Port Arthur – Honouring our convict origins

Port Arthur looms large in the Aussie psyche. Maybe it is our convict heritage that keeps the connection strong or maybe our white-Australia history is so new and fresh, that we grab every opportunity that screams ‘history’ with both hands.

Port Arthur is the site of one of Australia’s most notorious penal colonies. Located 101km (by road) south-east of Hobart, on the Tasman peninsula, it was established as a ‘home away from home’ for some of Australia’s most committed criminals. Perhaps that should be changed to England’s most committed criminals, as the majority of the penitentiary’s residents were fully imported from the Mother Country.

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Sailing the High Seas around Tasmania

What is it about sailing that blows out the cobwebs and opens both mind and spirit to Nature? I know sailing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for this country girl, it is my definition of pure freedom.

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Farewell Hobart

The Brave Man* often talks about buying a boat and sailing off into the sunset. While this is a lovely, romantic notion, the practicalities are far more substantial; lack of expert sailing knowledge for one, and the fact that we live four hours’ drive from the ocean is also a pretty major consideration. I have been told that owning a boat is like standing, fully-clothed under a cold shower while tearing up $100 notes. So, while I applaud my husband’s adventurousness, I have both of my land-lubber legs planted firmly in reality.

If you don’t own a boat, the next best thing is to have friends with a boat! It is a much more straight-forward option, cheaper, easier, and one that keeps The Brave Man’s* global sailing aspirations in check. How lucky for us that our boatie friends are residents of Hobart, Tasmania AND they invited us to go sailing with them for a couple of days? It took us about three seconds to accept their invitation, purchase our white-soled sneakers and dust off our ‘Sailing for Beginners’ book.

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Our home for the next three days – Content. Note: the Old Man and the Sea pose.

It was a crisp Autumn day as we unpacked the car at the Derwent Sailing Squadron, and lugged all our gear along the pier to where Content was moored. The month of March in my home town can still feature 35°C days but not in Hobart. Just to be on the safe side, we had packed every item of warm clothing we possessed, and were rugged up for wild weather.

To me, there is no more atmospheric sound than the ringing tinkle and slap of boat rigging while boats bob at their moorings. Since it was a weekday, the marina was virtually deserted, reinforcing my gleeful feeling that we were wagging school. (Wagging: a.k.a. jigging, bunking, skipping, skivvying). Our friends informed us that the marina recently surveyed the boat owners and, on average, each boat only unfurled the sheets and sailed one day per year. Now that is a whole lot of money, and a whole lot of joy, to have tied up, going nowhere.

Not Content though. She is a busy lady and her owners regularly toss off her bow lines and point her seaward.

After stacking and stowing, tying and untying, checking and fuelling, and with a shiver of excitement, we were away into a stiff breeze and heading down the Derwent River. It was a ‘pinch myself’ moment as I watched Hobart recede from view and our vista opened to a completely different perspective of Tasmania.

This was no pleasure cruise though as we all pitched in to help with ropes and sails. I do admit I was a bit nervous about taking the wheel. It had been over 20 years since I zipped around Sydney Harbour on an introductory sailing course. Where was the wind? Are the sails luffing? When should I jibe? In my imagination I was picturing ‘Sydney-to-Hobart-style’ tacking and racing, but my moves focused less on strategy and speed, and more on trying to stop the boom swinging and wiping out some poor, unsuspecting passenger. I doubt that I did that successfully.

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Salt and Pepper squid for lunch!

All that bracing, salty air supercharged our appetites and our fellow shipmates had just the solution. After leaving the high ‘traffic’ sections of the Derwent River, a fishing line was casually tossed over the back of the boat to trail in our wake. Within minutes the line snapped taut and was hauled back in dangling a sizable squid. Into the bucket it went, and out went the fishing line again. In what seemed like only 30 minutes, we had enough squid for the freshest seafood lunch ever. A dusting of flour, salt and pepper, and cooked lightly in olive oil – I had to restrain myself from charging below deck, raiding the kitchen and devouring the lot! Seafood just doesn’t get any fresher or more delicious.

