Time to take breath

We have arrived for a two night stay at friends of Joyce’s from Community Church in Southampton and have taken the opportunity to have a day with no visits, just fellowship and relaxation, with time to update the blog.

Wednesday 29th October 2014.   Day 51.   Ludicrous lock

Today’s plan was ambitious, to explore the Tamar valley and the North-east coast, so a relatively early start was in order. We were away by just after 8.30 am and pausing only to take a picture of the windmill we spotted last night as we returned from the Chinese feast, we headed north along the west bank of the Tamar. Passing through Exeter, as you do, we soon reached Beaconsfield (the place is a Geographer’s nightmare). This town was based on gold mining and now is home to a mine heritage museum in the old buildings. We had a look around the outside of the museum before continuing north.

Our next stopping point was the site of Yorktown, the original capital of Tasmania, of which nothing remains. This site did not detain us long. We then visited Green’s Beach, at the mouth of the estuary, which had little to recommend it apart from a fine stretch of sand. Turning south again we reached Beauty Point where we visited the conservancy area for some pretty views and stopped at the Riverside café for coffee and a chocolate muffin. We resisted the temptations of Seahorse World and the Platypus House and drove on.

The next point of interest was the modern Batman bridge spanning the Tamar. Pausing only for a photo stop and a chance for Joyce to use the swanky new stainless steel toilet unit ………. This is where things went wrong. Pausing turned into a 90 minute saga as the brand new privacy lock refused to work. Eric was alerted to the problem by hearing thumping on the door and, despite attempts to open it from the outside, it would not budge. With no telephone number displayed on the unit the only hope was for Eric to leave Joyce trapped and to drive for help. Being on the Georgetown side of the Tamar this seemed the logical source of aid so Eric steamed off, sorry drove in a safe and controlled manner, 24 kilometres to the town, with visions of the outcome if he had an accident with no one knowing of Joyce’s predicament. Fully concentrating on the road he was impressed by the determination of an echidna that was striding purposefully across the road just as truck was coming the other way.

The next problem was who would help. The fire brigade was one possibility but in the end the police won the honour as this was the first emergency service that Eric found. Striding up to the doors of the police station Eric was appalled to find that it was closed for the lunch hour. He started to ring the out of hours number but then spotted the intercom, which put him through to a central control room. Eric outlined the situation to the operator who then clearly rang the Georgetown station as a policeman appeared and opened the door. There then ensued a discussion as to which council was responsible for the unit because the river was not the boundary and it lay in another council’s area. After a series of radio conversations, responsibility was established and it was announced that someone was being sent to sort it out. Feeling relieved Eric retraced his steps to comfort Joyce with the news that help was on its way.

Meanwhile Joyce was stuck in the loo, she perched on the seat for 10 minutes, and was pleased to see that she was sharing the facility with just one moth, which was fast asleep. She then checked the door again, to see if it was a time lock, but it still would not budge. It was a relatively large toilet, about 10 paces round. After 10 circuits she felt an affinity with wild animals kept in small spaces. Then a car arrived and someone tried the door, but she had no response to her call and the car eventually drove away. After 30 minutes, she became concerned that Eric might have had an accident, after some fervent prayer, another person tried the door. Joyce quickly called out “Hello, I am locked in, my husband has gone to get help”. The lady responded and went to get her husband, he got out his tool kit and tried to lever it open and then tried to remove the hinges. His wife then noticed the slot in the lock and he eventually succeeded in twisting the lock with a very large screw driver. Joyce was released. The kind couple then took her to their car and gave her a cup of coffee, sandwich and coat.

An hour after leaving her Eric returned to the locked door. Approaching it he heard his name called and spied Joyce standing near a SUV and caravan, dressed in an unfamiliar coat and armed with a cup of coffee and a sandwich, in the company of two strangers. Joyce’s rescue was recounted just as the council van pulled up and the two workers were left with the job of sorting out the broken lock.

Thanking Joyce’s rescuers profusely we continued our way north, by passing Georgetown and arriving at the lighthouse on Low Head. From here we went to Bridport, then St Helens on the east coast. The drive took us through hilly, wooded country on a highly tortuous road, stopping only at a few lookouts to view the wider landscape, with an excellent view over Great Ouster Bay as we neared our destination.

At St Helen’s we found ourselves behind an oversized load, which cut our speed appreciably. Fortunately it did not turn off for Swansea, allowing us to make up some time, arriving at the B&B just after 6.30pm. After registering we went straight out to a Tavern in Swansea for a steak dinner. We returned to enjoy the comforts of our large bedroom in the colonial B&B.


Thursday 30th October 2014.   Day 52 Peninsula perambulatioms

We had received strong recommendations to visit the Freycinet peninsula and, as Swansea, where we were staying, was only 45 minutes away we decided that a cruise around the coastline of the National Park, visiting Wineglass Bay, voted the second best wilderness beach in the world, was an excellent way to spend the morning.

The timings worked well and after a delicious cooked breakfast at 8.00 am we departed at 8.45 am, arriving at Coles Bay, having retraced our 28 kilometres of our last night’s route, at 9.30 am ready for the 10.00 am departure. The trip was longer than we expected, projected to be four hours, but since we had made the effort we decided to go, even though it would put us under pressure to reach our next destination.

