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Published: February 27th 2010
One gets used to coming across familiar place names here. British people sail to the colonies and name their new homes after the same ones they just left. In Tasmania it's Richmond, Launceston, St Helens and... Swansea - pronounced Swan-sea and not the British Swan-zee. It is a land of strange and enigmatic place names too - it's the opportunity to use your imagination: Snug, Lake Echo, Penguin, Artillery Knob, Frenchmans Cap, as well as to remember what you were taught at school: Mount Achilles, Mount Hyperion, Mount Olympus, The Acropolis. And don't forget religion too: Paradise, King Davids Peak, Walls of Jerusalem, etcetera. My favourite place name has to be the Bay of Fires on Tasmania's east coast.
Bay of Fires
So another day, another beach - the bay got its name from Tobias Furneaux (1735-1781)
who sailed in HMS Adventure
alongside Captain Cook's ship, the Resolution
, in his second voyage of discovery. Furneaux was separated from Cook (8 February-19 May 1773), exploring the south and east coasts of Tasmania eventually covering 4000 miles alone. It was along this coast that Furneaux saw small fires of from the indigenous peoples and subsequently named it the Bay of Fires. Furneaux
was also famous for being the first person to circumnavigate the globe from west to east and also the first to do so in both directions. Tasmania pulls up all sorts of history.
The not so “lonely planet”
This isolated and beautifully curving beach stretching 29 kilometres became seriously property after Lonely Planet placed the Bay of Fires on its ‘best spots for 2009’
list. Unfortunately, it resulted in a spat that is ongoing between the government who wanted to make it a national park, aboriginal groups who said they were promised it would be returned to them in addition to pro-park environmental groups. Bizarrely a British travel magazine then went on to list the bay itself as 'at risk'
. because of the listing by LP. It seemed like Lonely Planet was perhaps irresponsible in its listing.
Anyway! When we were there it was overcast and although dramatic waves - I think you had to be there on a good day to understand all of the attention it was receiving from the likes of the Lonely Planet. However, it’s a very nice beach, lots of surf, and all but deserted. I assume that isolation and the undiscovered is the mantra for travel
destination publications these days. It seems Alex Garland’s novel The Beach
is relevant still.
After the walk on the beach we visited an animal park called Nature World
- it sounds crap but it wasn't, honest! It was here that I got to see the whole gambit of Tassie
wildlife because whereas many animals have become extinct on the mainland of Australia (Eastern Barred Bandicoots
, Eastern Quolls
, and Pademelons
, Tassie Devils
) they're still common here. That also used to the case for the Thylacine
- I'd seen ancient aboriginal rock paintings of them up in Kakadu National Park but which have now become extinct (or are they?).
The park had the usual Aussie fauna:- big grey Kangaroos
(like big furry hair rollers), possums
(eastern and tiger), dozens of colourful birds, let’s just say that Tasmania is abundant in weird and wonderful wildlife. We also got to see the feeding of the very cute Tasmanian Devils
who obtained their name from their screeching growls. Their cute little faces belie a vicious nature - having some of the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom they kill and eat almost anything - including bones. However, as seems to be a
recurring problem in this part of the world, they are under threat. Ann incurable facial tumour is decimating their numbers and it is highly contagious. Their only refuge seems to be western Tassie
which is as yet unaffected but it seems only a matter of time so let’s hope they find a cure.
I’m getting plenty of exercise on this trip - we did yet another walk, this time in the Blue Tier mountain ranges
. And again we saw another waterfall - Halls Falls
. The only thing that enlivened this wet walk was the forest and the leeches - my first sight of them since trekking in Malaysian Borneo
. When I got back to the Land Rover, I found that one of them off who was sucking on the inside of my leg. I’m both sweet-tasting and tough!
We drove further into the Blue Tier State Park
setting up camp in
an open clearing surrounded by forest trees that were blanketed in misty low clouds. It was also raining and as we had to start a fire so we were tasked with finding dry tender. I busied myself with taking dry bark off trees and then us ‘lads’ took turns in sawing wood for the fire. We eventually got the fire going and the South Korean family immediately began stuck their wet shoes and trousers on sticks over the fire. They seemed to be oblivious to the heat as well as the flames of the fire beneath their dangling trainers and trousers. The Hors d'œuvres were local King Island cheese and crackers - I seem to have developed a real love for the stuff.
