CHAPTER 7 – TASMANIA
(Shari) The movement of the ship is not bad and both of us get some sleep before our 5:30 AM wake up call. Disembarking in Devonport, on the north side of the island, is easy. Yet again we are asked about our produce. The guard believes us and waves us through. We head to the supermarket to replenish our refrigerator and have to wait 10 min. as the store does not open until 7. We are the first shoppers of the day. Next stop is breakfast at a diner advertising breakfast all day long. We are starving and order the by now familiar Aussie breakfast of tomatoes, baked beans, sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast. As we head out of town we notice a sign for a farmer’s market today and of course we have to stop. Too bad we did not see it before the grocery store as the produce is cheaper and fresher. We have not even left town yet. At this rate we will be in Tasmania for 3 mo. instead of 3 weeks.
(Bert) Shari’s alarm sounds before a P.A. wake-up call around 5:45 AM. I shower and dress and we head to a lounge to await the call for drivers and passengers with vehicles on Deck 5. Disembarking goes quickly and we are soon driving the sleepy streets of Davenport. I notice the green lawns fronting small homes are frosty white and the pre-sunrise dawn is nippy, especially if I catch the ocean breeze. We shop at a grocery store to replenish our supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, having been allowed to carry none into Tasmania. Then we follow the coast, enjoying beautiful seaside scenery yet again.
(Shari) We are blessed with blue skies and sunshine today but do notice predawn frost on the lawns. I have picked up tons of tourist brochures and we head west to Stanley, a town we hear has penguins. It takes us all day to travel 100 mi. as we stop often. Tasmania has always conjured up visions of desert with wicked men riding around on camels. Now, where did I get that idea is beyond me because it is far from a desert. The road hugs the coast and the land reminds me of Newfoundland with its rugged seashore and small quaint towns. This is a gourmet’s delight as we pass cheese shops, a distillery, wine cellars and honey shops. Well maybe we do not pass all of them, as I cannot resist stopping to sample and buy. We arrive in Stanley about 4 and notice it has been proclaimed Tidiest Town for a number of years past. Built on hills hugging the shore, it definitely is quaint and one I could stay to rest. It is separated by a huge rock they call The Nut. People can walk the 150 meters up to the top or take a chairlift. I opt for the chairlift but it does not seem to be operating today, so I stay at sea level. We hear many of the attractions are closed for the winter.
(Bert) I most want to spend this evening in Stanley because I have heard that Little Penguins come in at night to the town. I learn that they arrive much later than they did at Kangaroo Island and Phillip Island. Our campground hostess looks at a tide table and predicts they will come in about 9 PM. Not knowing how accurate that information is, I leave the campervan at 6:30 in the dark and walk to the location she recommended. A half-hour later, two ladies out for a stroll are curious about my camera on a tripod and me standing in the dark. I learn from them about a better location to wait for the penguins and they do not think the birds will arrive until 10 PM. While I am waiting in the dark, I study the night sky and play with my camera settings to photograph parts of it. I capture four bright stars that look like the Southern Cross, but are not. I don’t know where the cross is tonight, nor did the two local ladies. I photograph Venus, Mars and Saturn, missing Mercury which is not in the same focal width. And I photograph the Milky Way, though even after a 1 min. exposure all I capture is a mass of stars and not the milky cloud. Shari shows up an hour later and together beside a dark sea we continue the vigil. By 9 PM Shari has had enough and returns to the campervan. I wait longer. Mercury has dipped below the horizon, as has Mars. A few white ghosts skim the dark water or fly silently high above, illuminated by the cast of harbor lights. Several times I hear sounds from the sea that might be the penguins, or maybe something else. I pull my multiple jackets closer around my neck and stick my gloved hands in my pockets for added warmth. Still no sign of the penguins. Venus dips below the horizon. If I venture too far along the beach toward the harbor, I am scolded by a pair of Masked Lapwings. Don’t they ever sleep? The city and harbor are absolutely silent and since the two ladies and Shari I haven’t seen a soul. It is just me and the numbing lapping of gentle waves folding over the rocks. No penguins. By 10 PM I’m cold and hungry and a glass of red wine calls to me. I retreat. No penguins tonight.
(Bert) The church was built in England, transported by ship to Tasmania and erected in 1855. It stands unchanged, perhaps with the addition of a stained glass window, though even the altar, pulpit and pews appear original. Although the congregants aren’t the originals, they could almost be. Gray headed, most men in suits and ties, the service has a solemnity of past generations. The very lengthy communion service is almost comical in its rigid adherence to tradition. Yet, the Word of God is preached and the Presbyterian service is enriching, at least to old-time Christians such as us. Doubtless it has lost its appeal to young people, as I doubt anyone in attendance is still at the employment stage of life and no families are in attendance. A friendly group of people, eager to invite us to join them for the luncheon following, we single out the couple sitting behind us and talk about our travels, America, and World War II. The man is retired Air Force and often served in conjunction with Americans. He tells us the small village is now less than 500 residents, though once much larger when it was a shipping port and when it served as a military ship dock in WWII.
