Covid restrictions in Queensland have lifted. We may now leave the state, and some other States including Tasmania, are open to us. My hip has been replaced and I anticipate that in three months I will be fit enough to travel. Yay! Tasmania in February 2021 is the go. It is a means to escape the hottest and most humid weather at home and a beautiful part of Australia which, except for a brief visit to Hobart eighteen months ago, we haven’t visited in fifteen years. We plan on a leisurely month there. We immediately call our friends Libby and Hob in Melbourne and my old university friend Janet to see if they would like to join us for a bit. We haven’t seen any of them for eighteen months, so a great opportunity. Both lots decide to share some time with us, and everyone is excited. It is a bigger deal for these Melbournite’s as they have experienced several serious Covid lockdowns and a considerable amount of isolation that we in the Whitsundays have barely felt. Our friend Roz drops us off in our summery clothes at the Whitsunday Coast airport. Upon entering the airport, we must now don masks for the very first time, look like a couple of clowns and endure the less than pleasant experience. We must fly to Hobart via an overnight in Brisbane. Hob and Libby will arrive from Melbourne an hour before us and collect us from the airport.
Hobart: the always gorgeous city
Lots of Covid-security stuff at the airport, a long slow queue after disembarking and finally Hob and Libby, masked up, await us. Off to our two adjoining W. Hobart apartments which Jon and I so enjoyed on our previous visit- great views overlooking the city and sea. We head to the nearby ‘specialist’ Hill St. IGA to stock up on food. This place is a treat to shop in with beautiful fresh produce, fantastic breads and everything else one might desire though their cost more than we are willing to pay. The food section opens into another section with kitchen/dining accoutrements, even a gorgeous selection of flowers and awfully expensive cheeses! I buy nothing there but love perusing. Next day, the obligatory visit to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), exciting building excavated deep into the earth, both gallery levels below ground leaving extraordinarily high walls of striated, exposed rock, artworks in their own right. Different galleries are interconnected via illuminated pedestrian tunnels. The exhibits change periodically from David Walsh’s vast private collection reflecting, amongst other themes, sex and death! A fascinating mix of the ancient and challenging, super-contemporary works. The four of us have fun, as Jon and I take them to our favourite local cafes and we drive beyond the city following the coast around the surrounding bays, inlets and villages, sharing evening meals in either of our respective apartments. Three days later we set off to nearby Bruny Island.
Bruny Island: a first time visit
A small island twenty minutes by ferry from Kettering near Hobart, it is almost two islands, north and south Bruny, separated by a narrow neck of land simply called The Neck. There are only a few small settlements and just as few cafes, only one store for provisions. The beaches are of fine crystal white sand. Driving around the island, each water view seems to overlook still more islands or land masses. The air is scented with Eucalyptus. We are sharing a wonderful three-bedroom/two-bathroom house in Adventure Bay which the ever-resourceful Hob found for us. On an elevated site, it offers superb sea views. The garden path is lined with a wall of tree ferns in which green rosellas, a sturdy parrot previously unknown to me, flitter, wooing one another in the secret dark foliage of other trees and shrubbery. A two-minute walk downhill and across the small main road is a long sweeping beach which curves around the bay, backed with low dunes and dune grasses. A tidal creek runs into it at our end and black swans, various gulls, oyster catchers and other seabirds abound. Two black swans hang out on the main beach in the shallows seemingly remaining in the same spot all day. In the later afternoon Libby and I walk the beach encountering several women almost all of whom are walking dogs and all of whom are friendly and stop to chat.
A visit to the Cheese Factory has been recommended by a veteran Bruny Islander and proves a great recommendation. Nestled amidst eucalypts, tables and chairs of various contemporary forms including wooden boxes, dot the sloping area and a cafe serves good coffee and a variety of sandwiches, breads, wonderful cheeses all made on the premises and the four of us take brunch here. It is really a cafe, the cheese factory being behind glass walls and inaccessible.
Hotel Bruny at Alonnah, the only place open at night on very low-key Bruny Island, also recommended by Suzette. The food is not ‘pub grub’ but first class and a superb Rosé, reputedly as good as a good French one. On each table is an elegant black card headed “FOOD” upon which a screed is written. Extract follows: Here at Hotel Bruny, we are obsessed with freshness and our food is as local as we can possibly get it and where possible is sourced locally and made on the premises. Dave and Ross…. local fishermen, we use three Bruny Island oyster farms…. Natalie & Jacky from the honey pot…. Tony produces some of the finest smoked Atlantic salmon in the country. Here at Hotel Bruny, we believe in real food locally sourced and produced here in our kitchen and yes, everything on our menu goes through a rigorous taste-testing process! People line up to enter the large indoor spaces as well as outside overlooking the bay, a serene sight at dusk when we are leaving. Jon and I share a seafood platter, great quality and value for money.
On two occasions in our first week, I have seen little Echidnas wuddling (waddling and puddling) along the edge of the road, their spines standing proud. On a really cold day we drive to Cloudy Bay at the southern end of South Bruny and do a short walk, well rugged up. I find the path across the wind-blown terrain enchanting – some of it is paved with grey beach rocks (a little tricky to negotiate), other parts with lengths of timber laid in two parallel strips and still other sections of traditional timber boardwalk.
Dennes Point sits at the northern-most tip of N. Bruny with lovely little houses, many quite contemporary in design, stretching along a winding narrow road following the coast. No shops, not even a cafe and just a hop skip and jump across from the mainland’s low green hills. This island is a lovely place, small, intimate, unspoiled. I would love to return for a longer period.
There is a terrible kerfuffle when Hob and Lib drop us at the airport to collect our hire car for our remaining three weeks in Tasmania before they return to Melbourne (the day before yet another five-day Covid Lockdown is announced!). We are driving endlessly and embarrassingly in circles trying to find the car hire place, Google maps no help, difficulty getting hold of the company on the phone, frustration rising all round, horrible! Finally, the car guy, apparently noticing my attempted calls, phones back and directs us as we drive and eventually, we are there. Apparently Apple hasn’t updated the maps for new areas and the car man is apologetic having omitted to inform me of this. Perhaps by way of recompense, we are upgraded to a much larger, very new Mitsubishi Outlander. And Hob and Libby drive off to enjoy their remaining afternoon and night in Hobart having lost an hour!
Hobart- Swansea: delicious cake stop and unexpected generosity
En route to Swansea we pull up in our hire car in a small town with only two cafes and find it’s a Providore with all Tasmanian produce and enjoy an unusually good pot of tea and first-class cakes, chocolate for Jon, and an exceptional orange poppyseed for me. As the tea is so excellent, I want to buy a packet and ask the girl which one we were served. ‘English Breakfast’ she replies but there is none left on the shelf. As we are leaving, she calls me over and, in a touching act of kindness, hands me two tiny, lidded plastic containers of it to take away!
Swansea: a ‘chalet’ by the sea
When we arrive at the Beachside Chalets, Swansea (curious name especially in the light of the simple modern design of the fourteen free-standing units), we apparently charm the helpful and somewhat eccentric woman at reception who, after giving us detailed information about everything, says: I’ll tell you what I will do for you. For your first two nights I’ll give you the best ’chalet’ but you will have to move into a different one for the remaining two nights. So here we are in our one bedroom ‘chalet’, a lovely simple modern structure with kitchen/living area leading onto a small timber deck with timber table and four chairs overlooking a beautiful seascape, the green hills of Freycinet National Park beyond! I sit on the deck and, attracted by a high frequency chirruping, turn to see a cheeky bird with striking blue face, black head and light-coloured body with darker blue upright tail, which I later identify as a Superb Fairy Wren. He is hovering on the deck no more than 30-40 cms from my feet, quite unafraid before flitting away into dense coastal undergrowth.
