The voyage of Captain Quirk (2) Selfie

Captain Quirk is always looking for unusual angles, for variations on a theme, for new ways to render old truths.

This image is the Captain’s unusual slant on a selfie, taken next to a parking lot in Cradle Mountain National Park.  For a reason that I can no longer remember there was, on this stretch of road, one of those convex mirrors that are designed give drivers a wider view of their surroundings.  Captain Quirk decided that photographing it would give a unique view of her good self, of her immediate surroundings and of the distant mountains.

See what you think: tasmania-cradle-mountain-ronny-creek-2016-4

[5 December]

The voyage of Captain Quirk (1) Mailbox magic

Tomorrow we leave mainland Tasmania for Flinders Island.  It’s high time, therefore, to look back over the voyage of Captain Quirk.

Mrs P, or Captain Quirk as she’s now known to Platypus Pandemonium, loves taking quirky photos.  Her favourite subject in the USA is the humble mailbox.  Outside big urban centres, mail is delivered to a mailbox on the curb-side rather than being posted through a letterbox cut into the front door.  Most US mailboxes are boringly utilitarian, rectangular in shape with a simple domed roof.

Just occasionally, however, on our American road trips, we’ve come across an act of rebellion, a mailbox that doesn’t conform to type but rather gives us an insight into its owner-creator, perhaps a trout-shaped box outside the home of a fisherman or a maybe a horse-shaped creation at the gates to a farm.  Inevitably, therefore, when we spot one of these quirky American mailboxes I’m required to screech to a halt to allow Captain Quirk to photograph it.

To our amazement, and the Captain’s utter delight, the Tasmanians have got in on the act too.  It was only a couple days into our trip, on Bruny Island, that we spotted this Dalek, a truly brilliant creation that comprises, amongst other things, an egg whisk and a plunger for unblocking sinks: tasmania-letterbox-2016-27

After that we kept our eyes open, and came across other mailbox magic.  Sometimes we’d drive three or four days without seeing one and then stumble across two in a single afternoon.  Maybe it’s something in the water?

Whatever, here are some of the best.  I’m not quite sure what these mailboxes tell us about Tasmanians, but her keenness to record them tells us heaps about the good Captain.  She was, for example bowled over by this fellow, who bears a striking resemblance to Sean the Sheep, still loyally guarding an item of mail awaiting collection: tasmania-letterbox-2016-13

Here’s a smart skewbald horse: tasmania-letterbox-2016-1

And a lighthouse, inevitably seen on a coastal road: tasmania-letterbox-2016-11

This dog looks full of personality, though perhaps a bit goofy: tasmania-letterbox-2016-15a

But sometimes a much-loved dog isn’t enough, its owner wants to get in on the act too: tasmania-letterbox-2016-35

Some tailor-made mailboxes, such as this, almost qualify as works of public art.  It’s not clear what the guy’s occupation is – note the enigmatic tank on his back – but he’s plainly of the Aussie persuasion as there are corks dangling from his hat: tasmania-letterbox-2016-39

This knight in shining armour looks a little out of place on a rural Tasmanian road, though no more than a marauding Dalek I suppose:tasmania-letterbox-2016-18

A splendid cockerel looks much more at home in Tassie: tasmania-letterbox-2016-20

But as for this aviator, I’m lost for words.  The Red Baron’s long lost cousin, maybe? … tasmania-letterbox-2016-44

Reviewing these photos for Platypus Pandemonium, I’m reminded that at its best travel engages all the senses and emotions.  The trick is to be open to the possibilities inherent in day-to-day existence.  We didn’t visit Tasmania for the mailboxes but they brought us moments of sheer delight, of hysterical laughter, of shaking our heads in utter bemusement.  All credit to Captain Quirk for recognising that these mailboxes should be recorded for posterity, as final and irrefutable evidence of the human ability, when the mood takes us, to be as delightfully daft as a brush.

[5 December]

It makes you sick

We’re staying at a luxurious eco-lodge on the Freycinet Peninsula.  The view from the property is spectacular: tasmania-freycinet-lodge-view-2016-1

And we are at one with the wildlife living here, including this lizard who calls our bedroom home: tasmania-freycinet-lizard-in-the-bedroom-2016-3

The Freycinet Peninsula is another of Tassie’s coastal gems, with breath-taking views around nearly every corner, such as here at Honeymoon Bay:tasmania-freycinet-honeymoon-bay-2016-2

But there’s no time to spare, we’re off on another cruise.  Today the boat’s much bigger than on our trip to Maria Island, a catamaran in fact.  This is no bad thing as, despite the brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies, the sea’s rockin’ and rollin’.

