Monday, 24 April 2017

Australia: From Reef to Penguins

We're down to the final week of Claire's two week visit. Already we've covered Sydney over New Year and the iconic, beautiful Uluru. This week we're in Cairns where I hope not to have a panic attack while snorkelling and then moving on to Melbourne. Here's how it went.

Delicious kangaroo

We spent a chilled first day in Cairns. Partly because there isn't all that much to do in Cairns itself and partly because we woke up late. Still, we did manage to go for a walk down the Esplanade while Claire was catching Pokemon.


And also visited the little regional art gallery, which had these amazing insect kaleidoscope things.


And where I picked up a new journal, because I'm running out of pages in the current one and that was only supposed to be a temporary one while I found a nice one... babbling, sorry.

Finally, the supermarket where I really didn't feel like pasta again. So we picked a sweet potato, some salad and kangaroo steaks. Ah yes, kangaroo. One of the few red meats I really like. Delicious and lean. Best self-cooked tea I've had in a while.

Finding Nemo

On Sunday we boarded a boat to take us out on the Great Barrier Reef, which was pretty much the entire reason we were in Cairns. Last time I was in Australia I tried to do the same but had a panic attack almost as soon as I got in the water - I've never experienced anything quite like it and I didn't really want a repeat this time. So I paid close attention to the crew's instructions, donned my stinger suit, snorkel and flippers, grabbed a floatation noodle and took a deep breath.

Apparently I needn't have worried this time. Whether it was because there was little to no current around the boat or whether the noodle was reassuring, I don't know, but I actually got to see the reef from the water this time. Claire and I went halves on an underwater camera, so we also managed to get some good photos. I say we... the camera was hired in Claire's name, so she had to do all the photography. Here's Nemo.


And here is a fish I have named the stripy pyjama fish. If someone can tell me what it actually is, that would be cool.


And here is the obligatory stupid selfie. Well, it would be, but Claire told me I'm not allowed to post any of the photos of her, so here instead is a photo of me taken by Claire.


Hamster face, much. We also took a trip on the semi-submersible, which was awesome. Claire left me in charge of the camera for that one, which is how come I managed to miss the one turtle we saw on this trip. I promise we saw a turtle. I thought I had it in a photo, but it must be camouflaged or out of shot because I can't find it now. Gah.

After a day in and out of the water, we were pretty knackered and Claire had managed to get sunburnt. So we trundled back to the hostel via Pie Face for tea. Nom.

Pancakes? Or Nandos?

An afternoon flight to Melbourne had us arrive just in time for tea. After raiding the info area at the hostel, Claire found some money off vouchers, including one for a pancake place that was apparently just down the road. So we went for a wander in search of pancakes. We found the mall. Couldn't find the pancake place. We were pretty much ready to give up when we spotted it and then decided we weren't really in the mood for pancakes.

We ended up at Nandos instead. That is as thrilling as our day got.

In other news, the hostel we booked is a money grabbing bastard. Anything it can charge for, it will - WiFi, luggage storage... yeah. Oh, and one plug socket for a room of four people? Not acceptable.

What time is it?

We had planned on getting up at a reasonable time so we could go and explore the city. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to account for the time change, so while I thought we were getting up around 9, it was actually an hour later. And by the time we'd stumbled around with breakfast, the original plan had to be adjusted. No worries.

First stop, Queen Victoria Market, just at the end of the road our hostel was on. It's a strange mix of Sunday market tat and really nice stalls. I spent far too long going through every single shot at a photographer's stall, especially when I realised he had some gorgeous photos of Tasmania. I may have gone back and bought one...

We headed next to Melbourne Museum, before I could buy more photos. The museum is pretty awesome and has an excellent collection of local Aboriginal artefacts and art.


It also has dinosaurs and other, more recent megafauna, like Megalania, the biggest terrestrial lizard... ever, pretty much.


I feel I should point out that dinosaurs and crocodiles aren't lizards, just in case someone plans on trying to correct me. If we're being pedantic, mosasaurs were lizards and they were bloody enormous even compared to Megalania. But they were aquatic.

Random aside aside, the museum also has a very cool geological collection, including this rock which contains zircons accepted to be among the oldest crystals on Earth.


Most of the early crust has been recycled so many times that there's nothing left of the early surface and thus not much to use to determine the age of the Earth. Crystals like those zircons survive the melting process. They're a link to the very earliest days on this planet. I think that's pretty cool.

Science geekery aside, we moved on from the museum at kicking out time and hopped on the free City Circle tram. The commentary was hit and miss, but it was free, so musn't complain. Unfortunately, the tram stops at 6pm and instead of stopping somewhere in the centre, it stopped out in the Docklands. Really clever. No warning. Just. "we're terminating here. All change." Thanks, mate.

Fortunately, trams in the CBD are free, so we hopped on another and got off near the state parliament to have a look at St Patrick's Cathedral.


And the lovely Fitzroy Gardens.


And then back on another tram to take us back to the other end of the CBD where we had tea in a little Japanese place called Menya. I assume it to be good Japanese food, because there were a lot of Japanese people eating in there. The tonkatsu ramen was delicious.

Come in, we have wine!

The following morning, I awoke to Claire tugging on my duvet with a worried look on her face. My alarm was going off right next to my head and I'd been ignoring it. Apparently Claire was worried I was dead...

Not really with it, we piled out of the hostel and onto another bus with an overly chirpy guide. Yay... My mood improved a bit when we stopped for morning tea and I finally got some caffeine in me.

It improved even more when we got to Gibson Steps and finally hit the Great Ocean Road, which was the whole point of this day trip. Our guide was doing it in the opposite direction to most so that we'd avoid the crowds.


Bit windy at Gibson Steps. It wasn't quite so bad at the Twelve Apostles, but then again there were bigger crowds there. Managed to get some all right photos though.


From there to Loch Ard Gorge, named after the Loch Ard which struck rocks just outside the gorge and sank in the 1800s. Only two people survived and they took shelter in the gorge. It's a beautiful place if you can get rid of the people.


Onwards down to Mait's Rest for a walk through the rainforest. Pretty trees - Eucalyptus regnans, some of these, the tallest flowering plants in the world. I think Tasmania lays claim to the tallest ones though.


Next stop, Kennett River to go koala spotting. Very little effort involved - there's one in every other tree, although I think Claire spotted them easier than most of us.


Still toddling onwards Next stop Fairhaven Beach. It's a beach. Nothing special.


There's also the memorial arch to the men who built the road.


Final stop of the day was at Torquay where it was pizza for tea. Delicious pizza. And then back to Melbourne. The Queen Victoria Night Market was on, so we had a wander through there in search of souvenirs and other delicious things. The night market is much more craft oriented than the main market, but we didn't find anything that interesting.

On the short walk back to the hostel we passed a sign advertising a garage sale. Slowing down to read it, we were accosted by a woman from inside who invited us in and offered us wine. Bizarre. Still, we had a look and, seriously, it was like we'd just fallen through the looking glass or something. We went in expecting to go, oh, right, garage sale and then sod off. But the place just kept going.

Turns out it's a studio space, so there was loads of art around and when we found an exit, we ended up in the Blender Lane Artist Market. I didn't end up buying anything, but I picked up plenty of cards - these guys are all on Etsy and the like and I fully intend to check them out properly when I get the chance.



First stop of the day - State Library, where I once again started daydreaming of having a library like this.


After that it was back to the hostel in time for our pick up. This time we were heading out to Phillip Island to see Little Penguins. Or pengwings, for which please refer to this clip from the BBC documentary South Pacific.

However, the penguins wouldn't be coming ashore until after 9pm, so we had plenty of time for other stops. First of these was Tooradin for lunch and also for watching very evil looking pelicans.


There was also a ray of some sort, but I didn't get a photo. From Tooradin on to Maru Koala & Wildlife Park, where we got to feed some kangaroos. Not quite as clingy as the ones at Bonorong, but very sweet.


Claire got bitten by a pony... And then on to Phillip Island itself where we stopped at Cape Woolamai beach for a while. It was hot. I drank tea.


Then to Cowes for tea. What is it with stealing our place names, Australia? I've actually stayed in Cowes before - I spent the very short drive down the main road trying to remember where the holiday home was located. I failed. Tea was good though. Seafood box for me, souvlaki for Claire. Delicious. Filling.


