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]

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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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(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:

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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.

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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:

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

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(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:

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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:

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

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

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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

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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:

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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:

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[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:

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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:

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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:

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

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

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

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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]

“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.

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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:

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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]

Cry the beloved Tassie

When I was small I used to love Chocolate Swiss Roll. Sometimes mum would buy one as a treat and I’d wolf down a slice as soon as she’d unpacked her shopping bag.  Within minutes I’d be whining, “Mum can I have another slice please?  Can I please?  Can I?”

She’d give me the look and say “Of course you can sweetie.”  And then she’d hit me with the killer blow, the one that always left me reeling on the ropes, gasping for breath.  Darkly she’d say “But when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

How I hated those cold hard words, loathed their relentless logic, resented the impossibility of the choice they placed in front of me. Although of course, strictly speaking, mum was wrong.  She could easily have nipped round the corner to buy another one, no worries.  After all, the Co-Op never ran out of Chocolate Swiss Rolls.

Primary forests aren’t like Chocolate Swiss Rolls. When they’re gone, they’re gone.  You can’t ever put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  Ever.

Tassie is doing some good stuff for conservation. Lots of land is set aside for National Parks and other reserves.  And look at the project save the Tasmanian Devil – real commitment there, no question.

However if you scratch beneath the surface, peel away the self-satisfied veneer, there are less palatable truths. We learned earlier in the trip of the excellent work being done on Bruny Island to protect the endangered Swift Parrot.  But we were told yesterday that that the virgin forest to which the Swift Parrots return each winter is scheduled for logging.  So the parrots are protected in the summer but condemned to starve in the winter.  Where the hell is the sense in that?

Vast areas of Tasmanian primary forest remain under threat from the chainsaw. Of course Tasmania needs to have some commercial forestry, some plantations of fast growing trees to meet essential timber requirements.  But to set about destroying these magnificent old growth forests that have been around for thousands upon thousands of years so Tasmania can export bloody wood chips to the Chinese?  Come on guys, get a grip.

We’ve had a wonderful time is Tassie, seen some fantastic sights, met some great people. It’s one of the most special places we’ve ever been … and we’ve been to some very special places.

And yet here’s one of my abiding memories of Tassie …

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… and here’s another:

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Guys, it doesn’t have to be like this. Your primary forests are something to take pride in.  Your descendants won’t ever forgive you for what you’re doing to them.

You need to pay heed to what my dear old mum used to say.

Remember guys, when it’s gone, it’s gone.

[29 November]

Iconic

Cradle Mountain features heavily in promotions of Tasmania. It is, I think, the island’s most iconic natural landmark, and it certainly draws in the tourists.  Other than at the Port Arthur convict site we have only encountered a few tourists at any given location.  Cradle Mountain is on an altogether different scale, reflecting, I guess, its iconic status.  Groups of tourists from the Chinese mainland are very much in evidence, but there are plenty of Aussies and a smattering of Europeans too.

As we begin to explore it becomes clear that the hype is justified. This is a great landscape to visit, though we are grateful that we visit at a time when the sky is mostly blue and the mountain tops rarely obscured by clouds:

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The landscape below is just a few kilometres away, but totally different.  It’s got a big population of wombats (don’t worry, the King of Cubes has a post all to himself, coming up next!)  You can’t call it spectacular, but it has a certain beauty:

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Cradle Mountain is a great place for serious hiking, but that’s not our thing.  Luckily, this pretty cascade is very close to the road:

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28 November

Nuts about Stanley

Stanley is one of Tasmania’s most historic settlements.  In the early nineteenth century it was headquarters of the Van Diemen’s Land Company, an important player in the early development of the colony.  The Company was in effect a state within a state, doing pretty much its own thing in those parts of the island in which it had an interest.

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Highfield House, set on a hill overlooking the town, was built between 1832 and 1835 as a residence for the chief agent of the Van Diemen’s Land Company. It’s impressive by the standard of Tasmanian historic buildings, though not of any great size or quality by the standards of the British Empire.  However it’s difficult to grasp the significance of some of the decisions made here.  In Highfield House deals were done, fortunes made and lives destroyed.  Decisions made within these walls helped seal the fate of the aboriginal inhabitants of the island, and of the thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger)

Because of the long history of the Van Diemen’s Land Company it’s unsurprising that Stanley boasts a number of buildings of age and character:

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It looks and feels quaint:

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Coming right up to date, we learned while in the town that recently Stanley has been used as a location for the filming of The Light Between Oceans, based on a novel by M R Steadman.  Julie read and enjoyed the book some time ago, and heartily recommends it.

