In the sky and on the water in Launie

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January 22nd 2011
Published: February 9th 2011
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Launceston - in the sky and on the water - Saturday.

Our first destination this morning is Cataract Gorge - this is an incredible enclave of beautiful forest, rocks and water only 5 minutes from the heart of Launceston. Last time there, the expanse of beautiful lawn at the "First Basin" was thickly coated in crunchy white frost. This time, all green and glowing in the morning sun. We head straight for the chairlift that travels from the first basin up to the little cafe further up the hill and start our visit by floating gently high above grass, rocks, and water and taking in the spectacular views. I would prefer it if chairlift cars had more than one attachment point! The ride concludes with a glide narrowly above a thick forest of treetops, where I lift my feet to ensure my crocs do not finish the ride before me! We pass a car departing on the downward route and as the ground drops away below them, I hear the little girl say "Whoah - that's scary....lucky I'm not scared!"

We have a leisurely wander round the beautiful old band rotunda, admire ancient trees and decide to stop at the cafe for a coffee. While waiting for the coffee, a peacock with two little chicks in tow strolls calmly between the tables. I try to get close enough to take a photo of one of the chicks and the mother gives me a single warning cluck! I respect her wishes and keep my distance. The view is wonderful but the coffee is appalling. A bad cup of coffee is such a disappointment but I do enjoy the warmth of it at least. At the next table, a little fellow is sitting with a group of adults and in lulls in the conversation he randomly interjects "Oooh!" and "Wow!!" a behaviour he has probably picked up from hanging around with a group of sightseeing grownups! After a while, he proclaims "I need to see more peacocks!"
Having abandoned most of my horrible coffee, we take a wander along to Alexandria Bridge, a wonderful old suspension bridge over the gorge that sways interestingly as people move along it, making the young Korean fellow behind me exclaim nervously. We stop to admire the hefty aparatus that has held it fast to the rock for about a hundred years. I find bridge engineering very beautiful to look at.

Next we set off along some trails looking for one of the highlights of our previous visit, a picnic hut that has its roof held aloft by an amazingly symetrical set of tree trunks and branches. When I saw it last time, I marvelled at how it had been put together - how did they get all those trees to grow at a uniform rate so that the roof stayed level? It was mysterious and I couldn't wait to see it again. This time, Eric noticed that the roof itself was concrete, and while inspecting it, I touch one of the "trees" and discover that they themselves are in fact made of concrete. I suspect we did not notice this last time because it was freezing and we did not want to touch anything! This discovery does not lessen my admiration of it, just makes me love it for different reasons. It is so beautifully crafted and would have involved so much work! I want to know who made it, when and why.

We stroll back down to the entrance where we decide to have a look at the old caretakers cottage which has been opened as an information centre. This lovely old cottage has been filled with photographs of the Gorge at different times in history - some of them showing completely ferocious floods. We are immediately greeted/"set upon" by a very eager volunteer who insists that we follow her around the displays and listen to her telling us about the pictures. I am not keen and would rather look at them on my own, and read the information plaques myself , and I attempt to drift away from her and peruse them on my own but she will have none of it, quite forcefully summonsing me over to look at the one she thinks I should see now. Eventually some other visitors arrive and she scurries away to control their experience! Phew! Within this little cottage lies the answer to all my questions about the concrete tree picnic shelter, with a splendid picture of the fellows who built it and a description of the arduous process they went through, carting concrete in wheelbarrows and buckets up the winding pathways.

Back to our backpackers where we make a lovely picnic lunch with some gorgeous charcuterie we have bought from Casa Linga - (we discovered this amazing providore the last time we were here and have been eagerly awaiting a return visit. Amongst other things, we buy some smoked wallaby and bush pepper kabana. Sublime!) and take it across the road to Brickfields, and enjoy it in the cool deep shade. Then we head off to catch our boat for our afternoon river cruise up the Tamar River. The boat heads first up Cataract Gorge and we get to see a stunning part of the Gorge that we have not seen before at all - all steep escarpments with a walking trail on one side, and on the other side, a group of rock climbers are struggling to progress up the cliffs. On this section of the Gorge is the beautiful King's bridge, the central span of which was amazingly put onto a barge and floated up the river and then manouevered into position with the help of tugboats.

Then we turn around and travel out of the gorge and for the next hour, we cruise up the wide, peaceful and incredibly pretty Tamar River. A short distance up the river, the captain points out a seal lolling lazily around in the water. We approach him quite closely and he seems completely unconcerned, until eventually ducking out of sight. As a daughter of the tropics, seal sightings are still incredibly exotic and rare to me! The captain points out that this guy is about 70 kms from the sea. A little further on, he points out a huge white sea eagle perched on a branch overhanging the river. We motor close by him as well. I love all the huge birds of prey and watch this guy until he is a tiny white speck, hoping I will see him take flight and stretch out his big white wings.

The countryside on either side of the river is stunning - rolling green fields all the way to the water's edge, dotted with a few houses of a few very lucky people. Later the gentle slopes are covered with fields of trellised grape vines. We enjoy a splendid, relaxed tasting of some fine Tasmanian wines (surprisingly, including a shiraz) and beers. I take the opportunity to have a chat with the Captain, a wonderfully knowledgeable and experienced "old hand". He responds hospitably to my interest in his navigational equipment and also spends some time telling me about his own move to Tasmania and recommending it heartily as a place to live. All in all we have a totally magnificent time. We are hugely keen on calm water cruising and this is the most splendid one we have been lucky enough to experience.

Back at our hostel we have a ready made spag bol dinner (leftover from our dinner at Crayfish Creek, and carefully carried with us for just an exhausted night like this!) which simply have to heat up in the wonderful hostel kitchen and we enjoy it in our room with a huge fresh salad, and then collapse asleep, our heads overflowing with wonderous sights! It has been a very scenic day!

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