Stuffed with chips and seafood, we got back on the bus and drove down to the Nobbies, where we spotted our first penguins. These are the only ones I have photos of because there's a ban on photography at the landing site.


The sun going down over the Nobbies was pretty spectacular as well.


And finally on to the "Penguin Parade". This is a tourist trap, but for most people it's the only time they're going to see Little Penguins. The critters come ashore after sunset in little groups, hurry across the beach as fast as their little legs will carry them and then have to clamber up the hill to get to their nests. Considering their legs are only a few inches long, I think that's pretty impressive.

And so back to the bus and back to Melbourne, where I fell into bed.

Such a child

And so came Friday and Claire's final day in Australia. We made the most of it, starting with a pancake breakfast using those money off vouchers Claire had picked up earlier in the week, before heading down to Federation Square to check out the ACMI - the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Last time I was there they had an amazing Disney exhibition. This time it was these guys.


Yes, they're fish shaped helium balloons. We spent far too long punting them around, trying to race them, seeing how many we could get airborne at once and generally embracing our inner children. It was great fun. I'm sure there's supposed to be some sort of serious art message behind them, but mostly it was fun.

The permanent exhibition at the ACMI is big on the interactive stuff, which is always great. So we played around with video games - Claire relieved the 90s with Tomb Raider and I tried to get my head round the console controls for Minecraft. We also attempted to create a bullet time sequence a la The Matrix. Unfortunately, we had no idea what to do and completely mistimed it...


Yeah... that didn't really work. From the ACMI we moved on to the Ian Potter Centre, part of the National Gallery of Victoria and home to its collection of Aboriginal Art. At least, I thought it was, but I couldn't find it.

Feeling peckish, we went in search of lunch via the souvenir shops, ending up at a little Vietnamese place where I introduced Claire to the joy of pho. I love pho. I can't wait to get to Vietnam and try it there.

After lunch we meandered back to the hostel, where all that was left to do was wait for Claire's shuttle back to the airport. We said our goodbyes and then I went in search of a tram to the bus station. And completely screwed it up. I ended up going back on myself and then still having to walk 10 minutes. Not sure how I managed that one...

And then I spent the best part of two hours sitting at the bus station, eating pie and being bored out of my tiny wee skull. Also dreading the bus journey. I'd opted to take the bus overnight from Melbourne to Adelaide. I've taken plenty of overnight buses on this trip, but the first one I ever took, back when I was studying in Tasmania, was the Greyhound from Adelaide to Melbourne and I didn't sleep at all. I really didn't want to do that again.

So bye-bye to Claire and hello again to solo travel. Next week I'm going to be in Adelaide before catching a flight to Perth. There's a few places I want to revisit in Adelaide itself, but more than anything I want to check out Kangaroo Island.

First I have to survive this bus journey...

Australia: New Year, airport mayhem and the Red Centre

After Christmas with relatives, my friend Claire has arrived in Australia for a 2 week jaunt around the highlights, starting with New Year's Eve in Sydney. Coincidentally, that's also her birthday. Here's what happened over that week.

We've been here 9 hours, you bastards

New Year's Eve/Claire's birthday began with a trip to Pancakes On the Rocks, a cafe in the Rocks that specialises in, you guessed it, pancakes. What better way to start a birthday than with pancakes? Although, it being before lunch time, we opted for the savoury variety instead.

Nicely full of carbs, we had a wander around the contemporary art museum. Just as odd as any other modern art museum.


At this point, it was slipping past noon, I thought we should probably be trying to find somewhere to sit and wait for the fireworks. I'm not sure Claire understood just how busy it was going to get, so instead we tried to visit the Botanic Gardens, but they were shut because of the fireworks and the public viewing area there was already full.

Yeah, New Year's in Sydney? Madness. Instead we went back to Observatory Hill which was already getting busy but promised to be quieter than other areas because there was an alcohol ban and the capacity was lower.

And so we sat on the grass and waited.


And waited.

And waited some more.

For nine hours. Well, not quite that long for the first batch of fireworks, after which a few people with little kids slotted off.


But nine hours for the midnight fireworks. As it turns out, we had quite a good spot, being up on the hill. You could see up and down the harbour and the Harbour Bridge was near enough straight in front of us. But you can only do so much about the people around you and as the countdown hit midnight, a bunch of Germans pushed their way in front of us.


And this is why most of my photos of the fireworks have huge heads in them. Ignorant bastards. I was tired. I'd been waiting on prickly grass for hours. I was not in the mood to be charitable and I'm still not. It doesn't hurt to be polite.

I think Claire enjoyed the fireworks though...

Where did the morning go?

The following day, I woke up around 9am. Said fuck it to getting up. Woke up again around 11am. Thought really hard about getting up...

In the end, we didn't leave the AirBnb until well after noon. We'd wanted to do Taronga Zoo and determined not to completely waste the day, we hopped on the ferry and arrived at the zoo about 2 hours before closing. I don't think we did too badly - we made a rough plan of what we wanted to see and then whizzed round. Look, a wild dragon.


And a sleepy red panda.


And a really dozy binturong.


Oh, and I finally saw a platypus. Claire has better photos, but this will do for now.


Yep, not bad for 2 hours. Normally I'd spend all day in a zoo though...

Since we'd slept so long, we didn't really feel like going back to Leichhardt and the AirBnB so early, so we had a wander through the Botanic Gardens in the rain.


And then hopped on a bus to Bondi, just to see the beach. Also to see if they had any good fish and chips. Here is the glorious sunset over Bondi.


I can't claim to have tried the fish and chips, because I had calamari, which was delicious. Claire seemed to enjoy hers though.


On our last day in Sydney, we had to be a bit more organised with our time. First stop, the Opera House for our tour. Fascinating, but it lasted longer than I expected. Look at this concert hall - the funny flying saucers are so that the orchestra hear themselves properly. Other than that, the acoustics are brilliant in there.


I love this architecture.


With the tour apparently overrunning and our planned train missed, we made a detour to the Queen Victoria Building to see the huge Christmas tree with its Swarowski crystals and all that.


Finally, we got on the train to Katoomba. Yep, going back to the Blue Mountains. This time I bypassed Scenic World and took Claire straight to the Three Sisters.


We also took the track down to Honeymoon Bridge, which joins the pillars to the cliff. There were rather a lot of steps...


Which we then had to climb again on the way back. I must be getting fitter because they didn't seem too bad to me.  Either that or the cola I'd downed before we got on the train was giving me an enormous sugar rush...

Back on the train and home, where we arrived far later than we'd intended and ended up watching the new episode of Sherlock until we realised we had to get up early in the morning to get back to the airport. Sorry, Sherlock. It'll have to wait.

Well done, Qantas

At a time so early I haven't even written it in my journal, we set off for the airport. A bus and a train later and we arrived for check in. It should have been easy. Self-check-in. Done. Simples. Self-bag-drop? Not so much.

I should have known. Way back on the first day of this trip I'd had issues with EasyJet's fancy-ass self-bag-drop system and now in Sydney it was happening again on a much grander scale. This time the entire system broke down. And with all the check-in desks removed to make way for the automated system, there was very little space for the clerks to work the manual back up system. With our flight time fast approaching, we got stuck in a queue waiting while one very apologetic Qantas staff member tried to get everyone's bags scanned and sent through in time, fighting against a system that kept closing the flight because it should have left already.

Somehow, Claire ended up quite a long way behind me and I was told when I got through security that I had to get on the flight. So I sat on the plane, wondering whether she was actually going to make the flight, especially when the cabin crew asked if she was on the plane and didn't seem too bothered when I told them that she'd got delayed by the bag drop break down.

Claire ended up being the last person on the flight. Off we went to Alice Springs, quietly fuming over the mayhem. At least Qantas feed you on their flights - I was in desperate need of a calming cuppa.

On arrival at Alice Springs I collected my rucksack from the carousel and then stood and waited as all the other bags were claimed. A few other passengers were watching with the same sort of rising annoyance we were feeling. Clearly, Claire's bag hadn't made the flight. So we marched over to the service desk, where the poor clerk had no idea what had happened in Sydney and tried to reassure the growing gathering around her desk that their bags would be on the next flight.

The next flight would be the next day. We wouldn't even be in Alice the next day. Fucking hell, Qantas. Well done.

Because of the bag fiasco, we'd missed the shuttle into town and the next one wouldn't be coming in until the afternoon. We ended up sharing a taxi with an Italian couple who were in the same situation and fortunately, it turned out cheaper than the shuttle, otherwise I would've been writing angry emails to Qantas demanding some form of reimbursement for the additional cost...