We set off towards Wineglass Bay.  The catamaran is comfortable, verging on the luxurious, and we settle back to enjoy the scenic coastline of the Freycinet Peninsula: tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-2016-53

However the sea begins to take its toll, and pretty soon sickness is rampant amongst the assembled passengers.  The crew are attentive, brilliant in fact, circulating endlessly amongst the sufferers offering sympathy, advice, ginger tablets and, when all that fails, a discrete paper bag.

We sail on, admiring dramatic cliffs painted in vibrant shades of orange and pink: tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-2016-23

As with so much of our Tassie experience, the weather is everything.  On a grey, wet, windy day this trip would be a miserable mistake.  Today, with the sun beating down from a cloudless sky and the ocean molten cobalt, it’s magical:tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-2016-26

The sea doesn’t seem too bad to us and we prove immune to its sly mischief.  For us the experience is exhilarating: the warmth of sun, the wind tugging at our hair, the choppy challenge of the waves:Tasmania, Wineglass Bay cruise, 2016 (42).JPG

Around us, however, others are less resilient.  Some of our fellow passengers are turning a whiter shade of pale, others as green as the grass back home, and in private corners embarrassed chunder monkeys are compelled to review the morning’s breakfast.  We shrug it off, and enjoy views of the majestic Shy Albatross wheeling above the waves:tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-2016-51

At another point, we pull close to the shoreline to inspect a White-bellied Sea Eagle sitting atop its massive nest.  These birds mate for life and return to the same nest every year, simply building an extension to previous years’ efforts.  The results are hugely spectacular:tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-white-bellied-sea-eagle-2016-3

Finally we reach our destination, Wineglass Bay, where we drop anchor in its sheltered waters to eat lunch.  The food showcases the best of Tasmanian produce.  It’s attractively presented in bento-boxes, though many of our fellow travellers are too ill to be seduced by its undoubted charms.  Julie and I, however, tuck in ravenously: tasmania-wineglass-bay-bento-box-lunch-2016-1

As we eat we take in the view.  Wineglass Bay has a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.  It certainly looks the part today: tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-wineglass-bay-2016-11

And what a romantic name, someone says, conjuring up comforting images of happy hours spent in the company of loved ones on an intriguingly curved stretch of pristine coast.  As if the observation has been overheard the PA system clicks on and the guy who’s been doing commentary during the journey pipes up again.

“And in case you’re wondering where it gets its name, Wineglass Bay has nothing to do with its shape or even with the local wine industry.  It dates back to the whaling days.  The dead whales were hauled in to be processed at whaling stations dotted all around the bay.  So many whales were butchered here that the sea in the bay would be turned wine-red by the blood.”

Now there’s something to really make you sick.

 [5 December]

Bird of the Week (4) Cape Barren Goose

The Cape Barren Goose is an Australian endemic, meaning that the species’ survival is entirely in Australian hands.  It was driven to the brink of extinction in the 1950s before being given government protection from the excesses of the shooting fraternity.  Thankfully the Cape Barren Goose is now on the road to recovery and is no longer considered endangered, although it remains one of the world’s rarest species of goose.

tasmania-maria-island-cape-barren-goose-2016-4

This is a very large, pale grey bird with a relatively small head, rows of large dark spots on the wings and splendid pinkish-red legs.  Most noticeably the bill appears greenish-yellow, although strictly speaking it is the cere, or skin above the bill, that’s coloured this way.  It’s definitely distinctive:

One plank in the conservation programme was to introduce Cape Barren Geese to Maria Island, which was not part of their natural range.  Here they have done well and become very confiding, enabling Julie take this great close-up photo:

tasmania-maria-island-cape-barren-goose-2016-2

[4 December]

A perfect day

(1)  Down on the farm

We’ve stayed the night in a comfortable B&B on a farm near Little Swanport.  Carrying our bags back to the car I find my path blocked by a female wallaby.  She has a big joey in her pouch and they watch, alert and curious but unafraid as I struggle with the suitcase.  I pass within feet of them, and they continue staring for a minute or two before mum turns and hops off in the direction of several companions browsing by the fence.

