Part 3 - Hobart & Surroundings

March 14 - 16, 2008

Friday, March 14th: Hobart

On to Tasmania! For our first day in Hobart, we slept well and slept late (well, 8:30, but that's pretty good). I got online to check my e-mail for the first time in like a week - I'm really not the sort that can't bear to be out of touch, but it's probably a good idea to check in once in a while - and then we set out to walk around the city.

A helpful warning sign greeted us as we took to the streets. We followed the walking tour in the Lonely Planet guide, and saw places like the General Post Office, Franklin Square (a public square with a statue and fountain), Constitution Dock, and a lot of historic buildings from the colonial period, including a big jam factory. We visited the Art and History Museum, which was much better than we expected. It had a good exhibit about Antarctica - some early expeditions departed from Hobart - and other themed rooms with various periods of art and natural history stuff. It was kind of a combination of a normal art museum and a natural history museum.

We at lunch down at the harbor at a place called Flippers. It was kind of like a floating food truck - a boxy thing on pontoons with a window facing the dock. The tide must have been out, because the window was a little too low and you had to bend over to order. They sold seafood, including fried crab legs that were pretty remarkable - basically a 6" piece of crab leg battered and fried, for like $1. I should have had more than one of those. We sat on the curb and ate, but it was too hot and windy to really enjoy lunch - it was in the 90s, with constant heavy winds blowing leaves and dust around.

We walked around an old part of town called Battery Point (where we saw a colorful candy store), Arthur Circus (some cute little houses around a big roundabout), Salamanca Square, and a few different parks. We passed an interesting building completely covered in ivy. In one of the parks, I sat in some kind of cherry-looking fruit things on a bench, and walked around in dirty shorts for the rest of the day.

We stopped to read about a signal station with a semaphore tower that was once used to signal boats coming into the harbor. Then, since Julie is such a big penguin fan, after some searching, we located Antarctic Tasmania, a government agency that supports various Antarctic-related businesses in Tasmania. There wasn't much to see there, but the guy gave us some brochures and stuff. We visited a few statues around town, including some penguins and some Antarctic explorers. There were, in fact, a variety of penguin statues and other penguin items to be seen.

A week into our trip, practical considerations were calling, like laundry for my dirty shorts. We found a bank to get some change to do laundry later in the evening, and strolled through a shopping area. We checked out Australian Target (which was kind of disappointing), and I once again failed to locate that Persian Rugs CD for my friend Jeff.

We walked back to the hotel to get the car, and drove out to the Shot Tower, a 157 foot tower used to make lead shot (by dropping molten lead from the top of the tower - by the time it got to the bottom, it was cool and spherical). We climbed up 259 steps to get to the top and got a nice view of the surrounding area.

Then we drove just outside of town to the top of Mt. Wellington, which looms about 4200 feet over Hobart. The views were amazing despite the haze and clouds in the area. The top of the mountain looked like the moon, with crazy rocks all over the place, and barren except for tiny shrubs growing between rocks. The wind was unbelievable, howling at 50+ MPH. At the pinnacle, it would have blown us over if we weren't holding onto a rail. We didn't get to see everything at the summit (like the Organ Pipes rock formation), because it was so windy and cold, and too late (and potentially stormy) to do any walks, but what we saw was awesome.

We drove back into town and found a grocery store for supplies, since we were going to be in the car for a few days and could haul food and water around with us. We had dinner at a pizza place, which was merely OK - the search continued for a full, good meal at some point on this trip. As soon as we sat down for dinner and stopped doing touristy, photo-taking kinds of things, the skies cleared up and it was beautiful.

We came back to the hotel to do laundry, which (as always) took longer than it should have. The dryers were slow, and for some reason our room keys worked only intermittently for both the laundry room and the hotel room, but we got through it.

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Saturday, March 15th: Port Arthur

We drove out of Hobart headed for Port Arthur, about 40 miles to the east. We got off to a bad start by missing the turn out of the hotel, which fronted on a multi-lane, signalized roundabout. We took a lap around the park across from the hotel and then got underway. Our first destination was a little town called Richmond, and on the way there, we saw a big satellite dish pointed at the sky. It looked like some kind of radio telescope, but we never figured out exactly what it was - maybe the Mount Pleasant Radio Observatory?

