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TASMANIA - Part II

Field National Park to Hobart

Pretty cold night at the Field NP campsite. Had to get up during the night and put long underwear on – top and bottom, as well as that snug toque. After that I was okay. Our current arrangement of blankets – sheet, quilt, wool blanket, sleeping bag plus sleeping bag ...means a heavy load of blankets that continuously shift – not altogether wonderful. But we’ll manage for another few weeks. Hard to believe that we started this trip with a sheet and a fan.

Got up and headed to the shower – but there was no hot water. Waiting, naked and shivering, while the water ran and ran and ran. The shower block is open at the top to the wind and it was bloody cold up there in the mountains. Finally put my clothes back on and settled for brushing my teeth and washing my face. I’ll shower extra tonight.

Headed off to do the “Tall Trees” walk in the park. This was a pleasant walk – about 30-40 minutes through the forest. They have some mighty big trees here – they are a form of eucalypt called “swamp gum”. Their bark sheets off in huge strips from the bottom up. The biggest ones grow for about 400 years and are just huge. The other thing that grows very huge here are the ferns, some so big their trunks are actually wooden like tree trunks. Very nice start to the day, which is still cool, but is sunny and shows promise of warming up.

We continued from there on down the road a few km to “Wild Things” Animal Park. Koala Baby going over top of MomThis is a modest little park where they rehabilitate injured animals. The best experience was a family of koalas that was incredibly actively when we arrived.

The father koala had tucked himself into the crook of a tree and was sleeping peacefully. The mother koala was sitting on a branch below him. Baby was out at the end of the branch but decided he/she wanted to come down the branch that Mom was on. So baby proceeded down the branch and when he reached Mom he just crawled right over top of her, like she was a log or something. Funny to watch. Then he clung to her back for a while. She pulled him around and they cuddled for a few moments. Then baby decided to go up and visit Dad.

Koala Dad on bottomHe crawled up there ....and while Dad noticed him, he didn’t seem to mind. Then Mom decided to come up too. When she came up things got very crowded as she tried to settle in beside him. Then baby came in to settle too ...Mom and “Bub” as they call babies here were embracing and cuddling ...crowding Dad who was now at the bottom of the pile and shifting about trying to get comfortable.

He started grunting and vocalizing his displeasure. Mom just settled in more firmly. Eventually Dad crawled out of the crook of the branch he was in and started descending the tree. For a few minutes he clung to the main branch verbalizing his displeasure. Mom answered with a few squealing noised while Bub looked on worried. Eventually Dad moved on. When we came back an hour later Dad had resettled and was fast asleep in a branch some distance away. For how long, who knows.

There were also wombats there ...and we watched them bottle feeding a baby wombat that had been rescued from his dead mother’s pouch. He said that will continue for a year or so, then he’ll be put in the wombat pen for a few more months. Once he starts digging burrows and showing evidence of behaving like he can take care of himself he will go into a soft release program.

This involves taking him out into the wilderness where he will be put in a cage on someone’s farm who will look out for him. He’ll be given fresh food and bedding for a few weeks while he gets used to the sounds and smells of the area. Then the cage door will be left open. As long as he keeps coming back to the cage there will be food and fresh bedding for him ...but one day they will realize that he is truly gone and that will be it.

They’ve had a lot of success with their animal reintegration to the wild. Wombats, for Orphaned Wombatexample are quite affectionate and take easily to hand feeding as small bubs but the older they get the more independent and ornery they get. A time will come when the wombat will refuse to have anything to do with a human.

They also reintroduce a lot of kangaroos, wallabies, and pademelons to the wild. There were about five of them in an enclosure with a 3.5 foot fence and I asked why they didn’t jump out.

"But they do,” said the keeper. “That ‘s the whole point. We take care of their injuries or raise the orphan babies, and they hop in and out of the enclosure at will. There is an electrified fence that keeps them from the road, but they are completely free to come and go from the open fields at the back of this park. As they get stronger they go further and further afield ....then one day you realize they’ve been gone for quite a while and you know they’ve reintegrated to the wild. It’s entirely up to them.”

We continued on down to Hobart where we checked out the Museum and Art Gallery on the waterfront. In our quest to keep tabs on the fish and chip industry we take dinner on the docks. Not bad, but still no competition for our own Moby Dicks in White Rock.

We settle in the caravan park at Berriefield for the night. It is warm and sunny.

Hobart to Cockle Creek

Hobart from Mt WellingtonIt is clear and sunny this morning so set off to see the city of Hobart from Mt Wellington. This mountain dominates the skyline over Hobart, sitting over 1200 metres high. It takes about 45 minutes to snake up the narrow, winding road to the summit from downtown Hobart. Looking over the edge, even as we are driving makes my stomach queasy and my knees wobbly.

