20 January 2007

Tasmania - The Last Days

I figure I'd better start with the second half of the trip before I start to forget things! As it happens, I'm still sorting through the masses of photos we took from our trip, but it is a winning battle...

So, let's continue with the events of...

Day 6 - Strahan/Queenstown to Hobart
We enjoyed our seaplane flight over some of the exquisite and untouched landscapes around Strahan. Well, except Mike who was getting a bit airsick on the trip out to Gordon River. Our landing in a ravine was awesome, into a calm area where we viewed a waterfall and took in the serenity before flying back to Strahan. Our first seaplane experience and it was a lot of fun.

So let the 'Cross-Tasmania Trek' begin. We had the longest leg ahead of us, travelling from Tassie's west coast to the east. Destination: Hobart, via Queenstown and Derwent Bridge, or so we had marked them out on our map. We left Strahan under overcast conditions, which is about all we'll remember of the weather there, reaching Queenstown in blue skies after twisting through the Lyell Hwy... it was only the beginning.

Queenstown is extremely colourful, a tribute to mining the area and turning it into a multicoloured landscape of another world. However, given our delayed departure because of an earlier hiccup in Strahan, this place made for a great lunchstop.

The road to Derwent Bridge was long and extremely winding. This was the road we were warned about - but, there was no other logical way to get across the state. It almost seemed as though the road authority had put bends in for completely no reason, but, after 2 hours 45 minutes we made it to Derwent Bridge, a third of the way to Hobart... and found nothing. Oh, there was a petrol station which opened late enough for people to buy themselves some food, but we had to press on. We made a brief stop at 'The Wall' exhibit, which is a huge monument in the making (or sculpting).

We finally reached Hobart in the early stages of the evening. Luckily the sun doesn't set until around 8:30pm, so, arriving at 7:00pm was no problem as we followed the Derwent River to Tasmania's capital. We had crossed such differing landscapes en route, but, most importantly, we had made it back to civilisation, and Mike and I were very quickly inundated with SMS and Phone messages!

After such a long day, we had dinner at our hotel's restaurant, and it was actually quite good. We were all quite tired, but Mum decided it would be a good idea to walk around a bit, so we went to Salamanca Place and Constitution Dock before calling it a night.

Day 7 - Port Arthur
One week in Tasmania... We headed over to Port Arthur on this day. We firstly made stops at three places by the sea near Pirate Bay. These were the Devil's Arch, Devil's Kitchen and a Blowhole. The first two were interesting 'caverns' cut into the cliffs at the sea. The blowhole was worth seeing just because this one actually blew, unlike that dodgy thing they have in Kiama...

Aside from Cradle Mountain, we'd never seen so many people at any other place than when we got to the Port Arthur historical site. It was amazing and interesting though. We spent the entire day walking around and exploring the ruins of this place. We had an introductory tour at first in a group before being let loose to walk around the different buildings that still stand after all these years. A boat cruise around the nearby water added to the convict experience, as well as plays acted out by staff depicting events from diary extracts of some of the convicts.

It was very interesting and a real eye-opener for me. A day well spent.

Day 8 - Hobart & The Huon
We said we'd try to visit the Cadbury factory whilst in Hobart, though we didn't think of booking until we got to the city... needless to say, an automated message said there were no vacancies until the week following our departure from Tassie, so we took a dive and rocked up early to the Cadbury factory, aptly located in the suburb "Cadbury". Even more impressive than the outside of this place with Freddo flags and models that were used in their TV commercials was the fact they had enough room to fit the four of us on one of their tours! We all had our chocolate fixes that day... I can still smell and taste the chocolate... Mmmmmmmmmm....

From Cadbury we explored a few other smaller places around Hobart, including Alpenrail, which is an acclaimed model replica of the railway through the Swiss Alps. The people there were very friendly and talkative with an excellent model to display, and it's not finished!

We then travelled back through Hobart to the southern region of the Huon Valley. Here we passed through Geeveston to get to the Tahune Airwalk. This is a suspended walkway which takes you over the canopy of the Tahune rainforest. At the end is a huge cantilever which allows you to view the Huon River. We also visited Australia's biggest tree, which apparently is dying.

On our return trip I took the opportunity to divert us to Mount Wellington, not far from Hobart, but approx 1200 metres above sea level. I wasn't sure what to expect at the top, but we found a huge telecommunications tower called 'The Pinnacle' which can interfere with car immobilisers, as well as an excellent lookout offering a near 270ยบ view of Hobart and the surrounding areas.

