Published: January 20th 2010September 29th 2009
Rugged landscapes in rugged weather explode in their beauty and hard as it may be in such conditions somehow strive to be even more beautiful because of it. Magestic beaches in miserable weather however, and solely in my humble opinion, often struggle to be much more than miserable. And with that, perhaps flawed rationale in place, my decision was made. A left was taken from Launceston airport and it was western Tasmania that was going to be blessed with my presence for my short stay on the island state. And two days later as I sat on deck with the captain of the river boat exploring the far reaches of the Gordon-Franklin River I knew in my heart that the right decision had been made. Following my return from Birdsville I had made good use of my remaining time in south east Queensland and completed a few trips around the area before my final departure from the area. I had made the almost obligitary trip for every backpacker to Australia onto Frazer Island where I spent three glorious days avoiding letting the dingos take anything belonging to me and general skirting around what is the worlds largest sand island. I also
...and the only glimpse of blue sky all day!!
took advantage of the time of year it was and Amber and I went whale watching along the Gold Coast and were lucky enough to get up close to a number of whales and their calves as they made their return journeys south back to the waters of the Antartic.
After coming out of nearly a decade of drought, Tasmania had seen bad weather for months and the previous 20 consectutive weekends of rain were soon to become 21. This however did not dampen my spirits as I ploughed my little Hyundai Getz (yet another el. Chickenus Chaserus!) over mountain and through vale exploring all that I could of this magical island in the few short days that I had. Cradle mountain national park was my first destination, though by no means my first stop as each twist and turn of the road brought with it something new and amazing to look at. And being a little triger happy with the camera of late, the two and a half hour drive easily streched five hours plus! Of all the unforeseen stops along the way a little spot a few miles off the...'off the beaten track' which I had decided
Summit of Mt. Wellington
and yes..at 1270m up...I found snow in Australia
to follow, a little spot known as 'Alum Cliffs' turned out to be one of the great hidden gems that Tasmania offered me throughout the entire trip. Parking the car and donning the rain jacket I had borrowed from Brad before I leaving Brisbane, I took the short walk up the gently sloped forest path expecting nothing much more than a good excuse to stretch my legs. I was however nothing short of blown away when at last I turned from the forest and found myself standing on top of a cliffs edge peering nervously over the side of an extremely long fall. The gorge seemed to have itself completely isolated amongst seemingly otherwise ordinary farm land. And when I say 'blown away', I mean in the sense of the sheer beauty of the vista that was confronting me as well as the wind that was threatening to have me at the bottom of the gorge if I didn't grab hold to something! So I grabbed the camera and took a few shots before quickly making my way back towards the car as the rain was now beginning to get worse and after all, it was still only 8am and
I hadn't even had my breakfast yet!
The rest of the morning passed with similar stopping and starting before I finally reached Cradle Mountain in the early afternoon. The rain had done nothing only get worse as the morning went by but not knowing when I might ever get the chance to get there again...the rain jacket was once again donned and off I set on a three hour walk around the lower sections of the park culminating in a circuit of dove lake at the base of the mountain before retracing my steps back to the car and taking to the road in search of somewhere to lodge for the night. Looking at the map and remembering the words of an APA work colleague (Hi Gail!) I decided on Strahan to be my destination for the night. Checked into the local hostel come Caravan park I met the only two other residents there and we set down in the communial sitting area and yarned away for the evening about almost everything under the sun. The following morning it was down to the harbour and onto a cruise ferry as I was to spend the day discovering the furthest
reaches of Tasmania's Maquarie Harbour.
