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Trip Report Tasmania, Melbourne, and the Great Ocean Road--November/December 2015

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Tasmania, Melbourne, and the Great Ocean Road were our destinations for the second half of a 6-week trip at the end of last year. My husband, J, and I had spent the first 3 weeks of November on the South Island of New Zealand and were eager to see parts of Australia that we had missed on our last long trip there, in 2005. A few questions were in the back of our minds: Would Tasmania be as appealing as it is reputed to be, or would it pale in comparison to the spectacular South Island? How would the renowned Great Ocean Road compare to California's gorgeous Pacific coastal highway, one of our favorite drives? And would Melbourne be as interesting and rewarding as Sydney, a city we loved last time we were in Australia? This long trip report may have some answers to those questions.

Our itinerary:
--Christchurch to Melbourne via Wellington
--Cape Otway (2 nights)
--Port Fairy (2)
--Hall’s Gap, the Grampians (2)
--Hobart, Tasmania (4)
--Cradle Mountain (2)
--Deloraine (1)
--Coles Bay/Freycinet (3)
--Hobart (1)
--Melbourne (4)

Pictures are here: https://aprillilacsphotos.shutterfly.com/8442

CAPE OTWAY, GREAT OCEAN ROAD, Nov. 25-27

A wind-buffeted swoop on Air New Zealand into Wellington gave us the only view of that city we would have since we were simply treating it as a waypoint on our way to Melbourne from Christchurch. Since we would be arriving late and departing very early, we had booked an inexpensive motel (the Airport Motor Lodge) near Wellington airport. The taxi took just 3 minutes to get to the motel, in what I’ll charitably call a down-scale setting. But the room was clean and the manager was helpful, reserving a taxi that he assured us would be waiting at 4:15 the next morning.

That 3:45 alarm was LOUD! But it got us up and out for promised taxi and the short ride back to the airport. We were scheduled on the first flight out at 6:15 and were there early because it was an international flight. The flight was uneventful and we cleared Customs in record time. We picked up a small Nissan from Avis (A$274 for 6 days) and eased out onto the freeway system toward Geelong. Everything was well signed but there was a lot more traffic, moving a lot faster, than anything we had seen in NZ! Eventually we stopped for coffee at a roadside plaza that also had an information center. It was as warm a day as we had experienced since Auckland. The woman at the I-center was extremely helpful, explaining how to get to the Great Ocean Road and plying us with maps and handouts and more handouts, and even a cloth shopping bag to put them in.

Our route took us around Geelong and, when we missed the shortcut, down the B-120 into Torquay where the GOR begins. We took a side road to the famous Bells Beach and were mesmerized watching professional-level surfers ride the long, complicated swells toward the shore, the best of them staying on the break for really long periods of time. We eventually headed west along that road and—wildlife alert!--spied the first echidna we had ever seen, crossing the road in front of us. I tried to take a photo as it lumbered into the bush but would have much better echidna luck later in the trip.

We soon hooked up with the real Great Ocean Road and followed it to Split Rock Light, where we did a short walk overlooking the lovely beach and lagoon below the lighthouse—more mesmerizing waves. Our route took us west through Lorne and Anglesea, with steeply cliffed shorelines punctuated by small pocket beaches. We could have stopped so many times but made ourselves keep going until we got hungry enough for an outdoor lunch break at the funky River Café in tiny Wye River. The food was surprisingly good and cheap--later we realized the cafe was recommended in our Lonely Planet guidebook. After lunch we drove to Apollo Bay and on to Cape Otway and our lodgings for the next two nights, the Great Ocean Ecolodge, http://greatoceanecolodge.com.

We had expected something fancier for the price—a splurge for us at A$380/night--but the lodge’s simplicity and ecological message made it the perfect place for our first nights on the GOR. We had afternoon tea and cake in the lounge area, where we met our fellow guests, from Scotland, Switzerland, and Seattle. This lodge draws a really international crowd, it seems. One of its attractions is the afternoon guided naturalist walk around the property to see wildlife that abounds there. We had already seen a small group of grey kangaroos and some blue/red/green parrots in the fields near the house, so we were eager to join Greg, the guide, for further exploration. Not long after we set out, we encountered a group of 12-15 kangaroos, many of whom had their joeys in their pouch or out and about. I had a (literal) field day with my camera while Greg talked about their life cycle and habits. A bit farther on, his impeccably trained dog spotted a wallaby and we were able to approach it and a second swamp wallaby, albeit not as closely as we approached the kangaroos.

When we reached a manna gum forest, I looked up and spied a koala silhouetted against the late afternoon sky. It was the first koala we had ever seen in the wild. A few minutes later the Swiss woman spotted a second. So exciting! Greg explained that these koalas were part of a population that had been reintroduced from an offshore island and only ate the leaves from manna gum trees. As a result, they were killing their only food source at an alarming rate, and efforts were being made to reduce their population to a sustainable level.

Our final destination on the walk was to see a couple of spotted tiger quolls that were being reared in captivity. Quolls and other small to medium-sized carnivores at the top of the food chain were facing extinction owing to the introduction of foxes, stoats, and feral cats. Greg explained that they have the second strongest jaws of any known animal; only another marsupial, the Tasmanian devil, possesses a stronger jaw grip. We decided to give the quolls a wide berth.

Back at the main house, all the guests sat down to a first course of delicious split pea and goat cheese pate and olives and main courses of chicken stroganoff or pumpkin and chard in philo dough, accompanied by a good bottle of local pinot gris. While we were eating, the band of kangaroos paraded by the windows and gave us a stupendous show of joeys peering from, hopping out of, and jumping back into pouches and hopping whenever they were spooked. It had been a long day from Wellington, but we already had part of the answer to our GOR question: the animals alone made this part of the trip special.

There were heavy rains overnight as the temperature plummeted in the face of an advancing cold front, and an intense hail storm blew through just before breakfast. The conversation at breakfast was good—as was the meal. J and I then headed down the road to the historic Cape Otway Light, but before we even got to the main road we saw several roseate parakeets. Once on the road we passed through a grove of manna gum trees where several cars had pulled off the road. That could only mean one thing: animal alert! So we too pulled over and quickly spotted three or four koalas, a couple of which were awake, active, and close up. What a way to satisfy our koala needs!

Our exploration of the lighthouse complex was fun. It's the oldest lighthouse in Australia (built in 1848), stands on a high point overlooking the ocean, and is composed of stones without mortar, held together by careful placement and a thick coat of white paint. We took the 132 steps up the spiral staircase to the top for excellent views of the surrounding area. There was a narrow balcony at this level and the winds were blowing at about 30 knots, which made the circumnavigation of the lighthouse a real challenge as we went from barely moving upwind to being blown downwind at warp speed. Thank goodness for the balcony railing! Inside an older local woman filled us in on some history about lighthouse and the Cape Otway area and its many shipwrecks. Another really interesting building on the site was the signal station founded in 1859 as a telegraph station. There had been an attempt to build an underwater cable from this location to Tasmania a few years later, but apparently it failed, and Tasmania was not connected to the mainland for several decades. The café on the lighthouse grounds had a nice display of paintings of ships of various types and ages, though the vegetable pie on offer was not quite as nice.

In the afternoon we drove to Mait’s Forest, just off the main highway, and took a pretty 0.8 km loop through temperate rain forest with old beech trees and some impressive mountain ashes. Then we headed for Triplett Falls, located near the Otway Fly complex. Here we did a 2 km loop through similar forest--a bit more open and not quite as nice. The we retraced our route toward Cape Otway but detoured to Joanna Beach, a well-known surfing spot, on Blue Joanna Rd. It was windy and wild so we didn’t stay long, opting to return to the lodge in time for another afternoon tea. New guests had arrived—this time a very nice family from Holland. Dinner was as good as the night before, capped off with another guided stroll, this time to the wildlife shed to see sugar gliders and a potoroo, a small member of the kangaroo family that looks a bit like a rat with large rear feet.

So far the Great Ocean Road had lived up to its billing, and the best scenery was yet to come.

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    What an encounter you had with the wildlife along the Great Ocean Road! That's the Australia I love the most. Following along and am eagerly awaiting the portions on Tasmania.

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    Great start! I had always wondered about GOR myself since we live at the northern end of the Big Sur drive.

    Hope you enjoyed your time in Tassie, one of my favorite places. We've never been to NZ and are thinking about it for next year so I'm interested in hearing your comparisons as well. One of the things that draws us back to Australia is the wildlife.

