Saturday, November 29, 2003

As we had already covered most of Tasmania we were looking for things in the local area that we hadn’t already visited; we saw a place called Mole Creek and it looked a worthy diversion.

On the way to Mole Creek we broke down twice and managed to coax the van back into life twice; we knocked Mole Creek on the head and pointed ourselves instead toward Launceston. Once at Launceston I called the local Toyota dealer, he said it sounded as though the cylinder head casket had gone; if so it would cost at least $800 to fix… ouch! I then called Melbourne City Toyota for a comparative price on the same job and they quoted me $1,500!!! So Launceston Toyota it was then!

Christian was flying back to Melbourne from Launceston airport tomorrow so we were hoping the van would be fixed by then. We stayed in the same hostel as last time (Metro YHA) where the receptionist, a chap called Bryce, plays the violin. We had a quiet one and I went on the Internet to update my journal some more.

Friday, November 28, 2003

First thing we popped into an internet café, then Christian had a wander while I’ll payed a visit to the doctor; I was due a 10 day check up, so it was very handy turning up in Devonport today of all days.

The doctor’s surgery was almost empty, the receptionist informed me that this was because today was a public holiday in Devonport as a result of the Devonport Show (agricultural, like a British county show) and they were only open for emergencies. I think she felt a little compassionate for me and I got to see a doctor pronto! I still had impaired hearing in my left ear, but the doctor said the infection had cleared up and this was normal for a week or two afterwards and just to take some decongestant like Sudofed; so I visited the chemist again and Sudofed I bought!

I caught up with Christian and we left Devonport for the North West corner of Tasmania, we took the coastal road and stopped at a town called Penguin; because penguins nest there. Everything in the town had a reference to penguins, there was even a 10ft tall statue of a penguin on the seafront!

Our significant destination for today was a town called Stanley, Stanley is famed for a large blob of rock/earth called “The Nut”. From a distance it looks a little like Uluru, but near the sea (not the desert) and covered in grass and trees (not sand); we nick named it the poor man’s Ayres Rock! We went to the top of the rock by chairlift and had a wander around, there were fields and trees, and to be honest it looked a lot like the English countryside; except for the lizard that crossed our path. Even though it was only a 10 minute walk, we took the chairlift down again, for novelty value! We had a drink and sit down at the Nut Rock Café at the base of the Nut before moving on.

We didn’t plan on going any further West, so we headed back in an Easterly direction and decided to stop at anything fun on the way and sort out accommodation wherever we ended up.

The first unexpected stop was a waterfall called Detention Falls, it was very out of the way and we were the only people there. Getting to it involved walking through quite a lot of farm land, through gates, etc. When we got there it was well worthwhile, I can honestly say that it was the best waterfall we had seen so far, yet one of the least known!

The next unexpected stop was Fossil Bluff, a bluff is an outcrop of rock, I think; and this was called Fossil Bluff because fossils had been found on it. To be honest it was some old rocks by the sea and we didn’t stay long!

By now the day was drawing upon us again, so we decided to pitch up in Wynyard; luckily there was a caravan park in Wynyard, so we did the usual and hired a small caravan. To break the routine a bit we wandered down to the bottle shop in town and bought half a dozen beers. We then met up with a nice English couple in the kitchen/lounge area who had both travelled Australia before but were back again on their honeymoon; they were good fun and we ended up chatting for hours before going to bed.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

This morning we drove the short distance to Montezuma falls, from the car park it was about an hours walk to the falls, which were quite delightful; we also crossed a very thin metal bridge that swayed and bounced an awful lot!

Next was one of the more popular natural tourist attractions in Tasmania, Cradle Mountain. It isn’t the highest mountain in Tasmania, but it is very pretty and there is some exceptional scenery and walks in the national park that it is within. I didn’t walk to the top of the mountain as it would have taken all day, instead I did a half day return journey to a spot on the mountains called Marion’s Lookout (Tasmania is full of lookouts, it just means a high-ish point with a good view). The walk was quite arduous as most of it was up hill, but the reward was worth it; the view was amazing and the peacefulness and serenity at the summit was top notch! Christian walked around Dove Lake, this was a less trial-some walk but still quite lovely none-the-less.

From here we drove through Tullah, which afforded some nice views of a lake, but not a lot else. From Tullah we drove through Sheffield, which is known as the town of murals; this is because almost every single visible wall as you drive through the town has a very colourful painted mural on it depicting a part of the town’s history!

