11 Feb 2020

Hobart 11th February 2020

On our way south from Freycenet, we were trying to keep ahead of the rain that had been forecast for the region, and even managed a half hour walk along the coastal path on the way. We were walking a trail with an aboriginal name that is very difficult to pronounce, but that had some very striking rock formations.

We arrived in Hobart yesterday afternoon on something of a murky day, with overcast skies. Undaunted, we took ourselves up to the top of Mount Wellington to see if there was a view to be had. Sadly not, we were well into the cloud canopy before we reached the top and there was no view to be had. However, we did manage to get one as we dropped back below the lowest cloud, and Hobart was there in all its glory.

Last night our friends JF and MJ came to visit us for drinks and nibbles in their heavily decorated campervan. As is usual on occasions such as these, we chatted through a few bottles of wine, ate too many nibbles, and were too full to contemplate dining out. However, we went to Hobart waterfront and sampled the nightlife, and then, much later than we anticipated, made our way back to our accommodation. It was easiest for our guests to simply stay put on the driveway in their psychedelic wagon, and so they did.

This morning, after we finally surfaced somewhat jaded from the late night, we went back to the waterfront for a reviving breakfast, and had a couple of photos taken.

This will be our final posting on www.afloatonaboat.com - as we have mentioned before, we have set up a new blog and we will be posting all future updates on this one. It is www.offonourtravels.com and we hope you will continue to follow our progress as we explore the planet.

9 Feb 2020

9/2/2020: Freycinet National Park

Today has been a great day. To kick off, we woke up to this view after a night of being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves crashing onto the rocks ... not bad!

Our plan for today was hiking in the Freycenit national park, about a 30 minute drive south of our base in Bicheno. After a leisurely breakfast we headed off, making a quick stop at the Bicheno blowhole which was certainly blowing today as the swell rolled into towards the shore. Spectacular!

The Freycinet national park is probably one of the most popular in Tasmania, and justifiably so. The view over Wineglass Bay attracts most visitors but not many then continue down the 1000 steps to the beach itself, cross the isthmus to the beach on the other side of the headland and then follows a woodland coastal track back to carpark. We did! A total of 14 kilometres of lovely views, white sand beaches and turquoise seas. We could have been in the Bahamas!!

Tasmania has abundant wildlife, not that visitors get to see that much as most of it is nocturnal! Sadly that also leads to a lot of roadkill: creatures dazzled by headlights are regularly knocked down, despite the numerous signs reminding drivers to drive more slowly between dusk and dawn. On our travels around Tasmania we rarely travel more than a couple of miles in forested or rural areas without bearing witness to this. Very sad. Everything from wallabies, to padermelons, wombats to possums, and more besides. Fortunately, because there are so many critters about, we are still able to find some live ones, including an echydna, a strange looking creature that appears to be a cross between a hedgehog and a porcupine. Actually, it's not related to either, its closest relative is the duck-billed platypus, as you can see from its beak.

Tomorrow we will head for Hobart for our last couple of nights in Tasmania before flying to New Zealand on Wednesday. The forecast isn't too good ... up to 60cm of rain in 48 hours ... but we're meeting up with a couple of sailing friends for dinner on Monday night, and an old school friend on Tuesday evening.

8 Feb 2020

8/2/2020: Bicheno, East Coast, Tasmania

We've arrived in rental heaven here on the coast in Bicheno. Sea views, contemporary styling and oodles of room. A good job really as it's raining so we're enjoying a bottle of wine in front of the fire watching Fleabag. The verdict on that is out at the moment .....

The sun was shining as we left our lovely B&B in Longford to head for the Bay of Fires in the remote north-eastern corner of Tasmania.  We decided to take the scenic route through the Ben Lomond national park and soon found ourselves on gravel roads, climbing steeply through the mountains. Very scenic but not a place to break down with no signal and miles between homesteads. Thankfully our trusty rental car kept going!

We lost the sunshine climbing over the mountain range and as we descended to the east coast we seemed to enter a sea fret.  Typical! The Bay of Fires is famed for its pristine white sand beaches and rocky headlands covered in orange and red lichen. On a clear, sunny day it would no doubt look spectacular but on a cool, wet, cloudy day the magic was somewhat dimmed. Still we managed to dodge the rain showers and at least get a few photos.

