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Saturday, 23 February 2013

Two Tour Tassie, final part

SWANSEA TO PORT ARTHUR, HOBART AND HOME

The final leg

Leaving Swansea, we had another of those weird conversations in the car.  In NZ, the majority of private vehicle owners have towbars fitted for hauling trailers filled with garden waste, timber for home projects etc or almost inevitably for towing boats.  In Tassie, I noticed very few towbars and we had some amusing banter about the national characteristics of various countries.  Maybe we should have a towball on our national flag instead of the stars of the Southern Cross.  Jennie thought I was weird noticing things like that when we had all the beautiful scenery to look at.  Hard to argue with that comment, I s'pose.

Our next destination was Port Arthur, an ex-penal colony to which British criminals were sent in the 1800's.  On the way there, we had to pass through a region which had recently been devastated by a major bush fire in January.  The size of the burned areas were simply overwhelming and our hearts went out to the residents of Dunalley; many of whom lost homes, community resources and precious memories. 

Interesting patterns at low tide on Port Arthur road

Many of the penal colony buildings, albeit in poor condition, still exist.  On the day we were there in bright sunshine and well-tended grounds, it was hard to picture what a terrible and harsh place it must have been when in use in the 1800's.

View of the penitentiary and other buildings

Guard tower

Cells - a little over 1.2 metres x 2 metres

View from inside the penitentiary

Remains of the prison hospital

Tiny prison staff cottage from the hospital

The prison Governor's substantial residence - a chimney for every room!

Stunning view of the harbour from the Governor's front porch

The final full day of our holiday saw a return to nearby Hobart.  First stop was to MONA - the Museum of Old and New Art. Built largely underground in a vineyard and privately funded by a wealthy Tasmanian, it's a real "must", if only to see the scale of the place and the innovative use of space and technology.  When we arrived, we were given a device much like an iPhone which sensed the proximity to an exhibit and gave you information on it, either in written format or aurally through headphones.  Not only that, but if you inputted your email address, it stored every item you'd viewed and then sent a link to each item to the email address so that you could see them again when you got home!  Here are some photos of a very small number of exhibits:

One of a horde of pre-Christian Greek coins - fantastically lit

Fat Car - based on a Porsche Carrera rolling chassis

Massive underground wall of individual tiles depicting a snake

Egyptian jars, around 3500 BC

Egyptian pottery bowl, around 1500 BC

The final photo of the collection is a dynamic one!  There is a pipe carrying pressurised water with computer-timed jets along its length which squirt out Google's most-searched words!!  Incredible to see and hear it in operation!  The words are perhaps the best part of 2 metres high.  There's an excellent YouTube video HERE

Water words!

Being somewhat of an art philistine, many of the exhibits were way beyond my comprehension (and taste), but the place is a real tour de force and was one of the real highlights of our visit to Tasmania.

We could have spent all day at MONA but after a late lunch, decided to drive to the summit of Mt Wellington, which towers over 4000 ft above Hobart.  On a miserable day, it would be terrible up there but on this day, it was cloudless.

Hobart from 4000ft

 Views to Eternity
Top of the mountain - a Northern Territories bike and trailer
- complete with solar panels!

In the evening, we had dinner with a distant relative of mine and her family whom we'd not previously met.  Sue was descended from one of Britain's "deportees" to Australia.  Our ancestor had done his time and had apparently done rather well for himself after release. Sue and her family were absolutely delightful company and really hope that we can all meet up again in the future.  It was a fitting end to a wonderful holiday in Tasmania.

We've always enjoyed popping over the Ditch to Aussie and have had a great time wherever we've been.  As Australia has about 3/4 the area of the entire USA, you have to be quite deliberate in planning a trip or you can spend all your time travelling and not doing stuff.  Tasmania is small enough with sufficient variety in terms of scenery and things to do to allow you to get stuck in.  As a destination, it's a fantastic place to visit with people who go out of their way to make sure you enjoy it.

Hope you weren't terminally bored with all the posts!


Two Tour Tassie, part 5

SWANSEA AND FREYCINET PENINSULA

Great  Oyster Bay

Idyllic spot on Oyster Bay

We'd programmed our GPS to find the accommodation which our totally trusted and ever-resourceful travel agent had found for us just outside Swansea.  All the documentation said was "Piermont" and gave an address. We were both surprised and curious when the GPS stopped us at the start of a private long gravel drive with the discreet words "Piermont Retreat" on a sign.  A few minutes later, we had the key to our own stone cottage and stood there with mouths open.  I might have said "bless me" or something a little less ecclesiastical.

