Road trip – Part 1 of 2 22 November – 2 December 2019

The bus journey on Friday 22nd back to Tauranga via Thames was enjoyable except for a most boring man who, for the whole journey, was subjecting the young woman who he sat next to, to details of the SIM card in his phone telling her over and over that it should have been topped up automatically by direct debit but wasn’t. He spent the whole journey from Thames to Tauranga telling her the same thing at least 3 times including every little detail of his account, phone calls he’d made to try to sort it out, what was said by whom, emails etc etc. The poor girl was trying to help him and had a great deal of patience. If he’d been sitting next to me I’d have given him short shrift or feigned tiredness and closed my eyes to shut him up. My over the shoulder glances in his direction went unheeded.

I picked up my hire car from the same place as before, paid a visit to Countdown supermarket for supplies and drove to Ohope Beach, just over an hour away, where I’d booked a small studio for 3 nights via Airbnb. It has a small bedroom, bathroom and tiny kitchen but is perfectly adequate and at only £25 per night very good value here. The owners, a young couple called Jessy and Daniel, live in the house above. When I went to say hello I discovered that they had also done some housesitting via Trusted Housesitters in England for 6 months.

This part of the journey is travelling around the East Cape, down the East Coast as far as Napier then across to Tongariro National Park. Maori culture is particularly visible on the East Coast and lots of brown signs point to various ‘Marae’ (meeting houses). The East Cape is slow-paced, quiet and everyone knows everyone. The drive around should be a rite of passage for NZers but many haven’t done it.

After dropping off my bags and filling the fridge I went to investigate the beach, about 200 yards from the studio. I’d noticed signs saying it was voted NZ’s most loved beach. If that’s true I could see why as it offers ‘the walker, bather, surfie or fisherman 11 kms of uninterrupted white Pacific beach sand’. It was pretty empty, being working hours still, but there was a father with four young children, teaching and encouraging the older two to surf while their mum took videos and photos. It was lovely to see.

I decided to walk in a westerly direction from about the middle of the beach right to the end, known as West End, surprisingly! On the way more people came to the beach, some with dogs, the odd surfer (not big waves today so good for novices I imagine), couples and friends just enjoying a stroll in the lovely warm weather. I came across a couple (Kerry – male and Lea – female) with a machine called a fish harvester that was letting out a length of fishing line. I stopped to ask them about it. They told me the line went out electronically and had been set to unroll for 20 minutes. NZ law allows no more than 25 hooks with bait and they’re allowed 8 fish each, so if they caught any more they’d have to put them back. Once the 20 minutes was up they were leaving it for an hour while they went back to their house, overlooking the beach, for dinner and would return to reel it in and see what they’d caught. I told them I’d be interested to see and they invited me to call on them at their home and suggested I might even get a glass of wine. I left them and decided I would take them up on their offer.

The end of the beach was further than it looked and my return walk was over 3 hours. I called at Kerry and Lea’s house and they’d only just got in with the fish, just 2 snapper but quite large and each one enough for two meals for two. I was offered a cup of tea (not wine!) and sat chatting with them in their lounge with huge picture windows overlooking the beach. I was only there for about half an hour as got the impression they wanted to watch ‘Doc Martin’ which had been paused on their large TV, and Kerry kindly offered to drive me ‘home’ as I was still 2.5 kms away and it was dark.

I’d booked a boat trip to White Island starting at 1pm on Saturday 23rd. This had been recommended by a lot of people so I thought I’d better go. It wasn’t cheap but it turned out to be well worth it. While waiting for the boat I had a cup of tea at the tour company’s cafe and noticed a nice man sitting on his own. I smiled at him but decided not to sit near him as he was smoking. While waiting for the boat I sat on a wall near a young woman who was reading avidly and asked her what the book was, which then got us in conversation. Her name was Kim and she was from the Netherlands. Of course her English was perfect. She told me she and her boyfriend (a few years younger than her) were travelling for 5 months, had bought a 7 seater car for $1600, had taken 2 of the seats out and slept in it. I thought this very resourceful but personally didn’t fancy the idea of sleeping in a car. They’d bought curtains and towels from opp shops.

White Island (Whakaari in Maori) is NZ’s only active volcano and is situated 49 kms off the coast of Whakatane. The island is estimated to be between 150,000 and 200,000 years old and originally formed from 3 separate volcanic cones. On checking in for my tour I was told the volcano’s alert level had just recently increased from 1 to 2, meaning it was ‘in a moderate to heightened state of unrest with the potential for eruption hazards and an increased risk to visitors’ and signed a form that I understood the risk involved. Yikes!

Our boat was one of four owned by the company (White Island Tours) and very nice too. I sat with Kim and we chatted for the whole of the 60 minute journey. She said her boyfriend had been nervous about going to the island when he heard it was an active volcano and was doing the walk I plan to do on Sunday instead. The crew were quite young, apart from the Captain, and very entertaining. The Captain said we might see dolphins or whales as they had on a recent trip out, but, sadly, we didn’t.

On arriving at the island we were all given a life jacket, hard yellow hat and gas mask and ferried in groups in a dinghy to the jetty. We spent about an hour or so being guided around a small part of the island and told to use our masks when necessary. It was amazing to see the steam and smell the sulphur. There were the remains of a factory and walls of buildings that housed men who had worked on the island collecting the sulphur, between 1923 and 1933. Apparently these men earnt twice as much as the gold miners in Waihi. Despite the harsh conditions there’s a thriving gannet colony and I was surprised to see grass and trees in places. We were told to wear the gas mask as the sulphur could make us cough and give us sore throats and that constant saliva also helped, so we were offered boiled sweets to increase our saliva! We all managed to get off the island without incident.

On the way there we’d been told to stay seated inside the boat but could sit on deck on the return journey which Kim and I did, sitting near the man I’d spied earlier in the cafe. I asked him where he was from and he said Copenhagen. He was married (just my luck!) with four children but had recently had some kind of problem and needed to get away. He was travelling for a total of 13 weeks and his wife had recently joined him for 2 of those, although that hadn’t been part of the original plan. He said it had gone well and the trip had done him a lot of good.

In the early hours of Sunday (about 0530) I was woken by two locked doors (that lead off the garage) in my room shuddering for a few seconds and thought it was the young owners above getting amorous! I thought no more of this in incident and later drove to Whakatane parking the car near the start of the big circular walk (Nga Tapuwae o Toi, meaning ‘The footsteps of Toi’) I’d decided to do. Kim texted me to say it had taken her boyfriend 5 and a half hours to walk it yesterday, including a lunch break. A lot of the walks in NZ have Maori names and are historic, often in the area where Maori used to live, this one being no exception. It includes pā (hillfort) sites of major historical significance, superb native forest with spectacular pōhutukawa trees (known as NZ Christmas trees) fabulous coastal views, beaches and an abundance of birdlife.

Ngā Tapuwae o Toi (The footsteps of Toi) is aptly named as it traverses the heart of what was once the great chieftain Toi’s dominion. His stronghold, Kapu-te-Rangi (Pā of Gentle Breezes), is one of the oldest known pā sites in the country and is a highlight of the Kōhī Point portion of the walkway.

I started the walk through forest, steadily climbing and passing through the important Pa site, then walking along the clifftops with superb coastal views. After rounding the headland there were lots of steps down to Ottarawairere Bay. I only read while doing the walk that this wasn’t accessible during high tide, fortunately it was low tide otherwise I’d have had to retrace my steps, which would have been disappointing. The walk continued across the beach and then up lots of steps and down steps the other side to arrive at the West end of Ohope beach. It was about a 30 minute walk along the beach to then cross the road to Ohope Scenic Reserve. The walk went through forest and then through some private land (where I crossed my first NZ stiles). There were some steep sections and it ended at the bottom of a gorge (although that wasn’t obvious) then walking along the road to get to my car. I really enjoyed the walk and thought it was putting some mileage in my legs in readiness for the big one (Tongariro Crossing if I do it). It had taken me 6 hours,which included lunch and getting slightly lost twice, and I was tired at the end.

Views during the walk:

I reluctantly left my little studio in Ohope Beach on Monday morning (25th). It was going to be a hot day. Not long after leaving I saw a brown sign to the Nukuhau Saltmarsh so thought I’d stop as was in no rush. Apparently a saltmarsh helps to keep a harbour clean and this one is of national significance, providing habitat for secretive marsh birds such as the fern bird (Matata) which I could hear but couldn’t see. There was a variety of rushes and flax:

I thought this was a good idea of Basil Simpson’s to plant a tree in 2003 before he died in anticipation of having his ashes buried there when he finally died in 2008:

My next stop was Opotiki, just 36km from Ohope going East (as I’m travelling in an easterly direction around the East Cape. I stopped at the i-Site office and was told there was an interesting reserve, Hukutaia Domain, 8km away with a Maori burial tree, one of Opotiki’s main attractions. There was a track which took about 25 minutes to walk around through native bush with some ancient trees, varieties of fern and fungi. Like the Saltmatsh, volunteers care for it. It was set aside as a reserve in 1918 mainly to protect the burial tree. From 1930-1970 Norman Potts, a keen local amateur botanist, travelled throughout NZ to collect plants for Hukutaia whose work was continued through the 1970s to 1990 by Marc Heginbotham.

Burial trees are highly sacred to the Maori people. Exhuming bones of the distinguished dead was an ancient practice conducted in accordance with ritual. Sometimes slaves were sacrificed to add prestige to the occasion. The bones were scraped clean then painted with oxide of iron (ochre) and hidden in a cave or hollow tree where they would not be found by tribal enemies. If a person desecrated a burial tree (or cave) the offender’s death would follow. This particular burial tree is a puriri tree (hard and durable timber) is called Taketakerau and is guarded by two wooden statues.

From there I drove for 27kms to a historic bridge off the route I was travelling. It was well worth the drive, different scenery to the coastal route (which most of the time went inland) as it went through a deep gorge. The bridge was a short walk along a gravel path from the car park. This bridge is the second to cross the Waiheke River, the first having been destroyed by flood in 1918. This bridge was likely built in 1922. It’s a single span multiple rope or harp suspension bridge spanning approximately 60 metres and is one of only two of its type remaining in NZ. It fell into disrepair but a conservation project was initiated and the bridge was officially reopened in 1995. The bridge was originally needed to link the farms of the Tauranga valley with the outside world and stands as a monument to the settlers’ commitment determined to make a living off the land of the Waioeka, an inhospitable place.

I briefly chatted to a young French chap over our respective picnic lunches on a bench in the shade. He was travelling alone in a small camper he’d bought and was hoping to sell it for a similar price before returning home.

I drove back into Opotiki, which seemed quite a dishevelled town if you can describe a town in that way. Lots of shops had been closed and it generally looked rather shabby. However there was a Church of interest and a theatre, now a cinema. As luck would have it, just as I approached the church a lady opened up the main door. I followed her in but she told me the internal doors were on some security system which she couldn’t control so we stood looking in as she told me the history of the church, Hiona St. Stephen’s. It’s a small wooden church built in 1862 whose original minister, Reverend Carl Volkner, was thought to be a government spy by the local Maori Whakatohea tribe during the land wars and executed there in 1865. As a result a Maori man, Mokomoko, was wrongly hanged for his murder and in 1992 was posthumously pardoned by the governor-general.

I continued with the lovely drive, circuitous and really scenic and arrived at Waihau Bay Lodge, which looked lovely on the outside, where I was staying the night in a budget room. The lodge looked lovely from the outside but when I was shown my room my heart sank. It absolutely stank, the windows not having been opened to air it. There was one very soft king size bed and two single beds. The only other items of furniture were a mirror in a corner and a big, dusty old fashioned TV taking pride of place in the room which didn’t work anyway. There was a kitchen which could be used and that also stank of fish, with a rusty old empty (defrosted) chest freezer in the corner. There were two toasters but no kettle so when I asked for one was given a pan to boil the water.

I went to the bar for a pre dinner drink and someone asked if anyone had felt the earthquake early on Sunday morning. I asked where it was and was told that the centre of it was in Opotiki (36km from Ohope where felt the shuddering) so I said I had felt it but had thought it was the people above lovemaking, which raised a laugh! I had dinner of fish and kumara chips with salad (I’d earlier been told that they pan fried their fish with margarine!) and went to my now slightly less smelly room to read. I could not believe that I’d paid $60 for that room, more than the lovely little studio in Ohope Beach had cost.

I woke early on Tuesday so got up, had a quick breakfast outside and left by 7.30am as realised I had a fair drive to get to the next overnight stop and didn’t wish to stay a moment too long in that room although it did have a nice location overlooking the bay:

My first stop was to be the East Cape lighthouse, the most easterly point of NZ. Once I got to Te Aurora I took the East Cape Road, 20km of road half of which was unsealed, so quite a bumpy drive. There were one or two houses but this really is as remote as you can get. It’s recommended to walk up the 800 steps to arrive at the top for sunrise, but that would involve camping and a very early start in the dark, but I know some people have done that. By the time I was there it was 10am. The steps were initially very shallow and gradually got steepish but it wasn’t that taxing. Just a few steps from the top I met a lovely Kiwi couple called Lil and John and stood chatting to them for at least 30 minutes. They’d done loads of travelling, mainly backpacking and were currently doing a bit of travelling in NZ with their caravan. They live in Tauranga and offered to put me up, but I declined graciously (I’ve spent a lot of time there) and said I was booked in Rotorua, but said I’d try to meet them for a cup of tea en route to dropping off my hire car.

