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

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Mar 20th, 2016, 11:05 PM
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Tasmania, Melbourne, and the Great Ocean Road--November/December 2015

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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Mar 21st, 2016, 12:30 AM
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What an interesting start, Aprillilacs - thanks & I'm looking forward to the next chapters.
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Mar 21st, 2016, 04:35 AM
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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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Mar 21st, 2016, 05:21 AM
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I'm very much enjoying your report April - all those wildlife sightings are making me miss Australia even more.
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Mar 21st, 2016, 08:38 AM
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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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Mar 21st, 2016, 05:22 PM
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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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Mar 21st, 2016, 06:21 PM
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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/2016-0...n-road/7234906
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Mar 22nd, 2016, 02:08 AM
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Enjoying your report . Not sure if you heard that Wye River had terrible bushfires after you left . You were lucky indeed
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Mar 22nd, 2016, 03:35 AM
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I too enjoy the longer report. The details give your report life and, not to mention, useful information to help us plan our own trips.
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Mar 23rd, 2016, 04:23 PM
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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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Mar 23rd, 2016, 06:59 PM
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I love that you were able to make friends in NZ and visit their farm in Australia. These are the types of memories that just cannot be planned.
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Mar 24th, 2016, 01:05 PM
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what an experience catching up with your friends on their farm?
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Mar 29th, 2016, 09:26 PM
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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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Mar 30th, 2016, 03:25 AM
  #14
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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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Mar 30th, 2016, 03:25 AM
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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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Mar 30th, 2016, 03:59 AM
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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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Mar 31st, 2016, 01:35 AM
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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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Mar 31st, 2016, 08:15 AM
  #18
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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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Apr 1st, 2016, 11:26 AM
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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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Apr 1st, 2016, 03:02 PM
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Love all the wildlife you've seen at Cradle Mountain. We've yet to see a wombat in the wild and an echidna anywhere, wild or in captivity.
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