OzScape ended Sunday night. First thing Monday I was on a plane to Hobart, the capital of the state of Tasmania. I've done a fair amount of reading about Australia since planning my first trip more than a dozen years ago, and I'd even retained little bits of what I'd read. I knew Tasmania isn't much like the rest of the country; it's greener, wetter, a bit colder. And perhaps a bit more isolated socially and culturally, likely a result of its cities' smaller populations and physical isolation. I was also mildly concerned about my accomodation in town, something called The Old Woolstore. A name like that didn't bring to mind images of gracious living.
I needn't have worried. The Old Woolstore turned out to be a modern
if hardly luxurious hotel in the city centre and just a couple of
blocks from the waterfront. The hotel building had indeed been a
wool storage facility in its earlier life.
The remodeling job was rather more complete than that of the
structure across the street, a former gas works that now serves as
shopping and dining. As I quickly discovered, Hobart's architecture
is a combination of old buildings that have mostly been renovated
and put to new use, and tall new structures that would be at home in
downtown Sydney or Melbourne. Personally, I prefer the former to
Armed with my camera, a street map and an unerring sense of
direction (yeah, right!), I went exploring. First stop was the
harbour, where factories and warehouses have mostly given way to
restaurants, shops, galleries and tour offices. And public art,
like the various pieces of scupture on the rocks along the water. I
particularly like the penguins at right. And so, it appears, do the
seagulls. It's still a working harbour; I saw plenty of boats, both
big and small, in addition to the pleasure craft and tour boats.
Including one large US Naval vessel, which I was told later was in
for maintenance. Fair enough; it's a hell of a long way to the
nearest US port.
I spent some time (and money) wandering the shops of Salamanca
Place, a former row of warehouses a short walk along the harbour. A
sign pointed out historic Kelly's Steps leading up the hill between
two of the warehouse buildings. I took to the steps, figuring
they'd at least give me a good overlook. The steps lead to
historic Battery Point (they use that word a lot), a neighborhood of
19th century seamen's cottages that is now one of the more expensive
addresses in town. Local ordinances keep residents from changing
the historic (there I go again) character, although if you look
closely you can spot the occasional modern convenience. Unless
of course those are 19th century satellite dishes I saw on some of
After a day of independent wandering, drawing my own (generally
erroneous) conclusions about what I'd seen, I was now ready for a
professional tour. My guide was a former official at the Department
of Forestry, or whatever they call it in Oz; Over the course of the
next eight hours I learned more than I'd imagined about the science
of managing trees, controlled burns and the logistics of
firefighting. It was the first of many lectures I'd hear on the
same themes: the complexity and fragility of the environment, and
all the ways Europeans screwed it up in Australia. After driving
around the harbour area and explaining the history of some of what
I'd seen the day before, we drove up to Mount Wellington for a view
of the city. At a little over 4000 feet, it's the highest point on
this part of the island. And quite a change in temperature too; I
hadn't equipped myself for the freezing wind at the top. (I hope
you appreciate the sacrifices I make to bring you some of these
Back down the mountain (where it was warm!), we headed southwest to the Huon Valley. This was once a huge apple growing region, although Britain's participation in the EC has reduced demand and sent growers in search of other crops and other markets. But some things refuse to change. Like the Wooden Boat Centre at Franklin, where they're determined to keep boatbuilding traditions alive. Here students learn to build everything from dinghys to huge motor yachts. Granted the tools have changed from the days of Hornblower. But the results not so much.
I didn't want to
disturb the teachers and students; not a good idea to have flashes
going off when people are using power tools. But the boats on the
river out back? No harm taking pictures out there.
