Old prison building

Old prison building

One weekend back in December we took a trip to Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. It’s a train ride to the city and then about a 25 minute ferry ride. As it was a Sunday Matts whole trip was capped at $2.50 and mine was free as I’d already made 8 trips that week on my Opel card (like Oyster).

Entry to the island is free too. It’s about 500m by 360m so not very big. For a gold coin donation you get a guide book and can go on a self guided tour. As we arrived about midday and were in no rush we did the full Island tour of 2.5 hours.

Originally the island was a prison for the worst of the worst convicts who were sent away from nearby Goat Island or we’re repetitive offenders. The conditions were pretty terrible. During WW1 the island changed its use and be me a big base for boat building to support the war effort. There are lots of old naval buildings there now which are cool to wander about. A lot of them are sided as film sets as they’re basically big abandoned warehouses.

View from Cockatoo Island

View from Cockatoo Island

There are two long tunnels on the island, one called dog leg tunnel (it has a bend it in), which was built as an air raid shelter when the island became an obvious target during the war. We walked through the tunnel and found a geocache there along with another one somewhere else on the island.

We had some disappointment at the half way point of the walk when the cafe had sold out of ice creams! Luckily we found another cafe further on which wasn’t on the Mao which did have some for us (along with a German sausage van which my brother will appreciate).

Incidentally, there aren’t any cockatoos on the island any more, just a lot of very noisy seagulls.

You can camp on the island in tents they have put up there all year or hire out some of the historic cottages. It would be quite cool although there’s not a right lot to keep you entertained much more than a day!

Cockatoo Island Camping

Cockatoo Island Camping

Overall it was a good day out and worth the trip. I always like going on the ferry and the fact it was super cheap was great too.

vivid1

After the recent summary of our first year here, I thought it was also worth more of a commentary on how things are going.

In summary – good! We have settled in pretty well, got ourselves all sorted out with the stuff we need, made friends including through the local climb club and got out and about and seen a lot of things. Both of our jobs are going well and I’m enjoying mine much more than my work in the UK.

The first year has gone really pretty quickly. We always said we’d give it a couple of years and see how things went, unless of course we hated it, which we don’t. We’re looking around for a new place at the moment to get a view and change of neighbourhood (hopefully without a building site next door), so that will probably tie us in for another year. It still feels like there is so much more to see and do. Also we have some visitors planning trips in November and December so it would be bait rude to leave before they came! Hopefully we’ll get to see the new year fireworks for 2015.

Someone asked recently if it’s how I expected. I suppose we came with fairly open minds about what it would be like and just expecting a fun adventure. So far it’s been exactly that. Its less red and dusty than I imagined, but that’s because we haven’t been to the middle yet. The cost of living was a worry as it’s so hard to judge, but that has worked out well and overall I think we’re much better off financially here than we ever were in the UK. Making friends has taken a bit longer than I thought, as people our age are in well established groups mainly, but we’re getting there now. I was also a bit worried about life in there big city as London makes me feel claustrophobic and stresses end out, but Sydney is great. It feels really open with the harbour which I go over every day to work and just much more friendly and laid back than I ever found London to be (sorry people who love it, I was only ever a commuter which wouldn’t have helped my perception!)

Much as I’d like to be back with all our friends and family in the UK, it’s a lot of effort to move (not to mention finding new jobs again), so we don’t want to do that and then wish we’d stayed here longer, only to come back again later! We’re still enjoying the adventure at the moment and hopefully will for the next year too! And if you miss us, you can always come on holiday!

Sailing on the Harbour

Sailing on the Harbour

Our friend Andrew, (The Captain) from climbing is a bit of a sailor (as if you couldn’t guess from the nickname). It runs in his family and his dad built a 8 meter yacht which they keep moored up at  Henley Bay (not the Thames) on the Parammatta River (north west of the Harbour).

This December Captain Andrew was at a bit of a loose end so suggested a group of us take the boat out for a day on the water on the Harbour. The crew was Captain Andrew, me, Matt, First Mate Onni, Pirate Stuart, Heather, Dal and Ruby. 8 people was a bit of a squeeze for the boat apparently, but we did OK and nobody fell overboard.