There are 15 cottages in the bush close to the water and are designed to be environmentally friendly and totally compatible with their surroundings.  The shortest polite word is WOW!

Front of cabin with deck looking over the bay

I think they were built by Dr Who as they seem much larger on the inside than the outside - a stone version of the TARDIS.  As soon as we opened the door, we saw the King-sized bed up on a raised dais at the back of the living area with uninterrupted views!  Here 'tis.....

Understated luxury...

The next photo was taken from the raised dais looking down into the lounge.  A flat screen TV is in one of the recesses and a log fire is in the other.

Could get used to this!

The bathroom and spa pool areas of the cottage were also exquisite but I'm sure you get the picture - tasteful and understated luxury.  Piermont also had their own cordon bleu standard restaurant for guests and casual visitors and we were very much looking forward to trying it.  We wandered over to the restaurant with one of us looking elegant and totally used to dining like this every evening back in NZ.  The other one, for the benefit of the foodie moto-bloggers who read these posts, had brought a camera to take a few shots.  Predictably, this did not go down terribly well, with stern words about letting the side down being hissed through clenched teeth by the classy member of the family.  Regular readers may remember a similar incident on our Thailand trip involving a chauffeur-driven Jaguar so clearly no lessons learned!

Consequently, only 3 semi-surreptitious photos were taken but maybe they'll give a reasonable idea of the dining experience.

View from our table over Great Oyster Bay

Duck confit parcels, duck breast on layers of potato and blah blah..

Mixed berries marinated in a liqueur sauce, creme brulee and home made biscotti ...

To cut a long story short, the food was made in heaven and with the setting, it was hard to think of a better way of spending an evening after a long drive. A great bottle of wine will be going to Julie, our travel agent for pulling this one out of the hat!  Not often that you get to stay in such a wonderful place.  Not glitzy and overblown, just simple and perfect understated elegance - a big well done to the owners.

 Nightfall as we walked back to our cottage

Flowering Eucalyptus in the grounds near our cottage

Early the next morning, we headed off to Coles Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula to go kayaking.  There was another couple plus Leith, the guide so everyone got plenty of individual attention.  We have a couple of sit-on smaller kayaks at home but the ones we were due to use were proper dual sea kayaks with spray skirts, rudders and plenty of storage for long journeys.

Preparing for the adventure

It's surprising just how far you can travel in 3 or 4 hours in a good kayak and we covered a fair distance exploring lots of beautiful bays in flat calm conditions.  At the half way stage, we pulled up in a deserted bay and Leith dragged out magnificent home-made cookies, coffee, tea and Milo - we were in heaven again!  I like the 2-seater kayaks, if the person at the back (me) is quiet about it, he can stop paddling and let the person at the front do all the work :-).

Aquatic Kiwis with Mounts Parsons and Amos in the background

Leith paddling past an outcrop of pink granite

The pink granite was once prized for construction purposes and the remains of a crane used for loading ships can still be seen in the photo below.

Pink granite boulders

The word AWESOME must be one of the most over-used in the English language but it was totally appropriate for this trip.  Like the guides over at Strahan, Leith was a fine ambassador for both his state and country and it was his enthusiasm which was the icing on the cake.  It's also a small world as we discovered that when he was younger, he spent a couple of months as a counsellor at Camp Blue Star school camp facility in North Carolina.  Our youngest son was there as a counsellor at almost the same time after leaving university and making his way to Europe!

After a great day on the water, we headed back to Piermont to sample yet more of their culinary masterpieces!

More to come......

Friday, 22 February 2013

Two tour Tassie, part 4

CRADLE MOUNTAIN TO SWANSEA

Over to the east coast

The main reason for this part of the journey was to get over to the east coast to the Freycinet Peninsula where we'd booked a sea kayaking trip.  Consequently, we had no real expectations about what to see or do en route but were pleasantly surprised.  Our eldest son had bought us a copy of Lonely Planet Tasmania before we left and what an excellent publication it turned out to be with all sorts of quirky information in it!

First stop was a family-owned cheese manufacturing business out in the countryside, Ashgrove Cheeses.  A beautiful looking place and we plundered the free samples, found some that we really loved and ended up buying a fair bit for munching en route.  We really liked their quirky style - tucked in a corner were some gumboots for entering the sterile conditions of the manufacturing facility hand-painted in pastoral scenes:

Not your everyday gumboots!

