We return to Hobart

December 1, 2013

We packed up our gear and went to the kitchen for breakfast. All the other people we had met last night were there, so we chatted with them while having our oatmeal and hot chocolate. After saying goodbye to everyone we loaded up the car and were on our way. Today was the last full day of our holiday, and tomorrow we would be on our way home, but we still had today to make the most of. So we headed down the road to Mt. Field National Park, arriving there at about lunch time.

By now the day was lovely, sunny, and warm so sitting at the picnic table was great. Summer had finally arrived in Tasmania, and there were crowds of people at the park in summer clothing. Our walk in Mt. Field was a combination walk joining up the Russell Falls trail, the Tall Trees loop, and the Lady Barron Falls trail, which took us about two and a half hours. The first section of the trail, to Russell Falls, was very busy because it is close to the visitor centre, and also because today was Sunday. The falls were very pretty and full of water, coming down over hard layers of rock.

From Russell Falls the trail went uphill into an area which had a lot of very tall gum trees. Looking up them was mind-boggling as you couldn’t see all the way to the top. One of them was claimed to be the tallest flowering plant in the world. (Remember, conifers aren’t flowering plants!) The crowds had thinned out quite a bit as we continued on to Lady Barron Falls, which looked similar to Russell Falls but weren’t as high or as interesting. After Lady Barron Falls the trail carried on downhill, then up a flight of about 250 steps, then downhill again to the visitor centre, completing the loop. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon before heading back to Hobart.

Last time we had been in Hobart it had been cloudy, so we didn’t go up Mount Wellington. Today the weather was fine, but we were tired of driving so we decided not to do that today either. As we pulled up outside the hostel at 3:55 pm we found that pay parking ended at 4 pm on Sundays. Excellent! We checked into the hostel and were assigned Room 102, which was adjacent to the one we had two weeks ago. We brought all our stuff from the car into the room and made an attempt to go through all the brochures we had collected.

At 5:30 pm we went town to the harbour to get fish and chips for dinner. The barge that we had eaten at last time was closed, so we ate at the only other one open. Rosemary had trevally and Paul had blue grenadier fish. Our order took a while to cook, but once we had it we sat on a bench in the sun. The blue grenadier wasn’t as nice as the trevally, it was oilier. But apparently the gulls weren’t as choosy, as one of them grabbed a piece of fish right out of Paul’s hand! Needless to say we were very vigilant after that.

Once done with our dinner we headed towards Battery Point for an evening walk. This area is part of the original settlement of Hobart and there are some very lovely old houses there. We found a trail of sculptures celebrating the history of the area, so we followed that for a bit. But as we didn’t know how far it went, we turned around to head back to the YHA. We reorganized our packs for flying for the last time, and we were amazed at how quickly that went.

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Lake St. Clair

November 30, 2013

Last night it was raining, but it wasn’t raining very hard or surely we would have heard it on the roof of our cabin. But the weather was pretty good (for Strahan) as we packed up and headed back up the road. We planned to stay at Lake St. Clair, which was only a two-hour drive along the B24. The road as usual was winding, and we wound our way up the mountains with the occasional rain shower for variety. Soon we rejoined the A10 at Queenstown, which had been a major mining centre in the past. Perhaps it still is, but we couldn’t tell. But even to us non-geologists it was obvious that the local rocks had a high metal content.

Along the way we stopped at viewpoints and a couple of short walks. By the time we reached Nelson Falls, our first stop, it was close to lunch time so after completing the lovely forested walk to the falls we had a picnic lunch. It was very pleasant sitting in the cool sunshine. Back on the road our next short walk was to Donaghy’s Lookout, but when we arrived at the trailhead it was to find the trail blocked by orange plastic fencing and a sign saying that a tree had fallen on the track. Our next walk was the Franklin River nature trail, once again a lovely forested walk. Soon we came to a roadside sign which said that we were at the east-west divide. And then everything changed. The sun came out and the road got straighter and flatter, and it was bordered by fields rather than forests.