Looking around there are wallabies everywhere, plainly very much at home down on the farm.  The owners, Tom and Jane, are into their wildlife.  Jane explains that in a drought some months ago the grass wasn’t growing and the wallabies on the property were starving.  Tom and Jane fed them until the crisis was over.  For a while the wallabies had become tame and confiding.  Once the feeding stopped most had gone back to their old ways, but the female with the joey is still hanging around the farmhouse, hoping – in vain – for treats.

We’d love to stay longer on this wildlife-friendly property to get to know the wallabies better but we have an all-day boat trip booked and must get to the wharf in time for an early departure.

(2)  Seal Island

Our boat pulls up to the wharf, scattering a flotilla of pelicans.  We board with a degree of trepidation: up close it’s a small boat and we’re told there’s a bit a swell going on, enough to unsettle delicate stomachs:

tasmania-maria-island-cruise-2016-1

Our first destination is Ile Des Phoques (Seal Island), a rugged granite outcrop of around 20 acres.  This island is known as a haul-out spot for bachelor male Australian Fur Seals, but in recent years a few mothers and their pups have also been seen.  This is encouraging news: the Australian Fur Seal was hunted to the brink of extinction in the twentieth century, but thanks to being wholly protected numbers are slowly recovering, forcing mothers to find new spots to give birth to their young.

tasmania-maria-island-cruise-isle-des-phoque-2016-55As we approach it’s clear that Ile Des Phoques lives up to its name.  There are seals all over the rocks that line the shore, some loafing, others sparring or chasing one another.  The noise is cacophonous, an unholy mixture of barks, yells, wails and snorts.  And the smell leaves us in no doubt that these guys eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We scan the rocks, enjoying the action.  Mostly, as expected, we see young males posturing and pouting, giving it some for the benefit of any of their brethren who might be watching.  We’re pleased to spot a few mums and their pups a little further up the rocks.  They have wisely distanced themselves from the mayhem at the water’s edge, and keep a wary eye on proceedings.  There’s also an older male; he’s a big boy so the teenagers give him his space, aware that if they get too close he’ll work them over until they’re bloodied and bruised.

tasmania-maria-island-cruise-isle-des-phoque-2016-1

It’s a two-way process, this wildlife watching.  We watch the seals, and the seals watch the tourists.  They can’t resist diving into the water and dashing towards the boat for a closer look, ducking, diving and leaping.  It’s a performance worthy of a gang of crazed Olympic gymnasts.  Soon we are surrounded by dozens of lively, curious critters, all intent on enjoying the show.

But Ile Des Phoques has more to offer than seals.  There are plenty of birds, including nesting sea eagles and these Black-faced Cormorants:

tasmania-maria-island-cruise-isle-des-phoque-2016-15

The island is also famous for its sea caves, carved by the Pacific waves from the unforgiving granite rock.  Here our little boat comes into its own, being small enough to edge deep into the caves, so deep that in one we can see sunlight shining through a small opening from the other side of the island:

tasmania-maria-island-cruise-isle-des-phoques-caves-2016-12

(3)  The Little Prince 

tasmania-maria-island-pademelon-2016-1From Ile Des Phoques the boat takes us north to Maria Island, pronounced to rhyme with ‘pariah.’  The whole of Maria Island is a National Park, protecting endangered wildlife, stunning scenery and ruins from the convict era.  After landing we enjoy an excellent picnic lunch under a hot sun before taking a guided walk to explore the ruins and search for wildlife.  Due to the protection afforded by National Park status the wildlife here is unafraid, so it’s no surprise when we see this nocturnal pademelon in the early afternoon sunshine.

However, it’s another critter that we’re really hoping to see.  Our guide eventually tracks down the King of Cubes but he must be in a bad mood, standing with his back to us and refusing to have his photo taken.  Julie waits, hoping he mellows, while I wander off in search of other pleasures.

tasmania-maria-island-wombat-2016-14A short distance from Julie is a large tree with low hanging branches, and snuffling around in the grass growing beneath I spot a second wombat.  But she’s not alone.  Next to her is a youngster.

It’s a strange thing about young animals, how obvious they are.  The size difference between them and adults is clear, but in countless other ways youngsters look slightly different.  They share an indefinable delicacy of form.  All young critters, in my experience, are somehow softer, less angular, fluffier and, dare I say it, cuter than their parents.  This pair conform to type, the mature Queen of Cubes and her exquisite, perfect Little Prince.