The sail-eat-sail pattern was repeated continuously over the next three days. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t all that suitable for sailing with light winds, or at times, no wind at all. So much for my visions of a wind and storm-lashed Tassie, with the salt spray stinging our faces as we heeled over in the gales. I know it does happen, just not to us on this trip.

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Stretching our legs on Bruny Island.

We were not deterred though and still made the most of the experience. Down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel we glided and around the tip of Bruny Island. We moored in secluded bays and took short walks along remote bush trails and pebbly shores. It was heavenly to be gently rocked to sleep by the tidal rise and fall, and wake to the sun sparkling mirror-like on the sheltered bays.

Sailing is such a simple way to spend your time, being guided by the wind and, fed by the ocean. The abundant sea life was quite incredible, and that fishing line over the back of the boat brought in exquisite whiting, endless squid and a grand, old daddy crab. Due to our respect for his advanced age, he escaped the pot, was untangled from the line and returned to the ocean to live another day.

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Dinner!

Our friends were not only sailors, but also divers and the larder was further supplemented with lobster and abalone – all legally harvested of course. In previous posts, I have mentioned my complete lack of gourmet tastebuds, but the lobster was to-die-for. While the abalone was nice, it did not compare to the lobster or any of the other fresh morsels, and I am not really sure why people make such a fuss over this mollusc.

Our sailing adventure in Tassie was the perfect blend of warm friendship, the freshest of fresh food, and the stunning outdoors. It was entertainment enough just to sit and watch the cloud formations change from fluffy white to moody grey, and see the wind change the water from mirror to white caps.

With limp sails, we returned to the civilisation of Hobart knowing that we had enjoyed something pretty remarkable. It was a true privilege to see this wild and pristine part of Australia.

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Moody clouds over the Derwent River.

I felt like all my troubles had been blown and washed out of me, and I was renewed and rinsed clean.

Perhaps a global sailing adventure is not out of the question after all…

Do you feel the same about sailing?

March 2011

 

The Basics

What: We sailed for three days/two nights on a four berth boat. Boats can be hired via AirBnB from $41 per night. I am not sure if that allows you to sail or just sleep!

Where: We sailed from Hobart, down the Derwent River, through the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, then around the tip of Bruny Island and back again, calling into gorgeous bays and inlets.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp but unfortunately not very windy.

Why: If you enjoy sailing then the route we took was beautiful, relatively protected and safe.

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Waking up to mist on the water. A protected inlet on Bruny Island.

How: We flew to Hobart on Virgin and then our friends acted as both taxi and cruise director/Captain.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and two bestie boaties.

Related Posts: for more information about what to see and do in Tasmania, have a look at my posts about some of the interesting man-made attractions and some stunning short walks in the great Tassie outdoors.

Related Blogs: To really get a true sense of sailing in Tasmania, have a look at this blog by sailing enthusiasts, Jack and Jude: http://jackandjude.com/log/

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Give Tasmania a Break! Part 2

Looking over the Franklin River from Donahey's Lookout

Looking over the Franklin River from Donahey’s Lookout

This post follows an earlier one about the ‘must-see’ built attractions we enjoyed in Tasmania. Now, I’d like to share our experiences of Tassie’s great outdoors.

If you are an Aussie, you would have to have spent your life under a rock not to have heard of the many famous Tasmanian walking destinations on offer, such as Cradle Mountain National Park. International readers, you are excused!

We didn’t have time to tick this park off the list, but we made the most of every other short walk opportunity we could find. These walks were the perfect way to break up the road trip, stretch our legs and let the bulk of the grey nomad traffic pass us by. Again, we were grateful to our Hobart friends, keen bushwalkers themselves, who gave us the heads-up about the best short walks in the areas we were visiting.

The Franklin River Nature Walk, Tasmania

The Franklin River Nature Walk, Tasmania

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, borders both sides of the Lyell Highway as the road crosses east-to-west Tasmania. This park is a good mix of soaring peaks, rough bushland and picture-perfect rivers and streams. It has a number of walks ranging from a short one-hour stroll along boardwalks, to a whole day climbing rugged paths and hiking through dense forest. Even though we didn’t get close to the Franklin River itself, the crystal clear creeks and surrounding wild forests made it abundantly clear that this region was definitely worth fighting for.

