West Tassie - wild and wet
Trip Start Nov 14, 2010
43Trip End Apr 12, 2011
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Where I stayed
Strahan Holiday Park
Hobart’s airport was very small. We walked the short distance from the plane to the terminal building and then waited for what seemed like an awfully long time for our luggage, given that there was only one carousel and ours was the only flight there. The car rental offices were in a little hut in the car park and we had soon completed the paperwork for another little Hyundai Getz, and were on our way into Hobart.
It was a 20 minute pleasant drive through bush land with the occasional view of the city overshadowed by Mt Wellington
There were more historic buildings here than we had seen elsewhere. We walked past the old post office and town hall to reach the waterfront with its Victorian warehouses. There were boats of all sorts moored up here, a shining white cruise ship, excursion boats, expensive private yachts and replica sailing ships. On the jetty was “Mures”, the bar where the Sydney - Hobart yachtsmen traditionally celebrated their arrival.
It was surprisingly warm and we stopped at a pavement café for tea and cakes. Also near the waterfront was the Tasmanian Parliament building and St David’s Park, the first cemetery in Hobart. From there we climbed up to Battery Point, an area of historic buildings. We felt quite at home there, surrounded by the sort of Edwardian and Victorian buildings that abound in northern England. Kelly’s Steps took us back down to the quayside at Salamanca Place. This was the main tourist area of the city
After returning to the modern end of town for some shopping we prepared to go out to eat a little earlier than usual. We imagined that everything would close up quite early here. How wrong we were! It was amazingly lively. We ate at a little Vietnamese café with tables and chairs on the waterfront and then found that we had any number of pubs to choose from and they were all busy, some of them packed with noisy carousing youngsters, and this on a Wednesday night! There were two local breweries here in Tasmania, Cascade and Boag. We tried both and found them to be quite acceptable but not exceptional. We had a most enjoyable evening though. With a long drive ahead of us next day we did not stay out too late despite their being no sign of the bars emptying anytime soon at the time that we left.
It was a rather noisy night. It was too hot to close the windows, and as well as the noise of groups of revellers passing from time to time, we were also disturbed by the constant traffic and the very annoying pulsing sound of the pedestrian crossing signal on the road junction outside
We were heading for the wilderness area of western Tasmania on Thursday. It was a grey day but still quite warm. By the time we had left the city it had started to rain and continued to do so for most of the rest of the day. On the first section of our route we followed the Derwent Valley passing vineyards and fruit farms, many of the latter advertising their produce at the roadside. The road was quiet and for long stretches we had it entirely to ourselves. There would have been some very pleasant open views had the weather been better. After a couple of hours we reached the World Heritage Area and found ourselves travelling through dense natural forests. At Derwent Bridge we had a refreshment stop at the nearby Lake St Clair visitor centre. We photographed the lake in the rain and had a quick look around the little display on the flora and fauna of the park. After a very pricey cup of tea we continued our journey.
It was raining even harder now. There were flashes of lightning and claps of thunder. We had to slow down as visibility was bad and the road was starting to flood. We felt really sorry for the considerable number of cyclists that we encountered on the road. The worst of the storm passed and we began to see tantalising signs for lookouts and views of the surrounding peaks
This part of Tasmania was known as the western wilderness and the name seemed not to be an exaggeration. For at least 50 miles we drove without seeing any sign of a village or any sort of habitation. As the road wound through the forest there were not even any signposts or kilometre markers to be able to pinpoint our position. Eventually we reached the town of Linda where there was a café, just a café, no other buildings at all and a sign proudly proclaiming that they sold the best food in town. Not long after, as we descended into Queenstown, we reached probably the most spectacular part of the route. The road was steep and narrow with tight bends, a sheer rock face on one side and what looked like a drop into an abyss on the other. As we couldn’t see more than a few metres in any direction it was wasted on us.
Queenstown wasn’t a particularly attractive town but we stopped to buy some provisions and have a drink and a snack (at a fraction of the price we had paid in the National Park)
We had a quick drive around the little town at the mouth of the Gordon river to assess dining options before checking in to the Strahan Holiday Park. This was a large caravan and cabin park. Our previous experience of such places, in the Northern Territory, hadn’t been too brilliant but reasonably priced accommodation was hard to come by in these parts, and the cabin we were given was certainly an improvement on the one we had had previously.
