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Published: January 1st 2016
Getting to Tasmania from Adelaide involved a silly-o-clock get up to get a taxi outside the hotel at 4.00 am. Some people were still wending their way home after a night out and we were up, packed and ready to catch a plane! Richard Branson has quite an empire in Australia, and we caught one of his flights to Melbourne and transited to another from there to Hobart in Tasmania. There was another time change en route but there had been so many of these by now that I had given up trying to figure out the time back at home - I just kept my mobile on during the night so that I could see the time and turned it off during the day when I was pretty sure everyone at home would be asleep anyway. At over £1.80 to make and receive calls my mobile was now pretty much just a fancy alarm clock!
Once, in an idle moment surfing the net, I'd come across something that told you where in the world the direct opposite of given co-ordinates was. It turned out that if I dug a hole directly underneath my house I'd pop out the other
side in the Tasman Sea. So, I gave an extravagant down-under wave out of the plane window to my home on the direct opposite side of the world, which may have unsettled my fellow plane passengers just a bit. They probably thought they were in an episode of the Twilight Zone and I was waving at the gremlin on the wing. Unfortunately, my geography has always been rubbish, and I later discovered that the expanse of water was the Bass Strait rather than the Tasman Sea and I had probably been waving to Scotland instead of home. No matter - we definitely fly over the Tasman Sea later in the trip. I'll try to get it right and not disturb fellow passengers too much! From the air Tasmania looked verdant, lush and dotted with lakes. I already felt that I would like it.
We'd hired a car to explore Tasmania. It is small in comparison to Australia and campsite locations were few and far between so we thought it a better option than a campervan for this leg. We picked the car up at the airport. Many of you will know that I don't 'do' cars and have been
known to buy a car based on colour alone (though Steve's intervention at this stage is often critical!). Anyway, this car was a lovely shade of blue and I would have bought it. The fact that it also had cruise control and was an automatic really didn't concern me any more after my positive experience with the campervan. Maybe I should have been just a bit more bothered ....
We'd decided to do a clockwise route round Tasmania, ending up back in Hobart a week or so later so we headed straight out after landing and collecting the car at the airport at about 11 am. We stopped in New Norfolk for lunch. This was a pretty little town with a wonderful bakery that did a great lunch. We seriously considered staying here for our first night (we had seen it had a motel/hotel) but, given that we had just set off, we decided to do a few more miles before stopping. Our map showed an upcoming vast expanse of National Park so we thought we'd like to stay the night on this side of it so that we could enjoy its splendours when fully refreshed the following day
and the map showed a number of potential stopping places on the way.
So, off we set, taking the A3 out of Hobart, then the A1 onto the A10. We drove past a couple of buildings on their own in the middle of nowhere before consulting our map to get our bearings and realising these were, in fact, places we had thought might provide a location for us to stop overnight. It seems that, in Tasmania, if there is a building they give it a name and call it a town! So, Gretna, Hamilton and Derwent Bridge were quickly crossed off and the National Park was getting closer. The roads became ever more twisty; cruise control was useless as maintaining any sort of constant speed was impossible and even a little dangerous. We suddenly found ourselves in the forest with no option but to continue onwards and daylight fading fast. We were both getting tired as a result of our 2 am get up, my back was starting to complain at being thrown around on the twisty roads and the local wildlife was starting to show itself.