The move to the smaller ‘chalet’ barely disappoints. One row back from the sea it is beautifully located with line of sight directly between two chalets in front of us, sea and mountain views and a French press coffee maker which the other didn’t have! We drive to Bicheno, some kms north and take a few short walks on narrow bush paths overlooking the sea and along a white sand beach where a couple of children in wet suits swim and another person surfs. We pass a man carrying his baby in a backpack, his little back well supported, chubby legs straight forward over dad’s shoulders strapped in for extra security. He is King of the Castle up there.
At the Gulch, famous for its fresh fish and chips, a Nepalese girl serves us grilled calamari tentacles and grilled prawns in a cardboard takeaway box. This is the first (but as it transpires, not the last) Nepali we have encountered in Australia. We eat in a room overlooking fishing craft and a low white rock island close in. It’s far too cold and windy to enjoy the outdoor tables.
Further up the coast at St Helen’s/Bay of Fires, we walk along another winding track by the sea. The orange lichen-covered rocks for which the area is famed and named jumps through the tree trunks and foliage; still more spectacular from a white sandy beach at nearby Binalong Bay, are huge orange boulders and extensive flat areas against a pale aqua sea drenched in sunlight. On the way back home we stop at Devils Corner winery and sample an expensive glass of delectable red wine sitting on the back terrace in warm sun overlooking the vineyards and the remarkable Remarkables, a striking range of mountains in Freycinet national park where we had stopped earlier for coffee.
Freycinet National Park is a favorite place of mine but an area with steep walks so I am quite limited in what I can tackle. However, the short walk to the lighthouse with its elegant timber walkway and spectacular views of the immediate coastline and steep drop to the sea below is exhilarating. The tea tree in full bloom spatters the landscape with white and the buzz of bees.
We have not eaten in any of the local cafes yet and finally try the nearby tavern for an evening meal. It is warm enough to sit outside and, much to our astonishment, find we are eating absolutely first class food. Jon orders rack of lamb with chat potatoes, the meat being pink, juicy and tender. I have an enormous bowl of green mussels in a wonderful spicy tomato coulis, served with sourdough bread off the grill. Several of the mussels fail to open and when I mention this to the waiter, he disappears and reappears with a small additional bowl from the kitchen! The food is so good that we return to the adjacent cafe, part of the same establishment, for breakfast before departing the following day.
After breakfast we check out an eye-catching little gallery/shop called Barebones. That’s the same name as the gallery in Bangalow where I used to sell some work’, I proclaim. Inside are some interesting bits and pieces, sophisticated toys, gifts, books, clothing, stylish stuff, not cheap…and some wonderful artwork. We get chatting with the woman behind the counter and, before we know it, find she is the daughter of the woman who owned Barebones in Bangalow, N.NSW where we lived from 1980-1999. She remembers my name, says she thought I looked familiar. What a small world – from there thirty years ago to Tasmania today!
It is striking how many people we pass riding bicycles long distance, usually in pairs and most with large backpacks, the steep ups and downs of the terrain apparently no hindrance. Driving between destinations we see some paddocks dense with sheep eating the seed of dry yellow grasses and a smaller number dense with black Angus cattle in prime condition.
Swansea – Launceston
We leave Swansea in lightest rain which clears to a fine warm day again. Midway, a stop at Campbelltown, one of the first settlements in Tasmania; lovely old houses line the main street, actually the highway between Hobart (pop. 2,000,000 and Launceston (pop. 87,000), the two biggest cities. Trucks with sheep and cattle pass through and the place smells of animal dung. Nonetheless lovely, it sports a wonderful leather shop – shoes, bags, the smell of fresh leather. And in the adjacent café, we sit down to the best Devonshire tea, scones a little crispy on the outside and fluffy inside.
Launceston: a week-long stay and Jon falls in love with it
Our accommodation is in E. Launceston just off High St., unbeknown to us, an exclusive area. I look it up and find this: High Street, Launceston’s best 20th century address, has long been regarded as our premier Boulevard with some of our finest homes and delightful palm trees originating from the Middle East brought back as seeds from the 1st World War. Running along a crest, it has views down the Tamar River and to the three mountains in the east – Arthur, Barrow and Ben Lomond and the Central Plateau Tiers in the West. All properties on High Street are restored Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian homes – some still with extensive grounds.
Our Airbnb is one such house, three-storeys high on a large, steep block overlooking hills and other old homes. Our digs on the lowest level are former servants’ quarters and consist of two bedrooms on either side of a wide hallway, small kitchen and bathroom. Windows in every room overlook gardens or greenery or distant hills and a wide covered patio from which we enter, overlooks the steep garden and a gargantuan oak tree. The gardens are full of begonias, espaliered camellias and fuchsias. We are invited by the youngish Chinese wife Ping, to help ourselves to tomatoes and herbs form the vegetable garden.
Fully renovated with palest blue-grey brick walls it looks charming though there is no sitting room, and it feels cold when we enter, so our first impression is a little unfavourable, especially as we discover that there is no heating. Ping speaks little English but picks up on our uncertainty and suggests we speak with her husband when he returns from work. He totally disarms me that evening by asking if we are unhappy with the place, explaining that he doesn’t want unfavourable reviews. I ask about heating and he immediately provides us with a portable heater and from that point on we embrace the beauty of what we have. He also shows us around part of the house upstairs which he has painstakingly brought back to its original style, stripping back every bit of painted timber to its natural state, painting white walls back to deep reds with muted deep turquoise trim, even restoring the bells used to call the servants. It is astonishing in its detail and architectural/historical authenticity.
On our first morning we spend an hour in full sunshine walking the local streets as I snap photos of the impressive architecture, stopping for coffee before coming home for lunch. Within a two-minute drive of central Launceston, lies a rare natural phenomenon in any city, Cataract Gorge where the South Esk River courses down a deep, rugged trench. By foot we cross The Kings Bridge which was floated into place in 1867, and follow a meandering, gentle pathway along the cliff face, originally built in the 1890s. Small rapids create white foam which eddies and swirls on the water surface creating marbled patterns and we encounter few people as we set out. Huge geometric rocks soar above us, one angled in such a way that it has been secured with a large steel pipe looping around it. Within half an hour we come to an area with a rotunda, a cafe overlooking the river and gorge, manicured gardens, rolling lawns with exotic ferns and peacocks, two of whom have tiny chicks 🐥and are very tame. Opposite is a large swimming pool and above, a chair lift. More people now appear, passing us on our return journey. I probably overdo my walking capacity given my other problematic hip and pay for it at night. As we eat dinner at our small kitchen table, Daryl, our Airbnb host, knocks on the window just after dark at 8.30 pm to offer us a large bowl of freshly picked blueberries.
We have never seen the fruit in its natural glory, stems and leaves intact. A friend of Ping’s is a picker and as the season is almost at an end, these are too ripe for market. Fat, sweet and juicy, they are unrecognizable from those we buy at the supermarket.
Next day we are up and out at 9.15, still cool maybe 16C, to make the short drive to the Tamar River Cruise. Being small, Launceston is traffic-free even through the downtown area at this time. It feels a bit grotty and unattractive though we haven’t yet explored the ‘downtown’ streets. As we board the boat, we are greeted by a man with hand sanitizer, ensuring every passenger uses it and there are containers onboard for use. The four-hour cruise takes us through Cataract Gorge but from the water we get a different perspective from yesterday’s walk as the cliffs soar still more dramatically above us; then returning to the main river which is a long estuary fed by the North and South Esk rivers, overlooking house-clad hills of the city which thin out as it soon becomes rural, with vineyards, an old plantation, some old farmhouses and the odd mansion. The tide is low and ebbing revealing wide mud banks fringed with yellow rice grass which looks soft and beautiful but is a problematic invasive species. There is a profusion of birdlife-black swans in abundance, a few pelicans, a variety of ducks and gulls. The swans and pelicans shear across the water, wings flapping to gain momentum, legs running through the air until, after much effort, they are airborne and only now look effortless as they cut through the sky. Conversely these large birds, especially the pelicans, when alighting on the water surface look like war planes coming in to land. Large flocks of the smaller birds wheel overhead. We missed out on the upstairs seating and downstairs is filled with ‘riffraff’ as Jon so charmingly refers to them, mostly older people but loud and more densely seated than I expected, not socially-distanced. As I move from inside to outside, downstairs to upstairs into fresher air and better viewing, touching rails and surfaces all the way, I use the hand sanitizer frequently. Jonny of course, barely moves from his seat!