Our major destination for the day was the Tahune Forest Reserve,
home to the
AirWalk, an elevated walkway through the big trees. It's an
interesting challenge: how do you get people into the woods to
appreciate them and to want to protect them, while at the same time
keeping all those tramping feet from damaging that same fragile
environment? The AirWalk is an elegant solution, a metal walkway
that gives visitors a new perspective on the forest: sixty feet
above the forest floor. At one point the loop of the AirWalk
branches off, with a long and not entirely stable observation
platform offering a beautiful view to the junction of the Picton and
Huon Rivers, a mere 150 feet below. Shaky and a long way
to fall! Needless to say, I was pleased to return to terra firma.
Very firma. And a lot less terra. (I am so ashamed.)
Traveling with a forestry guy has definite advantages. For one thing, you get a lot more conversation driving through the woods than you get with techies. To us, one tree's pretty much like another. But these guys know. And they're fascinated by nature. And so, for the moment at least, am I.
And then there are the toys. We computer people think we have all the cool toys. And then we see something like the rig at left as we're tooling down a dirt road in the exact center of nowhere. And stop for a while as it does its thing.
What you're looking at is a tree-processing machine. (Yeah, I'm sure
it has an official name. But unless we're planning on ordering
one, that doesn't really matter.) The operator picks up a felled
tree. And that robot arm rolls the trunk through its hand and
removes the bark and the small branches. When that's done, it
rolls the tree back to one end. And then it rolls it back down,
slicing it into logs of a precise length as it goes. It was one of
the rare moments when I wish I'd had a camcorder with me.
It suddenly occurred to me on this trip that I had a completely ridiculous view of nature, somehow expecting it all to show up where and when I wanted to see and photograph it. Part of that is that on each of my other Oz trips I'd spent at least some time in a zoo, wild animal park or reserve. But not this trip. No, either I was going to see wildlife on its own terms or not at all. Which is why I appreciated the 24-120mm lens I'd bought for my camera before the trip. If birds like the kingfisher at right wouldn't get closer than the nearest telephone wire, well, that would just have to do.
And not to give anything away, but I did get to see my share of
wildlife, sometimes in situations where I could photograph it. No
Tasmanian devils, alas. At least none I'm aware of; I didn't
investigate all the roadkill I encountered to make sure.
The next morning I was to set off on a road trip to Bicheno, a tiny town about midway up the east coast. The destination didn't matter all that much, beyond being a midpoint on the two day drive and a place to crash for the night. It was the drive itself that I was looking forward to. So, bright and early, I took a hike over to the Hertz office to pick up my rental. And then very, very carefully drove back to the hotel to pick up my bags, trying not to let the experience of driving on the wrong side of the road get to me.
Bags in the car, I headed out of town, took the bridge over the Derwent River and headed east. And then took a wrong turn, got flustered, ended up going all the way back into town before I could correct myself and then tried again. This time for sure, as Bullwinkle used to say.
My first destination of the day was
east and a little bit
north of Hobart. It took me about an hour once I'd undone the
damage of my wrong turn, which gave me just enough time to get
some confidence in my driving. Richmond consists of some beautiful
old buildings along the road, everything very quaint and historic.
I parked, parking not being much of a problem in this sleepy little
town, and started walking. Took in the pubs, the cafes, the
woodworking shops, the bakery, the old gaol, the vineyards, the
rolling hills beyond; everything clean and peaceful and perfect.
Stopped for a little breakfast, checked one of the shops and decided
to get back on my way, having forgotten completely why I'd detoured
here in the first place.
Continuing north, I was looking for the road that would take me east
to pick up the main highway along the east coast. And as soon as I
made the turn, I saw what I'd come for. The bridge I was about to
drive over had been built by convict labor and had been helping
people across this river since 1823. And as much as people overuse
the word historic around here, there's no doubt that this
time it's deserved. I parked in a conveniently placed lot on the
other side of the bridge and spent a nice half hour walking along,
around and over it, getting every perspective I could both of and
from Tasmania's oldest bridge. I wish I could have stayed; there's
something very relaxing about Richmond. But I had a long way to go
and a lot of other sights to see before the day was out.