We met about 10am, made sure we all had a wee (more about that later) and set off for the boat. Andrew has a bad shoulder after recent surgery, so Matt did a good job paddling to and fro with everyone in the rowing boat to the main boat. Before long we had hoisted the mainsail and we were off! We went a long way with the sail and then hoised the jib (a smaller sail) for a bit more power as it was a calm day with not a lot of wind. The temperature was probably in the high 20s, so very pleasant.

Captain Andrew knew what to do, gave good instructions and Onni had sailed before, so between them they had it all under control. We did lots of tacking of the jib and mainsail. Luckily nobody managed to get hit in the head with the boom! We had a quick snack of some very healthy fruit, carrots and hummus – between 8 people we had 5 pots of hummus, mainly all different! We sailed under the Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House which was pretty cool!

After a while we broke out the engine for a bit more power and some control around the main Harbour area where it was a bit busier. It was a bit choppy too and we got some good angles on the boat and bouncing about in the wakes of the bigger vessels. Stuart kept us all entertained with some pirate chat up lines.

We went along the north shore of the Harbour and dropped anchor in Taylor Bay for lunch (including more hummus) which was nice and peaceful. Matt and Stuart quickly got in the water and went for a snorkel. After a while we all joined in with a swim too. The boat was quite small and had no loo, so the choice if you needed a wee was to go in a bucket down below with a ‘modesty towel’ over the hatch or get in the sea which is where it ends up anyway. This and the nice sunny weather tempted even me to have a swim!

After lunch we headed back in a leisurely fashion with a bit more jibbing and motoring. Captain Andrew provided an excellent service and let Matt and I off at Luna Park as we had to get home and back out for my Christmas party. The idea of sailing in the sun and swimming in the sea before a Christmas bash is still very strange, but very good!

It was an excellent day with great company and I’m keen to do it again.

 

 

Wombat2

We have been here in Oz one year today now. Here’s a look back at what we’ve been up to so far.

Way back in February we left the UK on the 12th, having not had snow long before, and arrived on the 14th at silly o clock. We got sorted in a temporary flat in Glebe for the first month and got in with acclimatising to the heat, checking out the different food in the ships,learning what stuff cost, setting up all our finances, started out new jobs and of course went flat hut gong for somewhere to live! We also saw our first semi-wild kangaroo in a nature reserve and a giant diamon python!

In early March we moved into our new flat and spent a weekend with a hire car buying bits and pieces so we could live in it – plates, pillows, food, towels, pots and pans, all that malarkey. After a couple of weeks we got our fridge delivered, followed closely by the wooden lounge furniture and new corner sofa – it was an expensive month! ~Matts sister Lizzie and her friend Steph stayed for a few days after that – good timing! We had our first trip to the Blue Mountains over Easter, camping in a  tent my boss lent us and I discovered the wonder of chocolate hot cross buns

In April we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean at the Opera House and had the excitement of Container Day when all our stuff from the UK turned up!

In May I made myself an epic 4 layer birthday cake and we tried out snorkelling. We checked out lots of exciting animals at Taronga Zoo for my birthday too.

June was the super cool Vivid light festival and my friend Ellie came to stay from the UK. The family expanded to include Jeffrey the car.

July was a fairly wet month with a lot of board games. We also had a pretty chilly ‘Christmas in July’ up in the Blue Mountains with the Rockies climbing club.

We took another step on the road to Australian integration in August by buying an Esky and spent a long weekend down the coast in Jervis Bay with a lot of wild kangaroos (very exciting) and the whitest sand in the world.

Our first trip to the Hunter Valley wine area was in September, followed closely by another one in October where we hired bikes and cycled around. We went to a lovely restaurant (Sails at Lavender Bay) for our second wedding anniversary with views of the bridge and opera house .Matt competed in a Dragon Boat race with Thales and we got some plants to brighten the patio up a bit.

After being given a Wombat Guarantee we headed for the Wolgan Valley in October for some climbing and a sheep road, and I was not disappointed. We also got our BBQ which we have been using a lot ever since.

November was pretty busy. Phil and Rhiannon visited us from the UK which was excellent, and we hijacked some of their holiday to visit Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and Grampians with them. We also had a visit from Kat Banyard and spent a weekend down in Canberra checking out museums.

Of course in December it was time for Summermas (hot Christmas) and a holiday around Tasmania with lots of wildlife, walks, countryside and food.