Day 9 - Richmond/Swansea/Freycinet/St Helens
Our time in Hobart was already over, so it was time to move on and up to the North East. We were a little concerned today as our destination of St Helens was not too far from a raging bushfire, and the skies were already looking hazy.

We made our first stop at Richmond, probably about 30km's out from Hobart where there was a great model village replicating Old Hobart Town from the 1800's. This place has won tourism awards and for such a small village, it was surprising how it kept us all interested. Everyone gets a mission to find four particular figures amongst the village though, so that may have been part of the reason.

Passing over the famous Richmond Bridge (without even realising it) we headed for the coast and Swansea. We'd heard nice things about Swansea, but to be honest I couldn't see what all the fuss was about? We continued on to the Freycinet National Park, in the hopes of getting close to the picturesque Wineglass Bay. If you've had a look at any Tasmanian Travel catalogue/brochure, you'd have seen Wineglass Bay.

In the sweltering heat we made it to the Freycinet Peninsula and headed down for another one of these Great Short Walks to the Wineglass Bay Lookout. This walk lived up to the standard of The Nut and Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain... we all died. Again. I don't know how long it took us to climb this summit but Mum trucked on like a machine while the three men faltered and died in her tracks. The final viewing of the bay was worth it for the photos, but we needed our heads checked! Thank God the return trip was mostly downhill, and I got to mingle with some Wallabies in the carpark afterwards.

Now dead, we continued on our way to St Helens, which wasn't too much further. We drove through areas of bush totally destroyed and burnt out by recent fires, and drove past (not through) the fires that had been publicised on the news. We made it to our accomodation in the late afternoon and had some local fish and chips for dinner. This was our second last night in Tassie...

Day 10 - St Helens back to Launceston
We soon found out that St Helens didn't really have too much to offer tourists, so we went for a drive up to Binalong Bay and an area called the Bay of Fires. There were some beautiful beaches here, and the water looked sweet. However, only one of us (Mike) had bothered to pack any sort of swimming gear so it was useless pining over how good the water looked. We began our trip back to where it all started.

We made a few stops along the way, our first was at a cheese shop where we had free tastings and bought some locally produced cheeses. We soon came into Derby, a small, very small mining town along the main highway. I had a browse through some of the shops and had a chat with two shop owners in particular who gave us a run down of what we could take a look at on our trip back into Launceston.

So on we went, and we found the wood carvings we had previously been told about which were sculpted out of trees into an Anzac memorial. It was a shame that they weren't better publicised as they weren't even on the main road, but it seemed some people knew they were there.

From here, it was a short hop over to Scottsdale and their Environmental Centre which looks like an oversized shuttlecock in the ground. Our trip continued uninterrupted from that point until we reached the outskirts of Launceston and passed our original accomodation from Days 1 and 2. Dad wanted to make a quick stop at the Australian Maritime College so we had a drive across the Tasmanian University campus. We found our final place to stay, had one last walk around the Launceston shopping district before finishing up for the day and preparing for our trip home tomorrow...

Day 11 - Returning to Sydney
We were all up early enough to be ready and have a Macca's breakfast. It was a strange feeling at the end, and because our flight was due at around 11am, we couldn't actually do too much with our morning. Yet we were up too early, so we drove around Launceston one more time, and found the Boag's Brewery for a photograph... just to say we'd actually seen it. We drove the Camry around a bit more, just because we had overcalculated our fuel requirements and thought we'd use it up a little bit more before heading to the airport.

On time, we had done everything right, only to find our flight was delayed by almost half an hour! VirginBlue had sent us their 'PacificBlue' jet named 'Peta Pan' to return us home. The return flight was quick, highlighting that Tasmania isn't too far away at all!

Sydney hadn't changed a bit! But it was good to be home even though we had a great time in Tassie.

I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking of going. We learnt a lot from our trip, and there were still a few places we didn't get around to seeing... Definitely worthwhile tho.

It'll be back to normal blogs after this entry (once I put some more pictures up!)

Thanks for reading and thanks to all those people who commented in my last post as well!

08 January 2007

Tasmania - The First Half

I've had some time now to go through and update this report a bit more thoroughly. So for those of you who've read this already, take another look and hopefully things make more sense and sound a bit more interesting, and now note, the new photos!