I call Julie over as mother and child go about their business, grazing contentedly.  We are spellbound by the beauty of the Little Prince.  He is a photographer’s dream, and Julie takes full advantage:

tasmania-maria-island-wombat-2016-18

And then, to our dismay, the Little Prince is startled when one of us steps on a twig and it snaps.  He stops nibbling and rushes full speed for the undergrowth.  Mum carries on as if nothing has happened.  Her son doesn’t return, and we worry that they won’t find each other again, but when we look more closely we can see that he has run towards the entrance to a burrow.

tasmania-maria-island-wombat-2016-10

The Little Prince has gone to ground to await his mother’s return.  We must leave Maria Island in a few minutes to begin the journey back to the mainland, so we know we won’t ever see him again.  A cloud slides before the sun and drains all colour from the day.  Sadly, we turn and trudge towards the waiting boat.

(4)  The Painted Cliffs 

Maria Island is famous for its stunning coastline, and we take in a couple of the highlights on the return trip.  We sail past the spectacular Fossil Cliffs rising vertically from the sea:

tasmania-maria-island-cruise-fossil-cliffs-2016-1

… and then close to the equally impressive and improbable Painted Cliffs:

tasmania-maria-island-painted-cliffs-2016-4

(5)  A fitting end

As soon as we’re back on dry land we return to the car and head north.  We have around 100km to drive before we get to our accommodation.  As we go along we reflect on the day’s events and agree that we should round it off with a bottle of Devil’s Corner, a Tasmanian Pinot Noir Chardonnay for which we’ve developed a taste during our month of travels.  It’s not cheap, but then nothing in Tassie is, so we put the cost out of our mind and dive into a bottle shop – the local version of an off-licence – to do the business.

A couple of hours later we are holed up at our luxury eco-retreat on the Freycinet Peninsula, contentedly quaffing Devil’s Corner while watching a wallaby grazing outside the window.  We raise a glass to him, and to the wombats and seals and scenery we have enjoyed over the past 12 hours.  It is, we agree, a fitting end to a perfect day.

[4 December]

A spiky bridge, a pointed peak and some big trees

tasmania-spiky-bridge-2016-1Today is primarily a driving day as we head south to get into position for an all-day trip to Maria Island tomorrow.  On the way we pass the Spiky Bridge, built by convicts in 1843.  Now by-passed by a new main road, it’s yet another example of how convict labour was central to the early development of Tasmania.  Some commentators suggest that the spiky parapet was intended to prevent cattle falling over the sides of the bridge.  Other, more enlightened commentators say that this theory is a load of dingo’s kidneys and that we should simply regard the Spiky Bridge as the brainchild of someone who’d spent way too much time on the sauce.

We drive inland, along a twisting road that climbs steadily into the mountains.  When the land flattens out we get distant views of St Mary’s Mountain, with a strikingly pointed profile that dominates the surrounding plateau:

tasmania-st-marys-mountain-2016

We have taken a major detour to take in another of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks at the Evercreeech Forest Reserve.  This area features some magnificent White Gums, which are the tallest trees of their type in Australia.  To see them we must first walk through the fern-clad undergrowth, marvelling at the various subtle shades of green that surround us:

tasmania-evercreech-2016-16

When we finally reach them, the trunks of the big trees are massive:

tasmania-evercreech-2016-8

And trying to see the tops of these towering White Gums can be a real pain in the neck:

tasmania-evercreech-2016-18

Thankfully Evercreech is a reserve, so these magnificent trees are safe from the chainsaw and will be there to be enjoyed by future generations.

[3 December]

A coastal hot-spot

At the edge of the Mount William National Park lies a magnificent stretch of coastline known as the Bay of Fires.  It’s widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Australia and we discover its reputation is well deserved.

Julie took these photos at Binalong Bay, which is just one of many superb spots on the Bay of Fires

tasmania-binalong-bay-2016-6

The red colouration of some of the rocks is not a mineral deposit, but rather a lichen.  Its presence shows that local environment is unpolluted:

tasmania-binalong-bay-2016-3

We were lucky to enjoy Binalong Bay in glorious weather, when the bright sunshine and clear blue sky showed off the scenery at its best:

tasmania-binalong-bay-2016-9

[December 2]

All creatures great and small

tasmania-forester-kangaroo-drive-2016-108We drive north from St Helen’s to the Mount William National Park, 14,000 hectares set aside to protect beautiful scenery and a wealth of interesting wildlife.  In particular we’re heading for the Forester Kangaroo Drive, so you can guess what we’re hoping to see.  Our hopes rise when we spot this this sign all over the place as we enter the Park.

