Saturday, January 24, 2009


In order to get to Tasmania from Melbourne, you must board the ferry of the Spirit of Tasmania. It sails twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. We chose the overnight cruise which departs at 8pm or thereabouts and gets into Devonport at around 6am.

The ship is like many other vessels of its kind with bar, restaurant and cinema. The Bass Straight is a large expanse of water and there is not much to tell in terms of visuals on this leg of the journey although it contains over 50 islands and a notorious history for sinking ships in the 19th century. Thankfully our 21st century boat was up to the conditions and we made it accross with only one minor swell rocking the boat and waking me up in the middle of the night.

Devonport isn't anything to write home about, suffice to say it's an industrial port for commerical and private enterprise. Tasmania's largest export is its trees and there have been many major conservation fights over the years to protect vital species from logging and as a result, there are large tracts of land now under protection.

As we had the whole day ahead of us and an unusually early start, we were able to head straight south via Launceston to Cygnet and Huonville in search of seasonal work, mainly fruit-picking. If you pick fruit in a certain postcode area for 3 months, you are granted a second year working visa.

We had seen and read several news stories in the preceeding days and weeks in regards to fruit-picking and that the orchards stated that they were always short of laborours and they would be understaffed as the Government were holding back granting visas to Pacific Islanders. So, easy pickings you might think?

The hard truth, however, is that despite contacting the Fruit Pickers headquarters, individual orchards and work agenencies besides working hostels in the region, there was nothing to be had. One particular orchard manager told me that they needed 20 workers but had a list of 60 on their books. I can only therefore testify that on this occasion, the news reports lied. In one particular hostel, there were at least 20-30 people kicking about waiting to be chosen. They had already been there for many days at least and with a tentative promise of work 'perhaps next week'. We were told it was a first come, first serve basis so with so many already ahead of us, who knows if we would ever get work.

Slighty peturbed by this but unwilling to let it spoil our time in Tasmania, we drove south to Recherche to spend a night on the coast on one of the islands many free camping sites.

It was a bumpy 20km past Ida Bay down an unsealed road but the peace and tranquility was worth the effort as there were few other travellers staying there - mostly retirees who come to fish. There are no facilites besides a drop toilet but you can stay for free up to 4 weeks at a time making it worthwhile if you're looking for a cheap getaway and getting in touch with nature.

After setting up for the evening, we spent the afternoon walking along the road following the beach our camping area.

It is a great feeling having an entire beach to yourself and knowing you are largely in the middle of nowhere and to be doing something that comparatively few people will do.

If that was a fantastic highlight to the day, the coming night was one of the worst of our trip as the area was blasted with torrential rain and howling winds with thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure. Tasmania sits right in the pathway of the notorious "Roaring Forties", the latitudes between 40°S and 50°S, so called because of the boisterous and prevailing westerly winds.

The next morning, the weather was now sporadic grey drizzle and looked like it wasn't going anywhere - a complete turnaround from the beautiful afternoon we had enjoyed the day before. A woman came over from a campervan across the glade from us and offered us coffee - an offer too good to refuse on such a day.

The couple were from Kangeroo Island about 100km south west of Adelaide and Australia's third largest island after Tasmania and Melville island. They were travelling with their grand-daughter who was from the islands south west area although I can't remember the town. They had been travelling from Kangeroo Island on the road for almost a month and had another 4 weeks ahead of them. They were very nice and said to look them up if we were in Kangeroo island.
"Just go into the general store and ask for Tony - they'll know who you mean.". I loved that kind of thing and I hope I'm still exploring the globe at their age.

After a hasty packing of our things, some still wet from the night before, we made our way back towards Hobart, Tasmanias capital city, for a night to recharge our batteries. Phoning around several places before finding a room - we got ourselves a cabin around 10km out. We spent the day sorting through all our things, doing some washing and repacking. I almost enjoy these 'time out' days as much as travelling but we're always eager to get back on the road.

Next on our agenda was Port Arthur, a former convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula. It is a beautiful location with a dark history. When Tasmania was named Van Dieman's Land, it was a penal colony from 1833 until late 1877. Essentially secured by shark-infested waters on three sides and a 30m wide isthmus of Eaglehawk Neck that connected it to the mainland which was guarded by prison guards and dogs, it was practically unescapeable.