As background, in 1982 there was a major push by the Tasmanian Government to dam the Franklin River, and sections of the Gordon River, as part of a hydro-electricity scheme. Naturally, this was strongly opposed by the environmental movement and resulted in the largest conservation battle ever conducted in Australian history. Luckily for us, the ‘greenies’ won the day.

The Nelson Falls walk

The Nelson Falls walk

Driving further west, but still in the same National Park, we stopped again to stroll up to the Nelson Falls. I realise I have been known for doing a spot of extreme walking at times, but the walks we completed that day were mostly short and over relatively accessible terrain. It is hard to believe that so many people just whizz by in their vehicles and miss the majesty of this wilderness. We would have been just as ignorant if we hadn’t been tipped off. Note to self: pick local brains for the best things to see and do, and don’t only rely on tourist brochures.

Arriving in Strahan, we took the opportunity to explore the Gordon River via water rather than on foot. Yes, it was a typical touristy thing to do but sometimes I just have to swallow my pride if I want to access far-flung places.

The lighthouse at Hell's Gate, entrance to Macquarie Harbour

The lighthouse at Hell’s Gate, entrance to Macquarie Harbour

Our cruise took us around Macquarie Harbour and out to Hell’s Gate. As well as its timber and mining heritage, this region was home to one of Australia’s most harsh and bleak convict prisons. The worst and most dangerous convicts were sent to Sarah Island. On this island, convicts experienced severe deprivation and few lived to tell the tale. It is hard to picture such hardship when standing amongst exquisite surrounds on a peaceful Autumn day in the 21st century.

Mirror images on the Gordon River

Mirror images on the Gordon River

The cruise up the Gordon River was simply stunning. I kept shaking my head in wonder at the thought of the damage that could have been done to this unspoiled region, all in the name of progress. At every bend in the river there was another spectacular vista, clear, mirror-like water and impenetrable forest.

Back on land again, we fired up the little car and drove north-easterly, just skirting the edge of Cradle Mountain National Park. Without enough time or the appropriate walking gear, that would have to wait for our return visit one day.

The view down to Wineglass Bay at Freycinet National Park

The view down to Wineglass Bay at Freycinet National Park

Heading south, we swung into the Freycinet National Park. Unlike our other short walks, this park was heaving with day trippers and fellow walkers. Freycinet is an attractive blend of bush and beach. It also has well-developed camping, visitor centre and other facilities, so no wonder it was popular. Our objective was to take the track up to the lookout delivering the famous, postcard views of Wineglass Bay. After much puffing and panting, we arrived and immediately grabbed our cameras. The view was stunning and definitely worth the exertion. We were so tempted to keep walking and scramble down the other side of the mountain to the bay itself, but we had to turn away from the brilliant white beaches and yachts gently bobbing in the azure blue water. How does nature deliver such vibrant colours?

Edging ever closer to Hobart, the last park on our list to explore was a day on Maria Island. The island is a 45-minute ferry ride out from the small town of Triabunna, and the ferry is a handy way to rest your legs before, and after, a day of walking.

The Painted Cliffs, Maria Island

The Painted Cliffs, Maria Island

Maria Island was another penal settlement but not a very successful one. Even though it was an island, this did not deter convicts from making their escape. Escape attempts happened so frequently, and were so successful, that the penal colony was finally abandoned in favour of Port Arthur. Even if you are not into history, this island has enough natural beauty to keep anyone entertained. Armed with a map and interpretative guide, we started out on the coastal path and then back-tracked through the scrub. The walks were of varying lengths, and they moved us around the island, allowing us to take in the best views of bush, beach and convict ruins. The rocks and cliffs that edge the pebble beaches were particularly attractive with their layered colours and sculpture-like erosion.

I don’t believe you have to be a ‘hardened’ walker to enjoy the many incredible parks and trails in Tasmania, and I encourage everyone to get ‘off the beaten track’ if you can.

Short walks or long, Tasmania has too much natural beauty to ignore.

 

Tell me, what walks must we add to the ‘to do’ list when we head to Tassie again?