Having said that, similar signs normally depicting wallabies, but sometimes wombats, Devils or even echidnas, are everywhere in Tassie.  This reflects the fact that conflicts between wildlife and motor vehicles are commonplace, and driving in some areas you come across roadkill literally every few metres.  The sad thing about Tasmanian wildlife is that it’s often not alive at all by the time we get to see it.  Partly this is because most of the critters are nocturnal and therefore difficult to spot on the road, but it’s also a result of what one might best describe as the cavalier night-time driving habits of many Tasmanians.

The Mount William National Park was originally set up to protect the island’s last remaining population of Forester Kangaroos.  All the other populations in Tasmania were wiped out by settlers in the early nineteenth century – the Forester Kangaroos we saw at Narawntapu National Park are there as the result of a reintroduction programme in 1975.  The Forester Kangaroo Drive traverses large areas of coastal heathland, open grassy plains and dry woodland:

tasmania-forester-kangaroo-drive-2016-3

Thankfully the Kangaroo Drive lives up to its billing and we’re pleased to get views of several individuals, though none of them particularly close:

tasmania-forester-kangaroo-drive-2016-104

It’s also good to re-acquaint ourselves with some old friends: this King of Cubes is out and about, foraging happily and apparently unaware that he’s supposed to be nocturnal:

tasmania-forester-kangaroo-drive-wombat-2016-20

We’re also pleased to see this echidna giving the local ants and grubs a hard time:

tasmania-forester-kangaroo-drive-2016-95

But Mount William National Park also gives us a chance to make some new friends, including this Banded Plover:

tasmania-forester-kangaroo-drive-banded-plover-2016-1

We stop to eat lunch at the Stumpys Bay campground and quickly find ourselves surrounded by dragonflies:

tasmania-forester-kangaroo-drive-stumpys-bay-2016-8

As we leave after just a few hours we reflect on a what has been a great visit.  The area of the National Park covered by the Kangaroo Drive is all but deserted – we saw was one other visitor car and a couple of workmen in the campground – but was teeming with wildlife.  Most definitely it’s our sort of place.

[2 December]

The talk over breakfast

We are staying in The French House, a B&B in St Helen’s.  It sounds exotic, perhaps suggesting a link back to the French explorers who helped map the Tasmanian coast in the late 18th century.  However the truth is more mundane: the house was built by a local Frenchman in the 1980s, who is said to have modelled it on his parents’ home in the South of France.  To be honest, it doesn’t look especially French to me, but a reproduction of the famous painting by Jacques-Louis David of Napoleon Crossing the Alps hangs in the stairwell to remind visitors of its cultural heritage.  Whatever, it’s decent accommodation set in thirty acres of lush gardens and bushland; we’ll be comfortable here:

tasmania-st-helens-french-house-2016

We take breakfast at a table in the huge kitchen.  On one wall is a painting featuring a Superb Fairy Wren and a Kookaburra, both birds we’ve become familiar with over recent weeks.  The mantelpiece is decked out with various cat ornaments and there is a framed photo of a dog, presumably a much loved family pet.  The atmosphere is homely and welcoming, the way good B&Bs should be.

There are no other guests so we have our hosts Jan and John to ourselves over breakfast, chatting amiably about this and that.  Jan’s an Essex girl, originally from Chingford, but you’d never know: to me she sounds totally Aussie, no trace of the estuary in her vowels.  But then, she’s been here since the 1980s; this is her home now, no regrets about the move other than the distance when family duties call back in the UK.

John’s a born and bred Aussie, and worked for many years in local government.  We compare notes, talking cuts and pensions and bureaucracy.  One day he decided he’d had enough, got out and built another life for himself.  The best thing he ever did, he suggests … other than marrying Jan, that is.

We talk prices … isn’t Tassie expensive, we say.  Yes, Jan and Jon agree, more expensive than mainland Australia.  They explain that one of the problems is the size of the population – there are so few people in Tassie that there’s insufficient competition to drive prices down.  And lack of competition makes some locals complacent, they add; Tasmania would be even better if only folk tried a bit harder.  What Launceston really needs is a decent pizza restaurant, Jan says.  Anyone with a bit of skill and imagination could clean up.  But it won’t be them; the French House is their fulfilment, they’re going nowhere.

