawberries, raspberries and topped with a blackberry coulis - Superb!!!!
Having spent a few hours back at the cottage we drove back out to Port Arthur for the Ghost Tour. It was just getting dark as we set out on foot with about 30 other ghost hunters and our guide, with only 3 candle lanterns to light the way. We wandered through parts of the site that we hadn't been to during our previous visit, including an autopsy room and what was apparently the most haunted house in Australia! Listening to stories of various paranormal activity we weren't sure what to make of it, but it certainly seemed like our guide believed what she was telling us and what she had experienced during her years at Port Arthur. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we didn't see any ghosts during our visit.
Finishing up at just after 10pm we drove back to the cottage and hid under our bed until morning! Ok, it wasn't that scary but it was good fun nevertheless.
On the road for 9am we drove up the east coast, along some pretty rough unsealed roads to places with rather reminiscent names, such as Pontypool and Swansea. Again we wondered why we had taken the 'scenic' route instead of the quicker, smoother highway. The idea was to get more of a feel for the Tasmanian countryside but most of it looked like a cross between Wales or Scotland and outback Australia - nothing new or particularly impressive. Some of the roads were so windy that we both started to get dizzy and sick, it was non-stop left turn - right turn for hours.
At Swansea we were able to get a view across to the peninsula of Freycinet (pronounced Fray-sin-ay) (PICS), which is a National Park with very little human habitation, no running water or electricity and very few roads. We decided that with our limited time in Tassie we wouldn't bother trying to investigate.
Stopping for a quick bite at a café in Bicheno we then continued our journey up and down a number of mountains, still winding this way and that, until we reached Elephant Pass and a well deserved dessert! Elephant pass has a famous Pancake house, in the middle of nowhere, which was highly recommended. We couldn't resist. The sign in the car park (PIC) was amusing - we made sure we didn't park our hire car in the wrong place!
Looking through the menu we also noticed a small note warning families about their noisy children (PIC) - this place had our kind of humour! And the pancakes were great too!! (PIC) Even the elephant enjoyed them (PIC).
After more twisty roads and a petrol stop in 'Derby' we finally reached Launceston. With the tourist info closed by the time we arrived we had to phone around a number of apartments and hotels until we found one in our price range - Tasmania didn't seem to be any cheaper than the rest of Australia, despite the guide book indicating otherwise.
Finally deciding to view one that was within our range we drove out of town to inspect it. The place was in Alanvale and was a collection of cottages, motel rooms and apartments. Strangely the cheapest of these was a cottage, which looked very nice and kind of 'mock Tudor' on the outside but was slightly dated and dingy on the inside. Realising we probably wouldn't find anything any better at this stage we booked in for the one night.
Its one saving grace was that it had a good bar/restaurant on site that served up some great meals - unfortunately Andrew was still feeling a bit dodgy from the food poisoning and was disappointed with himself that he couldn't eat much of the meal.
After some planning and diary we made our way to bed.
Up and out by 9:15 we drove into Launceston to take in a few of the main attractions of Tasmania's second largest town. First on the agenda was Launceston City Park, famed for its Japanese Macaques (or monkeys to those who don't have a zoology degree!).
The other major attraction at Launceston is Cataract Gorge, a large gorge cut into the land above Launceston by the Tamar River, which runs into a lake below the gorge and allows the river to be flooded for use by white water rafting companies. The whole setting around Cataract Gorge is idyllic and serenely beautiful with peacocks and wild wallabies roaming around the gardens (PICS) and the suspension bridge and cable cars overlooking the lake and gorge itself (PICS). Within the gardens we sat down to a delicious Devonshire tea before descending the steep gorge road and making our way along the northern coast.
Our first stop along the northern edge of Tasmania was the town of Ulverston, mainly to check out a couple of sites of accommodation. En route we drove through Deloraine and Devonport, the latter being the port where tourists arrive when they take the 'Spirit of Tasmania' ferry across the Bass Strait.
