Sitting here waiting for the ex-cyclone’s rain to pass, it seems fitting to review my Tassie trip of last December. It’s calm here in the valley, and we had only 65 mL yesterday, but on the coast it’s wild and windy. Better to stay indoors for the moment.
Yesterday my friend Angela and I flew from Brisbane to Melbourne to Hobart. We arrived in Hobart to a screaming northerly and 31 degrees Celsius – did the plane divert to Adelaide without telling us? And how come Tassie is so brown and dry? From the aircraft, the eastern half is just like South Australia and Victoria. (Just after we left Tasmania, catastrophic bushfires burnt thousands of hectares of forest and destroyed houses.)
We stayed in Kingston (just south of Hobart) with another friend of mine and her husband. Today Angela and I drove to Port Arthur via the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park. It is one of many private wildlife parks striving to save the Tasmania devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) from facial tumour disease, which has killed an estimated 90% of the population. The devils (small-dog size) are cute in a snarly sort of way (though you wouldn’t think so to hear their screams when feeding – they get very competitive, which is fair enough for a solitary animal that only meets others of its kind when mating and feeding). They don’t swirl and sound nothing like the cartoon character Taz – you can hear them on YouTube here. Those teeth (below), aided by very strong jaws, will crunch through the flesh and bone of carcasses very quickly and efficiently.
In November 2012 15 adult, tumour-free devils were released on Maria Island, off the east coast of Tasmania. It is hoped that they will provide a bit of insurance for the survival of the species.
We heard yellow-tailed black cockatoos (the same species as at home) and saw the endemic black currawongs (Strepera fuliginosa, a subspecies of the ones on the mainland), forest raven (Corvus tasmanicus, a Tassie endemic), yellow wattlebird (Anthochaera paradoxa, another Tassie speciality), many superb blue wrens (Malurus cyaneus), white-backed magpies (same race as in SA but not in NSW) and many, many lapwing plovers. These were all wild in and around the park. I’d not seen so many black birds and starlings outside of SA and Victoria. Tassie also has the European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), which is introduced and common, but I hadn’t seen it before – a pretty bird.
Mark, the guide at the park, said that DNA of 18 separate fox individuals had been confirmed just the week before, so the longstanding question of whether foxes are on the island has unfortunately been answered in the affirmative. Oh dear!
Bennett’s wallabies (Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus, a variant of our northern NSW redneck wallabies, Macropus rufogriseus) are common. They don’t have the red neck, are slightly smaller and are noticeably darker and fluffier than rednecks. The one below was lurking under the “Do Not Feed The Wildlife” sign in the Freycinet National Park.
From the conservation park, we continued along the road through Donalley (which is no longer – media reports said 65 houses had burnt down, but I didn’t think it had 65 houses) to Pt Arthur. We took a harbour cruise there but not any guided tours – it was quicker to just go around by yourself, so that’s what we did, even if we missed the gory historical details. Many books have been written about the tough lives convicts faced there. The whole site was once covered by sandstone buildings, but a couple of bushfires over the years have pretty much destroyed everything. The tourist facilities are much more developed than I remembered them. We had afternoon tea in the old bank building where one of my co-workers at Southern Cross University was having tea with her family the day Martin Bryant visited Pt Arthur and massacred 35 people. The café owner had been telephoned a warning and she passed it on to the patrons. My friend said it was a very weird experience knowing he was coming for them. Fortunately he was captured before he got there.
Some people find Port Arthur spooky, but I didn’t – it’s too manicured and museum-like. In contrast, I found Sarah Island, a tiny place in Macquarie Harbour off Strahan on the west coast, much more atmospheric. Severe punishments were measured out there, too, to the convicts (read Closing Hell’s Gates).
On the way back, we dropped in on the Devil’s Kitchen, Tasmanian Arch and Tessellated Pavement, all very scenic geological formations.