Ah, what is it about the pleasure of small domestic tasks when on holiday? At home they feel like chores resulting in sore bodies. Mid afternoon I do a load of washing in the particularly good facilities offered by our accommodation. I am in love with the large, deep, porcelain laundry tub! An hour later, having used both tub and washing machine, I hang sweet smelling clothes on the washing line placed in a corner of this magnificent garden. Our jeans and T-shirts are enjoying a view over roofs well below and onto distant mountains, surrounded by the fragrance of roses, as am I. Now sitting in 25C sunshine on the same terrace pondering the age of the enormous oak tree down the garden before me. We are here mid summer and roses are in profusion everywhere making a drive or walk through these lovely streets quite a treat. Magnolias are just coming into bloom also. And the flowering eucalypts, especially prolific in the rural areas are amazing, reds, flamingo pinks, orange. Jon is in awe of them.
Today we venture along the western side of the Tamar, the so-called Winery Route though stop at no wineries as we are aiming for Beauty Point almost at the end, having been told there was a worthy café there. Less than 50 kms from Launceston on a four-lane highway, we skirt off it as soon as possible to meander along the waterfront with delightful views across the wide estuary to hills and mountains where vineyards climb slopes. There is no traffic and many charming old homes. Beauty Point is tiny with some old boats and fishing craft and we overlook all this from a pleasant deck of the hotel where sadly had a VERY ordinary late lunch as the recommended café was a fish and chip shop! However, we are directed by people sitting beside us to Greens Beach. It is a small community some fifteen minutes further, with a lovely feel to it located at the very end of the west Tamar where the river meets the sea. It proves to be a treat. A long flat wide curving beach, firm sand, a cloudless sky and by now 26C. The settlement consists of a few streets rising up a hill, with almost exclusively modest but modern houses, many obviously architect-designed, set in lovely coastal bushland. Those closest to the sea sit on a small winding road and at regular intervals grassy walkways run through to the beach. No shops or cafés, quiet, my sort of place!
For the first time in the few days we have been here, I venture up to the first floor living room which our host had said we could use. I sit at a small round table, lace tablecloth draped, in the bay window overlooking the vegetable garden, lemon tree, apple tree and huge magnolia tree. Two neighbouring mansions are in partial view. The bay windowsills are painted in a muted ochre with matching heavy drapes held in place by tasselled silken cords which pick up the above colour as well as the dark red of the walls in the room and muted aqua. This colour theme goes throughout. The timber floors are all highly polished. Looking in the opposite direction, the large living room has a trio of three-seater couches, one a paler version of the wall colour, the others a pale sandy yellow. The stained timber door into the adjoining room has two stained glass panels above it replicating the same colour scheme. There is a dark wooden fireplace with brick insert and, on the mantelpiece, Chinese vases. At the opposite end to where I sit, the stained timber bifold doors are open and beyond, carpeted timber stairs lead up to the next floor. Oh my! Such attention to detail.
Tamar Wetlands, a few kms out of ‘Launie’. A boardwalk winds through waterways surrounded by dreamy but destructive expanses of pale green-yellow rice grass; a black swan twists its long neck to scratch under a wing, its bright red beak a metre from us; its 10.30am and already heading to 25C, the earlier greyish sky, as usual in these last days giving way to blue. The traffic noise from the nearby main road has almost disappeared and in a few minutes, all is silent but for the odd frog croaking. Ducks and other birds swim along the far edge. A shaded section of solid earth path takes us to a bird hide, through a forest of pale-barked young trees rising from a carpet of emerald green moss. If only we were able to keep walking as far as the island in the middle of these wetlands, but my body is yelling at me today.
A local recommended cafe, Relish, is on our today list. First, we check out the ridiculously overpriced gourmet deli opposite, exiting only with Sicilian green olives at reasonable price. Relish turns out to be an absolute treat; this is what I eat: shredded slow roasted lamb with spicy yoghurt, cucumber, tomato hummus, tabbouleh in a wonderful dressing and pita bread. Jon has nasi goreng with pork belly, a fragrant, spicy and unusual version thereof with a side of kimchi. We share a rocket and shaved parmesan salad. Jon has the usual coffee, but I decide on cucumber, watermelon & carrot juice, so good! A meal to delight the taste buds and leaves us with the desire to return to try other dishes.
Late afternoon I drag the old fella out to check out City Park comprised of a large city block but with magnificent oaks and an impressive variety of grand old conifers rearing up like wild green sculptures, a delightful Victorian rotunda and water features. We sit on a bench gazing up at the trees and converse. We drive through the centre to find an ATM, no luck but finally find the part of the small downtown that feels attractive – gorgeous architecture and something called The Quadrant. It is a unique pedestrian way arcing its way between two main streets and is lined exclusively with heritage buildings. However, the paving and landscaping is utterly contemporary. At 6 pm on a Friday evening there are not many people around, quite strange but it is so unusual and splendid that I determine to revisit at a more leisurely pace when feeling more comfortable.
On our way there Jon had noticed two food vans parked a minute from our home at St George’s Square, the first we have seen, and they are still there on our return at 7 pm. On one side of the square young men are playing a ball game, the grass brilliant between the slashing shadows of tree trunks in the late sun. On our side of the road where the park continues, groups of people are enjoying the still warm evening, sitting on the grass in small groups with their take-away food from the food vans. One van serves fish and chips, the other a great selection of Vietnamese food from which we order fried chicken wontons and a beef noodle soup. After five minutes our order is ready having been cooked by three Vietnamese women who run this van only on Fridays. A strong paper carry-bag to take it home in, and we eat on the outside table in the back garden. The wontons are served with a Vietnamese chilli sauce and are delicious, thin crispy batter, not at all greasy, accompanied by a home-made sweet chilli sauce. The soup is packaged in two containers – one with thinly sliced beef, little pork balls, dumplings and noodles, all distinctive, tasty and warm; the other, steaming hot clear broth with basil leaves and garlic chives to pour onto the former contents. A delicious dish and excellent value at $21.
A glass of champers never goes astray and at 6pm this evening it’s still summer, having reached 30C today, a different story altogether from 30C at home where we drip with sweat! Jonny’s shorts carefully folded and placed in a plastic bag to take in the car yesterday have done a magic disappearing act! Makes no difference how often I search, they are gone!!! GONE! So is our house key, something we have never lost before while travelling, apparently fallen out of Jon’s pocket. No matter, on arrival home we are lucky that Daryl our host is home and simply unlocks the door from inside. He gives us another key.
Ants have appeared around the kitchen window so ask if he has insect spray. He wants to get rid of the ants and immediately comes back with AntRid. Standing outside the kitchen window we chat as he applies the stuff and somehow the conversation turns to Covid. We thought we were ‘on the same page’ but then he says he will never accept the vaccine. How come? I ask and he says, why would you? and out comes a stream with astonishing fluency about how Covid is a conspiracy, how the President of Ghana told his people about the satanic Rockefeller plan to spread a virus to depopulate the world and destroy the global economy. He also tells us where to find the proof. He then discloses the country where the virus was developed, Fauci and Gates’s involvement in the agenda and much more!!! The Ghanaian President is going to end all vaccinations, he is a true leader not on the Deep State payroll etc…and gives us a link to the President talking. WOW! Jonny later quips to me, no wonder his first missus gave him the flick! (she is a doctor, and he is now married to a younger Chinese woman, Ping, who barely speaks English though she has been married to him and living here for six years). Funny, eh!
