Tasmania - January 2008

Sunday, Dec 07, 2008 at 20:44

George_M

Friday 4 January 2008
We dropped our reluctant cat off to the vet for boarding during our 16 days away. She was not happy. Cat boarding was probably the largest single expense of the trip! The Prado packed to the brim, we left home at 5.15pm and drove to Port Melbourne to queue nice and early for the 9pm sailing of the Spirit of Tasmania. We’d read several trip notes on various websites (thanks Mother Hen) and had received the messages loud and clear: 1. The night crossing of Bass Strait is by far the best way to go. 2. Do yourself a favour - book an ensuite cabin and arrive fresh and rested. 3. Dump your overnight bags in the cabin ASAP and hot-foot it back to the bar or café and order your dinner and/or drinks before the long queues start. We were really pleased to have followed these tips, and had a lovely comfy trip across the Strait. The security guys were checking engine bay, boots and roof racks – when he saw the back of our vehicle, packed like a giant Rubik’s Cube, he just said “…get out of here”. The only mishap was that our two bottles of shellite had to be ‘donated’ to the security guards at the ferry terminal. We weren’t even allowed to reclaim them at the other end like the people with gas bottles did.

Saturday 5 January
Arriving in Devonport at 7am, we disembarked and were most impressed to be met by a smiling man distributing bags of tourist booklets, brochures and vouchers to each vehicle. Within 5mins we were lost. We soon realised that many streets in Tasmania – whether little suburban streets or main streets in the CBD - are simply not signposted. To complicate things further, on the mainland there’s invariably a preliminary sign warning that the turn-off for a highway or tourist attraction is coming up in “X” kms, and then another sign pointing off to the left or right at the actual turn-off. No such luck in Tassie where there are few preliminary signs - blink and you miss the turn-off!
Anyway, we soon found the Bass Hwy and headed south to Latrobe to our first stop: the House of Anvers, a small business that hand-makes and sells Belgian chocolates and chocolate products, and has a chocolate museum, a viewing area to see the chocolates being made, a café and an ice-cream bar. It was surprisingly crowded, even at 7.20am, and we noticed parking bays for buses. Cameron had the breakfast chocolate platter, a disgustingly rich and decadent combination of chocolate croissants, chocolate sauce, chocolate spread, and a huge mug of hot chocolate. George and I each had a generous slab of baguette with cream cheese and many layers of smoked salmon – delicious! This was to be the centre-piece of our trip – great food, reasonably priced, where ever we went.
A couple of kms further on we came to the Axeman’s Hall of Fame and Platypus World – what a strange combination. As it didn’t open until 9am, we filled in time by taking photos outside against the huge model platypus and then wandered over to the stream about 50m away, as it had a pretty bridge across it. After only a couple of minutes, we were thrilled to spot a real live platypus! It was only a little one, but it was nosing around near the bank just a few metres away so we had a great view. We really enjoyed browsing through the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Platypus World. The one admission price covered both areas, and the chap who ran it was a real character with a wealth of information that he was very keen to share.
We then drove through Sheffield to check out the many murals painted on the sides of buildings, houses, bridges, etc. Most of them depicted pioneer days and were very well done.
Our next stop was Tazmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot, 15mins south of Sheffield. This was a surprisingly large complex of eight mazes, including the world’s largest maze (I seem to have been to a number of the World’s largest mazes?) awaiting registration with the Guinness Book of Records, and an exact replica of the Hampton Court maze. There were magnificent lavender plantings throughout the complex, and a whimsical little village built to 1/5 scale called the Village of Little Crackpot. It was really quite hot by this stage – probably low 30s - so George and Cameron wandered around inside for 90mins while I stayed in the café, had a pot of tea and wrote postcards.
After that, it was about 45mins south west to the Cradle Mt Wilderness Village where we checked in to our lovely spacious and very comfortable cabin with two big bedrooms. We quickly unpacked and had a cup of tea before driving three mins down the road to the transit centre where we took one of the impressive “every-15-mins” shuttle buses right down to Dove Lake. My research had warned us that at Cradle Mt it rains 7 out of 10 days, is cloudy 8 out of 10 days, sunny 1 day in 10, snows 56 days/year and is fine and has only 32 clear days/year! Sure enough, by the time we reached Dove Lake it was cloudy, so our photos aren’t all that great and we decided not to do one of the many signposted walks. That evening we had an excellent dinner at the local resort before heading back to our cabin for an early evening. We had however overlooked the entertainment value of the local wildlife. A huge - and I do mean h-u-g-e - brush-tail possum decided it wanted to open our screen door and come inside for supper. We quickly locked the door, opening it a slit every few minutes to throw out a brazil nut which was quickly but daintily picked up and nibbled. The cheeky possum even stretched right up on its hind legs – it must have been almost a metre tall – to try to unlock the door and come inside for more food!

