Gene & Karen in Australia 2017

Karen at Bruny Island, Tasmania

Uluru Sunset

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In October, we had two long-desired vacations: Gene went to Australia's red center and Karen joined him for a tour of Tasmania.

The Red Center

As always, making the arrangements is a part of the joy and Gene's trip to the center of Australia went without a hitch. Flying over the Simpson Desert with its' great dunes held in place by wattle (Acacia) was impressive from the air. And traveling by van through the Outback was remarkably diverse in terms of vegetation: acacias (wattle), desert pines (not Pinus or anything like it), and a tree that grows it's trunk underground to survive bush fires.

Spring in Alice Springs where I spent a couple of days is relatively temperate. In summer/December it can be 40 C. The YHA is nice (good kitchen, newer clean and safe rooms, palms in the courtyard with swimming pool) and a block or two from all the shops you might need. Lots of arts and a couple blocks open to just walkers nearby. Although I read about crime there, I saw no evidence of it; neither did I hang out in the bars at night.

One must do Uluru of course. It's pretty impressive and the group did the obligatory sunset veiwing with bubbly and snacks; quite a crowd does, but decent. Next morning I did a sunrise walk alone at the base of the rock; saw more birds than anywhere else and felt very tranquil. Well but not overly documented. I'm told the aborigines feel responsible for visitors, so discourage climbing the rock where several people have died.

Kata Juta (the Olgas) are nearby and worth a good walk. The aboriginal cultural center is there and very informative. The land in this area was given back to the local tribe (there were 300 some such nations in Australia when Europeans arrived) and the government took a 99 year lease to develop the tourist area. That afternoon, we took walk with a very personable and knowledgeable person from that tribe around the base of Uluru; he explained quite a bit about the culture and history.

The land to the south was described as boring, but I had a guidebook and found the vegetation and landform changes interesting. Cober Pedy is a truck stop and opal mining town; a bit hyped. Adelaide is a modern, sprawling city near the sea with a well developed business and shopping area downtown. The YHA was very well run and accomodating for a large hostel. Had a good conversation with a young Danish man there on a work visa who was now touring and gave him my guidebook for his trip north. I had hoped to tour the Barrosa wine country to the east but couldn't arrange that. Visited museums instead. The airport was an easy bus ride a couple blocks from the hostel. On to the Melbourne airport to meet Karen.


After Karen's very long flight and a couple hours in the Melbourne airport, we met in front of the check-in gate for our short flight to Hobart. Airport reality is a hyped up shopping mall but Hobart's is small and reasonable and the shuttle was reasonable. The AYH hostel, and had a really nice ensuite private room and we had an early excellent dinner at Mure & Company on the waterfront and then to bed early to meet our tour at 7 am. It was a good and varied group: Jose, a Spaniard who has been living and working in Mozambique, Kristine a Swedish woman who has been working in Berlin, another swede Gunilla Karen who goes by 'G', Marcus, from Germany, 'Tom' a native of Hong Kong who moved to Canada then U.S. and lives in Maryland right outside of Washington, two Finnish women in their 50's who were fit and also easy to get along with, a younger woman from Melbourne and her friend from Vancouver. Our guide/driver, Lief was great: knowledgeable, personable and easy to work with. We all got along well for the entire trip and there was not one person I didn't like. Pretty unusual!

The first day, we went up Mt. Wellington for an overview of Hobart and the Derwent River area. This was the second colonized area in Tas after Port Augusta; see Fatal Shores for more on that. I'm being nice here. Then back through Hobart and out to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, for a couple hour tour. The art was eclectic and overwhelming; down the lift three floors through sandstone walls and a waterfall that spelled out words in the mist. Karen got really tired walking through about 22 rooms of varied art with differing themes. We both tired before we got to the good stuff, so we walked up to the Wine Bar and sat and had a couple glasses of wine and just visited and talked about the very strange art we'd just seen. Heading back through Hobart and out NW, we stopped in a small town for a brief lunch break and ate on the bus and arrived in our overnight stop, Bourke Hills, about 4 p.m. It was a former mining camp with houses for workers that has been turned into a type of hostel; several cabins with five to six private sleeping rooms each and a lovely kitchen, dining room and living room. We had dinner at the Bar and Restaurant on the grounds: a lamb parmi that was excellent, and a good continental breakfast the next morning. [ignore the Recovering Grump]

Thursday, our second day, was first a stop to hike up to Hogart Falls one of many beautiful falls in the rainforest although it was raining (normal for the western part of Tas). Then we spent time in the visitors' centre at Lake St. Clair, a lovely part of several national parks and a World Heritage Site that stretches along most of Tasmania's interior and along the west coast, and the southern terminus of the Overland Trail that was still partly snow covered. It was raining; first we did a short hike up the trail and saw lots of evidence of wombats: square-shaped droppings all over and many, many wombat trails, but didn't see any animals. Also some wallabys along the road. Then we were in the visitors' center, looking at displays about wombats, Tasmanian devils, and geology. The time went quickly; most everyone else was hiking in the rain. Of the ten requirements for a World Heritage Site, this series of national parks had seven! (Often, sites might qualify with three or four requirements.)