Summermas continued into January with a road trip back up the Sydney from Melbourne, we went back to work again and we went to see the Lion King show.

And here we are, one year on! We have decided to stay another year as there’s so much else to see and do, so were busy trying to see if we can find a place to rent in a different area with a view now. Rather than just summarising what we’ve done, stay tuned for another post on some thoughts about how it’s been going so far.

Day 18: Philip Island to Albury
4071 km, 67 hours 9 mins

When in Melbourne I had a bit of a change of plan for my trip and swapped a second night in Philip Island for a night near Lake Hume on the NSW VIC border. This meant I didn’t have an 8.5 hour drive one one day and I realised that apart from the penguins there wasn’t too much on Philip Island to warrant a second day there.

So I efficiently packed up the tent all by myself, and managed to get it back in its bag! The lady from the caravan park even complemented me on how quick and efficient I was which made me feel rather smug. The drive was super boring, back west, around Melbourne and then north for 5.5 hours in total. A lot was freeway so very dull, even with my awesome playlists! I even stopped for a power nap to relieve the boredom!

I camped by Lake Hume and although the water looked temping with the weather a balmy 26 and stark contracts to the mornings’ 16 degrees it was a bit muddy so I gave that a miss. After masterfully performing surgery on the broken tent pole with a mallet, concrete block and a lot of tape I went to see the dam. It’s right by the campsite and very big. It’s in a scenic area with lots of trees downstream and if you walk across you can cross the state border to Victoria the other side. The footpath was closed or I’d have been tempted. I cooked some pasta by the lake as the sun went down which was very scenic, although the wind meant the stove took forever!

Lake Hume Dam

Lake Hume Dam

Day 19: Lake Hume to Snowy Mountains
4415km, 72 hours 17 mins

The next day I drove the windy and scenic Alpine Way up into the Snowy Mountains in the Australian Alps area. They are part of the great dividing range. I stopped at a couple of lookouts on the way and in the village of Threadbo to pick up a pass for my car and some leaflets about the area. Threadbo is a very pretty village which is a major skiing centre in the winter as it’s right up in the mountains. There were chair lifts and chalets aplenty, along with lots of places to stop and out on your snow chains along the road. On the way I went past one of the big sites of the Snowy Mountains Power Scheme, a giant hydroelectric power system with multiple power stations.

Snowy Mountains Power Station 1

Snowy Mountains Power Station 1

30km further I reached Jindabyne and had lunch by its giant lake while lots of people came and launched boats and jet skis for some hooning about. The final campsite was about 15 minutes north from there, 5 mins inside the park boundary. After chucking the tent
up again and a nice cup of tea I went for a drive the other way up the valley into the mountains and ski area. I went through Perisher with its giant, empty, potholed car park and static ski lifts and on to Charlottes Pass at the end of the road. You used to be able to drive on a lot further but the area was getting damaged so they shut the roads. At the lookouts to Mount Kosciusko I saw actual snow again! There were quite a few bits of it this time and it certainly felt a chilly 13 degrees at the pass (1900m elevation). The views of the mountains were good, although they were the quite vegetated rather than totally rocky variety. There were lots of white snow gum trees – lots of them had lost all their leaves, maybe fire damage, I’m not totally sure. Apparently the gum tree is the only tree which exists in deserts, alpine environments and the bit in between.

Charlottes Pass View - with snow

Charlottes Pass View – with snow

On the drives around there were a lot of birds including a massive flock of flying cockatoos (over 60 I reckon) and red and green lorikeets too. On way way back to the camp in the evening I saw a group of kangaroos, and some more at the campsite who had been hanging out earlier in the day at the adjoining fields. I had a BBQ for my dinner and headed to bed.

Day 20: Mount Kosciusko
4510km, 73 hours 42 mins

My main reason for coming to Kosciusko was to go up Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak at around 2230m. The walk started from Threado so I headed back there for about 10am. The walk is billed as 13km and 4-6 hours from the top of huge chair lift which takes you to about 1900m. This was half the amount of up from the Cradle Mountain walk and they classed it as moderate!not hard, so I figured I’d be fine. To do the walk from the village is another 4km and 2 hours as it’s very steep. I always planned on getting the chairlift down because of my dodgy knee which breaks going down hills. The return pass for the lift was only a fee more dollars than the single so I figured I’d get the lift up too. The lift ride itself was very scenic, although chair lifts do scare me slightly as you can just lift the bar up!