So, to backtrack…a garden visit is surely the thing for garden lovers to do on a fine summer’s day and so we head out to Longford, famed for its notorious early convict history and heritage colonial properties. Bickendon Estate attracts my attention due to its unusual collection of trees whose species and age are found together nowhere else in Tasmania, apart from the Royal Botanical Gardens. Majestic oaks, including and Algerian oak, a Portuguese oak, elms, pines, cedars, yews, lindens and an enormous bunya bunya encircle the gardens, providing a private world for the Archers who established the property in 1830. Sweeping carriage drives, Hawthorn-lined driveways, wilderness shrubberies, garden ‘rooms’, extensive rose and perennial plantings, all surround the gracious Georgian Homestead – still home to generations of the Archer family. This branch of the family was motivated to establish a working farm and making the gardens with a desire for continuity rather than fame and riches. The ABC made an interesting documentary about them in the program Dynasty and the 6th generation of Archers may well continue. However, as with all such properties, it was established on the back of convict labour though purportedly convicts were treated better here than in many other places.
As we walk back to the car, we hear a bleat and behind the post and rail fence a fat sheep pokes its head between the timber rails. Naturally, we immediately approach, and I bend down to say g’day and pat the woolly head and gaze directly into a yellow eye which looks directly at me and then I scratch behind its ears and on top of the unexpectedly hard head and Jonny says, look look! Did you know sheep wag their non-existent tails? We didn’t, never having dealt with sheep – yep, it’s wagging its stumpy tail every time we pat it, god love its sheep-like face! And tail!
Just as the approach from Longford took us through hedgerows of Hawthorn, so too the roadside along the few kilometres separating the two properties, trimmed to create a wall of green. The second ‘ancestral home’, established by another member of the Archer family in 1817 but with quite different ambitions, is a world heritage listed convict site, now a grand estate, 82 ha in size. It was established in 1820, supported by both paid workers and convict labour and survived for six generations until the last Archer, without heir, died in 1994. It was then turned into a Foundation and opened to the public. What we were keen to see was its famous Rose Garden, now the National Rose Garden, a large area with an extensive variety of roses surrounded by other delightful gardens. As we wander through, the fragrance of rose permeates the warm summer air. The property consists of three precincts, domestic, service and farm and is almost a village unto itself. A magnificent house has an Italianate entrance, reception rooms (we didn’t go inside), a walled garden and many out-buildings consisting of granary, carriage house, kitchen wing, coach house, stables, coachman’s cottage, chapel, apple packing shed, bake house, pump house, blacksmith’s shop, wool shed, gardener’s cottage. It includes an old timber windmill. In the early days, the 82 ha estate had up to 10,000 sheep. The elegant modern entrance building of this Foundation also has a large restaurant overlooking the gardens, now past their best full bloom. Although there was only one other party of people there, a table of six or eight, I couldn’t take my eyes off them – they were somehow arrogant and refused to acknowledge us in any way. When their food finally arrived, oysters, within a few minutes they sent it all back – were the oysters off? Hopefully not as there was a large wedding party to come only a couple of hours later. We don’t want a poisoned bride and groom. Jon had a hamburger and I ordered a Japanese pancake, which looked wonderful but taste-wise, I wasn’t so sure.
After returning home at 4:30, I do a quick reconnoitre downtown. It is still noticeably quiet and traffic-free. This is an easy town to navigate through, so I find a park with no trouble, meter payment not required at this time on Saturday, so return to The Quadrant and take a ton of photographs. It is so quiet, almost a bit sad and there are a few empty shops too. Covid19. But we are told property prices have escalated here as elsewhere since Covid. Nonetheless, it is still incredibly cheap compared with other parts of Oz.
Tasmania Design Centre houses an evolving collection of contemporary Tasmanian wood design. It is the only museum collection of its type in Australia. The collection was established in 1991, with the aim to champion and showcase Tasmanian wood designers and makers, and to highlight Tasmania’s unique position in the global design industry and I am intent on seeing it. We are greeted at the door by an elegant young man who gives us a rundown of the what’s what – pictures speak more than words here. Some of the furniture collection is on display in one gallery space, the other houses a temporary exhibition, PLAY, where up-cycled and recycled textiles and other materials are transformed into precious objects and the plastic possibilities of biomaterials are explored. The isolation of Covid has had the unexpected impact of becoming a sandbox for creative ideas. One piece, a stool titled Toad Stool is from a design collective which has been experimenting with mycelium (mushroom spores) composites and developing mycelium based biodegradable materials in their laboratory for more than eighteen months. This work explores a shared belief in the need for biomimicry and ecological design to drive transitioning to a climate adapted future which could overhaul industrial systems by finding solutions to deal with the mess society has created. Mycelium is combined with paper pulp to produce durable but biodegradable products. A fascinating show.
In the same area is the National Automobile Museum with many cars from the 1970’s and 1980’s which don’t interest me but a few very cool older cars. Also an amazing car with a great story. A 10-year old boy is a passionate car lover and extraordinarily talented designer. His mum sends some of his drawings to Mazerati. As an adult he designs this car of which only six were hand made.
The Centre is adjacent to City Park which houses an enclosure of Macaques and we find a large troop of them, at least twenty animals, having fun wading in a pebble laden moat, romping around on the large rocks, climbing on ropes in their large, glass walled enclosure. Two or three have young ones and two have tiny babies cradled in their arms. Other youngsters chase one another in little circles. I could watch all day.
Launceston to Devonport to collect Janet
We decide on a meal out on our last evening and drive to a section of Charles St which has a few nice-looking eating places. We choose Thai, are delighted by authentic food and leave next day for our next destination, Devonport where we will pick up my oldest University friend Janet, joining us for a week after a Covid lockdown in Melbourne almost prevented her coming. Jon and I arrive at the Devonport house Janet has booked for one night, a large, luxurious old single-storey home on the waterfront and I set out in the car to source possible eating places for the evening, finding many closed on a Monday night. Then the ten-minute drive to the opposite side of the river to meet the Princess of Tasmania, an enormous ferry, a ship really. We must put on a mask to enter the waiting area and Janet arrives wearing hers. Unaccustomed as we still are to this, it amuses, a giggle here and there. We decide on Little Asia, a five-minute walk down the road from our accommodation and are surprised to find a small but flourishing trade run by Nepalese people offering a wide range of Asian food in a pleasant environment. Again, excellent food.
Devonport to Deloraine, such a lovely place
Before leaving Devonport, we take a drive and some short walks around the headland with long views out to sea and are treated to several sightings of a large seal feeding nearby below, his head peeping above the surface, his tail breaking water as he flips over and descends again to gather more food. On to Deloraine, less than 50 km away where we will spend three days, arriving at another lovely house we are staying in, Silver Birch Cottage. Deloraine has a good feel to it.
Before settling into Deloraine, Jon and I take Janet to nearby Latrobe, to show her a shop recommended to us, which we had visited before collecting her. Nice café with good food too! The shop proved worthy of the recommendation, so unusual were its varied contents including highly educational games, books and toys for adults and children, and fabulous soft toys of varying sizes!
Main Street curves down a hill at the bottom of which runs a river fringed with well maintained verdant grass and trees; some willows grace the banks as do a flock of ducks. Although there are not so many heritage buildings there are quite a few interesting shops, cafés, a craft centre with booths of crafts of different types – ceramics, felt, photography, knitted/dyed/woven items, many stylish. Janet and I go into a fruit shop and are surprised to see the young woman behind the counter wearing a strange little white cap perched toward the back of her head. As she emerges from behind the counter, we see she is wearing an ankle length, long-sleeved dress and I immediately identify her as a (probably) American fundamentalist of some ilk. Brightly I enquire as to where she hails from and learn she is a Mennonite from Alberta! Bb: How long have you been in Australia? She: Ten years. Bb: So, what brought you to Deloraine? My father was invited to be the pastor here, she replies. She has the same pink pasty innocent look about her as the group of young Mennonite men, all red haired and pink, who we encountered thirty years ago on a train in Mexico. They wore overalls and flat topped, wide brimmed hats and stood out like sore thumbs from the locals, most of whom were Indians of Mayan descent.