After that, we were back in the van to Donaghys Lookout where people hiked to the top (not me); then through Queenstown to look at the strange moonscape (quoting Intrepid) from all the mining. We bought lunch and dinner food there and ate a good lunch in the van. We went to Ocean Beach to watch the Indian Ocean swells come in, something I could do and enjoyed very much. Off to Strahan and 7 of us stayed in the Strahan Motel It was just fine: full bath and small kitchen and everything needed to boil water, coffee, and refrigerate food and wine. Tasmania got the tourism economy mentality in light speed; faster than the rest of Austrailia and seems to be doing fine with it. Better than mining, fer shur. We walked over to the hostel where four of our group were staying to cook dinner. Gene went around the corner and bought Yalumba Sauvignon Blanc for $12.00 AUS. He made a wonderful dinner: leek, mushrooms, carrots, fresh fish and soba noodles, a one-pot meal that was delicious! This was a satisfying day, partially because we'd had a sensible breakfast in our room and then lunch and dinner we made/cooked ourselves. We walked back to the motel and slept well.

Friday, our third day, was the Tarkine, the Henty Sand Dunes on the Indian Ocean (next stop west, Africa) and the historic town of Zeehan that was a mining town, not much left to see. The highlight of the day was a four hour boat trip from Corinna, a small former mining town on the Pieman River, the southwest gate to the Tarkine, an area of rivers and rainforest and popular with hunters and fourwheelers. One needs to take a cable-ferry (the last in Tas) across to board the river boat and start our cruise to the ocean; we saw many species of eucalypt and other trees endemic to Australia, and in some cases, only in Tasmania. The Huon pine, huge and old and resistant to rot was logged out to the point that cutting them is not allowed except to salvage windfall by permit; there were many along the river that missed the logging due to their twisted shape. We saw a sea eagle in the trees on the shore and followed him along: an iconic Tasmanian seacoast bird! We made our way out to the Ocean, and some people hiked to the beach. Our boat captain was a good pilot and obviously loved the trees and vegetation, and was very knowledgeable about all of it. He invited us to pilot the boat on the better parts of the river. The ocean was wild where the river met it; some of us walked to the estuary where our boat could not enter the sea. After the boat trip we went to Waratah and stayed in the only hotel there, which had a good Pub and ate dinner in their diningroom; it was excellent, lamb, cous-cous, potatoes and squash and a drinkable bottle of red wine. As you might expect, lamb figures largely in the cusine; glad of it.

Day 4 was Cradle Mountain, the northern end of the very large World Heritage Site with Lake St. Clair on the southern end. We made several stops and did some hiking along Dove Lake. The forests are mostly eucaplypts but wetter areas dominated by a kind of beech called myrtyle there with many tree ferns/palms and epiphytes. Found some fungi, mostly polypores; autumn is the time to come for the rich fungal life.

That day we also visited Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the highlights of the trip for me. They rescue wallabies, wombats, Tasmanian devils, quolls, and other endangered Tasmanian wildlife and try to re-introduce them into the wild again. The devils particularly have been decimated in Australia by a communicable cancer. Next year the two wildlife sanctuaries in Tasmania that rescue the devils are going to try to reintroduce them into the wild in an area in Tasmania where the cancer has never been found. The devils are nearly extinct on the Australian mainland but doing well at his sanctuary, with over 70 animals, and more at the other sanctuary in Tasmania. The owner, has been working there for nearly forty years. He has trained some of the wild animals to tolerate his touch and calls them animal ambassadors, so he can hold them while talking to groups about their unique qualities and challenges. Wallabies, wombats and Tasmanian devils are all marsupials that bear tiny young who follow a mucus trail into the pouch and live there, nursing, for months. We spent an interesting several hours strolling around the grounds feeding the wallabies and following the owner as he went from wombat enclosure to Tasmanian devil enclosure, talking about them.

Tas is harbors and mountains in the southeast, wild and roadless on the southwest, highlands across the middle and to the west, farmlands (yes more sheep) on the northern plains, and drier hills and beaches on the east coast. At this point in our trip we were leaving the highlands and stopped for an overview .

We traveled on to Launceston, the second largest town on the island and our guide/driver's home town. Hobart is about three hours south on the only freeway on the island; thankfully not the way we went. We stayed at a motel away from the group as this hostel had no private rooms, so no cooking facilities for us. We went out and ate at a very nice Chinese restaurant. Gene opted for the Romantic Couples dinner, five excellent courses, much too much food but we saved the roast duck, fried rice with everything, honey prawns with a seasoned grain dish and had them, cold, the next day for lunch; still excellent! We had a pleasant walk back to our housing through the attractive park.