From Sheffield we drove up to Devonport, which was my original point of disembarkation on the North coast of the island. Devonport as a town doesn’t have a lot to offer and we were really just looking for a place to stay.

We ended up in a hostel, which had been converted from an old hospital, it was quite odd because it still looked like a hospital, both inside and out and still kind of smelled like a hospital. We managed to get a twin room for the normal price of a dorm room in a standard hostel, I think this is because they had lots of small rooms and not so many large ones. The social atmosphere in the hostel wasn’t great, but they gave away free food all the time (bread, cakes, etc.) and it was still a funny experience staying there!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

In the morning we drove from Mt Field to Lake St Clair, this was in another national park in the West area of Tasmania. Lake St Clair was beautiful, but we didn’t stay very long as once you have seen the lake that’s about all there is. It is possible to do what they call an overland track from Lake St Clair in the South of the park to Cradle Mountain in the North, it is a trekking, camping type thing and takes up to 8 days; had I the time I would have enjoyed this.

From Lake St Clair we drove to Queenstown, Queenstown is an old mining town that was once full of miners and had a population of over 10,000 people. Today it is the merest fraction of it’s size as it was then, it is surrounded by bare rock (unlike most of Tasmania which is quite vegetative) as a result of the soil pollution caused by the extensive unregulated mining of the area in the past (there is still mining today, but much less and with modern technology and consideration to the environment, or so they say!). It also looks amazingly colonial, the main street is like something out of the Wild West!

We didn’t spend long in Queenstown as there isn’t actually much to do, other than a railway (steam I think) from Queenstown to Strahan (pronounced Strawn), which didn’t look terribly enthralling.

Our next stop actually was Strahan, this is a popular tourist town on the West Coast; as such it has an artificial touristy air about it that I didn’t find particularly attractive but we had a wander along the sea front and I had a coffee.

Next up was Zeehan (these weird town names are Dutch, the chap that discovered Tasmania and a lot of other places in Australia was a Dutchman called Abel Tasman, Tasmania was originally named Van Diemens Land and was only renamed fairly recently). Zeehan was also an old mining town and is home to a mining museum; this museum, according to a road worker we met on the way, is the most amazing thing in the whole world and you could spend an entire day looking around it. I did look around it, for about an hour, it was OK, it had a nice collection of old trains, but a lot of the exhibits were historical documents that would only have been interesting to people whose families were raised in the local area. I did however, see a photo of Queenstown main street in the 1850’s, it looked exactly the same as it does now except that the street wasn’t tarmacked!

There wasn’t much else in Zeehan, barring a children’s playground; we had a go on the swings!

By now time was getting on and there wasn’t much else we could do before nightfall, so we stayed in another caravan at the local, Treasure Island Caravan Park!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Our first expedition today was to Hastings, again. This time they were open and we managed to get onto one of the first tours of the day; the cave was a short drive and walk away from the Visitors Centre, but it wasn’t too far and the walk was quite pleasant (we saw a snake cross our path en route!). In keeping with Tasmania’s reputation as a holiday island, almost every settlement has a “Visitors Centre”, from the smallest village to the largest attraction, they are essentially tourist information and booking centres. Well, onto the cave, it was a little small, but quite nice, in a stalactite/mite-ish fashion; but also had a few curiosities that I will bring to your attention. First of all, it was lit by an ambient, computerised lighting system, which the guide spent almost as much time enthusing about as the cave itself; secondly, the entire cave was decked out with plazas and stairs, you know, proper concrete stairs and tiled plazas! I am used to caves being completely natural, it looked here as though they were going a bit OTT with the tourist thing!

Geographically we were now in the Huon Valley region and our next port of call was the Tahune Airwalk. The Airwalk is a series of metal gangways in a forest that are suspended or supported about 100 feet above the forest floor. The trip was good fun and the high point of the Airwalk itself was an appendage of it that stuck out quite far without anything supporting it at the other end (it had a name, but I don’t recall it right now); the consequence being that merely walking on it would cause the gangway to bounce and sway around! Groovy! The river that ran through the forest was quite imposing and the water was brown, apparently as the result of tannin that leaks from the roots of some of the trees!

From the Airwalk we proceeded on to a town called Geeveston, where there was a garage; so we stopped for about 30 minutes while the garage tightened up the hose that had come loose the previous day.

Finally, we travelled to Mount Field National Park to visit some waterfalls called Russell Falls; unlike most natural sights in Tasmania it didn’t require much walking (being right by the visitors centre) and was a pleasant sight to behold when we did get to it. Also, on the journey here we spotted an Echidna walking by the site of the road!

