Down Under in Tasmania

>To get from my house to Tasmania you first need to get to the airport, so I needed a taxi. It wasn’t a difficult task, it was just a little funny. I called the taxi company nice and early to book one. Whoever the guy was who answered the phone, lets just call him Bob, didn’t seem too cheery. No g’day or hello. Bob just wanted “Name, address, phone number”. He gracefully completed his customer service spiel with “The next available taxi will be dispatched to you.

Before Bob could hang up, I blurted out as fast as I could, “Approximately how long till the taxi arrives”.

Now Bob wasn’t too happy about this and with disdain in his voice, he replied “The next available taxi will be dispatched to you.” And with that, he hung up.

Next time I will drive myself to the airport and leave my car in the long term car park!

Melbourne to Devonport is only a short flight (55 mins), but once I got there I quickly realised that a lack of preparation on my part for this trip could get me in trouble. My plan was to hire a car and take a couple of days to drive from Devonport to Hobart. What I found was that there was not a single hire car available at the airport! Note to self, next time organise self better, take ferry (10 hours) with own car on board. Never mind, I’ll take a bus into town. What, no bus either! Bugger … give me a taxi then! The taxi I jumped into was driven by a friendly guy named James. Being the good bloke he was, James called one car hire mob for me – no cars. He then drove me to two others (with the meter running of course), same story. I would’ve found it quite funny if the second place had a car for me. It was “Rent-A-Bug” and the old bugs are orange.

In the end, James took me to the bus station and then I was on my way to Hobart via Launceston. It was here that my need for food far outweighed my desire to see the sights. Now here’s my recommendation. If you’re in Launceston and you need a feed, head to Vegimania. It’s cheap and there was so much tofu on offer I couldn’t decide! Luckily Karen, the friendly waitress, helped me out and I was completely pleased with her choice. She returned shortly afterwards to chat about how I found the restaurant (Lonely Planet), how long I had been a vegetarian (about half my life), why I was vegetarian, and again how long had I been a vegetarian … um, same answer as before (was she trying to trick me?). I must have looked bored or lonely sitting there by myself as she returned again for another chat and before I left she introduced me to the chef, Meng (her brother-in-law) and her sister (sorry, I don’t know her name). It was very nice to meet them all. I complemented them on the food. When Karen queried why I hadn’t finished my food I immediately felt guilty like you do when you can’t finish the food someone lovingly prepares for you. They were all so sweet and gave me a stack of business cards to hand out to my friends (no-one I knew was going to Launceston) and they also gave me a Singapore travel bag (I had no idea what to do with this).

I still couldn’t leave the restaurant as I was stopped by some other diners. They seemed very friendly and sort of offered to drive me to my next stop, Cataract Gorge, but said their car was full. Plus they had a young child with them who probably would’ve smeared food or something all over me. I wasn’t really going to the gorge anyway. I only made this up to make it sound like I knew what I was doing. Basically I just chilled out at the bus station for a few hours before heading off to Hobart.

Several hours later I arrived in Hobart and yet again I was hungry. Of course there was a kitchen at the backpacker place, but I managed to find a nice Indian place not too far away and thought this a much better idea. The head waitress was in a foul mood and grumping to me about another waitress. I couldn’t really argue as I was hungry and needed to be nice to the people who were going to feed me but when she left and another waitress made faces at her I laughed. Trouble is I think I was sprung as she returned and must have surely seen my face. Oops.

After spending a pretty uneventful day in Hobart I jumped on a six day tour around Tassie. Our first stop was Mt. Field National Park. A nice short walk and all I could hear was the sound of birds singing, water rushing and trees swinging in the wind. Nice and peaceful. I saw quite a few pademelons in the park and I remember spending way too much time swapping to my zoom camera lens to take photos, only to walk on a little further and be just a metre away from another!

That first evening on tour we stayed at Tullah Chalet where the canoes and mountain bikes were free and we overlooked a beautiful lake. We all opted for the canoes although not all looked like they knew what they were doing. The amazing thing is, Bec and I knew what we were doing and we saw several platypuses … the first time I have ever seen them in the wild. After that there was time for a bit of karaoke. Apologies yet again to anyone who had to listen to me sing … this time it was “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.