Surprisingly it's not the orange lichen that gives the Bay of Fires its name, instead being named for all the aboriginal fires seen burning on the shore as the first Europeans sailed by.

Abandoning any idea of a coastal hike in the rain we continued south to our next rental property in Bicheno. This is the most expensive place we've booked in Tasmania and it is fabulous: on a rocky headland overlooking the sea, with all mod cons we could wish for, lots of space and quality fittings. A perfect base for a damp, cool afternoon. It's sited on the 3km long foreshore walk which takes in a famous blowhole and so we decided to head out for some fresh air.

Unfortunately for us the rain arrived again before we reached the blowhole and so we retreated to our luxury pad for a glass of wine and movie!

7 Feb 2020

7/2/2020: Change of address!

Having sold Tumi it doesn't seem appropriate to continue our travel blog on www.afloatonaboat.com and so we have registered a new domain www.offonourtravels.com which we will switch to in the near future. We will provide a changeover date as soon as we are ready to make the switch. You have been warned!!

7/2/2020: Longford, Tasmania

We seemed to spend all of yesterday in the car tracking across the north of the island from Stanley in the west to Longford, near Launceston in the east. The reality was actually only four hours but we were both tired by the time we arrived at our accommodation for the next two nights. When planning our trip, neither of us had really realised just how big Tasmania is, nor how windy the roads! Throw in our underpowered hire car and the numerous hills, then we don't make very quick progress!!

An early start yesterday saw us climbing 'The Nut', an iconic volcanic plug linked to the north coast at Stanley. It was a steep ascent, climbing 150 metres in only 450 metres distance, so one in three, but we made it and were proud of ourselves for not taking the easier chairlift option! A 2 kilometre walk circles the summit with views along the coastline and out into Bass Straits, the stretch of water separating Tasmania from Australia. Yesterday, under leaden skies, the sea didn't look very appealing and was quite rough but the view wasn't bad at all!

We took the scenic route across the island enjoying the vistas of rural Tasmanian life. Stopping at Evandale, a town that is noted as an historic place in its entirety, we strolled the quaint streets for a short break before continuing to our lovely accommodation in Longford. And what a fabulous place to arrive at, a small studio apartment with views over farmland and with use of the swimming pool. Our photos just don't do it justice .... we really have been very lucky with our accommodation so far.

After an excellent night's sleep we headed to The Woolmers Estate this morning, Australia's oldest sheep station which is now an UNESCO World Heritage site. Established in 1817 by Thomas Archer I, an immigrant to Australia from Hertfordshire in 1813, he was granted 300 acres of land and assigned convicts to help him manage it under a governmental initiative called the Assignment System. This system assigned transported convicts to free settlers who were then responsible for adequately feeding, clothing and housing them in return for labour.

Through hard work and purchase of neighbouring property,  the Woolmers Estate totalled nearly 5000 hectares by the time Thomas Archer I died in 1950. His heir, Thomas Archer II, predeceased him leaving the estate managed by a family trust until his grandson was of age in 1865. TAIII showed little interest in the estate and his gambling habits saw him in almost continual financial trouble from 1870 to his death in 1890. His successor, TAIV, also had little interest in the estate being a prominent early golfer, motorist and keen sailor. His love of golf passed on to his only son TAV who competed in the Australian Open. He also only had one son who never married and bequeathed Woolmers to a charitable foundation on his death. The house and its contents look very much as they did on the death of TAI back in 1850 with all the original furniture and family possessions still in place.

In its heyday the estate employed 65 convict labourers to tend the sheep, harvest the wheat and apples. 1 in 10 of these were women and they lived in the attics of the family home while the men lived in barracks on the riverbank. By all accounts the Archers were good and fair masters and many assigned convicts remained on the estate as free men when their sentences had been worked. The wooden sheep shearing shed and apple barn are the oldest wooden barns in Australia, having survived given Tasmania doesn't have termites!

The convict trail, crossing the Macquarie River, links Woolmers to the neighbouring Brickendon Estate, another historically significant convict site operated by TAI's brother. The assigned convicts were shared between the brothers, travelling the trail on a daily basis as needed. We walked a short distance along it but in 83 degrees and with no shade it was very hot.

Instead, after a late lunch we retreated to our accommodation for a lazy afternoon and swim in the pool. Just what the doctor ordered!