Australia has a cute, over-sized hedgehog-type thing called an echidna and
they were abundant on the verges. We couldn't get our tongues round that word either so we kept shouting 'enchilada!' to whichever one of us was driving at the time. The roads quickly started to climb as well as twist and we soon learned to pay attention to the signs which advised you what speeds to take the bends at (travelling at 50 kph around a hairpin bend with an advised speed of 20 kph is a bit scary!). Thankfully, we were the only travellers stupid enough to be on these roads so late in the day and we never came across any other vehicles travelling the same bends in the opposite direction! We also discovered that the automatic gears weren't really suitable for this sort of terrain. We tried everything to force a gear change on many occasions, including 'blipping' the accelerator, flooring the accelerator, easing back on the accelerator, doing the same with the brakes, doing that 'shuggy' movement that children do in their toy tractors and various other useless strategies. I found that the one that worked best for me was actually shouting 'change gear!' at the Blue Meanie when I started to think the brakes would
burn out coming down the other side of those mountains we had just climbed up. Our hearts sank everytime we came across a sign that said 'Bends for the next 6/8/10 kms' so we were somewhat relieved when we finally popped out of the National Park onto the denuded side of a mountain that dropped down into Queenstown and the welcoming sight of The Goldrush Inn. Not only that, there was a room to spare for two weary travellers. The owner offered to rustle us up something to eat but we decided to go further into town to save him the trouble. Good job we did that almost straight away because we just made it to the bottle shop before it closed at 7 pm and the supermarket which closed at 7.30. The rest of the town was shut!
Queenstown has a rather sad history. Originally populated as a result of the goldrush, it began copper mining when the gold ran dry. The deaths of three miners in the fairly recent past closed the mine and, with no other industry to sustain it, the town is dying. There is lots of property for sale, everything looks tired and worn
and the streets are deserted. The young girl who served us in the supermarket said it took two hours to get to the nearest town with a cinema (Burnie) and there was nothing to do in Queenstown itself. The town gets only 29 fine days a year and, being so close to the mountains, is shrouded in cold, damp mist most of the time. Surprisingly, tourism may be its saving grace. It is the first town the traveller hits after the forest and, as we discovered the following morning, our motel was full as was the one further into town (which even had a tour coach parked outside it - I wouldn't have fancied getting that across the mountains!!). We had a lovely, cosy night in the last room at the inn, making good use of the electric blanket and room heater. The cold seemed to seep everywhere but you could feel the history of the place in the bricks. The following morning I had a quick trip round the town museum which is run entirely by volunteers and maintained by donation only. It provided a summary of the town's history and was well presented. There is also a railway
museum, which I didn't visit. I really liked Queenstown and hope it manages to survive.
We had initially planned to travel up to Burnie the next day but both the owner of the inn and our next door neighbour, who was travelling Tasmania in an anti-clockwise direction, recommended Stanley so we decided to give that a try instead. The day started at a refreshing 17°C and we continued on the A10 through the small townships of Gormanston, Zeehan, Roseberry, Tullah and Fingerpost. We stopped where the fancy took us and had a lovely side trip up to the Mackintosh Dam. For such a watery place, Tasmania seems to struggle with having sufficient water which I couldn't understand. We were the only ones at the dam and it was lovely. The forest had given way to farmland and pasture, with lots of cows and crops and some lovely, if isolated, properties. The small town theme continued - Tasmania is very sparsely populated. We were later told that is has only 500,000 inhabitants and 200,000 of those live in Hobart!
We arrived in Stanley to discover we had coincided our visit with the town's annual summer fair where we could
have watched a gymkhana and bought a tractor had we wanted. We got the last room in the one and only hotel (there's a theme developing here!), the Stanley Hotel, now a historic building which was founded by the descendants of a 15 year old deported criminal and is still run by members of his family. The town is dependent on its seasonal tourist trade. It has a caravan park, a lovely harbour, some fishing and The Nut, a rocky outcrop with a chairlift and views. It wasn't much but it made the best of it. We went in search of somewhere to eat outside the hotel only to discover that it really was the only place to eat in town and everyone else was going there for food, in the opposite direction from us! Everything closed at 7 pm, apart from the hotel which was packed to the rafters and only served its drinks in half pint glasses for some reason (I decided it was the publican's attempt to limit alcohol intake in a town with nothing else to do!). The next morning we took the chairlift up to The Nut which provided panoramic views of the town and harbour and wildlife was abundant. Very pleasant. We set off to continue our travels but were running low on fuel (again!). The garage in Stanley was closed - I can only think the owner had gone to the fair, so we tried to drive economically to the next petrol station, though the Blue Tasmanian Devil continued to have a mind of its own and carried on doing its own thing. So frustrating ...
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