The cruise was a delight, complete with a Tasmanian ploughman’s lunch, at anchor in the stunning Wineglass Bay, with its curve of brilliant white sand set against azure water and green forested hills. The coastal scenery was stunning with soaring cliffs, mainly granite but also local diorite. The vertical joining of the rock guided wave erosion, with many caves where the joints were closely spaced. The angle of jointing strongly influences mass movement and hence slope angles.

Wildlife was also a delight with dolphins, two humpbacked whales, myriad Australian fur seals, a pair of white bellied fish eagles on their huge nest, two albatrosses and hundreds of feeding short tailed shearwaters.

The weather deteriorated on our return journey, although Eric found it exhilarating to be standing at the bows in the wind and driving rain (whilst all the other passengers watched him in amazement). Reaching land we drove south towards Port Arthur, stopping only at Triabunna to shop and book the Tasman Island wilderness cruise for the morrow. Views of the coast were fleeting, with pretty rock girt bays and short sandy beaches, but the rain discouraged exploration.

Our hostess of the previous night, Gail, had suggested a short cut via the Wielangta forest drive, which was on an unsealed road but would cut time and distance. At Orford we diverted off the Tasman Highway and took to the gravel, a surface of varying quality and with many bone jarring potholes once we were committed to the route. The forest itself was pleasant, with stands of two century old gum trees and a misty view over Marion Bay near the end of the drive.

Back on the blacktop we pushed on towards Port Arthur. The rain and mist again precluded any investigation of local sights so we kept going to our accommodation, a self catering cottage just outside Port Arthur, arriving at 6.15 pm. Here we had a light supper and repacked ahead of our budget flight tomorrow evening, ensuring that the main bags held no more than 20 kg.


Friday 31st October 2014 Day 53  Scenic splendour

It was definitely the right move to book ahead for the wilderness tour as we found it fully booked on our arrival at the departure point at 9.05 am. After a general briefing as to the programme Eric walked to the jetty while Joyce enjoyed the bus ride.

Once on the boat, an inflatable carrying 43 passengers with a roof shelter, fully air conditioned and with three outboards, we were issued with our full length water/windproof ponchos. A safety brief followed then we proceeded out of Stewarts Bay into Port Arthur harbour, with a view of the historic site, the Isle of the dead (the settlement’s burial ground with the felons and paupers on the low, shaded southern edge and the upper crust on the higher, sunny northern edge) and Point Puer (site of the first segregated boys’ prison in the British Empire).

We then headed out into the fringes of the Southern Ocean with low swells from the south west meeting a northerly wind. The boat’s movement was lively at times, but at least it was not raining. The coastal scenery was dramatic, in fact stunning, created from flat lying mudstone beds with deep geos and caves, or from the vertically jointed dolerite, with caves, stacks and 150 meter vertical cliff faces.

We traversed the Black Shore and went eastwards around Tasman Island, with its lighthouse, and cable and hallway access.

Wildlife was even better than yesterday. A white bellied sea eagle glided to its nest as we left the harbour. We encountered two pods of common dolphins, the second upwards of 100 strong, playfully riding the boat’s wake and trios of dolphins leaping the waves. Thousands of short tailed shearwaters and a yellow headed gannet fished the swells as hump backed whales fed near the surface and shy albatross soared above. On Tasman Island Australian fur seals basked on the rocks and cavorted in the waters around the boats.

As we approached the end of our trip we saw the totem pole, a 60 meter stack formed from a single dolerite joint block and its companion the candlestick. We then entered waterfall bay then passed the devil’s kitchen, a deep geo and Tasman Arch, a gloup. Landing at the south end of Pirate’s Bay we saw the blowhole, another gloup.

Returning to our starting point we lunched in the local café before heading into the Port Arthur historical site. Developed as a replacement for Sarah Island in the early 19th century it was closed in the 1850s, when it became a tourist attraction which supported a thriving community. On entry we were assigned, by virtue of a randomly assigned playing card, the identity of a convict sent to the punishment colony and found out more about their history in an excellent display area. A short guided tour then orientated us to the layout of the 100 acre site. We then went into the asylum and silent prison (the prison solitary confienement punishment block) before walking to the jetty via the guardhouse and governor’s residence. A boat trip round the bay gave us a view of the shipbuilding area, the headstones on the cemetery island and the remains of the boys’ prison. On regaining dry land we visited the finely built stone ruins of the prison church which packed in a thousand prisoners, staff and other residents and its 20th century replacement St David’s, a small wooden structure.

With time now pressing we left the site, with much more to see, and headed for the airport, pausing only to view the tessellated pavement, a wavecut platform in the mudstone, with a distinct paved appearance created by differential erosion along the right angle joints.

The trip to the airport was straightforward, as was the hire car return. Check in was efficient and the airline’s service marred only by a 30 minute delay in departing. In Melbourne we were slowed down by the need to report damaged luggage and the time taken to walk from the Tigerair terminal to the car hire office. We were on our way by 11.00pm, arriving at Nick and Judy’s, our very kind hosts, by 12.20 am, falling very quickly into bed in their guest bungalow.

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