Day 5, we went through Scottsdale to Columba Falls, an easy walk along the boardwalk. Rainforest ferns are huge, the size of large trees, and rainforest vegetation generally is really interesting! Next we went to Pyengana Dairy, where the owners make twenty to thirty varieties of cheese, and had a cheese tasting. The dairy is fully automated: the cows come in to get milked on their own by milking machnes and then go to a stratching machine where they can get a treat! I would have bought the Tasty Cheddar, but we had cheese for lunches for the next couple days and I was unable to take it out of the country. Welcome to the east coast and beaches! First stop the Bay of Fires, a scenic beach on Tasmania's northeast coast, and spent several hours on the beach, walking around during low tide to see mussels and whelks on the rocks. It was a lovely, beautiful relaxing time. Then we traveled to Bicheno to stay overnight at an excellent motel (all the motels were excellent, the hotels less so but fun because we were all together in one facility.) We walked to the hostel where some others in our group were staying and Gene cooked an excellent dinner and we had a good bottle of Yalumba Chardonnay. Penguins tonight! We walked to the pickup or the Bicheno Penguin Tour, another excellent little blue penguin tour but entirely different than the little blue penguin tour we'd taken in New Zealand's south island in March. Here, a guide led us around with yellow lights to different viewing places where we could see the penguins run in from the beach, and then later she showed us nesting penguins, chicks of different sizes and how their earthen burrows are made. This frequency of light does not bother them and they are somewhat used to people. It was a long walk in the dark but wonderful to see them in their natural state! Saw a feral cat stalking them and the guide alerted a caretaker. The penguins were all over, a person had to be careful to watch where you stepped because a penguin might be standing there on its way to its burrow.
Penguin Photos & Sounds and some high quality Penguin Photos (photography not allowed on the tour)

Day 6, Monday, began with a good Continental breakfast then into the van for our next adventure. We were on the Freycinet Peninsula and Wineglass Bay, two walks, both difficult so Karen stayed near the van, walked around to look at various overviews and outdoor exhibits explaining the area and the walks in more detail. Gene took the fairly strenuous, but well-developed and pleasant hike to the top for the bay veiw but didn't double-down for the beach walk on the other side; saw a tiger snake along the trail on the way back. Thereafter to a lighthouse on the eastern coast with great views of the Tasman Sea; next stop east, Argentina. Another stop at a well-developed walk to an aboriginal ochre collection site on sheer cliffs; good info provided on the local flora and fauna. Our last stop of th day was the historic village of Richmond on the outskirts of Hobart. A former facility for transportees, now a museum, was available.

The van dropped us off at our hostel in Hobart and we had another excellent dinner and bottle of wine, and to bed; the two-share ensuite room is pricey but nice. Said goodby to the group and tipped the great guide/driver although that isn't expected here.

Day 7, Tuesday, was a relaxing day spent in Hobart walking around the waterfront and to Salmanca Market to look for a book on Tasmanian devils; there were none; the woman working there had volunteered at the Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary and said she wished the owner would write a book about his experiences but he hadn't. We spent the majority of our time at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, only a block away from our hostel and with wonderful history about Tasmania's aborigines and their lifestyles before and after European occupation in the late 17th century. In addition to trying to kill the aborigines (only part-Europeans survived), the Europeans initially gave the land away to settlers to encourage them to emigrate to Tasmania, and later had it surveyed so it could be sold to settlers. As noted above, the economy was built on transportees in a kind of endentured servitude. Escapees became 'bush rangers.'

It's still quite a bit cheaper to live in Hobart and surrounding suburbs than it is in most of Australia's larger cities, such as Sydney. Our van driver, Leif, lived in Darwin and now lives on the outskirts of Hobart and told us homes in Hobart are about two-thirds the price of those in Sydney. Last year is the first year that influx of citizens of other countries hoping to live in Tasmania is larger than the emigrants leaving.

We spent some time in the Antarctic exhibit and sitting in a dark room watching a panorama of the Derwent River over time. Back to the hostel for another wonderful meal, tonight I think it was lamb with veggies and rice.

Day 8, Wednesday, was our last day in Hobart and we spent it going to Bruny Island, a two-hour bus ride to the ferry with a stop for people to buy chocolate and a good coffee shop in the ferry terminal; coffee in Tasmania is either espresso or instant. At their dock, we boarded three large jet boats that took us along the coast of the island to the southernmost tip. The weather gods were kind to us and the seas were relatively calm, which means bumpy and lots of spray; they issue substantial raincoats for the trip and warned that no one complains of being too hot . We traveled into the Southern Ocean and saw hundreds of southern fur seals. We had a better, less bumpy ride on the way back out in the bay through pods of hundreds of arctic to antarctic traveling sooty terns, albatross and other migrating seabirds who spend most of their lives at sea. The tour provides a good lunch on return. Back at the hostel, it was late and we were tired so Gene cooked up the leftover asparagus from the night before together with some ham, onions and rice; the local grocery a block. The hostel kitchen was very small but we had some nice interactions with people from other countries on our three nights back in Hobart; one couple was from France and had just completed the Overland Trek from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair in five days. They were interesting and off for another adventure. On our last night we spent some time chatting with a couple from Africa who were cooking assorted pots of wonderful smelling food for the next several days camping.

Up early for our shuttle, the only passengers, so we had a nice talk with the driver on the way out. Then began airport reality with flights to Melbourne, through AUS customs, to LAX, through US customs, then to Minneapolis, the shuttle to Duluth and drove home through sleet and snow; by the next morning we had six inches accumulation and winter had begun! It was wonderful to spend eight days in Tasmania in the spring!