(Shari) It will take a miracle, I think to myself, when the elderly pastor says in his sermon that he wants to grow the congregation. One of four churches in Stanley, population 450, has 20 people in attendance this morning. All of them are the same age or older than we are. Who does the pastor want to target for his growth? The young sure will not come with services having the pace of a funeral. My seriously religious granddaughter does not even sing the traditional hymns of the Lutheran Church, because she says they are too slow. Communion here is another ritualistic exercise that the young would think silly. I do not see this congregation changing to meet the times so I predict the doors of the church will close within 15 years. Too bad, since services have been held in this same building since its beginning in the mid-1800s.
(Bert) From the coast we head inland, threading upward in an unending succession of tight curves through dense, tall forest. I stop at Hellyer Gorge and while Shari naps I hike a rainforest trail. The density of plant life is almost claustrophobic. Immense tree ferns are crowded by basal ferns that encroach on the wet path, liberally doused with mud puddles and edged in intense lime green moss. Above me in the upper canopy I hear Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos and flittering in the lower canopy are Tasmanian Thornbills and dozens of Superb Fairy-wrens flick their tails while hopping across moss lawns. Shari finishes her nap and calls me on the personal radio.
(Shari) Tasmania is only the size of West Virginia and it does not take us long to get to the heart of the state. We see our first wild Wombat. Finally, an animal that does not look like a kangaroo! I saw them back in June in a zoo-like sanctuary and now I see one on the side of the road. Looking cute and cuddly, a relative of the koala that lives on the ground, it too is endangered. If this one does not look out, it will be tonight’s road kill as it does not move very fast and does not seem to be afraid of us. His four little legs must be only 4 in. long and he takes tiny steps. We park for the night in the snow at a campground reminiscent of ones in the Colorado mountains in May. Snow is on the ground and the air is nippy.
(Bert) We continue uphill, at 542 meters passing a group of Black Currawongs. At 721 meters we see the first snow, chunks beside the roadside that look like remnants from a snowplow’s work. The highest point on the road is 930 meters and we get out to climb a lookout hill, passing snow covered shrubs and walking on rivulets of melting ice. When we continue we see a Wombat at the roadside, but without a place to pull off our sighting is brief. We reach Cradle Mountain National Park and check into the campground. As we head to our designated site a Tasmanian Pademelon munches on foliage and then hops away on two legs, like the miniature kangaroo it is. Snow and ice surround our campsite. It will be a cold night, though better with electricity and a glass of Wick’s Estate Shiraz, the bottle not opened until tonight since we were on the Tasmania ferry on our wedding anniversary. We let the bottle breath for 44 sec, one for each happily married year. We swirled the wine in crystal glasses, sniffing the flavorful fragrance of past years. We sipped and tasted of a wonderful life together. Then we saved a bit for tomorrow, a foretaste of adventures yet coming.
(Bert) Chilling air greets me as I step outside the campervan at 6:15 AM and walk the short distance to the modern, but unheated bathrooms. I think, “This is what it must have felt like in earlier generations when outhouses were commonplace”. I recall that experience only once before, when my parents rented a cottage at Fox Lake in Wisconsin and I was age five or six. Of course, Wisconsin in August is warmer than Tasmanian mountains in the same month.
(Shari) It is cold and drizzly when I get up and I do not want to go into the
park and hike for the day. But I do not want to sit around here either. So I
bundle up with long underwear, a turtle, a wool sweater, my fleece jacket and my
raincoat. Complete with mittens and a wool cap, I am warm. Our campervan is not
allowed to drive on the park’s narrow roads so we take the shuttle bus to road’s
end. Here we intend to hike a bit around Dove Lake. Even though the sun breaks
through the clouds, the ground is covered in snow and the path is slippery.
After about 30 min., I call it quits and head back to the bus stop. I take a
tumble on the ice and think this is not my idea of fun. We take another two
walks, easier ones, on a boardwalk, but still slippery in places. At noon we
head back to the camper, eat lunch and drive on, stopping for another wombat on
the side of the road.
(Bert) We board a national park bus, as campervans are too big to traverse the one-lane park road. As the only ones on board, we ask the driver to take us to road’s end at Dove Lake. From the edge of the parking lot, we immediately encounter two Tasmanian Native Hens, a bird resembling moorhens. We begin a hike, my choosing is to circuit the lake, a 2-hr. walk, but Shari opts for 20 min. to a high outcropping of rock. As I near the rock I see a green parrot atop. I’m not fast enough for a photo and hope it is the Ground Parrot. Later on the return hike, I photograph two Green Rosellas, so I suspect that is what was on the rock as well. Briefly, we hike another lake trail as the sun warms the air and clear skies offer us good views of the saddle-shaped Cradle Mountain. While waiting for the return bus, I inspect the snow drifts, finding dozens of animal tracks from multiple species. The bus driver recognizes some species and stops when he sees a Wombat beside the road. Stopping so we can take photos, the Wombat nearly crawls under the parked bus. With its short legs and fat furry body and a head that barely protrudes, the Wombat reminds me of groundhogs and marmots. Near the Interpretative Center we hike two more short trails. Along both we find Tasmanian Pademelons and as we exit the park in our own vehicle we come across our third Wombat, a mammal I never expected to see in the wild.