With our stuff safely dumped at the hostel, we had to go on an emergency shopping trip so that Claire actually had clothes. Something else that'll need reimbursing. At least she could use my toiletries.

And then we spent the evening playing Exploding Kittens and getting attacked by mosquitoes.

Don't piss off a lady with a digging stick

Far too early in the morning we were awake again and climbing onto a nicely air-conditioned bus headed south. Some dozing later, we arrived at Erldunda, which is pretty much just a roadhouse. They do a good cooked breakfast though, which was excellent. They also have some emus, which we tried to feed.


I say tried, because as soon as the emu pecked at the pellets in Claire's hand, the things flew everywhere and the emu just sort of stared in that stupid way they have.

From Erldunda we moved on another hour or more down the road to Mount Conner Lookout. Mount Conner is a tabletop mountain which is occasionally mistaken for Uluru by unfamiliar tourists. I can assure you, it looks nothing like Uluru.


Ever onwards to Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, an odd collection of rounded sandstone hills held sacred by the local Aboriginal groups. By this point, the temperature had hit uncomfortable levels, so I was amazed to spot some tadpoles in a puddle.


A week or so before we arrived in the area, there had been enormous storms and torrential rain. I can only imagine that Kata Tjuta was absolutely dripping, so perhaps tadpoles aren't such a surprise. I wonder where the frogs live when it's dry?


We took the short walk up the Valley of the Winds, trying hard not to melt and then climbed back on the bus. From Kata Tjuta, we drove back towards Uluru, where our first stop was the Cultural Centre. Fascinating little introduction to the Dreaming stories and songlines connected to Uluru and its importance for the Traditional Owners. I was also sad that there was no way I could afford any of the beautiful artwork in the craft shop.

And so onto Uluru itself. Our guide, Gerry, took us on a few walks, starting with the Mala Walk, which is tied in with the story of how the Mala people were invited to a ceremony by another tribe. Unfortunately, the Mala had already begun a ceremony of their own and once started, such things can't be stopped, so they declined. The other tribe were furious and ambushed them. The story is inextricably linked with a series of marks and gouges on the rock, which are said to represent, for example, the bodies of the fallen Mala men, the ceremonial pole they were erecting and the tracks left by the Mala women as they ran to warn the men.


Aboriginal mythology never ceases to amaze me with how strongly it's tied into the land. It makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than most other oral traditions.

From there, we visited Mutitjulu waterhole, where the woma python woman, Kuniya, confronted the poisonous snake man, Liru, over the death of her nephew. In vengeance, she struck him with her digging stick as was her right, but then she hit him again and again until he died, which is at odds with traditional law. You can see the marks left in the rock from the force of the blows above the waterhole.


The waterhole itself is a beautiful, quiet spot. Strange to think that not long before we visited the water was up above the platform because of all the rain.


And then back to the carpark to have barbecue and wait for the sunset. Delicious kangaroo sausages. Not so delicious rahs who turned up just before sunset and spent all their time taking ridiculous Insta-ready photos. Claire and I had delightful fun snarking about them. By all means, come and enjoy the view, but these guys were dressed for a night out clubbing. I'm stereotyping like hell, but I got the impression none of them really appreciated how important Uluru is, they just wanted to take photos and say they'd been there.

Once the rahs got out of the way, I did manage to get some reasonable photos of the sunset. Claire had kindly brought my better camera back from the UK, but I don't think it made too much difference to how gorgeous Uluru looks in this light.


And then back on the bus for the very long drive back to Alice Springs. Why on earth did we decide a one day trip was a good idea?

Is that flowing?

Since we didn't get back to Alice until gone 1am, we felt entirely justified in having a lie in. Once we'd grabbed some lunch, we had a mooch around town. Poked about in one of the many Aboriginal art galleries, but since we'd not left the hostel till quite late in the afternoon, we only got there just before closing. We made plans to return.
On the way back to the hostel, we stopped to take some photos of the river. The Todd River through Alice famously spends most of its time with no water in it. It had had pools when we arrived, but to our surprise, when we stopped this time it was actually flowing. In fact, it was filling - you could tell it must have rained further upriver and the water was slowly making its way down through the town. Pretty cool.


Oh, and Claire's bag had arrived from the airport. At least you got that right, Qantas.

Snake in the hair

On our final day in Alice, we went on a mission to find some Aboriginal art that we could afford. This meant going in pretty much every gallery along the main strip before we finally found some small canvasses within our price range. And then spending forever in the gallery going through every single canvas in search of a favourite.

It was like trying to pick out a pounamu pendant in Rotorua all over again. I eventually pulled one out that I loved. Eventually. There were several others I'd quite happily have bought as well if I'd had the cash.

Art purchased, we mooched off to the Alice Springs Reptile Centre to while away the afternoon. That was great fun, especially the handling session. First up, the wriggly Gremlin, a bearded dragon.


He didn't want to sit still with me. Apparently I wasn't tree like enough. Still, his friend Nora the Blue-Tongue was much more docile.


And finally, Angel the Olive Python. Claire didn't want to hold her - something about ears. Her fear might have been well founded, since Angel first managed to get herself tangled through my plait and then stuck her tongue in my ear. Repeatedly.


Riding a delightful endorphin high from getting to touch pretty animals, we headed back to the airport and hopped on our flight to Cairns. A fairly small plane - one of those funny ones with two seats on one side and three on the other, which led to the coining of the ridiculous insult "you're a lop-sided plane".

Cairns was wet. And hot. We slept.

Ooh, a neat place to finish for once. In the next installment of "weird-journal-blog-thing-what-Zoe-does-so-she-doesn't-forget-things" we're in Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef before heading off to Melbourne for... whatever it is people do in Melbourne.

There may be more penguins involved...

Australia: Christmas, caves and Claire's arrival

After leaving Tasmania behind, I'd taken up residence with my Uncle Les in Mittagong, south of Sydney, so that I could spend Christmas with family. So far we'd retrieved my grandad from the airport and visited the Blue Mountains. Somehow, I am dealing with living with two grumbly, but lovely old men.

Leftovers for tea again

A lovely, relaxed Christmas Eve morning was balanced by an afternoon drive around the area with Linda and her younger son while Uncle Les did... whatever it is that needed doing for the Christmas meal. First stop, Avon Dam, with pretty views.


And then on to Nepean Dam, which also had lovely views and also the somewhat disconcerting sound of thunder closing in...


Finally a quick stop at a small animal sanctuary, where the wallabies were sensibly trying to shelter from the incoming storm.


And so came the storm. Pretty sure it's The Storm, the one that follows me around. It certainly seemed angry enough.

And then sleep. Always, sleep. Oh, and reading of that Pratchett book I picked up, which is rather good.

Merry Christmas!

There isn't a whole lot to say about Christmas. It's a big family affair with my uncle, not like the quiet thing I have at home. Still, there was enough food to last out a zombie apocalypse and Secret Santa brought me cider. All round, a pretty awesome day.

I don't think I've eaten that much since I left the UK... So stuffed.

It's not that far

On Boxing Day, Uncle Les took us to Morton National Park, where I had to deal with the ticket machine because after 5 minutes of watching my uncle and grandad struggling with it, I thought I'd best do something. Not entirely sure what they were doing wrong, but it worked first time for me...

First stop, the Echo Point lookout, over this beautiful valley.


And then to the Wishing Well, which is clearly a man made hole in the rock and not really what I was expecting.


Finally, a short walk down to the old Erith Coal Mine. And I mean short. The sign said something like 1.2k return. OK, so it's down a big old hill, but it's not very far.


The mine is all shut up, but some of the props still seem to be in there.


Apparently there used to be a railway running to the cliff edge above the mine and they'd hoist the coal up there instead of having to cart it out by the hill. The hill which we then had to climb again. The way my uncle described it afterwards, you'd think we'd walked miles...

And then Christmas leftovers for tea. This is going to become a running theme.

Do you think it likes eggs?

The following day, Linda rescued me from another day of grumbling by taking all three of us on a trip to Wombeyan Caves.

Access is via a dirt road, which initially I thought was total awesomesauce. An hour or more in, I started getting travel sick, courtesy of all the twists. Urgh. Nice. Fortunately we weren't too far from the caves and once I got out of the car I was fine. Besides, one of the first things I spotted was this goanna.


