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!

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.

Next: Lake St. Clair

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