Our accommodation is a delight. An old timber house in a quiet side street set in a leafy garden with many silver birch trees and views over mountains to one side. Curved flower beds extend out onto the nature strip and the house is warm with rich timber floors, brightly lit bedrooms and a large L-shaped kitchen/dining/living room with four couches and timber furniture, an interesting mix of modern and old, double timber-framed glass doors leading to a modest deck. And heating everywhere which we use as the nights have been quite cold. This morning it was 8C at 8.30 am but once again sunny and blue sky and reached 19C or 20C.
A striking mountain looms over the landscape, Quamby Bluff, an outlying part of the Great Western Tiers mountain range and lures me. Not able to climb mountains, and Jonny wanting a day at home, Janet and I drive through beautiful hilly country, past a paddock full of black and white cows where we pull up to check our directions. When we lift our heads from the map just a couple of minutes later, we are surprised to see forty or so of them lined up hard against the barbed wire fence, all peering at us curiously. I, of course, must immediately leave the car to go talk with them. As we leave, we see a small porcupine crossing the road, jump out again to have a closer look as he makes his prickly way as fast as his little fat legs will take him into the wild blackberries on the side of the road. We climb through Eucalypt forest and the road ascends more steeply through many S-bend curves and viewpoints overlooking blue mountains and Quamby Bluff towering at 1250m. It is clearly visible above the tree line as we head to Pine Lake passing areas of rock sprees. A boardwalk curves its way around a section of the lake over alpine plants and mosses. The alpine landscape includes Pencil Pines and Plum Pines, ancient species indicative of its connection to Gondwanaland. A wind blows off the blue moving water and it becomes quite cold. The thermometer in the car says 15C but the windchill factor would probably bring it to 10C.
Back in Deloraine, Jon and I take a late afternoon stroll along the river path passing a few dog walkers, willows, plenty of ducks scouring the grass for food which perhaps the walkers have thrown there not long before, but no longer visible to us. There are a few sculptures. An excitable young dog seemingly alone but with collar and tag, crosses the road regardless of passing cars, making us quite nervous. A young fellow we think, perhaps too interested in the ducks or ducklings on the grassy banks, of which we noticed only one…where are the rest!?!?
In nearby Mole Creek, the Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary has been at the heart of Tasmanian wildlife conservation and education since 1979. The Sanctuary was instrumental in the establishment of the Save The Devil program and the training of keepers from around the world necessary for the devil’s care. They breed animals which are in decline and are committed primarily to in-situ conservation projects for the Tasmanian devil and the Spotted-tailed quoll. Tasmanian devils have been devastated by a bizarre transmissible facial cancer first detected in 1996.
Transmitted via biting, it has spread over almost the entire state, reaching the west coast in the past two or three years. It has led to a decline of at least 80% in the total devil population. However, it is now believed that with interventions underway, the population will survive. It is bitterly cold today, grey and a little rain predicted, a one-day aberration in consistently good weather and the only cold one since Bruny Island. So, rugged up in layers, beret and gloves we arrive at the sanctuary with its impressive open areas and enclosures designed to stimulate the animals. Kangaroos, (tame and able to be patted), Shell ducks and Cape Baron geese roam freely within the sixty-acre fenced property while wombats, quolls and Tasmanian Devils are in generous sized, natural looking enclosures. The temperature is about 13C but as the wind picks up, BOM tells us it ‘feels like’ 6C. Brrr….rrrrr Nonetheless we enjoy the instructive tour given by one of the young rangers as he feeds and handles the animals.
I’ve never been a Rosé drinker but Frenchman’s Cap, that recommended Bruny Island bottle, has made its way into my holiday drinky-poo regime, which I now enjoy with Janet. Jon has largely lost his taste for alcohol over this last year, strange but good for his health. Had lunch at a local Deloraine cafe, delicious pasta so another big salad at home sufficed for our last supper and a glass of said Rosé, cosy in the lovely house with plenty of heating.
Deloraine to Erriba via a special garden
Another beautiful drive surrounded by a variety of mountain views, escarpments, rich soil (some black, some iron red), rolling green hills and clean paddocks, some fenced paddocks dense with black Angus cattle and some with fewer dairy cattle, some with black-faced white sheep, all in splendid condition. And as everywhere, huge quantities of baled hay and woodpiles ready for the colder weather. Wychwood garden which we visit en route, is dubbed ‘the most beautiful garden in Tasmania’, by Blooming Australia. With sweeping borders of rare perennials and old roses, the gardens spread over 2.5 acres of temperate climate plants. A grass labyrinth surrounding a contemporary sculpture, is one of several contemporary sculptures, framed by the idyllic Mole Creek. Abundant birdlife and mountain views add to the beauty and a nursery sits within this area. The garden consists of different ‘rooms’ discovered as we meander through. One is an apple orchard consisting of forty varieties. A fully enclosed chicken pen houses a few unusual breeds and there are a couple of tiny outbuildings with little porches and old wicker chairs overlooking the gardens. We chat with the young, softly spoken owner who, with his wife, has been here for four years, bringing the gardens back to their former glory. We stop in Sheffield to stock up on food for our four days in the Cradle mountain area. It is a small town which reminds me of Nimbin, with some colourful and eccentric shopfronts and signage. There is, however, only one small, overpriced supermarket.
Erriba and a basket full of goodies
On to our destination at Erriba, a thirty-minute drive from the entrance to the Cradle Mountain National Park. Our accommodation in Erriba is a new two-bedroom house sitting on a hill to one side of which is a devastated expanse of recently cut pine trees. It looks a mess. Our hosts, Colleen and Keith live in the old adjacent house and have felled the paddock which will eventually be replanted with native Blackwood, an attractive and useful timber tree. The grounds are still to be developed. Jon describes Colleen as a rosy apple🍎, a perfect description of this exuberant warm plump woman who has all sorts of considerate goodies in the house to welcome guests…teas and coffee, a litre of milk, walnuts, muesli, olive oil, a basket full of good quality tinned food, all on an honour box system (nothing has marked prices on it), generous and lovely. The small house is built, decorated and equipped similarly. There is a small view to one side, a glimpse of Bass straight which is only 40 km north as the crow flies. We even see the Spirit of Tasmania, the huge ferry travelling between Melbourne and Devonport on which Janet arrived a few days ago! It looks like a dinky toy boat from here. This property is slowly being developed in stages and husband Keith is currently building a large deck which will abut this house. They intend to build a new home after demolishing their old one and to develop the gardens. Some pademelons hop around the water tank and little blue fairy wrens and other birds and lizards skittle about. Janet and I take short walks up and down the two other driveways leading to neighbouring properties and discover a variety of native conifers and other trees and pick blackberries sufficient to eat after dinner.
Cradle Mountain National Park
Driving through a mix of hilly open country with mountain views, we start climbing through Tasmanian forest, some parts dense with tree ferns. Arriving at the park entrance is a big surprise to Jon and me as it has changed beyond recognition since we were here some fifteen years ago with his brother and sister-in-law from the USA. Back then, we checked in at a small Ranger’s Station and drove to various points of interest including the unforgettable Dove Lake. Now we arrive at an enormous car park and walk some distance to a large and imposing architecturally designed Visitor Centre. The buildings are surrounded by shaped ‘beds’, some comprised of white granite stone, some of smaller black stones, all with young native grasses and trees planted within. It will look stunning when they mature. In order to protect this pristine environment from the now huge number of visitors, one must now take a twenty-minute shuttle-bus ride from the car park into the park along a narrow winding road which passes through a variety of landscapes – densely treed areas with mossy undergrowth and open expanses covered with large tufted button grass, like huge yellowish pincushions; another thick low ground-cover, alpine coral fern, provides a coarse rich green carpet, a beautiful textural contrast as both cover large swathes of ground. Shuttles run every five to ten minutes, with four stopping points. The landscape is extremely old, its dramatic shapes dating back about 10,000 years ago when, in the last ice age, a 6 km ice cap carved the landscape into today’s distinct valleys and mountains.