Day two and we briefly visited Strahan, most notable for it’s proximity to the Gordon River (which we didn’t see, or I don’t remember seeing). It was really quite unfortunate that we didn’t have more time there as it seemed like a gorgeous place. Shortly afterwards we headed to Henty Dunes where a few of our group went off on quad bikes and everyone else walked around the dunes. I walked up the closest dune, found some shade and sat down. Two hours later, everyone came back looking awfully hot and bothered! Next stop was Montezuma falls, the highest waterfall in Tasmania. They’re quite high (just under 100 metres), and although there wasn’t a lot of water cascading down they were still very nice. There was also an interesting suspension bridge, maximum weight, one person with backpack, and it swayed all over the place as you crossed!

Again that evening we went out trying to spot platypus but this time was not as successful. Instead I did some laundry and then talked Bec into doing a karaoke number with me. We dedicated “My Girl” to some new guests at the resort, many of whom left during our song. We tried several other songs but then all but three people left and they called last drinks at the bar so we thought it was best for us to stop.

The following day we headed off to Cradle Mountain! We didn’t actually get to see it as it was quite foggy/misty, but we did a gorgeous walk around Dove Lake which lies at the foot of it. It rained consistently for the two hours we walked around so by the end we were all quite wet but I still had a huge smile on my face as it truly was a beautiful place to be! This is definitely a place I want to come back to, and luckily it’s quite close to home.

That evening we spent New Years Eve at a pub in Devonport. The fireworks were cancelled and the band was average so it was lucky we had dag dancing to keep us entertained. I was teaching some of my basic moves to a few girls … Bec picked them up very quickly, Livia was much more difficult. The girl has way too much rhythm.

New Years day and we were all quite well. We drove from Devonport to Launceston and I finally got to visit Cataract Gorge which was better than the bus station on my previous visit but otherwise not really that interesting. We continued on for a hike up St Patrick’s Head. The walk was quite strenuous at times and also very steep but at the top we had a nice view of the east coast.

After this we stopped for one of the most touristy and most interesting things I had done in Tasmania … visited a wildlife centre. It was here that I was able to hold Billie the wombat and for the first time I held an echidna. Billie was more than happy to be cradled like a baby and I held her for a long while. Holding the echidna was quite different (less of a cuddle) but equally special. She was very young and the pads of her paws were so soft. We also fed kangaroos, patted a joey just out of its mother’s pouch, got my finger chomped by a cocky, chatted and patted a nicer cocky for a while, saw some snakes, owls, and plenty of water birds. It was all very nice and many of the animals come from rescues so it’s great to see them rehabilitated.

We stayed in Bicheno for the evening and went out to see the little penguins in their natural habitat as they return to their rookeries. I didn’t really end up seeing that much of the penguins as the crowd was too big and too pushy. In fact, much of the time I was staring at the stars as it was a beautiful clear night.

The next morning, our bus headed to Freycinet National Park where I hiked to see the beautiful Wineglass Bay from the top of Mt Amos (elevation 454m, actual distance hiked – 6 km … all uphill I’m sure!). It was graded as a strenuous walk and it definitely felt like it! It was actually a very enjoyable walk and the views from up there were well worth it. Along the way to the top we saw no-one, only lizards and one tiger snake! In the car park down below, a Bennetts wallaby came to say hello. It was so lovely. I slowly introduced myself and eventually got close enough to pat her and she licked my hand. Later on at lunch I met another wallaby and again slowly introduced myself. My hands outstretched, palms facing upwards to show that I meant no harm and that I had no food. This wallaby came forward, had a sniff, then took a bite of my finger. Once it realised I was not food I was released, no damage done.

To finish up quickly, the last day of the tour started in Port Arthur, moved on to Waterfall Bluff and then finished back in Hobart. Now I’m back at home, back at work and ready for another holiday. It wont be long and there are already plans in the making.

I think I either holiday too much or not enough, my neighbour of six years still calls me Sharon.

Take Care, live and enjoy every day!

Cheryl

Australia

>Don’t ask me why, but if you want to fly from Perth to Alice Springs, which is approximately 2000 km, it’s much cheaper to fly from Perth to Darwin (approx 4000 km) then Darwin to Alice Springs (another 2400 km). So we’re talking in excess of 6000 km instead of 2000 km. Like I said, don’t ask me why, but it’s half the cost.