By now the day was getting to an end, so accommodation once again was on the agenda; or more to the point, not, since we couldn’t find anything in the area (the YHA that was supposed to be 20ks up the road had ceased to be a YHA 6 months ago and it was too late to call anywhere). Consequently we slept at Mt Field camp site, in the van again, this time I had a sleeping bag that I had purchased in Hobart (half price); it wasn’t all that comfy in the van but at least I wasn’t cold any more and I did get some sleep. The highlights of this stay were the mass of stars in the sky (it was a clear night) and a small group of Wallabies that were hopping around the camp site, excellent! Most wildlife in Australia comes out at dusk.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Today was an activity filled extravaganza!

We were booked in for a tour of the local Cadbury chocolate factory first thing this morning, Christian has a penchant for chocolate and was quite excited about the whole thing (even though he had been before)! The tour was quite interesting, we got free chocolate, saw all the production lines, saw racks and racks and racks of the stuff; there wasn’t a chocolate river, but there was a whole system of pipe works, I saw a fat pipe labelled “white chocolate”, ace!

Our next activity was back in Hobart, we had arranged to do a tour of the Cascade brewery. The brewery was located in quite an imposing old building with some absolutely beautiful surrounding gardens. The tour itself wasn’t bad, there is only so much fun you can make out of wandering around a brewery; but we did get free beer at the end and I am generally glad that I went!

The day was still young and the fun van was back on the road again. This time we had decided to head south, in the general direction of a town called Cockle Creek; there is no remarkable tourist attraction at Cockle Creek, but it is the most Southerly settlement in the whole of Australia and on that basis off we trekked!

In Australia there are roads called sealed roads, which means smooth(ish) tarmac and unsealed roads, which means whatever you like! The road to Cockle Creek was 20k’s of unsealed road, the most exceptionally gravely, pot-holey, unroadworthy, stretch of road I had ever driven on in my life!

Upon arrival a Cockle Creek we discovered very little; it was a small settlement with some nice beaches and big, metal statue of a whale. In a curious twist of morbid irony which I am finding quite a lot over here, this masterpiece of metalwork was to commemorate the area’s famed whaling history; you know, the one that has led to some whales becoming endangered species and funnily enough, stopped whales coming to Cockle Creek any more!

On our way out of Cockle Creek, the van broke down, AGAIN! Very luckily, given that we were in the middle of nowhere, I managed to temporarily patch up the (different) section of leaking coolant hose and doubly-luckily there was a water tap here so I was able to refill the coolant system with water.

With this, we were on our way again; but had agreed that it was probably best not to travel too far and also to get the van looked at tomorrow. We had hoped to stay in a YHA hostel just up the road at a place called Lune River, but despite traversing the respective road in both directions we found nothing; we then proceeded to a place called Dover and stayed in a cheap caravan at Dover Caravan Park. This was quite pleasant.

Of noteworthy mention is also the fact that we had hoped to visit Hastings Caves, which we did actually get to once the van was back on the road again. But in an annoying quirk of fate we found out that the last tour was at 4:30pm and we had arrived just too late; the Lonely Planet had said that the last tour was at 5pm, oh well, you get used to variations between the Lonely Planet and reality after a while!

Sunday, November 23, 2003

The next day was a bit of a quiet one, I was feeling a little groggy and a lot of the people in the hostel were feeling positively hung over!

In my enthusiasm for experiencing everything Tasmania had to offer I had completely omitted to realise that I had run out of antibiotics for my ear infection (I had a repeat prescription, or “script” as the Aussies call it) and I was also quickly coming to the realisation that Hobart completely shuts down on a Sunday! A 5 minute chat to the receptionist and a 10 minute walk up the road, I managed to find a chemist that was open, much to my relief!

Later that day, Christian and myself wandered down to the seafront (where they have floating fish and chip shops on boats, cool!) and into the Salamanca area, this is the trendy part of Hobart town. I had a coffee and then we went into a groovy Internet café called “Mouse on Mars” to check email and also to copy the contents of our digital cameras onto CD.

We had a quiet evening today and also got introduced to some of the occupants of our dorm room. An old guy with one leg, a crazy Queenslander and a pikey looking chap who we later discovered was in Hobart for a court appearance on charges of burglary! We also witnessed a heated conversation about the army between all three of these guys; the one legged chap was quite sane, the burglar was completely blasé and the kooky Queenslander lost the plot and had to leave the room to calm down! Needless to say, everybody in the room kept themselves to themselves as well as their valuables in their bed that night!