The road was completed in 1937.. Spectacular views of the whole bottom end of Tasmania here ...you can see for miles and miles and miles. At least on a sunny day like this one.

Followed up on that by driving down the coast to Cockle Creek – as far south as youRoad to Cockle Creek can drive in Australia. It is nice down there – white sandy beach, lovely turquoise waters. You can camp free. There are pit toilets but no water or other services. Not many people seem to come down here, it’s a bit out of the way. Even the train station has put up a “No trains” sign.

Enroute, we stopped in Franklin to check out the workshop of a wood craftsman and purchased a wedding present for friends back home. Wood turning and working with burls, particularly eucalypt and myrtlewood is a big part of the crafts scene here.

The actual artist was away playing cricket, his Mom was minding the shop. While she did so, she worked on a sewing project. We got to talking and she seemed so friendly I asked her if I could use her sewing machine to sew up an opened seam on my jeans. “Of course! Go get anything that needs mending.” And she did.

A bit further down this road we came on a large craft cooperative and stopped in for a look. It’s an amazing place, buzzing with the excitement of creative people doing innovative work. In the category of crafting with wood there was everything from hand crafting furniture to turning wood into products like pepper mills and vases. There were wooden pens and wooden cutlery sets, bowls, platters, wine corks, pottery of all descriptions, paintings, and prints and collages.

There was a woman doing amazing “one of” sewing projects. She was offering an intricate, hand-tufted brocade opera jacket for $800. Not my style or price range, but beautiful to look at.

Hobart Area

Today we set off to see the “Australian Antarctic Division” at Kingston, just 11 km south of Hobart. This is the government body that manages Australia’s Antarctic presence. They have three bases there and do lots of scientific work as well as maintaining a presence there for territorial reasons.

Antarctic DivisionThe complex is a series of interconnecting buildings – all white and polished pewter in nature. Very modern and spare ...reflective of the Antarctic landscape colours. In the “public” area they have put up all kinds of displays providing information about the plants and animals that live there, with pelts and stuffed penguins and so on. There are displays of krill and models of huge fish. A great model of one of their stations too ...extremely detailed, right down to tiny little people that you cannot see unless you get right down to ground level, so to speak.

There are monitors where you can choose to see/hear a wide variety of the people who work on the stations talking about their work and what they are trying to accomplish.

They have stuffed sled dogs lots of “Antarctic” clothes and gear for kids to try on. There is a tent set up with sleeping bags and so on, just like they use in the Antarctic. There is gear and artefacts from past expeditions with interesting examples of camp ingenuity at work. It’s not like they can run out to a hardware store when they need something. Nothing anywhere ever says “Do Not Touch”. It’s a very kid/people friendly kind of display.

Downstairs they have displays of photography – pretty stunning stuff and a documentary. Really enjoyed our visit there and it was free.

The next morning we participated in a Hobart “must do” and strolled through the Salamanca Market MusicianSalamanaca Markets. Hobart is famous for these ...although I am now realizing that all big Australian cities seem to have their own markets. It’s an Australian thing.
This one is down on the waterfront – outdoors in stalls set up under those little white tents. Tons of interesting stuff - lots of wood turning and burl work, sewing and knitting cute clothes for kids, hats – leather, straw, felt, fleece, knit, etc. Painted silk scarves and soaps and pottery. Used books and bric a brac. Also food ...jam donuts and sausages on buns. Fudge, mustards, and home preserves.

Best part of the market though, was probably the music. Every block there was another group busking. Personal favourites were a group of young men with wild fiddles from a local college and a large family group from South America, including youngsters on tambourines.

Went up to Battery Point, less than a kilometre from Salamanaca and walked around taking photos. Historic, picturesque old houses. Bet you couldn’t give those little old houses away 20 years ago and now they are all the rage.

RichmondNext stop on this Tassy Tour was the historical town of Richmond. Went to see a church – the oldest church in Australia – 1839 I think. Very old graveyard too ...we walked around it. The town is very old and the buildings have largely been preserved. There is a very old bridge made of sandstone cut bricks. Built by convicts. Pretty much everything here is made by convicts as this was the area where they were all landed and held.

Most of the town of Richmond has now been gentrified for the tourists ...B&B signs everywhere, gift shops, art galleries, coffee shops, etc. Steve went to see the goal ...it cost $5 and he really enjoyed it.

Port Arthur

First stop this morning was the Port Arthur “historical site.” We didn’t really know what this was. Assumed it was just a few old ruins ...spend 30 minutes poking around and move on.