(Bert) We camped last night in Strahan and before we leave the area I want to stop at the airport to look for Ground Parrot. When we find the vacant airstrip far out of town, the rainfall is too strong to find birds, so we leave after my 15-min. effort. Rain continues as we drive through mountain forests almost completely absent of people except for a copper mining town that has been in operation for more than a century, the mines by now stripping away the mountains, leaving them raw red and barren except for a few Wattle trees finding cleavage. I pull off at Nelson Falls, tired of driving and anxious to walk. Shari agrees and we put on raincoats, rain hats, rain pants and waterproof hiking shoes. I cover my camera in its waterproof bag and add rain protectors to my binoculars. As we often say, there is no such thing as bad weather, just improper equipment and bad attitude. So off we go in the rain, hiking through a rainforest, along a rushing river and ending in a thunderous waterfall.
(Shari) At the beginning of our northern caravans I mention that there is no such thing as bad weather, just improper equipment and a bad attitude. [Editorial note: since we don’t read each other’s journals beforehand, it is coincidental that we both quote this idiom]. Well, I did not come all the way over here to pass up an attraction just because of some rain and cold. I put on my raincoat and hat over my fleece jacket and turtle and head for the Nelson Falls Trail. I remember my first experience with a rain forest in 1996. Bert and I had just bought our motor home and were visiting the Olympic Peninsula in the State of Washington. There they have this wonderful walk in a rain forest. Here, color the picture green: tall trees offering a green canopy over the path, seven types of green ferns and everything covered in green moss. The chicken wire covered boardwalk is hardly wet in places because the vegetation is so thick no rain can find its way through. See, my attitude is already improving. After about 15 min., we reach the end of the trail and before us is a beautiful waterfall cascading down the rocks. The walk was well worth getting a little wet, but I never did owing to the canopy.
The rain follows our every move and we decide to stop at Lake St. Clair, the deepest lake in Australia and another World Heritage site. We are parked beside the lake and we have the whole place to ourselves. You know why? No one else is crazy enough to camp in weather like this. As I write this, I have a pot of soup simmering on the stove from all sorts of odds and ends. I never knew how much I use those little cans of green chilies until I can’t find them. So the soup will have to be Italian and not Mexican. I can look through the rain-spotted window at the lake. Bert said he was hiking under the assumption the weather will not get better and he is outside looking for the Pink Robin. I myself can skip the Pink Robin. Is my attitude deteriorating?
(Bert) Back on the road, we are again climbing in elevation and at 790 meters we see snow chunks piled beside the road and thin drifts across the mountain sides. We camp this evening in Lake St. Clair National Park. While there is still daylight I walk around the campsite looking for birds and am amazed at the dozens of Black Currawongs. I see few other species in the light rain and just as I am about to quit I see a round furry animal with its head buried in a sword-leafed bush. I photograph it with flash and it backs out of the bush. It’s another wombat.
(Bert) Since yesterday afternoon’s rain showers didn’t allow me to see many birds, I am delighted that bright blue skies greet me this morning and I am out and about as the sun casts its first glow on Lake St. Clair. The lake was formed by glaciers about 10,000 years ago and with a depth of 167 meters it is the deepest freshwater lake in Australia. I hike Watersmeet Trail through a rainforest of immensely tall and broad trees, rigidly upright. The trail ends at Cuvier River which is surging with runoff from snow melt. The understory is wet on one side with a dense impenetrable thicket of Wooly Tea-tree, whose spongy bark has air pockets that allow it to survive when waterlogged. Scattered bushes of Pink Mountain-berry are covered with hundreds of colorful berries that attract birds.
The animals seem to be cheered by the change in weather and are busily seeking breakfast. I find three pademelons and a couple dozen swift-moving tiny birds that through binoculars and photos I sort out as Scrubtit, Tasmanian Thornbill and Tasmanian Scrubwren. All three, and a fourth, Brown Thornbill which I might have had also, are “little brown jobs” and with their size and speed are hard for me to separate. My long lens camera is an amazing tool for that purpose. I find three honeyeater species, two of which are new to me and endemic to Tasmania: Strong-billed and Yellow-throated. The bird I am really searching for, though, is Pink Robin. I find a drab female that I think is the species. Later when I am photographing a scrubwren using my flash, I attract a male Pink Robin and all I do is swing my camera to the right and snap six photos in quick succession. Two are in good focus. Although its back is black and the undertail is white, it is the pink that is outstanding. From chin through breast and belly the pink is as vivid as a Mary Kay pink Cadillac.
