Saturday, January 30, 2010

Our Trip to Tasmania by Tica (& Brooke)

Using Tica's journal, Ben's pictures, our well worn Tassie map, brochures and comparing notes, Tica and I put together a description of our recent ten day trip to Tasmania. -- Brooke

Last week we went to Tasmania and traveled around by campervan. We saw lots of wildlife, went to lots of white sand beaches, drove lots of miles, and had lots of fun.

On January 16th, we took a boat called the Spirit of Tasmania across Bass Strait to Devonport. The Spirit of Tasmania was much bigger and much nicer than the Suiliven, the boat we took to Taveuni so long ago. It had ten floors, two restaurants, many bars, a movie theater and a gift shop and tourist information station. The boat had cabins with beds but we had ocean view recliner seats on the 8th floor with a few out the back of the boat. The boat sailed through the night. We woke up to find that Dad had succumbed to the tummy bug that the family had gotten and had thrown up all night.

It was cold when we got off the boat, probably more so because we had been living in Fiji for so long and had gotten used to the hot weather. We finally got the campervan and drove off through Devonport. Mom, Ian and I got breakfast while Dad lay in the campervan to rest. We did a little grocery shopping and then headed out of town. We decided not to travel very far that day because Dad needed to lay low. We headed to Narawantapu National Park and found a campsite. The visitor’s center was very cool. It had a lot of dead stuffed animals for us to examine, like wombats, Tasmanian devils, platypuses, hawks, and an echidna. We set up camp and left Dad sleeping in the tent. Mom, Ian and I headed to look for an internet connection and to get a few more supplies. Upon our return, we went on a little hike into a marsh. We saw lots of Tasmanian padmelons, a kind of wallaby, some Bennett’s wallabies (one with a joey!) and some black swans. On the walk back we even got to see a wombat. It looked like big teddy bear with a saggy bottom.

Our first night in the camper went okay. I slept on a bunk in the main compartment while Ian slept in the bunk. Mom and Dad slept in the tent, using pillows and a comforter from the van. We got cold at first but eventually figured out a system that worked. We wore all of our clothing to bed in order to stay warm, including socks, rash shirts, pants, coats and the like. We soon had it wired though.

One thing that surprised us was the strange new morning sounds we woke up to. We heard (and saw) kookaburras, parrots, fairy wrens and all kinds of new calls. The kookaburra sound in particular is very distinctive. Many of you may have heard it already as the "monkey call" in the background of jungle movies. "ooooooh, ooooooh, ah, ah, ah, ah." No kidding. Mom kept waiting to hear Tarzan's yodel.

Kookaburra, the largest member of the kingfisher family.

Superb Fairy Wren -- male and female

On Day 2, Dad was feeling much better and took on the role of chief driver. Ian and I visited the visitors center again and did some research on Tasmanian animals while Mom and Dad packed up the campervan, which took a surprisingly long time. They got better at it as the trip progressed. We headed east. The scenery looked a lot like the area around Petaluma, CA, with dry grass, rolling hills and clumps of eucalyptus and pine trees. There was a lot of roadkill. We drove all day for the most part, stopping in Bridport on the north coast to have lunch and get some more food. Our storage capacity in the van was quite limited and we ate most meals “at home” so we found that we had to stop most days to resupply.

The road to Mt. William National Park

We finally arrived at our camp at Mt. William National Park, after a bone-rattling drive across miles of washboard roads. Mom and Dad had a beer, I built a fairy house and Ian tried to pull himself out of the mud he had gotten stuck in while wading in the river behind our campsite. Then we went for a walk on the most amazingly beautiful white sand beach. The beach was miles long and virtually empty of people. We made a lot of great finds among the heaps of seaweed, including cuttlefish skeletons, a dead pufferfish, two jellyfish and a sea urchin skeleton.

We had dinner and talked with our neighbors about what we must see and do during our stay. They were outdoorsy types, with a daughter who works as a tour guide on the very beach we had just walked on. They were a great source of information. Dad filled his notebook with notes, providing us with a good outline for our remaining days.

We started a lot earlier the next morning. While Mom and Dad were packing up camp, I went on a walk along the river. In front of one of the outbuildings, I spotted a very big, black and white Australian pelican.

Australian Pelican

We drove to the northern end of the Bay of Fires, where there is a big lighthouse at Eddystone Point. The light shown over a beautiful beach where there are many large granite boulders covered with bright orange lichens. They looked like giant cheetos!

We stopped at another beautiful beach for lunch on the southern end of the Bay of Fires, just outside the town of St. Helens. Here there were more cheetos rocks and aquamarine water with white sand. We went swimming but the water was really cold so it didn’t last as long. We watched a group of people playing cricket on the beach, playing in the water and even doing some spearfishing among the kelp. It was a really nice afternoon.

St. Helens Beach (Brrrrrrrr..)

Cricket on the Beach.