Sunday 6 January
We set off bright and early at about 8am because we had a big day planned. First we back-tracked to Moina (pron. moe-eena) and then took the back-roads to the Mole Creek Karst National Park and the beautiful Marakoopa Cave where we signed up for a 45min guided tour of the Cathedral and Gardens formations and the glow-worms. It was a crisp 9ºC inside the caves and there were many steps and very low ceilings but gee it was worth it! Marakoopa is the bigger wet cave whereas King Solomon’s Cave is a much smaller dry cave. Marakoopa has two streams flowing through it, bringing in lots of food for the glow-worms so they put on a lovely display. The glowing on and off is nowhere near as poetic and romantic as it seems – it’s actually the bug disposing its waste products, sort of like a fiery fart! George managed to take an excellent photo of a stunning limestone formation called The Palm Tree - and it really did look like one. The in and out of the trunk was formed over thousands of years and shows the cycles of wet and dry weather. As the moisture decreased, so did the dripping. It was stunning and well worth the effort and time.
As we’d stopped at several scenic lookouts on the way to Cradle Mt and Marakoopa Cave, we decided to skip Devil’s Gullet Lookout and try to squeeze in two extra stops for George: Chudleigh Honey Farm – on our way to Launceston - and also Clarendon Homestead which would be quite a detour as it is about 30mins south of Launceston.
The Honey Farm was actually just a smallish retail outlet on the main road of the sleepy little village of Chudleigh but it was fascinating and very well set up. There were two extensive tasting bars with over 30 different honeys at each, an interactive beehive, a honey ice-cream bar, cosmetics, giftware, books, etc. Obviously someone’s passion! We tasted quite a few of the honeys, bought an ice-cream each, and then we each chose some honeys: macadamia, creamed lemon, grey box, leatherwood, red chilli (great over brie), and a lovely chilli honey balsamic glaze.
Deloraine was only a further 15mins on, and was a pretty little English-style village with lots of restored Georgian and Victorian buildings and houses. We took a detour to 41 Degrees South Salmon & Ginseng Farm – another bizarre combination – and feasted on salmon rillettes on crackers and hot-smoked salmon salad. It was delicious and we just had to buy some to take with us!
We decided to check-in to the Treasure Island Caravan Park in Launceston (pronounced LON-sest-en, called Lonnie by the locals) where I’d booked a small cabin for two nights. It was stinking hot – still in the mid-30s, with not a breath of breeze - the cabin faced into the afternoon sun and, like most places in Tasmania, it had electric blankets and heaters but no air conditioning. We quickly unpacked and then headed off to Clarendon Homestead, hoping that it would be cooler when we came back. It wasn’t.
Clarendon Homestead was touted as being the must-see of historic houses but was actually a sad disappointment. It was so very hot that we wanted a drink but the lady in the café was making lunch for a table of four guests and said she was too busy to serve us and that we should go through the house first! The poor house was in a sad state of disrepair with many of the rooms being empty or only partially restored. We’ve been very spoilt with Como House, Elizabeth Bay House, Ripponlea, Werribee Mansion, Rupertswood, etc. so I guess our expectations may have been a bit high.

Monday 7 January
Today was fascinating. First we headed north from Launceston along the left side of the Tamar River –there were several vineyards and lots of orchards, so it was all very pretty and peaceful. We went about 50kms to Beauty Point which was just spectacular. The river really widened just before its mouth and it was like a huge placid lake. Our first stop was a guided tour of Seahorse World and that was just fascinating. As well as learning all about the strange little critters, we saw tiny seahorses that had been born during the night and about 10 huge vats of seahorses at various stages of development. We were even allowed to don thin rubber gloves and handle them! There was also a min-aquarium displaying many different varieties of seahorses. After a quick bite to eat in the panoramic café upstairs, we headed back to Launceston.
We had a bit of time to spare before our next booking, so we wandered a few blocks over to the quaint little Old Umbrella Shop built from Tasmanian blackwood and classified by the National Trust. It still has its original painted glass shop-front and all its fittings – including a gorgeous old cash register which they still use – and it all dates from the 1860s. The next block was the corner of George and Cameron Streets – what a coincidence!
Our 1pm tour of the Boag’s Centre for Beer Lovers was also fascinating, even for someone who does not drink beer! Boag’s has only about 2% of Australia’s beer market but they are huge in Tasmania, have very creative advertising, and an intensely loyal staff called the ‘Boag’s family’. After touring the brewery, we tasted the four different beer styles – Premium, St George, Draught and Wizard Smith’s Ale – each accompanied by a nice Tasmania cheese, and agreed that the only nice one was St George!
Back at our hot little cabin, George and Cameron watched the cricket while I did some laundry and then had a snooze with the fan on full speed. We were then restored to explore Cataract Gorge, only a few minutes from the van park. It’s a huge and stunningly beautiful public recreation area on the South Esk River, and there are several different activities to enjoy: the world’s longest single-span chairlift which has superb views of the area, a big grassed area for children to play and teens to sunbathe by the pool, a huge lake-like formation called First Basin, a suspension bridge, five or six lookouts, a restaurant and a café. It was so hot in Launceston that the place was packed, plus they were setting up for a concert that night, so we didn’t want to stay long - even so, it was well worth the visit.