Outside, there were lots of plastic or concrete cows scattered all over the place painted in all sorts of different colour schemes - here's an example:

Psychedelic cows not mooving much (groan)

An overnight stop in Launceston had us heading for a wine-tasting session in the Tamar Valley.  A tough assignment, but someone has to do it.

Heaps of boutique wineries in this region

As we headed further east towards the Esk Valley, it got progressively drier and hotter - easy to understand how scrub fires start and spread so quickly.

Miles and miles of not much - pretty impressive actually

Diminutive St Andrews Church, Fingal

We saw an entry in Lonely Planet for a tiny cafe called the Purple Possum in the small settlement of St Mary's.  The entry raved about their home made rhubarb cake so it would have been rude not to stop and try some, wouldn't it?  The rhubarb cake was indeed outstanding and so was their iced coffee to wash it down!  The cafe also sold just about every bean known to mankind for sprouting and eating, all in big plastic tubs.  It was reminiscent of a small community near where we live which has an "alternative lifestyle" population and we wondered whether the same applied in the St Mary's area.  Not to be missed if you're ever in the area and the roads round it are motorcycling heaven!

Inside the Purple Possum

I have a confession.......  the main reason we (ok, ok....  maybe not "we") chose the route through the Esk area rather than the more direct route to Swansea is because it took us through the small coastal settlement of Bicheno.  It's a lovely spot in its own right as the photo below will show.

The water really is this colour

However, I'd spotted a small entry in Lonely Planet (how good is this book???) that there was a motorcycle shop with a small bike museum attached in Bicheno and didn't want give my infinitely better half the chance to suggest bypassing it!  In the event, she sat outside and read a book which was fine by me!!  Wow, what a place!  The collection may have been small but heck, the quality of the exhibits was amazing!  

The first exhibit to catch my attention was a Noriel 4, highly likely to be the only one in the world.

The only one in existence?

For the uninitiated, the Ariel Square 4 was designed in 1928 (yes, really!) by Edward Turner who is better known for his Triumph twins.  It was successively refined and in the 50's with 1000cc capacity, came out with a 4 port alloy head and was capable of a genuine 100 mph.  It ceased production in 1959.  This particular motor had a highly modified cylinder head plus other refinements and was shoehorned into a stretched Norton Featherbed frame. With its 4 individual mufflers (a loose use of the term), it looked a million dollars.  The owner said it handled pretty well but performance was fairly modest as you might expect from a vintage engine.  People who build stuff like this are national treasures!

1938 Triumph Tiger 80

The next bike is also a rarity - a 1950 Triumph Grand Prix which saw considerable success on the race tracks of the world.  What's particularly interesting is that the engines were originally used to power generator sets on board British World War 2 bombers.  For the technically-minded, the two holes on the cylinder barrel located cooling ducting when used in the aircraft. Yeah, I know...... an anally-retentive Triumph nerd and proud of it.  Jennie would use another phrase entirely.....

One sexy bike!

1983 Honda CB 1100 R - the superbike of its day and still looks great

Weslake-engined speedway bike

The final photo is of the Vincent 1000 motorcycle, one of the most famous bikes ever made (1933-1955).  I've chosen not to show the whole bike but one component which symbolises "The World's Fastest Motorcycle" advertising  at the time - the massive 150 mph speedometer!

A clear statement of intent

Arriving at Swansea late afternoon in readiness for our sea kayaking adventure the following day produced another real surprise, but that can wait for the next post!


Two Tour Tassie, part 3

STRAHAN TO CRADLE MOUNTAIN

Back into the high country!

The next part of our journey was to take us north-east into the high country, still part of the World Heritage area.  Our first stop was in Zeehan to look at the Minerals Heritage Museum to see some of the minerals and mining-related equipment on display.  Two samples were particularly breathtaking.  I'd never heard of Crocoite which is composed of shards of crystals about the size of matchsticks. The overall size is about the same as a coconut and colour is bright crimson. 

 The previously unheard of Crocoite

Now most people will be familiar with the Australian opal when it's finished and set in jewellery but how many have seen it still encased in surrounding rock?  I hadn't but it's simply stunning.  Please forgive the photo quality, it was hard to do a decent job through protective glass. Size is about 3" long x 2' high. Must say I actually preferred it in this state to processed opals.