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    Thanks for reading along--I wanted to make this as short as possible, but so far obviously have had little success. Here's the next installment:

    PORT FAIRY, Nov. 27-29

    More showers were on tap for today, but we made do. As we checked out of the Great Ocean Ecolodge, we were reminded that dinners were charged separately (that is, not included in the price of the room). At A$55 each per dinner, that added a bit to the bill. Time to move on.

    The weather remained spotty as we drove toward Princetown, where the finest part of the Great Ocean Road begins, and remained unsettled as we pulled into the parking lot at the famous Twelve Apostles, stacks carved out of beautifully layered tan/buff/brown limestones that make up this section of the coast. (The geologist in our family was impressed.) We walked to the farthest viewpoint—along with lots of other visitors--and found that this iconic sight lived up to its reputation, especially in the spotty sun breaks.

    We liked Loch Ard Gorge even better, a little way down the road. There we walked down to the adjacent beach, behind which were a couple of large sea caves with impressive cave stone (the gorge formed from sea caves whose roofs collapsed). The Loch is an L-shaped bay with a narrow opening to the ocean and is surrounded by near vertical limestone cliffs. It was the site of a famous 1878 shipwreck of the Loch Ard in which there were only two survivors—a harrowing tale.

    Eventually we drove on to Port Campbell for coffee in a local café. Further on, we had our last great views on the Great Ocean Road at Bay of Islands lookout. There were few tourists here, and no buses, so it had a different feel from the more popular sites and was worth a stop. Soon after, the countryside flattened out, we hit the A-l, and our route took us through dairy country into the large town of Warrambool. A burger place (Kermond’s) had been highly recommended, but the meat was second class and the burgers were greasy. Perhaps the worst meal of the trip, and one of the few disappointing recommendations we experienced from Lonely Planet.

    After lunch we refueled the car and then drove on to our destination, the lovely village of Port Fairy, founded as a whaling station in 1833 and as a town called Belfast in 1843.
    Our accommodation here was an apartment at Daisy’s by the Sea B&B, http://www.port-fairy.com/daisiesbythesea/, at A$160 per night.

    There was a note on the door asking us to make ourselves at home, and a key in the lock. The apartment was clean and bright, with nicely decorated walls and all the conveniences, with a beachy feel to it. But it was when we stepped out the sliding backdoor that we realized hat we were in a special place. We were right on the beach and had been provided with a couple of lawn chairs from which to enjoy the views up and down the shore.

    After realizing that we had struck gold (or at least silver), we drove back into town for a walk. This led us to a supermarket where we purchased supplies for dinner. We also checked out the highly recommended Merrijigs Inn (in a building from 1848—the oldest in Victoria). The interior looked a bit like that of an old public house in Britain, so J made a reservation for 6:15 the next evening. Back at Daisy’s, we stretched out on the lawn chairs with a glass of wine and watched surfers and a woman riding a horse along the beach at breakneck speed, then ate our dinner and watched a British version of Antiques Roadshow and a BBC detective series before conking out. We love Brit TV, so we were happy.

    The next morning a delicious full English breakfast arrived at our door on two trays. Nice surprise! After stopping in town for good coffee at Rebecca’s, which seems to be the meeting place for people in Port Fairy, we drove back in the direction of Warrambool to the Tower Hill Reserve, a restored natural area in the crater of an extinct volcano, run by aboriginal people. There we did two nice walks, hoping to see more animals. Eureka! On the way down to the lake we saw a group 8 emus, which we accidentally managed to split so that 4 of them had to run to catch up with the others before they all turned off the trail and headed the bush adjacent to the lake. The walk went through bushland where we heard bird song and spotted, yet again, a couple of sleeping koalas. Another trail took us around a wetland pond with black swans and another sleeping koala. This was a really nice place to visit, and we pretty much had it to ourselves.

    After a little R&R back at Daisy’s we headed to the far end of town to enjoy a flat loop walk around pretty Griffith’s Island (Griffith ran the whaling station from 1835 until the whale population collapsed around 1840). The weather had improved substantially, and the island was really lovely. As we neared the lighthouse on the southern point, J realized that he was staring into the eyes of a wallaby, and soon we had spotted three more in a small clump of trees, just meters away. Wallabies close up—another check off the list of Australian animals we hoped to see. The lighthouse was beautifully situated on a basalt outcropping, and larger patches of blue sky began to appear as we crossed small beaches and dunes on our way to completing the circuit. A great walk that required little effort for a big payoff.

    For dinner we headed to Merijigs for one of the best meals of the trip. The service was very professional and the food outstanding--quail and rich duck pate with toast points as appetizers, and papardelle with scallops, fresh peas, limas, and spinach as a main course. We enjoyed a couple of 18-year-old Armagnacs to celebrate our son’s birthday back in the U.S. (any excuse for an Armagnac) to finish the meal.

    Our 4 days on the Great Ocean Road had been awesome—in fact, much better than we had expected. Our conclusion about the GOR vs. California Hwy 1 question: both have plenty of scenic highlights, though I think the California coastal highway spends more actual time on the actual coast. Of course the animals we saw made the GOR special, so it wins the battle in that regard. But hey, we’re glad we’ve done both (the California road many times), and both are worth as much time as one can give them.

    Next: a brief stopover in the Grampians

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    You really hit the jackpot with our native animals, didn't you? What a delight this report is - and please don't cut it down - I'm so enjoying your trip.

    Port Fairy! One of my favourite "little gems" :).

    And ... More Apostles! You'll have to come back...

    http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-10/hidden-apostles-found-underwater-off-great-ocean-road/7234906

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    northie, I did hear about the fires but wasn't able to find out many details. I hope the devastation is not too severe and that the people and the area recover quickly.

    HALL'S GAP AND THE GRAMPIANS, Nov. 29-Dec. 1

    Instead of returning to Melbourne Airport the way we had come, along the coast, we took the inland route through the Grampian Mountains, with a 2-night stay in Hall’s Gap, the area’s main town. First, though, we had the pleasure of spending a few hours visiting a fabulous farm/ranch in western Victoria at the invitation of the owners, a friendly young couple with whom we had hiked on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.

    From Port Fairy we drove north through Koroit (where we were “lost” for a few minutes) on our way to visit the 7,200 hectare farm. Georgie had let us know she would not be there as she was attending her twentieth high school reunion near Melbourne, but we were keen to go anyway. We hooked up with the Hamilton highway at Caracut and soon found the dirt track that led 6 km through lovely farm country, past fine rows of gum trees and down into a valley where we spied the estate’s stately home perched on a hill above us. Bobby, two of the family’s three children (ages 6 and 9), and two dogs were there to greet us. They showed us around their sprawling, high-ceilinged home (c. 1875, with a tasteful 2010 addition). We had coffee and banana bread while admiring the decor, including oars from the great grandfather who had rowed for Cambridge (Bobby had been a coxswain for his university, carrying on the rowing tradition).

    When it was time for an outdoor exploration, we all scrambled into the pickup truck and drove a short distance to the wool shed (c. 1880) with its 10 shearing booths and antique equipment for cleaning wool and pressing it into bales. The kids (who both begged to drive the truck—they’re allowed to when it doesn’t involve chauffeuring guests) had a ball playing in this space. Then we got a lengthy tour of the farm. We saw the Angus herds, which had largely replace Herefords, and visited the huge Charolais bulls, including the king, Victor, at 400 kg, which are used for breeding. We also visited the merino ewes and the Dorsetshire rams that sire cross-bred lambs produced for meat. We missed the mob of 200 or so kangaroos that are tolerated, if not welcomed.

    Of course the stock needs to be fed, so the farm contains broad fields of wheat, barley, and sorghum that are used to feed the animals and sold as grain. Our final stop was the family garden, most of which was not yet ready for harvest, and the kids’ very own farm animals. The family was incredibly generous with their time, and we really enjoyed our visit. It turns out that the kids are big Boston Celtics NBA fans, so we sent them some team shirts when we got back to the States and received heartwarming thank-you notes in return. This visit proved to be a real highlight of our trip—it’s so special when you can get off the tourist route and have a chance to take at least a small piece of “real life” in another country.