That said, let me tell you what I did when I got to Alice Springs and beyond.

Alice Springs itself is not much to speak of in my humble opinion, but it’s as good a place as any to start your central Australia (‘Centralia’ I am told) visit. I wasn’t there long before jumping on a five day tour with a great bunch of people. Together we saw Mt Connor from a distance on day one and continued on to Uluru (Ayers Rock). Again, we didn’t really stop there but travelled on to Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). It was here that we did the pretty short Walpa Gorge walk in something like 45 degree heat. Pretty warm as you can imagine. The longer walk through the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta was in fact closed due to the extreme heat, which is fair enough. It’s no point us passing out and making fools of ourselves. I make a fool out of myself quite often enough without more opportunities. We finished up day one watching the sunset at Uluru. I hear there was champagne and cheese and crackers, but by the time I got back from taking my photos, my ‘great bunch of people’ had scoffed the lot. Apart from the left over champagne that Fran was giddily holding onto (g’day Fran ). That night we stayed at the Uluru campsite. My first night ever in a swag (now I’m a true Australian).

Day two and we were up at 3.30 am for the Uluru sunrise. Now I’m a morning person but strangely enough I don’t really remember an awful lot of that morning (tired, not hungover thanks). I wrote in my journal that “It was lovely to see it again” so I think I enjoyed the view. Next stop was the Uluru base walk. 9.4 km and bloody hot. I hear you say “that’s not far”, and I say back some choice words about it being hotter than the previous day and I walked for more than two hours … including running out of water. By the time I finished, I was quite stressed from the heat, which probably would have put me amongst the majority. Luckily from this point onwards we were back on our truck and cooling down (so long as you weren’t in the heated front cabin). From here we drove on to Kings Canyon, with a short stop somewhere for a quick helicopter flight (Jenn, Mel … where was this again? I’m sure my VISA statement will remind me ). Ten minutes for $60 and it was a particularly enjoyable ten minutes I think. Especially when the pilot let me fly it in and out of the Canyons … ok, so that part didn’t happen. But it was fun anyway. That night we stayed at the Kings Canyon resort … there was a pool … yay!

On the third day we entertained ourselves with a hike through Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park for four hours. We ordered cooler weather and it was delivered so I’m sure we all thoroughly enjoyed this walk. The sights were all so beautiful. The Garden of Eden is here, which is a smaller gorge with a refreshing water hole specifically placed millions of years ago for tourists to swim in. I didn’t have my bathers with me so I opted to jump in with all clothes on … they were in desperate need of a wash anyway. Fellow tourer, Bruce, didn’t have bathers with him either (does he ever?) … his clothes were obviously clean though, as he went in without. This is the way I will think of Canadians for the rest of my life … just kidding! If you swim just a little way, climb over a few rocks and hold onto your fear of heights, you can peer down through an opening far below the highest cliff in the canyon (136 metres?) and see the bottom of the gorge below. That was yet another amazing sight in Centralia. In fact, throughout the walk, I’m sure my mouth was gaping open, staring at the beauty everywhere around me. Definitely my favourite place to date (until the tie with Palm Valley tomorrow).

Ok, the writing in my journal gets scrappy now so I remember the rest of day three must have been four wheel driving. We drove to Hermannsburg but found our destination (museum?) closed for the festive season so instead we went to the grocery store for ice cream. Mine was consumed by one of the camp dogs that inhabit the area. These poor dogs were so skinny. One of them didn’t even need to squeeze through the fence pailings, she just walked right through them! Unfortunately this dampened my spirits. That night, we headed to the dry Finke riverbed near Palm Valley where we set up a bush camp for our overnight stay.

Shortly after arriving, a few of us crossed the river bed and headed up a rocky outcrop from where we could quietly watch a herd of about 20 (perhaps more) brumby. Some new foals, a beautiful black horse with a white stripe down her nose, heaps of chestnuts, a few greys and some mixed horses as well. My stealth techniques are obviously lacking though, as I’m sure we disturbed them. Half of them ran off across our path, the sound of their hooves striking the ground was altogether threatening and beautiful. We stayed longer to watch the rest of the herd cautiously grazing below. At one moment, six of them lined up and faced us, all watching either with curiosity or fear. I left shortly afterwards. For the rest of the evening we sat around a campfire even though it was probably still hotter than 30 degrees.