A fabulous unprocessed opal


We were also very taken with the old hand-cranked rail jigger shown in the photo below - perfect for holding races over 100 metres or so.  Any further and I'd be in cardiac arrest!

Unusual jigger design

Continuing on our journey, we were staggered at the amount of nocturnal roadkill on this stretch of road.  Literally every couple of hundred metres, there would be an expired species of Wallaby, Wombat or the like.  Looking at it another way, it's probably a good indicator of the vast numbers of wild creatures in this part of the world!  Hitting something like a Bennett's Wallaby on a bike would have serious repercussions and even in a car, your insurance company is going to frown at the size of the claim.  One person we spoke to thought than roadkill numbers in this area had increased in rough proportion to the decline in numbers of the Tasmanian Devil carnivore but more on this creature further on in the post.

Wild Wombats waiting to leap out on unsuspecting motorcyclists

Wild motorcyclists about to leap out on unsuspecting car drivers

It was on this stretch of road that a conversation between Jennie and me took on a slightly bizarre note - a not uncommon occurrence.  On our journey round Tasmania, we'd noticed that major rivers seemed to be named after places or rivers where the state's forefathers came from (Derwent, Tamar etc from Scotland).  More modest rivers seemed to be named after politicians or other prominent people (Elizabeth River, Henty River etc).  Then at one bridge, we saw a sign saying "Black Bob's Rivulet" - wish we'd taken a photo.  One occupant of our car came to the probably erroneous conclusion that such a small trickle was named after the local village drunk who was noted for relieving himself in the street when the pub doors had shut!  I suppose, dear reader, that you thought the conversations in the car would be high-minded...... all about the environment we were travelling through and similar stuff. Sorry to say, but one occupant frequently let the side down to much rolling of the eyes and tut-tutting by the other party.

Arriving at our accommodation at Cradle mountain, we were delighted to find beautifully-appointed wooden cabins dotted around the bush - completely private and absolute heaven.

 Unobtrusive cabin in the bush
 
First activity was to walk part way round the glacially-formed Dove Lake which sits in the shadow of Cradle mountain.  More sublime scenery although a wary eye was kept open after an information board said "all manner of wildlife, including the (venomous) Tiger snake"!  Fortunately, they'd probably detected us long before we saw them and scarpered.

A big rock and two inconsiderate Kiwi tourists blocking the view

Unadulterated view of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain

 Beautiful sub-alpine shrub
Gorgeous mountain stream

Mountain tussock grassland - looks more gold in real life

After our bracing walk in rather hot conditions, we trotted off to a sanctuary which kept a small population of Tasmanian Devils which are the size of a terrier but all muscle. The Devils are top of the food chain carnivorous marsupials with an apparently massive bite pressure which will splinter bone but fortunately, pose minimal risk to humans.  That's a relief as the buggers can apparently climb trees, which is where I'd instinctively head if encountering one in the wild!  Much of their food supply these days is carrion, hence the earlier comments about roadkill although one of the national park staff had seen one bring down a live Wallaby with one bite.  Here's one in the sanctuary, with only a face that its mother could love.  

 What big teeth you have, Grandma!

Despite earlier assurances about posing no threat, I was slightly nervous about the way it would disappear into the long grass of its big enclosure then magically reappear right next to us at the 1 metre high fence as we moved round.  If they really can scale trees, I'm sure they could figure out a fence if they got a mite peckish.

 Come and pat me, I'm really friendly - honestly
Despite the foregoing levity, we liked them a lot.  The really sad thing is that wild colonies are in serious decline due to the spread of  facial cancers which were first seen in the late 1990's.  The cause is currently unknown and sanctuaries are a means of protecting them and breeding until progress is made.  Actually seeing a creature close up that is so threatened was quite an emotional experience.

Tasmania and the national parks in particular are teeming with wildlife and although you do see some during daytime, most of the animals come out at night to feed.  That night, we went out spotlighting to see what was about and were astounded to see just how many animals there were.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that every few tens of metres, we encountered different sorts of Wallabies, Wombats and Possums (but no Devils) - amazing!  Here are a few examples.  Not particularly good photos as the flash hasn't got much range.

Jennie's favourite - the Wombat

A Bennett's Wallaby

Yet another Wombat

We were surprised that all the animals were relatively unafraid of humankind.  I supposed they're used to seeing people wandering about and don't have adverse encounters with them.  We lay in bed that night listening to squeaks, snuffles and grunts all round our cabin and were exceedingly happy!

More of the adventure yet to come...