Under Down Under

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I arrived at my Hobart hostel, City Central Backpackers, exactly when I predicted. The stroke of noon. The flight down to Tasmania, the last state to be explored on my rapidly concluding Australian journey, was pretty uneventful. My laptop battery didn’t last long playing a game of Civilization IV (when was the last time I played a computer game, I don’t know) and so I got started on my new book, The Kite Runner, which Daren and Janine had given me for Christmas. As much as I’d enjoyed reading Xenophon’s take on Socrates, I was looking forward to a more entertaining read, and right from the book’s first line, it delivered. But I digress. I met a Swiss guy on the bus into town staying at my hostel, and we chatted a bit as the bus crossed the Tasman bridge and the sky was suddenly filled with kites. It turned out, rather befitting my new book, there was a kite festival in town. As we couldn’t check in for an hour anyway, the two of us wandered in a direction we thought would take us back there. It didn’t, in fact, it was the complete opposite direction, but as someone once told me, “Adventure comes from poor planning” and indeed it did.

Having realized our mistake, by which I mean my mistake, we wandered back in the proper direction and took a walk through Battery Point en route to the park. I’d called Leo, a CouchSurfer, a local expert of sorts that invited Flavic (my Swiss friend) and I to take a spin with him to the top of Mt. Wellington and see the views. So, all that walking and we wound up back at the hostel instead, to check in and put our bags in our room before Leo met us at the botanical gardens. Unfortunately, ‘our’ room meant my room and his room, which had different numbers, floors, and locations, and we didn’t cross paths again. I went on to the kite festival myself, and noted, not for the first time, at how friendly Tasmanians are. Hardly a hint of the spinning dervishes I was expecting. Then, on to a quite long walk to the botanical gardens, through the memorial to the 500 Tasmanians that had died in the great wars (one tree for each soldier), where I looked around, snapped some photos, and read a lot more of my increasingly excellent book.

Leo met me there, eventually, and we drove up to the top of Mt. Wellington as promised. It’s a hard place to get to, unless you have wheels, which I was seriously contemplating. Tours up here are pricey and there’s no bus, but there WAS a long trail. It would’ve been doubly long as it was quite chilly at the top and I don’t have much left in the warm clothes department. We got some nice shots and Leo described the history, geography, and layout of his new home in Hobart. He kind of reminds me of Terry a bit, actually, and we got along pretty well. I met his two roommates and we had a bit of dinner there before meeting another CSer for coffee, whose name was Kerri. She was pretty nice, too, and I thought that I should’ve gotten more involved in this whole CouchSurfing community much sooner. Then we all parted ways and my first day in Tasmania was over.

The next morning, I got my life in Tassy sorted. I tried to figure out if there were any ‘adventure’ tours, by which I meant multi-activity. A bit of trekking here, climbing there, and so on. One of the things I really wanted to do in Tasmania was the Overland track, an eight day hike through some amazing terrain, but as I considered the other things I wanted to see and do and the fact that I had booked my flight back to Perth for the 23rd of January from Melbourne, time was not on my side. I found a company, TasSafari, that did do a lot of day hikes into some nice scenery over about 10 days, and given it was already the 7th of Jan and I really only had two weeks anyway, that sounded about right. It would give me a few days in Melbourne (I booked a flight that morning for the 19th) and let me get a rough scraping of the island, which was probably the best I could hope for. You can’t see and do it all, you really can’t. So I booked a tour leaving Hobart on Wednesday the 9th, and my Tasmanian experience was sorted. Having done this, I stopped by a travel agent to chat about my trip into Asia and was a bit discouraged that the requirements for proof-of-intent-to-depart were so strict.

I soothed my thoughts on this with a nice piece of pastitsio at a Greek restaurant in Salamanca Square, one of the better ones I’ve had from a restaurant (still nothing compared to Aunt Nicky’s), and sat in the sun reading my book. It reminded me of the month I spent in Crete, sitting in a cafĂ©, reading my textbooks with a bowl of Greek salad and eventually yogurt and enjoying the afternoon. I felt relaxed here in Tasmania almost instantly. I walked around the city for a while and then met up with Kerri, who picked me up for a BBQ at her place where we also met another CSer, a Belgian named Will. We had a good barbecue, some nice wine, and a good chat before calling it a night. The following day, I got a few supplies, met up with Will for dinner and met a girl named Clare and some of her friends who were good fun, and played Wii and music and had drinks. When I was walking home, a girl pulled over to ask me where I was heading and if I wanted a lift, presumably because of my backpack and Canadian flag. Yes, these Tasmanians are a friendly bunch, and Hobart certainly was good to me.