Tuesday 8 January
We left ‘civilisation’ to head into the north-east area of Tasmania, stopping off at Bridestowe Estate Lavender Farm (pronounced BRID-es-stoe) on the way. It’s one of the largest lavender farms in the world and the only source of perfumed lavender outside of Europe. As the flowering season in the southern hemisphere is December/January, it was just spectacular – a sea of fragrant lavender in curved contoured rows. It was so interesting to have a guided walk to the processing area which had only started up the day before, and to learn about the farm and its holistic approach. For example, there are many hectares of native and regenerated vegetation surrounding the lavender so there are lots of birds to feed on insects and other pests. And there are bee hives everywhere as the bees fertilise the flowers and that means higher oil yields. All rather clever! We had a lovely lunch in the café – including lavender-infused ice-cream - and I bought quite a few lavender items in the gift shop: drawer sachets, soaps, hand cream, boiled sweets, fudge, etc.
I was keen to see the poppy fields in bloom, too, as they are supposed to be quite spectacular, but we missed the peak flowering season by a couple of weeks. We still managed to see several huge fields of poppies, and they were very pretty, but I was surprised to see that the flowers of the opium poppies were a pale pinky-blue and not the brilliant reds, oranges and yellows that I had expected! Apparently Tasmania is the world’s largest supplier of opium alkaloids for the pharmaceutical market, and has over 20,000 hectares in cultivation which supplies 40% of the legal US market, as well as to the UK and other countries.
We then passed through quaint little towns like Tomahawk and Gladstone on our way to the Mt William National Park and Stumpy’s Bay where we chose a lovely campsite in the No. 1 camping area. There weren’t many tents and campervans there, so we chose a good sheltered site with a table and benches, close to both the track and to the bore for water, and also the drop toilet. And no generators were allowed which was a bonus! After setting up camp, Cameron and I headed to the beach, only 5mins walk away over the dunes. It was glorious, just like a postcard – the water was a beautiful turquoise and deep blue-green, the sands were soft and white, and the waves were relatively calm and enjoyable and not those huge thumpers that make swimming a bit scary. Cameron and I were intending to walk for only a half hour but it was just so beautiful that he convinced me to walk up to the north point of the bay and back – and that took over two hours! Cameron was like a big labrador pup frolicking in the waves and running along the beach, picking up huge bundles of kelp and pretty shells. As we were relaxing while George cooked dinner, we were visited by several little wallabies who were on the scrounge. Cameron tossed grapes and pieces of peaches to them, and they allowed him to get closer and closer until eventually he was hand-feeding them! Probably not a good idea.

Wednesday 9 January
Today we went south and spent the day exploring the Bay of Fires area. It was exquisite, even more beautiful that Stumpy’s Bay. We just had to take our shoes off to walk in the fine white sand that was like talcum powder. The two small headlands marking the Bay of Fires are made of giant rounded granite boulders, many of which are splashed with a brilliant orange lichen that looks spectacular against the turquoise of the waters. I’m sure these would have to be the most beautiful beaches in the world...well, in summer, anyway! We had lunch in St Helens which is famous for its seafood, especially oysters and crayfish. George and I had a dozen oysters to share as an entrée and they were huge – so fresh and juicy – and we agreed they were the best we’d ever tasted! On the way back to our campsite we had an ‘interesting’ experience. We were driving along the unsealed road and saw a vehicle coming towards us with a huge plume of red dust behind it. Nothing special in that; it was very dry and dusty. And then, to our amazement, out of the plume of dust appeared a beefed-up red Hummer which overtook the on-coming vehicle. There is no way the driver of the Hummer could have seen us or even the car he was overtaking...and he was on our side of the road! On a loose surface it was dangerous for us to swerve or stop suddenly but George managed to avoid the Hummer. Neighbouring campers later told us that he was a local ‘cow cocky’ who also owned a Porsche and was notorious for his risky driving. What a bleep ! This was the first of several “interesting” experiences involving oncoming vehicles on the wrong side of the road or, in one case, being overtaken by a vehicle about ten metres from the top of a steep hill.
George and Cameron went for a long walk to the southern point of the bay in the late afternoon. That night, while we were mellow and relaxed around Cameron’s fire, and after a superb meal cooked by George (the Cobb Cooker has salvaged his culinary credibility – and his marriage), we were honoured by the presence of a little mother wallaby with a joey in her pouch. Cameron was thrilled when the joey decided to leave the pouch for a while but when he went too close the joey popped quickly back into the pouch.

Thursday 10 January
After two days of brilliant sunshine, we packed camp and car and left in overcast conditions with strong winds. We headed south through St Marys where we were expecting to turn off to Ben Lomond National Park and the steep drive up to the ski village and its spectacular switchback called Jacob’s ladder. We were so disappointed to be told that the visibility on Legges Tor, Tasmania’s second highest peak, was only 4 to 5 metres that day. Apart from the lack of scenery, there really was no point in taking a whole day to do the trip because it would have been quite dangerous with such limited visibility.
Plan B was to go a few kms south to Elephant Pass and have a leisurely lunch at the famous Pancake Barn. The pancakes were actually filled crepes and they were huge, overhanging the plates on both sides - we feasted. We then drove on to Bicheno and checked in to a lovely little van park, the Seaview Holiday Park, where we had a very comfy cabin with spectacular views of the ocean. It was still quite hot, and the winds were still very strong all along the east coast with severe fire danger expected. Cameron went off to play cricket and tennis in the sweltering sun with the boys from the family in the next cabin. I did some laundry and pottered around while George chatted to the father from the next cabin and took cool drinks to the cricket and tennis players. That night we had crayfish paté on crackers and seafood chowder made from a base I bought in the seafood café in St Helens plus a nice fish that one of our neighbouring campers from Stumpy’s Bay had caught and given to us just before we left. It was delicious.