Richmond featured the oldest bridge in Australia. It was a nice bridge, but the area was infested with mosquitos. We also stopped by an old Catholic church in the area, which had some cool stained glass windows and a painting by Mather Brown, who also painted some U.S. Presidents. The priest was down front emptying the donation box, and he chatted with us for a while until his cell phone rang. ("God calling," he said.) It was a little incongruous to be in this old church in this old town and then hear a cell phone ring.

We drove through some beautiful rural scenery with a lot of pastures full of sheep, cows, and horses, rolling hills, and striking views of mountains and bays. We saw an echidna walking around a pasture, and then saw an interesting looking bay at low tide with stripes of water and sand, so we turned around to get pictures of the bay and the echidna. We stopped at several geologic features along the way, including Pirate's Bay (a really nice ocean view), Tesselated Pavement (with cool rock features like "loaves" and "pans" and tons of mussels), and the Blowhole, Tasman's Arch, and Devil's Kitchen (various types of sea caves or former sea caves). The views of the ocean in the area were beautiful.

Lunch options were few and far between, so we stopped at a cafe that turned out to be just alright and rather expensive. Then we went to the Tasmanian Devil Park for a quick visit. We learned about Tasmanian Devils, which were cuter than expected, all snuggled up in the sun. We also learned that they are endangered, due to some kind of facial tumor disease. We fed and petted kangaroos, wallabies (like smaller, cuter kangaroos), and pademelons (like smaller, cuter wallabies). I totally want a pet pademelon. They had a few birds in cages; Julie made friends with a galah, and a cockatoo gave us the stinkeye. We were going to step into a little shelter to view goshawks (birds of prey), but things almost took a horrifying turn. It was bright outside and dim in the shelter, but just before I stepped in, I saw and heard what turned out to be a giant, ball-like swarm of some kind of flying bugs. Not like a little gnat cloud - a dense, basketball-sized clump of whatever these were. So glad I didn't stick my face into whatever that was.

Finally, we drove on to the Port Arthur Historic Site, an old penal colony, which was much prettier and bigger than we had anticipated. We really should have allowed more time to see it all - we arrived too late for the harbor cruise that's included in the ticket, and therefore missed the cemetery (the Isle of the Dead) and other parts of the site. They had an interactive museum where you drew a playing card that represented your identity as a prisoner, and you follow through the various exhibits to learn your fate. Then we went on an introductory walk around the grounds, which was pretty interesting and gave a good overview of the site. We learned a bit about how the penal colony was supposed to work, including a lot of isolation for prisoners - even the chapel was divided up so that prisoners at services couldn't see or communicate with each other. We wandered around looking at ruins of buildings in various states of disrepair (plus some rabbits), and the whole area was very scenic, if a little cold and windy.

We started home at dusk, and it was a long drive on narrow, twisty roads. We stopped behind a fish market to watch an incredible sunset, then found a Mexican place for dinner. It was loud, and the service was terrible (like we were invisible in our corner table). My food was good enough, but Julie thought hers might have been dog food, and it was (unsurprisingly) expensive. Back at the hotel, our room keys stopped working again, so after one last visit to the lobby to get them fixed, we turned in.

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Sunday, March 16th: Huon Valley

We were still doing day trips out of Hobart at this point, and on this Sunday morning, we took the scenic route out of town. Along the way, a guy in a car coming the other way waved at us vigorously out of his window. Shortly thereafter, we saw why, as we came upon a teenage boy jogging up the side of the road with two calves (like, baby cows). Pretty random.

As we drove through the town of Geeveston, we happened upon a "ticket centre" selling tickets to our destinations for the day - the Tahune Forest Airwalk, and Hastings Cave. While we were there, we also bought a Tasmania Parks Pass, which gets you into the various national parks in Tasmania. We also had a bit of a friendly language difficulty with the cashier at the ticket centre. At Hastings Cave, there's a swimming pool fed by a natural hot spring, although we weren't planning on actually going for a swim. When we were buying the tickets, the cashier asked if we brought our "cossies." At first we had no idea what word she was saying, and even after we figured it out, we didn't know what it meant. So that was awkward. Eventually we worked out that "cossie" is short for "swimming costume," which is Australian for "bathing suit." We didn't encounter too many language or accent problems, but that one really had us stumped.