The walk itself was either metal boarded or had a well defined path, so wasn’t particularly hard. There were lookouts along the way including of Australia’s highest lake (Cootapatamba). Along the way there were lots of granite boulders, wild flowers, crows and several deposits of snow. One was just a short walk off the path to touch but I decided to resist the urge to feel snow again and stick to the path like the signs said! The views along the walk and at the top of the great dividing range were great and it was nice and clear too – they went on for a a long way! It was a good temperature for walking with a nice cooling breeze too. Along the way there were various signs including about the Aboriginal peoples use of the area as a sacred place where lots of different spirits live.

Lake

Lake Cootapatamba

In the end I got to the top in 90 minutes, spent half an hour there eating lunch and admiring the scenery and then got down in about 80 minutes. The walk wasn’t particularly strenuous and I did feel slightly cheated as I’d expected it to take a whole day. If I’d have known that I probably would have walked for the bottom! You can do it from Charlottes Pass too which is 18km and 4 hours each way (allegedly) so if we come back I think we should try that.

After the walk I had some tea at the highest cafe in Australia as I wanted a brew and the views were better than at the one down the bottom!

At the top of Mt Kosciousko

At the top of Mt Kosciousko

Day 21: Home time!

So after a 3 week holiday it was finally time to drive home. The trip back to Sydney was about 6 hours and pretty unremarkable!

So all in all in our trip we drove a whopping 5009km for 79 hours and 7 minutes (although some of this was looking at views and faffing rather than driving!) That’s an average of 238km a day and 3 hours 45 mins a day. It was an excellent holiday with a lot of variety, especially for me with the extra week. Three weeks is long enough to totally forget about work so going back is going to be really strange!

Day 15: Melbourne
No driving!

As I mentioned in the first post on Summermas, Matt had a 2 week work shutdown but I ended up having 3! After very briefly considering going home and being a good wife and staying at home to make him lovely dinners and look after the flat for a week, I quickly decided to just have an extra weeks holiday!

I weighed up a few options including jetting off somewhere and in the end decided the best plan was to send Matt back to Sydney in the plane from Melbourne, while I stayed there and them road tripped my way back with Jeffrey (the car).

On the Saturday we met with friend L’chelle for a yummy brunch and then Matt headed off to the airport. L’chelle is a genuine Australian who we know from her time living in the UK and hanging out with the canoe club. Once Matt had gone we toured some shops and had some yummy afternoon tea and 4 cakes between us (they were small) at the Little Cupcakes bakery. I stayed over two more nights in St Kilda which has a few awesome cake shops and couldn’t help but sample the lemon tart and a Kalhua slice the next day, both very yummy!

Little Cupcakes (to share!)

Little Cupcakes (to share!)

Day 16: Melbourne – Art, Aquarium and gardens
No driving

In the Sunday in Melbourne I decided to soak up some culture and art. I started ambitiously with the ACCA – Australian Centre of Contemporary Art. I was geared up for some weird modern art but was a bit surprised when the whole exhibition was film art, about 10 films in all, each in its own room. Whilst some were strangely absorbing, I did mainly have a feeling of ‘not quite getting it’! Films included snow falling on a type writer, a man cycling round France, a stalagtite with a choir boy and a procession of different types of people walking in front of changing backgrounds set up to look like a theatre which I quite liked. The strangest was 4 films playing in parallel …… Luckily it was free and I was in and out within an hour.

After that I spent a couple of hours in the National Gallery of Victoria in Federation Square. They had a lot of good exhibits including some Aboriginal art, some quite political art too as well as Australian Art from the 1800s with lots of pioneer style landscapes. One I particularly liked was by a group of women who used to flat share in the 70s called the Hotham St Ladies. Their art was recreated scenes from their flat share, made with icing. It’s was weird and cool at the same time. They had icing wall paper, rugs, cushions and plates of food made of icing – both royal icing and piped varieties.