Friday 11 January
We were so sad to leave Bicheno and the Seaview Holiday Park., and agreed that it would have been so nice to spend another two nights in both Stumpy’s Bay and Bicheno - maybe next time! We headed south to the Freycinet Peninsula (pronounced FRAY-sinn-ay) and Coles Bay. It was so pretty, looking across the bay at the five pink granite peaks called The Hazards (named after the captain of a whaling ship). They are supposed to be spectacular at sunset when they glow pink in the sunlight. We had planned to do the walk from Cape Tourville to a lookout with views of the beautiful Wineglass Bay but the fierce winds, hot dry weather, and consequent bushfire danger meant that all bushwalking tracks on the east coast were closed from that day until 16 January - what a shame!
So we drove along the coast on to Swansea, through some quite amazing dust storms. We stopped at a pretty café and had crayfish rolls for lunch, and then took photos of a reluctant Cameron beside a sign for walk called the Loon-Tite-Ter-Mair-Re-Le-Hoin-Er Walk – what a mouthful! I think it must be Welsh. Just a few kms south of Swansea is the Spiky Bridge which was a great photo opportunity. No-one really knows why the convicts built the stone bridge with all those spikes along its top which makes it even more intriguing.
I had booked a 1.30pm tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory so we went straight through Sorrell (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable i.e. Saw-RELL) to Hobart, turned right as soon as we crossed the Derwent River and followed the river for about 15kms to Claremont. The tour was excellent, very professionally done and also very interesting – although we were surprised to see that several of their manufacturing lines were manual. Before and after the tour we were invited to take Caramello Koalas from a basket, and after the tour we were each given a box of Favourites, then taken to a large retail area where we could buy ‘Not Quite Perfect’ chocolates at a huge discount. We couldn’t resist. I understand that tours of the factory have now ceased – a real pity.
Rather than back-tracking through Hobart, we crossed the Derwent River and looped through Richmond, a cute little historic town that’s been tarted up for tourists. After a drive through the town to see some of the beautiful old 19th century buildings, we had cool drinks and the most amazing scallop pies at the Richmond Maze. Neither Cameron nor George felt like spending an hour or more sweltering through a wooden-walled maze, so we visited the Richmond Bridge which dates from 1843 and is the oldest road bridge in Australia. I was so pleased to also visit St John’s Church, the first Catholic church in Australia. On an unsealed road just past the church we were amazed to be overtaken on the very top of a small hill by a car containing several young people who would be lucky to make adulthood!
Then back to Sorrell, a nice little town dating from 1808, where we stayed in the spa suite at the Pembroke Hotel. It was still very hot and the afternoon sun was pouring into the room. As usual in Tasmania, there were electric blankets and heaters, but no air-conditioning so we drew the curtains, turned the fan on and waited for the sun to go down so we could open the windows and let the breeze in. We each had a lovely cool soak in the spa bath and enjoyed a lovely pasta meal in the local Italian restaurant.

Saturday 12 January
Saturday, Tasmania....we had to go to Salamanca Markets! We left Sorrell early and found a great car park for the Prado-plus-roof-rack. Cameron and I wandered around the markets – there were literally hundreds of stalls selling everything imaginable: fruit and vegetables including chewy ‘fruit leather’ (squashed apricots, mango, etc in a flat round shape the size of a huge dinner plate – we had to try the mango leather which was quite nice), jewellery, the ubiquitous lavender and timber products, T shirts, beautifully crafted furniture, leather bags and knitted things, old tools and records, doughnuts and hot dogs, plants, nuts and sweets, and the list goes on. It was lovely to wander in the sunshine but it started to get very crowded by 11am and we’d bought enough (cherries, rings and T shirts for Cameron, mango leather, some souvenirs for Takaaki, a 1916 penny keychain for Gerry, etc.) so we called it quits. It was absolutely packed and difficult to move.
We climbed up the steep Kelly’s Steps and walked a block or two to Arthur’s Circus, a quaint little circle of tiny old cottages around a miniature village green - it was so cute, but choked with traffic.
The Georgian warehouses on Constitution Dock were lovely and offset by two tall ships, so we bought fish, scallops, prawns and chips from one of the five famous floating seafood ‘shops’ (one restaurant, one fresh fish shop, and three takeaway ‘shops’) and sat on the dock while we people-watched and tried to protect our lunch from the seagulls. These floating seafood places were highlighted by Lonely Planet and Tasmania’s tourism websites but really they were just floating fish and chip shops, and nothing special.
After that, we headed to the top of Mt Wellington, about a 20min winding drive from the CBD. At the markets it had been sunny and hot; on top of t Wellington it was only 10º, overcast and blowing a gale. All the literature had warned of the possibility so we were prepared for it, though. The view was just amazing – an incredible panorama – and the granite boulders were also spectacular. We spent almost an hour exploring the many lookouts and boardwalks before running back to the warm and windless car.
Back to Sorrell where the boys watched the cricket and I did more bloody laundry! We had takeaway chicken meals for dinner, indulged in another spa bath, and then relaxed in bed, watching TV.

