Saturday, November 22, 2003

Having undertaken the Ghost tour the previous evening, I decided to take the opportunity this morning to look around Port Arthur during the day. As Christian had already seen Port Arthur before and was strapped for cash he offered to sit in the car park, tidy up the van and plan our route.

Back inside I found the historical grounds absolutely fascinating, I know in the true sense of the word nothing was really that old (150 years) but knowing that it was a major convict settlement that helped form Australia as it is today was amazing; not to mention the fact that I have a natural inclination toward darker topics, like crime and punishment.

Part of the entrance fee included a trip on a catamaran; in a totally non-historic fashion the boat was big, shiny and completely modern, with a bar and allsorts. The trip took a short jaunt around the bay area and I got off at the Isle of the Dead as I had decided to do this particular tour; this in itself was a little disappointing and despite the fact that almost very part of the Island had people buried on it, it didn’t feel all that scary. The woman tour guide told stories about the people that had died and been buried there, but she was a bit soppy about it; overall the tour was interesting from a historical point of view but it could have been better. One of the most entertaining things was some old guy that wanted to smoke, the guide told him that smoking wasn’t allowed on the tour so he proceeded to get the hump for the remainder of the tour and face the opposite direction every time she was talking! Once the tour had finished we got back on the next boat to come along and were dropped off at the start.

By now I think I had been over 2 hours, perhaps 3 and I was aware that Christian was sitting in the van all this time. To be honest I could have spent the rest of the day at the site as there were still things that I hadn’t seen, but in an act of consideration I went back to the van, but hoped that I would have a chance to come back here again at some point.

Our next stop after Port Arthur was Hobart (that’s my wonderful town!), so we got back on the road again. The journey was, on the whole, quite uneventful, but we did pass through the most completely amusing town by the name of Doo Town. This in itself wasn’t the amusing thing, rather, the names of the houses in the town; Doo Little, Doo It All, Doo Fuck All to name but a few and a whole plethora of other entertaining house names containing the word Doo!

Before we knew it we were in Hobart and a quick glance into the Lonely Planet guide (every traveller has the Lonely Planet guide to Australia, it is the HHGTG for backpackers) indicated that there was a YHA hostel called Montgomery’s in the centre of town. By the time we had checked in and organised ourselves we had to make a decision about tonight, tonight being, of course, the Rugby Cup World Final between England and Australia.

As luck would have it a whole bunch of people from the hostel (including two of the fattest, dirtiest looking slappers you have ever seen) were planning to go out, so we joined them; the trouble is they didn’t know where yet. After visiting (not drinking in) every pub in the whole of Hobart, including the roughest looking pub I had seen in my time here, we descended upon the very pub that was next door to our hostel! As you can imagine the game commenced, the beer flowed, a splendid time was had by all and to boot, our hostel was only next door – hurrah!

As a footnote, I would like to relate something to you that I would rather not have seen. One of our party was a blind chap, not particularly scintillating and certainly not in the slightest bit good looking; but he did manage to off with one of the fat, dirty old slappers in the lounge… yuck!

Friday, November 21, 2003

In the morning we drove a short distance to an "attraction" in Bicheno called the Blow Hole, in reality it is a hole in some rock, which, when the sea is rough, water sprays through; creating the impression of a blow hole, exciting stuff!

Then we were on the road toward Freycinet National Park, to a famous bay called Wineglass Bay; it's very pretty but it doesn't look much like a wineglass.

When we got there we bought a 2 month Tassie national parks pass for the van, I know we are only in Tassie for 2 weeks but it actually works out quite cheap, especially as almost all the main attractions are in different national parks!

I think we walked to the Winglass Bay Lookout, which is an up hill walk, it didn't take too long and afforded some lovely views of the bay.

Having soaked up the visual treat that was Wineglass Bay, we pointed ourselves in the direction of Port Arthur (major ex penal-colony). I was really looking forward to this, we were due to arrive late afternoon and we had booked ourselves onto the Ghost Tour this evening.

On route we stopped and picked up a couple of backpackers that were hitch hiking, they were a Californian guy and an Aussie girl (from ACT of all places), they were both ultra-hippy and really nice people.