It is a huge historic site that took us 2 days to cover full of ruins and reconstructed buildings as devastating fires tore through the area in 1895 and 1897 gutting the old prison buildings.

In 1996 it was the scene of the worst mass murder event in Australian history when Martin Bryant went on a killing spree, murdering 35 people and wounding 37 more before being captured by Special Operatives Police.

It's strange being a happy tourist enjoying the beauty, tranquility and peacefulness in such a place of historic and recent death and misery. It's interesting that such places can easily absorb such events leaving no trace of malignant foreboding. I'm sure that if it wasn't such an historical penal colony preserved through the effort of those who wanted to keep it against the many Australians that wanted to rid the blight that reminded them of their own history, it would be a sleepy little fishing village and not one of Tasmanias major tourist detainations.

Our next destination was directly east although it required a longer journey to get there because it was accross a bay to freychinet peninsula. The main item of interest was the picturesque Wineglass Bay and the journey to Frechinet National Park was the easy part. The only way to get to it is a pretty tough walk up and down along a narrow, boulder stricken path on a 90 minute trek through a forest. The guide recommends a litre of water per person and at the information centre, it stated a temperature of 27c, so I wasn't taking any chances and brought along a spare bottle.

The walk itself is gruelling in places and because you have little to no clearings to view what is beyond, you have to focus on the goal ahead and convince yourself it's all worthwhile. I would certainly say it was.

It's a beautiful beach that I'm sure lay undiscovered until someone flew over it and informed the Tasmania tourist board. Due to it's remote location and the effort in getting there, it's also not swarming with tourists. The beach itself is white sand stretching in a wineglass formation - a semi-circle - around a beautiful secluded bay.

Unfortunately for us, as we were having a well-earned rest and anticipating a refreshing swim, a shark was spotted in the water. Foolishly enough, two swimmers entered the water and swam around 10 feet out which made the fin weave closer to the beach. That fin turned into two and then three as the veered closer still. As the swimmers beat a hasty retreat to the shoreline, the fins made their way along the bay and towards the other side of the beach. We decided to sit this one out and have lunch instead.

Later that evening we drove further up the coast to St Helens and enjoyed a relaxing evening in a spacious caravan park and had a little spot under a tree to ourselves. I saw two caravan-cum-cabins for sale for $16,000 and pondered who buys these and for what purpose. My own parents have a caravan and use it, weather permitting, frequently during the summer. However, their site is strictly for owners and you would get to know your many neighbours over the years and build up a relationship with them. The majority of the sites in most Australian parks are for tourists and I wonder why you would want to put up with them - here one day, gone the next; friendships made and lost in an evening. Too much trouble for your money if you ask me.

Our last night in Tasmania is in the little coastal town of Wynyard. We have a little cabin room that overlooks the sea and you can hear the waves lapping the beach outside. We took a swim in an inlet earlier in the afternoon and barbequed steaks for dinner.

Our journey on the ferry back to Melbourne was rocky to say the least. The boat swayed back and forth and bounced on the waves all night long. The waves shot up to the height of the ship and the outside doors were shut early into the voyage. With all the bumping and creaking, I didn't sleep too well and can barely remember having quite strange dreams none of which I can recall.

We pulled into the docks on time which says a lot for the capability of the captain and on our journey north we saw quite a lot of devastation with tree branches lying all over the side of the road.

There was many things we didn't get to do in Tasmania (fruit picking being a major one) but there's always another time. For now, it's back to Sydney.

Photos of Port Arthur and Wineglass Bay. Also some Random photos.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Moving On

Lou and I have spent the last 3 months or so in Sydney since leaving New Zealand in September. It has been largely worthwhile in terms of our time in Australia since we were lucky enough to house share with a sister of a great friend from Christchurch and avoid the pain and misery on the wallets that a lot of other renters face when they move.

As previously stated in a previous posting, all of the flats that we looked at when we were searching for somewhere to live were shoebox studio apartments that were vastly overpriced and likely to cause long term depression.

For the most part of our time in Sydney the majority was spent fitting in with the rat race, aquiring jobs and working relatively longer hours in comparison with back home and Christchurch, mainly due to travelling times considering the size of the city and it's many suburbs but it was by no means a bad experience. It has nevertheless reinforced a shared outlook that we would both want to settle down somewhere of a relative size of Christchurch i.e. somewhere where, if we choose, we can walk to get where we want.