After this it didn’t take us long to reach Derwent Bridge and the turn-off to Lake St. Clair National Park, where we had decided to stay tonight. If we had walked the Overland Track from Cradle Mountain, this is where we would have finished. There was very little accommodation around the area; in fact the Lake St. Clair lodge was basically it. We didn’t feel like putting up the tent again, and our research told us that we could stay at the Drumlin Bunkhouse for the night. The man at the reception desk tried to talk us into staying in a room at the lodge for an extra $100 per night, saying that we wouldn’t have to walk outside to use the toilet. That certainly wasn’t worth $100 to us so we got our room key and drove to the bunkhouse.

After unloading the car we checked out the washrooms and the camp kitchen. Both were quite nice so there was no problem there. Our room was a tiny room with a bed and a small window and it cost $110, but we didn’t really have an alternative. The camp kitchen was bright and spacious, so we sat in the sun there for a while.

It was now after 2 pm, so we didn’t have the option of doing most of the medium and longer trails. So we headed out on the trail leading towards the platypus viewing area. By now the day was quite warm, which was a pleasant change. Along the way we met a girl coming towards us who pointed out the tail end of a tiger snake which was disappearing under a log. It must have been sunning itself on the trail when she came along. The tiger snake is extremely venomous so it was lucky for all of us that it was not annoyed. This was only the second snake we had seen in Australia and we had almost forgotten about them, but now as we continued along the trail we kept our eyes open for more snakes. We crossed the Cuvier and Hugel rivers and very soon arrived at the platypus hide. The parks people had actually built a screen there with little gaps to look through, just like a bird hide. It was mid-afternoon and we knew we had little chance of seeing any platypus, and we didn’t see any.

By the time we got back to the bunkhouse it was dinner time. While we were in the kitchen a couple came by asking if we had a phone charger. They were stuck at the park while their friends were driving into Hobart to get the wife’s probably-broken wrist checked out. It turned out that the phone was an iPhone 4, so Rosemary lent them her charger. It also turned out that the wife had broken her wrist while trying to climb over the fallen tree on the Donaghy’s Lookout trail. And most surprising, it turned out that the couple we were talking to lived near Falmouth in Cornwall, and the nearest town to them was Mylor Bridge where Paul’s aunt Jean lives!

We made our dinner, and as we were washing our dishes we met the other residents of the bunkhouse. They were three lady librarians from various places in Tasmania. They had accidentally bought a bottle of wine with a cork, and there was no corkscrew available. (In our experience Australian camp kitchens never have corkscrews.) But we had one—on our Swiss Army knife! So we lent it to them. One of them was very impressed that we had been to Narawntapu National Park, which is very close to where she lived in Port Sorell.

After a while we went down to the dock, where the librarians were hanging out. We watched the sky darken as we waited for a platypus to swim by. There were no platypus, but we did have a good time chatting with them. When it was nearly dark we all headed back to the kitchen to sit inside and warm up. The sky was clear so the temperature was dropping but inside the kitchen there was a gas fire which made it nice and warm. The couple who had driven to Hobart arrived back so we got to hear their experiences. (The wife’s wrist was broken, but it had just been taped and it would be looked at later when they got home.)

Before we went to be we headed back to the dock to look at the stars. The lake was so calm that we could see them reflected in the water. Definitely a lovely sight. We identified a few constellations, along with the two Magellanic clouds, before heading back to our room.

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Strahan, Day 2

November 29, 2013

We had booked our boat cruise yesterday, so this morning we headed over to the marina; boarding time was 8:30 am with departure at 9 am. We had paid the price for windows seats, as had most of the other passengers. Most of the window seats were booked and only a few in the centre section were occupied. This was the Gordon River cruise, the premier attraction of Strahan. It was to be a six-hour cruise of Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River.

Just after 9 am the ship pulled away from the dock and we were on our way. We headed towards Hell’s Gate, which is the entrance to Macquarie Harbour. Along the way the captain gave us a commentary about the area, both historical and present-day. The weather was mixed, like yesterday, with grey sky and blue sky and rain showers now and then. But there wasn’t much wind, so the waves were small, fortunately. This meant that it was possible for our boat to go out through Hell’s Gate, which is only 75 meters wide. We didn’t stay outside the harbour long, but returned through the narrows to continue the cruise.

