A combination of parsimony of wifi provision and late nights have slowed down blogging. However we had a little more time tonight so here goes.
Saturday 25th October 2014. Day 47 Convict cornucopia
Having booked the Gordon river tour last night we were up early to ensure that we had parking spot at 2$ for the day. Arriving before 8.00am we found that parking charges only applied on weekdays. However we were well on time for the boat’s departure at 8.30am.
The trip was for a six hour boat ride taking in Macquarie harbour, six times the size of Sydney harbour and entry to the World Heritage area of the Gibson River. Passing the lighthouse on Bonnet Island we reached the 60 metre wide navigation channel into the harbour called Hells Gates, named by the convicts who were taken through it to the punishment Penitentiary on Sarah and Grommet Islands. We passed through the narrow channel bordered by an island and shallows on one side and rocks on the mainland side. Riding the southern ocean swells we had a good view of ocean beach and the lighthouse on the headland.
Returning to the harbour we visited one of the many fish farms, the mesh covered pens holding 3,000 fish, fed on food pellets distributed by water jets from boats called locally ‘fish tucker checkers’. Conditions here are ideal for fish farming trout and salmon as the fresh water layer, provided by the Gibson River, overlaying the salt allows for easy parasite control. In these conditions the fish grow swiftly.
From here we travelled into the Gibson River, fringed by primeval wilderness forest covering the steep mountain slopes, the home of the Huon pine, whose oil makes it resistant to boring worms, hence ideal for shipbuilding. Other trees included the acacia-beech and indigenous laurels. We travelled up river for about 30 minutes before stopping at Heritage Landing, a 400m guided boardwalk through the cool temperate rain forest.
Leaving the landing we returned down river, enjoying a buffet lunch, before arriving at Sarah Island, the convict settlement used by the governor for punishing second offenders from the mainland. It had the most cruel regime in Australia until it was relaxed by a new governor. It then became a major ship building centre, based on the local Huon pine, the efforts of Dundee born shipwright David Hoy and enlightened self interest from the prison governor. The island was eventually replaced by Port Arthur but at its closure it recorded a daring escape by ten convicts who stole the very last, and best ship built on the island, and sailed to Chile.
On the island there are remains of the land reclamation scheme for the yard, the forges, solitary confinement cells, bakery and the sandstone ‘courtroom’ eventually used for convict accommodation. The tour was conducted by an excellent aborigine guide with a great command of his material and a marvellous presentation style.
After the hour’s tour the boat returned us to Strahan where we drove to the local church, a fully wooden structure. This was followed by a visit to Hogarth Falls in Peoples’ Park, a 40 minute walk through the forest. A short drive from here delivered us to Ocean Beach for a closer look at the southern ocean waves breaking on the extensive beach of fine sand.
Returning to Strahan we attended a performance of Australia’s longest running play ‘The ship that never was’, a two hander (one our guide from earlier) recounting the final convict’s escape from Sarah island to Chile, and the escape from the noose of four of the convicts who were recaptured and sentenced to hang, based on the memoirs of one of the escapees ‘the travails of Jimmy Porter’. It was a fine piece of theatre, hilariously funny and with maximum audience participation.
After the show we went to the same café as last night, Bushman’s Bar and Café, where we had had lots of veg with our delicious main meals (good veg has been hard to find in traditional eateries). Tonight the leftover veg had been made into an excellent soup. We then returned to our villa where Eric suffered the horror of going from level 24 in “Farm Up”, the product of 7weeks hard work, back to level 0.
Sunday 26th October 2014. Day 48 Pademelon parade
A slowish start to the day as we did not have too far to drive. We were away by 9.30 and after refuelling we headed north for Cradle Mountain, one of the National Parks. Pausing at a viewpoint for one last look at the distant dunes fringing the 30 kilometre long Ocean Beach, we headed into the mountains.
The road wound through a largely forested landscape, interspersed with flats of button grass. It had been built initially for the mining towns that had grown up on the rich copper and lead ore bodies and we passed through two of the larger settlements. Zeehan had some interesting older buildings and a museum, which we admired from afar, especially the three steam locomotives on display outside. Tullah had an interesting mining display and, fortuitously, a working steam locomotive ‘Wee Georgie Wood’, which had been restored by volunteers and runs on a kilometre of track laid by them. We enjoyed the ride and the information provided by the lady volunteer, who was also overseeing the recently licensed driver and a novice guard.
From Tullah it was a straight run, through myriad sections of road works, each with loose gravel sections. It soon became obvious that the ‘End Roadworks’ sign was wishful thinking. We reached the Cradle Mountain visitors’ centre at 3.00 pm and bought our day pass and booked a night trip to view some of the nocturnal animals. Driving into Dove Lake was an interesting experience along the single track road, thankfully there was little traffic. We had a short stroll to the lookout at glacier rock, enjoying the grandeur of the backdrop of the mountain ridge.
Returning along the road we stopped at Ronny creek for a short boardwalk along the stream then drove to Waldheim, the replica of the chalet built by the man responsible for ensuring the survival and popularity of this wilderness. As we were about to turn into the road leading to the cabin another car stopped ahead of us and two excite people jumped out, pointing. We had in front of us our very first wombat, who cooperatively posed for photographs.
We booked into our accommodation, Bushman’s Hut, in the Highlanders resort and had a short rest before heading out for a meal, chicken schnitzel, at the local hotel.
We had booked a pick up from the accommodation, so 8.30 pm saw us standing, torchless (Eric needs to remember how dark it gets on a cloudy night in the wilderness) and wrapped up against the cold, Joyce had 6 layers on, more like winter than spring. Eventually a minibus pulls up, with only the driver, this was to be a personal tour.