The breakfast is great; the full English and poached peaches.  Poached peaches!  My god they’re good.  I’ve never had poached peaches for breakfast before today, but now Julie’s retired maybe I should start dropping hints?

For a while we talk tech.  The French House is a little way outside St Helen’s, and the superfast hardwired broadband will never reach it.  The government is proposing a wireless solution for the more remote parts of the country such as this – I suspect that actually means just about all of Australia.  The contrast between huge, underpopulated Australia and tiny, crammed-to-the gunnels Britain could hardly be more stark.

Inevitably the conversation turns to American politics, as so many conversations have over the last three weeks.  The words spoken may vary, but the not the sentiment.  Always, more in bemusement than either sorrow or anger, the message is the same.  Donald Trump?  Really?

We move on, talking travel, comparing notes on where we’ve been, and where we’d like to go.  John goes to a display cabinet in the corner, pulls out a delicate porcelain model of a Tasmanian Devil.  “Last time we were in the UK we took a trip north; got this from the Crown Derby factory shop,” he says proudly.

“So did we,” we respond, smiling.  Jan adds that after their purchase they drove into the Peak District to check out Chatsworth House.  There are times when I am blown away by the realities of international travel in the modern world.  Here we are, on the other side of the planet, talking to people we’ve never met before about places they’ve visited that Julie and I could drive to from our home in 40 minutes or so.  It’s a small world.

Finally we have to move on.  We have a tight schedule, places to go, things to see; and breakfast has taken a bit longer than planned.  But it doesn’t matter, travel is more than just an accumulation of the places one visits and photographs.  It’s also about the people one meets along the way, about listening to their stories to better understand one’s own.  Jan and John are lovely, interesting people running a great B&B and I’m glad that, albeit very briefly, our paths have crossed.

And anyway, only a fool would be in a hurry when there are poached peaches for breakfast.

[2 December]

“We call it a goat track”

Along with the documentation for our trip Susie from Tasmanian Odyssey sent us a booklet of 60 Great Short Walks in Tasmania, and we’ve been working our way through some of them since we arrived.  Today is a travelling day – we stayed the night in the evocatively named Beauty Point and will be heading east all day to end up at St Helen’s.  On the way we plan to do another two Great Short Walks, both to waterfalls.  But first we’ll call in at Lillydale Falls, which aren’t mentioned in the booklet.

tasmania-lilydale-falls-2016-9Things start well.  Lillydale Falls are fairly easy to get to.  We park in a decent car park and walk upriver for a few minutes, surrounded by ferns and eucalypts to an attractive cascade waterfall.  White water tumbles over a series of rock ledges and past a fallen tree trunk that has been swept downriver in a flood and is now wedged hard against the falls.  All very peaceful, very beautiful.

Then things start to go downhill, or to be more accurate, uphill.  The next falls we are to visit are the Ralph Falls.  The most direct route is a gravel road through the mountains.  It looks OK on the map, so we decide to go for it.

Generally speaking the quality of the roads in Tassie is very good.  There have obviously been a few problems over the winter during the unprecedented floods that affected, in particular, the north of the island, and in various places we’ve driven through we’ve seen gangs of roadworkers making good the damage.  But the tarmac roads are mostly excellent, and to date the gravel roads (or “unsealed” as they tend to be called here) have impressed us too.

A lot of Tassie’s minor roads are unsealed, but they’re in good nick.  We’ve visited all 50 US states over a period of about 20 years and during that time have driven on a lot of gravel roads, and Tasmanian unsealed roads compare well with most of them.  So we’re confident that the road to Ralph Falls won’t cause us any difficulties … after all, if it’s unusually challenging the state government would put up a sign to warn unwary drivers before they did anything silly.  Wouldn’t it?

The road to Ralph Falls heads deep into the mountains.  It’s steep and winding.  The road surface is rougher than any unsealed road I’ve driven in Tassie, with hefty rocks rubbing shoulders with impressively gaping potholes.  The road narrows, and I realise I’ll be in trouble if I meet a car coming towards us as passing places are few and far between.  But there are no cars coming down, the road is entirely deserted but for us and our valiant Toyota Camry.  Strange, I think to myself, what do they know that I don’t?