There was a little town of beach shacks called “Doo Town” – all the shacks have names with “Doo” in them: from Wikipedia, Af-2-Doo, Da Doo Ron Ron, Didgeri-Doo, Doo-All, Doo Come In, Doodle Doo, Doo Drop In, Doo For Now, Doo F*** All, Doo I, Doo-ing it easy, Doo Little, Doo Luv It, Doo-Me, Doo Nix, Doo Nothing, Doo Often, Doo Us, Doo Us Too, Doo Write, Gunnadoo, Humpty Doo, Just Doo It, Love Me Doo, Make Doo, Much-A-Doo, Rum Doo, Sheil Doo, This Will Doo, Thistle Doo Me, Wattle-I-Doo, Wee-Doo, Xanadoo, Yabba Dabba Doo, etc. It had to be evacuated when the bushfires came, but survived.
First thing in the morning, a drive to the top of Mt Wellington – the view at 1271 metres (4,170 feet) was excellent, if a fraction hazy. We were lucky weather-wise as, more times than not, cloud obscures the valley. The miniature, ankle-high alpine vegetation is interesting, the big granite boulders and ‘organ pipes’ fascinating, the lovely summer wildflowers everywhere.
Then on to Sorell and the north-east road to Swansea. Angela spotted a sign “Tasmanian Bushland Garden”, so we dropped in out of curiosity. It is 20 acres tended by volunteers who have planted a large selection of Tassie shrubs and trees, some endangered. There are terrific sculptures, too – see my previous post. There were a lot of little birds flitting about, but the only one I was able to identify easily was the eastern spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris).
We had lunch at a café in Orford on an inlet – this very small town seems to have only two cafés and a small fishing fleet. I hadn’t seen so many sheep since New Zealand – they are all over the paddocks on the eastern side of Tassie.
We arrived at Swansea about 1-30 pm, and dropped in to our B&B, Redcliffe House, to see if we could check in. The proprietor hadn’t finished cleaning the rooms, so we said we were going to the Freycinet Peninsula and would be back. Good job we dropped in as we didn’t get back till 9 pm! She would have thought that we weren’t turning up at all.
We drove to Coles Bay and unfortunately had to fill up with petrol – unfortunately because it was 178.8 c/L. Cheeky as everywhere else we went was 152-ish. Then to the national park HQ to buy an entry pass and walk to the Wineglass Bay lookout. Next time I am going to get a 3-month pass for the whole state, as each national park is at least $25 to visit – much more than most on the mainland. There were quite a few tourists on the walk, so I hate to think what it’d be like in high season. The view of the bay is as spectacular as its many postcards imply.
Then to the Cape Tourville lookout and time to go back to Swansea before dark (which was much later than at home, as we are so far south on the planet). We got back into town about 8 pm and it still wasn’t dark. Dropped into the pub to get a meal, only to be told the whole town is shut by 8 pm. The barman, who was closing up, said to try The Banc, a swish restaurant in the old bank building – when we got there the sign on the door said “Closed” but there were two tables of patrons, so Angela knocked on the door. The waitress said we could have “mains” only, but they were excellent and more than adequate. I couldn’t have fitted in anything else, what with a glass of very nice Bay of Fires pinot noir. I had a great mushroom risotto and Angela seafood linguine. We were most grateful to be let in, and left at the same time as the other patrons, so didn’t outstay our welcome. Tassie has such great food and wine all over, much more than when I was here last time.
We didn’t see our hostess at the B&B till the next morning over a freshly cooked breakfast. I’d recommend staying there again as it was reasonably priced and the big cooked breakfast saves time and money getting it elsewhere, too.
Wildlife seen today: tree martins, welcome swallows, beautiful firetails, house sparrows, forest ravens, white-backed magpie, grey fantail, flame robin, eastern spinebill, New Holland honeyeater, Tasmanian scrub wren, superb fairy wrens, fantailed cuckoo (heard only), green rosella (Tasmanian endemic), short-beaked corella, yellow-tailed black cockatoos (heard), common bronzewing, Pacific gull. Lots and lots of wild rabbits!