We visit the park on two consecutive days, doing a few short walks including a section of the gorgeous Dove Lake above which Cradle Mountain itself looms, its dramatic jagged, saw-tooth profile forming a backdrop. Tea-tree is in full bloom now and the shrubs are dense with white blossom. When we first arrived, there were few people around despite the large number of cars but soon we are not alone on the boardwalks or the path around the lake. We stop at lake’s edge where an old grey shingle boat shed is perched on a small ‘beach’ of coarse white granite stones. The sun comes out and everyone starts peeling off clothes. In this place, weather changes rapidly and so I am armed with a thick fleece jacket and under-layers but now strip down to a singlet. Janet and I find a section of boardwalk where we can sit dangling our legs over the edge, faces to the sun, the glory of Cradle Mountain rising above the far end of the lake. A small tour group arrives, and the leader gives a brief talk and by turns photographs most of his little group on request, the lake and mountain as background…we will all have the same photos! There are several kilometres of boardwalks. Pandani, (different species, same genus as our N. Qld ones), dot the landscape, standing like sculptures amongst the yellow/green tufts of button grass. The Enchanted Forest walk winds along a small creek overhung with the ancient native deciduous beech trees, myrtle and sassafras and the loop walk stops at the Lodge where we enjoy a coffee and snack. The short walk back to the shuttle bus stop passes a low, three-tiered waterfall. A wombat trots over the button grass followed by its small baby and on the next day, another at closer range allowing me to appreciate how large the animal is, much larger than the females we saw at the Sanctuary a few days ago.
On our third and final day in the area we drive to nearby Leven Canyon to walk an easy track in a wild environment taking us to the rim of the stunningly deep canyon which the powerful Leven River has cut through. It is a moderate climb along a firm gravel track, but I find my walking poles a great help taking weight onto arms and off hip and knee. The area is full of tree ferns and we arrive at Cruickshank’s lookout with dramatic, expansive views, a sheer drop down of almost three-hundred metres. Jon decides to walk down the six-hundred steps between this and another lookout while Janet and I, hip-protective, return as we came. We sit at a picnic table on short verdant grass surrounded by trees and await his return. An exhausted man appears and slumps beside us, having proved himself capable (just…puff puff) of the challenge and I am pleased for him. On our way home again, we drive up and down and around some hairpin bends and gentler curves again passing paddocks chock full of black Angus cattle, black faced white sheep, rolling rich slopes of pasture and other agriculture in various shades of bright greens, dams, fabulous views of mountain ranges and the imposing Mt Roland, 1200m high on the edge of the Great Western Tiers.
Erriba to Devonport via N. coast daytrip
Leaving Erriba after a very cold night with a howling wind that reminded me of the sound of the 2017 cyclone, we say goodbye to our rosy apple hostess and Keith on a cloudy morning and set off north to the coast through the same landscape appreciated yesterday. The sea appears as a vast azure expanse as we wind down through rich red rolling paddocks, neatly ploughed and furrowed in readiness for planting. One entire row is alight, a line of flame runs downhill, it’s intense orange in great contrast to the deep red earth. When we reach the coast we stop at Penguin, (yes really its name) and of course are immediately charmed by 2D and 3D images of penguins everywhere – on rubbish bins, posts, shop fronts, a mural, even small painted wooden penguins in a shop window. A middle-aged woman paints a street bench in bright colours, her poodle tied beside her, and when we have coffee, she appears by chance, so we learn that she is a volunteer, undertaking this and many other street beautification projects. A long pathway along the seafront is also under construction. The temperature on the coast is a few degrees warmer than in Erriba, reaching about 19C but the wind chill factor makes it much colder. It’s the sort of weather which finds me constantly putting on and taking off layers. Janet and Jon are blessed with bodies that barely register any change though Jon, as at home, is quick to put on the heating wherever we stay rather than more clothes!
Meandering further westward we pass through Burnie, which is quite industrial with many car dealerships along the main seafront road. We go as far as Wynyard where we have a fish lunch in a pub and walk along a seafront path bordered by dry coastal grasses amongst which various daisy-like flowers have self seeded, adding colour.
My impression of this part of the north coast is pleasant but not enough to warrant returning although we are later told that the far western end of this north coast is quite wonderful. Back to Devonport on the usual excellent roads many of which surprisingly have 110 km sections though still only two-lanes, presumably as there is not too much traffic. Getting to the airport to drop Janet off is a breeze with NO traffic and no one visible at the airport. A large flashing sign as we approach the drop-off point tells us that masks must we worn both inside and outside of the airport. I must say that other than such reminders and frequent signage re social distancing, plus a plethora of hand sanitizer, we are barely aware of the existence of a pandemic and feel completely safe. Contrary to my expectation, I have never felt the need to wipe down surfaces other than supermarket trolleys.
Janet safely delivered to the airport. Our one-night motel is only a few minutes drive away on the river opposite where we stayed a week ago. Leaving Jon to rest, I walk one way along the grassy river’s edge and follow a somewhat unprepossessing gravel path under the bridge which I am hoping will lead to the bank beyond. Instead, as I round the corner, I am taken aback to see a tent erected hard up against the huge concrete bridge pylon, a shabby mattress protruding from it. Clearly this is some poor sod’s ‘home’ and it’s shocking to confront. I immediately retrace my steps, strangely a little intimidated and notice that a substantial area of surrounding ground is littered with what must be hundreds of cigarette butts. Moving back to the tidy green, I sit in full sun at a picnic table by the river overlooking a few old yachts. The constant bridge traffic blocks out any other sounds. A path winds along in front of me in the other direction, a variety of trees cast their late afternoon shadows behind me and, a short distance upriver, the Spirit of Tasmania waits to set sail once again to Melbourne. On the opposite side of the river are several industrial silos and while sitting writing, I look up to see a large ship called SeaRoad, which has just pulled up in front of one silo. A solo rower draws himself past, mid river. Three young boys in wetsuits ride their bikes up and down stopping to jump into the water, hanging onto the structure supporting the small jetty from which they jumped. I momentarily wonder if they will be able to get themselves out again but figure, as locals, they must know exactly what they are doing. But wait, is it a trick of the eyes? SeaRoad is now moving off at a great rate, now passing the docked Spirit before disappearing.
Though BOM at 5:20 pm tells me it’s 18.8C, the wind chill makes it feel like 14C and I have just donned my Kathmandu vest and must return to our room. But first I look up SeaRoad – the Bass Straight Shipping & National Logistic Service tells me that it provides fully integrated freight services to and from domestic and international wharves, containers, refrigerated units, cars and warehousing. And the rower continues upriver while a second canoe with two people in it, makes great speed toward me with the aid of the current. The trucks and other traffic continue to roar behind me. But no, those two rowers have turned and are now working their muscles upstream, still at a cracking pace!
Devonport to Kettering: a very cold morning
Today we take a slow drive from Devonport on a very cold morning, 13C, toward our destination at Kettering a little south of Hobart. Stopping in Deloraine for a great coffee at the place we discovered when staying there recently, I again appreciate what a delight this little town is with its steep main street, good cafes, colourful shops and the lovely river. We make our way off the main highway and again traversing familiar countryside before passing through an area of high country with rugged rocky mountains and scree, past several named tiers of the Great Western Tiers and on to the Great Lake, surprisingly huge and remote. It is now 14C but warm in the car as we are in sun. No Wi-Fi access as in many places we have been to and no electricity but dotted at various intervals are small settlements of what must be holiday shacks, small mostly corrugated iron structures probably for people focussed on fishing. Now we are in drier rolling hills covered in yellow grass and apparently huge properties, probably sheep grazing though we don’t see so many sheep. And finally, we meander along river lined with willow trees. We pass a fruit stand, surprisingly and disappointingly one of the few we have seen. On our two previous visits to Tasmania, we remembered buying exceptional fruit and vegetables by the roadside. We double back, buy a bag of pears putting the $2 in the honour box. What a steal! A huge bag, probably at least 1.5 kg of what turn out to be small and delicious Nashi pears. We approach Hobart around 3 pm encountering heavy traffic, negotiate our way through and arrive at our Kettering accommodation.
