Rob the Builder

Today we leave mainland Tasmania, taking a short flight from Launceston Airport to Flinders Island.  Over the past 30 days we’ve driven 4,269km and it seems like we’ve explored every corner of Tassie; it’s surpassed our expectations and we are sorry to leave.  Flinders, however, is off the beaten track, even by Tasmanian standards, and offers us a chance to chill before the mayhem of Melbourne and the horrors of the flight back to the UK.

We know we’re in for an experience when the guy at check-in tells us our hand-luggage is too heavy.  We re-pack, shifting stuff into suitcases until the weight meets the airline’s rules.  But we needn’t have bothered; when we try to take it on the plane the captain says it’s too big, and will have to go in the hold anyway.  As we clamber on board we take his point.  It’s a 19 seater, and we’re packed in like sardines.  I never thought I’d be dreaming wistfully of the creature comforts in a British Airways economy class cabin, but plainly we’re playing by different rules here in outback Oz:

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In Flinders we are staying in a self-contained cabin on a farm, with great views of Franklin Sound beyond the trees:

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Free-range guinea pigs and partridges roam the farmyard, kept in line by Jess, an eager and friendly sheep dog.  This seems like our sort of place:

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Our genial hosts, Rob and Lorraine, are in the habit of treating new arrivals to a barbecue in an outbuilding that Rob has built himself from salvaged materials.  As well as running cattle and sheep on his smallholding Rob is a builder by trade, plainly a skilled and versatile one.  He points to various bits of the building, explaining proudly where they’ve been sourced.  As the barbecue gets going some bats are flushed out of the roof space, circling madly for a few seconds before exiting via a convenient gap in the eaves.

Rob puts a vinyl record of Abba’s Greatest Hits on to an ancient turntable, and we’re ready to rumble.  We talk about the death of Andrew Sachs a few days ago.  We say we are amazed that it was mentioned on Australian radio news, and Lorraine explains that Fawlty Towers is massively popular over here.  She and Rob both enjoy British TV comedy, and can’t get the hang of US sitcoms.  We share their sentiments.

The tricky subject of mutton birds raises its head.  Driving us back from the airport Lorraine had told us about the menu for the barbecue, including mutton birds.  These are better known as Short-tailed Shearwaters; they are common birds in Tasmania, and are regarded around these parts as a culinary delicacy.  I politely declined, explaining that we are birders and came to Tassie to watch the local wildlife rather than to eat it.  No offence was intended, but we appear to have scored an own goal.

Rob makes the case for eating mutton birds, and he too scores an own goal: they’re very common, he says, and we’ll probably like them as they taste like minke whale.  We are truly sorry if we have offended two decent people who are giving up their evening to cook us a barbecue.  We are not criticising their customs or way of life, but we have principles and must stick to them if we are to be true to ourselves.  An awkward silence descends across the proceedings.

By unspoken agreement everyone quickly moves on, determined to make the most of an evening without mutton birds.  Lorraine cooks well, and we tuck in eagerly to her home-made sausages and pesto, washed down with Rob’s excellent home brew.  Julie doesn’t much care for lamb, but Lorraine serves some which is sourced from the dorper sheep Rob has raised on the farm and she is won over.

Soon we are swapping travellers’ tales.  Rob and Lorraine prove to be the best-travelled Aussies we’ve met, and are frequent visitors to Europe.  They know Orkney and Shetland well, as do we, though they prefer the latter while we could easily spend the rest of our lives on the former.  They even know Holt in Norfolk, which Julie and I visit most years.  How many Brits, let alone Tasmanians, can claim to know Holt?

The evening draws to an amiable close; the guinea pigs are safely tucked up in bed for the night, and we need to follow their example.  Flinders is surprisingly large – more than twice the size of the Isle of Man – and we have just two days to explore it so tomorrow we’ll need to make an early start.

[6 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]

“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]

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]

Deep in the heart of Tassie

Preston falls.jpgMountain Valley is very, very remote. It does however have some spectacular scenery.  We take a short drive to Preston Falls, a slender waterfall 25 metres high.  It should be tranquil here, but as we begin descending the steps to the viewing platform another car pulls up and four girls burst out, shattering the calm.  None of them looks old enough to drive, but presumably one of them must be.  They are under-dressed and over-excited, shrieking and giggling as they make their way down to the falls, taking selfies and generally messing around.  I’ve no idea where they’ve come from but dearly wish they’d go back there.

Of course I’m being unreasonable, they are merely young and boisterous, and I guess I was like that once too … though I struggle to remember it. But I resent their presence, intruding on the peace I had hoped to find here, and am even more put out because the experience is unfamiliar: generally speaking the places we have visited to date on this trip to Tassie have been deserted.  So we quickly take our photos and move on, heading for Leven Canyon.  At the canyon we take a circular hike, first trudging uphill through the rain to the lookout point 275 metres above the river. The view is spectacular:

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From here its downhill all the way, 697 steps in total, until we reach a second lookout point. Our knees, hips, feet and lower backs protest mightily as we make the descent, and the only comfort is that it would be even worse if we’d done the circular route in the other direction and had to climb the 697 steps instead.

Having enjoyed the view it’s time to head back to the car, uphill of course. The information for walkers describes this as an easy walk for all ages, but I quickly suspect a misprint.  Our aches and pains return, but we are comforted by the fact that the route takes us through the Fern Walk where grand old tree-ferns up to 5 metres tall and 150 years old line the path:
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One of the things we have enjoyed most about walking in the Tasmanian forests has been the tree-ferns.  They seem so exotic (which they are, to British eyes at least) and so tropical (which plainly they are not.)  The unruly girls at Preston Falls, the pain in our limbs and the persistent rain are quickly forgotten as we immerse ourselves in the riot of delicate green foliage of the Leven Canyon Fern Walk, deep in the heart of Tassie.