Cushion made of icing

Cushion made of icing

Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal Art

 

After some lunch on the South Bank of the Yarra in the sun I went along to Melbourne Aquarium. Entry was free with my annual Merlin pass instead of $38, so it seemed rude not to check it out! The main attractions were big rays, a giant crocodile, weedy sea dragons and of course penguins. I’m glad I didn’t pay as it was really busy inside which made it hard to see things. I suppose it’s to be expected in huge holidays, but combined with this it was quite a small place and I was round in an hour. Admittedly I rushed a bit to get away from huge crowds but most of the things were the same as in the Sydney version so I didn’t miss anything. Seeing penguins is always good though!

Weedy Sea Dragon

Weedy Sea Dragon

I was going to stop for a walk through the Botanic Gardens on my way back to the hotel but the wether suddenly changed to be very windy, wet and cold. I took this as an excuse to buy a cake and hide in my room eating it whilst drinking tea and watching Midsomer Murders on the telly – I am on holiday after all! I checked out the small St Kilda gardens on my way to dinner instead.

Day 17: Philip Island
Stats

I spent a while working out my road trip itinerary and picked out two key stops, which in the end the just two stops – Philip Island and then Kozsciousko National Park in the Snowy Mountains in SW NSW.

Philip Island has: wild penguins, a chocolate factory, a koala sanctuary, a maze and illusion attraction and a karting / MotoGP circuit, so it was bound to be a winner! It’s about 90 minutes east of Melbourne, although I stayed slightly off the island due to the ridiculous peak time camping prices – I refused to pay over $50 for some grass for just me and the tent!

I toured around Philip Island in the afternoon, mainly hiding in cafés and the chip shop from the rainy and windy weather and hoping it would cheer up for the parade. I popped into the chocolate factory and bought a peppermint cream bar to sample later as I’d heard the factory tour self wasn’t great via Trip Advisor. I also checked out Ventnor (nothing there), Cowes and Newhaven. I went to the far west of the Island for a walk around the numerous Nobbies rocks (no idea where the name came from). It was super windy there with some cool giant waves crashing about.

I weighted up whether I wanted to spend $23 seeing penguins given we saw them in the wild twice for free in Tasmania, but went for it in the end. We had only seen them in the proper dark with red head torches. The parade has special lighting and lots more penguins in one place, so I figured it was worth it. I’ll write a separate list about the penguins, as clearly I’m going to go on about it for ages! Suffice to say they were really very cute and according to the wardens 462 came up in 50 minutes!

Emperor Penguins (in the aquarium)

Emperor Penguins (in the aquarium)

Pip the Little Penguin

Pip the Little Penguin

As promised, here’s a dedicated post on penguins! On our Summermas holiday I saw penguins three times:

  • First in Fortescue Bay, Tasmania on New Years Eve on a free tour from the National Park Warden
  • Second at Bincheno in Tasmania when out for a walk and night and
  • On the Philip Island Penguin parade east of Melbourne

I’ve mentioned about the first two encounters here and here. They were both awesome and it was amazing to see the penguins in the wild. The first time we were in a small group of about 15 people and the second time it was just us which was brilliant. Because they come out at night though, it was a bit hard to see them with just head torches (covered with red cellophane or on the dr light setting to avoid scaring them and hurting their little penguin eyes!) Because of that I decided it was still worth paying $23 for the Philip Island experience – plus, you can never see too many penguins!

The website advises you get there by 8pm. I ended up being early at about 7.30, but there were already quite a few people there. I had a look around the centre which had some information about penguins and little hatches which you could look in and see some of them in their nests. I also learnt the Litltle Penguins don’t actually mate for life like the warden in Tassie suggested, but have a divorce rate if about 18-22% and break up if they’re not breeding successfully!

The viewing area has three big tiered seating platforms, and apparently normally the penguins come about 9pm, although the night before they had surprised people by being early at 8.30pm. There are special floodlights to help us see them but which don’t bother the little fellas. I was all wrapped up warn (luckily it didn’t rain) and took my seat a bit after 8pm having managed to resist buying anything in either of there two gift shops. I managed to get one on the front row when the warden made everyone squeeze up which I was pleased about. You could go and sit on the sand if you wanted too but I opted for the seat. They did a short talk about the penguins and i learnt a group of penguins is called a raft. They go up to 50km out to sea each day fishing and then form these giant rafts a few hundred meters off shore, waiting until it’s dark enough that they feel safe coming in.