I'm a huge Disney fan. Rescuers Down Under is one of my favourites and so of course I started stalking this goanna, calling it Joanna and asking if it wanted eggs. I don't think anyone heard me...

First stop, Victoria Arch. Pretty.


And then on to our guided tour of Wollondilly Cave with the excellently named, somewhat insane, John Mango. Here, have a slightly out of focus photo of the prettiness inside the cave.


And maybe another?


It was nice and even better because it was cooler than outside and had no winged demons to bite me. Ultimately, though, I've seen more interesting caves.

And so back onto different dirt road back to civilisation. Via McDonalds where I filched the free WiFi and tried to find out when Claire was arriving on Thursday and how to get into our AirBnB. I hate being so reliant on WiFi.

And so to sleep.

Um... I have control?

On my last day in Mittagong, my uncle's brother-in-law offered to take me and my grandad on a little sightseeing flight over the area. He co-owns a small plane and teaches folks to fly, so I thought this was a great idea.


I was not expecting to get to fly the damn thing. But a minute or two into the flight, having explained how the basic controls worked, Ken told me I could have a go. So I hesitantly confirmed that I had control and that was it.

I flew a fucking plane.

I thought it'd be for a few minutes, but I had control for the entire flight up until landing. It was both terrifying and pretty damn awesome.

This would also explain why I have precisely zero photos from the plane, but plenty of us on the ground. Look at me, looking stupid in the pilot's seat...


She's a cool little Piper. Wouldn't mind having another go. Cheers, Ken.

Apparently nothing else on this day even came close to making an impression on me, because all my journal says after "I flew a fucking plane! :)" is "not sure what else happened here?"

I hear a Northern hemisphere accent - would you like some ice?

After my flailing with Macca's WiFi a couple of days prior, Claire had managed to text me late on the Thursday night (my time) to tell me the flight was delayed. Unfortunately, by the time I got that text, Grandad and Uncle Les had already gone to bed with the intention of getting up early to accompany me to the airport. This despite my assurance that I was more than capable of getting on the train on my own. Bless.

So we left early, drove to the station and hopped on the train. I believe my uncle was going to take my grandad into Sydney for the day, but I never got confirmation on that. I honestly thought the pair of them were going to cry when I got off the train at the airport after hugs and goodbyes and being pressed with more coffee money than I could ever need. It had been a really lovely week being surrounded by almost-familiar people instead of the constant stream of strangers you get travelling.

Still, I was going to retrieve Claire and that meant another two weeks of familiarity. Despite the delay to her flight on leaving, she arrived near enough on time and after acquiring an Opal card for her and topping up mine, we hopped on the train into the city.

I hadn't thought it through. Normally, I'm pretty good with public transport. I'd figured we'd get the train out to Lewisham, the nearest stop to our AirBnB rental and then get a bus from there.

There was no bus. Claire was melting in the 35 degree heat, which coupled with her jetlag was not great. In the end, I had to use a payphone to call a taxi, which took us the 10 minutes down the road to the AirBnB.

At this point, all should have been well. The info I had from our AirBnB host implied that someone would be home to let us into the annex. No one answered the door. For ages. So we went round the corner to a cafe so I could grab some breakfast and Claire could rehydrate. Going from freezing in the UK to melting in Australia can't have been much fun.

In the meantime, I sent a message to our host to say that we were having trouble getting in and promptly received a call back to say that her brother should be around to let us in. So we tramped back and tried again. Still no response. I even tried sticking my hand through the gate to see if I could open the lock. Apparently even my hands were not skinny enough for that.

Meanwhile, Claire's melting into a puddle in the front yard. We'd already tried the neighbours to see if they had a number for the brother, but had no luck. After a while, the neighbours appeared again, said hi and came out with a line that made my day.

"I hear a Northern hemisphere accent. Would you like some ice? And some water?"

Thank you, unnamed neighbours. Having saved Claire from completely disintegrating, I sent our host another message regarding our inability to get in and was delighted when she got straight back to me with instructions to get into the key box. More than an hour after we arrived, we finally got in.

With the day rapidly wearing away, we refreshed and caught up and then headed off to find some food. Ended up at a little Italian place at the end of the street where I had the most delicious gnocchi with gorgonzola. So good.

And then Claire passed out on the bed when we got back. Poor thing.

Of course we need funny shaped ice cubes...

With Claire feeling a bit better the following morning, we caught the bus into the city and went for a wander.

First stop, Darling Harbour, which was busy and also home to a visitor centre selling koala, kanagaroo and Australia shaped ice cube trays. With the temperature still in the 30s, we decided we might have to come back and buy them. We resisted for a while though, mooching off around the harbour with the aim of getting to the Rocks, one of the oldest parts of Sydney. Passed the Harbour Bridge on the way.


We had a wander around the Rocks before popping into the Opera House to book a tour. Hey, we can't afford to see a show there (and I don't think we were interested in anything that was playing), so the next best thing is a tour, right?


Then on to the Rocks Discovery Museum, which was kind of interesting and also free, which is always a bonus.


Onwards, up to the Observatory where I geeked out about science things and we also got to go into one of the telescope domes.


At this point, I was amazed that Claire hadn't completely collapsed from the heat and residual jetlag. I think it started kicking in on the way back to the bus stop though, when we had to stop for gelato.

And then well and truly collapsed when we got back to the AirBnb. Oh dear.

Plenty of sleep needed, because next we have New Year's Eve in Sydney to negotiate as well as Claire's birthday. A few more days in Sydney and then we're flying to Alice Springs in preparation for our trip to Uluru.

You think Sydney's hot? Ain't seen nothing yet...

Australia: Farewell to Tasmania, Hello to relatives

Wow. I'm down to my final few days in Tasmania, the island I almost consider my second home. I've covered Hobart, Launceston, both ends of the Overland Track, but not the track itself, gone from east to west coast and back and now, with my flight to Sydney looming, I'm chilling out on the Freycinet Peninsula. So what happened in my last few days in Tassie?

Sea snot?

I seemed to have expended rather a lot of energy walking the Hazards Circuit the previous day, so I decided to have a relaxed day on the Saturday. Note: I actually planned to do not a lot, instead of just lounging around and then realising I'd wasted the day.

I didn't entirely waste this day. First I took a stroll along Muirs Beach, which is right opposite the hostel. Along the way I discovered these funny looking little blobs.


Loads of them. I'm not sure what they are - jellyfish medusae minus the tentacles? Some sort of giant salp? Not a clue. So I'm calling them sea snot for now, because that's what they look like. Also, the view from the beach across to the Hazards is pretty sweet.


After that lovely stroll, I treated myself to a muffin and milkshake at the bakery while I tried to make use of the appalling WiFi. No luck. I really shouldn't be this dependent on internet. It's sort of pathetic.

And then I was productive and did laundry. Well done, me. I must have been proud of myself - I made a note in my journal that actually says "laundry time". Why did I feel the need to record that?

I think I must have spent the rest of the day marvelling that my sunburn was improving and also reading an excellent book I found about the Spice Race between England and the Netherlands. Fascinating bit of history, if rather bloody.

Did you walk all the way here?

Relaxed Saturday done with, I decided to make the most of my Parks Pass and head into the park one more time. With walking tracks somewhat limited without tackling the multiday hike around the southern end of the peninsula, I opted to wander along the road to Sleepy Bay instead.

I might have got a few funny looks from drivers as they passed me, but I quite enjoyed the walk. The short track down to the bay was less pleasant, thanks to it being buzzing with mosquitos who managed to find every bit of exposed skin on me. Urgh.


Still, Sleepy Bay is as lovely as I remember it. I think it was a bit damp when I visited before, so it was nice to see it in the sunshine. Lots of rocks to scramble around. I'm pretty sure that when I came before, the entire tour group squeezed into a tiny cave with a really narrow opening. So I went in search of it. Either I've got the wrong location, was looking in the wrong place, or the cave's collapsed, because I couldn't find it.


While I was looking, I bumped into a group of Americans who said they'd passed me on the way up the road and were very surprised to hear that I'd walked in from Coles Bay. They seemed to think it was a long way, but I don't think it can be any more than 3 miles from the town to Sleepy Bay. Not very far, really. Friendly folks, though.

I ate my brunch there, sitting on the rocks, admiring the view and trying to ignore the somewhat disconcerting buzz of a drone whizzing past my head.