I'll spare you the next few hours. You know the thing: rolling hills, vineyards and wineries (which I avoided; driving was challenging enough already), another wrong turn (from which I recovered with minimal angst), following a river, forests, coastline, beaches. All very pleasant and photogenic. And I made several stops to take it all in. But the best views lay ahead.
A little after 1 PM and with only a dozen KM to Bicheno, I saw the
turnoff for Coles Bay and
Park. Turning south, it's 30 KM to the park, and the windy road
that eventually leads to Cape Tourville Lighthouse. The trail
around the lighthouse offers amazing views of Wineglass Bay to the
south and granite cliffs in both directions. I kept one eye on the
sky; It had gone from merely overcast to moderately threatening as I
made my way around the loop. Weather coward that I am, I decided to
cut short my visit and finish my journey to Bicheno. Fortunately,
rain on my drive back to the highway stayed light, and stopped
entirely by the time I got back to the turnoff.
A few minutes later I rolled into
(accent on the first
syllable, in case you were curious). There was a nice big sign
pointing to my accomodation, which I somehow managed to
misinterpret and bypass. That gave me the excuse to roll all the
way through town, something that didn't take long at all. Back at
my lodging (a woodsy holiday camp sort of place of
A-frame cabins), I got the
orientation talk. Left to the fishing docks, right to the blowhole.
Big, relatively flat rocks between the two. And there I was a
couple of minutes later, clambering over rocks and trying to avoid
dropping my camera or breaking anything else of importance. It
wasn't until later that I realized there was a proper trail nearer
the treeline, one that offered lower risk of serious
injury. Oblivious, that's me.
Next morning I was back out on the rocks for a last look before
heading on my way. There was more wind and rougher seas.
The good news is that I finally found the blowhole, which I'd
somehow missed the day before. Not entirely my fault; such things
only work when the tide is at the right stage to force water up into
the opening. So I stood there and waited for the hole to do its
thing, finger poised over the shutter release. Eventually I got a
couple of pictures, said goodbye to my host, got some advice about
places to stop and got on the road again.
Following my tour guide's advice, I eschewed a direct route from just north of Bicheno to the main state highway to the west ("it's not very interesting"), opting instead to continue north almost to the end of the road, then head west over the mountains and south to Lauceston and eventually back to Hobart. The rain that had been threatening since yesterday finally arrived for real, doing a number on my enthusiasm for sightseeing. But I still found a few places to stop and browse and spend money. And I stopped to see the famous Pub in a Paddock, although it was too early to take advantage. Sometimes my timing sucks.
Eventually I got to Launceston, Tasmania's other city. Stopping at a petrol station, I filled the tank and got directions to the highway. Having spent the previous hour dealing with downhill switchbacks and the occasional panic stop when the road zigged and the car wanted to zag, I was looking forward to some easy driving.
I got to
in time for a late lunch. Unlike Richmond, I didn't
have to remember why I was there; the signs for the offramp had
pictures of the convict-built bridge to make sure I didn't forget.
The town dates to the 1820s, the bridge to 1836. It's famous for a
series of 186 carvings by one convict artist. (No, I didn't try to
count them.) The land around Ross felt a lot drier than at
Richmond. And the town was a whole lot busier, although that was in
part the time of day, with a couple of tourist buses making their
lunch stop. So I didn't have the place entirely to myself.
I made one more stop along the Heritage Highway before Hobart. That
was at the town of
home to the most unusual windmill at
right. The Callington Mill was built in 1837 and could produce up
to 30 bushels of flour an hour. In the 1850s it was converted to
steam. Although the mill was shut down in 1892, it remains the most
distinctive of the many Georgian sandstone buildings in town. You
can climb to the top for the view. I decided not to; that was one
scary steep stairway.
Back in Hobart I filled the tank again, checked back in at the Woolstore and had a last wander around. I had to be up at 4 to make my flight to Melbourne and thence to Adelaide. Not nearly enough time in Tasmania; so much left unseen.
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California