(Bottom 3 pics: views from the East Cape Lighthouse)

After my chat and visit to the lighthouse with some wonderful views, it was back to the main route and a drive around the east side of the Cape. Amazing how different the scenery was, not half as attractive weirdly as the west side. I stopped at Cafe 35 along the route as it had been recommended, for tea and scone, and then got to Tolaga Bay at 4pm. My Airbnb here was a nice little cabin, no one was around but the door was unlocked with key on the inside. I dropped off my things and went straight out to explore the beach, which was disappointingly full of driftwood:

I decided to walk back to the cabin and spotted a woman with a Jack Russell. I got level with her and she asked if I was travelling and we got chatting. Her name was Maria and she told me that she was nearly 65, that 18 months ago she’d decided to sell her house, most of her belongings, pack her car and take off around NZ not knowing where she’d go. She said it was the best thing she’d ever done and was really happy. She was staying in the backpackers of the Tolaga Bay Inn, had initially meant to stay for 2 nights but was still there 2 and a half months later, but leaving the next day not knowing where! I felt she was a kindred spirit. She had no children, although told me she’d miscarried a girl when she was 19 and a boy when she was 42, and never married. She had bundles of energy and had been walking the landlord’s dog, Roxy, morning and evening and was going to miss her.

Maria and Roxy

Maria told me about a nice walk at the end of the beach up onto the headland for views of the countryside on one side and the beach the other. It was clear that not many people went up that route judging by the rickety steps and leaf strewn, weedy path but it was worth it:

Maria had also told me that there were exercise machines along a road, which looked rather out of place especially with the grass growing around them but I had a go:

Later, back at the cabin, I met my hostess, Beatrice a French woman, who lived at the house next door with her Kiwi husband Hugh. She seemed very pleasant. However, unusually for an Airbnb there were instructions about cleaning the cabin before leaving and stripping the bed. After doing so in the morning (Wednesday) I popped next door to chat some more to Beatrice and met Hugh, both very nice people and I should have liked to have spent more time talking but on with the road trip! Later on, when I reviewed the Airbnb I mentioned how surprised I was to have to clean the whole cabin before I left. Beatrice said she would have to look at the instructions (lost in translation I think) as she didn’t mean that I cleaned the bathroom, just leave the kitchen free of dishes and empty bins, which I’d have done anyway.

Only a short drive today but there were a couple of things to do before leaving Tolaga Bay which has the longest wharf in the southern hemisphere (660m). Just as I arrived, 3 van loads of Maori school kids with their teachers (I haven’t mentioned that the whole East Cape area is very popular with the Maori people as this was where their descendants first settled) who went half way down the wharf jumping off into the sea and back up a ladder.

The wharf was built in 1929 and commercially functional until 1968. It’s been restored after dedicated and expensive preservation efforts.

The other local thing of interest was a walk to Cooks Cove Walkway where he stopped in 1769. Lovely walk initially up some steps, across country then through some forest, down lots of steps (I was thinking about having to walk back up them on the return). I was accompanied for some of the way by a lovely young English couple in their mid 20s, Rose and James, I’d been chatting to at a lookout. They’d bought a camper van and had been working as cooks during the ski season at Mount Ruapeho but said the skiing was pretty awful, yet they had a great time cooking and socialising with the guests. They’d also done some kiwi fruit picking which had been hard but well paid. They’d been travelling/working since October 2018 and were going home next April after 3 weeks in Japan. I do so love these random chats with people. You can get a real connection pretty quickly, mainly because we all love travelling, yet know you’ll never see them again.

Down at the Cove in the sea were lots more school children – what a nice way to spend a school day I thought.

On the way back, and up the steps, I got chatting to a man from Bolton. His wife went off ahead, preceded by their daughter who lives in NZ. He and his wife come to NZ for 6 months during UK winter each year. They’d hoped to be able to live permanently in NZ where both their children live but the country brought in a new rule preventing this. I got the impression he wasn’t too bothered but his wife was.

I had the next 2 nights booked in an Airbnb in Gisborne. After a quick stop in the town I paid a 45 minute visit, just before closing, to the Tairawhiti Museum & Art Gallery (best regional museum) which focuses on East Coast Maori and colonial history. There were excellent photographic displays also.

I went to the house I was staying at and met Catherine, my hostess. After a brief chat over tea I walked to the harbour for a nice (expensive) dinner then back to the house for a longer chat. Catherine’s husband Peter had died of prostate cancer 14 years ago, she told me he was 84 when he died. She’d been 24 when she married him and he was 47, and have a son, Romilly who lives in Gisborne, and daughter Cat(riona) who lives in Amsterdam. We had a very enjoyable conversation and she asked me to join her for dinner tomorrow night which I accepted and I think isn’t something she often does.

There is an interesting website about Peter Brown’s art with links to their children’s interests. Romilly is obsessed with board games and has started a little business making the pieces used in the games from polymer. Cat is a very good photographer: peterbrownartist.com I also came across an interesting article about an exhibition in 2015 of all the family’s art:


Augustus John had noticed Peter Brown’s portraits when the latter was studying at the Slade School of Art in London and invited him to his studio. Catherine is a talented artist herself (mainly still life) and met her husband when she went to his art classes. The house is decorated with their artwork and I was given a private tour!

On Thursday morning I had breakfast with Catherine and another chat. She’s very easy to get on with and seems to enjoy my company. She’d told me last night about Titirangi Hill (the hill that dominates the town) and the Mt Everest challenge for people to walk up it 68 times within 2 months as it’s 130 meters high and that multiplied by 68 equals the height of Everest. Catherine had done this 3 years running but decided to double the 68 times then treble it, often walking up it twice or three times a day. She said it became an obsession.


So I walked up it (just once) and took my time. It overlooks the town with its river, harbour and beach:

Near the summit was a Pohutakawa Tree (known as NZ Christmas tree as it blooms before Christmas) which had been planted by Princess Diana in 1983:

I walked back down and followed the Heritage Walk, all to do with the Maoris who first lived in the area and the landing of James Cook, who named the area Poverty Bay as he couldn’t get the supplies he required here. It was another very hot day today so I stopped off for a drink by the harbour and wrote a few Christmas cards. Then crossed the river to walk along the side of the town beach, then to a few Opp shops before they closed.

On the way back I stopped to chat to a man who’d blown up various inflatable Christmas figures in his garden (that yesterday were lying on the ground) and was busily putting up lights. I asked if I could take a picture as it seemed so strange to me having Christmas in the summer and asked when he’d switch the lights on. He said there would be a practice run tonight.

Back at the house I sat outside with Catherine eating a nice salad dinner she’d prepared and strawberries with yoghurt chatting about so many things then, when it got dark, I suggested we walk to check out the Christmas lights at the man’s house. He had a few on but he’d deflated all the figures so not worth a photo. Catherine knew of another house that usually had lights up so we walked there and it was very impressive. Back to the house where we chatted until 11pm. I’ve enjoyed meeting and talking with Catherine, a lovely lady, and hope that we will meet up again either in NZ or should she pay a visit to England.

Catherine in front of one of her still lifes (runner beans)

The next day, Friday 29th, after a leisurely breakfast I left Catherine’s at 10am for the drive to Napier. I had it in my mind that it was just along the coast but it was a 3 hour drive and 214km. I didn’t see the sea at all until arriving just before Gisborne as state highway 2 goes inland. It was another hot day. About halfway I stopped at Wairoa, a town on the Wairoa river, because it looked nice but it really wasn’t. Had a quick bite and continued on to Napier to Peter and Beth’s, the Airbnb where I’d stayed for 5 nights back in August. I’d arranged with Peter, when I met him in Whitianga, to pay him in cash rather than go via the website and he told me he’d blocked out 29th for me. On arrival, Beth seemed surprised to see me (she’d forgotten my name as had probably had 60 or so other guests since me) and Peter was asleep on the sofa. He’d forgotten I was coming and they were embarrassed as hadn’t made the bed from the previous guest.

I took a walk into town along the Esplanade and via the supermarket for some supplies. Back at the house, their son Tim (who I’d briefly met before) and his wife Ellie were there and I was invited to join them all. Ellie is an Israeli who met Tim via a Christian dating website. After emailing for a while Tim travelled to Israel to meet her, they got on well and married a few months later both coming to Napier to live where they’ve recently bought a house. They had also flown to NZ, and had in quarantine, a Labrador/Retriever called Dooby that Ellie had rescued and this cost them a total of $8000! Lucky dog!

We had some wine, they got a takeaway while I had some leftovers from yesterday’s salad meal, and I enjoyed the conversation. There was another Airbnb guest, an Argentinian girl called Lucia, a Nutritionist, who’d come to Napier for a day’s conference. We hardly saw her and she left early the next morning.

Another leisurely breakfast chatting mainly to Peter and I left at 1030am stopping off first at the Salvation Army Opp shop where I picked up some white cut offs (I’d given the other two pairs of cut offs, which were a bit tight, to Catherine in exchange for some nice shorts she gave me) and two nice tops then got on my way to the Park Hotel in Ruapeho. This was a lovely drive, circuitous as usual, and I really enjoyed looking at the scenery driving at 80kmph and not the 100kmph limit which meant having to pull in to let other cars go past.

The route was via Lake Taupo, travelling a long way round it. For at least 30km around the lake there were hundreds of cyclists, fortunately on the other side of the road, but as the roads are mainly single lanes it meant traffic on the other side encroached on my side as they overtook the cyclists. I guess closing off the route for the event would have caused too much of a problem as there aren’t many other roads to divert onto. A google search revealed that it was the annual Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, one of NZ’s biggest annual sport participation events. It started in 1977 and had just 26 participants but has grown to around 7000 riders from all over NZ and 20 countries. There was a variety of riders, some wearing their club colours, the occasional child and some who clearly hadn’t done much training. They raise thousands of dollars for local charities and have 14 different event categories, one being the 160km ‘Round the Lake’ – one lap circumnavigation of Lake Taupo – which no doubt attracts the elite riders.

So that was interesting but I really think, for the safety of the riders, they could have closed the road for that one day. I might even email them to say how concerned I was, not just for the cyclists but also for the vehicles dodging each other as well. Soon after there was a lookout opportunity and chance for a quick picnic lunch. Lovely views:

I was looking forward to the next 3 nights in the Park Hotel, Ruapeho, located in Tongariro National Park, used in the winter by skiers and mainly in the summer by people walking the Tongariro Crossing, my reason for coming. I wasn’t disappointed with the hotel and had a carb loading of pasta in the restaurant for dinner in anticipation of burning it all off the next day. A large group of Spanish speaking people arrived. In the dining room was a mix of people about to do the walk and others who’d just done it. It had started raining as I approached the area and continued on and off in the late afternoon/evening. Rain was forecast for the next day but not until the afternoon. Advice is to be prepared for all weathers as it’s alpine conditions. Mount Ruapeho still has snow on the top.

Info on Tongariro

I didn’t sleep at all, no idea why, but got up at 6am as had booked the first shuttle bus at 7am to the start of the walk which is NZ’s best one day hike and is 19.4km long. I was feeling excited and positive about the walk. It starts at 1120m, climbing the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, through South Crater before climbing again to Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing at 1886m. Tongariro National Park is the home of Mordor from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ film and Mount Ngauruhoe is Mount Doom.

The first climb was mainly up steps, with some short flat sections in between. I’d been dreading the ‘Devil’s Stairway’ but it really wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. The second section before the summit was mainly over rocks and stones. I had my walking poles which made these sections so much easier but there were lots of younger people who were finding it hard work without. Over the top there was a lot of sliding down scree rewarded with views of the Emerald Lakes and then one large lake called Blue Lake. These are considered sacred to the Maori people and the water is not to be touched nor stones thrown into it. The final descent seemed to go on for ever down steps and along board walks, winding round and down (a bit monotonous really but I still enjoyed it) until it ended up in forest and eventually led to the car park at Ketetahi Road. I’d jogged and walked fast through the forest section to try and make the 3pm shuttle bus (the next one being at 4.30pm) and just made it!

At a couple of points before the summit there were signs warning you that this was the point where things would get harder so you should turn back if you didn’t feel up to it. I noticed a few people did turn back although some had walked to the summit then retraced their steps.

During the walk I met a German woman who was travelling with her ex colleague as they’d both retired recently from teaching. Her colleague didn’t want to do the walk but had gone to visit a waterfall. It transpired that they’d been housesitting in Oz and NZ via Trusted Housesitters. I met another younger German woman called Beatie who was travelling for 6 months and had hired a car for 3 of those which she could sleep in. Also a nice Spanish couple (part of the group in my hotel) and had a brief conversation with them.

There were quite a few people doing the walk and I got the impression that should anyone have a problem someone would come to your aid, there seemed to be camaraderie as we were all there to achieve our goal of walking the walk!

The scenery was much better than I’d expected, in fact it was stunning with initially marshland, then volcanic matter, beautiful red coloured rock (the Red Crater) and the forest. Fantastic views for miles. The weather was pretty cold, in fact I wore 4 layers for most of the time, a hat and gloves. There was quite a wind blowing as well. I later learnt that Search and Rescue have the most call outs in NZ on this walk and specifically after the summit, presumably people being tired and missing their footing. The good thing was that the bus driver had our names for the initial pick up and if by the last bus anyone hadn’t returned by then a search would be initiated.

So many fabulous views on this walk:

There’s a great video about the walk on YouTube by NZ Mountain Safety Council ‘The Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Alpine tramping (hiking) series/New Zealand which is worth a watch (problem is I don’t know how to embed the link here).

Monday morning I woke late, unusually, probably as a result of yesterday’s exertions. I did do some stretching exercises with an American woman on YouTube (Annie would be impressed) and that really helped my legs i.e. I could walk without difficulty. I faced about on my iPad and then took a drive out to Whakapapa village and to the ski area. You can ride a gondola to the top of Mt Ruapeho, which I’d been told was worth doing, however there was no one about and it clearly wasn’t going. The visibility was pretty poor so I presumed that was why. The ski village was certainly very different to the French/Swiss Alps but then it is a volcano. I stopped to take photos but had been rather spoilt for views yesterday. I marvelled at a man who was skateboarding down a section of the main road, not that there was much traffic but, even so, pretty extreme.

I paid a visit to the I-site centre to discover that the Tongariro Crossing Walk wasn’t recommended today owing to the weather and is cancelled tomorrow, so was glad I managed to do it yesterday but a shame for those who can’t. However, there will always be some idiots who’ll disregard the advice although they would need transport each end which could be difficult to arrange.