However the most significant thing about Stanley is nothing manmade; rather, it is the topography, or, to put it another way the Stanley Nut. The town is dominated by the Nut, a vast, flat-topped rocky outcrop formed from the core of an extinct volcano.  It is a looming presence, towering 152 metres above the town:

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It’s possible to take a chairlift to the top, but the weather was cool and windy and we agreed that in the circumstances this was one experience we could manage without.

Our luxurious accommodation, on a hill overlooking Stanley gave fabulous views of the Nut, and the floor to ceiling windows ensured that it was never out of sight or mind. There was even a spa-bath strategically positioned to enable the bather to soak up the views while soaking in the bath.  Here Julie is posing for the camera in the bath:

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If you want any more you will need to use your imagination (or maybe just take a cold shower).

[26 November]

The edge of the world

Today we take a boat trip up the Arthur River, into the Tarkine rainforest. The Tarkine is a cause celebre for Tasmanian conservationists, who are determined to see it protected.  It is named after the local tribe of aborigines who lived in the area at the time of the first European explorers, and is now said to be the most pristine example of rainforest left in Tassie.  The Arthur is one of Tasmania’s seven major rivers, and is unique because it’s the only one that has been neither logged nor dammed.  Conservationists want to keep it that way.

To start our river cruise we must drive for nearly an hour from Stanley to the remote western corner of Tassie, which officially has the cleanest air of any settlement in the world (the prevailing wind is westerly, so air pollution would have to come from Argentina, half way around the globe). As we approach the town of Arthur River we start to pick up signs telling us we are in Tasmanian Devil country, where un-diseased animals still roam free.  We are therefore urged to drive with particular care.  However the Devils are nocturnal and will be safely tucked up in bed on this cool November morning.

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We press on, and reach the wharf ahead of schedule. The boat captain is still setting up so he suggests we nip along the road to the Edge of the World.  If you were to sail due west from this rocky coastal promontory you would not hit land again until you reached Chile.  It is a lonely place today, bleak and cold in a buffeting wind.

The Edge of the World is also the mouth of the Arthur River, and as we look at the shoreline we see a tangle of logs and branches, the bleached bones of trees torn from the ground and washed downriver in the terrible storms that hit Tassie a few months ago.  The locals say they’ve never seen such carnage, so many skeletons on the beach.

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This is a dark, brooding, timeless place. On a small stone cairn is a poem by Brian Inder, who was plainly inspired by the Edge of the World.  The poem, which we later discover is also reproduced in the boat taking us up the Arthur River, reads as follows:

I cast my pebble onto the shore of Eternity

To be washed by the Ocean of Time

It has shape, form and substance.

It is me

One day I will be no more

But my pebble will remain here

On the shore of Eternity

Mute witness for the aeons

That today I came and stood

At the edge of the world.

We return to the boat and board with a dozen or so other people, and soon we are cruising upriver.

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We are being watched.  White-bellied Sea Eagles know that a couple of dead fish will be tossed into the river from this boat to entice them down.  One plays his part to perfection, swooping down from his vantage point high in the trees, grabbing a fish from the water with sharp talons and flying off triumphantly with his trophy.  Cameras click appreciatively.

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The eagle’s mate however is nowhere to be seen, so the fish is retrieved in a net and will be offered up again when we return downriver a few hours from now.

We continue to head upriver at a leisurely pace, the captain at the intercom telling us about the luxuriant vegetation all around us, and sharing stories of the men who lived, and loved and died on the river in the old days.

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After a couple of hours we tie up at Turk’s landing, Turk being one of those old-timers who called this place home. The captain takes us on a short guided walk through a section of rainforest, naming and explaining the various species of tree.  Meanwhile the other two crew members prepare a barbecue in a small clearing.

While we eat a pademelon hangs around, begging pieces of lettuce and other scraps.

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She has a joey in her pouch, though he mostly keeps his head down and is difficult to see.   Just occasionally we catch a glimpse:

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Her older son also makes himself known.  He’s left the pouch now and should be away by himself, making his own way in the world.  But he knows a good thing when he sees one, and tourists with lettuce to spare fall into the category so he stays around looking hopeful and is rewarded for his cheek.

All too soon the barbecue is over, the pademelons disappear into the undergrowth and we must start on the return trip, immersing ourselves once again in the utter peace and tranquillity of the Tarkine rainforest.

[26 November]