We passed by the fish farms, which are a booming business in Tasmania. Like fish farms elsewhere they raise Atlantic salmon in considerable quantities. The area is good for fish-farming because the water is fast-flowing and is a mixture of salty and slightly acidic fresh water. Our next stop was at Sarah Island, which was a penal colony from 1822 to 1833. It was historically noted as one of the most brutal of the penal colonies. On the island we were given a tour by one of the locals, who told us about the goings-on. It was only in operation for a few years but it was amazing how many different things happened there over that period. Our guide was a very active interpreter of the stories she chose to tell about the island.

It was just about noon when we reached the river mouth, so we had a buffet lunch while cruising up the river. It was a really good buffet, with several choices of salad including an excellent potato salad with mustard seed dressing, sliced ham, corned beef, and smoked salmon. It was a very good selection with plenty of food for all the passengers, and probably most of it was locally-sourced Tasmanian produce.

Where the river makes a horseshoe bend we docked again, this time for a walk around a loop of boardwalk for a look at the rain forest. This area is known for the Huon pine and there were several of them by the boardwalk. You could see clearly that if you escaped from the prison, travelling overland through the rain forest wouldn’t be a good plan. We had been lucky with the weather; every so often a rain squall would come through but it didn’t last long. But just as we finished walking around the boardwalk the clouds opened up again and this time it rained for most of the return trip to Strahan.

On the return trip they showed us a couple of videos. One was an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) program about the rise and fall of the Huon pine logging industry, featuring quite a few Strahan residents. The other was locally produced and basically recapped what we had seen. After dozing a bit we arrived back in Strahan at 3 pm. We had already seen the mill demonstration yesterday, so we just headed back home. At the hostel we still had some time on our 24-hour wi-fi, so we checked e-mail again and Paul got one more blog entry uploaded.

Dinner tonight was pasta, including leftover chicken from last night. In three days we would be leaving Australia and flying home, so today was the start of eating up our food. About 7 pm we decided to go for a walk to Hogarth Falls, which was in People’s Park at the other end of town. We hadn’t really done any walking today, and besides this walk was in our “60 Great Short Walks in Tasmania” booklet. Our route went beside a creek, so every chance we got we checked for platypus. The round trip to the falls took about 40 minutes, and probably it was still too light out as we didn’t find any platypus. But we did spot some fat little dull brown birds hopping around in the bushes, which we later concluded were Tasmanian Scrubwrens.

We had timed the walk well, because as we arrived back at the car the skies opened up and the rain fell heavily. We were back in our cozy A-frame very quickly and we turned on the heater so that our room was comfortably warm. Tomorrow we were moving on and we hoped for good weather because we were planning to do some walking in the Lake St. Clair area.

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Strahan, Day 1

November 28, 2013

It was our last morning in the Waldheim cabin, so we packed up our gear and had breakfast. Before we left we had a visit from a pademelon who sat very nicely by the corner of the cabin. Surprisingly our legs weren’t very tired, even though we had finished yesterday’s hike with a lot of downhill walking. After driving back down the winding park road we stopped briefly at the visitor centre and bought a book about wombats, then headed out to the highway.

We followed the road back the way we had come a couple of days ago, and then picked up the A10 on its way down to Strahan on Tasmania’s remote west coast. Many of the roadside views were familiar, much like what we might see back home: clearcuts, new forest growth, forested mountains, mine tailing piles. For a while there was a lot of road work, but it didn’t delay us much, and we arrived in Strahan by noon. We tracked down the YHA after consulting the map, and we were shocked to see a “No Vacancy” sign outside. But luckily the manager just hadn’t changed the sign this morning, so we had our choice of rooms. We opted for a small A-frame cabin which was only $5 per night more than a double room in the main building. The cabin was very nice inside, the only drawback being that there were starlings nesting above the front door.

After lunch we headed into town for a walk and to book our Gordon River cruise for tomorrow. The main street of Strahan is only about three blocks long so it didn’t take us too long to cover it. We stopped in a shop selling Huon pine items and then went to the cruise office to make our reservations. Once this was done we walked a bit farther, checking out restaurants in case we might want to go out for dinner, then crossed the road to return home. We noticed a candy shop selling ice cream and despite the chilly weather we decided to treat ourselves. We also bought some chocolate-covered fresh licorice.