Sunday 13 January
Once again, we left early – just after 7am - and headed off to Port Arthur, stopping on the way at several places. Eaglehawk Neck and the famous Dog Line was very interesting, especially as we saw a fat old echidna nosing around. We stopped the car and went over to look and he wasn’t at all concerned that we were so close. We saw the Tesselated Pavement, a bizarre intertidal platform of siltstone that had been cracked by stresses in the earth’s crust. The cracks were really straight, just like tiles, especially as they had weathered so that the ‘grout’ was a few mms higher than the ‘tiles’. We were at the lookout, about 25m above the area, but I guess the rock platform would have been maybe 50m x 25m and very impressive. ‘Doo-Town’ was quaint. It was just a collection of houses, mainly beach shacks with a few nice houses too, but the locals called it Doo-Town because many of the houses had ‘Doo’ names e.g. Doo-Drop-Inn, Can-Doo, Gunna-Doo. I had my photo taken with Just-Doo-It, Cameron’s was Doo-F#@k-All, and George’s was Rum-Doo! Then we went to see the unusual horizontal blowhole – instead of the water rushing in and exploding out the top of the rock, this one spurted out the back, right where we were standing!
We arrived at Port Arthur just as it was opening and there were no queues at all. We got on the first 40-min guided tour at 9am, and the first 20-min cruise at 10.30am and both were great, really informative and interesting with very few people, and well worth the effort. Cameron was fascinated by the solitary confinement cells, one of which he tried. The walls were really thick brick and the door was several layers of timber so no light or sound penetrated – I was glad there was an electric light in there. The cruise commentary was interesting but is was also very pretty scenery and certainly gave a different perspective. By the time we left at 11.30am there were coaches all over the place and a long queue of at least 150 people! The reason we left so early was that we knew we had a long drive of 200kms and about 3 hrs to get to that night’s accommodation.
On the A1 heading west we saw miles of hop trellises which was particularly interesting as we’d been on the Boag’s tour and heard about them. For lunch, we detoured to Plenty and the Salmon Ponds Hatchery & Museum of Trout Fishing where Cameron spent a small fortune feeding their fish. Some of the salmon and trout were just enormous. Cameron threw some food in one pond and honestly, you would have thought there were crocodiles in there! It was overcast and started to drizzle so we didn’t get to spend much time there.
We headed straight o Mt Field Visitor Centre to pick up the keys to Pandani Cabin, a timber hut at Lake Dobson where we’d arranged to stay one night. As it was still quite early, and the cabin was 20mins up a steep and winding track, we decided to explore the local area while it was still light. Cameron chose to stay in the car playing his DS Lite while George and I walked through the drizzly rainforest to the mouth of Junee Cave to see the waterfall gushing out. There wasn’t too much gushing but it was still very pretty and sort of amazing to think that the water had travelled 30kms underground through 295 caves to the Tyenna River.
We drove through the beautiful Styx Forest and over the Styx River to the Big Tree Reserve where George and I did a 20min walk down to the river. It was beautiful, so quiet and peaceful. Some of the Swamp Gums were huge – apparently they are the tallest trees in the southern hemisphere and the tallest flowering plants on earth! It was bizarre to see vast areas of clear-felling here and there, and we were perplexed as to why huge tree trunks were left as debris in river courses. It really was quite obscene. We passed a logging-protesters’ camp along the main road and there were huge banners inviting people in to have a free coffee and see what they were doing. I had the bright idea that it might be interesting for Cameron to see how passionate they were about their cause and to see how they lived. We did not get off to a good start. After parking the car 100m down the road, we were walking back to the camp when the driver of a logging truck, probably thinking I was one of the protestors, drove his huge truck so the left-hand wheels were right off the road and dangerously close to me. I nearly sh@t myself and wondered if I’d imagined it but George, who was 30m back, saw it happen and was angry. Anyway, the first person we saw was a guy in his early 20s, on a rotting sofa on the dirt. He was dreadlocked and pierced and stoned off his face. Not a good start, and it was all downhill from there as the ‘camp’ was squalid. We did get to speak with an articulate and clean-cut young woman who was their spokesperson - ironically, she was from the NSW Central Coast and had been in Tasmania only 18 months! It was all rather tacky and we were glad to get out of there.
We drove back past the Visitor Centre and up the Lake Dobson track. It was truly lovely and there were many walking tracks clearly marked with little parking bays and information boards; some even catered specifically for children. It sounds corny but we were stunned by the savage beauty of the area in which the small cluster of cabins was located. There were six buildings: three cabins, a wood shed, a drop toilet and a storage shed. Our cabin, Pandani Cabin, was very basic and quite comfy. There were only two rooms: a small bedroom with three double bunk beds with vinyl-covered mattresses, and the main room with a small sink area with running drinkable cold water, a table and two benches and the focus of the whole cabin, a wonderfully effective glass-fronted fire-box. Early in the evening, Cameron and George had brought in several loads of firewood from the wood shed so we were soon nice and snug, even though it was sleeting outside. I set my mobile phone alarm for 2am so I could throw another log or two on the fire, just to be on the safe side. It was the middle of January and freezing cold with a fierce wind. There was a sign over the tap asking that it be kept dripping so the pipes didn’t freeze! In winter, it snows often; ski runs are even marked on the maps! We had to put on heavy coats to brave the elements and go to the toilet or get something out of the car. The air was just so crisp and pure, and the scenery was spectacular – another addition to the growing list of places where we wished we’d had more time.