So, I'm in a cafe in Strahan, which is the South Western most town in Tassie. The weather hasn't been too good lately, but, finally, the sun is coming out.

Day 1 - Launceston
Arrival from Sydney aboard VirginBlue's "Hobart Honey". Our flight was actually delayed but we managed to fit a lot into this day after picking up our Sportivo Camry! We drove into town, to take a look at an Auto Museum near our hotel. It was full of cars from waaaay back and some interesting bikes and race cars graced the collection as well... a great start to the holiday! We then started a walk around the city of Launceston. It's a small city, probably about the size of Parramatta with an easy to follow one-way system circling the major shopping area. We went to our accomodation - (which wasn't anything special) shortly after. Launceston butts right up to the mountains, and is nicknamed 'The Valley City' so we walked from our 'lodge' to the nearby Cataract Gorge. There were some nice sights and it turned out to be a decent walk, but it ruined Dad's ankle. We had dinner at a place, highly advertised, called the Jailhouse. But we all had to serve our sentence waiting near on an hour before receiving our meals!

Day 2 - The Tamar Valley
Out from Launceston we headed to Beauty Point to see Seahorse World and Platypus House via Beaconsfield. We had a tour of the now famous Beaconsfield mine, and got to see Seahorses, Platypuses and Echidna's in action. From there we went to a Lavendar farm, Batman Bridge and onto Low Head. I don't know why it's called Batman Bridge, but it has nothing to do with the superhero! We got to Low Head too late for any of it's attractions, and too early to view the Fairy Penguins, so we had a look at a museum that was open, but unattended, before venturing back into Launceston.

Day 3 - Launceston to Smithton
We had to trek across Tassie now to the North-West corner. Our long drive took us through Deloraine; a quaint country town, Latrobe; where there was a small chocolate factory and Devonport; where the Spirit of Tasmania docks and onto Burnie for a McDonald's lunch. By mid afternoon we were at Smithton which is basically a nowhere town with a nice hotel. We went to the Dismal Swamp, which really was Dismal considering the 'value for money' principle, so we ventured to the 'Nut' in Stanley. Mike and I were stupid enough to try and walk up this thing, when there was a decent chairlift to make the work easier for us. Mum and Dad took the latter option. So, my brother and I died on the way up, collapsing at the top! We took the opposite route's on the way down, however. From the hotel we took a tour back to the Nut in the black of the night where we saw some Fairy Penguins in their rookeries!

Day 4 - Smithton to Strahan
A colleague at work warned of some of the roads between Strahan and Queenstown, they've got nothing on where we went today! Basically we took our Camry offroading! 175km's of unsealed, winding and remote roads. There was no phone coverage (and there still isn't any), no fuel and there was no sign of life at all! Our only hope were the distance markers slowly counting down to our destination in 10km intervals, and there was a ferry... the Fatman Barge, that was about it. There was one section of sealed road with a 'No Speed Limit' sign, which was kinda interesting, but overshadowed by our twisting, cross-mountain trek. We got into Strahan, and then, the aftermath of Western Australia's superstorm came by and it started to rain, and then pour... We did manage to have our first crayfish at this point though at one of Strahan's restaurants.

Day 5 - Cradle Mountain
From Strahan, we thought it was time we ventured to Cradle Mountain. Unfortunately, the weather had stuck with us and caused some concern as to whether we'd actually see anything. So, we decided to roll the dice and go anyway. It was beautiful when we finally arrived, and the weather lifted a little for us. We did a decent walk around Dove Lake, taking us past Cradle Mountain itself. The walk took it's toll on everyone though as the first half was very easy, and the second half was mega hard. Unfortunately though, due to the weather and clouds, we never actually got to take in the full view of Cradle Mountain... unless the photos prove otherwise. We drove back to Strahan, where the weather still hadn't lifted. Dinner was provided by the local bistro.

Day 6 - Today
Well, the weather is finally clearing, and I'm sure I've missed some important points. We're awaiting a seaplane flight to take us over one of the wonderful sights of this place, the Gordon River. If not, we'd basically be leaving with no comment on Strahan. From here we'll venture across the state over to Hobart...

Til next time, I've now been able to put up some photos (I know, only four, but I can't put them ALL up!), and still looking through the rest, so stay tuned for the second half of the trip coming soon!