With a powerful light illuminating the side of the road we quickly saw a great deal of local wildlife, mainly pademelons (a smaller, darker, version of the wallaby), Bennett’s (red necked) wallabies, wombats and brush tailed possums. Soon after we started the drive we were taken to the Tasmanian Devil breeding facility, just a couple of hundred metres down the road. Here we saw a variety of devils, in large pens, interacting and being fed and also three varieties of quolls, including the fawn and black eastern quoll. The drive then continued and lasted around two hours and we fell straight into our rustic bunk bed (double under a single).
Monday 27th October 2014 Day 49
Given the success of seeing so much wildlife at soon after dusk we elected to go for a soon after dawn drive to see if we could see more wildlife in more easily photographical conditions. Unfortunately it had poured down all night and was still raining, with local mist patches, as we left at 7.00 am. We drove back to Ronny Creek but saw absolutely nothing. Returning to Bushman’s Hut we packed and hit the road at 8.30 am, as today’s plan involved a long drive with potentially a lot to see.
We headed north to Bernie, following a very interesting backroad route guided by the gps. Bernie proved to be a modern industrial town with little to mark it out, but it served as a coffee and raspberry tart stop. We then headed east along the coast scenic route to Devonport. This was pretty, with a low rocky coastline interspersed with sand and pebble beaches. The road ran parallel to the railway, both built on a wide raised beach with the relict cliff line a good 750 metres inland.
Devonport is another sizeable town, with an extensive out of town retailing ribbon but a small central shopping area. We passed through this and headed for the sea, ending up on Mersey Bluff, a headland of diorite. It hosts a lighthouse and, on the flat rock surfaces there were traces of aboriginal rock carvings.
Continuing the artistic theme we headed for Sheffield which boasts a large number murals on the walls of its central buildings and a mural park, with an annual competition. We enjoyed the range of subject matter, one cannot beat a good Muriel, although the experience was somewhat spoiled near the end by a torrential downpour.
From Sheffield Eric wanted to explore the karst area near Mole Creek, boasting 300 sinkholes and two show caves. This was a little (in Eric’s use of the word) detour and took us into the Western Tiers region of Tasmania. The drive was again interesting, guided on backwoods by our gps. In one forested section we were fortunate to encounter a foraging short snouted echidna, which seemed happy to be photographed. Near Mole Creek we turned back towards Cradle Mountain to look for the caves. By the time we had reached Solomon’s cave it was getting late and as visits depended on a guided tour we decided to push on to the next point of interest, Latrobe, where there was the possibility of observing the platypus in the wild. Eric was disappointed that the surface karst scenery was masked by the extensive forest.
Reaching Latrobe we followed the signs to the Axe Hall of fame (lumber not Johnny). Although closed a sign gave us a number to call for the platypus experience. For a small donation a local expert takes a trip up the river at dusk to spot the animals foraging. We booked two places for that evening and repaired to the town for a bite to eat. Deja vu, Latrobe was surprisingly very similar to Sheffield, but without the murals. We then met our guide, Phil, who took us to a usually good spot to see them, but with no result. We then went to a pond in the nature reserve where we were shown a breeding burrow, but no sign of anything in the water, although Eric did spot one swimming across the other side of the river, which then disappeared. Returning to our initial vantage point we were rewarded by the sighting of a female, close to our bank, working her way upstream, diving for 90 seconds then surfacing for a short whole, often for a good scratch, before diving again. We watched her for a good 15 minutes before calling it a night as the light was failing fast.
We them drove to our B&B accommodation in Launceston (Lawn – cess – tun) arriving after 9.00pm as the gps cannot cope with split roads. We had to call our hostess, who guided is into her home over the phone. We were very tired so were soon in bed.
Tuesday 28th October 2014 Day 50 Launceston lollygagging
Joyce had arranged a chiropractor appointment in Launceston, so this was our first visit of the day. Having booked a double session, which in the UK would be 30 minutes Joyce was surprised to find that here it meant an hour. Suitably treated, including a massage, Joyce was ready to face the sights of Launceston.
We headed for the seaport to investigate river trips. There was one leaving for Cataract Gorge in 25 minutes so we bought tickets and headed off to find a coffee, gratified to find a café that offered a discount to river cruise ticket holders. Fortified by caffeine we boarded the craft and enjoyed a sedate tour of the Launceston port and the spectacular gorge.
At the end of the cruise we decided to visit the local art gallery, which houses the work of Tasmanian painters and decorative artists. There was also a display of the surviving elements of Chinese temples which existed on the islands, during the period when a transient population of workers were attracted in by the prospect of gold. After a bite to eat we picked up the route of a walking tour which allowed us to see some of the notable buildings, including the Supreme Court, Post Office with its impressive brick tower, the Town Hall and Holy Trinity Church, an impressive early 20th century brick building influenced by the Arts and Craft movement. Traversing City Park, with its macaque monkeys and passing the gas works, now a restaurant, we crossed the river and visited the museum, housed in the old Launceston railway works. The displays were fairly standard, although there was an interesting exhibition on local fauna, the recovery of the wreck of the Sydney Cove, a trading vessel from India and some convict history as well as a Great War section.
Eric braved the gusty headwind, a prominent feature of today’s cold weather, to fetch the car. We then drove to the first basin park, an artificial lake created upstream of the cataract and gorge we had visited earlier. This was established as a recreation area early last century and boasts a swimming pool, chair lift crossing the lake, a circular walk with suspension bridge, and a self drive inclinator (rack and pinion lift). The basin was sheltered from the breeze and the sun had come out, so this proved to be a very pleasant and attractive walk.
Having enjoyed a leisurely exploration of this area we returned to our digs before going out for an ‘all you can eat’ Chinese buffet.