My newly found friends from the hostel were also booked into the tour so the day was spent relaxing on board, enjoying the all you can eat buffet and taking in the breath-taking surrounds of this part of Tasmania. Now I can not tell you exactly what has been the best day or the nicest place that I visited along my travels since leaving Ireland but I can honestly say that as the day went on and we found ourselves exploring the further reaches of the harbour it became clearer by the minute to me that I had found one of those days, been in of those places that from that moment forth would always to be amongst the highest standings on any such a list. Before the day was out we had pulled ashore for an hour or so and taken a tour around the infamous 'Sarah Island', one of Australia's more notorious 'Penal Settlements' of the 'New Colony'. This is the place where the worst offenders in the colony were sent for their punishment and 'rehabilitation'! Of my time in Australia in general not much is made these days of its 'New'
history, of 'white' settlement, of colonisation and of convict labour. That was at least until I came to Tasmania. The state seems to have come to terms with its past and though it may not be an easy past to deal with in a tourism fashion I thought they had dealt with it very honestly and respectfully and it was good to actually visit a place where some information could be easily found on its convict past. As evening approached our boat returned to its piering and I decided that I would spend a second night in Strahan before making another early start and the southern journey towards Hobart, Tasmania's capital the following morning.
As day broke I peered out my room window to be greeted by the heaviest rains to date and a temperature that was colder than anything I had experienced in quite a few months. After a quick breakfast from the boot of old Getzie I was soon on the road again on continuing my journey south. Queenstown was my first stop, though only momentarily as the old and dishevelled mining town was looking none the better with the torential rain. And besides I was still way too early for even the earliest of shops to be open. The road out of Strahan and past Queenstown was a fantastic zig-zagged drive up from sea-level and into the mountains and as I left Queenstown I pulled in to have a look at this massive waterfall that had simply appeared in front of me as I took one of the roads many hairpin bends. The falls were fantastic and seemed to just flow right out of a mountain top giving no hint whatsoever of where the water was actually coming from in the first place.
Like my trip from Launceston, the day was spent stopping and starting, snapping a shot here, taking a walk there and an early start from Strahan was joined by a late arrival into Hobart to make this one of the longest days of sithseeing that I had done in all my travels to date. Arriving in Hobart my mind was alive with all the sights of the day but my stomach was dying due to major neglect throughout the day. And so I set off in search of some food and a relaxing beer. The food was found but the day had caught up on me and so it was an early return to the hostel and a quick settling in for a solid nights sleep. The morning after I was fully revitalised and eager for more sightseeing. The summit of Mount Wellington was my first stop. Though not being able to part ways with my ever faithful Getz, I buckled myself in and let it hurtle me around yet more death defying hairpins as we left the light drizzle of Hobart and entered the light snow of the higher elevation of the mountain. Thirty minutes in and I was standing on top in what has to be one of the coldest situations I have ever found myself in. The already cold morning became almost unbearable with the wind chill factor because of the unrelenting stong gale that was blowing across the summit. I couldn't do it to poor Getzie so I sped up my planned visit to the top and in little over 5 minutes I was on the road back down and heading further south again to The Australian Antartica Research Institute where I took time out to wander through their public displays and Antartica museum.
The afternoon was spent in Port Arthur, another penal settlement, located about 2 hours east of Hobart. This settlement was much more developed for the tourism industry compared to Sarah Island. In fact throughout the years since the end of convict labour there has been a number of hotels within the buildings of the convict settlement where the well to do of Hobart could come and relax in what are actually very beautiful surrounds. These days however, the hotels within the settlement have gone and it has been much more humbly restored to a state closer to its earlier form. I spent a long afternoon wandering around the place, getting a feel of how everyone lived within the compound. I glimpsed at how the higher ranking officers and people of stature such as the rector lived in comparible comfort and ease while the convicts lived only to survive and in many a case had their very own hells on earth.
Leaving the settlement compound well after 6 in the evening and with kangaroos beginning to show themselves along the side of the road I pulled into the nearest accommodation I could find and settled in for my last night in Australia's forgotten state. My final morning was another zig-zagged, 'off the beaten track' drive along country lanes which by noon had brought me to the bounds of Hobart airport where myself and 'The Getz' said our final farewells and it was back onto a plane and up to Brisbane once more, though this time only for an overnighter for I was soon to board another flight, this time back to Darwin to begin my epic trip down the west coast of Australia.
I was beginning to think I had a very hard life indeed!!