The next morning we awoke at fly time. There’s no need to set an alarm because the flies will come in and drive you absolutely crazy as soon as the mozzies have left. It’s like a tag team thing that I’m sure they enjoy. I wrapped my head up in a towel, ninja style, which mostly kept the flies away from my face … but much better than that, I couldn’t hear the buggers buzzing around. I don’t think there are any photos of this … I sort of hope not as I wasn’t looking very glamorous.

Sorry all, I’m still babbling on and I hope at least some of you are still awake. There’s only a little more to tell.

Palm Valley was the next stop, which is truly an oasis. Permanent water, beautiful palms, ghost gums, fuchsia, figs and wildlife including Wallaroo, birds, lizards, tadpoles and grown frogs the size of your fingernail. You don’t just look around, you feel yourself there. This had definitely become my favourite place in Centralia along with Kings Canyon.

That evening we stopped in at the campgrounds of Glen Helen Gorge, where we stared in wonder as a cicada shed its shell (well we left a little early so we didn’t see it shed the whole thing). I hadn’t seen this happen before so it was interesting for me … don’t knock it until you see it. It’s quite amazing. We headed off for a beautiful swim at Ormiston Gorge and watched the sunset at Mt Sonder where two glasses of champagne was at least one too many for me. It started what may perhaps become folklore at Glen Helen Gorge. We returned to the campsite, scoffed some food, drank some wine, had a rotten shot of something, more wine, another shot of something worse, and again, some water, probably more wine, plenty of singing (including a familiar rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” by Cheryl Downes on stage, with mic and an audience in single figures), then there was dag dancing and rap dancing (including photos I am told – Jenn, I’ll pay you to be discreet with those). Needless to say it was a great night. Oh it didn’t end there. There was enough entertainment in the campground to keep me laughing for many hours but you probably had to be there to appreciate it. If I told you you’d probably think it wasn’t funny but it was incredibly so. Particularly when …

The next day was our last day together on tour. Many of us weren’t really up for much so we swam for a little while at Glen Helen Gorge and did a few other things on route to Alice Springs. My mood was sombre as I knew this was the end of the journey and I had such a great time … the people and places will stay with me.

The rest of my time in NT was spent saying goodbye to people, which is always hard. I tried to entertain myself seeing movies and ballooning, none of which were terribly entertaining but I was happy to give them a go. The hot air balloon ride meant a 3.15 am wake up yet we didn’t leave the ground until after 6 am so I’m baffled why it’s all organised so early. Even more baffled by the people who work there and do that every day. The most interesting thing about ballooning is that passenger participation is encouraged. In other words, you get to help fold up the balloon afterwards. At one stage I sort of felt myself getting sucked up and folded into it. I emerged covered in red dirt but otherwise ok.

Finally it was time to fly home to Melbourne for two days (Christmas Day and Boxing Day). The flight was full, so cattle class was as grand as ever. My vegetarian meal was half a sandwich. Does that seem strange to anyone else? I entertained myself with some dag dancing (you can never practice this sort of thing enough). Dag dancing in your plane seat is kind of difficult but I have mastered a new move. Basically it’s just thrusting one shoulder out and then back in. Looks pretty cool in the limited space. I did try swinging my neck a bit too, but that hurt so I gave up. Mark my words, dag dancing will take off one day.

I am just about to leave you, but only for a little while. I still have some tales to tell of my journey to Tasmania so expect to hear from me again soon. I apologise if you’re not interested … I have to do it.

If you haven’t checked out my photos online yet, here’s the link:

http://community.webshots.com/user/cdownes71

I’ve uploaded quite a lot recently so even if you have been there, you might want to go back and look again. New Albums include Cambodia, China, Vietnam, plus additions to other albums.

I wish you all the very best for 2003

Cheers

Cheryl

PS I hope you have at least vaguely enjoyed reading this.

Many of you I haven’t heard from in a while so I will continue to spam you until such time as you reply and request otherwise.