March 2011

The view from Sarah Island, Macquarie Habour

The view from Sarah Island, Macquarie Habour

The Basics

What: A valid park entry permit is required for entry to Tasmania’s national parks. A range of national park passes are available depending on the time you spend there. Visitors to the state have a number of different pass options available to them, the most cost-effective being the Holiday Pass range. This pass covers entry into all of Tasmania’s national parks for up to two months, and also provides free use of the Cradle Mountain shuttle bus – $60.

Where: Have a look at the Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania website for a map locating – and giving background information about – all parks throughout the state.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.

Why: If you love the great outdoors, choose Tasmania.

How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to access the parks.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and tonnes of other happy campers.

Related Posts: When we weren’t walking, we were driving and here is a link to the fantastic man-made attractions we visited.

Related Blogs: I think you would wait a long time before you found a more passionate Tasmanian hiker than Denis. For really detailed and comprehensive information about a whole range of hiking opportunities in south east Tasmania, have a look at his blog at: http://hikinginsetasmania.blogspot.com.au/

 

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Give Tasmania a Break! Part 1

I don’t know why a lot of people pick on Tasmania and give its residents a hard time about having 11 fingers and two heads!

Yes, it is only a small island dangling off the bottom of Australia, and perhaps it is off the ‘main drag’ of tourist destinations, but it punches well above its weight on a whole lot of levels.

Until 2011, I had never spent much time in Tasmania. Sure, I had seen plenty about it on TV, and had once been locked in a conference room in Hobart for a week, but I had never had the opportunity to really explore. Many people had told me it was green and lush, like a mini-England, but it was time to go and find out for myself.

Luckily for The Brave Man* and I, we have some good friends in Hobart who invited us to go sailing with them around Bruny Island for a couple of days. I will talk about that in a separate post at a later date, as it was such a special experience – a true feast for all the senses.

There is nothing like exploring a place with the locals to get all the inside information on their patch. The thing I particularly enjoy is that you get to explore a place at a much deeper level – the economy, the politics and what makes a community tick. A true warts-and-all picture.

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The Sea Shepherd takes a well-earned break at Constitution Dock, Hobart

I can safely say that Tasmania won our hearts. Tasmania is the complete package when it comes to the variety of things to see and do. It’s a terrible cliché, but ‘there is something for everyone’ in this postage stamp-like state.

Hobart is well-known for its convict and pioneering heritage. Settled in 1804, many of its handsome sandstone buildings remain intact, giving the city a feel of grandeur and grace. Other than a stroll around the distinctive wharf area – the final port for the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race – a journey to Hobart would not be complete without a visit to MONA.

MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, just has to be seen to be believed. Even if you are not an art lover, go there for a complete reorientation of your senses. I do not have an artistic bone in my body but even I could appreciate the diversity and depth of most of the art works.

The MONA experience started with a relaxing ferry ride from the Hobart wharf, up the Derwent River, to the foot of a sandstone cliff that encases the Museum. Where things started to challenge normality was when I had to walk four storeys underground to disappear into a world of wackiness and confrontation.

I spent most of the next four hours laughing outrageously, laughing nervously or being completely gobsmacked! I have no idea whether those were appropriate responses, and perhaps I was showing my complete lack of culture and civilisation. There was the Fat Car, a plump and pumped up Porsche, as a commentary on our flabby and obese lifestyles. There was a tribute to Madonna which included a wall of 40 televisions, each featuring a person singing ‘Like A Virgin’ off-key. There were Egyptian sarcophagi and a truck in a hall. Yes, a full-size semi-trailer four storeys underground, wedged in a hallway. Go figure!

By the end of the visit, I was physically exhausted and almost sore from the sensory overload. Such an assault on the senses, both positive and negative, has left a deep and lasting impression. Call me crazy, but I think it is worth a trip to Hobart just to experience MONA. It has not converted me to become a modern art fan, but it has certainly put Hobart on the cultural map!

Reeling from all that ‘culcha’, we borrowed a car and headed west out of Hobart to see as much of Tassie as we could in the short time remaining. In another post, I will talk about the excellent range of day walks we enjoyed, but here I will focus on the ‘built’ tourist attractions.