(Shari) I just keep racking them up on my bird life list! This afternoon on another rainforest walk I saw the Bassian Thrush three times before Bert saw it. Of course at the time, I did not know what it was but told Bert it was on the ground and looked thrush-like. Now we are parked early at Mt. Field National Park. Over one-third of Tasmania’s land mass is designated a World Heritage Area. World Heritage denotation was adopted by UNESCO in 1972 to signal out and protect those areas of the world of “universal cultural and natural significance”. I do not know how many sites exist, but we have visited four of the eleven such sites in Australia so far. We will add at least one more before our trip is over, The Great Barrier Reef. Since this reminds me so much of the rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula, I hope that also is a designated World Heritage site and if not, why not? The sky is mostly blue today with very short periods of mist and tinny weenie snow flakes. We do not drive far but I notice spring has not sprung as far south here as it had in Victoria or even on the north coast of Tasmania. The weeds are brown and the pastures lay dormant. Only the yellow flowers of the waddle trees are in bloom. It must be the first tree to bloom as if to announce that winter is almost over. When I drive, I rarely get over 40 mph as the road winds through rolling mountains. I feel like I am driving a go-cart as I steer right then left then right again. I never do get to sixth gear and spend most of my driving shift in fourth. Now, I see my hubby walking back from his outing. He is hard to miss as the camera flashes ever so often as he finds yet another bird to photograph. If I have taken around 1000 pictures so far, he must have 10,000. Whatever does he plan to do with them all?
(Bert) We travel again today through Tasmania’s mountain rainforests, what they call The Wilderness. It isn’t until we get nearer to Hobart that we start to see houses and people. We reach Mt. Field National Park in early afternoon and I want to quit for the day and camp here so I can look for more Tasmanian endemics. Shari cooperates and joins me on a hike to a multi-tiered waterfall in the midst of a Tree Fern forest. Shari spots a thrush, but I miss it. Fortunately we find another and this time I get my binoculars and camera on it. She is right, it is a thrush! A Bassian Thrush to be exact. Shari retires to the RV and I continue birding, finding more new species, a Black-headed Honeyeater and Yellow Wattlebird. The wattlebirds are oddities in that all of these have fleshy ropes with knobby ends protruding from the sides of their faces. The Yellow Wattlebird has the longest and when it feeds, the protuberances swing around like yo-yos, hanging over the eyes when its head is upside down and to the neck like dangling earrings when its head is erect. I head back to the campervan and find two Tasmanian Native Hens almost underneath the RV and three pademelons browsing nearby.
(Bert) Pademelons greet me as I hike up the steep hill. Although densely forested, many of the humongous trees lie flat on the ground, often broken into large chunks. One trail is closed because of the danger of trees falling in winds. Birds are sparse and after an hour of hiking I have only seen three species: Forest Raven, Green Rosella and Flame Robin. I hear another bird and then match the sound to the species. It is Pink Robin and now that I’ve found this one I find a half dozen more and hear their “WHIT whit-it-it” call for 20 min. more hiking. This was supposed to be a 40 min. hike and after 90 min. I see a sign saying it is still 5 min. more to Lake Barron Falls. I decide to turn back the way I came and hike faster. I make it back, after climbing the 239 steps I previously descended, in 50 min. and reread the sign. I guess it should be interpreted as 40 min. one-way to the falls. Yet, even that is a vigorous hiking speed.
We leave Mt. Field, heading to Hobart. After being in unpopulated areas for several days, the city appears enormous, with houses closely packing the hillsides and spreading to the shores of the bay. We start the trek up Mt. Wellington and stop at a walking track for birding. I see little, especially when I encounter 60+ school kids loudly sharing the same trail. Shari wants to continue to the top of Mt. Wellington, but I remind her we are short on fuel. I tell her the digital gauge says we have 110 km available. She says it is only 12 km to the top, so off we go. On the severely uphill climb, the engine sucks diesel like a thirsty camel and by the time I reach the top I only have 73 km available. Clouds have begun to diminish our view, yet the sight of the city and convoluted ocean bay is outstanding. So is the strong wind, which must be bringing the windchill below freezing. Patches of snow fill gaps between dark shrubs and our elevation of 1270 meters puts us above tree line. On the descent we use almost no fuel at all and even 20 km later the gauge still predicts we can travel another 69 km, so we easily reach the gas station.
(Shari) Looks like the rain has stopped and we will have a cold but partly sunny driving day. We are not too far from Hobart, the biggest city in Tasmania and Australia’s second oldest. Looking down on the city from Mount Wellington is fantastic but cold. Just as we arrive the fog starts to drift over the mountain and I snap pictures like mad, rushing from one view to another. Not to worry, the fog lifts as we are about to leave. At one point the wind chill is so cold that I think my nose will get frostbite, so I walk backwards. We are a little worried about fuel consumption and I ask May where the closest gas station is located. She tells us 23 km and Bert says our fuel odometer says we have 73 km left on the tank. Oh my, hopefully downhill will not guzzle as much as uphill did. No sweat! We arrive at a Woolworths fuel stop with plenty mileage to spare. I grocery shop while Bert naps. I am only halfway through the store when he comes to get me. He buys wine and beer and I am still in the grocery store. He gets diesel with 4 cents off per liter with his liquor receipt and I am still in the grocery store. Grocery shopping to me is relaxing and I enjoy it. I find all sorts of “lifers” in new areas. We check into our campground just as the rain starts again. We are told tomorrow is suppose to be nice.