After being on the road for some time the van broke down again, funnily enough it was a split coolant hose (different one again!), I tried to cut it off and retie it but the van broke down again a little while down the road just past Eagle Hawk Neck and we pulled into a cute little residential road by the coast.

There was no way that I could do anything more with the van myself and by now some of the friendly old residents in the street had come out to see what was going on. Luckily I have breakdown cover on the van, so one of the residents generously lent me their phone (Vodafone doesn't really work in Tas) and I called RACT (Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania) and they said someone would be with me in 20 mins, which I thought was pretty good.

Just over 20 minutes later an battered old Nissan ute (utility vehicle, i.e. pickup truck) turned up, which according to one of the local residents looked like it "was firing on 3 cylinders" and some guy stepped out that looked just like that guy out of the Dukes of Hazard (Cooter?), you know the dustbin looking mechanic type with dirty dungarees and scaggy hair. Well, he turned out to be a really nice guy, but he couldn't fix it in the field, so he had to call for a tow truck where it could be towed to the nearest RACT garage to be fixed.

Well, another 30 minutes later (after the residents had kindly plied us with coffee and fruit cake) some chap turns up in a Holden Jackaroo (4x4) with a towing attachment and off we go toward Dun Alley which is about another 20ks back up the road again. This guy looked far more normal, but even he thought Cooter (aka Richard) was somewhat in a class of his own!

The journey to Dun Alley was fairly uneventful, other than the 4x4 seemed to be struggling up hills a bit. The engine sounded like a petrol so I told the guy you want something like a turbo diesel for this kind of work, not petrol; he told me he had a turbo diesel but it was in the garage and he was borrowing the Jackaroo from a mate. He also drove as fast as I have ever seen anyone drive (on flats and downhills) with a 2 ton van on tow!

We got to his workshop and within the space of an hour (with a bit of jiggery pokery) the van was fixed again, we made haste down to Port Arthur as I said earlier we were booked in on the Ghost Tour which started in the evening.

We arrived at Port Arthur incident free, in time for the Ghost Walk, but sans accomodation and utterly starving; we forewent all that, for the time being anyway, in lieu of the Ghost Tour.

The Ghost Tour was good fun, Christian is not particularly good with scary things, so for some inexplicable reason he volunteered to be lead lantern bearer. The long and short of this is that he had to go into most of the buildings (which were dark and scary) first, including places like the Parsonage which is one of the most haunted buildings (if not the most haunted) in Australia. We were told scary but true ghost stories, macabre history and went into some appropriate buildings, like the hospital, morgue and autopsy room. All in all I reall enjoyed it.

Odd as it seems, we actually met up with the hippy couple at Port Arthur and they were on the same ghost tour as us! Since we didn't have accomodation yet we found out that they were staying at some camp site up the road and decided to join them. We met up with some other people that they knew on the camp site, cooked food on an open fire and drank Jim Beam.

Since we had no option, Christian and I slept in the van; it wasn't particularly comfortable, I froze my bloody nuts off and got a really bad nights sleep even though I was drunk.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Today we were continuing down the coast, through St Marys which is quite boring and then on to Bicheno; which Christian delighted in calling Bitch 'n' 'ho' (for those readers who are more chronologically challenged than others, 'ho' is black american getto slang for whore). Bicheno is quaint little East coast town, which luckily has a petrol station; because we broke down again, a coolant hose again (different one though) and I had a coffee while they fixed it.

Once the van was running again we booked into the local hostel, it was a really nice hostel, but unfortunately like so many places in Australia was absolutely teaming with Japanese tourists. As individuals they are OK, but as a group (and they always travel in huge groups) they are noisy, rude and inconsiderate.

One of the main attractions of Bicheno is the penguin tour, southern parts of Australia and Tasmania are the home to Fairy Penguins, this isn't their official name (which I think may be blue penguins?) but are named so due to their small size, they are the smallest species of penguin.

Christian had already seen penguins, he has been to Tasmania previously and has been travelling Australia for 7 months already. But I booked myself in on the Penguin Tour.