And then back to the hostel, via the shop where I treated myself to some nice looking burgers and cider. Burgers for lunch, more reading of the delightful history book and then, in the absence of any interesting food (rice and pasta are getting boring), I went down to the chippy and got myself a seafood box - prawns, calamari, fish goujons and scallops, plus a huge helping of chips. I took it down to the beach and ate it sitting on the boat ramp.


Apparently, I like calamari. This is wonderful news.

After stuffing my face, I went back to the hostel, did the social thing and drank my cider and then headed back to the beach to watch the sunset with a couple of the guys. I think I managed to get some pretty good photos.


Oh, and I managed to get the blurry water effect with the waves. Admittedly, I got a bit damp at the same time because the water came up over the rock I was standing on, but I'm pretty pleased with this shot.


I think that's a good end to my time in Freycinet.

Hobart, where are your baby stores?

Time to leave Coles Bay and this time I wasn't worried about my connection not being there. Well, I wasn't until the bus was late. When it finally arrived, I was beginning to worry that the bus to Hobart would be leaving without me.

Fortunately for me, these guys run this service regularly, so the driver had been in touch with the driver of the other bus to let them know we might be late. As it was, we made it to the turn off before the other bus even arrived. And then they left, leaving me alone in the middle of nowhere and wondering whether we'd made it before the bus or whether it had been and gone. Seriously - middle of nowhere.


Turns out the other bus was also running slightly behind, so just as I'm thinking I'll have to call someone, the minibus comes rattling along the road and I'm off back to Hobart again.

My mum had also informed me, while I was at Freycinet, that her Australian cousin has had a baby and that it would be nice if I could find a gift of some sort. I'm awful with children. I don't like them and I don't know what to do with them. So when I arrived in Hobart I had to go on a mission in search of... god knows. And I was clearly looking in the wrong place because nowhere seemed to sell things for babies. I succeeded in the end, but jeez, that was difficult.

And then sleep, because I had to get up at 5am to get the shuttle to the airport. This plan was interrupted by an obnoxious roommate who clattered in at 2am with absolutely no regard for her sleeping compatriots. Not impressed.


Ah, 5am. Not a time I like. And then the shuttle decided to take its time getting to the airport. I think it's well established that I worry about time and I'm even worse when I'm tired. That was not a fun bus ride. Still, I turned up in plenty of time. The flight was uneventful, if a little sad for leaving Tassie behind.

On arrival at Sydney Airport, I spent the very brief walk from the plane to the gate wondering if I'd recognise my uncle. As it turned out, I'm not entirely convinced he recognised me when I trundled over and hugged him.

And so onto the train with my uncle and his daughter Linda (I have no idea what relation this makes her to me... second cousins or something, probably). A brief stop for a delicious lunch and then into Linda's car for the drive to the little town of Mittagong in the Southern Highlands.

With an afternoon to kill, Uncle Les took me on a drive around a couple of local spots, including this lookout over the valley.


And the quaint town of Berrima, followed by tea with the family, which is a novelty for me because my uncle's immediate family is pretty extensive and mine... is not.
And then sleep, because in the morning I have to get up early again to collect my grandad from the airport.

Why did I agree to this?

That is the first comment in my journal. Because we set off not long after 4am - me, my uncle and his son-in-law - to get my grandad. I'm not entirely sure why we needed to leave so early - apparently it was because of traffic. Of course, this meant we turned up at the airport about an hour before my grandad's flight even landed. And I felt ill. Lack of sleep, I reckon. So I made the most of the free WiFi and drank tea while we waited.

And waited.

And waited some more. The flight arrived and I watched people with LHR baggage tags filter out of customs control.

Still no Grandad.

Eventually, I spotted him heading down the ramp. So I hurried over to catch him. By which point he'd vanished. Damn, the man moves quick for his age. No worries - caught him.

And then a very sleepy drive back, where I tried to catch up with my grandad. I say tried, because neither of us are that talkative anyway and with him being jetlagged and me being generally knackered, we didn't get very far.

After a cooked breakfast at my uncle's, we set off for an afternoon drive. I thought this was a wonderful idea - one of the best ways to deal with jetlag in my experience is to force your body clock to adjust to the local time. No snoozing!

So we headed out to the coast, stopping off at Jamberoo Lookout on the way.


And then having a wander around the town of Kiama, where Grandad tried out some of the public fitness equipment...


We also had fish and chips, but while the chips were OK, I wasn't convinced on the fish. And yes, of course I'm biased towards the stuff I get at home. Oh, and Kiama has a blowhole, but it wasn't being particularly impressive when we were there.


And then tea. And then sleep. So much sleep. Desperate need for sleep.

Secondhand book win

With Grandad still somewhat jetlagged and me still regretting the 4am start, we had a lazy morning the next day and followed it up with a trip to a little market in town where I homed in on the secondhand book stall and acquired myself Pratchett's Wintersmith at a reasonable price instead of the $20+ it would have cost in a normal bookshop in Australia. Seriously, Australia, why are books so expensive over here? It's like you don't want people to read...

And then we had Chinese for tea. I haven't had Chinese takeaway in ages. It was yummy.

Here's me at the Grand Canyon...

That relaxed day had given us all chance to recover, so on the Friday we drove out to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains and visited Scenic World. It's a complete tourist trap, but since neither my uncle nor my grandad were interested in letting me pay, I can't complain. Plus, the rack railway they have there, while very short, is apparently one of the steepest in the world at 52 degrees. I nearly slid out of the seat on the way down...


We followed the railway with a lovely stroll through the forest, where we spotted a lyrebird - they're brilliant mimics, but this one moved before I could get a good photo.


And then we took the cable car back to the top...


Grabbed some lunch and a few more photos, including this stupid selfie with my rather bemused looking relatives.


Then took the "Skyway Gondola" across to the other side of the valley. It's a cable car. Call it what it is.


On that side, we took a walk along the cliff, where I got treated to a running commentary from Grandad and Uncle Les about the stupid people going close to the edge and climbing over railings and how they'd fall off and die. I love them both, but I really didn't want to listen to the grumbling, although I must admit that it's hilarious how much alike they are. So I trundled off ahead on my youthful legs.


We didn't make it all the way to Echo Point, but we did get far enough round to see the Three Sisters. Just.


And then home for leftover Chinese, during which I showed this photo to the grumpy old men, just for the lulz.


Hey, guys, you know what you were saying about people going too close to the edge? Here's me at the Grand Canyon.

Oh, the small pleasures.

Next week: Christmas, a few more days with the relatives and then my friend Claire arrives from the UK for a two week jaunt around Australia's highlights.

Gonna be good, right?

Australia: Am dram, gardens and hiking

I am the world's worst at keeping this thing up to date. Has it really been two months since my last push for updates? Damn.

 So, in the last post I'd overdosed on boat trips and tried my best not to squeal on having a penguin nearly run over my foot. The following week in Tasmania pushed my new-found ability to not plan ahead to the limit...


My last full day in lovely, quiet Strahan was wet. Same old, same old. In between the rain showers I first ran to the shop for groceries and then to Banjos because everything is better with pie.

Having wasted pretty much all day dossing about (why on earth didn't I sort the blog out then, past me?), I toddled on down to the tiny outdoor theatre on the waterfront to see Australia's longest running play, The Ship That Never Was. If you've read the last post, you'll know I visited Sarah Island, site of a notorious penal settlement. The play is based on events that took place around the time Sarah Island was being shut down and its convicts moved to the new site at Port Arthur.

So, I toddled in, wrapped myself in the complimentary blanket and hung on to the tiny hot water bottle the guys were handing out, it being a bit cool and damp, despite the cover over the seating.

And so the play began. A two man show, this time played by Chris, the guide from Sarah Island and the friendly chap I'd met in the post office a couple of days before. It soon became apparent that audience participation was very much expected and indeed essential. So I ended up being the parrot.


That was OK while it was just a hand puppet and all I had to do was squawk at appropriate moments (and I definitely didn't sound at all like a chicken... or a crow...) but towards the end of the play I had to don this.

And "fly" out of the theatre to look for land... Which would have been fine if there hadn't been a horde of smartly dressed people walking past at that moment to a function on one of the boats. Oh dear.

That said, it was bloody good fun and educational to boot. The set was pretty awesome as well.