    Real life over, it was back to the road for the second part of our drive to Hall’s Gap, through Dunkeld, where the Grampians loomed in the background, and northward through progressively drier bush to our base for the next two nights. We had a little trouble finding our lodging northeast of town because the directions we had printed were misleading. But persistence pays off and we eventually found the sign for DULC Holiday Cabins: http://dulc.com.au/, A$275 per night.

    The new owner of the property was very friendly and showed us to our “tree house,” which was not suspended above the ground but did have a nice upstairs bedroom loft, with a large bay window, that was up at tree level. It was a beautifully designed and spacious place, right in the bush, and we loved it instantly. That turned out to be a good thing because we found the Grampians a little underwhelming after the fantastic experiences we had been having.

    We had some time to explore the town, which was swarming with Sunday tourists. Eventually we headed to the supermarket to purchase goods for dinner, then returned the house in the bush for the evening. After dinner we had a close visit from a wallaby who stared at us through the window before hopping away.

    On tap for the next morning was a drive to Boroka lookout under brilliant blue skies and the warmest weather of the trip so far. We had nice views from the lookout and from Reids lookout as well, but I found the walk to the Balconies short of exhilarating. Perhaps we were here too soon after our stimulating visit to New Zealand’s South Island. The closest analogy I can think of is visiting the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania—pretty but kind of dull.

    We perked up on the steep descent down to beautiful 80-meter-high MacKenzie Falls, which poured over cliffs cut into volcanic rocks. We spent some time at the base of the falls, reveling in a certain solitude on this last Monday of November. We drove back to a much less crowded town (weekenders had apparently all gone home) for a tasty light lunch at LiveFast. In the afternoon we drove out to the Bambuk Cultural Center for interesting exhibits focused on aboriginals and their sometimes difficult experiences. Back at the tree house we had dinner on our deck and were visited by a wallaby and a fast-moving, bouncing kangaroo as well. Not our highlight day of the trip, but we really enjoyed our lodgings.

    The next day we made our way back to Melbourne Airport to catch a 2:50 pm Jet Star flight to much anticipated Hobart, Tasmania.

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    HOBART, TASMANIA

    Lodging: Grand Vue Private Hotel http://www.grandevuehotel.com.au/

    Our uneventful flight arrived about 4 pm, but we had to wait for over an hour for our bags to be unloaded on a carousel 100 m from our aircraft. Jet Star! From the airport we opted for a taxi (A$52) to Hobart, with its picturesque wharf area, and on to the Grand Vue Hotel in the charming Battery Point neighborhood. The brick Queen Anne-style building looked very nice from the outside but our room, with its octagonal sitting area and 180-degree views framing the mountains (Mt. Wellington) and the sea (Sandy Bay), was even better. A small table and two chairs provided a comfortable space from which to read, use our laptop, eat light meals, and enjoy the ever-changing light out the windows.

    We did a small exploration of the immediate neighborhood and loved the significant number of heritage brick and frame houses, many dating to the first half of the nineteenth century. For dinner we went to a nearby Nepali-Tibetan restaurant called Kathmandu and had an excellent meal that included a dish with yoghurt, lentils, and lamb in lentil flour cups, fish balls in a spicy tomato-based sauce, green prawn curry, roti, and rice. We added Cascade beer and Tasmanian white wine yet the bill was still very reasonable. Back at our room, we watched the sinking sun dodge in and out of the colorful clouds and basked in that glorious Tasmanian end-of-day light.

    I woke up early to photograph the beautiful sunrise from our window and then fell back asleep for a bit before we then headed down the convenient Kelly Steps to Salamanca Place to begin our exploration of the city. Once there we ducked into a sandstone building to find a little courtyard café (the Tricycle) in a congenial setting. We enjoyed really good flat white and cappuccino and some San Francisco-level sourdough toast, then ventured out to the nearby shops before heading to the Franklin Wharf area, easily the loveliest part of central Hobart. We entered a long building on the west end of the wharf and spoke to people at one counter about going to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and at another counter about taking a wildlife cruise to either the Tasman Peninsula to the east of the city or Bruny Island to the south. Nice to have all that information conveniently gathered for us in one location. We settled on the Tasman Peninsula-Port Arthur combination (A$225 each) for the next day and the ferry to MONA for the day after. Both turned out to be good decisions, though we wish we would have had time to do Bruny on our own as well.

    We continued walking along the wharf, paid a short visit to the information center, and purchased our Tasman trip ticket at the company office. At the wharf’s eastern end we paused for a look at the Henry Jones Art Hotel and its long bar. It was an appealing place, but we opted for lunch at an Indian restaurant called Saffron where the food was good though not sufficiently spicy for our tastes. We then ambled over to the free Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, located in a sandstone building across the street from the wharf area. It had a little bit of everything, including a room on the Tasmanian “tiger” (thylacine) that contained a creepy stuffed example and lots of photographs and history, another room focused on aboriginals, and a room that documented World War I with a focus on ANZAC nurses. On our way back to the Grand Vue, we stopped in Salamanca Place to do a little shopping. We purchased a Lonely Planet guide to Tasmania and then headed to the excellent food market to buy a Tasmanian pinot gris from Piper’s Creek, cheese (including King Island triple cream brie), and a few other supplies for a light supper. The outdoor bars were already filling up with thirsty locals, but we passed since we had our drinks all lined up already. Instead we walked up to Arthur’s Circle in Battery Point, with its tidy houses clustered about a small central green, and then down along the coast at Secheron Point. More gorgeous light. We arrived back at our room to the smell of orange muffins, freshly baked for the guests. A great Hobart day!

    The next morning it was back down the Kelly Steps and over to the wharf to catch the small bus that would take us on an hour-long ride to the Tasman Peninsula. Once on the peninsula, the bus drove through an area that was devastated by a recent fire that had destroyed the town of Dunally. We stopped there to look at the hand-dug, 3-km-long canal that serves as a shortcut for ships that don’t wish to go around the Tasman Peninsula. We stopped again for morning tea at a little café overlooking a bay and then drove to our destination, the boat dock just beyond Eagles Neck. On the way down the hill to the dock, our affable driver pointed out a food truck in the parking lot for the Blowhole that he claimed served “the best fish and chips in Tasmania.” We made a mental note of that, intending to come back toward the end of our time in Tasmania.

    The company’s boats are all painted yellow, and we boarded ours with about 25-30 other passengers. The air was invigorating, and we all donned the company-provided gear that would keep us dry if we got into waves as we headed south along the imposing sandstone cliffs (50-100 m high) that characterized this part of the peninsula. We spent quite a bit of time cruising into narrow clefts, sea arches, and even a sea cave. We even spotted a sea eagle sitting on a lofty crag. Eventually we reached the southern part of the peninsula where the rocks, no less imposing, changed to dolerite (large sills emplaced 180 million years ago during the breakup of Pangaea, our family geologist tells me). The column-like vertical jointing in the dolerite was spectacular, especially where differential erosion had produced the thin spires that test rock climbers from all over the world.

    Near the end of the peninsula we saw our first fur seal colony, a group of New Zealanders, smaller than their Australian relatives. Then we motored out into the Tasman Sea toward Tasman Island, expecting to experience rough seas, but the swells were only about 2 m, something that our skipper said happened only about ten days a year.

    The island was a fascinating place, with a lighthouse on top perched several hundred meters above the sea. There were the remains of an elaborate pulley system used to get supplies from the shoreline up to the lighthouse back in the day (pre-helicopters). At the foot of the island we got very close to a larger colony of fur seals of the Australian variety, one of which posed for all the cameras pointed in its direction.

    As our boat made its way back up the coast we were disappointed that we had not seen any dolphins, orcas, or whales, all of which were an advertised possibility. I’ve never actually seen a whale in the wild, though I’ve been in many places where whales were a distinct possibility. However, just as we began to turn into the bay, one of the crew spotted one in the distance, and the boat sped off in that direction. For the next half hour we were treated to the antics of two humpback whales, one of which breached at least 50 times, while the other, larger one slapped its tail. What a fantastic way to end our marvelous cruise.

    After we disembarked, a bus took us the short distance down to Port Arthur, where we had lunch in the cafeteria and were given our entrance tickets. The tickets included a 40-minute guided tour that gave us an overview of the history and layout of the site. Founded as a timber colony in 1830, Port Arthur was used as a penal colony for convicts (many of whom were basically guilty of being poor or having mental issues) from 1833 to 1877. It was designed as a model prison, but the experiments in prisoner reformation were often seriously misguided. The mostly ruined buildings are set in rolling green, tranquil countryside along the water; the contrast is haunting. After the tour we had plenty of time to walk around the facility. We were struck by the class contrast between the commandant’s house (which later became a hotel and then a boarding house) and the facilities for the prisoners and their guards. Back in Hobart, we stopped for dinner at a small Japanese restaurant in Battery Point, which happily had turned out to be a great neighborhood for affordable and pleasant restaurants.