My second port of call was the Chateau Tongariro (hotel), also recommended, built in 1929. I had looked into having high tea there but the amount of food and price put me off so I settled for earl grey tea and a scone instead in the lounge by one of the picture windows. The Lonely Planet guide to NZ describes the hotel’s grandeur as an touch faded’ and I thought it was pretty ugly, not resembling a chateau in the slightest:

Chateau Tongariro

I enjoyed a gin and tonic in the bar back at the hotel before a fish and chip dinner.

End of part 1 of 2 of this road trip.

Melbourne for a day and the Great Ocean Road 22 – 25 February 2020

The ferry arrived into Melbourne on Saturday 22nd at 8am and I got a tram to near my hotel. I’d booked the Ibis Styles Hotel in King Street as it wasn’t far from the meeting place for tomorrow’s ‘Great Ocean Road’ 3 day tour I’d booked back in October. I knew I couldn’t get into my room until 1pm so was expecting to drop my luggage off and go for a wander until check-in time however, I was pleasantly surprised to be told the room was ready. Breakfast was included but, as I had to leave before breakfast the next day asked if I could have it that day instead and it was agreed. Great customer service and the kind of service that will entice guests to return.

Despite not having had a proper sleep on the ferry I didn’t feel too bad so, after a shower and breakfast I went to the Melbourne Museum. This was my first visit and I spent all my time in one exhibition: ‘First Peoples’ which was brilliantly executed. As per the title it’s all about the indigenous people of Victoria from creation to present day, their languages, culture, objects, experiences using videos, touch screens, sounds etc. It was a fascinating insight, educational, thought provoking and sad. I listened to two people’s experiences of being taken from their families as children – members of the ‘Stolen Generation’ and the long apology by then Prime Minister Rudd to the Aboriginal people for what happened to them. It was extremely moving although, sadly, things haven’t changed a whole lot for them since and they’re still fighting for land that was taken from their ancestors. A horrific figure was given of 80% of Aboriginal people killed by the first Europeans and dying of diseases brought by them. They were classed as ‘savages’ and to be got rid of. I appreciate that those were different times but it’s still shocking that our predecessors were responsible for that ethnic cleansing. I felt quite drained and sad after it all so just had a quick walk around the rest of the museum, deciding to return another time.

Information about the ‘First People’s’ exhibition:


On Sunday 23rd I was to meet my tour bus at 7.10am near the Immigration Museum, a short walk from the hotel. There were a few others waiting already and eventually a bus came along with trailer attached for our luggage. We picked up a few more until there were 22 of us plus our driver/guide Gareth and his ‘assistant’ Pete, who didn’t do a great deal of assisting. Pete told me later that he was head of operations. I’d booked my tour through ‘Wildlife Tours’ but the company on the van was Autopia Tours which seemed to be a conglomeration of other tour companies including Intrepid, whose tours I used to sell when working for the Adventure Company, which is no longer and bought out by Intrepid Travel.

I got chatting to a woman called Wendy, aged 59, originally from Hull but living in Hitchen, Hertfordshire. She had flown to Sydney with her husband then to Melbourne. Her husband, Mike, is a microbiologist who is working on malaria and had come to Australia to give a lecture and work in a lab in Lorne for a few days, a small town we were to drive through later. They have 3 sons and Wendy told me all about them – Daniel, Tom and Luke. Daniel and Tom are musicians and Luke is a software engineer. I got on very well with Wendy and we chatted a lot about books and authors we enjoyed. She’d done a fare amount of travelling including hitchhiking across Africa with a male friend when in her 20s, which is something I would never have been brave enough to do. She told me she hand weaves on a loom.

Other people on the bus included 5 couples and several single young backpackers. Countries they were from included Slovenia, US, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Southern Ireland,Scotland and England and I tried to chat to as many as possible.

One young man, aged 20, who I was particularly struck by was Thomas. He seemed quite reserved and no one appeared to talk to him, possibly because they thought he couldn’t understand English. He was Asian in appearance and I thought Japanese as he had a little wispy beard and moustache, as some Japanese men do. So when I asked if he was Japanese he told me he was French but that his origins were Thai. He then told me he had been abandoned by his Thai mother on the steps of an orphanage when he was a baby and was adopted by a French couple. I thought he’d been adopted by them when he was a baby but later discovered he was 3, so not sure what happened in the meantime. I told him I’d been adopted too which instantly gave us a connection although I obviously hadn’t had the sad start he’d had in life. He told me he had met his mother and some of the extended family but they couldn’t easily communicate and, of course, his parents will always be his adoptive parents. He said he’d had a very happy childhood with them and they’d adopted another boy. Thomas was extremely bright and had done a lot of travelling. I really enjoyed talking to him and he seemed to enjoy my company too. There were two other young male backpackers, one from the Netherlands who was only 17, and the other from Denmark and Thomas soon got chatting to others in the group, although appeared to me happy wandering off on his own.

Another person who struck me was Hannah, a 19 year old German girl who had the most amazing smile all the time. I felt quite maternal towards her – maybe even grand maternal, and told her so, which made her chuckle. An American couple in their 60s were Fanny (which was actually her middle name, first name Nancy which might have been better!) and Michael. They amused me as they were constantly bickering, but not in an unpleasant way. Fanny seemed to worry a lot, particularly when there was walking involved as she thought she’d hold people up. I discovered she’d written a book on Patagonia (which has taken her 35 years but is not yet published) which I showed interest in as it’s a place I want to go to soon. Michael told me it’s very good. I asked if I could read the first chapter and she told me she’d send it all to me. Michael was a retired lecturer in, I think, civil engineering, and played guitar in a band called ‘Wilde Irish Women’ (Wilde after Oscar Wilde and can be found on YouTube) with a lady harpist and cellist – quite an unusual combo I thought. He said he had some important gigs coming up. They live in Amhurst, Massachusetts and I should very much like to see them again as I really liked them. I’m really enjoying meeting so many interesting people on my travels, none of whom I’d ever have got to know if I’d stayed in my rut at home. Long may this continue!

So, back to the tour: On leaving Melbourne we went across the West Gate Bridge which is 2.5km long and crosses the Yarra River. On 15th October 1970 the bridge collapsed killing 35 workers and remains Australia’s worst industrial disaster to date. We saw the Flinders range of mountains in the distance and passed a cement works silo in Geelong (where I’ve got a housesit in June) which had black and white murals of three unsung heroes: Corina Eccles (a direct descendant of the Queen of the Wadawurrung people; Cor Horsten, who worked at the cement works for more than 35 years and Kelly Cartwright, who represented Oz at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 and won two medals at the London Games in 2012) by artist Tyrone ‘Rone’ Wright. I loved it but was unable to get a photo of it as it was so far in the distance but found one online:

Gareth stopped briefly to show us a house on a pole, called the Pole House, which was the only house to survive a bushfire in 1983 in Fairhaven, quite an expensive area. It’s known as the most photographed house along the GOR and can be rented as a holiday home and apparently sways in strong winds:

The Pole House (not my photo)

The Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 243km (151 miles) stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and west to Allansford. Our first stop was at the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch which commemorates the building of the road as a memorial to people of Victoria who served and died in the First World War. In 1917 the Great Ocean Road Trust was established by a prominent businessman from Geelong, Howard Hitchcock, to build the road and provide employment for returned servicemen. 3000 ex-servicemen worked with pick and shovel constructing the road from 1919 and it was completed in 1932. The road is the world’s largest war memorial and an important tourist attraction in the region, one that’s been on my list for many years so I was excited to be doing this trip. The current arch is the third:

Unfortunately Hancock died 3 months before the Road opened. Apparently the first car to drive along the GOR was Hancock’s with his hat on the front seat, followed by his wife in the second car. Originally the road was one lane meaning people could only drive in one direction, say on Tuesdays and back the other way on Wednesdays etc until the road was widened to as it is today, one lane in each direction.

We started on the GOR from Anglesea, named after its Welsh equivalent, 5km from the start at Torquay. The road hugs much of the coastline known as the ‘Surf Coast’ between Torquay and Cape Otway with the Bass Strait and Southern Ocean visible. Gareth stopped the van for us to take photos of the coast but it really wasn’t the best place and I couldn’t understand why he’d chosen that spot as we passed lots of better places. There were certainly a lot of people about.

We went through a town called Lorne, where Wendy pointed out the building where her husband Mike was working (but we didn’t stop) where the rich and famous go. There’s a festival over new year, it hosts a marathon which is very hilly and a bike race. There’s also a Pier to Pub race which is the largest Open Water swimming race in the world. The swim is a 1.2km course starting at Lorne Pier and finishing on the foreshore in front of the Lorne Surf Lifesaving Clubhouse. It attracts a lot of people but has been capped at 4000.

We stopped at Great Otway National Park for a short walk on a boardwalk through an ancient rainforest and part of an Aboriginal cultural landscape. The Otway black snail, a species of carnivorous air-breathing land snail, is only found here.

There is a Great Ocean Walk, a walk of more than 100km over 8 days (I should have done that!) which goes through the park to the Twelve Apostles rock formations (to come!).

We had lunch, which was provided for us, at Apollo Bay a coastal town. It hosts the annual Apollo Bay Music Festival and the Great Ocean Sports Festival. In 1936 a submarine telegraph and telephone cable from Apollo Bay to Stanley provided the first telephone connection to Tasmania from the mainland. The Apollo Bay Telegraph station closed in 1963 and is now a museum.

The portion of the GOR named the ‘Shipwreck Coast’ stretches from Cape Otway to Port Fairy, a distance of about 130km. Explorer, Matthew Flinders said of this section “I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline”. There have been about 638 known shipwrecks along Victoria’s coast although only about 240 have been found. On reading about this later I discovered that ‘The Historic Shipwreck Trail’ (which begins at Port Fairy and commemorates over 50 shipwrecks) shows some of the sites where gales, human error and, in some cases, foul play caused the ships to be wrecked.

We stopped at ‘The Twelve Apostles’, a collection of limestone stacks (the limestone having been formed by shells and other sea life that settled into layers in an ancient seabed) off the shore of Port Campbell National Park. There were never 12 stacks but 8, of which 7 remain as one collapsed in July 2005. They were formed by erosion when the harsh weather conditions from the Southern Ocean gradually eroded the soft limestone to form caves in the cliffs which then become arches that eventually collapse leaving rock stacks up to 50m high. Due to wave action eroding the cliffs, existing headlands are expected to become new limestone stacks in the future. The stacks were originally known as the Pinnacles then early explorers in the 19th century called them ‘Sow and piglets’, the ‘sow’ being Muttonbird Island, and the rest the piglets. They were later renamed, it’s thought in the 1920s, ‘The Twelve Apostles’ despite there only ever having been 8.

Next stop was Loch Ard Gorge. The story is that on 1 March 1878 the clipper, Loch Ard (named from Loch Ard, a Loch lying to the west of Aberfoyle and east of Loch Lomond, mewing ‘high lake’ in Scottish Gaelic) left Gravesend, England for Melbourne under the command of Captain George Gibb with 37 crew, 17 passengers and a mixed cargo weighing 2275 tons. On 31 May the passengers and crew held a party to celebrate the end of the voyage and they were to disembark the next day. Unfortunately a thick fog obscured the horizon and the clipper smashed into Muttonbird Island and sank within 10 or 15 minutes. A member of the crew, Tom Pearce, managed to survive and saved the only other person, an Irish girl called Eva Carmichael. They came ashore at what is now known as ‘Loch Ard Gorge’ taking shelter in a cave on the beach until they were rescued. Everyone else on the ship died. Tom proposed to Eva but she declined later marrying someone else when she returned home. Tom became a Captain. Some of the relics of the wreck are displayed at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in Warrnambool.

Next was London Bridge (or Arch) formed by a gradual process of erosion which was originally a twin span bridge but collapsed in the 1990s:

At each of these locations there were lots of other tourists and, at times, we had to jostle for space to take pictures.

Our last stop was the Bay of Martyrs, so called, according to local oral history which suggests that Europeans killed a large group of Aboriginal men by driving them off the cliffs nearby. The women and children were allegedly killed in a nearby swamp.

Bay of Martyrs

Most of us then went to have dinner in a Thai restaurant in Warrnambool, where everyone except me and a couple, Vera and Neil, was staying in a hostel. I’d upgraded to my own cabin for the night which had two bedrooms. At the restaurant I was sitting opposite an English girl called Heather who’s been living and working in Melbourne for over a year. I asked her what she was doing and thought she said “Barrister” which impressed me, but she clarified that she was a “Barista” which impressed me even more! It gave us a laugh.

I got picked up with Vera and Neil at 6.45am by Gareth who to us back to the hostel to have breakfast there with the others. Some had slept ok some hadn’t, Wendy later telling me that she felt quite tense at first in her bunk and worried that she might snore. I chatted to Vera who was Czech and had a mix of that accent and a Scottish accent as she was married to Neil who was Scottish. They lived in Perth and Vera was a nurse specialising in cardio thoracic conditions.

Then we were off at 7.30am to our first stop at Tower Hill, inside an extinct volcano, within which a series of small cones had been formed surrounded by a crater lake. The Hill was painted by the artist Eugene Von Guerard in 1855 who was the foremost landscape artist in the colonies at the time. More than 300,000 native trees have been planted over the past two generations creating an environment capable of sustaining native animals such as koalas, emus, kangaroos, magpie geese, echidnas, possums and water birds. We went on a short walk called ‘The Lava Tongue’ walk spotting a couple of koala bears in gum trees. There were also some little birds that kept dipping in and out of a water trough. I was rather struck by one which had a flash of red on its face and in its tail:

Then we went to the Grampians National Park, which is Heritage listed for its animal and plant life. It’s home to the largest number of significant and ancient Aboriginal rock art paintings and shelters in southern Australia although we didn’t see any. We stopped at the Brambuk (meaning white cockatoo, the red roof of which was shaped like a cockatoo although I couldn’t see it) cultural centre which brought to life the history of the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung and Aboriginal communities of south-western Victoria. which piled on more vicarious guilt on behalf of the first European settlers for the way they treated the Aboriginal people. It was here I discovered that 80% of the indigenous people were either massacred or died as a result of disease brought by the first settlers. While most people know the mountain range as the Grampians, Aboriginal people have always known it as Gariwerd (pronounced Gary word, which is a special place to them as is central to the dreaming.