Bright and early the next morning, 6:15 to be precise, I was leaving all that goodness behind and venturing up the east coast. I met my fellow travelers in our 4WD, loaded my bags, and jumped on. Mostly older people, though an Italian, Fabio, was my age, but they were all pretty nice. We drove up the Tasman peninsula to Port Arthur, a historic place where Tasmania’s first convicts were kept in quite brutal conditions. The security for the place was a line of hungry dogs on chains and the fact that it was otherwise isolated by water. Then we drove down to the peninsula’s southern point and walked, I’d say a good 15km to Cape Raoul, which was a beautiful walk. It starts in the forest making its way for the coast which is framed with some of the highest seacliffs in Australia. Once upon a time, a whole bunch of hot magma forced its way to the surface, only to stop short, buried by a bunch of soft sedimentary rock which over time was eroded away again. The result is a bunch of columns of rock shooting straight into the sky like the water being dashed against its face far below. There were plenty of spectacular views and it was a definite walk off the beaten track.

We caught dinner at camp, which was a bit late because our camp spot had been taken and we had to track down another one. Fabio and I shared a tent, we all shared some Boags, and we sat around the campfire and watched the stars start flickering on. My knee has been acting funny after lots of exertion lately, and it was pretty sore the next morning; I was and am a little worried about it, actually. We walked to Wineglass Bay anyway, because of clouds we didn’t climb to the top of Mt. Amos, and once it warmed up my knee wasn’t so bad. Wineglass Bay is an isolated beach on the opposite side of the peninsula from the main road, so the only way in is to hike. It is so named because the curvature makes it look like a giant wineglass filled with absynth. Again our weather was not so cooperative, but we went down to the beach anyway as the cloud finally started to break. It was beautiful from the bottom, bordered by orange-tinged rock (rusted iron deposits) and forest, and the sun was peeking out from time to time from the racing clouds not too far above. We set out for our second camp in an abandoned town on a mountaintop. The town is gone, but grassy plains remain and a lot of trails to nearby mountains and views. We had what has to be one of the best dinners I’ve had since I took Daren and Janine out to dinner, topped off with chocolate bananas (my first attempt at them) and I took a quick run up to the top of the nearest mountain before the sun went down.

The next morning we went back to that same mountaintop, and it was even more spectacular as the clouds rolled around in the valley below. We took a second walk through some forest to another lookout, and then did two walks in the Blue Tier forest. It’s a little bit sad that the Blue Tier forest is slated for logging. Normally, it would be protected as old growth forest (in other words, forest that has never been replanted) but as the result of a trench running through it, the entire forest is instead ‘re-growth’ and I hate to think that in a few years it won’t be there at all. Hopefully something is done about this silly classification system. Anyway, it was beautiful. There were some massive, massive trees (one 20m in diameter), lots of very old and tall fern trees, and a beautiful creek running through. We had lunch near the largest tree, which had a hollow cave in it that could probably fit 15-20 people and climbed back up. After some more backroads driving, we were off to Launceston to end the eastern leg of our trip with some parmy and delicious Boags beer. Now I have three nights here before catching the western side of the island-state and wrapping up my Tasmanian adventure.

The three nights in Launceston went quite fast. My first day was the arrival, which was marked by going out for dinner with the group. The second day, I walked around the city centre and bought some more shorts for the warmer climes and did the approximately 10km walk around Cataract Gorge, a beautiful gorge that’s literally a ten minute walk from the city centre. I walked all the way to the Duck Reach power station, which is pretty remote, and there were lizards everywhere sunning themselves on rocks. I was really hoping I didn’t come across a snake and kept a keen eye out but it wasn’t my day to get scrappy with the locals thankfully. On the walk they have a free swimming pool right on the river running through the gorge not to mention the nice walk. A very impressive park to have in a city. My final day I had planned to bike up to the Tamar Valley and do a bit of the wine circuit, but the wind was against the idea from the start, so I settled for a tour. And before I knew it, I was getting ready for bed to get up and head off into the wild west of Tasmania for a 5 day trip back to Hobart. Cradle Mountain, Lake St Clair, and who knows what else is on the itinerary, but I happen to know that I’m the only one booked on the tour and Andrew is my guide once again, so we should be pretty flexible and able to do some unique things. We’re leaving the trailer behind to get to some really off-the-tourist-track type locales. But that’s enough foreshadowing for now, I’ll see you soon.

Hobart Photos
East Coast Photos
Launceston Photos

No comments: