3/22 – 3/29
I’m really excited about Tasmania, I’ve always had an interest in the small island off the southern tip of Australia. I don’t know when it started, probably with Taz, but as far back as I can remember it always seemed like a mysterious forest island. The island shape is even menacing. Looking at it on a map, it looks like a demonic face with horns and as far as I know, it’s the only place to actually have devils in the wild. That’s right, they might not spin around in mini-tornados but apparently theyr’e just as destructive as Taz and the sound they make when eating is unnerving to say the least.
We flew from Christchurch to Melbourne then to the capitol of Tasmania, Hobart. Traveling on a budget sometimes means traveling at night, having unusual stops or layovers and dealing with mild sleep deprivation. Sometimes one or all of these can create a profound feeling of jet lag and occationally euphoria (or at least a certain restlessness). Today, somehow McKayla and I ended up on opposite ends of that spectrum. Since we arrived at 7:00 am on Wednesday, we had some time to kill in Hobart so we found some coffee, bought an Australia guide book and got an early lunch. Our outgoing server gave us a fairly solid Tasmanian to-do list so at least now we could start putting together an itinerary. But, like I mentioned, McKayla was wiped and I was ready to explore; it’s pretty unusual when McKayla needs a nap and I don’t so I left her to rest and went for a walk. In this second oldest city in Australia, I was able to find a place to bet on horse races (turns out that’s not hard to find in any part of Australia), a war memorial that’d listed all the wars Australia had served in since WWI (easy to see these were our long-standing allies), a bar that was ‘decorated’ like a garage, and a couple bottles of wine to bring back to my sleeping beauty.
Our hostel was an interesting one, overflowing with backpackers and underwhelming craft beer. I made friends with an off-duty bartender. He, Jessie, confirmed a few of the the earlier recommendations and added a few more. The hostel had 2 big huskies for their live-in mascots and the back bar was stacked with board games. They had a few nice living areas complete with booths, sofas, a pool table, a fooz ball table and a clean but consistantly packed kitchen.
On Thursday we took our hostel up on their offer for a free shuttle up to Mount Wellington for what was supposed to be a great view of the city and surrounding sea/landscape. However, when we got there, the peak was socked in and our driver confirmed that the clouds were too low to hope for an afternoon clearing. So, rather than hiking back to town like we’d planned, we opted to get dropped off at the historic brewery on the way back into town. If there’s a better way to spend a rainy day than sampling beer and playing an 80’s 2 person tabletop arcade game, I haven’t found it yet. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Hobart, picking the wrong ponies and relaxing in the hostel.
For exploring Tasmania, we rented a fairly new Toyota Corolla from Avis ($24USD/day). It was a tiny little thing but somehow still roomier than the Fiat Punto ($31USD/day from Juicy) we camped out of for 6 weeks. After checking out of the hostel we took to the road. We now had 5 days to see as much of Tasmania as possible before we had to be in the northern ferry port town of Davenport to drop off the car.
From Hobart, it was a short drive to the Port Arthur peninsula. On our way out to the once notorious prison, we stopped to check out some tessellated pavement that looked like man-made square stepping stones that’d been laid into the coastline. In fact, the cobblestone ‘beach’ was a natural occurrence by some process of salt water incursion + erosion + time * y= tessellated rocks. Then we made our way to the Remarkable Cave (actual name), which was made up to 2 cave entrances leading into a single passage. Since it was low tide we were able to hop over the safety railing and make our way into the single passage and out both of the entrances which led to a sandy beach with a view of some heavily crashing waves and the ocean beyond, truly remarkable – zing! Next we stopped at a natural arch that’d been formed by waves eroding the underlying rock, just like those remarkable caves. It was also where you could catch a glance of the Devil’s kitchen. (Between New Zealand and Australia I think we’ve seen most of the Devil’s house. We’ve seen his punch bowl, his staircase, his kitchen, and we’re heading to the Outback where I assume his living room and bedrooms resign. By the end of this trip we’ll have even gotten a look at the Devil’s marbles, if only from a photo, didn’t need an upclose shot of that one.)
Port Arthur was an overpriced tourist riddled shitheap of crumbling bricks. We’ve been spoiled on this trip; we’ve seen 1,000 year old temples, some in prestine form, dozens of ruins lined with carved stone and intricate designs, and most of it was free or cheap. On that note, it seemed laughable to pay 70 bucks to walk around a 200 year old dilapidated prison. Instead we opted to enjoy the coast road back towards Hobart and make a stop at the highly recommended M.O.N.A. (Museum of Old and New Art).
I didn’t really know what to expect out of MONA, all we knew was that every local we talked to couldn’t say enough good things about it. It was founded by a local gambler who’d supposedly figured out horse racing. The place was free to Tasmanians and seemed to have a little of everything. Outside there was an orchard, winery, an array of birds, along with metal sculptures, gongs, a dock (you could access MONA via car or ferry), and a few other oddities, along with a full bar/restaurant and a concert lawn. This place was a hipsters wet dream, complete with a large indoor, rotating series of art galleries set up in what looked like an old missile silo. 4 stories underground there were 4 gallieres, each guided by a headset with a device. The device would sense where you were and let you select which pieces you’d like to hear audio descriptions of in your vicinity. There were all sorts of interesting paintings and exhibits. There were more than a few unique expressions of art. Some of my favorites included a 3D rotating statue, that when combined with strobe lights created a series of flying birds and blooming flowers, a series of sardine cans cut into trees or schrubs on the lids, while the inside of the tins contains small detailed metal carvings of certain body parts. There was a disturbing comic book exhibit, and who could forget the naked, life sized Dragon Ball Z character surrounded by a streaking arch of his own jism, haha, art? There were some really inspiring pieces of art, but as our waiter had told me “it’s great, but you’re gonna see a lot of vaginas.”