Monday 14 January
Once again, we were up bright and early and it was positively freezing outside. We had the car packed by 7.30am, at which time the temperature had skyrocketed to 5ºC, so George estimated that it must have reached 0ºC overnight! The reason we had to leave so early is that it was a 20min trip down to the Visitors Centre where we dropped the key in the box, and then a further hour down Gordon River Rd past Strathgordon to the dam - yes, it was time for Cameron and George to abseil off the Gordon Dam wall!
As usual, we were early so that gave us some time to stop at the lookouts and have a wander around. I was surprised that the dam was so far below us. I had assumed that all the photos I had seen were aerial shots from a helicopter but no, the dam wall was a l-o-n-g way down. We met up with the abseil-trainer, also named Cam, from Aardvark Adventures. He was very short and missing a few teeth but very friendly, knowledgeable and strong. There was a huge amount of gear to be carried down – we were fortunate (I think) that some workers from the dam were also going down to the dam wall so they offered us a lift on their little cable car machine that crawled down a track on the side of the mountain - my God, it was steep!
Once at the dam wall, Cameron and George helped Cam to set all the gear up, including the framework that controlled the ropes. It was chilly, a bit drizzly and there were strong breezes. The boys started with a few 52m abseils, just for practise, and then progressed to the big one – 140m! Cameron did the first abseil. This meant that I watched my beautiful much-loved boy get clipped to a small safety rope so he could climb over the safety rail along the dam wall - at which time I was thinking ‘Beryl’s going to kill me, Beryl’s going to kill me’ – then the abseiling rope was clipped on and the safety rope removed...and the fun began! I was the ‘official’ photographer and that meant leaning over the rails to take the photos. I am terrified of heights so this was taking me w-a-y out of my comfort zone. When I later asked Cameron how he felt when he climbed over the rails, he said that he was ‘ bleep ting’ himself! Once down at the landing point, Cameron unclipped himself and then had to climb up about 12 sets of steep ladders, each with between 18 and 22 rungs. George started as soon as the ropes were hauled back up, and did his abseil with aplomb. Then they each did one more 52m abseil, during which time I tentatively made my way back up all about 160 open-treaded stairs to the road and the Prado where I planned to snooze and read.
About 20mins later a sweaty and puffed Cameron ran up to the car with half a sandwich hanging out of his mouth. Apparently he had finished an abseil, climbed back up to the dam wall, and then run up all those stairs to ask me to come and watch them do their big abseils. Oh for the energy of the young! I very reluctantly made my way back down to the dam wall – which even worse than climbing up as I could see just how far down it was! Cameron and George were looking and sounding exuberant – all that adrenaline, I guess – and by this stage (midday) there were quite a few onlookers marvelling at either how brave - or stupid - these guys were. Because the rope required to do the 140m abseils is so long, it’s too heavy to manipulate if it just hangs there, so it has to be carried in a basket that clips on to the harness. Although this makes it easier to manipulate, it also increases the chances of it tangling and sure enough this happened to both George – who did the first 140m abseil – and to Cameron. They were just hanging there, half-way down the wall, looking like flies on a wall and very vulnerable, and Cam had to yell out instructions to help them get the ropes working again. George paused in his ascent back up the ladders – he said it was to have a birds-eye view of Cameron doing his big abseil, but I think he was also looking for an opportunity to get his breath back for the rest of the climb!
By that stage, George had had enough of abseiling – and climbing back up all those ladders – but Cameron did another 52m abseil to try out some manoeuvres like the pendulum, swinging back and forwards. I carried some gear back up to the top and left them to all the packing up. When they eventually arrived at the car they were sweaty but excited and, I think, glad it was over. Both agreed that it was a fantastic experience.
It was only about 1.30pm so we started the long drive to Queenstown via Derwent Bridge. The scenery was lovely but by then we were quite blasé about all that. Well, the scenery was lovely until we came to the outskirts of Queenstown (called Queenie by the locals). My God, the devastation caused by the copper mining is unbelievable. The hills surrounding Queenstown were clear-felled to fuel the mines’ furnaces, and the acid rain, a by-product of the mines, killed whatever vegetation remained. Without any protection from ground cover and trees, the hills have been seriously eroded. It was a like a denuded moonscape which was horrifying to see but also beautiful in a way with the different colours of the soil and the erosion making some lovely shapes and colours.Queenstown was a small and dingy former mining town. I thought it was very sad and tawdry with many empty houses and shops but George has lived in a couple of mining towns and actually thought that it was okay and that residents would not see it as I did. Anyway, it was a good base for us as it was at the intersection of the two highways (one north to Zeehan and the other west to Strahan) and the accommodation was about half the price of that in Strahan.
We stayed at the Empire Hotel in town. It would have been glorious in its hey-day and still has a magnificent heritage-listed staircase from the 1850s. The timber was shipped to England where the staircase was made, disassembled and shopped back to Queenstown for installation! We quickly unloaded the Prado and dumped our gear in our room so we could race to the dining room and order our meals before the 8pm closure of the kitchen. The meal was good solid pub fare, and the beds were comfy – it was a shame though that the water had to be boiled before drinking!