From there we went to the little town of Halls Gap where some of us had a nice lunch in a cafe:

In the Grampians National Park are trails that lead to waterfalls, one of which is MacKenzie Falls. We had a walk down nearly 300 steps to the bottom of the falls, which was quite popular. It was extremely hot by this time and I got back up the steps sweating profusely, along with everyone else. I then took a flattish path to have a view from the lookout over to the top of the falls.

There had been a bush fire there in 2006 and all that was left of the cafe was its chimney:

Everyone got back on the bus sweating. We then went to a car park and a short walk to the Balconies for amazing views of the Victoria Valley and surrounding ranges. Then Reed’s Lookout, by the car park, for some stunning views over the entire Victoria Valley, Victoria Range, Serra Range, Lake Wartook and the Mt Difficult Range.

Our last stop was at the Baroka lookout where Slovenian, Thomas, jumped over the fencing and scared his wife Jasna (she introduced herself as Clarissa as an English name) by posing on a rock which he’d also done earlier and got told off for. She told me she owned a bookshop in Ljubljana and that Thomas is her nightmare:

Then after a brief stop at a supermarket to buy some drink, we went to the hostel where most people were staying and chatted while Pete cooked a meal of hamburgers and sausages accompanied by salads. Gareth took me, Vera and Thomas also Fanny and Michael (who’d decided to book an upgrade) to our motel, the Grampians Motel. I took some pictures of emus and kangaroos feeding in front of the motel:

It was another early start on Tuesday 27th with pick up by Gareth at 6.45am to have breakfast, as yesterday, at the hostel. Then it was off to Wonderland car park to do the Pinnacle walk which involved walking steeply up and over rocks (the Grampians’ version of the Grand Canyon) and some steps, through Silent Street for an hour and just over 2km distance. The rocks were fabulous, some appeared to be balanced quite precariously. The views on the way at at the top were well worth the effort and this was a real highlight for me. We were the only ones there but a few more people started arriving as we descended.

It was then time to say goodbye to some of the people on the tour who were being driving back to Melbourne, which included Fanny and Michael. So this was sad as, despite the short time together it felt like we’d been travelling longer as it often does on these type of tours with early starts and lots of stops. We had a group photo:

We then went to a little town called Horsham for lunch and found a nice cafe.

We stopped at an amazing lake called Loch Iel, meaning the Pink Lake, which was an incredible sight and very salty, the like of which I’d never seen before. Apparently the brightness of the hue varies according to the level of rainfall and the colour is the result of a pigment produced by the Salinibacter ruber bacteria. Salt has been harvested from the lake since the 1860s and now on average 20 tonnes a year.

We stopped briefly at a car park where there was paving delineating the border between the states of Victoria, which we were departing, and South Australia which we were entering established in 1836. In 1836 the land that is now called Victoria was part of the colony of New South Wales, the original Victorian border was drawn between the colonies of South Australia and New South Wales. Due to human error by numerous explorers and surveyors it took more than 75 years and a protracted legal dispute before the precise placement of the border was settled, resulting in the forfeiture of more than 1300 square kms of territory from South Australia to Victoria.

A little further on we stopped at a cafe for tea and cake in a place called Coonalpyn opposite which were more amazing murals on cement silos, South Australia’s first. The artist was Guido van Helten who painted 5 schoolchildren from Coonalpyn Primary School:

We crossed the Murray River and got to Adelaide just after 7pm. After the group had checked into the hostel, which was a lot nicer than the other two they’d stayed in, I went out with a few of them for a beer and pizza at a nearby pub which included Gareth and Pete. I was sorry to say goodbye, particularly to Wendy who I’d chatted to a lot, but also a little glad to get away from being herded about and not making my own decisions as to where to stop. I took a taxi to my Airbnb arriving just before 10pm and had a brief chat to Deb, my host, who quickly showed me around.

Looking back, I enjoyed the tour although it seemed as if we were hardly driving along the coast, probably because we were talking and because the road does go inland at times. It wasn’t quite what I expected but I enjoyed the variety of stops we made. It of course was rushed and it would be nice to take a lot longer, doing more walks and seeing more of the sights. Gareth, our driver, gave information over a microphone as he drove along but Wendy and I weren’t so sure it was all accurate, so I checked out a lot of facts afterwards to write here. He was a nice chap and it was evident he really enjoyed his job. I’m not sure I’d rush to do another short tour like that but it did additionally give me some more international contacts, which are always useful.

Tasmania 10 – 21 February 2020, part 2 of 2

As I was getting ready to leave Lyn’s on Monday 10th February I asked if she would like a lift to Bruny Island (my next stop for 3 nights) to visit her friend Tony there but he’d told her he wouldn’t be there then as was staying with his daughter and Lyn and he had had a bit of a falling out although Lyn wasn’t exactly sure why. Apparently he suffers from depression. He had told me, when I met him on my first trip, to ask Lyn for his number when I was on the island but obviously this wasn’t possible. I suggested to Lyn that she might like to join me anyway and could maybe find accommodation. She wondered if she might be able to pitch her tent in my Airbnb hosts’ garden (they had a few acres) so we contacted them and they agreed, no problem, and would charge her $25 for the night. Lyn got ready quickly while I popped to the supermarket for supplies.

It was just a 40 minute drive from Hobart to Kettering where we got onto the 2pm ferry, which left 10 minutes early as it had filled up by then. It cost $32.50 return which I thought was reasonable considering it was a car ferry, the crossing taking about 20 minutes. From there it was about a 30km drive to my Airbnb (‘A taste of Bruny’) in Simpson’s Bay for which I’d paid $70 per night. I knew it wasn’t going to be that special a place but most of the rest of the available accommodation on the island was super expensive.

My room was very small, not much bigger than the bed, and was in a run down building next to the main house. The bathroom was pretty grim but the shower turned out to be fine and there was a washing machine and dryer. On the deck area was a barbecue, which I wouldn’t be using, a microwave, fridge and kettle. Our hosts were Mhrylyn aged 70 (originally from Bow, East London who emigrated to Oz when she was 18 with her parents and came from a long line of Romany gypsies with lots of other countries in her blood) and Willem, Dutch, who appeared to be several years younger than her. Mhrylyn was apparently a trained chef who had good reviews about her food offered me dinner for $25 and breakfast for $15. Having originally booked for breakfast and dinner every day I’d decided I’d just have one dinner on my first night. They had a large garden with lots of fruit trees and vegetables but the whole plot was pretty run down. There were lots of chickens of all ages but we were never offered an egg.

Lyn decided she’d put her tent up on the deck but in the end just slept in the open air on the deck. After a cuppa and dropping our things we went off to explore the local area on foot. Just opposite was an estuary and wetlands, which apparently attracts lots of birds although we didn’t see many there. We walked up the lane and there was a goat posing on a tree stump which I felt sorry for as it had no companion. There were only a few houses, one very nice house with an annexe and a very run down house with a couple of old bangers outside on the top of which a naked child of about 5 was standing one day but this day was running around the garden naked.

Posing goat

I’d arranged to have dinner with Willem and Mhrylyn tonight while Lyn had some food she’d brought. I had a nice conversation with them overlooking the estuary and wetlands but can’t say I was overly impressed with the 2 course meal we ate nor that it was worth $25. Mhrylyn has apparently lots of food allergies, and knew I was vegetarian, so dished up for me what she could eat I guess, which Willem also ate. So I had a thinly vegetable layered mush with grated cheese on top with two side salads made of lentils and various vegetables from their veggie garden. Dessert was a gluten free cake with a blob of cream and yoghurt, not as nice as the banana loaf that Lyn had rustled up and brought along with her. A very strange offering by a ‘trained chef’ and I was glad I’d cancelled the other meals.

The next morning Lyn wasn’t sure whether she should go home or stay a bit longer. There was a bus at the ferry landing in Kettering to Hobart but the last one was about 3.30pm. I suggested she stay and she contacted Mhrylyn who was happy for her to stay for just $10 per night. Lyn had been rudely awakened in the night by a possum trying to get into the rubbish bin that was on the deck, and woke me (not that I was sleeping that heavily) when she banged her hand on the decking to shoo it away.

Lyn had been to Bruny Island twice before with Tony and had asked him to take her to the lighthouse, but he’d refused saying it was too far. So I said we’d go as it was south of where we were. In one of the few towns on the island, Alonnah, en route we stopped at a shop where I was surprised that Lyn bought a hot ‘National Pie’ (beef) which she proceeded to eat, followed by an ice cream – and this was 9.45am! She also bought a cold ‘National Pie’ for later. The shop was run by two women who looked similar (they had peroxide blonde long hair) and when I asked if they were sisters I was told no, that they just went to the same hairdresser. I wasn’t sure if this was true or their joke, but we had a chuckle about it later.

Cape Bruny lighthouse had been taken over by someone who’d decided to charge for ‘tours’ which we resisted and just looked from the outside. There was supposed to be a short circular walk around the lighthouse and a much longer walk nearby, which I’d thought about doing, but the footpaths had unwelcome ‘no access’ signs, probably by the same person who’d bought the lighthouse. Governor George Arthur had ordered the construction of this lighthouse after several ships were wrecked at the entrance to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel – a body of water located between Bruny Island and the south-east of the mainland of Tasmania. It was built by convicts and completed in 1838.

Most of the route to the lighthouse had been a fairly slow drive on an unsealed road, but it was pretty smooth. As we drove on Lyn spotted a sign outside a house with ‘Art Garden Open’ with a $10 entrance fee. I didn’t want to bother but she was really keen and offered to pay my entrance, which I accepted. It turned out to be worth while and we were greeted as we got out of the car by a very smiley woman who introduced herself as Grietje, and said she was Dutch although had been in Tasmania for some years. She told us her partner was Keith whose first wife’s parents had decided to grow trees on the large plot that they hoped would be there 100 years later. Ann, Keith’s first wife, had continued planting and Keith (who came from a long line of depressives) made items/sculptures from wire and wood etc and had found it very therapeutic. Grietje was artistic too (she’d met him through a dating website – not sure what happened to his first wife who was still alive and helping Grietje with a map of all the trees) and had a huge glass fronted studio in the grounds which she later showed us, with a lot of different areas for different projects. She said she had got inspiration from Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and photographer.

We wandered around the garden, having first drunk a cup of tea over a chat with Grietje and Keith, looking at the trees, three ponds and various art works. We sat and had our lunch, as had been suggested, before being shown Grietje’s studio. It was, as Paul would say, “a pleasant little interlude”. They were a lovely couple and were going to have an open day for a group on Friday.

We then went to Cloudy Bay, where Lyn had a dip in the very cold sea while I watched some surfers. I was impressed with one of the surfers who surfed in so far, then turned his board around and paddled out with an oar without falling off. I then went for a walk along the length of the beach which took 50 minutes, having left Lyn sitting waiting, at the end of which was a path to the headland but the path was swampy and looked as if it would be another hour each way. So I decided not to do that and walked back meeting Lyn who’d decided to walk along the beach. She told me she had rheumatoid arthritis and also issues with her hips, despite having had two new ones, which meant she couldn’t walk far however she seemed to manage well and felt quite pleased I think.

By the time we got back to the car it was nearly 6pm and there were some young people sitting out by their camper vans. It was a lovely evening and I rather envied them as it was the perfect spot and free camping. Nearby was a loo which had a one way window so you could see the beach while sitting on the loo but couldn’t be seen from outside!

We drove back and I suggested we check out the pub in Alonnah (Hotel Bruny) for dinner as Lyn had nothing to eat and didn’t want to share what I’d brought (salad!). So she had fish and chips, I had calamari and chips all washed down with some watered down ‘Bruny Cider’. The possum came back again that night and Lyn decided she’d try to take a photo of it.

On Wednesday I suggested we check out Adventure Bay Area, which had a few points of interests along the coast, and Bligh’s Museum. Adventure Bay was the first landing for ships to replenish supplies of fresh water after leaving the Cape of Good Hope. In 1793 Captain Furneaux anchored his ship ‘The Adventure’ after which the bay was named. Captain Cook visited the bay in his ships ‘Resolution’ and ‘Discovery’. In 1788 ‘The Bounty’, under Lieut. Bligh’s command, anchored there, Bligh planting Tasmania’s first apple trees.

We stopped at Coal Point, the site of the third attempt at coal mining in Oz from 1876 – about 1891. At its peak in 1884, 900 tons valued at £560 were shipped to Hobart. The coal seam can be seen in the cliffs.

We stopped at Two Tree Point, an area that had changed little since 1792, with the same two trees as depicted in a painting by Lieut George Tobin, Principal Artist with Bligh on ‘Providence’ in 1792:

There was a nice little cafe which we dropped into and then I paid a visit to Bligh’s Museum, Lyn didn’t want to pay the $3 entry fee having looked in from the outside. A man who lived next door appeared soon after we did to turn the light on and take my $3. The Museum was very small and seemed to be stuck in the 1950s with items crammed together under dusty glass cases. There was Bligh’s Journal, which the man assured me was original (I very much doubt) and told me there were original letters and some of Cook’s log which was original. Why would items of such value be stuck in a miserable little, quite insecure, museum like that and not lodged in national archives? So I doubted the man, although that was probably what he’d been told. Anyway, it was all such a jumble that I could hardly process anything so left being not much wiser than when I went in.