With my culture fix achieved, I toddled back to the hostel and tried to sort out what I was doing next. I only had one more night left in Strahan and I had no real plan. I had thought I'd go down to the Huon Valley, south of Hobart, since it's an area I've never visited. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anywhere to stay that was in my price range.

Hmm... what to do, what to do? And then the internet threw the most enormous hissy fit, refused to connect to anything and basically screwed me over. It took me nearly an hour to get it to behave long enough to get a night booked in Hobart for the following evening.

All right, I figured. I'll go to Hobart, stay the night and work out what I'm doing afterwards.

What happened to me being the queen of planning?


After a morning spent dossing at the hostel (during which the internet continued to play silly buggers), I hopped back on the bus, once again driven by friendly Terence. We wound our way back to Queenstown, picked up an entire 2 people and motored onwards to Lake St Clair, in the heart of the island.

And on the way I saw more echidna. One of which was ambling across the road in that way only echidna have, oblivious to the minibus speeding towards it. Terence stopped in time, fortunately, just as I start with the "run, little echidna, run!" I think that brings my echidna total to six. Not bad for 2 weeks.

Arriving at Lake St Clair, we had a short break during which I wandered down to the lake edge and grabbed a few photos just to prove I'd been there.

Then I bid farewell to Terence and the tiny bus and hopped on a coach to take me back to Hobart.

Back in Hobart, I checked the bus timetables I had for the east coast and found that I could get up to the Freycinet Peninsula. On Wednesday. So I booked a couple more nights in Hobart and settled down, satisfied that I had at least tried to be spontaneous...

Worldbuilding is the best bit

With two days now to kill in Hobart, I decided to revisit the beautiful Botanic Gardens. Hobart's gardens are some of the oldest in Australia and the collection is amazing. First though, I got talking to one of the volunteers and it turned out that he also writes fantasy and we had a gloriously geeky chat about worldbuilding. As you do.

The gardens, as expected, did turn out to be pretty good for writing inspiration, but they're also fascinating from a scientific perspective. There's this gorgeous fernery, which I want but would never be able to look after.

Some gorgeous flowers, none of which I can remember the names of, although I think my macro photography is improving.


The gardens are also home to the only collection of Sub-antarctic plants in the world (as far as I can see...). Most awesome. These guys cling on in places like Macquarie Island where they're battered by wind and rain, salt and freezing temperatures. Tough little buggers.


Having got my fill of botany, I wandered back into the city via the site of the Beaumaris Zoo, home to the last captive (and possibly last altogether) thylacine, Tasmania's marsupial wolf. It says something about old zoos when you consider that in this small area there were leopards and polar bears as well as a whole host of other critters. That's a lot of animals crammed into not much space.


And then I got attacked by the wind which stole my hat. That was great fun, chasing my hat down the road while also trying to keep my otherwise lovely sun dress from flashing my knickers at people...

What's with the British telly?

I spent my last day in Hobart reading. And booking my airport shuttle for next week. And reading some more. And finally being most bemused that Nigella Lawson was on the telly. It seems like, aside from the news, the only programmes that ever seem to be on are from the UK. Oh, or those reality things about traffic cops and border security...


Wednesday started early because I had to lug all of my bags down to the bus stop. It also started early because I realised late on Tuesday night that I hadn't actually booked my connecting bus. So at 7 in the morning I'm frantically sending emails to the local bus company and hoping that, even if I can't reply, they'll get the message and come and get me.

As a result, I spent the entire 2 hour plus trip from Hobart up to the Coles Bay turn off freaking out that I'd be stranded there with no way to get to Coles Bay itself. I started taking note of where houses were in case I had to walk somewhere to get help. Yeah, that was just... glorious fun.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried, because the minibus was waiting for me at the turn off and all was fine. Since it's a local service that also deals with freight, we had to stop to make a few deliveries on the way, which was a novel experience and reminded me of that time I had to take the "post bus" when I went camping in the Yorkshire Dales with friends from school.

Safely in the tiny town of Coles Bay, I checked in and wandered down to the bakery for a much needed cuppa. And a Lamington, because I'm told they're a very Australian thing and also, CAKE.

After that delicious snack, I wandered into the town centre, which was exceptionally windy.


And also very small. Seriously, Coles Bay is lovely, but it's a village more than a town. It has, as far as I could tell, exactly one shop, plus a cafe. Sweet though.


In the evening, I even managed to be a bit social. This might be because there was no WiFi, or I might just be beginning to enjoy talking to random strangers.

Well, that was a stupid thing to do...

On the Thursday morning, having purposefully dumped myself in a place where there was nothing to do but walk, I went walking. First stop, the Visitor Centre to grab a Parks Pass and a Eucaflip. I might see if I can get the Eucaflip framed when I get back to the UK. It's an ID guide for Tasmanian eucalypts, but I like it even more because it was co-created by one of my lecturers from UTas.

Anyways, after confusing the parks lady with the revelation that I wasn't driving into the park and therefore needed the cheaper pass, I toddled off along the beach and then the road to Honeymoon Bay.


Yes, I am aware that I only visited Honeymoon Bay a week or so ago, but it's such a gorgeous spot and I wanted a nice easy walk to start off with. I scrambled about on the rocks for a while, embracing my inner child and then settled down to enjoy the view.


A couple of hours of doodling and writing later, I tramped back to the Visitor Centre to use the free WiFi, at which point I realised that my legs were looking a bit pink and promptly remembered that I hadn't reapplied my sunscreen. Ah.

This would explain why my legs were so very ouchy when I got in the shower at the hostel. Jeez. I don't think I've ever sunburnt my legs before and I don't intend to do it again. OUCH.

I made up for this stupidity by being super social in the evening and going to the pub with a couple of folks from the hostel. Their cider selection was all right, but I've had better. Still, at least Australia has cider.

Wallaby near miss

The following morning my legs were still very ouchy, so I did the sensible thing and put my actual walking trousers on to keep them out of the sun. Sensible because I intended to tackle Wineglass Bay and the thought of more sunburnt was not nice.
Sophie who came to the pub very kindly dropped me off at the Wineglass Bay carpark and so I set off. First, back off up to the lookout. My legs can't have been that bad, because I managed it in about 30 mins and so was off to a good start.


Step two, down the other side of the pass to the bay itself. Knowing what Tassie's woodlands are like, I coated myself in DEET to keep off the winged demons and set off down the steep track. Not far from the bottom I nearly came acropper, stumbling over a rock and scuffing my palms. More ouch to add to the list.


The trek down wasn't too hard. My occasionally dodgy knee even managed not to crunch. Down at the bottom, I got comfortable on the beach and had brunch - delicious sweet potato with sweet chili sauce. Yum. It also gave me chance to clean my scuffed palm which led to more ouch when I, unthinkingly, used hand sanitised to get the bits of sweet potato off my fingers. Fuck, that hurt.

With stingy hand to add to the ouch list, I headed back to the main track. I had intended to just head back over the pass and so back to the hostel. But I was feeling sort of energetic and when the sign informed me that the Hazards Circuit would only take me up to 5 hours and was only 11km long, I figured what the hell? Let's give it a go. I had plenty of water, my lunch was still in my bag and I was slathered in sunscreen.

So I toddled off across the narrow isthmus that connects the two parts of the Freycinet Peninsula, emerging half an hour later on Hazards Beach. Tramped down there and spotted a wallaby.


Well, I say spotted. The thing nearly jumped on my head. See the ledge it's sitting on? A bit further back along the beach, that's about head height to me. So when it leaped out of the bushes, I could have sworn it was going to land on me. As it was, I think the wallaby was just as surprised as me. Luckily for me, it decided to sit quietly on the ledge long enough for me to get some fairly decent photos.

Anyways, wallaby incident done with, I set off again around the circuit, occasionally giving myself minor heart attacks by convincing myself there was a snake on the path. Seriously, some of those tree roots were remarkably snake-like until I got nearly on top of them. Ugh.


The Hazards Circuit isn't quite as busy as the Wineglass Bay track, so I had the place nearly to myself for the most part, which was amazing. It's one of the things I love about Tassie - that sense that you're the only one there.

Such illusion was vanquished when I arrived back in the carpark and started trekking back along the road towards Coles Bay. I was still feeling remarkably energetic, so the several kilometre hike to the hostel didn't seem like a problem.
Still, when an Aussie couple pulled up next to me and offered me a lift, I didn't say no.