Kettering: Last beautiful days
What a delight! Approached via a dirt road which circumnavigates the D’Entrecasteaux channel, the waterway between the mainland and Bruny Island, we proceed down a long driveway onto a red brick paved circular driveway ending near the house with two fenced rose gardens in full bloom. All this set amidst tall eucalypts, flowering gums and a gorgeous view over the channel. Our accommodation, the Sugar Shack, is immediately adjacent to the owner’s home and certainly not a shack. A modern two-room setup of great style and charm with a mix of modern and old furniture, a tribal rug adding still more colour and warmth. Windows all round overlook the water offering brilliant sea views over the sloping grounds on which native hens proliferate together with many Bennett’s wallabies and some pademelons. Bubbles, our Airbnb hostess, gives us wheat to throw to the hens and tells me to pluck the withered rose petals from the fenced gardens to feed the wallabies and pademelons. She has also left us a basket with large homegrown Nashi pears, strawberries and roses in vases on the dining table, bedside tables, even on the bathroom vanity. Outside are several pademelons: a juvenile crouches in front of its mum, head in her pouch, obviously having a nice dusk drinkypoo! Bubbles and Doug go off sailing with friends, apparently a weekly event. I stroll down the slope toward the little track she told me about and see twenty small yachts plying a circuit below. Tomorrow we will do the whole walk along a narrow firm path they have made which follows a few metres above the water’s edge. Later as the clouds gather, a huge rainbow arcs across the entire sky and then a faint double appears. In the middle of the night, I look out the window; a half moon scatters dazzling light on the black sea, mirroring itself.
Next morning, we wake to winds that BOM describes as gale-force, and the white caps are jumping. Gusts roar through the tall trees and the recycling bin outside keeps toppling over, re-positioned by me three times already. Nonetheless, the temperature is mild and as the sun pours through the many windows, I open one sliding door but immediately a wasp appears (I have already captured and moved him outside twice) and dry bougainvillea petals from the nearby plant float around our polished wooden floors together with fresh rose petals from the large rose garden only meters away. It’s quite exciting. Sadly, the walk doesn’t transpire as I have been laid low with a tummy upset and sleep most of the day. However, we stew the Nashi pears which later prove delicious! A bit under the weather presumably from something I ate yesterday (she who NEVER suffers tummy upsets) I take the opportunity to read up on Tasmanian birds and native animals. It’s easy to forget the large number of species, and of course we Australians take their uniqueness a little for granted. Nonetheless I learn that the monotremes, the platypus and echidna who lay soft shelled eggs, feed milk to their young not through nipples as do the marsupials, (who give birth to their young), but rather through numerous ducts opening onto the skin of the abdomen. Of course, marsupial young are born very tiny and not fully developed, crawling through fur to attach to the nipple normally protected within a pouch where they continue to develop for quite some time.
When we twice travelled to Uruguay some years ago, we were struck by the lack of indigenous peoples. Through genocidal practices the Charrúa people were officially declared extinct by 1831. Tasmania shares a similar tragic history. Aboriginal habitation dates back at least 40,000 years on mainland Australia and Tasmania, one landmass until 12,000 years ago after which five-hundred generations lived here in isolation from the rest of the world. Living with great ingenuity, caring for the land, they survived successfully until the onslaught of the colonial powers whose genocidal practices, neglect and disease eliminated all the indigenous people. The last surviving full blood aborigine was Truganinni, but this story deserves its own place, not abbreviated notes. From an estimated five to fourteen different major language groups, only some few words garnered from a historical list remain. For all intents and purposes the languages and their attendant cultures are lost. I note that the tribal names I read of sound completely different to any aboriginal names and words I have ever encountered, and instinctively suggest to me a separate and unique linguistic base.
Jon is having a day off, feeling tired and I, now fully recovered, set off on a small adventure after a morning at home in this wonderful environment on a cold windy day. BOM says its 13C, ‘feels like 6C’ but when I set out at 1.30 the car tells me it’s 15C rising to 17C before dropping back again (please excuse my weather obsession-living in the tropics, it is fascinating to observe and note how the body does or doesn’t adapt). I drive a short distance in one direction and randomly explore small roads leading to the water’s edge thereby finding several delightful walks. In one case along a narrow road with houses to one side; the next, a narrow gravel path through bush just above the sea. I am always in my element when alone in nature. It’s so replenishing, the solitude, the only sound now, the immediacy of wind rushing past ears well protected with woollen beret, the waves pushing against the shore not far below and the loud rush of wind in the tall trees which swerve and sway. The gum (eucalyptus) trunks are striated grey and pale yellow; a mix of undergrowth includes a small plant with tiny crimson bells, and tufts of sturdy low plants with elongated leaves, similar in appearance to sword grass.
Driving another couple of kilometres past Oyster Bay. It is full of moored yachts and large motorboats with an accessible series of jetties leading to them which I stroll along; the odd boat is open, and I can see right inside – a pumpkin sits on a bench in one, washing hangs on a line on another and overhead a sky full of masts.
It’s fun skirting up a few small streets to check out the area and I find a mix of houses, many uninteresting, the odd contemporary design amongst them. A few kilometres further is Woodbridge, another story entirely. This is a tiny historic village with charming timber buildings – post office, café cum providore, church and the original hall. The main road, two-lane but relatively narrow, winds up and down around the inlets and bays throughout the area. The timber houses are well kempt and charming architecturally with lovely gardens and roses abounding. I decide it’s worthwhile driving up a few of the tiny streets running off the main road and find the same older homes but quite a number of new, architecturally designed ones also.
In the early evening back home, a Bennett’s wallaby appears in front of our host’s house again, this time pushing his nose through the wire protecting the bougainvillea, using his short forelegs to grasp a sprig, pull off a leaf and nibble away at it. Another hops in front of our door and under a nearby bush. The native hens appear outside the kitchen window and as soon as I open the door to the terrace on the opposite side of the room with wheat for them, they rush around the building arriving just as I appear. They are quick learners.
Today it’s Jon’s turn…that explains his excessive tiredness. He is down for the count with a worse version of the tummy problem that I had, so my plan to show him yesterday’s wonders and go to a lovely nearby place for lunch won’t eventuate. It’s cold again but I see Doug in the garden and go to ask him something. Bubbles appears and I am given a tour of the large, fenced vegetable garden/orchard, exemplary self-sufficiency with many varieties of apple, pear, hazelnut and berries, including strawberries, loganberries, raspberries and blueberries. It’s the first time I’ve seen a blueberry shrub. Somehow, I assumed blueberries grew on vines like most other berries. Also, brassica and asparagus. As soon as she opens the shed door, a group of Bennett’s wallabies and two pademelons appear, waiting for their daily feed of wheat. We can hear their jaws crunching as they look up at us, ears twitching. A couple of the native hens straggle in the background.