PenguinSign

Right on time, the first ones started waddling up the beach shortly after 9pm. The ticket works that they keep the stand open for 50 minutes after the first penguin comes. I got a really good view of them coming up the side of the seats I was on and if the ones coming up the middle too. Some of them played in the water first which was really cute. As there was a low tide we got to see them for a nice Iong time, including some hopping over the rocks at the top of the beach. Some of the brave chaps went by themselves but mainly they were in small groups. The counters counted 462 in 50 minutes! A lot of people left after a bout 20 minutes (crazy!) so towards the end I moved to a prime spot in the centre and saw some even closer.

The way they run up the beach is so comical. They lean forwards and look like their trying to go really fast but with a big sideways waddle at the same time. Sometimes they seem to lean too far forwards and flop on their bellies!

Viewing the penguins with so many other people was pretty frustrating. A lot of times at the start the guide said to keep quiet and not to walk about when the penguins were coming up (unless you were leaving) as it would scare them. So many people just blatantly ignored this it was fairly irritating, especially when they stood right in the way, and he kept having to remind them. From that point of view seeing them in Tassie was definitely better.

After the beach viewing area shut you could go and see the penguins from along the board walk back to the centre. There were lots to see and you got an excellent view. Some of the chicks were trying to find their mums and there was also lots of preening and feeding going on as well as general penguiny standing about. Seeing them nesting in grassy areas still seems wrong to me, I can’t help thinking about penguins needing to live on ice still.

I walked back very slowly looking at all the penguins along the way and was one of there last to leave in June end after getting herded on by the wardens. We had to stop on the last bit for a penguin to cross the actual path as he’d ended up on the wrong side of hoes go fence from his nest. I asked if they’re not disturbed by all the people gawping at them and kids yelling as I was a bit concerned for the poor penguins. As the area has been open to tourists for ages apparently they are all used to it ion the colony and aren’t bothered about it. (I was reassured, although I still reckon anyone pointing, roaming and talking loudly should be sent home or possibly slapped round the face with a wet fish!) In the end I was one of the last to leave after being herded along by the wardens. So there was 50 mins on the beach and near enough the same again on the walkway. I defiantly felt it was worth the money although it would be better with some sort of crowd control enforcement!

On the way out I couldn’t help but pick up Pip the Little Penguin from the shop. She’s so cute and all the proceeds go to penguin conservation. There was a rouge penguin wandering about the car park on the way out but he had a warden looking out for him and I made sure to check under my car for others as instructed! (There wasn’t one there which was disappointing, although probably for the best as I might just have opened the door and smuggled him in!)

Day 12: Fortescue Bay to Freycinet NP
2759 km, 47 hours 17 min

We woke up too a wet morning on New Years Day, but also without a hangover having not had the chance to drink a lot because of the penguin spotting. We managed to pack the tent down in between the drizzle spells and headed to the shelter round the corner from the campsite, by the bay to cook some bacon and egg rolls for breakfast (woo!)

We drove up the east coast to Freycinet NP where we drove on our first Australian dirt roads. I liked these better than gravel as they were generally smoother and nicer to drive on, and probably better for your car too without tons of stones hitting it! We stopped for a picnic lunch at Honeymoon bay by which time the weather had cheered up quite a bit.

After lunch we did the hours walk to Wineglass Bay lookout. It was very scenic with a curve beach shaped like wineglass surrounded by big hills each side. Stories vary about whether the name comes from the shape of the bay or the water which is clear like a wineglass. On the way to the campsite we took a quick detour to the lookout and boardwalk at Cape Tourville lighthouse which again had good coastal views.

Wineglass Bay

Wineglass Bay

We couldn’t get space to camp in the NP as it’s very popular and booked out months in advanced so we camped just up the road in Bincheno. After finishing the remaining Hunter Valley Cab Sav with dinner we went for a night time walk to see the town and coast. They have another penguin colony there and we were lucky enough to see them! A group of about 20 were on the rocks near the see waiting to waddle up to their nests. I managed to sit about 8m from them and watched them hop over a ledge, make their way up the rocks and then huddle about for a while. I thought they were going straight up the beach but then they started penguin faffing and not really going anywhere which our guide the day before said they don’t normally do. I thought my e I we in their way so I moved really slowly up the bank. They came forward some more but then seemed to change their mind and want to head at me again so I shuffled round some more. I think by this point, after about 15 mins of good penguin watching Matt got bored and came to see me! which scared all the little penguins into the pool near where they were waiting. We headed back to the campsite and heard lots of them chatting on the way back and even saw one waiting by the wide of the the road. We could even hear them at night from the campsite. Hopefully they all got back to their nests OK.