Apparently I'm either getting stupid or more confident, because I never would have got in a random car before. They kindly dropped me off at the Visitor Centre where I once again made use of the WiFi and also acquired a new spork since my old one is missing most of its tines - not great when you're trying to skewer sweet potato out of your lunch box.

Since I'd been really healthy and done my nice long walk, I splashed out on a bottle of cider from the tiny shop. Om nom nom. Willie Smith's is better than the 5 Seeds I had in the pub the night before. Good stuff.

Well, my time in gorgeous Tasmania is coming to an end. Two more days on the Freycinet Peninsula and then back to Hobart to catch my flight back to Sydney and Christmas with relatives. That's going to be good, right? I'm going to miss Tassie though.

Still, food and accommodation over Christmas...

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Australia: Tasmania Coast to Coast

After spending a few days in Hobart, revisiting old favourites and a couple of new ones, I'd caught the bus up to Launceston in the north and planned on spending a few days exploring before heading over to the West Coast. Here's how that went.

So. Un. Fit.

On my first morning in Launceston, I woke up stupidly early and a little sleep deprived courtesy of the two snoring monsters in my dorm. This may explain my confusion when there was breakfast laid out in the kitchen despite me being pretty sure there wasn't free breakfast. Still, with no one else around to tell me otherwise, I helped myself to a couple of slices of bread and was just fishing them out of the toaster when someone appeared in the kitchen.

"That's for a private group," she said, giving me the evils. Sleep-deprived me apologised profusely but failed to point out that I could hardly return the now-toasted bread. Slightly more awake me thankfully kept her mouth shut, but really wanted to point out that there was no way for me to know that it wasn't part of the hostel services and there was no need to be giving me evils. Ugh.

Having avoided that argument, I clambered onto my minibus with Graeme, our guide and driver for the day. Scary ass driver.

We made it safely to Ross, which is a pretty little village with a rather elaborate convict-built bridge.

It also had an excellent bakery that sold scallop pies, so that was my tea sorted. 

Onwards! Down the winding road to the east coast. Whether it was because I hadn't slept much or because Graeme was a terrifying driver, I ended up feeling sick. 

Fortunately for me, I fell asleep for most of it and by the time I woke up we were coming up on the little town of Coles Bay, gateway to Freycinet National Park.

First stop, Cape Tourville Lighthouse. Glorious views, a very short walk and a rather disappointing lighthouse.

And back on the bus to Wineglass Bay, supposedly home to one of the world's best beaches. I had no intention of going down to the beach. I remembered the climb up to the lookout from 6 years ago and that seemed quite enough to me.

So I marched up to the lookout in less time than expected, scowled at people getting in the way of my photos and started the trek back down again. A few minutes down from the lookout I heard someone call me and turned to find a couple of American girls from my group beckoning for me to join them. Some scrambling later, I managed to clamber up onto the huge boulder by the path and enjoyed a nice, sociable lunch for a change. Lovely.

Back down at the bus, we headed back up the peninsula to Honeymoon Bay, actually a series of little bays scooped out of the gorgeous red rock. Not content with sitting around and enjoying the view, I embraced my inner child and went scrambling over the rocks in search of the third bay, away from the crowds. Here goes... One.



Success. The water was the most amazing colour and so clear. At that point, Honeymoon Bay shifted somewhere near the top of my favourite places list.

From there, a short stop at Richardson's Beach, where I claimed the sand for New New Grimsby, as per New Zealand roadtrip tradition.

And so onwards, back out of the park to the Devil's Corner Lookout. Not much of a lookout - I think the haze was messing things up. The cafe did nice muffins though as well as a sorely needed cuppa.

Then an uneventful ride back to Launceston, where I scoffed my delicious scallop pie with some new potatoes and an enormous cup of tea. I needed it.

I can see the mountain!

Another early start beckoned on the Sunday morning. Dragging myself out of bed, I boarded the minibus and found that my driver for the day was once again crazy Graeme. Awesome.

First stop, the little bakery cafe at Elizabeth Town where I picked up a couple of bits of deliciousness. From there, on down the back roads to Sheffield, town of murals. I recall visiting there last time I was in northern Tasmania, but I missed most of the murals. Besides, there's some new ones now, including this one with Tim Minchin on it.

This resulted in me getting Tim Minchin's songs stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Worse things have happened. Aside from the murals, Sheffield doesn't have much going for it, so then it was off to Cradle Mountain, the main destination for the day.

Last time I went there, accompanied by one of my lovely housemates, it pissed it down with rain the entire day and we didn't actually see the mountain because of the cloud. We could barely see Dove Lake, which sits at the bottom of it.
This time the sky was cloudy but bright and the view was amazing.

I toddled off on a lovely 2 hour walk around the lake, during which I wandered through a fragment of ancient forest that made me feel like I'd stumbled into Mirkwood.

And then I made friends with a Black Currawong that was clearly trying to creep up on me and steal my lunch. Clever little buggers.

With another hour or more to kill, I took a very short side trip down to Lake Lilla, pondering whether to tackle the hill up to Wombat Pool. I made it to Lake Lilla.

One look at the track up to Wombat Pool made me turn around and head back to Dove Lake. I haven't done enough walking so far on this trip and I didn't really fancy the steep slope. Wuss.

Sitting by Dove Lake, admiring the beautiful view and the (almost) peace and quiet, was rudely interrupted by a guy sitting a few metres away who suddenly shot up shouting that there was a snake. I want to see a snake. I've never seen a like snake. Still, the urge to tick something off my mental wildlife-spotting list couldn't quite override the basic human instinct to stay as far away from the bitey animal as possible.

From Dove Lake we headed back up the road a little way to Ronny Creek, where there are wombats. I have a love-hate relationship with wombats. On the one hand they're sort of cute and appealing. On the other, I got chased by one while on a field trip in Narawntapu National Park. So I wasn't entirely happy with how close Graeme was leading us to this guy.

Fortunately, this wombat was far more interested in getting away from the nebbing tourists than chasing us off. A quick stop at Waldheim, home of the guy who first suggested Cradle Mountain should be a national park and then we were off again.

And I saw my second echidna of the day, but given that I always seem to spot echidna from moving vehicles, I have no photos. Guh. Cute little buggers.

Final stop for the day was Ashgrove Farm which produces the most delicious cheese I've had in months. So of course I decided to treat myself to some. They also had cider. I haven't had cider since I was in Canada and that wasn't great. Outside the UK, cider just doesn't seem to exist. But I was willing to give this one a try.

Back home at the hostel after a glorious day of walking and wildlife, I cracked into the bottle. Best cider I've had since leaving home. Not as good as Henney's, but good enough. Yum.

Yes, I am a child

I started Monday with a glorious lie in after two days of early starts. JOY. Then I had a productive morning of bus booking and grocery shopping before heading across the road to the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery (QVMAG). I was far too happy to find that all of the interactive displays from 6 years ago were still there and spent far too long indulging my inner child.

There's also a surprisingly good collection of dinos for such a small museum, plus a fascinating display about the wreck of the Sydney Cove. This ship foundered on an island off Tasmania's north coast and while there's some interesting artefacts from both the wreck and its cargo, I think the most amazing bit was this.

On the left is a bottle of ale recovered from the wreck. The seal held, so the ale in there hasn't been contaminated by the seawater. Scientists were able to extract yeast from these bottles and use it to brew a new batch of ale over a century after the ship went down. That's what the bottle on the right is. That's some great science there.

The museum also has a great WWI exhibition, including a somewhat terrifying sound and light simulation of what the men in the trenches would have heard. It's loud. Scarily loud. I think my sister will appreciate the Siegfried Sassoon poem at the end of the experience.

And then I rounded out my day with a solo trip to the cinema to see Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, which was rather better than I expected.

I think I had a plastic one of those...

After another glorious lie in, I spent the morning reading my new Pratchett book and generally being a lazy mare. I made up for it by heading back to QVMAG in the afternoon to check out the bits of the museum I'd missed the day before, including a great temporary exhibition about the Permian era. It's not something I see covered that often even in natural history museums, so I had to have a look.

The Permian is the geological period just before the Triassic and therefore just before the age of dinosaurs. Evolution was doing some interesting things at this time, with a whole host of bizarre looking critters floating about, including this nightmare possible-shark called Helicoprion.