Whilst in Sydney, we held back on a lot of tourist activities as we were waiting for not only my parents but also Lou's sister who both flew out in December.

When they arrived, we spent the best part of the month ticking off a list of what we would have done ourselves if we were only staying for a short vacation including the Sydney Harbour bridge climb, a few days in the Blue Mountains soaking up the scenery, a day trip to both the Taronga Zoo and to the Hunter Valley wine region to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes and to the Maritime Museum where we had a guided tour aboard a destroyer and a submarine. Lou and Rosie also squeezed in a surfing lesson at the famous Bondi beach.

Our last few days in the city culminated with the long awaited NYE celebrations and the midnight fireworks. After careful consideration of which park to go to, we chose McKells Park at Darling Point and set up our camp at midday and set ourselves up for a 12 hour wait.

In eventuality, the time passed quicker than expected and the park didn't start to fill up until late afternoon although all the 'good' spots were taken including those right along the front where people must have arrived in the early hours of the morning and a few set up a gazebo for themselves.

There were 9pm fireworks for the kids which were a prelude of what to expect and they did not let us down. You probably have never seen such a firework display before your eyes and it lived up to what I thought it could be which was amazing. Every year at home they are shown on the news as Australia is one of the first countries to bring in the year with a serious bang.

These were all great experiences but we were also keen to see what else Australia had to offer and so our next port of call was Melbourne via Canberra.

Everything you will probably read about Canberra arguably states what a boring capital city it is and I'm afraid to say that it lives up to its reputation. One night on our way to Melbourne was more than enough. It's functionality in its well laid out streets and clean decor unfortunately do not come anywhere close to make up for the fact that there is precious little to do or see. We did have a nice evening dinner as the sun set by the lake which was a nice end to the day but we had no hesiatation about getting up early so we could leave as soon as possible.

The Princes Highway between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne is not for the traveller looking for sights and places of interest to stop along the way. It's function is to get you between cities in the quickest possible time through some of the countrysides continually undulating and unchanging landscapes.

There are some classic Aussie views along the way - small farms and vineyards with rotarary fan blades whirring in the warm wind of the afternoon heat while the cows seek shelter from the sun under the trees. We drove alongside a supposed lake although there was not a drop of water in sight so I can only assume it's dried up or is a seasonal lake dependant on heavy rain to fill it.

Melbourne itself looks similar to any city skyline on approach and when driving through the streets, it has a run-down feel about it. However, after a few days, I realised that many bars and cafes and shops purposely took this design of flaked paint in order to give it a weathered look which in some ways does add charm although a few of these buildings really do need a makeover.

In contrast to the more upmarket and trendy side of Sydney, Melbourne has a more laid back and retrospective air about it. A city that doesn't take itself too seriously and isn't bothered what other people think of it. So after a few days feeling uninspired about the lack of things to see, I realised that Melbourne is a city of doing, feeling and living in order for it's inner workings to be appreciated - not just it's outer glamour which is just a facade to cover its short-comings.

Much of the citys charm lies in the back street pubs and cafes which proliferate the inner city CBD area so you can't just dismiss an alleyway as it might hide your favourite little place for a coffee or cold beer. The joy is losing oneself and walking almost aimlessly around looking for these hidden gems and underground places to relax and reward yourself for finding it.

A much easier building to find is the old gaol. The icon itself is most famous for housing the outlaw Ned Kelly and it's also the place where he was hanged. However, there is a much richer history to the building and most cells have information boards and videos to look at which give you a flavour of how the prison worked, who it's most interesting prisoners were, their life and how they met their demise - mostly by hanging. There's also a strange young lady dressed in period clothes that wanders around sweeping the floor and singing forlornly which is rather eerie when you hear the singing approaching the cell and look out as the voice approaches to see her walk past - quite unexpected.

We also took part in an unusual guide of the newer part of the jail which only closed its doors in 1994. We were lined up against the walls, men on one side and women on the other, given instruction on how a more detailed search would have taken place and then led to the holding cells, 10 at a time, where the lights were turned out and we all sat in the dark feeling miserable. It was a horrible place and I suspect it was one of the reasons it was closed - although prisons shouldn't be holiday camps should they?

Next stop....Tasmania!

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