No sooner had we got our ice creams than the rain started, so we sat outside the shop on soft chairs (under cover) and ate our cones. As usual for rain storms in the area, this one didn’t last long, so we finished our cones and continued on our walk. We headed to Morrison’s Sawmill to see a demonstration of an antique saw cutting a Huon pine log. The Huon pine is a special tree which grows in the area; it is rot-resistant and very strong, so it is ideal for boat-building. But it is now protected from cutting because there was not much of it left. All of the mills in Strahan have closed down now except for this one, which survives on pieces of pine which have either been salvaged from the water or fallen down on their own. After the demonstration we bought a Huon pine breadboard as a souvenir.

We went back to the YHA to collect our plastic shopping bags (as of November 1, Tasmania passed a law requiring stores to charge you 10¢ per bag) before walking over to the IGA for our last major grocery shop of the trip. We also went by the little restaurant near the YHA to buy a large roasted chicken for $12.95. Our dinner tonight was the fanciest of the trip, roast chicken, rice and stir-fried veggies. As we were cleaning up the dishes, Paul was carving up the leftover chicken meat and found that the chicken had been stuffed! It was a pity we hadn’t noticed that before we had dinner.

The YHA had wi-fi for $4 per 24 hours, so we decided to check our e-mail and update the blog. We had also been told that the stream which runs behind the hostel had platypus in it, so we had a look there, but no luck. Tomorrow we have to be down at the wharf at 8:30 am to check in for our boat cruise, so no sleeping in!

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Crater Mountain, Day 2

November 27, 2013

Our little cabin was warm and cosy last night, thanks to the electric heater. We didn’t need to get up early, so it was after 8 am when we got up and had a leisurely breakfast. By 10 am we had decided where we wanted to walk to, and by 10:20 am we had packed up our lunch and were heading out on the trail. The weather was slightly grey, but there was no rain and we hoped it would stay like that.

Again we followed the boardwalk from our trailhead, across the buttongrass meadow. Today there was no wombat to greet us, though. Our plan today was to walk to Crater Lake and Marion’s Lookout, and then return by some route to be decided later. Our path followed the creek at first, through a beech forest which we recognized from our trips to the Patagonian Andes. Unlike yesterday’s trail, today’s was less boardwalk and more rocks and dirt. It didn’t take very long to reach the end of Crater Lake, where there was an old wooden boathouse.

Crater Lake isn’t really a crater; it is an amphitheatre with high walls around most of the lake. Nearing the end of the lake we started climbing quite steeply up one of these walls to a small plateau. It levelled off somewhat until we climbed very steeply up to Marion’s Lookout. Part of the trail was so steep that the parks people had installed chains to help. This route is part of the Overland Track, so people carrying large backpacks would have to climb this section as well. The lookout had a view over Dove Lake, where we had hiked yesterday, and there was a large group of Germans who were having their lunch there. Rather than finding somewhere to sit, we consulted our map and decided to continue to the Kitchen Hut for lunch. It didn’t take long to get there, so we were having our lunch by 12:30 pm. There were a lot of flies outside the hut, but they weren’t the normal Aussie flies which want to crawl on your face. These flies just buzzed around your head at a respectful distance.

Now we had some choices to make about routes. We had passed a Japanese couple while walking, and the woman said she had been told it was only half an hour to the summit using the easy route. Our map made no mention of any “easy route” and said it would take two hours round trip to the summit. They carried on up the trail so we decided if they thought they could do it, then we could do it too. We could see the route up the face, with a lot of people on it, and it looked steep but doable. So off we went. Initially the going was quite good, steep but with good footing, and then we came to an even steeper section incorporating steps. Looking around we noticed that the Japanese couple had already given up, but we carried on.

It was after that section that the going got tough. Following metal poles at route markers we had to cross a field of large dolerite boulders. They were mostly sharp and pointed rather than round, so they were a bit difficult to negotiate. It wasn’t too bad at the beginning but as we got higher the route became more difficult. Everybody who we met coming down had some advice for us about what we were in for, so we had a general idea of what lay ahead. Eventually about 10 meters below the col, which we had been told wasn’t the end of the hard part, the steps started to require hand-holds to climb up. At this point we decided to call it a day, and we descended with care back down the large boulders.