[24 November]

Gardener’s world (plus bonus platypus!)

One of the surprises of this trip has been the gardens. Tasmanians are clearly into gardens.  Often when we are on the road we pass a stunning example of a domestic garden, a well laid out and lovingly tended riot of colour.

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But there are also larger gardens, belonging to institutions or to individuals who have opened them to inform and give pleasure to locals and tourists alike. The very first place we visited in Tasmania, just an hour or so after picking up the car was the excellent Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, which I wrote about at the time and have been described as a national treasure.  And the day we left Hobart to go Bruny Island we dropped in on the way at Inverawe Native Gardens, Tasmania’s largest landscaped native garden.  Here the owners have created a “sustainable, waterwise, low chemical and low maintenance garden” on a plot of some 22 acres, and have planted over 10,000 Australian native trees and shrubs:

The main reason for visiting Mountain Valley was of course to see the Tasmanian Devils, but as all the action takes place after dark this left the daylight hours to explore the area. During this time we were able to have a look at two other, very different gardens.

The spectacular Kaydale Lodge Gardens, just a few kilometres up the road from Mountain Valley, are set in about 5 acres of grounds:

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However unlike Inverawe the focus is European rather than Tasmanian flora. The couple who created the gardens have spent most of their married lives on the project and now, increasingly, their daughters are taking over the mantle.  The results are outstanding:

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It would be great (though sadly impossible for us) to see the gardens in the different seasons to see what new splendours they have to offer.

The next day we took a longer drive to the Tasmanian Arboretum, which covers around 150 acres and features Tasmanian plants, southern hemisphere conifers and deciduous trees from temperate areas across the world. This volunteer-led project is in its infancy, and it will presumably be many years before the trees reach full maturity.  Already, however, it was looking good with some great vistas to be enjoyed around the lake:

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As an added bonus, the lake at the Tasmanian Arboretum provided us with good views of two platypus. They were close enough for Julie to get some good shots:

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This makes eight platypus we have seen during the trip, which far exceeds my wildest dreams. Despite Susie’s assurances I was afraid I wouldn’t see any so it feels like all my birthdays have come at once.  Thanks, Susie!

[24 November]

Internet meltdown

Hi there.  I never truly appreciated the quality of our home broadband connection until I tried to blog from rural Tasmania.  I’m currently sitting in the lounge of our accommodation in St Helen’s, which is on the north-east coast of Tasmania.  It’s a smallish seaside town, although there aren’t too many visitors on the streets right now – school holidays begin in early December, so things will pick up soon we’re assured.

Anyway, St Helen’s is not the remotest part of Tassie we’ve been to, but the broadband here is so meagre that embedding photos with my posts is proving impossible.  I’ll therefore continue to stockpile material until we log on to a broadband connection worthy of the description (I already have a week’s backlog due to previous Internet access problems.)

For the same reason, Julie is unable to upload photos to Flickr, and we’re even struggling to connect to email.  Normal service will be resumed in due course, but quite possibly not be before we get to Melbourne eight days from now.

So, what can you look forward to from the Platypus?  Here are some of things I’ll be writing about and illustrating with Julie’s photos:

  • Tasmanian Devils – both in the wild and part of the captive breeding programme
  • Wombats … lots of cute wombats
  • Penguins (again)
  • Logging (again)
  • Inspiring gardens
  • Amazing scenery
  • More birds of the week
  • Kangaroos (at last!)
  • The voyages of Captain Quirk (aka Julie)
  • The road to hell (aka the rough slippery twisting gravel road with the sheer drop on Julie’s side that we took today over the mountains as we journeyed between two waterfalls.  Spoiler alert: we survived, but I aged a couple of years in the process.)

So do keep logging on.  I’ll keep posting even after we’re back in the UK until the story is fully told.  I bet you can hardly contain your excitement.

And much, much more.

A grand day out

tasmania-strahan-west-coast-wilderness-railway-2016-28About 20 miles from Strahan lies Queenstown. During the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth century it was the home of a very lucrative copper mine.  However its location deep in mountainous and thickly forested terrain meant that the biggest challenge was not to get the copper ore out of the ground but rather to get it out of Queenstown.  The answer they came up with was to build a railway to the coast at Strahan, an astounding feat of engineering.  The work was all done by hand in period of less than three years, which was way ahead of schedule (we learned later in our trip that this outstanding result was probably due to the sassafras tea the workers were served – it’s made from the leaves of a local tree and contains amphetamine, which acted as a performance enhancing drug.)

The copper mine is no more, though locals hope for its revival if prices pick up sufficiently. However the railway has been preserved, and is doing a great job ferrying tourists past wild landscapes and though magnificent forests.  So we join them and take a relaxing return day-trip from Strahan to Queenstown, getting great views of the train and the land through which it runs:

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We are generously fed and watered throughout the trip, and even get to spend an hour in Queenstown, which to me feels a bit like a careworn frontier town in the American Wild West, although without the tumbleweed:

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It’s interesting to note that the steam trains were originally coal-fired, but have been converted to run on recycled sump oil. The reason, we are told, is that locomotives running on oil won’t release sparks and embers into the atmosphere, and are therefore less likely than their coal-fired cousins to set on fire and burn down the UNESCO accredited rainforest through which they run.

Heritage steam trains are always good fun, and the West Coast Wilderness Railway is no exception.  Travelling the line allows an appreciation of just how much effort and ingenuity went into its construction, while the locomotives and rolling stock are full of character:

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A grand day out was had by all.

[21 November]