We camped in a caravan park for the night (Scamander) so we could take showers, do some laundry and get ready for our visit to the southeastern coast and Tasmania’s famous Freycinet National Park.

We spent Wednesday and Thursday camping for free at a place called Friendly Beaches in Freycinet NP. On our first explore of the beach behind our campsite, we saw dolphins fishing and some surfers. We even saw two kayakers spinning in the waves. We took it easy our first afternoon as some rain showers passed overhead.

On Thursday, we went on a very long hike to Wineglass Bay. We did a 10.5 km trail – they call them “tracks “ here – called the Hazards Beach Circuit. That’s six and a half miles! We stopped and had lunch at Wineglass Bay, perhaps Tasmania’s most famous beach. We continued across an isthmus track to Hazards Beach, which was perhaps even more beautiful and much less traveled. There were huge jellyfish (Cyanea capillata or Lion’s Mane) washing up on the beach and a dead albatross. You can learn so much about what is in the ocean by beachcombing! The walk back to the car was long but really pretty, windy trail along the windy coast. We saw some really cool grass trees on the way that grows only one centimeter per year. From a posting along the trail, we learned that these trees are endangered by Phytophthora cinnamomi, a soil-borne water mould that produces an infection which causes root rot. The plant pathogen is one of the world’s most invasive species and is present in over 70 countries from around the world. (Source: Wikipedia) Phytophthora cinnamomi, which is spread through mud or soil, is one of the reasons Tasmania has such strict quarantine laws. Here is a picture of me near one of these trees. You can see the black root rot beginning to kill it. Too bad.

Tasmania's Famous Wineglass Bay

Hazard's Bay and a jellyfish

Tica and the Grass Tree

After a pleasant two days, we packed up the campervan and headed into history. We camped for the night at Fortescue Bay, another great beach on the Tasman Peninsula. We didn’t go swimming though because we counted sixty six Portuguese Man O War jellyfish on the beach. This is a nasty kind of jellyfish that nailed Mom, Ian and Dad when were back in Fiji. There were also Lion’s Mane jellies, like the ones we’d seen in Hazards Bay. Dad also happened upon an echidna while collecting wood. It is a spiny ant eater. Look at Ian’s posting for a picture and description of this weird looking little guy.

The campsite was crowded with Australia Day weekend campers. We even had a campfire. Too bad we didn’t have any of the makings for s’mores. Here is a picture of our campervan.


We spent the next day visiting Port Arthur, an infamous penal colony from 1833-53. It was a very complicated process but how I understand it is that if one committed a bad crime or a number of petty crimes in Britain or one of its colonies, he or she would be sent half way around the world to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania’s former name) for punishment. This was called “Transportation” and continued until 1853. If a male prisoner committed any further crimes in Van Diemen’s Land, they would be sent to the worst prison of all, Port Arthur. Kids as young as nine were sent here as well, living in a separate boys prison at Point Puer, across the harbor.

A Machine for Grinding Rogues Honest

English prison reformer Jeremy Bentham described the Port Arthur penal model as “a machine for grinding rogues honest.” According to the brochure,

The cogs of this machine were discipline and punishment, religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, training and education. Each building, each garden, each fence and pathway that you see today played its part in this relentless machine.

By 1840, over 2,000 convicts, soldiers and civil staff lived here. It had become a major industrial settlement producing ships and shoes, clothing and bells, furniture and worked stone, brooms and bricks…..

Source: Your Guide to Port Arthur (Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, 2006).

We learned a lot during our visit. Throughout the day we went on a walking tour and a boat ride. We visited a number of buildings and walked most of the 100+ acre property. A notable site was the separate prison, which was reserved for the most hardened criminals. If you were really bad, you could be sent here and shut in a dark, silent room for up to thirty days. There were lots of rules. You couldn’t communicate with or interact with anyone else. You had to wear a mask so people couldn’t identify you other than by your cell number. You got one hour of exercise a day in a high-walled, triangular courtyard. Many men were broken under this inhumane treatment.

Prisoners were expected to work to make the penal colony self-sustaining with a number of industrial activities. Port Arthur authorities further managed a system of outstations around the Peninsula where prisoners engaged in timber collection and agriculture. When not working, prisoners were expected to attend church, learn new trades and generally work to make themselves better people before being released.

No one escaped from Port Arthur. The geography of the place made escape impossible. The Port itself was surrounded by wilderness and the southern ocean. Located at the south end of two peninsulas, Foresters and Tasman Peninsula, the site was very hard to reach over land. A 100-meter, guard dog- and soldier-lined isthmus called Eaglehawk Neck furthermore separated the two bodies of land. We did hear one story though about one group that almost escaped by sea. They rowed all the way around Tasmania and then across Bass Strait to Melbourne, but were finally caught and returned.