    The next morning the area impressed us again when we stopped for breakfast at Jackman and McRoss Bakery. We had tickets for the 9:30 ferry to MONA. The boat trip from the harbor up the Derwent River was refreshing and the scenery was interesting. After about 20 minutes the museum appeared on the western shore. It was impressive in a rusted iron fortress-like way, set in carved sandstone bluffs. Ninety steps led up from the dock to the museum grounds. We entered and went down into virtual darkness, leading to a room with stepping stones across a pool with an island sculpture in the center. The steps are of different heights and sizes, and in the darkness the effect was unnerving, as though we had lost our balance. It was a really neat sensory experience. The adjacent old art room with its several mummies was almost as spooky. We also enjoyed an experiential exhibit that dealt with life on a small island in the Antilles but were less impressed with the main exhibit by Gilbert and George from London. Way too big and a little over the top for our tastes. How many times do you need to be (figuratively) hit over the head with a hammer or poop or sexual parts before it loses its originality? On the other hand, the way the museum has been partially carved out of the local multihued sandstone that forms many of the walls is inspired. Every visitor to Hobart should take this trip at least once, in our opinion.

    We had heard very good things about the on-site restaurant, the Source, so we had reserved a table for lunch when we got off the boat. It was pricey, creative, and very good indeed, living up to its billing. The view from our corner table was a bonus. Lunch included artichoke soup with mustard-infused ice cream and local snapper with wild mushrooms for me, and a salad of pickled vegetables, toasted red rice and smoked anchovies, and center-cut loin steak in a pho broth with asparagus, broccolini, and snap peas for J. Accompanied by the local Morilla chardonnay, this was one of the best meals of the trip. I was also intrigued by the offer I read to have one’s body interred at the museum upon death and be celebrated by mourners who would be able to feast on a similarly delicious meal. Definitely an interesting place!

    Back in town, we shopped at the shop in Salamanca Place for our dinner, then walked back to the hotel by a new route that took us through Arthur’s Circle again. Another great day in Hobart. Tomorrow was Saturday market time at Salamanca before we headed off to Cradle Mountain.

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    Great report! You are certainly answering many questions for me. We are planning a 3 wk trip to AU this October and right now I'm agonizing over how/where to spend our time. GOR is now a definite! Tasmania is so intriguing to me, but I'm not sure we're going to have time:( Thanks for the insight.

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    Great report! You are certainly answering many questions for me. We are planning a 3 wk trip to AU this October and right now I'm agonizing over how/where to spend our time. GOR is now a definite! Tasmania is so intriguing to me, but I'm not sure we're going to have time:( Thanks for the insight.

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    Appreciate the detail that is in your Hobart section. It helps me visualize how much is reasonably doable within a time frame of four nights, as it will be how long we have in Hobart too. I do wonder about closures during my time there, as I will be in Hobart from January 1 through 4, during the New Year's holidays.

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    Thanks for your report Aprillilacs, I'm enjoying the detail. Your meals sound delicious, so I'm making notes for a trip later this year. We'll definitely be going to MONA, thanks for the warning about the steps ! Yikes....

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    Tripplanner--I don't know if there will be closures after New Years since we left Dec. 17. Maybe ask in a separate post here or on TA?

    Sartoric--if steps are hard for you there is an option to have the boat drop you at a separate entrance with fewer or no steps--just ask the crew.

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    Oops, I forgot--the Salamanca market visit actually comes later. First, an exploration of some of the rest of the island.

    CRADLE MOUNTAIN

    It was now December 5, and after our wonderful stay in Hobart we took a taxi back to the airport (A$44) to pick up our rental car for the week. We had reserved one of Europcar's smaller cars to keep costs down, which proved to be a mistake. We prefer manual transmissions, and drive one at home, but the Hyundai I20 we were stuck with on Tas inexplicably had six (!) forward gears and a 1.6 liter engine--the least powerful car since humanity switched from buggies. The car would have driven the same with just four gears, since gears 2 and 3 were essentially indistinguishable in power, as were gears 4, 5, and 6. It was impossible to maintain speed on hilly roads. We’ll never go with the cheapest model again!

    Nonetheless, our Tasmanian road trip was underway at last. We drove back toward town, crossed the Derwent Estuary bridge, found the shortcut north along the shore, and eventually joined Route 1, which led us past the MONA onto Route 8 toward the western part of the island. The drive up the Derwent River valley was beautiful, with rolling hills and small farms. We stopped in the charming historic town of Hamilton (c. 1826), which now has a much reduced population of about 300 and a few classic old stone houses and buildings. One of these housed the wooden Emporium, where we had delicious cheesy toast and coffee.

    We continued westward as the countryside became progressively wilder and more unkempt, heading for a place called The Wall, a few kilometers short of Derwent Bridge. Our Hobart hotel's proprietor had recommended we visit the Wall of the Wilderness, housed in the forest in a large wooden structure of the artist’s design. It's a massive, amazingly detailed wood sculpture and work in progress by Greg Duncan. The installation of the 3-m-high native Huon pine panels is essentially complete to its intended 100 m length, and over half of the sculpting is finished, with another fraction in various stages of design and carving. The exquisitely carved panels depict life and history in Tasmania--aboriginals, early settlers, timber workers, miners, hydroelectric workers, farmers, extinct marsupials such as the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), and living ones such as the platypus, echidna, and koala. It was like nothing we have ever witnessed and definitely worth stopping for the hour or so we spent at the site. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside, but there are two volumes of photo books for sale documenting the production of the sculptures. There was also a small whiskey distillery on the premises and plans for a restaurant to open soon.

    It was an inspiring visit, but we had a long road ahead and so we got back in the car and drove to the old copper mining center of Queenstown. The gorgeous countryside continued to become progressively wilder and more colorful, and we had some great views into the mountains in the central highlands of Tasmania. We also sighted at least a half dozen live echidnas and several more that had become road kill. We entered frontier-like Queenstown through the ecologically devastated mining area to its west and descended into town through a barren area of red dirt and old diggings. The town itself was eerie and mostly abandoned, as the mine closed several years ago. A pall of grimness contrasted with the friendly demeanor of many of the remaining citizens, who apparently continue to fight the good fight. We had a so-so lunch at the recommended café in the railway station and purchased groceries and wine for our time at Cradle Mountain since food shopping opportunities there are very limited.

    As we continued toward Cradle Mountain, we passed through more lovely country and past several lakes, most of which were part of the giant hydroelectric schemes in this part of the island. The driving was straightforward, aside from the underperforming car, and we arrived at the cluster of lodgings in the bush on the northern margin of the national park that make up Cradle Mountain Highlanders around 5:00 and checked in to our rustic cabin.

    Lodging: Cradle Mountain Highlanders, A$180 per night for 2 nights, http://www.cradlehighlander.com.au/

    The weather was decent, so after stopping at nearby Cradle Mountain Lodge for a glass of white wine, we drove to the end of the road at Dove Lake, pausing on the way for close-up photographs of the first wombat we had ever seen in the wild. Wombats! What neat creatures these are, and we were to see dozens at Cradle Mountain. We also photographed a meadow of dramatic button grass, golden in the late-day sun. Cradle Mountain itself was quite clear above the lake, with clouds just beginning to form around the summit, but the winds were up and the lake was choppy, so there were no reflections. Still, the scene was one of wild splendor and we were not at all disappointed.

    We had decided to go back to the café/pub at Cradle Mountain Lodge for dinner and the food was pretty decent—penne, slow-cooked but slightly dry lamb shanks, and proper pints of Wm. Smith’s pale ale. As we arrived back at the cabin, a Bennett’s wallaby was waiting next to the small porch. The wooden cabin itself was cute, with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, and small living area with a wonderful wood stove and plenty of wood.

    The next day we awoke to low clouds and decided it was a good time to do some laundry at the facility in the cabin complex. While the clothes were doing their thing, we walked down the hill in chilly, showery weather and across the highway to the visitors’ center, which also housed the only café in the immediate area. We had another close wallaby encounter on the way down. On the way back J spotted a low, long, smallish, black animal move across the trail at great speed; it's at least possible that it was a Tasmanian devil, but we will never know. But we’ll call it a devil sighting just so we can check it off the list.

