Man In A Suitcase

If you've been reading about my adventures in Australia, we've now moved ahead four years. I'd been debating attending OzScape, the first convention for Australian-made Farscape to be held there. I wasn't about to travel all that way just for a weekend, no matter how much I like the show and my fellow Scapers. So once I'd decided to go, I started looking for ways to occupy myself for a couple of post-convention weeks. Time, I decided, to see some parts of the country I'd missed on previous trips.

Hobart, Tasmania

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 the latter.

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 the homes.

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 images.)

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 Tahune 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.

Richmond, Tasmania

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 Richmond, 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.

Freycinet National Park

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 Freycinet National 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.

Bicheno, Tasmania

A few minutes later I rolled into Bicheno (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.

The Heritage Highway

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 Ross 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 Oatlands, 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.

Home / Country Index / Back: Mount Barker / Next: South Australia / Last: The USA

Google Web
 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California