Tuesday 15 January
We had booked for a half-day Gordon River cruise but some campers at Stumpy’s Bay had told us that the Gordon River cruise was nice but very commercial, in a huge air-conditioned cruiser with an impressive buffet and bar but little atmosphere. Instead, they highly recommended a cruise on the Arthur River which had much more character, so we cancelled Gordon River. This worked really well for us as it meant that we had more time to explore the area. First call was Montezuma Falls, Tasmania’s highest. For George, the chance to try a local 4WD track beckoned and Cameron was greatly attracted to the suspension bridge, so off we went.
The track to Montezuma Falls was between Zeehan and Rosebery, a dirt track suitable for 4WDs only, and rated as ‘challenging’. The very comprehensive trek notes on the OzExplore website - which even included GPS readings and every single turn, creek crossing and intersection – indicated that the 14km trip would take 90mins, depending on road conditions! As it is a narrow track with a river crossing that can be tricky, tuning in to UHF channel 10 is strongly recommended. The falls were stunning but could be reached only be crossing a very narrow and very high suspension bridge. Cameron was in thongs and bunny-hopped over the bridge, ran back and then made it sway from side to side. George sauntered casually across, photographing the view, as though he was crossing a country street. I walked over it very tentatively, one step at a time.
After our fill of the falls and bridge, we checked to see who else was on the track and heard from a young Danish man – Jonas - travelling with his wife and parents. As we were both heading towards the Ring River Road and weren’t sure of the conditions of the road or river crossing, we travelled in tandem with George leading the way. The track was quite muddy; at one stage it was blocked by a 10m long ‘puddle’ which of course George, being macho-man, had to go through...without testing its depth! After a slight delay in which George got stuck and had to reverse and try again, we made it to the other side. Jonas got well and truly bogged, so Cameron waded into the mud to hook Jonas’s snatch-strap to our Prado and George towed the vehicle out. Poor Jonas was shaking his head about how a Prado with AT tyres got through when his Patrol with STTs could not. George was playing up his great skill. I only found out about “the rear ARB air locker” sometime later – but that’s another story. After that excitement, the river crossing was a real anticlimax - with the lack of rain, the river was less than 30cms deep! All in all, a great little detour...and yes, it did take 90mins for the 14km loop!
Zeehan was another sleepy little former mining town although it used to be a bustling and wealthy silver and ore town with the likes of Nellie Melba visiting to perform. It was much better-kept than Queenstown though – the houses were painted, many had gardens and we didn’t see any empty houses or shops at all. We tried to visit Dr Frankenstein’s Museum of Monsters – mainly because the name is so intriguing – but the owner said that it would be closed for another month or so. It seems rather strange to close the museum during the peak tourist season but what do we know? Another attraction in Zeehan was going through the Spray Tunnel, an historic railway tunnel that was used to transport ore from the nearby Spray Mine. It was only about 100m long and, at 2.2m wide and 3m high, it was a squeeze to fit the Prado plus roof-rack through!
Strahan (Strawn) was a pretty little place situated on a huge bay, but it was disappointingly commercial with very few houses that people actually lived in – it was all tourist accommodation, gift shops and cafes. It didn’t help that I was feeling unwell and was snappy, to put it very politely. As I was doing the laundry (yet again) I started to feel really quite ill and dizzy. I was freezing cold and shivering which is very strange for me. George drove straight back to Queenstown so I could take some Panadol and go to bed under a mound of blankets while he and Cameron went out for pizza. The next morning I felt much better. Unfortunately, our early return to Queenstown mean that Cameron had to miss his sand boarding on Henty Dunes, just north of Strahan, and that was a real shame.

Wednesday 16 January
By skipping the Gordon River cruise and doing the Montezuma Falls track instead, we freed up the day to go straight to Arthur River – a brilliant idea.Corinna (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable i.e. Cuh–RINN-uh) was a tiny little village of only a few houses and a pub. It’s whole raison d’être seemed to be the Fatman Ferry , a tiny one-vehicle ferry that carried us 5mins across the Pieman River. From there we continued north past Balfour (pronounced BAL-fuh), and then cut west across to Couta (Koot-uh) Rocks on the coast and followed the coast road north to Arthur River, an isolated little town that used to be the centre of the timber-logging industry on the west coast.
We actually camped at Sunset Point, about 10kms south of Arthur River. It was a pretty site, but very very windy with little shelter. There was what we thought was a little creek just beside George’s favoured site and all seemed good...until we saw a sign saying ‘DANGER: POISONED/TOXIC WATER’ ad then pictures of a tap and a swimmer with red crosses through them. George was mortified. This was something that wasn’t mentioned in Ron Moon’s trip notes that we used as the reason for staying there. Some locals told us that the signs had been there for a number of years. You have to wonder…! Cameron and I were almost wetting ourselves with laughter, especially when Cameron spotted what we thought was a dead fish, belly up in the creek. George was even more mortified, if that was possible. Cameron and I were almost losing control, laughing uproariously and with tears of laughter on our cheeks. In all fairness to George, the mouth of the creek had silted up so the water was no longer flowing and that’s probably why the local authorities had installed the toxic water sign – it does seem a rather strange choice of words, though. And what looked so much like a dead fish later turned out to be a white plastic bag! Still, it’s a good story.
George and Cameron went for a walk along the beach and were excited to find some authentic Aboriginal rock art – a series of concentric circles that had been carved into the rock. We were surprised by some familiar screeching and wailing – there were flocks of yellow-tailed black cockatoos which we’d not seen nor heard since we’d left our Sydney home. That first afternoon and night the wind was blowing a gale, it was freezing cold and there was an occasional drizzle. It was too windy for a warming fire so we went to bed very early. Luckily, the wind and drizzle settled down overnight.

Thursday 17 January
We had brilliant weather for our morning cruise on the Arthur River with, who else, Arthur River Cruises. It was a wonderful experience: a small group of 8 or 9 people, an old boat full of character, an attentive and friendly female crew member who did the catering and organising, and a wiry little local chap who was the skipper, tour guide and story teller. His family has been involved in the local timber industry for five generations although he was very critical of the devastation caused by clear-felling. He believes that selective-felling is sustainable if it is done with respect for the environment and said that in the tourist off-season he still goes in to the bush with his bullocks to fill orders for specific timbers. We were taken up the river to see a white-breasted sea eagle and her youngster. Apparently this cruise has been taking a couple of fish out to a certain point on the riverbank for more than 20 years to feed this particular sea eagle so they’ve built up a certain amount of rapport and respect, and the mother swoops out to get the fish from the riverbank. We also saw the nest which was just massive. It would usually be very high up but in this case the winds roar down the river in winter so the nest has been carefully positioned just beneath the tree canopy and, conveniently, in clear view from the river. By the time we’d had an interested guided walk through the rainforest where many trees were identified and many stories told, a lovely BBQ and salad was ready for us. The trip back along the river was very relaxing, sitting in the sun and chatting to other people.
As a treat, I bought a huge bag of hot chips for Cameron at the Arthur River store – so big, even he could not finish them – and then we had a nice quiet afternoon at the camp site.