It started mid-evening and it was raining, a small group of us were escorted down to the beach area by a young lady, who by chance happened to be the lady that served me coffee earlier on in the day! She recognised me and asked about my van. Most of the people on the tour were Aussies, for reference Tassie is a very popular tourist destination for Aussies (particularly old ones) and is sometimes called the Holiday Isle.

The tour was good, we saw lots of little, cute looking penguins and some baby penguins too. They may look cute but we were told not to touch them as they might have your finger off if you weren't careful, I also discovered that Fairy Penguins are not only the smallest, but also the loudest species of penguin!

I went to bed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The next day, our first port of call was Launceston shopping mall as Christian's camera had broken and he needed to buy a new one. After a lot of wandering up and down and deliberating we both ended up buying digital cameras; you know how weak I am when it comes to gadgets and technology! But at least I will be able to post some decent pics at last!

Our first official port of call was Cataract Gorge, a wonder of nature in Launceston; apart from being very lovely it also had a chair lift that went from the bottom to the top of the gorge and is actually the "longest continuous span chair lift in the world", to be honest it was quite good fun! We walked from the top back down to the bottom again, it was very nice but we needed to move on.

We were heading in a North-Easterly direction and were hoping be might get as far as Bicheno by the end of the day.

But our next stop was the North-East coast, Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires, I can honestly say that we saw some of the loveliest beaches ever and some of the bluest water ever and there was a big bronze statue of a naked woman at the entrance to Binalong Bay!

We then proceeded down the coast toward St Helens, at which point, upon arrival, the van broke down. Luckily all rural petrol stations in Australia have associated garages/workshops as well, I knew the problem was that a coolant hose had blown, so after a little while (they are very laid back here, chatting to their mates has priority over work) the garage fixed it. By now time had rolled on and going anywhere else wasn't an option so we booked a couple of beds at St Helens YHA.

St Helens YHA was quite small and cosy and we got some good advice from one of the locals about snakes (for reference, Tasmania only has 3 types of snake; and they are all poisonous), which was - stand still. Apparently if you stand still a snake will either just slither past you or sniff you and then slither off, whereas if you leap about and panic you will scare the snake and it may bite you.

The topic of conversation covered all types of wildlife and we kept getting bothered by flies.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The following morning we docked at Devonport, at which point, as you can probably imagine, I had resolved myself to finding the nearest doctors surgery in the town and attending ASAP.

A chat with tourist information later and I was in the waiting room of the local doctors surgery, it was quite large and I got the impression that Aussie GPs do a lot more at the surgery than British GPs do today. The doctor confirmed what I already knew, I had an ear infection and a mild throat infection; so he prescribed me some antibiotics, pain killers and some kind of ear drops.

I wandered down the road, through the shopping mall to the nearest chemist to get my drugs, luckily either the antibiotics or eardrops seemed to work straight away as the pain relief was very quick and I didn't feel the need to resort to the pain killers.

By now I had to get on the road as I was picking Christian up from Launceston airport in a few hours time, I also felt extremely tired. The journey to Launceston wasn't that far, but halfway there I felt hazardously tired so I pulled over into a layby on highway 1 and slept for almost 2 hours. By the time I woke up I still felt a little bit tired, but I needed to get to Launceston airport sharpish.

I got there about 30 minutes before Christian came out of the terminal (it is a tiny little airport), so I slept for another 30 mins until he called my mobile and woke me up.

Once we got organised we drove into Launceston to try and find a hostel for the night, we ended up at Metro Backpackers YHA which wasn't all that cheap but the facilities were good and it was very central in the town. I did discover quite quickly though that YHA hostels are full of weird foreigners, old(ish) people and Japanese tourists.

We tried to arrange a tour of the Boags brewery (Boags and Cascade are the two main breweries in Tassie), but the places were booked up and we were moving on tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Tassie Day!

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but Christian and myself got talked into doing ANOTHER Ramsay Street tour, this time for Natalie and a couple of other people. This is not the Natalie you may be thinking of, but a younger Natalie, nice and quite pretty.