By the beach was an interesting sculpture of the world with a mother whale and baby by Matt Carney:

Mhrylyn had recommended the Cape Queen Elizabeth Walk, which was off the Neck (thin strip of land linking the North and South of Bruny Island so I drove there. The first 30 minutes was a walk from the car park passing lots of birds with yellow tails which we later discovered to be finches. I was hoping to see a forty spotted pardolote bird, Tasmanian, and some birdwatchers we passed said they had seen one in the area but we didn’t. At the end of the track you could either turn left and go up Mount Bluff, which I did, or turn right to the beach (only at low tide, which it was just) which Lyn did. It was a short uphill walk, then along the ridge and dropped down to the first of three bays. I met Lyn in the second and we enjoyed exploring and photographing the rocks in the area. Back to the car park after an enjoyable three hour walk, which Lyn hadn’t found troublesome.

We went back to the Airbnb and saw no sign of Mhrylyn or Willem and heard nothing of them either which surprised me as yesterday they’d come round to ask us what kind of a day we’d had. By the time we went to bed, Lyn by now quite used to sleeping on the deck, we still hadn’t heard them and I was convinced they’d either been murdered or had made a suicide pact! My imagination was running wild!

On Thursday 13th I awoke at 6.30am and decided I wanted to get away quickly to get an earlyish ferry as had a long journey ahead, also to get away from the fairly unpleasant surroundings as soon as possible. I wondered if we should check on Myrhlyn and Willem, just in case they had been murdered (!) but knew that they slept in until at least 9am (as they’d told me) and that, should they be lying in a pool of blood we’d have to call the police and would be there all day and I wouldn’t get to my next stop on time. In the car I then discussed with Lyn how the police might find me, given that I’d be the prime suspect as their last Airbnb guest!

Despite my wanting to get an early ferry I told Lyn I’d like to go to the northernmost point of the island (Dennis Point) and see where Tony, her friend, lived who said he lived very frugally on land he was buying. I knew he had a shipping container and a caravan on the island as his living quarters and a van that he drove around in and slept in when visiting Lyn and other friends on the mainland. En route I stopped along the Neck at Truganini Lookout where there were over 200 steps up to a lookout and a memorial to Truganini who was widely considered to be the last full blood Aboriginal. It was a good vantage point to see both sides of the Neck which couldn’t be done from the road:

So I drove us to the north, which was fairly desolate although there was one small town, and the road just continued in a sweep coming round to near Tony’s road – Power Road. Lyn wasn’t expecting him to be there, but his van was so as we approached his patch she called out his name. There was no answer (me thinking to myself he’d committed suicide as he was suffering from depression) but eventually we found him sitting in a dark corner of his living quarters/kitchen, which was a cut out container with extension, reading a book. Lyn later said he wasn’t that happy to see her. She told me he’d lied about where he was going to be as had said he’d be with his daughter.

We had a cup of tea with Tony, milk supplied by us as he had none and cake supplied by Lyn. I was impressed with the creativeness of his patch, with lots of recycling having gone on and all sorts of objects hanging and on display. His toilet was a Tardis!

We got the ferry back across to Kettering and, I must admit, I should have liked at least another night on the island to do some more of the walks but certainly not another night in that Airbnb! Lyn suggested I might like to drive back to Hobart via the Huon Valley and when I discovered it was twice the distance than the normal route I was a bit miffed given that I had nearly 300 km to drive from Hobart to Strahan, however I decided it was worth it as is said to be one of the best drives in Tasmania. We didn’t stop at all but went through a little town called Cygnet where Lyn told me she’d nearly bought a house but missed out and where every year there is a wonderful Jazz Festival.

I dropped Lyn back at her house and went in for a cup of tea and a quick bite then got on the road at 2pm. The journey to Strahan was fabulous and I have to say possibly the best drive I’ve ever done in my life. Once we left the suburbs of Hobart the route was through countryside and then winding round and round the mountains, with some very tight bends. I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed towing a caravan around it, although I should hope they’re not allowed on it. On two occasions a group of bikers overtook me, crossing double white lines whilst approaching blind bends at high speeds which was somewhat unnerving. They must have stopped ahead of me as they all passed me again later. There were lots of signs for short walks to falls and a few lookout points but I hadn’t given myself enough time to take advantage of them. I particularly wanted to stop at a place called Derwent Bridge where there is a massive wooden sculpture called ‘The Wall’ but I noticed it was closed by the time I passed. I’d heard about it from the woman I briefly spoke to on the ferry.

Some views en route to Strahan:

I got to Big 4 Holiday Park in Strahan around 6.30pm where I had a cabin for 3 nights. There’s a stream running through the park (which was pretty crowded not just with people in cabins but campers and caravans) where I was told I might be lucky to see a platypus at dusk or dawn. Strahan is a small town and former port on the banks of Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania.

I’d booked a Gordon River Cruise for Friday 14th with World Heritage Cruises, the favourite one as it’s a local family owned one, having been run by the same family (the Grinings) for five generations. The Grinings were among the settlers of the fledgling port of Strahan and pioneered tourist cruises into the Gordon River in 1896. The cruise left at 9am and near me were two women travelling together, Lyn and Anne, who I chatted to and we sat together throughout. The Captain commented on and off. First point of interest was going through Hell’s Gates, the name of the mouth of Macquarie Harbour and so called by convicts going through this shallow and dangerously narrow passage from the wild southern ocean en route to Sarah Island (their hell on earth).

Hell’s Gates

There were several lighthouses, one being the southernmost working lighthouse (middle picture):

We had a large school of dolphins travelling along with us for a while which was lovely:

We passed aquaculture pens (fish farm) of salmon and ocean trout where a man was watering an area with apparently pellets in the water canon for the fish so they were evenly distributed:

We had an hour on Sarah Island (the harshest convict settlement in Oz which became the largest shipbuilding yard in Oz) and could either do a guided tour or self guide by picking up a leaflet and walking round. I decided to do the latter as didn’t fancy walking round with so many people but later realised I’d made a mistake as the guides were bringing it all to life by talking about various characters who’d been on the island. It was named Sarah Island in 1815 by James Kelly after Sarah Birch, wife of the doctor Thomas Birch who financed his expedition (circumnavigating Tasmania from December 1815). Most of the buildings that had been there were just piles of rubble and I found it difficult to imagine how they would have been. What a shame it was all left to fall into ruin, but I doubt once convicts were no longer imprisoned there no-one could have imagined it might become a tourist attraction.

We had a very generous buffet lunch on the boat as we travelled slowly along the river which was as smooth as glass and reflected the sky and forest:

We had a stop in the ancient rainforest and the Captain pointed out the various trees including Huon Pine, Blackwood and Leatherwood.

Then a film was shown on the boat as we made our way back, with some elderly men relating about the times they’d worked in the forest for a month at a time cutting down the Huon Pine trees. Unfortunately I fell asleep during some of the film, probably due to the beer I’d drunk and lunch, but was told it dragged on rather.

The tour finished at 3pm when we disembarked at a Huon Pine saw mill. I arranged to meet up with Lyn and Anne to go to see a play: ‘The Ship That Never Was’ – physical theatre with audience participation and just two actors, a man and woman. Apparently it’s Australia’s longest running play telling the dramatic and hilarious true story about the last great escape from Sarah Island. ‘In January 1834 the last ship built at the convict settlement in Macquarie Harbour is about to sail for the new prison at Port Arthur, but 10 convict shipwrights have other ideas! So begins the story of an amazing escape and an extraordinary voyage’. It was funnyish but I felt it was rather childish and would have been better just geared for children. I walked back with Lyn and Anne, who were staying at the same place as me, and shared a bottle of wine (theirs) with them in my cabin with some cheese and biscuits chatting to them until 9pm. They’re off tomorrow to Bruny Island.

Quite an early rise on Saturday 15th. It had rained in the night so was a bit cool. I had to check in for my West Coast Wilderness Railway tour 30-45 minutes before its 8.30am departure from Strahan’s Regatta Point station to Queenstown and back, stopping along the way. It was to be a full day and I wondered if I might get bored spending so much time on a slow train and hoping there’d be some interesting people to sit with.

The railway was built in 1896 to transport ore from Queenstown’s mines to the port of Strahan, and the West Coast Wilderness Railway now carries visitors through Tasmania’s western wilderness in style aboard historic carriages pulled by meticulously restored steam engines. There were three carriages and mine was the middle one (Heritage carriage), the cheap seats, in between two Wildnerness carriages where passengers had a glass of sparkling wine on arrival and food throughout the journey, costing a lot more than I’d paid. I was seated opposite a retired Queensland couple, Brenda and Peter, who were travelling around Tasmania with their caravan and next to me a nice young woman called Katie, a midwife, who was with her parents and her mother’s cousin and husband. They were all very nice people. I also noticed a family who had been at last night’s play and it turned out they were 4 generations: great grandma aged 86 who had flown in from England and lives in Sevenoaks, Kent (small world), her daughter who had moved to Australia because her daughter had and her two young daughters, who were very well behaved throughout. I took a picture of them, unbeknownst to them clearly:

A chap called Jonny Palmer had got the last seat on the train in our carriage just before we were about to leave and I noticed he was English. He told me he lived in Halesowen (near Birmingham) and worked as a racing (motor) commentator and had been working in Oz (Bathurst in fact) and had combined it with a short a trip to Tasmania. Again, small world.

In our carriage was a lovely young man called Simon who gave a commentary on and off along the journey, on a microphone, his commentary going throughout the whole train. Simon reminded us throughout what a difficult job it must have been for the workers to cut their way through the rock and dense forest, sleeping in tents and no heating. Apparently they were paid 6 shillings per day out of which they had to pay for the cost of their tools, food and accommodation leaving very little else. The 35km railway went from 9 metres above sea level to its highest point of 250 metres following the King River for much of the way and the Queen River for a shorter distance. The men were learning as they went along how to construct bridges, some of which were sent in parts without instructions. Very much trial and error.

Simon, our guide (standing)

Our first stop was Lower Landing Station, on the edge of the King River, to stretch our legs, go to the loo and for the driver and mate to fill up the engine with water. The locomotive had been converted from running on coal to oil some years previously. We saw the remains of the old ‘Quarter Mile Bridge’ in the King River as we crossed:

The next stop was Dubbil Barril station – it’s not really known why it’s spelt like this. Here there was a short walking trail through the rainforest where there were Huon Pine trees and other native species.

Back on the train and we travelled up to 250m of elevation over 3.5 km, the steepest section of the track under the power of the Abt rack and pinion system (the only operating Abt rack and pinion system in the Southern Hemisphere and invented by Swiss engineer Dr Roman Abt) to reach the next stop of Rinadeena, meaning ‘Raindrops’.

There was a brief stop at Lynchford, where we didn’t get off the train, and Simon told us about Cornelius Lynch, an 1880s Explorer who had found a large nugget of gold which started the gold rush.

We arrived in Queenstown (originally called Queens Crossing) at 1230 and had until 2pm there. Included was a guided walking tour, one straight away and another at 1.15pm. I took the first with just 3 other people. We were walked around some of the town by a woman called Charlie who showed us some of the historic buildings such as the Paragon Theatre (now refurbished inside with comfy seats and old cinematography equipment on show), two old hotels and the post office. The town is bounded by two mountains, Mount Lyell and Mount Owen, which make it particularly picturesque. The mountains were formed from different minerals.

There were also some nice murals:

I had a quick lunch then back on the train which left at 2pm. We stopped at Lychford, this time getting off, where there were some lovely old photos of railway workers, annual picnics on the train and where some of the group had a go at panning for gold. When we stopped again at Lower Landing there was some honey tasting of the local Leatherwood Honey (which some people think tastes of old boots) and two other nicer honeys, then the chance to buy honey which I resisted (not difficult!).

We arrived back at Strahan just after 6pm and I can saw that I thoroughly enjoyed the day.

On Sunday 16th I checked out of my cabin just before 10am. I had been deliberating whether to retrace some of the route I’d driven to Strahan in order to visit ‘The Wall’ at Derwent Bridge and drive to Wilmot (next stop) from there but it would have added 150km to my journey and seemed ridiculous. If I’d got an early ferry from Brundy Island I would have had time on the way to Strahan. So, should I ever return to Tasmania that will be on the itinerary. ‘The Wall’ consists of carvings in 3 metre high wooden panels by the artist, Greg Duncan, and is his commemoration of those who helped shape the past and present of Tasmania’s central highlands. It’s 100 metres long and the carvings depict the indigenous people, then the pioneering timber harvesters, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers. There were two volumes about it on the Gordon River boat with pictures of all the carvings and it looked fabulous.

So, instead I took the shorter route which was also a pleasant drive, hardly any cars on the road which again was winding but, this time, long winding bends not the short sharp ones into Strahan. I stopped at Zeehan, once Tasmania’s third largest town and known as ‘Silver City’. There were some Art Deco buildings, but the place seemed pretty dead however there was the West Coast Heritage Centre, which looked interesting and was open, so I went in. I was served by a very interesting young man called Kieran and just had to take his picture:

Kieran at the West Coast Heritage Centre, Zeehan

It was a fascinating museum housed in what was originally the Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy. There was a ‘world-class’ mineral collection and lots of social history. Upstairs was a huge pictorial exhibition with lots of mining pictures and various people associated with mining, pictures of ships that had been wrecked, stories of war veterans etc. Outside was a large conglomeration of old locomotives and a lot of rusty machinery associated with mining and engineering, a blacksmith’s workshop and an underground mine simulation which was great. There was a Freemasons’ hall and audio commentary explaining the history of the Freemasons and some of what goes on, and as I left a man was replenishing the leaflets and we had a chat. He was 75, although looked at least 10 years younger, and had come to Tasmania in 1970 aged 25 to work as an electrician. He nearly went back to the UK but decided not to. He’d grown up in Streatham (I told him I used to go ice skating there) and lived in Swindon. Small world again!

Then I popped into the old Police Station with attached magistrates court, also part of the museum, and into the lovely old Gaiety Theatre which had a display of costumes, exhibition of some of the pioneering women who’d lived in Zeehan and in the theatre itself old silent black and white movies on a loop, although there was no one watching at the time. The theatre was built in 1898 and was the venue for J.C. Williamson’s stage shows brought from Melbourne. I learnt that a world famous pianist, Eileen Joyce, had been born in Zeehan in 1908 but her family moved to Western Oz when she was 2 where she learnt to play the piano. She moved to England in 1930 and made her debut under Sir Henry Wood with the Philharmonic Orchestra in London and she toured the world from 1948-1962. She died in Surrey in 1991. So not really much of her life was spent in Zeehan but they’re claiming her anyway! Had I not needed to drive on I would have stayed longer.

