Sunday, October 19, 2014

Idyll Western Tassie

The west coast of Tasmania is largely untouched by development. There are only a few small towns scattered in this part of the island. And Strahan (pronounced "Streu-on") is perhaps the most popular and the only one by the coast. The town is beside the a big bay known as Macquarie Harbour.

Our drive from Hobart to Strahan took nearly 6 hours covering over 300 kilometres of good country roads. En route the scenery was serene and beautiful. There was hardly any traffic. We had the whole highway to ourselves. We passed by a couple of small settlements. They were hydro electric power stations. They have this ingenious system of channelling water in huge pipelines from the lakes in the mountains to generate electricity.

We could not find any cafe or restaurant along the 300 km of highway. But we were fully prepared. We had packed coffee and sandwiches. And stopped by a rest area for lunch.

About 40 km from Strahan, we arrived at Queenstown. It was a charming hillside place with a beautiful railway station and an imposing hotel. We lingered for a while, took some photo shots and proceeded on.

It was almost dusk when we arrived at Strahan. As we entered the town, there was hardly a soul. There was one main road along the coast. On this road were some shops, cafes and small restaurants.

Opposite was the water front to Macquarie Harbour. The population of the town is just over 600. The main activities are tourism, fishing and timber.

We checked into our booked apartment.

Dinner that night was a chicken we bought at the local store.

Followed by cheese we bought in Bruny Island.

Next morning, we woke up early to take a cruise in Macquarie Harbour. This huge body of water is a bay, accessible to the open sea through a small inlet known as Hells Gate. On our cruise we would visit Sarah Island and sail into Gordon River.

The boat we boarded was named the Eagle. It was a big boat, with nice comfortable interiors. We settled down to a 6 hours cruise.

The first point of interest was Hells Gate. This was a small opening from Macquarie Harbour to the open ocean. As the name implies, this can be a treacherous stretch of waterway for seamen, and a light house is in place to guide them.

Then the boat headed to Sarah Island. Along the way we passed many fish farms. They keep salmons.

Like Port Arthur, Sarah Island was a prison settlement. It is a tiny island. It was hard to imagine spending years if not a lifetime, in this cold frigid and hostile place.

This perky young man told us the story of Sarah Island, in the midst of the ruins that were once the home of the wretched prisoners.

The prisoners of Sarah Island were master ship builders. The ships they built were apparently used  throughout the Australian settlements in their days. In 1834, the last ship built in Sarah Island named The Frederick was hijacked by 10 prisoners who escaped and sailed all the way to Chile in South America. They were later recaptured and brought back to Australia. Remnants of log from these ship building activities can still be seen on the coast of Sarah Island.

We sailed up the Gordon River. It was a most scenic cruise. The river was so pristine and undisturbed.

It is apparently a haven for fresh water anglers. In our drive around Tasmania, we talked to many of the locals. We were told to bring our rods and reels on our next visit. We were assured we would not be disappointed.

We then stopped by at Heritage Landing for a walk into the rain forest. The sights were amazing.

Buffet lunch was served onboard the boat. It was cold meats, salmon, salads and fruits. Everything was super fresh. We enjoyed the meal thoroughly.

After the cruise, the boat docked near a saw mill. Here we had the opportunity to see some of the activities in the mill. The wood they process is from the Huon pine trees. The Huon pine is native to this part of Tasmania. They are much treasured and special licenses to fell these trees are very limited and strictly controlled. Illegal logging of these trees are punishable with long prison terms.

I was fascinated by this log on display, estimated to be some 900 years old. Huon pines are very slow growing and can live up to 2000 years.

From Strahan,  we headed to Launceston. It was nearly 3.00pm when we departed Strahan. The drive to Launceston was about 280 km.

En route, we saw Cradle Mountain from afar. Cradle Mountain was originally one of our destinations. It is a beautiful hill resort in the Lake St Claire National Park. Unfortunately because of the lack of time, we had to skip this experience.

The drive from Strahan to Launceston was made very interesting by the wildlife that we encountered. We saw lots of wallabies, possums and wombats. These animals are, I believe, nocturnal. As night fell during our drive, they came out in droves. This wombat leisurely strutted across the road in front of our car.

It was not only here that we encountered wildlife. In our week's adventure across Tasmania, we saw kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, a seal, dolphins, kookaburras, deers and wild rabbits. Judging from what we saw, the island must be teeming with wildlife. I was on constant lookout for whales. No luck.

The most significant wildlife sight to me was an echidna we encountered during our drive in the eastern coast of Tasmania a couple of day later. It sadly was dead - a road kill. The echidna is a rare animal. It is one of only two mammals (the other is the platypus) in the world that lay eggs instead to giving birth to their youngs.

Under the spiny back was a soft furry cute creature. What a sorry way to meet such a fascinating animal.

We reached Launceston at about 8.00pm that night. Our GPS guided us to our hotel apartment. There we rested.

Thursday, October 09, 2014


Our flight from Melbourne to Hobart was just over an hour. The pilot announced that the ground temperature in Hobart was 4 deg C. But when we got out of the airport, it did not feel so cold. We picked up our Toyota Estima from Avis. It was still early morning and we had a full day ahead of us.

Our first stop was Port Arthur. This small town is located in the south tip of the Tasman peninsula about 90 km from Hobart. Port Arthur is famed as a former convict settlement.

In the 18th and 19th century, penal laws in Britain was very strict and harsh. People were punished and jailed for the most minor of offences. Boys as young as nine years were thrown into jails. As the result, the prisons in Britain were severely over-crowded. The authorities decided to send these convicts out of the country. Newly discovered Australia was selected and the first convicts arrived in the new land in 1787. Over the years, nearly 200,000 prisoners were brought here and they were the foundation of the British colonisation of Australia.