(Shari) We could not ask for a better day to take our trip to Bruny Island. The water sparkles as we ferry across the short passage. Our rental agreement says that our RV accident insurance doesn’t cover unsealed roads. Of all places to have gravel roads, it is Bruny Island. This is THE place to bird in Tasmania and you know my Bert, he just has to go. Last night the campground owner says that just everyone drives over there and ignore the rental agreements. The rental agencies actually state “ungazetted roads”. So, does that include Bruny Island roads or not? I look around but see no rental cars, nor rental RVs on the ferry. As it turns out: “Not to Worry”. The gravel sections of the road are as smooth as the paved. We stop at the first site on the side of the road and it is easy for me to get another lifer just sitting in the car. I point my binoculars to the area that Bert is snapping pictures and see the Dusky Robin. Check off another one! Of course, before Bert got out of the car, he told me what he was looking for and what was its name, or at least I think that is what he called it. I did not get out at our next few stops so missed the 40 spot paralote. Now, who in the world can count those spots as the bird is so fluttery? I also miss all the other birds but see some great scenery.
(Bert) I’ve read that all Tasmania bird endemics can be found on Bruny Island. Sounds like a disease (chicken pox?, bird flu?, West Nile?), but an endemic is a species that can be found only in a localized geographic area. For a small area, the island of Tasmania has an amazing eleven bird species that can only be found here. In the past six days I have found all but two of these and these two are the ones I hope to see today.
Under blue skies and pleasant temperatures, we take the 9:30 ferry from the mainland to the island, a half-hour trip across a flat-water bay. Very soon after disembarking I start my search for Dusky Robin near a pond beside the road. Bird life is plentiful and the roadside trees are decorated with dozens flitting about. I see pardalotes and focus in on them as the other missing endemic I seek is Forty-spotted Pardalote. After examining six or eight, I see they are all Spotted Pardalotes, not the one I’m chasing today. After about 20 min. I see a robin perched on a fence post. It is drab and featureless. That’s the one! I take lots of photos to document my tenth endemic. One down, one to go!
Finding the last one is much more of a challenge. This is one of the smallest and rarest birds in Australia and it is classified as endangered. Not only is it restricted to Tasmania, but it is only found on the dry coastal southeast corner, and usually only seen on the small island of Bruny. And, within this island, it is further restricted to patches of White Gum, a eucalypt species growing in ravines and hillsides in the north corner of Bruny. We stop several times in appropriate habitat, not finding the bird though. While heading to another ravine, a bird flies past the windshield and lands atop a mailbox. I stop immediately, in line with the open mailbox. I recognize it as Grey Shrike-thrush and then it jumps into the mailbox. It has built a nest inside and looks out at me from the darkness. I’m only a dozen feet away from it when I snap its picture from my car window.
At the ravine I search again for the pardolote and this time I find a few high in the eucalypt canopy. Forty-spotted Pardolote reportedly has 20 white spots on each black wing, though I recognize it more quickly by its yellow face. I take dozens of photos, hoping at least one will be recognizable as this restless bird stays high in the canopy and usually hidden in the leaves. While watching the pardolote, surprisingly I also find a couple of Dusky Robins. Both of my last two endemics at the same site!
(Shari) We spend all day at this birding stuff. The island is rather undeveloped so the only place I want to stop is a fudge store. Yum! In its undeveloped state, we cannot even eat lunch at a cute café on the water so we eat it in our RV at a wonderful picnic spot overlooking the water. Hardly any vehicles have been on the road, as this turns out to be a good thing as some roads are very narrow. Only once do we choose not to take a road as it has a big warning sign about too narrow and steep for big vehicles. We spend the night at the same campground we spent last night. Its claim to fame is its convenience to Hobart. Tomorrow is market day!
(Shari) “It is drizzling”, I tell Bert this morning. “Maybe that is a good thing. It will keep the crowds down at the market”, I add optimistically. We know the drill by now: put on our raincoats and rain hats and grab our umbrellas. We get to downtown Hobart which I dub the San Francisco of Tasmania because it is built on steep hills. Well before the crowds have gathered, we find a parking spot only feet from the start of the market. Salamanca Market is another one of those famous places to be at on Saturday, as it is full of vendors selling their wares. Skipping by the first assemblage of booths, many still being laid out in wares, our first order of business is to eat breakfast at Retro Café, a restaurant I read about in the tour guidebook. It does not disappoint us and we each order poached eggs on sourdough or bagel, and I have mine topped with pesto while Bert has ham and hollandaise. Unfortunately it is still raining when we finish eating. So up go our umbrellas as we walk up one aisle and down the other. I see all sorts of neat artistic crafts but each time I want to buy, I have to ask myself, “How will I get it home and is it worth the price?” Things are more expensive here in Tasmania than they are on the mainland. So I pass up Tasmanian wildlife-embroidered towels, carved blue fairy wrens and cute penguins, and many items crafted from Tasmanian natural woods. After two hours of browsing, I have not purchased one item. I think, had I had Ginny or Ermine as my partner, I would have gotten the fairy wren. I wanted to go back for it but Bert by now has gotten antsy. Since it is still raining, we go to a movie we saw advertised in the restaurant. The theater is in a restored older building, with the front window area a café serving bistro type foods and the back section six small rooms with screens showing six movies. The venue of movies is artsy and includes movies from Australia, New Zealand, England, France and the United States. Two movies are showing starting in 15 min. and we choose the United States production called “The Kids are All Right”. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore do a terrific acting performance portraying the “moms” in a very modern family with two kids who want to find the identity of their sperm donor father. Do not see this movie if you are offended by visual sex between same and opposite sex partners. We found it both amusing and poignant. In spite of the unconventional family, the message is quite traditional.