5 Feb 2020

5/2/2020: Cradle Mountain National Park

Wow! After a scenic drive from Mole Creek we arrived at the highest national park in Tasmania, home to the famed Cradle Mountain, 1545m above sea level and the sixth tallest mountain in Tasmania. Parking at the visitor centre to catch the shuttle bus deeper into the park, we expected to be in crowds given the number of cars around but amazingly it was surprisingly quiet. Yeah!

Being at the height it is, it is an alpine terrain which sees temperatures ranging between -20 degrees C in the depths of winter and up to +30 degrees C. Today was a very pleasant 23 degrees with cloudless blue skies, perfect for a hike.

We'd already decided to tackle the climb to Crater Lake and set off across a board walk spanning peat bogs, the start of the Overland Track. Within a few hundred meters we saw our first wombat in the live, going about his business, grazing on the hillside.

Before long we started climbing, soon arriving at the Crater Falls tumbling down a ravine, very pretty, and soon arrived at Crater Lake itself. We thought that was the end of the climbing but we were wrong! But the additional height provided us with spectacular views.

Tasmania truly is incredibly scenic, every corner on the trail revealing another lovely view. As we descended we started to get vistas across Lilla and Dove Lakes to Cradle Mountain itself until arriving at Dove Lake the mountain revealed itself in all its glory.

10 kilometers and several waterfalls on Pencil Pine Creek later, it was time to hit the road and head for Smithton in the top north-western corner of Tasmania. Another scenic drive, spotting a wombat by a creekside as we passed, and we arrived at our home from home for tonight. Time to relax now in readiness for another action packed day tomorrow!

One surprise during the day, I got pulled over by the police for speeding - doing 80kph in a 40kph speed limit. Not good. I had thought that the roadworksmwere over for the day as there was no evidence of any roadworks being done, but apparently that is no excuse. The speed limits are there to be observed. 

Anyway, a very nice police lady decided that it was not done intentionally, and let us off with a warning. PHEW!!! Debra is now restricting my speed religiously!

4 Feb 2020

4/2/2020: Mole Creek, Great Western Tiers

We probably should have explained before where Tasmania got its name. The first reported sighting was by a Dutch sailor named Abel Tasman in 1647 and he named the island after his sponsor, Anthony van Diemen's Land. When the British colonised it in the early 19th century they abbreviated it to Van Diemen's Land and thus it remained until 1856 when it was renamed Tasmania in honour of its first European discoverer.  History lesson over! But not the geology or nature ones!!

After all the driving of yesterday we wanted a low-key day today exploring around Mole Creek. It sits in the shadow of the Great Western Tiers, a collection of mountain bluffs forming the northern edge of the central highlands region we drove across yesterday. The scenery is breathtaking, especially under vivid blue skies as we woke up to.

First off was a visit to Mole Creek Caves, part of the national park, in particular Marakoopa cave where glow-worms line the ceiling, something we haven't seen before. The caves were formed over 400 million years ago but only discovered by two teenage boys in 1906 who then kept their discovery a secret for 4 years, exploring at their leisure! There are around 300 caves in the vicinity but Marakoopa is one of the biggest and besides the glow-worms has an impressive collection of stalagmites,  stalactites, columns, curtains and straws!

We wandered about 350m into the cave system, ascending 62m to reach the aptly named 'Great Cathedral' a large cavern with amazing acoustics.  Nearer the entrance a creek runs through the cave and it is above this running water that the ceiling of glow-worms reside, looking like a constellation of stars. Beautiful. We weren't allowed to take photos as the flashes upset the glow-worms (actually larvae of a mosquito-like insect) and they stop glowing. As it is the glowing that attracts their prey, they then die. So no photos to post, just our memories of such a special sight. One last thing: the brighter they glow, the hungrier they are!! On the way out of the cave, we (Paul) stopped to look at one of the cave's resident spiders. A strange looking arachnid in that its lungs are on the outside of its body. Also it had very long spindly legs, which if you spread them out flat will make the spider as large as a dinner plate! As these were in the vicinity of the glow-worms, we couldn't get a photo of that either.

After lunch we decided to stretch our legs, hiking to Westmoreland Falls through the forest at the base of the Great Western Tiers. It was a pleasant walk but the falls themselves needed a better water flow to be seen at their best. Still, it was good to get some exercise!