I drove through Rosebery, which apparently has Australia’s steepest golf course and the Southern Hemisphere’s highest tree-covered mountain although I didn’t stop to check, and stopped by Lake Rosebery in Tullah for a quick bite.

Lake Rosebery

My next stop was Cradle Mountain lookout, where I plan to walk tomorrow:

The Vale of Belvoir, in the foothills of Cradle Mountain as seen in the above pics, is an extensive natural grassland surrounded by old-growth rainforest. Much of these grasslands are rare and endangered providing habitat for threatened plant and animal species. It’s of World Heritage significance and is the only surviving grassy valley of its kind, unchanged since the Aboriginal wallaby hunters of south west Tasmania 18-20,000 years ago. The valley is widely recognised as one of the most important places for nature conservation in Oz.

I got to my Airbnb in Wilmot and met Pauline, one of the hosts. She’s very nice (has a heart of gold in fact) but talks incessantly which I found very wearing. She had a cousin, Colin, and his wife Alice staying in the room next to me. Pauline was originally from Northern Ireland, but was only there while a baby, and had met up with Colin over there last year for the first time in 40 years. As it turns out, Colin and Alice are Housesitters and are off to the UK later to housesit there. Pauline very kindly invited me to have dinner with them, and her husband Cameron (a baker who’d baked some lovely bread and fruit bread) and their 20 year old daughter Casey. They have two dogs, Taylor and Stella, who seem to nearly always be locked up in their room, and a lovely Ragdoll cat called Charlie who recently got bitten by a snake. Dinner was nice, although it was difficult to get a word in as Pauline monopolised the conversation. I went for a walk with Colin and Alice to a creek in the village where there were apparently platypus. By the time we got there it was almost dark so we couldn’t see them but could hear something. Some Kookaburras were laughing, well they sounded as if they were laughing.

I got up early on Monday 17th as it was a 35km drive to the turn off to Cradle Mountain National Park. I got to the visitor centre at about 8.30am and was shown a circular route to include the summit. I knew the summit would be hard as involved climbing up boulders and thought I’d get there to see what it was like before deciding whether to take up the challenge. There was a free shuttle bus to various stops. I’d been recommended to start walking from the Ronny Creek stop, and a few others got off there too, including a young married Ozzie couple, aged 27, called Reuben and Katie who asked if they could walk with me, which was kind especially as I’d been thinking on the bus how silly they were wearing shorts and looking down my nose at Reuben’s dreadlocks! It’s time I learnt not to judge people by appearances as they were lovely:

Reuben and Katie

We walked initially along the Overland Track, which included a stop at Crater Lake. Then reached Marions Lookout before then going up to the start of the summit track which I decided I’d do. This was very hard and involved climbing up huge boulders, and rock climbing skills but this is just the sort of thing I enjoy, although knew it would be harder coming down. Anyone with the slightest fear of heights wouldn’t have been able to do this. Along the way I got chatting to a nice Ozzie woman, aged 52, called Marilyn who was with her 12 year old son, although I thought he was a girl as he had long hair. She told me she also had a 15 year old daughter and had home schooled them both. I’m pretty anti home schooling but kept that to myself and asked her about it. She told me she found out what their passions were and went with those. Her son, Iban, was diagnosed with Aspergers and generally doesn’t talk to anyone else except his mum. She told me she’d converted a Toyota Hiace van into a camper, which they were travelling in, and back in Oz (Noosa Hinterland, or something like that) she had converted a school bus which she and Iban lived in on land rented at $100 per week from a lovely lady:


I negotiated the summit for a while with Marilyn, her son, Reuben and Katie having gone ahead, until she decided she would go no further. I should probably have done the same but decided to go on which meant I didn’t see Marilyn again. She’d asked me to call Iban back and he obediently returned to find her. He was running down the boulders like a mountain goat as were a few others but most were taking it steadily.

I sat at the first summit eating part of my lunch but was bothered by flies, so went back down and was accompanied down by an English chap called Brendan, who’d lived and worked in Sydney for 12 years and was with a group of men friends doing the Cradle Mountain overland trek – 60km – which meant staying in huts for 4 or 5 nights. He was very kind as showed me the way down (and as anticipated it was far more difficult getting down than going up) then joined his friends. I twisted my ankle and thought I’d broken a big toe at one point when I slipped. I later discovered my ankle was very swollen and big toe sore. I hadn’t seen Reuben and Alice for ages, but it turned out they’d taken a long time getting up the second summit. I’d been told to then take the Face Track (as a different route back) and Reuben and Alice followed, but this turned out to be very hard and slowed me down. At one point we were hanging onto chains where the rocks were jagged and impossible to walk across otherwise. Eventually Katie went ahead and Reuben walked with me as we knew the last bus left Ronny Creek at 6pm. He was so kind and even offered to carry my backpack but that wasn’t the issue, I was just extremely tired and thirsty as ran out of water, which he had too as had given the rest of his water to Katie. He had some grapes which he shared with me which gave us some liquid. Without him I would have been very miserable, definitely a lot slower and would have missed the last bus.

The Face Track joined the track going around part of Dove Lake which was also difficult at the start but eventually led onto board walks, some more uphill (someone was having a sense of humour when they laid the track!) and then back to the car park where we just made the last bus, which I’m sure I’d have missed if it hadn’t been for Reuben. I was shattered! I was very grateful for the help I’d had today from everyone. In future I shall be much more circumspect about what I take on as I felt a burden to Reuben and Alice. There was a lot of camaraderie, which is generally the case on treks, so if things got difficult someone would be there to help out. I said goodbye to Reuben and Alice who had an hour’s drive to their campsite at Mole Creek.

Walking route in black biro!

When I got back to the Airbnb there was a very nice Finnish couple staying in the 2 bedroom cottage. I don’t recall ever having met Finns whilst travelling.

On Tuesday 18th I decided to have a gentle day after yesterday’s extreme activity. I planned to drive to a couple of towns that I’d heard were interesting. The first stop was Latrobe where I’d heard from Lyn & Anne, also Pauline, that there was an interesting shop that sold all sorts of gifts with some themed rooms. The drive there was lovely, through the countryside along the winding roads. Wilmot where I’m staying is known as ‘The Vale of Views’ and it certainly is with Cradle Mountain in the background.

The shop in Latrobe is called ‘Reliquaire’ and I was greeted by a woman offering me a taste of their homemade fudge and explaining the layout of the shop. It was interesting but reminded me in some ways of a shop I visit with Margaret sometimes but not as good as the latter includes antiques. The themed rooms were Alice in Wonderland, Space, a Medieaval room and Harry Potter.

I walked up and down the main street then drove to Sheffield because it’s known as ‘The town of murals’. En route to Sheffield I drove through Railton, ‘The town of topiary’, and was stopped in my tracks by the following two examples in particular:

In Sheffield there appeared to be a coachload of elderly people wandering round looking at the murals and a minibus of Chinese tourists doing the same. There was an area described as an outdoor exhibition of murals but, in my opinion, they weren’t great and too modern. Far more interesting to me were those on walls of buildings and shops, some of which highlighted the history of the town and others which matched what the shops were selling and had probably been there for some years:

There was also a bizarre shop called ‘Emporium’ that Colin and Alice had visited yesterday which sold all sorts of collectibles, all second hand, particularly books and records:

I was feeling pretty tired by 1pm so decided to drive back to Wilmot. I’d noticed interesting post boxes in the area and stopped to take photos of some of those that were most bizarre. Just like in NZ, post boxes in Tasmania tend to be at the end of the lanes. It seemed that the houseowners were trying to outdo each other in quirkiness:

After lunch I had a long afternoon nap and a lazy evening, chatting to Pauline for over dinner, managing to extricate myself after an hour!

It started raining in the night and was still raining heavily when I got up on Wednesday 19th. I wasn’t complaining because I’d been expecting a lot more rain in Tasmania but thus far had really only had rain once. Also thinking about people back in the UK currently suffering severe flooding after the recent storm Ciara followed immediately by storm Denis.

I had a chat with the Finnish couple who were leaving before me. They are in their 50s and she told me her name was Lena and has been a social worker for 25 years, now working in child protection. His name was something like Pekka, and he is a University lecturer in Civil Engineering. I wondered if all Finnish people were as friendly as them, they said yes but very shy. I didn’t quite get the name of the town they live in, somewhere beginning with ‘J’- could be Jyvaskyla.

After checking out and saying goodbye to Pauline and Cameron, who really are a very nice couple, I went on my way deciding to go a long way round to my next and last stop, Stanley, on the North west coast. The drive was interesting as kept taking me off on different roads, one in particular that made me smile was called ‘Nowhere Else Road’ and eventually I arrived at the Bass Highway not all that far from Wilmot (!) stopping at a place called Burnie to visit the Regional art Gallery and Museum that I’d picked up a leaflet about. I was rather disappointed with the art gallery as there were just two small exhibitions: ‘Forest Obscura’ bringing together 4 multi disciplinary artists each inspired by the theme of nature-human relationships and ‘Yet to live in a place without house sparrows’ (Fernando do Campo) which was rather lost on me! There were just two paintings on show from their permanent collection and an interesting exhibit made of leather by Garry Greenwood, so no idea where the rest were.

The museum nearby, in a separate building, was more interesting although quite small too. Their permanent collection was a replica of a street (Federation Street) in Burnie dating back to how it was in 1900. This was the brainchild of a man called Peter Grenville Mercer who had been an avid collector of objects since a young boy, many of which were exhibited in the ‘shops’ in the street. He had been inspired by the famous period streets of the York Castle Museum in England (which I’d never heard of) and so the Pioneer Village Museum opened in 1971 to become the first indoor historic village to be built in Oz, being rebranded in 2011 as the Burnie Regional Museum as it is now.

The nearby library had a lovely mural outside:

Not far from Stanley I stopped to take a picture of The Nut, which dominates the town:

I got to Stanley about 4.30pm and checked into my hotel, the Stanley Hotel, an historic building built in 1847. I noticed in reception they had copies of the book ‘The light between oceans’ for sale which I’d read and enjoyed and recently seen the film of it on Netflix. I asked why they were selling it and was told that the town had been used as the set for the town when filming in November 2014! The hotel was filmed also. In the street were some picture boards of the filming and I took photos to match the boards:

On Thursday I walked up the Nut, a very steep but fairly short track up to the top. For those not able, or too lazy, to walk there is a chair lift. The Nut is a 143 metre high volcanic plug (a volcanic object created when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano) rising from Bass Strait, that towers above Stanley. At the top was a very nice 2km circuit with lookouts across the Bass Strait and inland:

Apparently Tasmanian Aboriginal people sheltered from the wind on the lee side of the Nut as traces of their presence can be seen in the middens they left behind: piles of shells from their seafood diet. In European times, ships were able to take shelter from the prevailing winds in the natural harbour formed by this great rock projecting into the sea, and was a major factor in the settlement of Stanley which sure is windy!

Back down and I walked around the town, noting a few more historic buildings, including Joe Lyons’ birthplace and childhood home (a former premier of Tasmania and Tasmania’s first Prime Minister of Australia from 1932-39 and one of the most popular) and ones that I liked the look of:

I walked to the cemetery that I’d seen from the Nut where there were a few pioneer settlers buried:

Then I popped into the little museum, much better than Bligh’s Museum but still a little bit jumbled up. St Paul’s Anglican Church was next door, painted the same colour:

Originally the Shamrock Inn in 1849, one of 5 pubs at the time, now boutique accommodation

I bought some lovely fish and chips – the fish was called Flathead and the chips probably the best I’ve ever had – and sneaked them into my room with a beer from the bar, hoping that the next occupants of the room wouldn’t get a whiff!

After checking out I drove about 2km to Highfield House which was built by convict labour for the Van Diemen’s Land Company in 1827 as its headquarters, becoming a virtual ‘Government House’. The Company was established in London in 1824 by a group of influential merchants, businessmen and politicians in the hope of making a fortune from fine merino wool as landowners in other parts of the Island were at the time. The company was hopeful of receiving a large fertile land grant but by the time their agents arrived only land in the far west was on offer and the company was granted 250,000 acres in the North West, which was less than perfect and proved to be unsuitable for sheep who succumbed to the extreme cold and rain so the wool enterprise failed. However, once the land had been cleared of its dense timber most of it proved suitable for agriculture and the company moved from wool to land sales.

The house was originally lived in by Edward Curr, his wife and their children (they had 15 but they didn’t all live there as some were in England at school). At 27 he was made Chief Agent for the company and Magistrate for the North West. He apparently controlled his convicts and indentured servants (there were up to 100 brought from England) with an iron hand authorising twice as much punishment as anyone else in the colony at the time.

The house is quite large and interesting to walk around with a lot of information boards and various sounds such as conversation over dinner in the dining room and a woman crying in the bedroom (Mrs Curr whose daughter Juliana died in an accident aged nearly 3).

Despite it being interesting it was awful to read what the employees of the company had done. Tasmanian Aboriginal people were living in the area at the time, and had been for many thousands of years, but most of them were massacred, moved away from the area and died of colonial diseases in order for the company to take over the land. Typical of what happened elsewhere in the country.

I drove on to Devonport, after stopping briefly for lunch, and went into the art gallery. There were 3 rooms, the first was a collection of art by women, none of which I was impressed by. In another room were photographs taken of a canning factory in 1958, a bit more interesting but the third room did hold my attention. The exhibition was entitled ‘Beyond Sight’ by Katrin Terton: ‘a multi-sensory exhibition in which visitors can explore the artworks through touch, sound, smell, sight and imagination’. I particularly liked ‘Driftsongs’ – 8 touchable sculptures made from driftwood, various natural materials and found objects’. When each was touched an evocative soundscape would be played, composed by sound artist Stephen Hamacek. Also ‘Wall of Whispers’ with 8 cocoon-like sculptures each with a tube through which soft recordings of people were emitted, mostly relating to the heart.