It had stopped raining by the time we walked in to Strahan but it was a little chilly. We joined most of the other tourists in town at the Hamer Hotel Bar and Bistro. It was rather expensive but with the end of our stay in Australia on the horizon we were beginning to adopt a devil may care attitude when it came to spending money - most out of character! I chose ocean trout which was delicious but served only with some pak choi and not very filling. After dinner we adjourned to the less salubrious public bar where they had on offer a rather good Boag’s Wizard Smith’s English Ale. There was a wood fire burning which was most welcome as the temperatures here had plummeted from those we had experienced in Hobart the previous evening
It was a lot brighter on Friday morning and we decided to have a short drive around Strahan before leaving. The town was situated on a huge 50 km long inlet called Macquarie Harbour. This emptied into the sea at 150m wide Hell’s Gates. The stretch of water was given this names by the convicts being brought to the penal colony on Sarah Island, one of the grimmest and most remote parts of the British Empire. The port of Strahan grew in importance as it handled the export of the gold, silver and zinc mined in the interior. Today it relied on tourism and we watched as some of tourists had their champagne breakfasts as they prepared to embark on a trip on the West Coast Wilderness Railway.
We were heading for Cradle Mountain National Park. Travelling north up the coast we had glimpses of Ocean Beach, Tasmania’s longest stretch of sand and, it is claimed, the place to go to enjoy the cleanest air in the world. Keith’s lungs couldn’t cope with it and he had to have a good cough. We stopped at the mining town of Rosebery for coffee and arrived at Cradle Mountain early in the afternoon
We were staying at another caravan park and our cabin was, inside at least, almost identical to the one we had stayed in at Strahan. The earlier bright skies had now disappeared but we decided to continue into the National Park and go for a walk. We bought our park passes and drove the short distance to Dove Lake, the star attraction. Overshadowing the lovely lake were the twin peaks known as Cradle Mountain. We followed the walking track that did a full circle of the lake. It was a beautiful 2 hour walk along stony paths and boardwalks, mostly on the flat but with a few challenging ascents and descents. Sometimes the walkway clung to the side of a rock face, sometimes it passed over open marshy land and sometimes through dark dense forests. Cradle Mountain’s peaks were hidden in the clouds for most of the walk but we had almost constant lovely views of Dove Lake and, despite the low dark clouds, it stayed dry.
There was no bar or restaurant in the vicinity of the camp and so we had a quiet night in our cabin. After eating, we took the torch and went for a walk to see if there was any wildlife about. Earlier we had seen several wallabies just outside our cabin, we had seen an echidna on our trek around the lake and there were rumours that at this time of the year young Tasmanian Devils sometimes came into the camp at night to scavenge for food
The sound of torrential rain woke us early. We returned to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre for a look at the information there which we hadn’t had time to see yesterday. The centre was full of groups of glum looking youngsters on adventure holidays pretending to be interested in the various videos running whilst keeping one eye on the weather in the hope that it may improve and they could get out into the hills. There seemed little likelihood of that happening. I walked just 100 yards to photograph a swollen waterfall and returned soaked through.
Today we were moving on to Launceston, Tasmania’s second largest city. The first part of the journey took us through beautiful wilderness scenery. The roads twisted and turned through dense wild forests and over mountain passes but we didn’t even bother pulling over at any of the viewpoints as the visibility was so poor. After a couple of hours we were back in the civilized world. The terrain was flatter and mostly agricultural. We passed through a few small towns and at Westbury stopped for a snack. It was a lovely old town with picturesque buildings and we had coffee and homemade pies in a very tasteful deli
A fast highway took us the short distance from there to Launceston. It was still raining as hard as ever and we now had the spray of big wagons to contend with. Launceston, like Hobart, had adopted an aggressive one way road system in its city centre and so it took us longer than necessary to find our hotel - Balmoral on York. Our room seemed luxurious after the last two nights in holiday park cabins and we even had breakfast included in the deal for once. We settled down to dry off for a while. Keith got stuck into the complimentary newspaper and I logged straight onto the free internet.
Eventually we decided that we really should go and see what Launceston had to offer and so we donned the waterproofs once more and set out. The town centre was unremarkable but the city had a number of very grand buildings dating from its days as an important port. The town hall and the customs building were huge neo-classical structures. We wandered down towards the river Tamar and found a “Wooden Boat Rally” in full swing. Despite the rain there were crowds of people there admiring the boats and associated things such as outboard motors. We moved on, following the river bank around to the King’s Bridge where the South Esk River joins the Tamar
We had spotted an Indian restaurant called Pickled Evenings not far from the hotel. It turned out to be a good choice. The food was excellent and the staff really friendly. It was Saturday night and some of the drinking places in the city centre seemed a little rowdy. At the other end of town we found the “Cock N Bull - A British Pub” which was a lot quieter. We enjoyed a couple of local Boag beers there whilst eavesdropping on the conversation at the next table. This was occupied by four Scottish men aged about 60. It seemed that one of them lived in Launceston and the other three were his brothers who had just arrived on a visit from the UK. All four looked alike and, oblivious to everyone around them, they were excitedly catching up on old times and reminiscing about their childhoods in Edinburgh. One of them, clearly jet-lagged kept falling asleep but would then wake up and join in the animated conversation once more. It was an entertaining evening.