Day 13: Launceston and Port Sorrell
3031 km, 51 hours 50 min

I woke up and actually felt awake oddly early, about 7.30, when the sun warmed up the tent so decided to get up and get on with the day. We were back on the road before 9am, heading towards the second largest city in Tasmania, Launceston. Launceston is inland but does have a big river and gorge which is where we headed for. After a quick ice cream we went for a walk around the gorge and saw lots of climbing routes which Matt obviously got excited about. The gorge was wider thank I thought but still impressive and looked like a mode spot for a swim. We opted out of the sedate cable car ride but did go on the comical free ‘Inclinator’ which took you up and down some steps in a little pod, very slowly!

Launceston Gorge

Launceston Gorge

As the cafe was full we went for lunch in town (Mexican) and then took poor Jeffrey through the car wash to remove all the filth we covered him in from gravel and dirt roads. We headed on no the hour after that to Port Sorrell on the north coast just east of Devonport where the ferry goes from. We indulge in a B and B for the last night, so we didn’t need to pack away the tent before getting the ferry early in the morning. I was hopeful of free port like we had in the Gampians with Phil and Rhiannon (the only other B and B we’ve been to in Oz). Sadly no free port, but we got a wonderfully w arm reception from Rosemary, also an expat who moved from Selsey in the 60s via a 30 day boat trip! The. B and B was in lovely gardens and we spent the late afternoon drinking tea and playing a couple of very close tactical games of chess in the upstairs area overlooking the garden. To regain some cool father that we went to eat take away pizza on the beach!

Intense Chess

Intense Chess

Day 14: Devonport to Melbourne ferry ride
3031km, 51 hours, 50 mins

The ferry ride back was 9 hours and we boarded an hour before departure. The time actually went pretty quickly, something like this: play Ingenious, read book, drink tea and eat Tim Tams, read book, feel a bit sea sick, play Tantrix, go to cinema and watch Eden surrounded by kids, eat lunch, read book, play cards, look round shop, read book, provide tips on Tazzie to my boss, eat hummus, write blog posts on iPod, the end!

We stayed in St Kilda to the east of central Melbourne, on the cost with it hits own Luna Park and scary clown, but more about that in the next post!

Tasmania overall

Overall in Tasmania we had a great holiday. It’s mainly rural with lots of lovely countryside, cool geology and outdoors things which we always like. There is good food and wine to be had and some fun roads although not much opportunity to overtake if you’re stuck behind slow people! Most of all I liked the amount of proper wild wildlife we saw. Included in the count were loads of pademelons, wallabies and possums, about 40 penguins, about 20 wombats, 3 echidnas, a probably harmless snake and a platypus!

There would be plenty more to do and see on another trip including some longer walks, climbing for Matt and of course spotting a wild Tazzie Devil. But first, next year we’re thinking of a winter trip to the centre and the Barrier Reef in November time with our next lot of visitors.

But our holiday this time didn’t stop in Tasmania! We had most of a day in Melbourne and then I carried on the trip by myself with my extra weeks holiday so stay tuned to hear more about Philip Island and the Snowy Mountains!

 

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Day 10: Hobart to Fortescue Bay
2506km, 41 hours 49 min

On the drive to Fortescue bay we passed through Sorrel which is a big fruit producing region. Having missed out on this in the Huon valley we decided to swing by a fruit farm for some weird sounding berries. When we got there the business model didn’t really stack up for us. We only wanted a small amount as we had no real way to keep stuff properly cool no just wanted a taster really. It was $14 per person including a giant punnet of whatever you picked, and there was no negotiation on sharing. We decided to give the picking a miss and bought $6 worth of cherries and strawberries from fruit market down the road instead which was more than enough.

After that we headed for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Centre on the Tasman peninsula. Sadly a lot of the devils are affected by a facial tumour disease like cancer (TFTD) and population numbers have really fallen in the last. 20 years. It’s really contagious, fatal and they spread it easily when feeding, mating and generally interacting with each other. As the peninsula is only joined into mainland TasmanIa with a 100m wide stretch of land (Eaglehawk Neck), the centre are doing a lot of work to keep out infected devils and contain a healthy population on the peninsular which seems to be working. The centre is mainly conservation focused and also included some birds, kangaroos, an albino possum and an awesome talking parrot (helllloooow!).