I then spent some time in the lovely library before driving to the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ to drop off the hire car there and check in for the 9.10pm sailing back to Melbourne. I’d booked a reclining seat, not a cabin. Although I didn’t expect to sleep I must have done, intermittently, as had some dreams. I was surprised that nobody snored!

So this has been a very pleasant trip and, given the opportunity, I’d definitely return to Tasmania. I enjoyed the west side much more than the east, although did like the islands. I’d say Tasmania in many ways resembles parts of New Zealand, very different from mainland Australia.

And finally:

The Three Rs!

Roads: The roads in Tasmania have been very similar to those in New Zealand, even the main roads being mostly single carriageway. Other roads are good unsealed roads or not so good. The maximum speed limit is 110km per hour, a speed which the trucks seem to drive at when possible but somehow the driving doesn’t seem to be as mad here as in NZ.

Roadkill: I’ve seen a lot, mostly wallabies and possums. My first experience of this was driving from Liffey Falls to Launceston when there were dead animals every 50 metres or so to the left and right. There are notices urging drivers to go slowly, particularly from dusk to dawn. Fortunately I haven’t killed an animal but had to stop for a wallaby which just looked at me and was in no hurry to get off the road, so no wonder.

Roadworks: A bit of a bugbear as they seem to be all over the place, sometimes leaving the ‘roadworks ahead’ signs after they’ve long gone. However, there’s rarely traffic lights to stop traffic but usually some poor soul who has the job of holding a ‘Stop’ sign or ‘Slow’ sign which must be incredibly dull.

Over and out, for now…

Tasmania from 27 Jan – 9 February 2020 Part 1 of 2

It was an early rise at 5.20am on Monday 27th January and I got a taxi an hour later to the Spirit of Tasmania ferry in Port Melbourne. Although I could have got there by two trams, it was a bank holiday after yesterday’s Australia Day and a taxi had been recommended by the hotel manager, who also gave me $20 towards it when I’d told him the problems with my room, only because he asked me one day as I was leaving.

The ferry was due to leave at 8.30am and check in finished at 7.45am, which was why I wanted to get there early. When I checked in I was asked if I had any fresh fruit or vegetables. I had some apples with me, and was issued with a yellow certificate and told to get rid of them on the boat as they couldn’t be taken into Tasmania as, up to now, they have no fruit flies or diseases so didn’t want to risk them being introduced. I hadn’t realised this to be the case and didn’t remember being asked at the airport on the earlier trip I’d made.

I got a comfy seat on board in what was meant to be a quiet area, which wasn’t as it was situated next to the reception where one of the receptionists had a very loud voice and laugh (I’ve noticed that many Australians are loud). There was also a woman who had her phone on loudspeaker so we could all hear what she and the other person were saying, which wasn’t at all interesting. A couple near me were complaining about her so I told them I’d ask her to be quiet by asking if she knew she had her phone on loudspeaker! Her answer was that she did and that her husband was deaf! He couldn’t have been that deaf, but eventually it did the trick and she soon ended the call saying something rude about me to him. But she didn’t do repeat it.

Goodbye Melbourne

Just before 8.30am the Captain announced that we wouldn’t be sailing until 9.30am as a cruise ship was due in and took precedence. It was 9.40am by the time we set sail. Fortunately the crossing was a smooth one as I’d forgotten to get medication to prevent sea sickness. I spent the whole crossing reading and doing sudokus. There was a cinema on the ferry showing several different films, one of which I’d seen and the others I didn’t fancy much. Maybe there’ll be something more interesting on the return.

The ferry had originally been due to arrive at Devonport, Tasmania at 6.10pm but, given the delay in leaving, arrived after 7pm and then there was a bit of a wait for luggage to come off for the few of us foot passengers. It was just a short walk to the motel where I immediately put on the tv to watch the brilliant match between Kyrgios and Nadal. Unbelievable play which was won by Nadal.

On Tuesday 28th, after a quick breakfast in the hotel, I walked to the ferry terminal to collect my rental car at Europcar. I was given an upgrade on the car I’d booked as the one they were going to give me was due a service. I got a Mitsubishi ASX which looked big to me but didn’t feel it when I drove it. Lovely to drive and so much more comfortable than the car I’d hired in New Zealand. It was fortunate because, at the last minute, I’d discovered Europcar was at the ferry terminal as had originally booked through a company based at the airport, which would have been inconvenient. It was also over $300 more than Europcar. So, Europcar gets a big thumbs up from me!

My Mitsubishi ASX hire car

I drove to Deloraine on the Bass Highway/Highway 1 and had a walk around. A woman I briefly spoke to on leaving the ferry was from here and gave me the impression it was worth a stop, which it wasn’t. The town seemed to be full of cafes and Opp shops. There was an interesting structure in the park along the river which was an Aboriginal Yarning Healing Circle, basically a place where people sit and talk/share their stories and has to be booked to be used:

I then had a lovely drive to Liffey Falls’ car park/camping area and did a nice walk to the lower falls. Like in New Zealand, Australians also seem to exaggerate the length of time for walks as it was supposed to take 3 hours return but took me less than 2. I enjoyed the walk, fairly flat with just a few steps, through forest and soft underfoot. On the return walk I spotted a snake (dark grey in colour) but it slithered away before I had a chance to take a photograph. No idea what it was, and tried to find out later. From its colour it could well have been a Tiger snake.

From there it was another nice drive out of the forested area to Launceston (pronounced Lon-cess-tun) my first stop on this road trip where I’d booked an Airbnb for 2 nights. My hosts were Mag and Nick who have two dogs: Louis a 6 year old cross Tenterfield Terrier with Chihuahua and a bit of Jack Russell thrown in (a dear little thing) and Diva an 11 year old Golden Retriever and two cats, Archie and Boots. Over a cup of tea and home made biscuits they told me they’d lived in Lauceston for two years having moved from Townsville in Queensland on the mainland where they found the temperatures just too much.

Liffey falls walk and pets in Launceston Airbnb:

I took a walk into the centre, about 30 minutes, across the river Tamar and had a very tasty and quick meal at a Thai vegan restaurant called ‘Lotus’.

The main draw in Launceston is Cataract Gorge so after a quick breakfast I headed there. The geological dolerite features of the gorge are estimated to be over 200 million years old, formed during the Jurassic period. Tasmanian aboriginal stories tell of ancestors who were turned into stone monoliths and other features on land and in the sea. The large stone boulders that stand along the river’s edge of the gorge are considered by some Aboriginal people to be sentinels or warriors who care for the area. The Alexandra suspension bridge was officially opened on 29 November 1904 to commemorate the birth of Princess Alexandra. However, in April 1929 the bridge was washed away by severe floods and reconstruction completed in 1931.

It’s a beautiful area, with lots of walks in every direction; an area of gardens and a band stand. I was lucky enough to see a couple of wallabies.

I walked along the Cataract Walk, constructed in 1891 with great difficulty as thousands of tons of rock had to be removed by hand. Numerous bridges were constructed over crevices and around rock faces, many overhanging the water. The pathway was originally very narrow and consisted of ladders and steps at intervals to allow visitors access to the water’s edge. There is a ‘Duchess Hut’, one of only 2 remaining ‘rustic’ huts originally built in the early 1890s and named ‘Bark Hut’ but renamed ‘Duchess Hut’ after a visit from the Duke and Duchess of York in 1827. The original timber rotted and was replaced in 1926.

After 2 hours there I took a drive along the Tamar Valley (one of the tourist drives). The Tamar is the river that runs through Launceston and north to feed into the Bass Strait. I drove along the west side northbound initially and stopped to take some pictures from Brady’s lookout (named after Matthew Brady, a convict who went on the run and was eventually hanged):

All along the route were signs off to vineyards as it’s an area of winemaking. At a place called Beauty Point I went to Platypus House to see the elusive platypus. There were tours on the hour which started with a film about a German researcher who was in Tasmania tracking the platypus and managed to get film of two babies in their nest and follow their progress. Apparently only 2% of Australians have seen a platypus in the wild. After the film a young woman with a loud voice who described herself as an animal activist gave us a lot of information about the platypus and the echidna, not an animal I’d ever heard of and it’s only found in Australia, with a different variety in Papua New Guinea. We saw a male platypus in a tank and two females in a tank. Then in another room were 3 echidna walking along the floor. We were told to remain still. They were fed and they have tongues 15cm long. They looked to me like a mix of a hedgehog/porcupine/small anteater.

I then drove to the northernmost point and walked along Greens Beach to get a view of the lighthouse on the other side.

Then I had to drive south, retracing some of the drive to Batman Bridge to access the east side of the Tamar valley and drove north to Low Head, the northernmost point with a lighthouse, which I didn’t bother taking a picture of. There was a super house there:

Beautiful house in a lovely location (Low Head)

Then I drove back to the Airbnb via a supermarket for a microwave meal, accompanied by a glass of red wine kindly supplied by Nick. After a chat I watched the quarter final tennis match between Nadal and Thiem which was won by Thiem.

Thursday 30th had a chat with Mag over breakfast. Nick gets up late as he trades in futures until about 2am. He tried to explain it to me but I was none the wiser. He told me he’s addicted and has spent a long time learning how to trade. Mag is an artist and the house has a lot of her work on the walls. Some of the ones I liked:

I was leaving today but, having packed the car, walked to the Queen Victoria Museum nearby and spent an enjoyable two hours there. There was a particularly interesting exhibition about a Tasmanian woman called Marjorie Bligh, a ‘housewife superstar’ or ‘domestic goddess’. She recycled everything possible and I was interested to see a pouffe covered with ties, a blanket made from scarves and a crocheted bedspread made from 366 stockings:

She wrote lots of cookery and gardening books and was often on TV.

I returned to the Airbnb and sat down with Nick and Mag to a cup of tea and final chat. I was sorry to leave them. Mag would really love to travel but Nick isn’t interested although she’s working on him as she’d love to go to Europe, particularly England and Italy. I took a picture of them in their lovely back garden:

My next stop was St. Helens, just over 2 hours away, and I chose the route via the A3 which went through forest (Mount Maurice Forest Reserve) with winding roads around the top. Lovely driving here as the roads are pretty empty just like NZ. I made a stop in a town called Scottsdale in a cafe within a small art gallery which doubled up as a tourist information office. I got chatting to a couple of women who gave me some tips for stops on the way to St Helens.

Back on the road I saw a sign to Legerwood announcing ‘carved memorial trees’ so, as it was only a small diversion I took a look. There were 9 large carvings out of trees that had been planted in 1918 to honour soldiers killed in world war 1 who came from the area. The village, named after Legerwood in Scotland, was put on the map in 2005 when Eddie Freeman, from Ross, sculpted the trees with his chainsaw at a time when they’d got to a dangerous height and needed to be lopped. Each sculpture has a plaque giving the history of each soldier the carvings relate to.

A stop one of the ladies in the cafe had suggested was the myrtle forest: Weldborough Pass Rainforest. This was a short, circuit walk through a rainforest of myrtle trees with child friendly information boards talking about the history of earth and the gradual demise of the rainforest. A lot of the trees had fallen or were diseased:

I’d booked 3 nights at the Bay of Fires apartments, rooms really. I was pleased with my room with huge bed, microwave, fridge and nice en-suite although didn’t initially think I’d get in. It was a keyless system and 3 fingers had to be held on a black pad which then lit up with numbers to enter the code given. I must have been pressing too hard as nothing happened however someone came along to help. Having dropped off my bags I went next door to a restaurant called ‘Nina’s’ and had a veggie curry, which was served in a bowl and was more like soup with rice in the middle. I didn’t hang about as wanted to watch the match between Federer and Djokovic but, despite the large tv being advertised as brand new I couldn’t access the tennis channel, so was very disappointed. Djokovic won in 3 sets. I sent a message that night to the owners who eventually replied on Saturday morning to apologise but said that they had watched it in one of the rooms! They later asked the cleaner (a young woman from Woking) who’d served me in ‘Nina’s’ to check but she couldn’t find the channel either.

On Friday 31st I slept until 9am (although had woken at 4am and spent an hour on my iPad…..don’t do it Sheryl!) owing, no doubt, to the blackout blind in the room and the fact I hadn’t slept that well or long the previous few days. I thought I’d start off with driving to Mount William National Park in the North East corner of Tasmania, 60 km from St Helens but, a few kms into the drive the road changed to unsealed and was very bumpy so there was no way I was going to bump along for so many kms, turned around and drove to Binalong Bay, to access the Bay of Fires – the big draw in this area and one I was looking forward to.

The Bay of Fires extends from Binalong Bay (where I went) to Eddystone Point in the North – 26 nautical miles. The name was given to the area by Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773 when he saw the fires of the Aboriginal people along the coast which led him to believe the country was densely populated. The huge boulders and rocks in the area are coloured orange from lichens, the sea is crystal clear and the sand white:

I was rather underwhelmed.

After a quick lunch in a bakery back in St Helens I decided to drive to Campbell Town as Nick had told me there were rows of bricks in the street with the names of convicts, which sounded interesting. I hadn’t realised just what a lot of driving I’d be doing. I drove along the A4 road which had recently seen bushfires but now okay, there were some roadworks however. I can’t say the drive was as pleasant as yesterday’s as it went through very dry countryside with hardly anything to see en route.

By the time I got to Campbell Town it was after 3pm and was very hot when I got out of the car, having had the air con on all the way. There was a small park with a statue of a woman and a ram who I learnt was Eliza Forlong who, in the 1820s, had walked 1500 miles throughout Saxony (now part of Germany) selecting from the best flocks of Saxon Merino sheep. She was born Eliza Jack in Glasgow in 1784 and married John Forlong, a Glasgow wine merchant. After the loss of 4 of their 6 children from tuberculosis they accepted medical advice to move to a warmer climate and decided to emigrate to New South Wales, Australia where they invested in sheep and wool production. Eliza and her 2 sons travelled to Saxony where the best sheep were and selected the best sheep at many farms visited, collected them and walked them to the port of Hamburg where they travelled by ship which called at Hobart, where they were offered 2600 acres of land to stay in, their sheep forming the basis of the Winton superfine stud, Australia’s pre-eminent superfine wool stud and the neighbouring St Johnstone stud.