Even though you may think the Ramsay Street thing was getting a bit long in the tooth by now, it actually turned out to be the best visit I had ever been on.

We arrived at Pin Oak Court (Ramsay Street) just as a security guy was starting to put out the road closed barriers. Obviously they were due to start filming soon, but the security guy said we could go into the street as long as we were quick.

Once we had done the street we decided to go round the corner to the car park where all the vehicles and crew assembled. There was nobody there, but within the space of a few minutes, Lou (I don't know his real name) turned up and we ended up chatting to him for about 15 minutes and then Harold turned up as well!

Anyway, by the time we got back I had to start getting myself together as I was catching the 9pm ferry from Port Melbourne (10 min drive away) to Devonport in Tasmania. I had agreed to do 2 weeks in Tassie with Christian, he was flying out and I was meeting him at Launceston (named after the Cornish town, but pronounced Laun-ceston) airport the next day.

I checked out, confirmed my bed for when I got back, packed my van, said my goodbyes to people I could find and set off.

I spent quite a long time sitting in queues before I actually got on the ferry, they had to get everybody's ticket and they were checking in vehicles for illegal goods; such as firearms, narcotics, animals and fresh fruit and veg (apparently Tasmania is a fruit fly free zone and it wants to stay that way).

The boat was called Spirit of Tasmania I (there are 3 altogether) and looked pretty much like a cross channel ferry, both inside and out.

By the time I got onto the ferry my left ear had started to hurt and by the time I had checked out my dorm bed (4 bed dorm cabin, front of the ferry with a window) and gone down for some food it was hurting like buggery. Whilst I was attempting to eat some old guy from Queensland asked me why I was so melancholy, I told him I think I had an ear infection and it hurt to talk or eat; at which point he spoke to me for another 15 minutes! (why is it always Queensland?)

Anyway, I went back to my cabin and got a really non-existant nights sleep because of my ear; however the crossing was a rough as hell, which I would usually have enjoyed immensely were it not for my ear which was going off the pain scale!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The weather was OK today and Christian and myself had been talked into doing another Ramsay Street tour for Lou and Nadine, so while we were at it we decided to advertise in the hostel and ended up getting a van full of people!

The tour went well, the rain abstained, we managed to see the street and everything else; a good time was had by all.

Today I also became acquainted with two new people at the hostel, Barry and his girlfriend. Barry was from SA, his girlfriend was English and he was having a set to with immigration over his girlfriend staying in the country. Although oddly enough they were flying to New Zealand the next day so I'm not quite sure I understood the whole thing properly. Barry was a typical aussie red neck type, not much between his ears but he started his day by drinking rum for breakfast and the rest follows; his girlfriend, as you can imagine, wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the box either.

I don't recall the exact ins and outs of it, but I had had a few drinks out (probably with Barry) and arrived back at the hostel sometime mid-evening. I think I was trying to get away from Barry (he was a hanger-on type) and I came across Nadine and Rowan drinking a box of wine and having a chat in the kitchen.

So of course, I joined them for a drink and a chat.

Now, I haven't told you this before, but Nadine is bi-sexual; for reference, she really fancied the bar maid at the bar we were hanging out at with Robin's cousin. She also expressed to me a keen interest in Rowan this particular evening; well to cut a long story short, after a considerable amount of alcohol, Nadine and Rowan were snogging, which was a bit strange. They seemed to be getting on quite well and soon after they both disappeared at about the same time, I don't know what happened between them that night, but well done to Nadine either way!

I admit that I was a little put out at the time, but in hind sight it has cast an entirely new light on Rowan in respect of both Nadine's and my encounter with her.

Could it be that when trashed, Rowan is easily lead? A gay friend of mine once said that everybody had the potential to be sexually promiscuous with either gender, this was on the basis that anybody (in his opinion) could be persuaded, given "the right time, the right place and the right amount of alcohol".

Or perhaps she was bi-curious anyway, or perhaps she is gay and I was just a one off?

Whichever case it is, Rowan's encounter with Nadine noticeably eased my guilt!