It is still raining when the movie finishes and we walk a couple of blocks down Elizabeth Street in North Hobart and up the other looking for a lunch restaurant. I had my mind set on eating fish and chips on the water at “Flippers” but Bert does not want to drive back there. Once I have my mind set on a certain food, it is silly to eat just anywhere just for the sake of eating out. So we head to the campground and have late sandwiches in the camper. I guess I will enter GPS settings into the road logs since it is STILL raining. Later, we order fish and chips and other seafood from the campground kitchen. Actually, it is very good, so I got what I wanted anyway. Just not the seaview.
(Bert) While I am sure Shari will report on our entertaining, though wet, day at the market, eating at an eclectic restaurant and seeing an entertaining movie, I want to go back to something I saw yesterday. On Bruny Island at the site where penguins have their underground homes against a steep hillside is a monument and sign dedicated to Truganini. It describes the story of her life of tragedy. I’ve seen other signposts mentioning the original aborigine inhabitants of Tasmania. Although the aborigines were treated unfairly throughout Australia, the handling of these people on Tasmania was barbaric. Were this only ancient world history and not repeated more recently elsewhere on the globe, perhaps it might more easily be forgotten. Unfortunately, while the situation is better in Australia, it is not the case elsewhere if you listen to world news. Verbatim, here is what the sign stated:
Truganini – a Nuenone woman. This part of Lunawanna-alonnah (Bruny Island) is rich with evidence of Aboriginal occupation. For this reason, the Tasmanian Aboriginal community has dedicated the site to the memory of Truganini – a Nuenone woman whose life was forever changed by white invasion. As a child, Truganini grew up here at Lunawanna-alonnah. Her father was an elder of the Nuenone people, a band of the south-east tribe whose connection with this place spans 30,000 years.
Tragedy. The peace of Truganini’s early years was shattered by European
invasion. The arrival of white man brought violence and brutality to these
- At the age of 17, Truganini witnessed the horrific stabbing murder of her mother by men from a whaling ship.
- Sealers kidnapped her two sisters, Lowhe-nunne and Magger-leede.
- Timber-getters killed the man Truganini was to marry. During a boat crossing of the Channel, she watched in horror as her husband-to-be was thrown into the sea. As he tried desperately to climb back onboard, the timber-getters cut off his hands and left him to drown. Truganini was then repeated raped.
- Her brother was killed and her stepmother kidnapped by escaped convicts. Her father was devastated and died within months.
Deception. Following the loss of her entire family, Truganini worked as a guide and interpreter for George Robinson, who had been appointed by the colonial government to persuade Aborigines to peacefully give up their land. A promise that all would be returned to their homelands after a period of exile was ultimately broken. Truganini spent many years at the Wybalenna Aboriginal Settlement on Flinders Island, where efforts were made to strip Aboriginal people of their identity and culture. Many died of disease or despair. Truganini’s cooperation later turned to rebellion. For a time, she escaped and was involved in attacks on white men.
Fear. In the final years of her life, Truganini was fearful of her body being mutilated by scientists after her death. One of the last tribal Aborigines in Tasmania, she died in Hobart in 1876 at the age of 64. Two years after this, her body was exhumed by the Royal Society of Tasmania. Later, her skeleton was placed on public display. One hundred years on, the Aboriginal community negotiated for the skeletal remains to be returned to her people. Truganini was cremated and her ashes sprinkled over the waters of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.
(Shari) We have started to rate the day’s weather on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being a picture perfect day for the season and locality. As soon as I open the door to the camper, I say this is a 2. Yesterday was a 1 so things are improving. The rain and wind follow us until almost noon. Okay, the day turns into a 3 as it is still cloudy, windy and cold with drizzle off and on. May earns her name (May be she is right and May be she is wrong) and takes us on a wild goose chase. I notice something amiss when we come to a town we had passed some 30 min. previous. When I expand her on-screen map, I see that she took us in a circle for no apparent reason. Now she has done this before but never in such a BIG circle. I guess I am gong to have to check her every move and turn from now on.