    We relaxed at the cabin while waiting for the dryer to finish up and the weather to improve. Out the window we spotted a cute pademelon and her joey hanging out in the bush next to the cabin and I was able to get some shots of the baby both in and out of the pouch. Then it was time to head up the road on the free shuttle bus to walk the circuit around Dove Lake. The park shuttles are a great service—they run frequently and do pickups and drop-offs several times along the road, allowing one to avoid the probable traffic backups that would ensue if everyone was driving a car.

    Our clockwise walk around the lake brought us right to the base of Cradle Mountain. The trail was crowded and noisy for the first half kilometer to Glacier Point, a large boulder with great views across the lake. But after that the crowd thinned out and the experience of nature improved. The route took us through old beech rainforests, some open areas, great ferns, flowers, and other plant life. We took our time so we could really appreciate this special place and were able to experience a feeling of real intimacy with this national park, not the least because of the wildlife and the vegetation. And of course took a lot of pictures!

    J had hoped to climb the mountain but just wasn't in the mood, so we took the shuttle bus back to the Cradle Mountain Lodge pub where we enjoyed a late lunch and took the short Enchanted Walk trail nearby. Back at the cabin, we managed to get a warm fire going in the fireplace and drank a glass of white wine while J read and I painted. At 6:00 we headed back up the road in our car (much less traffic at this time of day) with the goal of seeing more wombats at Ronny Creek. On the way J spied an echidna alongside the road and I was able to get some great photos. As we drove, we noticed that the weather had improved greatly and decided to go on to Dove Lake to see if we could get some reflection photos. As we walked down the path the lake surface appeared calm and we scurried along the lake’s edge like giddy children, knowing that we had been fortunate indeed to experience the stunning reflections.

    Then we retraced our route drove back down to Ronny Creek and walked out along the boardwalk through fields with a multitude of wombats. They seemed oblivious to visitors and we got some good close-ups. At one point in the field next right to us we saw one of the wombats pooping their neat cube poops—or perhaps giving birth? No, it turned out to be a very tiny juvenile peeking out of the wombat’s unique rear pouch. (Wombats burrow, and the rear locaton of the pouch keeps it from filling up with dirt as the mom digs the burrow with her front claws.) The baby was taking tentative nibbles of the grass as mom was feeding. Way cool!

    It was still light so we headed back up to Dove Lake to see if we could get even better pictures, but the wind had picked up and the iconic reflections had disappeared. How lucky we were to have seen them earlier! Back at the cabin, we stoked up the fire from the coals and enjoyed a meal J cooked for us in the small kitchenette, savoring the awesome day. The next morning we would be on the road again, heading toward another great national park, Freycinet.

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    DELORAINE, Dec. 7
    We were ultimately headed to the east coast where we had reservations for the following night on the Freycinet Peninsula, but on this day we were going only a short distance, having made reservations at a B&B in the town of Deloraine to break up the drive.

    We didn’t have a clear idea what we intended to do for the day, so when the Highlanders owner suggested that we visit the rural town of Sheffield to see the murals that are its claim to fame, we were off. We drove northeast through countryside that alternated between bush and farmland toward Sheffield, with a detour to the village of Wilmot, which is known for its curious mailboxes in such forms as a yellow submarine, an owl, a kangaroo, and repurposed equipment. I took the obligatory mailbox photos and we continued on to Sheffield for breakfast at the Blacksmith’s Gallery, an arty café that was housed in a former blacksmith’s shop. On the exterior walls of the Gallery were murals that depicted the work of the blacksmiths who once plied their trade at this location.

    From here we walked up and down the three-block-long main street examining the many murals that show the history and activities of the area from aboriginal times to the present. The murals were surprisingly good, if not quite the modern graphics we are used to on city walls. A back street and a small park contained an exhibit of murals from the most recent annual muralist competition and some of the best murals from previous competitions. These were more of a mixed bag, but a few were also very good. At the end of town we spotted a ramshackle building that advertised ice cream and Chinese food—a curious mix. We were chuckling about it until we reached the front window of the restaurant, where recent newspaper reviews were posted that praised the food and stated that this was where chefs came to eat Chinese food. It wasn’t open for lunch without an advance reservation a day ahead, but we made a mental note and considered returning for dinner if that fit in with our evolving plans.

    From Sheffield we drove southeast toward Deloraine, with a stop on the way to photograph huge fields of commercially grown white opium poppies in full bloom. Each field had a large sign warning us to keep out--dangerous pharmaceuticals being grown there. Who knew that Tasmania is an opiate growing center?

    Our B&B in Deloraine was called Bonney’s Inn (A$150/night) and was housed in the oldest brick building in town, across the street from the river that flows through town. The front garden was a bit unkempt and the floors of the ancient building were very uneven, reminding us of some of the inexpensive places we had stayed in in our younger days. But the place had charm and the owner was extremely friendly and helpful, allowing us to check in at 1 pm. We asked her for recommendations on what to do with our afternoon and she suggested a visit to the caves near Mole Creek. So we were off to the west (from whence we had come) to visit Marakoopa Cave (A$19 each) near Mole Creek. There we booked the 3:00 tour at the ticket office, then walked ½ km along a green, bushy path to the cave entrance.

    The cave tour was great. We climbed some steep stairs toward the back of the large cave to see impressive stalactites, stalagmites, columns, cavestone terraces, thin, thread-like features, and a cavern sparkling with glow worms. The guide was informative and we had good conversation with a couple from Taiwan and a young chemist before and during the tour. When the tour ended we hung around talking and the guide asked if the five of us would like to go back into the cave to see something special that she can’t take a larger group to. Yes, of course! So we reentered the cave and were led to a place we could see amazing cave spiders, as well as more glow worms, adding to our growing list of Australian animal sightings. It’s amazing that these creatures can live in total darkness.

    Now that we were so far west, it made sense to return to Sheffield to have dinner at T’s Chinese restaurant. We arrived fairly early (5:30), which turned out to be a good thing, and were seated by the wife of the chef--it's a family operation. Apparently we were very lucky to snag a table since reservations are highly advised. We were the only diners in the funky little dining room for just a short time—by the time we finished our meal the place was full and several drop-ins had been turned away. It turns out that the family who owns and operates the restaurant also owns a nearby farm where they raise the animals and vegetables that supply the restaurant. We ordered dumplings, pepper chicken, and kung pao lamb, all of which were absolutely fresh tasting and delicious—as good as any Chinese food we’ve eaten in San Francisco. What a find!

    We drove back to Deloraine and settled in our room with glasses of red wine. The next morning we learned what we should have done: take a walk along the river across from the inn, where other guests told us they saw platypuses frolicking in the river at dusk. We’ve never seen platypuses, though we’ve done our share of looking for them, and we kicked ourselves for missing this opportunity. Ahh, the one animal sighting that got away!

    Next: Freycinet National Park

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    Thanks, yes! I love how so many Fodors forum posters travel the world! Hope your Ecuador trip was awesome.

    Almost finished with this exceedingly long report...

    COLES BAY/FREYCINET NP, Dec. 8-11

    A great Bonney’s breakfast, made to order, stoked us for the long drive to the east coast. We drove around Launceston and onto the A-3, stopping in the village of Scottsdale where we shared cappuccini at The Cottage and purchased frozen curried scallop pies for our supper after we reached Freycinet. From here we drove through hilly farm country and great forests, including a myrtlewood forest, and thick ferns to St. Helens on the coast. From there we drove north along the lagoon and down to the southern end of the Bay of Fires at Binalong Bay. We had a delicious lunch at recommended Moresco overlooking the bay--excellent calamari and mixed seafood in a clear broth. Later we walked down to the bay and scrambled over red lichen-encrusted granite to view the stormy surf. It would have been great to spend more time at the Bay of Fires, but we still had a fair distance to go, so we got back in the car and headed south toward Bicheno. At least we got a glimpse of the Bay of Fires.

    At Bicheno we stopped at the information center, a market, and a wine store for dinner essentials. Heading south, we turned off the main highway onto route 302 toward Coles Bay, then turned onto the gravel road that led a long ways up a steep hill (with several hopping wallaby sightings) to our lodgings for the next three nights at Freycinet Eco Retreat. We were greeted by the two owners, who live a distance away but still on the large property, and were told that we were the first guests in their new cabin complex on the hilltop (eight cabins arranged in an arc), which was opening to the public that very day.

