November 18, 2013

Today didn’t promise to be too exciting, because all we were doing was travelling from Adelaide to Hobart, in Tasmania. So we got up not too early, had breakfast (noodle soup), made sure our packs were packed for flying (knives in checked baggage etc.), and headed off to the airport to return the car. This time we didn’t have to wait for ages to be served by Hertz, in fact there was somebody to check us in right away.

Our first flight, to Melbourne, left on time at 11:40 am. It only took 55 minutes to get there but Qantas still gave us a beverage and a cookie. In the Melbourne airport we found that Qantas was even providing (limited) free wi-fi, so we took advantage of that while waiting for our next flight. Tasmania was already different, because as we flew over it we could see lots of lakes, forests, and mountains. We got into Hobart at about 4 pm; it didn’t take long to retrieve our bags and to find Bargain Car Rentals outside. We had prebooked the car so everything was in order, except that the rental agent had to help us find it in the lot. This car was smaller than the other ones we had rented, which was good because it was a bit easier to drive. But on the other hand the trunk was too small for all of our packs.

It didn’t take long to get to Hobart, and after some circling around the one-way street network we found the YHA. There wasn’t any convenient parking nearby, unfortunately, but the parking spaces outside were free between 6 pm and 8:30 am. So we paid the meter until 6 pm and took note that we should be out of there by 8:30 am tomorrow. Once settled in our room we fished out our laundry (most of our clothes) and used the hostel’s washer and dryer to get it done. When the dryer was running we headed out to look around.

We walked down to the harbour, which was very close by. Here there were some tall ships and some touring catamarans and some Antarctic exploration vessels, along with a marina full of ordinary boats. In the inner harbour were several fish-and-chip barges, so we chose the middle barge for dinner. We sat on a bench near the harbour to eat the meals, and they were really quite good. We had the usual flock of gulls hoping for food, of which they got none. After dinner our next chore was to go grocery shopping, which was easily accomplished because Woolworth’s was a short walk up the street. With Christmas music playing we bought food for the next four days including our trip to Maria Island.

November 19, 2013

The noise from the street was very distracting this morning, so we got up a bit earlier than usual. We had our breakfast in the hostel’s very small kitchen and were on our way before 8:30 am rather than paying the meter. We had decided to explore the Tasman Peninsula rather than staying in Hobart and having to deal with parking, so we followed the highway out past the airport and followed the signs to Port Arthur.

First stop on the way was the Tessellated Pavement rocks, which were a flat area at the edge of the ocean which looked like squares of stone neatly laid out. Before we got there we had expected it to be columnar basalt, but it was all sedimentary in origin. There was an information board there which described a complicated process involving sand being deposited into cracks in rock and then waves or currents eroding the sand and rock differently; at any rate the regularity of the squares was quite impressive.

From here we carried on to Eaglehawk Neck. This was an outpost of the Port Arthur penal colony, which we would visit later in the day. At this narrow isthmus they cleared a strip of land and set up lights to illuminate it at night. And besides having armed guards posted, there were also nine ferocious guard dogs chained to posts along the cleared strip. This was all to catch prisoners who were trying to escape from Port Arthur by land. The exhibit beside the road there was the small house where the officer in charge would have lived. It didn’t seem like much of a life, being in the middle of nowhere and being in charge of a lot of bad dogs and having nothing to do but wait for them to bark.

Moving on down the peninsula there was more geology to see, in the form of sea caves in the process of forming (the Blowhole), present-day sea caves (Tasman’s Arch), and old collapsed sea caves (the Devil’s Kitchen). We walked the trails around them and they were actually quite impressive.

But the main destination was Port Arthur, which was the old prison settlement. Both of us were surprised at the size of the site. It is now a World Heritage site because of its historic significance, both nationally and internationally, in the settling of Australia. It was very well organized, with various packages involving guided walks and tours, and several of the old buildings redeveloped to show what things were like back in the old days. We opted for the basic package, which included a 40-minute introductory guided walk and a 20-minute boat trip, and cost us $27 each with the help of a YHA discount.

After a quick picnic lunch we went to have a look at their museum. We had each been given a playing card which represented one of the prisoners whose activities were described in the rooms there. The men who were sent to Port Arthur were repeat offenders, so they were already the worst of the people who had been exiled. Some of the prisoners were successful, in that the system managed to provide them with a good career path, but our prisoners were both transported for pick-pocketing and were basically no-hopers, so they were manual labourers for their whole terms. At 1:30 pm we met the tour guide and had a very interesting 40 minutes listening to her talk about the prison and its history.

After the walking tour was finished we went into some of the houses on the site, in particular the Commandant’s house, which had a later life as a hotel and a boarding house. Then at 3 pm we boarded a boat for a 20-minute tour around the harbour to see parts of the site which were located on the islands in the harbour. This was rather a waste of time; there really wasn’t much actually visible on the islands, so it could have been replaced by somebody standing on the shoreline and pointing out the features for five minutes. It didn’t help that the forecast rain had started and was pouring down the boat’s windows.

Because of the rain we didn’t feel like walking around the site any more, so we headed back towards Hobart. We remembered that while driving towards Port Arthur we had noticed a place which took care of rescued Tasmanian Devils, so we decided to check that out. But when we got there we thought that the $33 entrance fee was a bit high—we might have paid $20 or even a bit more—so we got back into the car and returned to Hobart, arriving at about 5:30 pm.

Next: Maria Island

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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