(Bert) Rained all night and it’s still raining heavily this morning. After oversleeping by an hour or so, Shari is her usual optimistic morning self, even more cheered by gloomy skies and blanketing rain. Not! I say, “It will probably clear and be a beautiful day”. By 11:30 AM I am right. Well, almost right. We pull off the Coles Bay Road at Kelvedon Beach Conservation Area, just after getting our first good view of the Tasman Sea from the Australia side. You may recall we saw Tasman Sea from the New Zealand side on Day 10. There it was a rocky coastline; here it is long and wide sandy beaches. The sign says this is where Fairy Terns nest, starting in September. We are probably a bit early as I see none. To my surprise, though, I find a handful of Hooded Plovers, those endangered shorebirds I sought and found on Phillip Island. Later, while driving, I see a flock of Wild Turkeys (perhaps feral escapees) and an Emu in the same grassy field. Odd!
(Shari) Weather today is a 5, as the jury is still out. It could either way. When we arrive at the Visitor Center in Freycinet National Park it is not yet open, so we drive the park road without a map and information on places to stop. We find a great walking trail to a lighthouse. At one point a boardwalk hugs the cliff edge and the sea views are fantastic. Markers on the boardwalk indicate the lengths of various sea animals, starting with seals and progressing through whale species. I walk 99 ft. before coming to the end of the display. A Blue Whale can get that long. Amazing! I take some close up pictures of wattle blossoms. Wattle seems to fascinate me and is blooming everywhere we go. The flowers look fluffy and upon inspection are two cylindrical cones emanating from one skinny mimosa type leaf, set very close together making the tree appear all yellow. Yesterday when we stopped to buy mussels, I learned that there are many varieties of wattle. Later Bert and I have a conversation about a Pink Robin. The birds they call robins here are not like our robins. They are much smaller and more brilliantly colorized. I have seen neon orange ones and red ones. Today I tell him I saw a pink one. “That must be the Flame Robin”, Bert says, “as the pink are not found out in the open but in the forest.” Now mind you, the forest is only 100 to 200 ft. away. I finally give up arguing with him and to put an end to the discussion, I tell him it was a teenage bird that ran away from home. He will be back when he realizes he cannot find food out in the open. It is tough living with a birder. Next time you see him ask him about Pesto and what it is and where to find it.
(Bert) On the coast of the Tasman Sea, Freycinet National Park is sandy beaches, sparse forests, rocky cliffs, crashing waves, rugged mountains and a peninsula where you can see water on both sides. A bit empty of birds this morning, I get a brief glimpse of Eastern Spinetail and from a coastal promontory I see hundreds of distant gulls on a rocky island. Are they Pacific Gulls or Kelp Gulls?
When we stop at the Visitor’s Center I get some helpful suggestions for seeing Moulting Lagoon. Arriving at the large lagoon I read a sign that says it is a Ramsar Site. I’m surprised at the distinguished designation until I read that the lagoon hosts an average of 8000 to 10000 Black Swans and up to 18000 in periods of drought. In the section I have in view this morning I count 197, but see more when I view the lagoon from other points. Just as we are driving out of the lagoon access road I see a Bennett’s Wallaby, the Tasmania subspecies of Red-necked Wallaby.
We thread north again, following the Tasman Sea. We divert our route for an hour or so to climb through Elephant Mountain and then descend with a view of the sea. We stop at Bicheno blowhole and walk on the boulder festooned beach. Every crashing wave pushes into and up from the blowhole and we try to time our camera shutters to coincide with the biggest blow. I study the few gulls that fly by and find one juvenile Pacific Gull and an adult Kelp Gull that lacks the black terminal band.
(Bert) In Tasmania, we drive the Tasman Highway along the Tasman Sea. Abel Tasman was a Dutch explorer, the first European to see this island in the year 1642. He accurately charted the coast and named it Van Diemen’s Land and then went on to explore New Zealand. French explorers came next, but it was the British that lay claim to the land and renamed it Tasmania.
From St. Helens we follow a peninsula to Bay of Fires, so named because of the orange lichen covering the coastal boulders. Shari is underwhelmed by the display and I suspect it takes a bright rising sun illuminating the rocks to reproduce the photos in her guide book. Nonetheless, the scenery is idyllic: grassy knolls overlooking white sand beaches and ponderous boulders cyclically inundated by crashing waves. Multitudes of birds are enjoying the delightful weather and their sweet singing fills the air. European Goldfinches, Gray Fantails, Skylark, Richard’s Pipits, White-fronted Chats, Superb Fairy-wrens all are performers. I see yet another oystercatcher, then notice the absence of white, so it is not the common Pied Oystercatcher, but rather a Sooty Oystercatcher. As we are leaving the area I add one more species, a bird on the wire that reminds me of Savannah Sparrow, but is actually a Striated Fieldwren.
Leaving the coast, I drive mountain zigzaggers through dense rainforest, reaching an elevation of 600 meters. I stop for a break at Weldborough Pass and hike through the myrtle tree forest. This is a great place for Pink Robin and I get another good photo. Continuing through the mountains, recent rains have caused miniature waterfalls and rivulets as runoff alongside the highway and just as I round one curve and begin another I see a Short-beaked Echidna slowly moving through the roadside drainage. I stop immediately around the next curve and with camera in hand I run back to the spot. It is gone and I hear movement in the brush on the opposite side of the road. I’d hoped to see an Echidna while in Australia and surprised that I did and actually a good view, if brief. An Echidna looks like a hedgehog, but isn’t remotely related. Its closest living relative is the platypus, although it doesn’t look at all alike. It is similar to the platypus in that both are egg-laying mammals, i.e., monotremes. Although the one I saw was on hard pavement and therefore had to run to escape or roll up into a ball completely surrounded by sharp spines, its usual defense is to dig furiously while maintaining a horizontal position. Thus it just seems to sink below the surface.