    Lodging: Freycinet Eco Retreat, http://www.freycinet.com/cabins/eco-studios, A$300 per night

    Our cabin was on the small side, maybe 20’ by 10’, but very modern and well appointed, with a small fridge, two-burner stove, counter with stools for eating, and sliding glass doors onto a small platform with great views down to the Friendly. The views toward the Hazzards, in the other direction, were also beautiful. There were more electrical outlets in this cabin than anyplace else we've ever stayed--obviously it was wired for the modern traveler, though the wireless connection wasn't working in the cabins (since fixed, I believe).

    Not long after we entered the cabin, J went out to the car to retrieve some items and a gust of wind through the open back sliders blew the front door of the cabin slammed shut. The door was fitted with an electronic lock, but when J entered the code it wouldn’t open. Nor could I open it from the inside--the locking mechanism was apparently stuck. Fortunately J was able to scramble up to the back platform, but for the rest of the day the back door was our only entrance and exit. For me, entering required standing on one of the outdoor chairs I had placed on the muddy ground. It was a minor irritation, made better by a wallaby visit and a gorgeous sunset. We enjoyed our scallop pies with a bottle of chardonnay and relished the pastel colored sky as evening turned to night.

    The rising sun woke us up early, and after breakfast we headed down the hill after leaving a note for the owners about the door issue. In Coles Bay we reserved a kayak trip for the next day and then drove to the Freycinet NP visitors’ center before heading off on an 11-km loop hike to iconic Wineglass Bay and beyond. There were lots of people making lots of noise as we started up the trail, but the crowd began to thin out as we climbed toward a pass in the Hazzards. At the pass a short trail led to the left where many people were gathered for the postcard view down to the beach at Wineglass Bay. Such colors and such perfect symmetry--not spoiled by the crowd of people.

    From the pass a steep but well-maintained path took us down to bay, as the crowds thinned out substantially, and a flatter stretch led to the pristine pink and white sand beach. There are rocks at the northern end of the beach, and we found a spot where we could take in the splendid views for 30-40 minutes. We then walked a little way down the beach, wanting to go to end of the bay, but we still had 9 km to go on the loop trail so we retraced our steps and returned to the trail that leads across the isthmus to Hazzard Beach on the other side of the peninsula.

    This section of the trail was fairly flat and took us through some nice bush country and across wetlands, with birdsong most of the way. The crowds were gone and only a few walkers remained. We walked up over a dune and down onto the long beach, which was covered with large shells of oysters, snails, and scallops. At the northern end we found what shade we could and sat on the rocks, taking in the views and rehydrating before we moved on to the rest of the hike. To this point the walk had been very enjoyable, as the scenery changed frequently and was often compelling. But we still had 6 km to go, and this last section proved both less interesting and more challenging, especially for me. But we persevered (no other choice!) as the now rougher trail tacked up and down, with only occasional views of the coast. We got back to the car park about 6 hours after we had left, but only about 5 hours (which was the official estimated time for the hike) of that involved actual walking.

    Famished, we headed to Freycinet Marine Farm across from the entrance to the Eco Retreat to purchase fresh oysters, prawns, and a green salad with Vietnamese dressing for our dinner, which we enjoyed very much indeed, with a delicious local Milton pinot gris. A dozen wallabies gathered in our front forty, and again we enjoyed watching the sky change as we took in the view.

    By the calendar, the next day was J’s 74th birthday, which suggested it was time for a kayak paddle. We drove down to Muir’s Beach to meet the kayak group, with 2 guides and 12 paddlers. We donned company-provided skirts and waterproof parkas and eased out into the bay in calm seas. From there we struck out across Coles Bay toward Parson’s Cove, the site of an old red granite quarrying operation about which the guides gave some interesting history. From here we paddled to Honeymoon Bay, where we beached the kayaks and shared hot drinks and a snack. Back in the water, we paddled along the coast to Freycinet Lodge as the wind picked up and the chop intensified. Vigorous headwinds and good chop slowed our progress back across the bay and around the headland, but it was a good trip, though probably only the third best of our six weeks down under, after two great paddles at Milford Sound and Abel Tasman in New Zealand.

    After kayaking we drove over to the Trouville Lighthouse for a short loop walk around the light and along the coast. Then we made a stop in town at the bottle shop to purchase a nice birthday bottle—a Dalrymple 2014 pinot noir from the Piper’s Creek area of northern Tasmania. We returned to the Freycinet Marine Farm for abalone and prawns at the picnic tables and also purchased some things for dinner, including a dozen fresh oysters, a dozen fresh scallops, and a prepared salad. What an amazing resource for fresh seafood!

    After some R&R in our cabin, we headed back out to the main highway and drove north to the turnoff for Friendly Beaches, which we followed for a couple of km to the beach parking lot. From there we took a nice long walk along the beach with its very fine-grained white sands, where the only other people we saw were surf fishing—what a nice scene. Just a few miles from Wineglass Bay, we had this lovely stretch of sand almost to ourselves, except for the fishing folks and an oyster catcher with two of her chicks cavorting in tide pools cut into the rocks. If you go to the Freycinet Peninsula, do look beyond the overcrowded (though spectacular) Wineglass Bay lookout and search out some of the other fine spots in the area.

    As it was our last night in Freycinet, after dinner at the cabin we decided to go for a walk along the road up nearby Mt. Paul, in hopes that we would spot more wildlife (looking for echidna, Tasmanian devils, and perhaps a wombat or two—by now we were quite greedy). What we found were twenty or so wallabies clustered in our front forty but little else. However, we did experience a beautiful sunset and really enjoyed walking along the grassy track at dusk.

    Next: back to Hobart for a farewell to Tasmania

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    Glad you enjoyed your time at Freycinet. Sounds like there's enough hikes in which you could have spent more time. How did Freycinet compare to Cradle Mountain? For our upcoming trip, we chose Cradle over Freycinet, but really could have gone either way.

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    trip, that's a tough choice. Cradle has the wonderful wombats and other animals, good walking, and colorful mountain and meadow scenery (though not alpine). We really enjoyed it, though I wouldn't call it spectacular. Freycinet had the mountains, some animals, and the beautiful sea, and that circuit hike to Wineglass Bay and Hazzards Beach was amazing. I asked my husband which he would choose. At first he said Cradle Mountain, but ultimately he agreed with me--it would be Freycinet.

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    It was compact but had all the amenities one would want.

    Pros: very modern; great bed (and a great view from the bed, overlooking the coast below); peninsula and stools separating bed from well-equipped kitchen; heated tile floor in the bathroom; wooden deck with lovely views; alignment ensures privacy from neighboring cottages even though they are very close together; breakfast supplies provided; nearby walking path up Mt. Paul, isolated from the tourist rush in the park

    Cons: expensive; isolated; requires driving to get to the park or restaurants; very compact

    We were quite happy there and would gladly return, though the location of Freycinet Lodge, which is right on the water and closer to the park, is very appealing so we might consider that instead.

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    BACK TO HOBART, Dec. 11-13

    The next morning we were on our way back to Hobart by 9 am, but we were in no hurry to get there. We left the cabin (the front door had been fixed so we didn't have to jump from deck) and tried to find a road that would let us see Moulting Lagoon close up, but to no avail. Our route took us to Route 3 where we tuned west, then south through some vineyards to the town of Swansea. We stopped there at the Bark Mill Bakery (adjacent to the old bark stripping mill), which had been recommended by people we met on the kayak trip. The roasted vegetable pie and outstanding coffees were very good. From there we drove south, with good views to the east, first of the Freycinet Peninsula and then of Maria Island. We wished we had had time to visit the latter, which has no cars and lots of wildlife, but once again there wasn’t enough time to do it all.

    We soon spied the interesting Spikey Bridge, built by convicts in the mid-1800s using the local basalt, and we stopped for a better look. We took a short walk at Tribunna/Orford, after which the road turned inland through a basalt gorge. Eventually we took a shortcut on a mostly dirt but well-maintained road through Nugent, which saved more distance than time on our way back to the Tasman Peninsula and led us through charming countryside that I bet few tourists see.