Friday 18 January
On the way back to civilization, we called in at Dismal Swamp, a Forestry Tasmania tourist attraction focussed on a 100m long slide into a blackwood swamp. We enjoyed a really nice cup of coffee and cake but neither George nor Cameron felt motivated to do the slide – I was told that, after the abseil, it was a bit too tame! The building was quite stunning, all local timber, corrugated metal and a very modern design, built on the side of the hill with spectacular views, especially from the toilets which looked onto the tree canopy! I bought a sleek Huon Pine rolling pin that smells absolutely gorgeous.
Next stop was Stanley where we booked into the Stanley Cabin and Tourist Park, a truly impressive place that must be the best-equipped and best-run tourist park in Australia. We had a lovely two-bedroom cabin and it was all so neat and clean and well-appointed. I did what I prayed would be my last lot of washing and drying in a public laundry for at least a year, while George and Cameron played table tennis. Stanley is on a small peninsula jutting out into Bass Strait and dominated by ‘The Nut’, the local’s term for Circular Head. This is a 13 million year old volcanic rock that is 152m high, and there’s a chairlift that goes to the top. We were keen to try it and see the views but it was still very windy so we decided to leave it go until the following day when the weather was expected to be calmer. For dinner, we tried the Craypot Café which was touted as having the best burgers in Tasmania but which was actually rather average. It was so sad to think that this was our last night in Tasmania. Tomorrow we headed back to Devonport.

Saturday 19 January
We started with a scenic drive around Stanley and a visit to the chairlift but the weather was worse than the previous day, very blowy and drizzly, so we gave it a miss. About 30kms south-east of Stanley was Dip Falls with their very unusual hexagonal basalt columns and The Big Tree, a huge 400-year old gum with a circumference of 18m and a boardwalk around its base. We had been told about it by the same campers at Stumpy’s Bay who had recommended the Arthur River cruise, and once again they were spot on – it was certainly impressive!
The coast road from Stanley to Devonport was so very pretty and rural. We saw acres and acres of beautifully even furrows with what turned out to be millions of onions on top of each mound of earth. We also saw loads more poppy fields, and potato farms. The towns along the coast were surprisingly pretty, too. Wynyard was a delightful little town. We stopped at a quirky café-cum-used-bookshop called White Dogs and that was quite an experience. I was excited to find a 20-year-old copy of a biography on Frederick Ashton, a famous British ballet choreographer whose muse was Margot Fonteyn. The café/bookshop was quite bizarre with paper maché mermaids on the walls, hand-made unicorn lampshades, hand-painted murals on the walls, etc. and the owner was an arty and very talkative bohemian woman in her 60s with long permed curly white hair in a voluptuous Brigitte Bardot style, tattoos, multiple earrings, loads of rings, no bra – she was gorgeous and I would have loved to get to know her better! A bit further on was Burnie and when I thought of Burnie, I thought of paper-processing and huge factories belching black smoke but that wasn’t the case at all. In face, just a few kms past one of the Burnie paper mills was Fernglade Platypus Sanctuary, a lovely quiet piece of bushland along the Emu River. We didn’t see any platypus but enjoyed our peaceful interlude.
All too soon we were back at Devonport. We were still too early for the ferry, so we drove around trying to find a restaurant so we could have one last meal of Tasmanian crayfish – no joy, though. We drove a few kms south to Latrobe where we had another lovely lunch at the House of Anvers, and then visited The Cherry Shed where we tried Van cherries, the most delicious cherries I have ever tasted. We bought a 2kg box and demolished them in just a few hours! I also bought a lovely cherry marinade and some cherry port.
We queued up early for the ferry, only the third car there, and spent some time in the waiting area of the terminal watching the cricket before being loaded on to the ferry. Once again, we dumped our gear in our cabin and then had a light supper, a shower and a peaceful night’s sleep.
We were up at 5.30am the next morning, ready for our 6.30am drive-off. Unfortunately we were parked behind some bleep who didn’t go to his car and, with our roof-bag on, we couldn’t drive around his vehicle so we were stuck there for 10mins or so until he decided to show up. Then it was off the ferry at South Melbourne and home to unpack and clean George’s precious car.

Closing comments
Our research indicated that the weather was likely to be very changeable, cool/cold, wet and very very windy. The reality was that we did experience some wind and even a few patches of chilly or drizzly weather but in the main it was very hot and dry - so we carted around an armful of warm jackets, thermal vests and wet weather gear that we barely used!
The highlights of the trip were, for Cameron, the abseil from the Gordon Dam, the beautiful beaches in the north-east, and the suspension bridge at Montezuma Falls. For George, they were the 4WD track around Montezuma Falls, the abseil, and the beaches. For me, number one was the wildlife, especially seeing a platypus, echidnas, a white-bellied sea eagle and her almost-independent chick and flocks of yellow-tailed black cockatoos in the wild. Unfortunately, Tasmania seems to be the “road kill” capital of the World. Next was the awesome trees, especially the tall trees in the Styx Forest and the drive along the Gordon River Road to the dam; they were amazing. Last but not least would have to be the beautiful beaches of the north-east. I had never really thought of stunning beaches in connection with Tasmania - mind you, it would be too cold to swim in them most of the year!
Anyway, we had a fantastic vacation which far exceeded our expectations. It was a wonderful balance of activities and relaxation, and it really catered for our differing interests and attention spans...and we already have a list of places and activities that we were disappointed to miss or where we’d like to spend more time!
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