Finally back at the Kitchen Hut we stopped and ate our apples. We decided that our route back to the cabin would be via the Horse Track. The sign told us it should take two and a half hours, so off we went. This trail was not as widely used as the others, so the boardwalk was old and in a state of disrepair. It was a nice walk which took us across the Cradle Plateau to Crater Peak and then down a very long ridge to the valley below. As we passed Cradle Peak three Black Currawongs suddenly started shrieking. It turned out that there was a Wedge-tailed Eagle passing by! Even after the eagle had departed they carried on chattering for quite a while.

There was a lot of downhill on the Horse Track, but after all we had done a lot of uphill this morning, so that was to be expected. We were quite weary when we got back to the Ronny Creek junction, but it had only taken us an hour and a half instead of two and half hours. It was great to take off the boots—this was the first real hike we had done in Australia after five weeks of not much exercise—and felt even better to have a hot shower. We finally ate our dinner at 6:30 pm and then had a relaxing evening.

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Cradle Mountain, Day 1

November 26, 2013

The tent was nice and cosy last night and we slept quite well. After packing up and having breakfast, we were on the road by 9 am. Our destination today was Cradle Mountain National Park, where we would be staying for two nights in one of the Waldheim cabins. But our first stop was at Rocky Cape National Park, which was not far down the A2 from Stanley. The unsealed park road ended at the lighthouse at Rocky Cape, which had been built in 1968 so it wasn’t very historic. There wasn’t much else to the park either, no visitor centre, so we headed back to the main road.

At Wynyard we turned south, eventually following the A10 which took us towards Cradle Mountain. We stopped briefly at Hellyer Gorge, which was a pretty spot with lots of birds singing in the trees, and then carried on. On the side road which led to Cradle Mountain we made a good sighting, an echidna crossing the road. Luckily there was a partial shoulder so we stopped to get some photos. And shortly after that sighting we saw another echidna by the road, and then another.

At the visitor centre we stopped in to get the key to our cabin. The car park was surprisingly full and there was a lineup for service at the visitor centre. But after a few minutes we had the key, which was attached to a keycard which would let us through the “authorized visitors” boom gate. Once past that gate we drove up the narrow park road and then turned on to the even narrower road to the cabins. Soon we found our little cabin, whose name was Amarina, and parked beside it. It was a cute cabin with two sets of bunk beds, a stove, fridge, eating table, and benches. All you needed for a stay. We brought everything in from the car and made ourselves at home.

After lunch we headed out for a walk. It was already 2:30 pm but we had time for a half-day walk. The trail system had a spur leading to our cabins, so we didn’t have to drive anywhere. We started out along the boardwalk to the Cradle Valley trail. Not far along we saw our first wombat in the buttongrass field, but that was the only one we saw on our walk. Our route continued onto the Lake Lilla track and then onto the Dove Lake circuit. Dove Lake is the centrepiece of the Cradle Mountain area and the trail around it is a well-known attraction. So the trail was easy to walk on, with a lot of it being boardwalk covered with chicken wire.

The first part of the trail went up and down through forest, including some thick rainforest with King Billy pines growing. With their stringy bark they looked a bit like our western red cedar, but apparently they are good building material. Then the trail went around the end of the lake on a cantilevered boardwalk before returning on a more conventional path. We had had clouds all day, but now the sky was getting bluer and the sun was getting lower in the sky, a good combination for photographs. There had been a lot of people on the Dove Lake loop, but now as we retraced our steps to Waldheim there were few and then none, except for wombats roaming in the buttongrass.

We finally got back to the cabin at about 6:15 pm, so we had a late dinner. After cleaning up, we decided to go out for an evening walk along the boardwalk by Ronny Creek. The lady at the visitor centre had said that Ronny Creek was a good place to see platypus, so we hoped to finally find one. It was hard to see into the creek from the boardwalk, but we followed it down to the car park. Along the way we saw several wombats, pademelons, and Bennett’s wallabies, but no platypus. We walked back along the road to the cabin, using our headlamps to scan the darkening forest, but didn’t see much until we were nearly back, when a mother bushy-tailed possum with a baby on her back ran across the parking lot. After having hot chocolate and writing our journals we finally got to bed at 11 pm.