    Our goal for lunch was to have yet more seafood, this time in Doo Town at the Doo-Lishious food truck that had our bus driver had pointed out to use on the day we took the cruise to Tasman Island. It was parked, as always, in the parking lot for the blowhole, just south of Eagle’s Neck. They had fresh scallop pies, the best in Tasmania according to Lonely Planet, so we ordered one of those to eat while we waited for our fried seafood orders. The pie was very rich, had a real curry flavor, and contained plenty of plump scallops. Now we can say we’ve had an authentic Tassie scallop pie. Already satisfied, we then plunged into the main course: for me, delicious fish and chips, and for J, the fried seafood special (2 smaller pieces of fish, 6 fresh calamari rings, 3 scallops and 2 prawns) and another load of excellent chips. We ate what we could, but our seafood eyes were way too big for our stomachs.

    Though stuffed to the gills, we were still able to complete a short walk that took in the barely active blowhole, an impressive sea arch, and a chasm with churning waves called the Devil’s Kitchen. From here we drove back into Hobart to complete our circle tour, arriving at the Grand Vue around 4 pm.

    It was quite windy and a little showery when we headed down to Salamanca Place, where we purchased a set of 13 tiny Australian animals for our granddaughter—we’d seen them all, except the platypus--before heading to the grocery store to purchase a Devil’s Corner pinot noir and a few things to go with it. The weather became more unsettled and there was a bit of rain falling as the day came to an end. We realized yet again how fortunate we had been with the weather throughout our trip, both here and in New Zealand.

    Next morning we awoke to blazing sunshine and a view of snow-covered Mt. Wellington. Time to go back down the Kelly Steps to the famous Saturday Salamanca Market. It turned out to be a much better than average market venue, with some very nice local goods for sale and several interesting food trucks. We walked the length of the market to get an idea of what we might wish to purchase, then took a detour into the park at the top to look at the burial monuments of famous early white settlers. Eventually we returned to a stall run by the author of a travel book called "The Long Hitch Home" (Hobart to London) and purchased his book, which he signed for us, along with a children’s book by his mother-in-law. Just as the author was signing his book a batch of angry-looking dark clouds approached rapidly from the direction of Mt. Wellington, threatening more showers. We quickly ducked into the artists’ center and managed to snare the last available table in the crowded Tricycle Café. We had great brunch of avocado and goat cheese on sourdough (for me) and scrambled eggs on sourdough (for J), along with tasty bloody Marys. The intense rain showers never materialized and it was dry as we headed back up the hill for a little R&R.

    Soon we headed off to our second fun activity for the day: an international cricket test match being played at Hobart cricket grounds, across the river in Bellerive, between Australia and the West Indies. Seats were available at the gate for what was turning out to be a blowout in Australia's favor, so we drove over to the grounds, parked a few blocks away, and walked to the ticket office. The third day of the 4-day test was well under way, and the West Indies were in their second innings and in danger of not matching Australia’s first innings total. We purchased pretty good seats, just under the roof, as it was showery, and watched for about two hours, until the West Indies were eliminated, falling short by more than more than 150 runs. It was really fun, the crowd was relaxed (like those at an afternoon baseball game), and the guy next to us was more than willing to let me question him endlessly about what was going on. J knows a lot more about cricket than I do (an affinity picked up when we lived in England for a short time in the 1980s), but he enjoyed learning about some of the finer points of the game. We’ve finally seen a test match in person!

    After the match we walked back along the beach to our car and then drove into cute Bellerive for a look around. The yacht club bar was humming and we had a nice walk up to the old defensive fortifications that were the twins to those on Battery Point. Back in Battery Point, we purchased tasty takeout vegetarian pizza from recommended Da Angelo (it was too crowded for us to snag seats), which we ate with a mainland shiraz. We packed carefully for the flight to Melbourne the next day and made some choices about what needed to be left behind so we could actually close our small bags.

    Next: Melbourne (yes, this report thankfully does have an end)

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    Ah, I thought about giving up on finishing this long report, but I decide that one final post could bring it to completion. So here goes!

    MELBOURNE, December 13-17

    In the morning we drove to the airport to return our underpowered Hyundai and take a flight to Melbourne. The Europcar inspector found a scrape on the wheel casing that we did not cause and had not seen; we may eventually get charged for it anyway. We were not impressed with Europcar in Tasmania.

    The flight to Melbourne was quick, and our bags were waiting for us on the carousel after a long walk to baggage claim. Blue Bus had a desk located conveniently next to baggage claim, but the round-trip bus ticket we purchased from them ended up being a mistake--we didn’t use the return portion because no one would answer the phone when we tried to contact the office to schedule our return trip, as instructed. Even on the route from the airport to downtown the bus driver didn’t quite know where our hotel was, but eventually we were dropped off in front of the Citadines on Bourke Street, where we had a roomy and efficient, if not romantic, apartment.

    http://www.citadines.com.au/, 3 nights, US$144/night

    The location was perfect, just a few blocks from Federation Square. After settling in we walked in the general direction of the square and down Hosier Lane, with its graffiti-mural covered walls, which we thought generally paled in comparison with those in San Francisco. At the end of the lane we saw the sign for Mo Vida, a well-known and highly recommended tapas bar, and walked in for a late lunch. It was nearly 2:00 so we were seated immediately. Both the tapas and the raciones were excellent: J loved the ancho, which consisted of a single anchovy and a few capers on a thin cracker with a spread of frozen salmon mousse; the combination of saltiness and rich sweetness with the intense cold worked perfectly. We shared a pickled vegetable mini brioche and a duck liver pate with sweet sauce sandwich, which was a tad too sweet for our tastes. The raciones were quail with pickled garlic, spring onions, and small peppers, and slow-cooked beef cheek done in sherry over pureed cauliflower. Both were superb and very filling. With plenty of wine, this wonderful meal cost only A$94.

    After lunch we walked down to Federation Square and across the street to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where we just happened to walk in to the 3:00 Christmas service, held only twice each season. We sat for a decent interval and sang carols for the first time in a long while, before exiting back out onto the crowded street. From here we walked back over to the square, with its pre-Christmas Sunday crowds, and admired the classic Flinders Station and its bank of old clocks, a favorite meeting place in Melbourne. We spent some time looking at a fantastic holiday Lego sculpture, taking in the warmth of the sun, and just getting the lay of the land. We also went to the Information Center and signed up for a free guided walk the next morning. Then we walked some lanes and streets to do a bit of gift shopping. Finally, we stopped at a couple of shops to purchase groceries and wine. We loved the feel of the city and the buzz of Christmas season on the streets.

    On our way to the I-Center in Federation Square the next morning we encountered fewer crowds, so we stopped to examine the Lego sculpture in more detail, spotting cricket-playing Lego elves and koalas among the decor. We then met up with the guide and four other tourists for what turned out to be a very informative four-hour walking tour that gave us a great introduction to the city center. The tour took us to the bridge over the Yarra River and then back to Flinders station, where the talkative guide reminisced about how he would meet his mother beneath the clocks. We headed under the main road and came up on a laneway known as DeGraves Lane, which is famous for its cafes and coffee houses. We jogged onto another laneway and ducked into the Block Arcade, with its up-scale shops. A little later walked through the Royal Arcade, which has a famous clock and is home to various purveyors since 1869, including a chocolatier, a French patisserie, a store selling only babushka dolls, antique shops, jewelers, and toy stores. In between we walked laneways and main streets, entered old bank buildings and hotel lobbies with wonderful tiled floors and carved and/or painted ceilings, and looked at the Christmas windows at Myers Department Store. Eventually we took a free tram up to the Parliament Building and had coffee and snacks next door to the historic Princess Theater. Afterward we walked down through Chinatown, then over to Bourke Steet and past Peligrini’s Cafe, which had the first expresso machine in Melbourne. Our route then took us east on Flinders Lane to visit an opal merchant and to see the street art/graffiti again at Hosier Lane. We continued eastward to visit two other laneways with abundant street art, including a couple of small graffiti by Banksy.

    We finally left the group at Federation Square and head back up to Flinders Lane to have a late lunch at an Asian fusion place called Chin Chin. This may have been the best lunch of the trip (Mo Vida close), with superb calamari squares to dip in a spicy chili sauce, Vietnamese-style spring rolls, and an amazingly good rendition of beef rendang, which was rich and spicy. This was good enough that we thought we might go back again, but we never made it.