From the Arts:

Here are a few contemporary references to Van Diemen’s Land and the penal system of which Port Arthur played such a large part. The U2 song is an oldie from the Rattle & Hum album, which was the first compact disk my Mom ever owned. Click on this link to see the video. Here are the lyrics:

Van Diemen's Land by U2

Hold me now, oh hold me now,

Till this hour has gone around

And I'm gone on the rising tide

For to face Van Diemen's Land.

It's a bitter pill I swallow here

To be rent from one so dear

We fought for justice and not for gain

But the magistrate sent me away.

Now kings will rule and the poor with toil

But a day will come in this dawning age

When an honest man sees and honest wage.


Last year there was also a movie called “Van Diemen’s Land” that got a lot of attention in Britain and Australia. Click on this link to learn more.

After a long day, we drove to the state capital, Hobart, and set up camp in a caravan park near the airport at Seven Mile Beach. The place was nice but there was a huge, hairy spider outside the bathroom. We think it was a wolf spider. Yuck!

The next day we toured Hobart, the biggest city in Tasmania. For school we had to use a map and the guidebook to lead the family around on a walking tour. We visited the Tasmania museum, which had all sorts of cool stuff. There was a whole exhibit on the animals of Tasmania, with real, stuffed animals that we could examine up close. There as also a great exhibit on Antarctica because Hobart is often the departure point for expeditions to the continent. There were stuff albatrosses with huge wings and a model of Antarctica made out of real ice. There was another exhibit on the Tasmanian aborigines and crafts that they made. There were water baskets made out of kelp, beautiful necklaces made out of shells and a boat made out of eucalyptus bark. As with the rest of Australia, the white man’s treatment of the Tasmanian aborigine population was abominable.

Aboriginal Designs on Boxes. Hobart.

After leaving the museum, we walked along the wharfs of Hobart and saw squid boats unloading their catch from the night before. They had rows of big lights on them to attract the squid.

Squid Boat Lights

In the water there were little fish, jellyfish, oysters, algae, starfish along with the usual floating rubbish. We also saw three old-fashioned cruise ships that looked like pirate ships. They were offering all sorts of tours but we decided to just walk around. There was a modern cruise ship in port as well. We heard that they had just sailed through ten meter seas. That’s in waves more than thirty feet tall!

We finished our walk in a church with very pretty stained glass windows. We drove west for a couple of hours and set up camp for the night in Wayatinah caravan park. We were headed toward the wilderness some more park land and Tasmania’s world heritage site, the Lake St. Claire/Cradle Mountain National Park.

We drove to Lake St. Claire the next morning through land that was extensively developed with hydroelectric projects. Around every corner there was a reservoir or “lagoon”, power station or penstock. This and other intensive resource management was a big part of Tasmania’s past. Environmental battles in the 1980’s helped to change this reality and spurred the birth of the Franklin/Gordon Wild Rivers and Cradle Mountain/Mt. St. Clair National Parks in the area.

Once in the Park we went on a loop hike along the lake. The track marks the beginning (or end) of Tasmania’s famous Overland Track, an 80km trek across a mountain range to the Cradle Mountain side of the park in the north. Out trail took us through the forest and near Platypus Bay. Sadly we didn’t see any platypuses even though a pair supposedly lives in the bay. It was noon and the best time to see them is at night. At the Bay we had a picnic lunch. The scenery was beautiful but there were lots and lots of biting flies and very large mosquitos.

Platypus(less) Bay. Lake St. Claire.

After the hike we drove out of the park and to Queenstown, which was formerly a big mining town. The landscape around the town was positively lunar, with piles and piles of trailings left from copper mining activities. It was a stark contrast to what we’d seen in the Park. We headed north to the other side of the Park, where we were going to spend our last night in Tasmania. The drive took three hours. On our entry into the Caravan Park, we saw another wombat. That night at camp we saw another wallaby and a mommy and baby possum. Even though we drove a lot, I really enjoyed our last full day in Tasmania.

A view from the East/West Divide.

We ended our trip with more hiking and more driving. We hiked the Dove Lake trail at the end of the road into the Cradle Mountain side of the park we’d visited the day before. The access road is narrow so we took a bus to the trailhead. The weather changed quickly during our hike and the trail was closed due to maintenance so we had to turn around. We went back to the visitor center and did another short loop hike behind a really loud Australian family with kids who wouldn’t stay on the trail. It was quite annoying.

Dove Lake. Cradle Mt. NP.

After lunch, we headed back to Devonport and the ferry. Dad packed up our things while we went to McDonalds (“Macca’s”) to take advantage of their free Internet. Mom got really grumpy because the Wi Fi connection was so slow. We gave up our van at 6pm and boarded the Spirit of Tasmania II bound for Melbourne.

We really enjoyed our trip to Tasmania. We did a lot of driving but it was really nice to see so much of this beautiful place. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there. There are many other great places to explore. If we were to go back, I would be interested in seeing a Tasmanian Devil in the wild. I would also want to explore the West coast and maybe even go kayaking on one of Tasmania’s famous rivers.


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