Bubbles has gathered up a few hazelnuts for me, so we go into their house for her to crack them but are immediately distracted by Doug running from outside through the house muttering. She follows him, beckoning me to follow out to the front deck overlooking the water where three yachts appear below – their friends out for a sail. Excitedly they chat with them on the mobile, Bubbles runs into the house coming out with a large wooden bell which she clangs and then everyone waves to one another, a comedic exercise. She then shows me through the downstairs which comprises two large sitting/living areas and the ‘Tudor room’, full of antiques collected by her ‘late husband’ John who died a few years ago of Alzheimer’s – she mentions him often, obviously a good marriage with a sad end. The house is colourful and choc-a-block full of memorabilia, photos, knickknacks from her twenty years as a ‘hostie’ (air hostess, these days referred to as flight attendant) with Qantas. There is a large poster hanging, a photograph of her taken in 1965 modelling the new aqua coloured Qantas uniform. She stands tall and attractive at the door of the plane, one hand pressed against the side. Shot from slightly below her, Bubbles, a poster hostie of the ‘60’s, now a gracious 78-year-old, with one hip recently replaced and, like me, another to go. I notice she too has walking poles sitting by the door! By the time we have finished the house tour, she has quite forgotten the reason she brought me in. I am still clutching a handful of hazelnuts. When we crack them, she announces that she will bring me some chocolate-coated loganberries which she will now make. By now I am cold and make myself a coffee in our little abode. A few minutes later she arrives with a beaker full of the delicious little treats. Which I must now STOP eating!
Around lunchtime when not too cold I do their track walk…. a narrow path a few meters above the water that runs a long way through bush, a mix of eucalypts and native pines. It’s soft underfoot and undulating. I appreciate having my walking poles! No wind, so the only sound is a very faint occasional brrr of the ferry running back and forth to Bruny Island and a gentle lap of waves on shore. The circuit takes an hour, ending up on the unpaved dirt road with an uphill walk before reaching their steep up-and-down access driveway.
In the afternoon I nip out in the car, retracing some of yesterday but this time with camera. This area has a special ‘flavour’ about it. There are several quirky roadside objects, a series of three crazy life-size stuffed figures of kids on go-karts, the karts made of hay bales. One wears a T-shirt that reads, I am nobody, nobody is perfect therefore I am perfect. Yet another is a scary black-clad figure attached to the bottom of a large eucalypt trunk wearing black gloves and shoes and a full-length black coat but instead of a human head, a crow’s head. The sign below reads, Dr Black Crowvid. The area also offers great food, with the Peppermint Bay hotel where we had to cancel lunch today but where we ate so well 18 months ago, the café in Woodridge and a fantastic local store, the first we have encountered offering an excellent array of local fruit and vegetables, great breads etc. Another short walk on a proper gravel path from beyond the ferry wharf leading to Kettering Point but after ten minutes decide twenty-minutes return walk is sufficient. The bush here, as in surrounding properties, is full of wallabies and pademelons, I mean lots of them, scurrying shyly away in that amazing awkward zigzag manner when they hear me approach. And so, to our last night in this wonderful place, right up with the best of it in my opinion with Bruny Island and Cradle Mountain. The ease of accessibility to walks, the flora and fauna in the immediacy of our small home so charming, warm and inviting, the hospitality of our hosts. If I wanted to live in Tasmania this area would be a hot contender. All this and less than 40 km from Hobart. But my Jon would choose Launceston!
Kettering to Hobart
A leisurely, picturesque circuit drive via Cygnet, and Huonville. An unexpected find, the Cygnet Sunday market is in full swing; also some interesting small shops which we have no time to peruse as we need food and choose a (disappointing) Japanese café instead. Most surprising and exciting was to discover a small art space, a repurposed container set in a park in the centre of the little town. I thought it an excellent idea and immediately envisaged something similar in Airlie Beach which doesn’t have any art gallery at all.
Last Night, Hobart: an hotel with an unusual (his)tory
We arrive in Hobart mid afternoon, too late to get to the Art Gallery but we are both happy to enjoy a quiet time in our hotel, Rydges, N. Hobart, an area we don’t know. It turns out to be quite a surprise architecturally and historically. The hotel complex retains one part of an interesting collection of buildings constructed around 1840 most of which were demolished in 1886. The remnant, plus the 1889 building, was developed as an hotel in 1989 with new additions. The oldest part was built as a nursery in 1842 to house pregnant female convicts; the adjacent land was a ‘Branch Factory’, a hiring depot which housed convicts in the later part of the transportation period while awaiting placement into service by employers. The depot was closed in 1852 and the area converted into an invalid and pauper depot for men from 1859-1883. From 1883-6 it became a depot for immigrants before being demolished.
The hotel today consists of forty-four modern suites sensitively designed to echo the original buildings consisting of twenty heritage listed executive suites and reception/administrative building. The Reception/administration complex was built by the Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb and opened in 1889. In 1901 they opened the school for borders and day students. In 1914 extensive alterations allowed for dormitories, staff rooms, kitchen, dining and bathroom facilities with numbers grown to fifty students. Later a gymnasium and Braille library were added. The grounds were developed to include tennis courts, croquet lawns and a factory to produce brushes, baskets, cane chairs and other hardware goods. All in all, quite a story and one can only speculate about dark secrets hopefully and rays of light, foresight and hope.
The Last (Tasmanian) Supper: a small and humble table, insufficient for twelve disciples!
Not bothered to drive the short distance downtown we opt for local, but after driving a few minutes and finding nothing, we circle back and just down from the hotel find a nice old building with a sign saying Asian Cuisine. There is only one person inside, but we immediately feel at home and the menu looks varied and inexpensive. A charming young Vietnamese woman brings us a glass of hot green tea and Jon orders roast duck and rice and I, a mixed fried rice with duck and vegetable. Both appear in less than five minutes, steaming hot and delicious! Jon’ s comes with an unexpected small bowl of clear soup. While we are there several people come, one couple to dine in, several others for takeaway. When we finish, we compliment the young chef on his food and go in front of the open kitchen to watch him whip up a few more meals in his extremely hot wok, ingredients for each serve in stainless steel bowls put together by the young wife. A slurp of stock from a huge ladle into the wok, a great sizzle and in with the cooked noodles and other ingredients in the bowl, the wok thoroughly washed out before he commences the next batch. Next to him another young man is cooking the noodles in a large pot, a seamless cooperation between all three in a small space. Lovely to watch. We wish them well as they had opened just when Covid hit and are not yet making a much-deserved profit.
Hire car returned near Hobart airport, no kerfuffle this time, an effortless experience, thank goodness. All goes smoothly. We leave plenty of time to get to airports these days, something we find we need at this stage of our travel life. Also, not to feel pressed to be constantly on the move, not driven to try to see everything, to have leisurely mornings, especially in a cold climate when we don’t want to be out before 10 a.m. A good learning experience in coming to terms with what suits us now.
We are masked up for an hour in the airport and the 2.5-hour flight to Brisbane. It is apparent to us that we are not up for anything longer than this if we still must wear masks. Back to the lovely Kingsford hotel where the young Asian women who staff it now know us and are so kind, helpful and warm. We have arranged to have dinner with our Brisbane friends Julie and Colin who we haven’t seen for three or four years. They meet us at the hotel from where we wander around the corner and find an Indian eatery that suits us well and again is surprisingly inexpensive, a large, good, shared feed amounting to $25 per person! And a wonderful time with them. The rain which threatened, comes in the very early morning and I peer out of the hotel window, fascinated by the green, red and orange of traffic lights reflected on the road surface and marvel at how many cars are already on the road at 6 am By 9 am we are sitting at a nearby café enjoying the city-hit of breakfast out, great coffee, and while Jon has his egg-y breakfast, I go for a muesli, seeds, yoghurt and fruit…and just look at it! A fitting end to a great holiday.
I am so appreciative that we have been able to do this trip and that Australia generally has fared so well through Covid19. There are so many millions around the world trapped or restricted, many still fighting for their lives or ill due to this awful virus while we fly back home and step off the plane into tropical air and summer temperatures, greeted by our friends Pete and Jane. There has been much rain while we have been away, the garden is plush and everything so much bigger than when we left. It’s truly splendid, and over the next few days I reorganize many things. I have removed a couple of large potted plants placed on our deck to create a bit of privacy after the cyclone left us denuded and exposed four years ago. Also planted some others out into the garden leaving a few less potted plants for me to care for and for our kind friends to tend when we are off enjoying adventures such as this one. Friendships are to be celebrated and appreciated. Thank you, my dear close friends.