Our last day on the tour; Leaving our camp and driving through the winded deep forest we came across one of the best things I've seen (ever!). We caught two Pademelons
(sort of miniature wallabies) having a scuff in the path in front of us - ignoring our big land rovers. Apparently it was mating season and so commenced energetic drop-kicks, strangle-holds as well as relentless hopping - all for a chance with the
ladies. Luckily we got a lot of it on video before they bundled away into the forest.
It rained steadily and it wasn't very warm and quite frankly I was reluctant to do anything that got my feet soaking wet again. So of course we did another walk into the Blue Tier State Park and I’m glad I did because it was quite magical. The Australia Hill Loop Walk
took in regenerating rainforest and remnants of the tin mining era - a former tin mining settlement that once had a population of a few hundred. The mossy paths and hillocks paths we walked along were once streets. It had stopped raining by the time we climbed the huge boulders on Australia Hill where and looked out over the forested hills. The amazing Tasmanian clouds hovered in and out making spooky shapes while smoky steam drifted upwards from out of the trees. A truly magical moment in the Tasmanian wilderness.
We continued onwards along the Goblin Forest Walk
- basically trees and ground bright green with fern and moss - incredibly atmospheric and utterly beguiling - a great setting for any goblin movie!
Later on we visited the
tall 'S' shaped Ralph Falls
where I had a great shot of me opening my mouth so the falls could fall into it. However, my camera’s memory card decided to corrupt itself during this trip and I lost a lot of my photos from the trip. The ones uploaded so far are donations from my travel companions - probably a good thing that there's less of my pesky face. We hit the city of Launceston at about 5 in the afternoon, being dropped off at various hostels and saying our goodbyes. The end of a great trip which was everything I'd hoped it to be.
In Launceston I wasn’t on my own for very long. Miss D Dutch who I’d met in Melbourne on NYE came up to see me after finishing with her woofing job. But small-town Launceston the second time around wasn’t at all interesting and I felt myself trapped and so we got the next bus out of the city to place called Devonport. There we were picked up by a friend of Miss D Dutchie and driven to their home in a place called Sheffield
. We stayed a couple of relaxing days in
the beautiful countryside; solitary trees in golden fields, horses and cattle grazing and all below the wonderfully stout and imposing Mount Roland.
As lovely and welcoming as the couple were we were subject to certain tension. They had very recently retired to Tasmania after living 20 years or so in the hot dry 'Centre' of Australia. Tasmania was her choice after compromising so long in the heat and so he eventually acquiesced. This explained the constant caustic comments (from his side exclusively) about how cold and wet Tasmania but maybe not the rude interruptions/corrections directed at her. It was all a bit strange witnessing a retired couple such as this in what seemed constant fracture. The variations in Australia's temperatures and climate are so varied that where you live is a very major decision and one of personal preference.
To our surprise - our retired but keen hiker accompanied us up Mount Roland
- with packed lunches in our bags it rained all the way. After 2 hours hiking up we eventually turned back at the suitably named Mount Van Dyke. Miss D Dutchie although soaked through and clambering through dense terrain seemed to love it. The next
couple of dates was perfect sunshine - it pained me so. We then got the bus to Hobart for a day or so, driving through the centre of the island - taking in gorgeous scenic views. At Hobart we did the only decent cultural thing to do... took in the Saturday Market at Salamanca Place and ate fish and chips! I went onto Port Arthur for a day's sight seeing of the old penal prison. I headed back to Melbourne after this short sojourn.
Tasmania is an incredibly diverse place with contrasting environments from east to west. It has an often stunning
(and deserted) coastline, as well as deserted beaches and inlets - plenty of hills, mountains and forests. The towns seem to be stuck in 1995 but you don’t come to Tassie for the urban side, you come for the outdoors and the scenery and hiking and the wilderness. Highly recommended!
What I'm reading: Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux, 2003
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