Thursday night we stayed in an old rundown hotel in the old rundown town of New Norfolk. The hotel was above the bar along the highway. For some reason I’ve grown to enjoy the old Main Street corner bar/hotels. They always have character, usually they have rooms when others don’t, most have an absolute lack of internet (in NZ and Taz) and they usually have good food. Tonight we didn’t take advantage of the cool wood planked bar but instead stayed in the ‘honeymoon suite’ and watched some other Australians make their drive across Australia in Mad Max Fury Road!
As of Friday morning, our plan finally developed. We would head northeast towards Cradle Mountain National Park, do 2 days worth of hiking then book it to the east coast to work our way from Wineglass Bay up the coast to Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires before making our way west again and grabbing a ferry from Davenport to Melbourne. It’s been 3 days of plotting and replotting but we think this will be the best way to hit our highlights. Tasmania isn’t very big, but roads are extremely windy and overrun by wallabies. Each leg of this trip took a little longer than expected but Tasmania is honestly the the first place we’ve been to that is exactly how I pictured it – forested with gloomy mist encompassing the eucalyptus trees and stunning cliffside coasts being hammered by ceaseless crushing waves.
We made it to the south end of Cradle Mountain National Park at Lake Saint Clair. We opted for a 4 hour loop hike through some forest to a small mountain lake with the hopes of spotting the elusive duck billed platypus. Within the first half mile we got a great look at our first 2, non-road kill, wallabies. These mini-kangaroo looking guys were fairly skidish, but that’s okay because we got to see them hop away as fast as their 2 springs could jump. It is the most awkward looking means of travel any animal could make but they cover a lot of distance between those goofy hops. The rest of our hike was very quiet and beautiful. Eucalyptus trees have some of the most colorful trunks you can imagine and there were more than a few on this hike that really popped. Sadly, our attempts to see the platypus failed but at least we got to see some wildlife and enjoy a wet walk in the woods.
Tasmania’s answer to New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks is 67 good short hikes. We are doing our best to churn through the helpful pamphlet we picked up from the rental car company. We even decided to spend the night in the parking lot of one, Nelson Falls (just can’t seem to get away from Nelson even on the opposite side of the world). Car sleeping was a result of dark, curving, rainy and wallaby filled roads and an attempt to mitigate some of the crazy inflation taking place here in Australia (currently the rate is about 1 USD to 1.30 AUD, however, everything here seems to be marked way up. You will not find a beer less than 5 AUD – AAAHHHH). With no stuff in the car, we had enough room to stretch out a bit; McKayla took the back and I went for the passenger seat. We woke up early and I took the short walk to see Nelson Falls while McKayla got ready.
Cradle Mountain was in our sights Saturday. We got to the trailhead around noon and made our way around Dove Lake before beginning the ascent to Cradle Mountain (the 2nd tallest in Tasmania). Cradle Mountain National Park seems to be the most popular park of the island and we were walking around its most picturesque lakes but as soon as we broke off from the lake, people became much fewer and farther between. A short way up the initial ascent we happened across a 6 foot tiger snake that was nearly as wide as a beer bottle. McKayla and I have been dancing together almost 9 years ad I’ve never seen her pull moves like that before. Imagine her doing knee highs with a little butt wiggle every 3rd or 4th step. After our close encounter we continued up hill. At a saddle the trail broke off and headed up a a series of large boulders strewn throughout the mountainside. A series of orange tiped poles marked the suggested route but it was up to you to decide which boulders to hop between those markers. It was a fun scramble up a monster boulder field. The summit gave us a great 360 degree view but it really highlighted the mountain itself. Cradle Mountain looked like it was made of purple, red and grey Legos stacked vertically, the boulders on the way up were merely some of the fallen Legos.
Our summit also gave us the chance to meet Tony, a French-Canadian who’d spent a year in France but was currently learning Dutch and hoping to spend a year in the Netherlands. Tony enjoyed baguettes, wine and cheese and admired the Dutch for their….. We didn’t actually meet Tony, he was just a loud fuck on the summit who didn’t shut his mouth. In between his insesant babbling, he’d fill the silence by howling as loud as his little lungs could. It was all I could do not to throw his little ass off the far side of the peak. By the time they’d find him we’d probably be out of Australia, right?
Anyhow, there was a loop we could take to finish the hike back at our car. We made a stop at Wombat Pool, where some rascal had removed the ‘L’. So, I took a swim in Wombat poo. It was a little murky but what do you expect? We really lucked out with weather – the past 4 days were overcast but our one summit day was clear with only a few staggered clouds. Afterwards we made our way east towards the coast.