The road out to the Tahune Forest Airwalk was long, slow, and twisty (like most roads we drove in Tasmania). As a result, we had to skip a bunch of little trails that we passed along the way due to lack of time. The Airwalk itself was really cool, both for the scenery and the structure itself. The Airwalk is a steel structure that winds through the treetops of a forest on the banks of the Huon River. The suspended part of the Airwalk is about 2000 feet long, and is up to about 150 feet above the forest floor, with a cool cantilevered bridge extending out over the river. The forest was made up of tall eucalyptus trees, and the river was dyed an interesting shade of brown by tannins in the water, so it kind of looks like a river made of tea. We also walked the Huon Pine trail, which allowed us to see some small Huon pines, a notable tree that's been used in industry in Tasmania due to an oil in the wood that helps keep it from rotting. Sadly, we had to skip the Swinging Bridges trail because we were pressed for time, so we grabbed some sandwiches for lunch and then got back on the road.

As we drove back out the long road we came in on, we did stop at the Big Tree, a Swamp Gum tree that isn't the tallest or biggest tree in Australia, but is apparently the heaviest. Then we drove on to Hartz Mountains National Park, up another long, twisty dirt road. We more or less had the park to ourselves - it was kind of remote. We stopped at a lookout along the way, which had an OK view and had some green rosellas (colorful Tasmanian birds) flying around. We drove on to the Arve Falls trail, a short walk along the Arve River (which was little more than a creek at this point). The walk took us through some odd looking terrain, with herbfield on one side of the trail and white eucalypt forest on the other. The falls were a little underwhelming, because there wasn't a lot of water flowing, but we sat and had a snack by the river before heading back to the car, once again skipping some more trails due to time constraints.

Back on the main road, we made our way toward Hastings Cave. My tooth was starting to really bother me - I'd run out of the high doses of Advil I'd been pounding on my dentist's recommendation since we arrived - so we stopped at a little store to buy some pain relievers. I had to buy a name brand I'd never heard of (Panadol) with an active ingredient that I'd never heard of (paracetamol, which turns out to just be Tylenol), but it seemed to help, at least for a while. Later, we saw some kind of small creature (about the size of a rat) running across the road. It could have been a rat, but let's say it was a bandicoot to make it a little more exotic.

We arrived at the Hastings Cave visitor centre too late to do much around the thermal springs, but we did walk one short trail next to a stream that was claimed to be "teeming with eels." We saw no eels, but inexplicably, when we got back to the car, it was covered with bees and had a crowd of gawkers around it. We got into the car safely and drove 5 km out to the parking lot for the cave tour. The car still had bees on it after 5 km of driving. We walked out to the cave entrance and waited on the tour to start, while reading interpretive plaques about spiders.

The cave tour was fine. The cave wasn't the best ever, but the guide was chatty and knowledgeable, and the formations were nice. Plus, it was nice and cool in the cave (about 48 degrees F), and it was the most comfortable I'd been since arriving in Australia. We saw some kind of rare bug in the cave - supposedly, they only live in this cave and another one nearby, and only 100 of them are said to exist. We saw a few glowworms (like 5 of them - the guide said it was the worst glowworm display ever, something we seem to have a knack for in our travels). We also saw a cave cricket and a small cave spider. As we walked back to the parking lot, we saw a lyrebird doing a mating dance in the woods beside the trail, which we thought was really cool. The tour guide was not impressed - for whatever reason, she despised the things, but didn't elaborate.

The guide had to hitch a ride back to the visitor centre with some of our tour-mates, and when we eventually drove by the visitor centre, she was looking for another ride. It turned out that the ladies who work in the visitor centre were supposed to give her a ride home, but they left her. We gave her a ride out to the end of the road, and took her on to her house when she heard that we were going out to Cockles Creek instead of straight back to Hobart. We had a few of these very casual, rural sorts of interactions while we were there - it was actually kind of cool.

After we dropped the guide off, we continued out to Cockles Creek, a tiny settlement out a rough, twisty dirt road. It's the southernmost point accessible by road in Australia, and it was more populated (by campers in camper vans) than I expected. We saw some very nice views of mountains across bays, with a few boats on the water. I checked the GPS, and it told us that we were about 9600 miles from home at that location.

Along the drive back to Hobart, we saw and heard what were probably some wild cockatoos, but we didn't get a good enough look to tell for sure. Along the way, we found a little pizza place that was still open, and finally had some decent pizza. I think this might also have been the restaurant where the staff was struggling to open a gallon jar of pickles or something when we were at the register paying. I had a go at opening it, but I couldn't get it open, either. Feeling weak, we made our way back to our hotel.

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