Port Arthur was one of many prison settlements in early Australia. It was the destination of the most hard core of the prisoners. Conditions were harsh and the inmates were treated severely.

Moving around the old buildings, we could only imagine how conditions were like in those days.

We stood in the rain in awe as our guide told us the story of this terrible prison settlement.

But the place was not all grim and gloom. There was a pretty sight. These were homes of the commandant and officials of the settlement. They even had a small church. They lived normal family lives alongside the inmates whose lives were not as as normal and definitely with no families.

This imposing building is now a small museum. Inside, we had a glimpse of how the people were like in those days.

This quotation from the Governor General of Tasmania, Sir George Arthur, of whom the prison settlement was named after, reflected the attitude of the authorities on the prisoners.

Our visit to Port Arthur included a boat ride around Carnarvon Bay.

This was the Isle of the Dead. Here prisoners and officials from Port Arthur were buried. Even in death they were discriminated. Officials were accorded tombstones. Prisoners were buried incognito.

After Port Arthur, we headed back to Hobart. En route, we stopped at a supermarket for provisions. Then we went looking for our apartment that Alan had booked. We spent 2 nights in the Woolmers Hotel Apartments.

The apartments were rather old and small. But they were comfortable enough and came with full facilities.

That night at my request, Chef Alan did his magic again and whipped out his delicious steaks. This time, it was sirloin served with a cream pepper sauce and plenty of vegetables.

Eaten with some nice potato salad that my wife made.

Supplemented by some juicy grilled chicken thighs.

Home cooked away from home. We couldn't ask for more.

Next morning, we drove up Mount Wellington. Rising to a height of 1,721 meters, this imposing peak overlooked the city of Hobart.

It was an easy drive up. The scene on the way up was fabulous.

On top, conditions were freezing cold. Outside temperature was recorded at 2 deg C. The wind was so strongly it almost lifted me off my feet. There was a lot of snow on the ground.

I struggled to walk against the gale. I had never felt so cold in my life.

We sought refuge in the observation building. The sight from the top was breathtaking.

From Mt. Wellington we drove some 40 km south, to a small town named Kettering. There, we boarded a ferry that took us (car included) to Bruny Island.

Bruny is a sizeable island over 360 sq km. with a population of only 600 people. There are 2 land masses connected by a narrow isthmus, which is also a road, known as The Neck.

The island was almost totally deserted when we drove around. Apparently they have a lot of visitors. But this was not the season. As we drove south, we came across an oyster shop. We immediately stopped to buy a couple of dozens.

We then drove around looking for a picnic spot for lunch. There wasn't any. We were getting hungry. Soon after we passed The Neck, we stopped our car by the road, and proceeded with lunch on sandwiches and hot coffee that we had brought along. It was here that we had our first taste of Tasmanian oysters.

The island was serene and beautiful. Most of the houses were in the south. It took us nearly 2 hours to cover most of the south island. Except for a few passing cars and those in the oyster and cheese shops, we did not see anybody else at all. We wonder what the people in the island do for a life.

Before we left the island, we stopped at the local cheese factory/shop. I felt they were over-priced. Still we bought some.

That evening, we went around looking for the famed Tasmanian seafood. We were attracted to the brightest light at the Hobart harbour. But I am not sure if we came to the best place for seafood.

The place we came to was Mures. It seemed like a very popular place. It was packed. We wandered around for awhile before we could get a suitable table.

The array of seafood on display at the counter was impressive indeed. But the prices were inhibitive.

We made our selection from a menu at the counter. The guy gave us a pager. It would buzz when our food was ready.

Our seafood orders were all deep fried with fries. The menu did not offer any other type of cooking. It would be nice to have some steamed fish or some blanched prawns. They did offer fresh oysters but they were too expensive. We settle for some scallops and fries...

Calamari (squids) and fries...

And a seafood platter. In the platter were fish, prawn, calamari and scallops. They were all very fresh. But it was a glut of deep fried and far too much french fries.

We also ordered a couple of seafood pizzas. The pizza were fabulous.

They were all helped down by some fresh salads.

And slaws.

We had a good meal. But I wasn't too sure if Hobart had only these to offer in terms of seafood. I was pretty certain there were other places that offer more than fried and fries. Well, we would have to look elsewhere in Tasmania.

Next morning, we packed our things and checked out of our apartments. There was still one more place we wanted to visit before we leave Hobart.

Salamanca Market is a popular open market located in Salamanca Place. It is opened only on Saturday mornings and we were lucky our short 3 days stay in Hobart coincided with one.

Salamanca was a short drive from our apartment. As soon as we parked our car, our stomachs told us our first priority was breakfast. Alan and Joyce had been to a nice cafe there. But they couldn't find it. So we settled down to this alternative.

We each had simple breakfasts. I had this toast and jam. The toast was superb. The bread was aromatic with assortment of nuts.

Banana bread with honey.

Poached eggs on toast.

Bacon and egg on toast.

And of course coffee.

The breakfast was expensive. I asked for 2 poached eggs. Just eggs, nothing else. It costed us 10 aussie bucks - 30 ringgit for 2 eggs. Most expensive I ever had.

The total bill for our simple breakfasts was close to 80 aussie bucks. Oouch.

After breakfast, we walked around Salamanca market. It was an interesting place. People sold all types of things - food, clothing, artefacts,

We also walked the nearby Hobart water front.

We saw this familiar looking red ship - the Aurora Australis. I am not to totally sure. Was this the same ship we saw on television that they used to search for MH370 in the Indian Ocean?

Just before noon, we settled ourselves comfortably in our car and drove out of Hobart to explore the rest of Tasmania.