But not so ....think we figured something was up when we started down the road and came on “overflow carparks”, then carpark after carpark after carpark.

Port Arthur is where convicts were transported to if they reoffended. It’s supposedly where the worst of the worst went. It’s also where young boys (as young as nine) were sent. The boys went to a special island just off the main Port Arthur prison.

The ruins of the old buildings here have been stabilized or restored. There is a lot toPort Arthur see, with over 100 acres of grounds. The setting and the grounds themselves are stunningly beautiful. So much so, they really belie the heartache and suffering that vibrates like an undercurrent of electricity through the very soil you walk on.

When you first arrive at the interpretation centre you pay the fee ($24 each) and you are assigned to a guided walking tour, then to a boat cruise. The walking tour consists of a docent walking around a bit with you and pointing out the buildings and explaining some of the life of the place. The boat cruise takes you out in the harbour and shows you the island where the young boys were taken as well as the island of the dead where everyone, freemen and convict alike were buried. Freemen, however, had a grave and marker. Convicts were just dumped, one on top of each other, naked ...lime sprinkled over, then a thin covering of dirt ...till the next body was dumped on.

They also have “ghost tours” here at night where they promise you’ll see and feel the presence of past inhabitants. I have no doubt. What I do have doubts about is the seemliness of it all. Something just doesn’t sit well with me about the appropriateness of gentrifying all this horror into a tourist attraction to make money off of.

Cape RaoulFrom Port Arthur we carried on down the road heading west to “Remarkable Cave”. This is a spectacular spot where the ocean comes rushing in. You can also see Cape Raoul from here ...standing grey and lonely on the horizon, the rock formations of the cape look like the listing hulk of an old sailing ship on the rocks and sinking.

The surf was truly spectacular, coming in hard and strong, breaking brilliantly in the bright sunshine.

Oh yes, the sun did come out finally.

From there we carried on to Palmers Lookout ....Beautiful view of the area. There are even two telescopes there to use. This is apparently private land, and up for sale. There was a rusting old donation box that had not been emptied ...of course Steve had to rattle it and there were coins in it.

From there ...on to White Beach and the campground here. Very pretty breach, lovely boats bobbing in the bay. The campground is very nice and there is a great room here as part of the campers kitchen. Nice tables and chairs and lighting.

Towards Bicheno

Woke up to a bright blue day ...still a little nippy but it warmed up very quickly.

Today we started west along the bottom of the Tasman Peninsula ... continued up to the northwest corner – Convicts Coal Mines. This is where the worst of the lot from Port Aurthur were sent for desperately hard physical labour. It was one spooky place. At the height of mining there were 576 convicts labouring in the mines, various guards and staff ...and 90 children. That figure really sticks in my mind.

The ruins of the barracks where the convicts were held, as well as some ruins of Barracks at Convict Coal Minesother buildings ...often just a few foundation stones and an imprint in the soil ....at one point Steve went off to follow another path down to some ruins further away and I just sat in the sun, looking out at the ocean ....and felt the presence of so many hurting people around me. No hostility ...but more like bewilderment. “What are you doing here? Lady, why are you here?”

And for that I have no good reason. I am puzzled by the fascination with “convict lore” down here. Quite frankly, would not be here if not for Steve’s fascination with anything historical. It is very weird indeed ....this turning Port Arthur into Disneyland. You can buy Port Arthur beer can coolers for heaven’s sake. What’s it all about?

Not too many years ago a man turned a gun on the tourists gathered in a cafeteria / visitors centre, killing 20 and wounding many more. It’s not that I understand why he did that, I don’t. But I DO understand how being in this place ...of so much horror and pain and desperation ....and watching tourists like me idly sipping cappuccinos or taking our pics in the stone cold cells ...well, I can see how that could unhinge an unbalanced mind because it was certainly unhinging mine.

Dogline at Eagles Hawk NeckAnyway, onward. Left there and continued on to Eagle Hawks Neck. Strange name that. It is the narrow isthmus of land where the peninsula rejoins the mainland – it was here that a line of dogs was chained to warn the guards if a convict was trying to escape.

Also here there are some natural wonders ....the Blow Hole, the Devil’s Kitchen, etc. All places where the surging ocean has cut into the rock, carving out gorges and caves.

Onward towards Bicheno. The route was through tall forests ...nothing scenic about it for sure but along the way there were some lovely areas of curving white sand beaches, turquoise waters, bobbing boats.

NEXT: Tasmania    Part III

 

TRIP DATA

This is one stage of a six-month trip around Australia and New Zealand.

Unless otherwise indicated, all costs are quoted in Australian $ in Australia, New Zealand $ in New Zealand.