I’d only seen a Tasmanian devil before at the Australian reptile park north of Sydney and although that one got fed, it was by itself. When there two together they are pretty different and more like the cartoon! The pair we saw first were chasing each other around their enclosure pretty much continuously like right little rascals with a fair amount of grumpiness and teeth baring to boot. They had a proper tug of war over their lunch! They were really nice to see and pretty cute when they were trotting around in the sun being friendly!

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Devil lunchtime

Devil lunchtime

 

We camped at Fortescue Bay, a bargainous $13 a night. The site was 12km down a gravel road right on the bay, just setback from the beach in the trees. The camp itself was fairly basic with two female loos, a shower which sort of got hot if you had a token and a BBQ in the day use area next door. Before our veggie burger BBQ dinner that night we went to see some local geology including the remarkable cave (not that exciting!), blowhole, Tasman arch and Devils kitchen, which were all cool coastal features.

Day 11: Port Arthur and Totem Pole
2723km, 46 hours 6 mins

I made the effort for an early start the next day so we could fit in both the Port Arthur historic site and the 4 hour walk to Cape Huay where the candlestick and totem pole climbing areas are.

From the mid 1800s some of the worst convicts from the UK and the rest of the Commonwealth were sent to Australia. Of those, the worst were sent to Tasmania (or as it was called then, Van Diemens Land). Of these bad guys, the seriously bad bad guys ended up at Port Arthur. It even included a boys prison for kids as young as 9. For $33 we got the basic bronze pass which included day entry to the site, a 20 min boat ride past the boys prison (on its own island) and the Isle of the Dead where the buried convoys are, and a 40 minute guided walking tour. This was pretty good value as the site is big and there’s a lot to see. You could easily spend a whole day looking around all the old buildings which included the penitentiary, governors house, church, asylum and separate prison which was added later. The site had a couple of big fires in its history and was neglected for a while, so only about 1/3 of the buildings remain. A lot of them had exhibits inside to look at which were interesting and it was nice to see some history as there’s not always a lot of old stuff here in Oz. The prison focused mainly on seriously hard graft, education and religion at first. Later on when the separate prison was added the focus moved to confinement. Men were kept in their cells 23 hours a day in silence, doing work like making shoes. They had one hour exercise each day, again in isolated separate yards. We saw the punishment cells where they could be kept for up to a month for talking or doing anything else wrong – these were about 2m by 3m, had 1m thick stone walls so they were totally sound proof and 4 doors to get in so they were also totally dark. Lots of men broke here and hence they ended up building the asylum next door! After just a short time with the door shut I can see how it would be deeply disturbing!

Port Arthur

Port Arthur

Eventually the prisonwas shut down, the site abandoned and Van Diemens land was renamed Tasmania to try and break free from its convict past. Of course when they realised the tourism potential it opened back up again!

After some lunch we headed back to the campsite for the walk to Cape Huay including the Totem Pole and Candlestick (sea stacks) which both have climbing on. Matt had been reading a book about these from the library and was very keen to see them first hand. The first half of the walk was mainly bush! with good coastal views for the second half. We saw some climbers on the candlestick and Matt scrambled down for a better look (which did have me pretty worried when he didn’t come back for over 40 minutes – grrrr!).

Climber leaving the Candle Stick (left), past the Totem Pole (centre)

Climber leaving the Candle Stick (left), past the Totem Pole (centre)

As it was New Years Eve we broke open our $50 super tasty 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon for the Hunter Valley with dinner. Then we couldn’t resist a free guided spotlight tour run by the national park staff which promised night sightings of animals including penguins! Our guide was very knowledgeable and we were lucky enough to see a group of about 20 little penguins (also called fairy penguins or blue penguins) head up the beach to the their burrows, as well as some smaller groups and one penguin in its Ernest right by the path. It was very strange to see them hopping over rocks and then nesting in grassy areas, I still can’t get over thinking penguins need to live in ice!

We spent longer than planned watching the penguins (which was totally worth it), so by the time we got back it was a bit dark and cold to be getting on with the wine and we didn’t make it awake until midnight!