    Well sated, we took the free tram that loops around the central district, up to the Parliament building, out past the docklands, and along the river back to Federation Square. Love the free transit in the city center! We then visited the Ian Potter Center for Australian Art, where some of the exhibits left us unmoved but the nineteenth-century exhibits contained some really lovely works. Finally we headed back to the hotel and cooked a light dinner in our apartment’s kitchen.

    Our morning destination the next day was Peligrini’s cafe but instead we were drawn to Salvation next door for fine cappuccini and a shared order of sourdough toast with cashew butter. The place had a really nice vibe. Then we walked down Bourke to the classic bookstore Hill of Content, located on a corner just down from our hotel. This shop felt like a throwback from the heyday of bookstores. The selections were great and we purchased two books for our granddaughter--one about the revenge of the crayons (with postcards written to the boy who had treated them with less care than they deserved) and another about an aboriginal girl in the outback who loved the books brought occasionally by the library train. We went back to the hotel to drop off our purchases before heading across the Yarra River Bridge to begin our exploration of the south bank.

    The area we explored is devoted to parkland. We meandered through an area that contained a large memorial to Queen Victoria and the surrounding gardens, then visited smaller memorials to Edward VII and George V. The Governor’s House and the surrounding gardens were off-limits, so we skirted them to go to the Shrine of Remembrance. Initially constructed to honor WWI veterans, it now honors all Australian war veterans, especially those who died in service to the country. It is an imposing structure, surrounded by steep steps, a little reminiscent of those at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The interior contains several displays, and the staff on site were both courteous and helpful in explaining what we were seeing. Eventually we took the stairs to the top level and were rewarded with fine views over the park and back to the city center. It’s hard to leave such a place without brooding on the waste of war.

    We crossed over a park road to the Observatory for refreshments and then entered the Botanical Gardens. There were ponds, great old trees, and grassy open spaces, but we didn’t think it quite measured up on this warm day to the garden we had enjoyed in Christchurch in November. We walked back through the garden to the bridge and into central Melbourne.

    We were beginning to figure out the excellent tram system, so were able to take a free tram to Chinatown, where we intended to have another late lunch at Hutong Dumpling, which we had seen on our walking tour. We entered just 20 minutes before the kitchen closed but had a delicious meal of steamed buns, prawn dumplings, rice, and an outstanding main course of scallops and eggplant in a rich, dark sauce. A bit leg-weary after our walk in warm weather, we went back to the hotel for some R&R, then purchased a couple of Myki cards at a convenience store and put enough funds on them to take a trip south to the sea at St. Kilda.

    Riding through the suburban neighborhoods of Melbourne gave us another perspective on this great city. St. Kilda, however, seemed a bit worn, reminding us of an older British coastal resort town, or maybe even Coney Island in New York. We walked the main thoroughfare but found it somewhat seedy, then headed toward the busy beach where we found a Luna Park. We learned that the original Luna Park was on Coney Island, and that the one in St. Kilda (1909) predated the one we had seen in Sydney. From there we walked along the esplanade behind the beach to the long pier and breakwater (where penguins come ashore at dusk) and then on to Fitzroy Street for drinks on the front patio of a small pub. We were glad we went out to St. Kilda but wouldn’t go again--just not our style. We returned to the city and looked more closely at the Christmas displays in the windows of the Myer department store, then headed back to our hotel for dinner cooked in our little kitchen.

    The last full day of our trip took us back to Salvation for a light breakfast and then on to Federation Square via Exhibition, Flinders Lane, and Collins Street. There we saw a parade of graduating students from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology walking down Collins to the Ian Potter Art Complex for a ceremony. We, on the other hand, continued across the Yarra Bridge to the National Gallery of Victoria, where the current exhibition featured a large number of works by Andy Warhol and Ai Wei Wei. The multimedia exhibits were excellent and the building they were housed in was also spectacular. The exhibits included painting, photos, silk screens, sculptures, videos, movies, TV, music and Lego. They were kid friendly as well, and children of all ages were enjoying the museum experience. In addition, there was a lovely open space behind the museum, again with lots of kids playing. We took a few minutes to go upstairs to see the Impressionist exhibit and some tenth-century works as well. The whole experience of this museum was a real pleasure.

    We had made arrangements to have lunch a woman we had hiked with on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand in November, so we headed down an alley to meet her at the Peruvian restaurant Pastuso. We both ordered our first pisco sours since we were in South America last spring—very good indeed. The two ceviches (prawn and red snapper), salad, quinoa, and tamales we shared were also very good. The only drawback was the combination of a large table and a very noisy room, which made it difficult to converse and had us all shouting a bit. But we had a good time nonetheless.

    Later we took the free tram to the Victoria night market, which has dozens of food stalls on Wednesday nights serving a wide range of food from around the world. We shared char siuo bao, chicken satay/barbecued pork on a stick, and Thai rice, accompanied by tasty sangria. The market was crowded with people and not very clean, but it gave us another perspective on the city. We were glad we went but would have had a far better meal in the city center.

    In the morning we packed up got ready to leave for the airport. We tried to contact the Blue Bus service, but even the front desk of the hotel was unsuccessful so we had them call a taxi to take us to the airport. The price was not much more than we had already paid for the Blue Bus, so we definitely made a mistake booking a return with them. I recommend avoiding the Blue Bus for airport transportation.

    Once at the airport, we checked through quickly and looked around for a breakfast place. We eventually ferreted out a branch of the Mo Vida-affiliated Bar Pulpo, a great find. The fourteen-hour flight home on United was uneventful and the extra leg room in Economy Plus that we had purchased (our tickets were otherwise free with our frequent-flyer miles) was helpful. We stopped over in Los Angeles for a few days to visit our son and his family before flying home to San Francisco.

    So, at the start of this saga I asked a few questions, and I’m happy to finally provide my answers: The Great Ocean Road was well worth the time we spent there, even though we are spoiled by the coastal beauty along California’s Highway 1 (I never get tired of gorgeous coastline!). Tasmania was NOT a disappointment after the South Island—though not as physically dramatic, its charm, beauty, and abundance of animal life made it a fantastic place to visit. And Melbourne is a strong contender for most interesting city in Australia, right up there with Sydney, with a great food culture. All in all, our six-week trip to southern New Zealand and southern Australia was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.

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    So glad you finished your TR. I'm sure your entire TR will be invaluable as I continue our planning. Thank you!

    Timewise - how much time would you allot to Tasmania and to Melbourne? We have 6 weeks in AUS so are pretty flexible with how much where.

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    I've only managed to find time to read the first half of your delightful TR apillilacs, but I'll be back for more; apart from being a really good read it's giving me lots of ideas for a 2nd trip down under.

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    Thanks to all of you for reading along--that must have been hard work.

    Mel, we've done a sunny, warm Christmas several times, including a wonderful time in the South Pacific one year as part of an around-the-world trip, so we knew what to expect. I do find it a bit harder to get in the holiday spirit when it's clearly summertime, but Melbourne certainly goes all out to decorate for the holidays, so they are trying their best!

    yestravel--we thought two weeks was a good amount of time in Tasmania, though we easily could have spent longer (I definitely wouldn't spend less than 10 days there). And 4 days was enough in Melbourne, though you would want more if you are planning to add a few days on the Great Ocean Road (maybe 6 days altogether). On our first trip to Australia, in May/June 2008, we divided our time as follows: Sydney, 5 days; Perth/Fremantle 3 days; southwestern Australia (from Yallingup to Albany), 5 days; Uluru/Kata Jutu, 3 days; Darwin/Kakadu/Litchfield, 7 days; Cairns/Atherton Tablelands/Daintree, 7 days; Hinchinbrook Island 3 days. We were happy with that allotment too. With 6 weeks you can see a lot of Australia's highlights, depending on how much you want to move around.

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    wow. made it. What a great TR, and thank you so much for all the detail. We love looking at wildlife so Tassie would be a very good fit for us I think, and Melbourne and the GOR look terrific too.

    not sure when such a trip might happen but it will lodge at the back of my head and hopefully progress from there!

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    Great TR -- thanks for the info on your time frames in AUST. That's always one of the hardest parts for me with a trip -- how long to stay each place, so others experiences are helpful. We likely will try to avoid the north due to the heat.

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    A great read aprillilacs. Europcar are well known for their dodgy practises, and were exposed on national TV. They tried it with me once. Keep on their case and insist on them reversing any extra charge. It took about 4 months, but I did get fully refunded.

    Thanks for your report, most helpful as I hope to visit Tassie later this year.

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