On to Lonnie (this is what the locals call Launceston) via Lake Meare (kookaburra, black currawong), a pleasant trout-fishing lake. The introduced trout have devastated the native fish population, but no one is going to do anything about it as trout fishing is so popular.
Driving through the back roads, we came upon fields and fields of white flowers, and recognised them (thanks, Bob!) as opium poppies. Tasmania grows 50% of the world’s medicinal opioids, with over 25,000 hectares devoted to them (see the Poppy Industry in Tasmania website). They are very pretty …
and very deadly …
Two deaths in the last year attest to that – perhaps those who died should be given Darwin Awards.
On the way we saw two historic ‘stately homes’ near Evandale, an historic village (of which there are many) – Clarendon House and Woolmer’s Estate (a World Heritage Convict Site). Both were interesting but very different. We could take photos of the outside but not the inside. In Clarendon you can wander about on your own (after a brief intro talk). The place was given to the National Trust with no furniture, and is being pieced back together again from donations and purchases of furniture of the era (late 1800s).
At Woolmer’s you must go in with a guide, but you get much more info. I was reminded of Gormenghast a bit – it was dark, it was very cluttered, it was big (although not tall). The aged owner, last of his line, donated to the National Trust six generations’ worth of furniture, paintings, out-buildings, servants’ quarters, the whole shebang. He realised the value of its history. While waiting for the tour, we saw three wedgetailed eagles soaring together above Woolmer’s – two adults and one smaller, lighter brown juvenile. Woolmer’s has a huge rose garden (the National Rose Garden), which Angela investigated. I was a bit bushed by that time – it was a warm day – so I sat under the big shady trees on a bench in the shade and watched the antics of the magpies.
Then to Lonnie, and lodging at the Tamar River Villas – I wouldn’t recommend this as it is surrounded on two sides by the highway into and out of town, so noisy. Otherwise it was OK, and had a view of the Tamar River from the balcony. Black swans!
We drove into Launceston proper and parked behind the Myers department store. We just walked the streets, stopping and looking in the shops. Lots of 19th century buildings! Angela’s neck was sore so she lined up a massage while I looked in bookshops – there were several independent ones, and they were all excellent. I sent 13.5 kg of books back home, and also bought some mead for Andrew. A the end of the afternoon we went to nearby Cataract Gorge for a walk – very pretty.
I really liked the old buildings in Launceston – a bit like my home town of Gawler, same mid to late 1800s architecture but many, many more. They really value their old buildings here. We did two self-guided ‘heritage walks’ via a brochure we picked up at the info centre, so had a really good look around the town. The provedores are fantastic and we picked up picnic-type gourmet Tassie specialities for lunch and dinner.
I volunteered to be designated driver today as Angela wanted to do lots of wine tasting at the Tamar Valley wineries. We drove up the west coast (it’s only a very short trip, 30 minutes if you don’t stop). We went to the Seahorse Farm at Beauty Point where they are breeding up seahorses, hoping to replace wild capture of seahorses for the aquarium and Chinese medicine markets with bred ones. The tour was interesting, showing how they breed and raise them. They had some weedy sea dragons in a tank but no leafies.
On the way back we hit the wineries in a big way (went to five and Angela shipped bottles home from Rosevears, Goaty Hill and Holmoak). We also went to a lavender farm and a berry farm – got lost looking for this last one as we had to cross the Tamar on a big bridge and the signage wasn’t great. Both lavender and berries were in season. I was busy in one winery trying to get a photo of an endemic Tasmanian native hen (Gallinula mortierii), then looked up and realised I didn’t know where we were. Luckily Angela remembered the way out from the depths of the vineyard and we didn’t crush any grapes! On the way back to Lonnie, we stopped at an art and craft gallery at Gravelly Beach to check out the local creativity – and there was plenty of it.
Wildlife seen: wood ducks, pied cormorants, pelicans, Tasmanian native hen
Continued in part 2.