There was also a lovely house called The Grange, built in 1847 and originally the home of Dr William Valentine who emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land with his family from Somerset in 1839. He took over the position of doctor in the town helping establish the first public hospital giving his services free for the first 3 years. He was also a lay preacher at the Anglican Church, set up a reading room, Turkish baths, a library and hand-built two pipe organs. He had made his mark in England as, before he left, he’d worked at Nottingham infirmary where he became the first British doctor to crush gallstones in the bladder. He died in 1876 and in 1964 the house was bequeathed to the National Trust of Tasmania but is now a private residence as was obvious from the string of washing pegged out!

The ‘convict bricks’ Nick had told me about were set into the pavement of the High Street on both sides of the road running along its length. They’re dedicated to some of the nearly 200,000 convicts who were transported to Australia for almost 100 years from 1788 onwards. The first brick was laid by the Mayor on 28 August 2003. Bricks were purchased privately and the detail on each was provided by individuals or ancestors of the convict identified on the brick. In general the name of the convict, age, ship arriving on, offence and length of sentence was on the bricks.

At the end of the High Street was The Foxhunters Return, an old coaching inn.

The Red Bridge at the end of the High Street resulted from Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur’s emphasis on road and bridge construction in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land. It was completed in 1838, built by convicts and is the oldest brick bridge in Australia. Near the bridge were some carvings and, like the ones in Legerwood, had been carved out of the original trees with a chainsaw.

I unwisely popped into a second hand bookstore, given that I’ve still got 2 books (albeit non-fiction) on the go and got persuaded to buy two fiction books of interest after having a chat to the lady owner just as she was about to close, one being ‘For the term of his natural life’ written in 1871 by Marcus Clarke which I thought would add to the atmosphere of my forthcoming visit to Port Arthur.

Then it was a short drive to another interesting town, Ross, which was very quiet. It’s noted for its historic bridge, original sandstone buildings and convict history

I drove back to St Helens by a different route which took a lot longer, and was quite tedious, and was pretty tired by the time I got back.

On the morning of Saturday 1st February I was conscious a historical event was taking place back home as at 11pm their time (10am here) we were leaving the EU. A very sad day indeed. I decided to have a lazy day, especially as my left foot was painful (I feared plantar fasciitis having had it before) and the forecast was for rain later in the afternoon, so I spent some time in the library in the morning, went to the History Room (a small museum) next to the tourist information office and found a second hand bookshop (I didn’t buy any books) with a little cafe inside. I felt a bit down in the dumps today but it will pass.

Sunday 2nd I was booked into a cabin in Triabunna for 2 nights but on the way wanted to go to Freycinet National Park. Fortunately my foot appeared to be okay. I got to the Visitor Centre in the park at 1130am after a drive along the East Coast (allegedly one of the greatest drives in Australia – a bit lost on me) stopping to take a photo of a particularly nice beach:

There were a lot of Chinese people at the park, in fact there are lots of Chinese in Australia and they own a lot of businesses. I queued and was dealt with rather brusquely by a bored young female ranger who, when I said I had 5 hours and could she suggest a walk, marked with a black felt pen a circular route which she clearly does many times every day and said it should take 5 hours. The walk was apparently 11kms long and went initially up to Wineglass Bay Lookout, where there were lots of other people (some I think were just walking up to there as there were quite a few steps) and then down 1000 steps (others were walking back up them) along the Wineglass Bay Track to the beach (Wineglass Bay) on the east side of the park. I stopped for lunch sitting on a rock and chatted to an English couple in their early 60s who had been travelling in NZ and Oz for 4 months and were going back home soon.

Then it was a walk through ‘bush’ west along the Isthmus Track with at times sandy paths and at others smooth rocks with views of the coast intermittently to meet Hazards Beach on the west. The path went north along the beach before going back north east into bush and eventually arrive back at the car park. The only animal I saw was a wallaby. The waters around Tasmania support about 40 known species of whales and dolphins and humpback and southern right whales are regularly seen during their annual migrations. During the whaling era of the early 1800s thousands of whales were taken from Tasmanian waters and came close to extinction but since then have been protected. I didn’t see any. I got back to the car park after 4 hours of walking which had been very enjoyable having not done much exercise recently.

I then drove to Cape Tourville, marked with the black felt pen, still in the National Park, where there was a lighthouse and some lookout points.

I arrived at Triabunna at 6.30pm and was shown to my room in a house. A very quaint old house with wood panelling and, low and behold, a TV which had the tennis on so I was able to watch the final between Djokovic and Thiem which unfortunately was won by the former.

The reason for stopping in Triabunna (which the next day looked to me quite a God forsaken place although historical) was to take the ferry to Maria Island. I planned to do that on Monday 3rd February but the weather forecast promised 80% chance of rain, strong winds and possibly hail so I decided to go on Tuesday before travelling to my next stop. So a bit of a dull Monday after checking out the ferry times at the tourist office and popping into a men’s’ shed, where a man was renovating an old boat, a lovely old carriage was on display and some bric a brac (rubbish) and books for sale. My left foot was playing up again.

The area I was staying in was called Spring Bay and I was interested to read about Dead Island, a few meters from the land, which was used as a burial site in the 1800s. Access is only possible at very low tide so coffins would have been carried by boat. The headstones date from 1846 – 1860 but some are now indecipherable. The 3 earliest are those of people connected with the 11th Regiment of Foot Soldiers, stationed at Spring Bay. A few buried there are: John Turner, a soldier aged 36 died 7 April 1847 of inflammation of the brain; James Hogan, soldier aged 31 died 28 February 1848 of pneumonia; Daniel Hunter, just 7, died in May 1846 of an illness he’d had for 2 years; James Davis, a shoemaker aged 42, who died on 8 September 1855 having hung himself during a period of insanity.

I’m finding that food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, in out of the way places is pretty expensive here but petrol is cheap. The cheapest has been $1.50 per litre which equates to about 76p! Then I’ve bought 3 oranges and a punnet of cherry tomatoes for the equivalent of £5! Might have to stop eating..

On Tuesday 4th, after a chat with the friendly manager as I checked out, I took the 1030am ferry to Maria Island (pronounced as in ‘Black Maria’ – old police car) a 30 minute trip from Triabunna. It’s now an island sanctuary and one of the best places in Australia to observe wombats, Tasmanian devils, Cape Barren geese, kangaroos and wallabies. Also 125 species of bird life including the endangered Forty-spotted pardalote and Swift parrot. Some people were staying overnight either camping or bunking in the old cells as convicts had lived here. First walked to the Painted Cliffs, one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks, which was where most of the others were heading but as they were to be visited within two hours of low tide this was the ideal time. I then walked via a ruined oast house on to the Fossil Cliffs Circuit, another of the great Short Walks. Some lovely views from the cliffs and an information board with details of the various fossils that could be found, with strict instructions not to remove any. Then along past a small cemetery….

I took the 3.30pm ferry back and chatted to an Australian couple who’d been planning to travel around Australia for 2 years, leaving their Queensland home just before December, which they’d rented. They had a caravan but their new VW car kept breaking down so decided to go back to their home town to get it sorted out as it was under warranty. Then they’d continue travelling.

I then had a 1hr 40 min drive to Port Arthur/Tasman Peninsula, my next stop for 3 nights. Google maps sent me along a couple of C roads which were unsealed but not too bumpy and it felt quite adventurous. Eventually I got back onto a sealed road. 

I got to the Airbnb at 6.20pm, a cabin in the garden of the lady owner, which I liked instantly. Kathy, the owner, didn’t seem to want to make conversation but quickly explained a couple of things and told me there was a lot of information provided. There was no WiFi nor working TV, although a TV provided for playing dvds. There were instructions to try not to use too much toilet paper as there was a septic tank and to keep water usage to a minimum. I wasn’t even to wash my dishes but to leave them in a container to be collected by Kathy at the end of my stay. Fine by me!

I spent the evening watching dvds of a Tasmanian tv comedy series called ‘Rosehaven’ which was entertaining and went early to bed.

The next day I walked to the Port Arthur Historic site, just 30 minutes away. I walked through a wood into the site, which I don’t think was the thing to do especially as I saw people wandering about with lanyards on so it would have been obvious I’d snuck in. Not that I didn’t intend paying and went straight to the visitor centre having been unchallenged as I walked about lanyardless. I later found out from Kathy that I should have walked along the waterfront to the site. I was impressed that the entry fee was just $40 which included an introductory guided tour of 40 minutes and a 20 minute harbour boat trip. On paying the entry fee I was given a playing card with a man’s picture on the back. There were no doubt 52 different characters on and in an adjoining room I found out my character was Smith O’Brien with details about him. I had already heard of him as he was an Irish political prisoner who’d been at Maria Island also. Around the site were various information posts about the different characters, some convicts and others, people who worked there. The site is enormous and the fee covers entry for 2 days.

I got on the 1030 tour given a chap called Paul, looked around a couple of the buildings then went on the 1140 boat trip which went past Point Puer Boys’ Prison (on a small island) as it was felt young offenders should be kept separate from the older convicts to protect them from criminal influence. This operated from 1834 – 1849 and was the first juvenile reformatory in the British Empire. Most of the boys were aged between 14 & 17 with the youngest just 9 years old. Point Puer was renowned for its regime of stern discipline and harsh punishment but many of the boys received an education and some were given the opportunity of learning a trade. The boat trip also circled a smaller island known as the Isle of the Dead which was in use from 1833 – 1877 during which time around 1100 people were buried, not only convicts but also civilian and military officers, their wives and children.

Port Arthur was more than a prison, it was a complete community. Convicts started cutting down trees and lugging the timber down to the shore for ship building, then other trades were offered such as carpentry, blacksmithying etc producing goods and services for use locally and for sale in Hobart and beyond. There are more than 30 historic buildings, extensive ruins and beautiful grounds and gardens.

For me the most impressive building was the Penitentiary which was originally constructed as a flour mill and granary in 1845 but was converted into the Penitentiary between 1854 and 1857. The lower floors housed 136 separate cells and on the uppermost floors accommodated 348 men in bunk-style beds. It was used to house prisoners until the settlement closed in 1877 and devastated by a bush fire (as some other buildings were) in 1897 leaving only the masonry walls and barred windows.

The Church was just a shell having been irreparably damaged by fire in 1884. The men were expected to go to church each Sunday. The bells there are the oldest chime of bells in Australia and would have been played like a musical instrument probably by a convict. Unlike swinging bells these were struck by a metal clapper. There were originally 8 bells, one is missing:

The Separate Prison was designed to deliver a new method of punishment and reform through isolation. Convicts were locked in single cells for 23 hours each day with just one hour a day for exercise, taken in individual yards:

Port Arthur is remembered also for the massacre that occurred on 28 April 1996 when a gunman killed 35 people and wounded 19 others in and around the site. Among them were members of staff. The Memorial Garden incorporates the shell of the Broad Arrow Cafe where 20 people were killed. The garden was created as a place of remembrance and reflection:

On 6th February I drove to Remarkable Cave, not far from my Airbnb:

Then I walked to Cape Raoul, a walk suggested by Paul, the guide from Port Arthur, which is another of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks and one of the three capes of the Three Capes Walk – a long distance walk. I’d initially planned just to walk to a lookout point, 45 minutes from the car park, but once there decided to walk on and was glad I did even if it was tiring by the end and 10 miles in total.

Along the walk I met an English chap called Will who works as a ranger for the Tasman Parks and his Australian girlfriend who’s a Radiographer. Will was from Chichester but has worked in Oz since 2010. We had a nice chat as we sat and had lunch. 

On Friday 7th I chatted to Kathy before I left to discover that her great, great, great grandmother was an Irish orphan sent out to Tasmania in her teens. She’d married a convict who’d stolen 14 sheep and was sentenced to be hung but that was commuted to transportation. Interesting to meet someone going back to original settlers and I thought it a shame we hadn’t had more of an opportunity to talk.

I did a couple of stops before driving out of the Tasman Peninsula: Devil’s Kitchen – getting its name from ‘the cauldron of foaming fury’ crashing into the base of the tall cliffs; Tasman Arch – a tall natural bridge in the sea cliffs 100 meters from Devil’s Kitchen lookout; Tesellated Pavement – which in geology is a relatively flat rock surface subdivided into regular rectangles.

On to the town of Ross, famous for its bridge over the Macquarie River which is Australia’s oldest, built by convict labour from hand-hewn sandstone and opened in 1825. Legend has it that the bridge has a ghost: the stone quarries nearby was pushed to the site in handcarts. A cruel overseer rose on top of a load and was attacked by the work gang pushing the cart. They threw his body onto rocks below the bridge and his ghost is said to haunt the arches:

I had a short walk into the small, quaint town which was quite full of tourists. There are lots of original sandstone buildings and a jail or rather ‘gaol’.

Then it was a short drive through the countryside to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, a rescue centre offering up-close viewings of endangered native wildlife which I’d read was one of the best in the country. The name ‘Bonorong’ is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘native companion’. There were lots of Forester Kangaroos of all ages which you could hand feed, if you so desired, with food in small containers dotted about. I was told that for a kangaroo to quickly befriend me I just needed to scratch him/her on the chest and it was clear they enjoyed this. There were some Tasmanian Devils (I’d only seen stuffed ones until now), two sleeping koalas, a 100+ year old grumpy cockatoo, wombats, lizards, a Tiger snake (which definitely looked like the snake that had crossed my path on the Liffey Falls Walk I’d done) lorikeets etc. The sanctuary is on call 24 hours per day and most of the animals there were injured on roads or orphaned.