As far as I'm aware, it's only known from the fossilised tooth-whorl and has been colloquially known as the buzzsaw shark for obvious reasons. Very odd. The Permian was also the period during which mammal-like reptiles flourished. Mammals themselves wouldn't evolve until after the end-Permian extinction event, but there were some early precursors running around before then. Like these little guys whose name is escaping me... bad scientist. Google tells me it's either a dicynodont or a cynodont (the latter being mammal ancestors).

Still, I think Dimetrodon is my favourite Permian critter. Big and ungainly with a huge sail down its back.

I had a plastic one as a child. I think that says something about how far back my geekery goes. I wonder if it's still in the tub at my nanna's?

Paleontology fix achieved, I decided to go and geek out about locomotives instead. See this shiny red train, built in Launceston.

The whole museum actually takes up what used to be Launceston's engine yard and workshops and they've kept a few of the original features including this bench.


This is not some sort of modern art. The guys who used to paint the trains and signs and what not just used to leave their brushes and whatnot to drip here instead of cleaning them. I think this is somewhat more interesting than most of the stuff in the Tate Modern...

With another early start beckoning in the morning I decided to get to bed early...

I haven't been on one of these in 8 years...

Unfortunately, early night plan was once again foiled by the snoring bastards. Great. Anyways, I stumped down to the bus station and hopped on the bus. Somehow I didn't fall asleep again all the way to Cradle Mountain. There I got to have an hour off the bus, which would have been much more fun if I hadn't had to keep an eye on my bags and actually been able to go for a walk...

From Cradle Mountain an entire three people hopped on the little minibus that would take us out to Queenstown on the West Coast. It was a beautiful drive, entering the temperate rainforest that blankets a large part of Tasmania's west and is part of the reason that most of it is protected under the Tasmanian Wildnerness World Heritage Site. Did you know, the Tasmanian Wilderness ticks 7 of the 10 criteria to be named a World Heritage Site? There's not many that hit that many and only 35 from over 1000 sites that qualify under both natural and cultural criteria. The Tasmanian Wilderness is special.

I digress. At Queenstown we all trooped off the bus. Our driver pointed me and the sole remaining passenger in the direction of toilets and cafe and assured us he'd be back in a bit with the bus for Strahan. Only at this point did either of us realise that the bus to Strahan was the local school bus. Hm.

After whiling away our little break with cake and chat in the cafe, we hopped back on the bus with a warning from Terence the driver that the kids could be a bit rowdy. I haven't been on a school bus in more than 8 years, but I was pretty sure I knew what to expect.

As it was, the kids were pretty well behaved and the little ones at the front were fascinated by the presence of English and French girls on their bus. I'm not good with kids. I did a lot of smiling and nodding and "oh, really?" It seemed to work.

After depositing all the kids around the town at Strahan and my fellow backpacker at the YHA, I had a chat with Terence while he drove me to my destination. Nice chap. Even carried my bags to the door which was sweet and entirely unnecessary.

Yeah... I treated myself to another night in a hotel. This time it was because the YHA was fully booked for the night and what with the funny bus timetables, I rather had to arrive in Strahan that day or spend more time back in Launceston and less time in the West. Still, I'd booked the cheapest room the hotel had going and given the lack of sleep I'd been getting in Launnie I was looking forward to having space.

Bliss like having an exceptionally long shower, filching ALL the free toiletries and then spending the evening watching Tomb Raider. Because why not?

What day is it?

The following morning I waited until I absolutely had to check out and then tramped off in search of the YHA. I had a vague idea where it was, having seen where the French girl had been dropped off the previous day, but somehow I managed to get totally confused and had to summon up the courage to ask for directions. Turns out I just hadn't walked far enough down the road. It was literally just across the road from where I'd given up looking. Duh.

Strahan being on Tasmania's notoriously wet West Coast, I decided to make the most of the short breaks in the rain. First stop, post office to offload those postcards I'd been carrying around all week. There was a dog on the counter, so of course I had to make friends. Friendly chaps in the post office too. Then via the information office for ideas of trips. Lots of leaflets were acquired and I decided I'd go on one of the wilderness cruises and maybe on the railway, since there's some really interesting engineering history around that.

So I booked my day cruise and then set off in search of the train station to see about booking that. The views over the harbour were pretty nice, despite the weather.

Unfortunately, I'd completely muddled up what day it was and the rail trip I had planned on taking would only be running on the day I'd booked the cruise. Clever me. Oh well. I saw the station at least...

Instead I tramped back to the very small town centre and went to Banjos for lunch, once again indulging my love of the Tasmanian pie chain. With the weather not looking set to improve, I spent the rest of the day in the hostel, trying very hard to be social, which was a partial success until it got a bit busier later in the evening and I promptly ran away.


After that day of laziness, Friday in Strahan was far more adventure packed. Cruise time! A nice leisurely sail around Macquarie Harbour and up the Gordon River, in fact.

First stop, the aptly named Hell's Gates. This is the narrow entrance into Macquarie Harbour and was so named by the convicts who were sent to the Sarah Island Penal Settlement within the Harbour. Technically, the entrance to the harbour is quite wide, but more than half of it is far too shallow and riddled with sand banks for any ship to navigate. Instead they have to pass between Entrance Island and the mainland. And just getting that far must have been hard enough. The seas are notorious down the West Coast. I was told later that there are wave height buoys just offshore and one recently broke from its anchor. The cord used to attach it should have been good up to 20m. Just to give you an idea of the swells around here...

Back through into the Harbour, our next stop was a quick look at the fish farms. Tasmanian produces a lot of salmon and I think most of it is from places like this.

And so on to the infamous Sarah Island, considered hell on earth and perhaps the worst of Australia's convict establishments. Most of those sent to Sarah Island had already been transported to another penal colony, subsequently re-offended and been, effectively, banished here.

In the first few years of its existence, the commandant dealt out thousands of lashes for seemingly minor offences, conditions were said to be hellish and escape attempts common. We were led around the island by Chris from the Round Earth Theatre Company and he had some interesting additions to make to the conventional narrative.

Plus, he was easily the most engaging guide I've had in months. Anyway, common knowledge would have you believe that Sarah Island really was hell on earth and for those first few years, it probably was. But then something changed. A new commandant arrived, prisoner behaviour improved, far fewer punishments were doled out and the shipbuilding, which used the convicts as forced labour, thrived.

Still, that didn't stop one final escape on the last boat built by the convicts, but more on that in the next post.

Thoroughly entertained and planning on reading up on Tasmania's convict history, I re-boarded the boat for a gentle trip down the Gordon River, through beautiful temperate forests, largely untouched by people.

Oh, and lunch, during which I ate far too much cheese, potato and bread because if there's food included I will make the most of it.

After lunch, we moored at Heritage Landing and took a short walk through the forest, admiring centuries-old Huon Pines.

That was our last stop for the day, so off we went back to slightly damp Strahan where I promptly booked onto another boat trip for that evening.

After a brief return to the hostel where I managed to be somewhat more sociable courtesy of discovering a shared love of Minecraft, I hopped back on another, rather smaller boat, this time to head out to Bonnet Island in search of Little Penguins.

My notes remind me that our guide was called Errol and that he had to stress he was no relation to famous Tassie Errol Flynn...

Anyway, off we went back out to Hell's Gates, which felt a lot more powerful in a little motor boat instead of the big catamaran I'd been out on earlier in the day.

Then I got fed again, with delicious Ashgrove Farm cheese and biscuits and other yummy things, before we climbed onto tiny Bonnet Island to await the penguins.

Armed with red-light torches so as not to scare or hurt the penguins, we crept quietly along the short path, peering under bushes and down the steep slope to the harbour.

In the end, we spotted about half a dozen of the little things, but it being night and not being able to use flash for fear of hurting their sensitive eyes, this is the best photo I got.

I know there's a penguin there and I can see the feet and a vague outline of the body. Not sure if anyone else can...

When I finally got back to the hostel at gone 11pm, I mostly just wanted to fall into bed and go to sleep. That plan was thwarted first by a couple of noisy Swiss guys and then, again at some point in the night when the French guys from the other end of the room suddenly kicked off and starting swearing at the Swiss guys. I honestly thought I was going to have to break up a fight.

Turns out on of the drunk Swiss guys had pissed on one of the French guys' stuff. Disgusting bastard. Still, I'd have appreciated getting a full night's sleep...

Next week I'm heading back to Hobart to finish up my three weeks in Tassie. Maybe it'll be the Huon Valley, a part of Tassie I've never seen. We'll see.

And if I can spot some more wildlife, all the better...