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A postcard showing the level of detail and the skill of the art of The Wall

If you have the opportunity, another ‘must see’ is The Wall in the Wilderness. Located at Derwent Bridge, midway between Hobart and Strahan, a sculptor is creating a breathtaking work of art in wood. The Wall is made up of three metre high panels of wood, all joined together to form a solid visual expanse. These panels are being progressively carved to highlight the history of the central Tasmanian highlands, starting with the Indigenous people and including the timber industry, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers. The skill involved is simply outstanding – a wagon has every spoke, chain and rope carved individually and separately to stand out in relief. When we visited in 2011, the wall was around 40 metres long, with the final length to be 100 metres. I agree that sometimes wood turning and wood carving can be a little twee, but this is art in a wooden form. Don’t miss it.

Back in the car, we joined the stream of grey nomads heading west towards Strahan. It gave me pause to wonder whether we had automatically and involuntarily joined the Grey Nomad scene, and although I wasn’t overly happy about it, we were travelling out of school holiday time, and we simply had to roll with it. Literally! Get stuck behind a grey nomad in a caravan or camper, and even though Tasmania is small, it takes a long time to roll anywhere!

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The star of the West Coast Wilderness Railway

The West Coast Wilderness Railway was a highlight for the train nut in our travelling party. The steam train puffed its way from Queenstown to Strahan, through some of the most remote and picturesque landscape you could ever come across.

Queenstown is a bit of an anomaly in the normally leafy Tasmanian countryside. It is a moonscape, battered and barren as a result of over 100 years of copper mining. It is a tired community with little going for it other than being the starting point for the tourist railway. I am sure the loyal locals would beg to differ, but the down-at-heel feel and multiple empty shops indicated to me that its time has passed.

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The toxic Queen River

The negative impacts of the copper mining history can still be seen today with both the Queen and King rivers classified as toxic. A perfect example of paying for the mistakes of generations past.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway is unique because it includes an ABT Rack and Pinion system on part of its track to manage the steep inclines. It strains and groans as it rattles and ratchets its way up the mountain. I wondered if we were going to make it, while the train buff was almost hanging out the carriage window, counting every rack and every pinion. Constructed in 1897, the rail line’s main purpose was to transport massive loads of copper to the port at Strahan, but now it specialises in massive loads of tourists…or loads of massive tourists. Other than being a very pleasant way to spend a day, we were educated about the pioneering history of the region as we rattled along the route, with a number of stops where we could pan for gold, explore ruins and stretch our legs.

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The harbour at Strahan

Returning to Strahan, we spent the rest of our visit wandering around the streets and docks. Strahan is a charming port town, perfectly set up for tourists with a range of intriguing art and craft stores, and plenty of top quality food and beverages. Wood carving, wooden artefacts and timberyards are prominent, and The Brave Man* bought a few Huon pine offcuts as a memento of his visit. Not the most exciting souvenir in my opinion, but each to his own!

Unfortunately, time beat us and we had to point the little car back towards Hobart. I have only covered a few of the highlights we experienced. There is just so much history and beauty crammed into this gem of an island. One day when we sign on as full-time grey nomads, we will return.

Tell me, what do you recommend we see the next time around?

March 2011

The Basics

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The King River, a better colour but also toxic

What: MONA is open every day except Tuesdays. Entrance fees are $20 for adults or free if you are under 18 or from Tasmania. The Wall is open seven days and entrance fees apply. West Coast Wilderness Railway is $100 per person including a shuttle bus from Strahan to Queenstown.

Where: MONA is located 11 kilometres north of Hobart – approximately 25 minutes by water, or 20 minutes by road. The return ferry ride costs $20.

When: We visited in Autumn. The days were cool and crisp, and thankfully the Rain Gods stayed away.

Why: Choose Tasmania if you would like a short break with lots to do in a small space.

How: We drove and, other than the slow traffic, it was the best and most flexible way to move about.

Who: Myself and The Brave Man* and multiple senior citizens.

Related Posts: Watch this space…

Related Blogs: I am not the only one to wax lyrical about a road trip in Tasmania. For a younger and groovier perspective have a look at http://www.worldofwanderlust.com/life-time-tasmanian-road-trip/

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!