I become increasingly concerned that the Camry might not make it.  After all it’s only a regular sedan, low slung and just asking to have its suspension knackered or sump knocked out by one of these randomly distributed rocks and potholes.

The road narrows further, and we wind around the side of the mountain.  On Julie’s side there’s a sheer drop.  No crash barriers, of course.  If I lose control and go over the edge we’re gonna die, no question.  I grip the steering wheel more tightly and rehearse my favourite Anglo-Saxon phrases.  It dawns on us that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this, but there’s nowhere to turn around, and anyway it’s bound to flatten out soon.  Isn’t it?

But it doesn’t.  We’re still climbing.  We’re going very slowly now, in marked contrast to my heartbeat which is racing wildly.  We continue to debate the relative merits of going on versus those of trying to turn around and going back down.  The phrase “buggered if we do, buggered if we don’t” offers itself up for consideration, and we agree that it just about sums up our situation.

But finally, just when I’m about to surrender to the panic that I’ve been trying so hard to control, the road opens out and to the left is a modest parking area.  We’ve made it to Ralph Falls.

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There’s still the small matter of the Short Walk before we get to see the cause of all our misery so we trek steeply downhill through the myrtle rainforest, reflecting as we go that what goes down must go up and it’s going to be bloody painful when it does.  Then, at last, we turn a corner and spot the falls, a streaming ribbon of water plunging off the rock face.  At over 90 metres Ralph Falls is Tasmania’s highest single drop waterfall, and is an impressive sight:

And so it’s on to our third waterfall, the St Columba Falls.   I note with satisfaction that we don’t have to drive back down the road we’ve just ascended, and am quietly confident that, in the words of the song, things can only get better.  Silly boy.

The road is just as rough, the rocks and potholes just as unforgiving.  And just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse we turn the corner and are confronted by a scene of muddy devastation.  The forest in front of us is being logged, and the logging track is about to become one with the road we are driving. Thanks to the logging trucks our road is covered with deep slippery mud, which serves to conceal the rocks and potholes without eliminating the danger they pose to our wretched Camry.

Logging trucks – could these be our nemesis?  I’ve ranted about logging ever since I’ve been in Tassie, and am under no illusions that your average logger thinks he’s the dog’s bollocks.  Most drivers of logging trucks think they’re invincible, and let’s face it when the opposition is a Toyota Camry there’s no bloody competition.  These roads aren’t big enough for the two of us: if I meet a logging truck there’s only going to be one winner and it won’t be me.

So here’s my dilemma – I desperately want to be off this road, which suggests I should drive the like the wind until I am.  On the other hand, putting the pedal to the metal increases the chance that I’ll write off the car and bring our trip (and possibly our very existence) to a premature end.

tasmania-st-columba-falls-panorama-2016

But Dame Fortune must be looking down kindly on us today.  Logging trucks are notable only by their absence (drivers on a tea break, maybe?) and we make it down through the forest to a road junction without incident, although my nerves are in tatters.  Minutes later we pull up at the St Columba Falls car park, and take the Short Walk to see them.

Like Ralph Falls the drop of St Columba Falls is around 90 metres, but in a cascade rather than a single drop.  It’s difficult to capture the full extent of the cascade in a single photo, so this picture possibly doesn’t do them complete justice:

Amazingly there are two other visitors to the St Columba Falls, though they’ve approached from the other (much more sensible) direction.  One of them takes a photo of us:

tasmania-st-columba-falls-2016-14

We reciprocate   Her camera takes real film; we haven’t seen one of these for years.  We ask why she doesn’t go digital, and she explains she likes the excitement of opening the pack of developed photos, not knowing until that moment what they’ll look like, whether they’ll be any good.  I mutter some pleasantries but am secretly thinking that if Julie still took traditional photos we’d be bankrupt by now … wombats can do that to a photographer, you know

So, our Short Walks completed and the three waterfalls digitally recorded for posterity we wend our weary way slowly towards St Helen’s where we’ll be staying in a B&B for the next two nights.  When we get there one of the owners, Jan, asks about our journey and we tell her the route we‘ve taken and the pain it’s caused us.  In carefully measured tones she says “Yes, I’ve heard it’s a bit rustic up there.”  She keeps her expression neutral, giving nothing away, the undoubted mistress of understatement.

John, her husband, is less circumspect.  “Around here we call it a goat track,” he chuckles.

Well I guess that sums it up nicely.

[1 December]