(Shari) I give this day a 10. The sun makes everything sparkle from the orange lichen encrusted rocks at Bay of Fires to the forested hillsides splashed with yellow wattle. We drive ever closer to the end of our Tasmania leg as we head westward over the Tin Trail traveling through mountain mining towns settled by the Chinese in the 1800s. We stop to take a couple of short walks but basically drive west into the second largest city of Tasmania, Launceston. May routes us around the southern edge of the city to our campground which is so-so with basic facilities. We almost camped at a cute site next to a river but the ground was too soft and I was afraid that we would get stuck. Too bad as it was a nicer spot than the one we are in right now.
(Shari) “Are we going to this spot for you or for me?” Bert asks as we head to Cataract Gorge, a park I think is the prettiest city park in the world. At the top of 129 stairs, we park our car and start our way down. The trees have yet to leaf out but the daffodils and some roses are in bloom. As we get to the bottom, we notice peacocks. When I approach, the male fans out his feathers and starts side stepping toward me. Oh, my gosh, he doesn’t think I am a mate, does he? When his back side is exactly in front of me, he backs up and my face touches his expanded feathers. I think he does like me. I notice a bandstand and a tearoom built in the late 1800s. The whole park was set aside then for the people to enjoy and to meet one another, though it was a controversial project, an affront to wanton development. But I have not even gotten to the best part yet. The rushing river below carves out a deep gorge and we walk to the other side over a suspension bridge. During the summer months a swimming pool is open to the public on the banks of the river. We can return to the other side via a sky lift but choose again to walk the bridge. Now was that place for me or for Bert?
(Bert) Launceston has a precious jewel of a city park at Cataract Gorge. To reach a parking lot I navigate through city mountains edging the deep gorge, often forced to traveling in first gear to negotiate the ascents and descents. On foot now, I get a quick glimpse of Brush Bronzewing, my first look at this dove, and then come upon an old stone building serving as a restaurant. Displaying on the lawns and the veranda are about a dozen Indian Peafowl, half cocks and half hens. The peacocks spread their tails to vertical, slowly pirouette, fluff out their cinnamon undertail and occasionally shake their booty in a dazzle of hundreds of vibrating blue pupils in bronze eyes set in a shimmering green background. Crowning its head is an extended crest of feathers like an Indian maiden in wedding dress. My camera cannot get enough of the colorful and enchanting performance and each view entices another click.
We walk through a wooded area to the old Alexandra Bridge opened in 1904. Spanning the gorge, arched for strength, thickly cabled, strongly supported by vertical uprights, the bridge nonetheless sways to the shift of foot weight left and right and adds spring to each step. Below us the thunderous current churns in white caps on brown water, not calming until it spills into the broad expanse of a small lake.
Our next stop is Tamar Island Wetlands where we walk more than a couple miles on a suspended wooden boardwalk spanning marshes, shallow lakes and a river no longer navigated. An antique dredge marooned in the clutches of drifting river mud attests to the efforts of nature to reclaim river ownership. Marshes seclude birds not often found and I suspect it will not be any different today, yet I try my best to catch a glimpse of Spotless Crake, Spotted Crake, Australasian Bittern and Little Grassbird. Purple Swamp Hens are in attendance, but no crakes. The bittern is said to remain hidden in the reeds and never show itself. Thus it is today, although what I heard moving in the reed forest might have been the bittern. The Little Grassbird is half a success, as I distinctly hear two of the shy birds, one only a few feet in front of me. The two- or three-note plaintive monotone call is a match.
(Shari) Next is a Bert place though, Tamar Island Wetlands, where I enjoy the three-mile walk on a level boardwalk through and over marshland. After the walk, it is time to treat ourselves to lunch at a winery. I have read so much about winery lunches in the tour books that I have to get it out of my system. We stop at 9th Island Estates, a vineyard and floor-to-ceiling restaurant windows viewing the Tamar River. I order scallops topped with red beet au gratin and Bert has chicken with barley and hazelnuts. We order the entre portion (appetizer in Australia) as it is cheaper but cannot resist a glass of wine to go with it. My glass of Pinot Grigio is simply superb and makes me think we have to buy better bottles of wine at home, just drink less. After lunch we pass a sign showing the ferry terminal less than 40 mi. distant. Bert says he is done with Tasmania–read this as meaning “has seen all the birds that he intends to see”–and is ready to go to the mainland. I find a phone booth and change our reservations from Friday to tonight. We arrive at the dock well ahead of our 6 PM boarding. The Spirit of Tasmania I is laid out just like the Tasmania II, so we know the ropes. This time we eat sandwiches in our room with our own bottle of wine before shutting off the lights early. The seas are calm and I get a very good night’s rest.
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