Continuing further west along the coast we arrived in Penguin; a tiny, sleepy little village with a slightly weird fetish for penguins! Firstly there is the huge penguin that stands in pride of place along the beachfront, which at the time we were there, had been dressed in a fancy Santa outfit (PICS).
Driving through the towns of Burnie and Wynyard we finally reached Stanley in the northwest corner. Stanley is principally known for one thing, 'The Nut'. The nut is thought to be a giant volcanic plug formed from the eroded stump of a volcano that was active between 25 and 70 million years ago. The nut stands out from a distance and the photo opportunity along the coastal road allowed Andrew to make a fool of himself! (PIC)
As our planned journey for the following day was to travel down to Cradle Mountain and then onto Strahan we thought it best to stay overnight in a good position to get on the road early the following morning. The ideal position would have been Devonport but we had read that the prices there are over-inflated due to the regular influx of tourists on the ferry. We therefore returned to Ulverston and after inspecting a number of B&B's and motels we settled on a cabin in the local Big 4 Holiday Park.
Whilst in Ulverston we did a quick sightseeing trip around the town, taking in the unusual clock tower and the nearby beach (PICS) before retiring to our cabin for the night.
We left the holiday park and headed south towards Cradle Mountain, calling through the small country town of Wilmot on the way.
Continuing through Wilmot we progressed along the long and winding roads to Cradle Mountain. Upon reaching the national park we stopped at the tourist information centre where we gathered information about the various walks that were possible; from easy 30 minute strolls to the weeklong 'Overland Track'. Needless to say we opted for a couple of the strolls. From the tourist centre you have the option to take your own car down into the national park ($20 for the car plus $10 per person) or take the regular shuttle bus for $10 per person. We decided to utilise the shuttle bus and after grabbing a coffee we travelled down to the base of the national park and to the edge of Dove Lake.
Dove Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the national park, not only because it is the easiest to get to but also because it offers fantastic views over towards Cradle mountain (PIC). The two walks that we decided to take were from the car park at Dove Lake to the Boathouse and then to Glacial Point. Firstly we attempted the walk to the boathouse but almost as soon as we began the heavens decided to open - we quickly returned to the small hikers hut at the car park for some shelter. After waiting for 10 minutes the rain cleared; the wind was so strong that the weather was able to change at a moments notice, and we managed to get to the boathouse.
Leaving the Cradle Mountain National Park we continued our journey to Strahan, another 2 hours driving along twisty, mountainous roads with a few nice stretches on top of the hills where the roads panned out in front of use for miles without another vehicle in sight - a chance to do more than 40km/h! Reaching Strahan we quickly found accommodation in one of the many holiday parks (Strahan is based around tourism and almost every building is a motel, B&B or holiday park), and then took a drive into the small town situated around Macquarie Harbour where the Gordon River meets the sea.
Whilst reading through guides to Strahan we had fancied a boat trip, which takes tourists up the Gordon River and down to 'Hell's Gate' where the headland narrows significantly before entering the sea. Upon enquiring about the boat trip we discovered that they were only running the longer 6-hour cruise (which we didn't have the time or the patience for) but also that it was about 40% more expensive than the guidebooks said. We looked for an alternative to the boat trip and found one nearby in the form of a seaplane trip.
The seaplane trip was an 80-minute tour over the Gordon and Franklin Rivers and took in a lot more of the surrounding country, including a river landing and a quick visit to a nearby waterfall. It should have cost about $250 each if it were just the two of us flying but luckily we met another couple of people who were keen to do the same. This dropped the price to $170 and with some expert bargaining from Verdi we managed to get it for $150 each.
We booked the flight for midday the following day, giving us plenty of time to get back to Hobart in preparation for our early departure the day after. Chatting to our new tour buddies, Sue and Craig (mother and son from Brisbane) we all decided to take a look at nearby Ocean Beach and to try and see if we could spot a recent news headline - 27 beached pilot whales. They had beached over a week ago and rescuers had only managed to save 3 of them. As amazing as this sounds it is actually even stranger as the same happened in 1990 and in 1998, creating what seems to be an 8-year cycle!