We also were interested to visit the Alum Cliffs and Gorge, a short walk through open woodlands to a viewpoint. And, wow, what a view! Perched high above the Mersey River the outlook was incredible.

The area had/has a great deal of significance for the native aboriginal people who called it Tulampanga. It was the meeting point of three aboriginal nations and was a sacred celebration place. The women harvested red ochre from the cliffs, mixed the powdered ochre with oil, and painted their faces and bodies before dancing through the night. It certainly was spectacular. 

The whole Mole Creek area is gorgeous, as is our accommodation. If anyone is thinking of visiting Tasmania, have a look at www.molecreekhideaway.com.au and think about staying. The view from the property alone is worth it!

3 Feb 2020

3/2/2020: Mole Creek, NW Tasmania

We'd got a lot of miles to cover today getting to our next base in Mole Creek, not where we thought we'd booked but we're blaming the Airbnb location map for that! So it was an early start to pay another quick visit to Port Arthur before heading to the Mount Field National Park and finally crossing the central highland region to drop down towards the northern coast of Tasmania.

We'd headed back to our accommodation yesterday before we'd visited the commandant's house, penitentiary, hospital and barracks at Port Arthur and thought we should make the effort to go this morning just in case we never come to Tasmania again! So we were there as the site opened and largely had it to ourselves. And we're glad we did! The commandant's house set off as a simple 4-room structure back in the 1840s but successive commandants extended it and when the penal colony closed in 1877, becoming the small town of Carnarvon, it became a hotel and then guesthouse, being extended again by successive owners. It was interesting to see the luxury that the civilians lived in, before heading down to the penitentiary (itself originally built as a flour store) where 120 convicts were housed in solitary confinement on the lower two floors, while another 500 were housed in dormitories on the two top floors. The solitary confinement cells were tiny, probably only 6ft x 4ft with only one small window set very high in the wall. Despite the purpose of the site, all the buildings were well built and attractive, at least externally.

And then started the trek north! We wanted to break it up and had read that the small town of Richmond was nice and had a lovely old bridge so we made it our first stop, strolling along the attractive high street lined with antique shops and art galleries, and eating our lunch overlooking the bridge.

Stage two was to take us NW of Hobart to the Mount Field national park,  home to several lovely waterfalls and the tallest trees in Australia. We passed a vineyard with a cellar door just outside Richmond and decided to make an impromptu call to sample some Tasmanian wines. It was a lovely set up but the wines didn't suit our palates at all! As the host said, they are 'more herbaceous' than NZ wines and whether that was the difference or not, we really didn't like them!

Driving on towards the national park we passed through several rain showers and looking at the ominous clouds over the mountains ahead, we didn't hold out much hope for our waterfall walks when we arrived. But we were pleasantly surprised and spent an enjoyable 90 mins walking through the forest in mainly sunshine. Result! The Russell Falls were spectacular, tall, arranged in three tiers and considered the prettiest waterfall in Tasmania. With the sun behind them and illuminating the spray, it was magical.

Climbing up the side of the falls to the Horseshoe Falls above, the views out over the forest were spectacular and no signs of the arid countryside we saw around Hobart was in evidence.

Continuing further into the forest we came to a grove of giant eucalyptus and myrtles towering over the other trees and ferns below. Some of these trees are over 200 years old and stand 75 metres or more tall. We both got a crick in our necks looking at them!

We still had another three hours to drive to reach our accommodation, traversing the central highlands region. Our hire car doesn't like hills, so we slowly climbed ever higher crossing prairie-like plains, surrounded by high escarpments, as we made our way up to Miena and the Great Lake through bleak tundra landscapes. Dramatically beautiful.

Today was forecast to be a cool day and it was at sea level, but by the time we were up on the plateau driving through a sleet storm the temperature dropped to 3 degrees! So much for Tasmanian summers! We didn't venture out of the car ....

Dropping down off the high plateau along the aptly named Meander Valley brought us to the town of Deloraine set in a scenic farming area. A short drive further and we had reached Mole Creek and our studio apartment for the next two nights, the Blue Wren Hideaway. It's fabulous, stylish, spotlessly clean, well equipped and with amazing views. What more could we ask for?! We're just very grateful there was no motorhome a available!!