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Wetland, Penguin, and Nut

November 25, 2013

Last night was cold, but we had an extra blanket so we slept comfortably enough. Actually our room had a little electric heater, but we couldn’t be bothered to plug it in. It was moving-on day again today, so we packed up our gear, said goodbye, and were on our way. We didn’t quite know where we would end up, but we knew it would be somewhere on the north coast of Tasmania. We drove up to Scottsdale and then followed the A3 towards Launceston. The B roads we had driven on yesterday were well-engineered and reasonably straight, whereas the A3 was narrow and twisting with nasty hidden curves. It took a bit longer than we had expected, but eventually we got into Launceston, only to head immediately out the other side up the A7.

We stopped at the Tamar Island Wetlands, just outside the town. This was a large area of grasses and phragmites reeds which had been preserved for wildlife after its previous life as agricultural land. Because the Tamar estuary is tidal, there is a mixture of fresh and salty water. We paid our admission and started our walk along the boardwalk. There were signs warning that snakes had been seen in the area, in particular the copperhead snake which is highly venomous, so we had to keep an eye open. The trail for the most part is on a raised boardwalk, but apparently the snakes like to lie in the sun beside the boardwalk. Luckily for us we didn’t see any snakes, although it would have been interesting to see one.

We followed the boardwalk across two arms of the Tamar River, and we were passed by a couple wearing business attire. They were taking a break from work, they said. Not a bad place to go on your break! They pointed out three Black Swan families, which each had cygnets in different stages of development and size. They also spotted a Cuckoo-shrike, which must be unusual because it wasn’t on the area’s bird checklist. At this time of day the bridges went over mudflats rather than water, and we saw some pelicans flying over and some cormorants here.

It was after noon, but we decided to carry on to the north coast for lunch. As we got into Devonport we found ourselves on Highway 1, which is new and fast, so we found ourselves whizzing along. We finally decided to stop at Penguin for lunch, because who can resist a 3-meter-high fibreglass penguin? We sat at a picnic table on the waterfront to eat. By now the day was lovely and sunny even though the wind was a bit chilly. Noticing a bakery nearby we went in and bought a dessert each plus some raisin buns for breakfast or lunch tomorrow. We also decided to stock up on groceries as there was an IGA in town.

Now that we were done with our chores we got back in the car with the intention of driving to Burnie to stay the night. It didn’t take us that long to get there, so we continued on to Stanley, which had been our other potential destination. We finally arrived there at 4:30 pm, and we were glad we had carried on. Burney was a large industrial town with several traffic lights, and Stanley was a small picturesque town which sits at the base of the Nut, an old volcanic plug about 100 meters high. The weather was still lovely and sunny so rather than spend money on accommodations we opted to tent. At first we paid for an unpowered site, but that turned out to be in a lumpy weedy area. The powered sites looked a lot nicer, so we paid another $5 and took one of them instead.

It was after 5 pm but we weren’t hungry because we had had a late (and large) lunch. So we went for a walk up the Nut. The path was less than 500 meters long, but it was very steep, so a lot of people would pay $14 to take the chairlift which was right next to the path. This wasn’t an option for us because the chairlift wasn’t running. But even after five sedentary weeks of travelling we were still in good enough shape to make it up the path to the top. A leisurely walk around the top took about an hour, with really great views in all directions. We basically had the whole place to ourselves with the exception of one runner. Just as we were returning to the beginning of the trail we came across a large gathering of pademelons, who were munching on what looked like wild garlic. They had trampled down the area and were busy eating the green leaves. The aroma was quite lovely and reminded us of walking in England and Scotland.

Descending from the Nut was actually harder on the legs than going up, but soon we were back in the town. It was 8 pm and we hadn’t had any dinner, so we made up a veggie stir-fry and cooked up the last of the pasta. We shared a raisin bun for dessert, and our treat was the Bundaberg ginger beer we had bought in Penguin. After cleaning up our dishes we sat in the very nice camp kitchen and wrote up our journal entries.

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