The drive out to Ocean beach was mainly via unsealed roads and very bumpy, slow and uncomfortable. Luckily we were in a hire car, which was able to go almost twice as fast as we would have been able to go in Gizmo. Eventually reaching the blustery beach we took a quick walk but couldn't see (or smell) any whales. With the beach being around 40km long we decided not to bother wasting any more time searching.
An even longer unsealed journey took us to the Hell's Gate Lookout. This area is known as hells gate for two reasons; firstly its narrow opening has been the site of many shipwrecks and secondly it was the point at which convicts were transported to Tasmania - effectively the gates of Hell to those unfortunate passengers.
Calling into a supermarket on the way back to our cabin we picked up some supplies for dinner and the next days breakfast before retiring for the night.
Up relatively late at 8:45 we checked out at 10am and stopped off at the supermarket before heading into town (PIC), grabbing a coffee and waiting for our seaplane excursion.
We met Sue and Craig outside reception of 'SeAir Strahan Seaplanes and Helicopters' at 11:45, ready for our 12 o'clock flight. The guy at the office had recently closed up and walked off leaving a 'back in 15 min' sign on the door of the building. We thought this was strange but waited for a while, then a while longer, and then at about 12:15 thought 'He should really be back by now and the seaplane should at least be in the water!'. Sue walked down the street and found the guy sat in a café eating lunch with the pilot. When Sue asked him what was going on he bluntly and nonchalantly mentioned that the weather wasn't good enough to fly, "...but it may clear up in few hours if you want to come back then".
We couldn't believe the cheek of the bloke, and the fact that all he had to do was wait around another 5 minutes to tell us that we couldn't fly (or even leave a note if his lunch appointment was SO important)! So, if you are ever in Strahan - do not take a trip with 'Strahan Seaplanes' (the one nearest the tourist information centre).
Slightly shocked but also glad to have saved $300 we joined Sue and Craig in the Risby Cove restaurant (PIC) for coffee and cake (they had been the night before and raved about the desserts there). We could see why they were so impressed! A pistachio and honeycomb parfait and a white chocolate cheesecake certainly made up for the disappointment of missing the seaplane trip. We sat and chatted to Sue and Craig for over an hour about our travels and their previous trips to Europe before saying our farewells and both heading off towards Hobart.
The windy country route took us through Queenstown, which despite the elegant name was ugly and desolate, surrounded by a lunar landscape created by environmentally ignorant mining companies. The mountainous land was also used for a number of hydroelectric power stations, which although environmentally friendly still manage to scar the landscape somewhat.
There was one type of animal that didn't seem to mind the tarnished countryside; along the roadside we saw a couple of Echidnas just bumbling along the grassy verge, sniffing out their next feed. Which is what we were doing when we stopped in the small country town of Hamilton. Luckily we had brought a packed lunch with us and tucked into it at a nearby camping spot, taking some time to wander along a stream looking for platypus that were apparently native in that area.
We arrived into Hobart at around 6pm and found that our first (cheap) choice of accommodation was not available as they had closed the office and had no procedure for checking us in or giving us a key once the staff had gone home.
Instead we decided to drive towards the airport and check out the Big 4 campsite about 10 minutes away. We booked into a basic cabin and sat in their beer garden with a drink before ordering a wood fired pizza and taking it back to the cabin. After dinner we thought it might be a good idea to wash the hire car as it was covered in sand and dust from our unsealed road trips - something that could potentially cause us to lose our security bond! So with a small jug of water and a kitchen sponge we cleaned the worst from the car and kept our fingers crossed.
We then had an early night in preparation for our 4 o'clock start in the morning.
We did manage to rise at 4.00am and finished packing and left the caravan park by 4.45. Driving to the airport we filled up with petrol, returned car, checked in, handed over our baggage & went through security all by 5.30am - not bad going we thought, especially when we aren't exactly morning creatures!
The plane to Melbourne took off at 6.00am - perfectly on time.