Sunday, December 7, 2014

Raining with a Chance of Sheep

Tasmanian bay and sailboats 
Tasmania was not at all what I expected. While there are ‘mountains’ that ring the coast, the interior of the island is rolling hills covered in lush green grass and herds of sheep. The mountains do get touched with snow, but the foothills host redolent, temperate rainforest plants. The wind-swept beaches and hills reminded me of Scotland, but without the castles; the weather lived up to the best traditions of Scotland, however. It takes no more than six hours to get anywhere in Tasmania, and the roads are good, so we rented a car. Our seven day road trip took us to most of the island, but there are still many sites we didn’t see and events we didn’t experience. This is one of those places in the world we want to visit again.



Hobart to Launceston

It’s a lovely drive from Hobart to Launceston, with opportunities to pop over to the beaches to touch the sand and to find that the water is, indeed, very cold. The Tasmanian Wool
Raw Wool and Wool on the Hoof
Centre in Ross affords an opportunity to learn about the wool industry, tour their small but substantial museum, learn about the town, and do a bit of shopping. Local artists sell finished wool garments, as well as hand spun and dyed yarns.  I’d never seen or touched raw wool directly from shearing and didn’t know how it was graded; I still wonder how the grading was done before the advent of technology since the wool fibers are measured in microns. The wool from a black sheep isn’t black, but a muddy brown; wool texture changes based on fiber size, but also on the variety, gender and age of the sheep. The raw wool feels oily.



Ross Bridge with detail
As well as a hub for the wool industry Ross was also associated with law enforcement. The Man O’Ross Hotel and Restaurant was built by convicts as a part of the work they did to get
rid of their requirement for imprisonment. The building is beautiful, surrounded with gardens and decorated inside with dark wood and a carpet woven with images of stags. I’d like to stay overnight in Ross to experience the ambience of the hotel, have more of their great cooking, and learn more about the town. The manager of the hotel/restaurant had done his firefighter training at Texas A&M and was happy to share his knowledge of the area with traveling Texans. He explained how the building of the town and the roads relied on convict labor and directed us to the Female Factory and the Ross Bridge. Strolling through this lovely little town, we saw classic Uniting and Catholic churches showing architecture that was, refreshingly, not Gothic. The Bridge on the road from Hobart, through Ross, to Launceston is listed as a National Engineering Landmark and for good reason. Designed by architect John Lee Archer and constructed by Daniel Herbert and James Colbert along with a gang of convict laborers, it remains an interesting and artful addition to the pastoral landscape. The unique ornamentation of the arches and the excellent construction secured these two stonemasons their emancipation from prison once the bridge was completed. I particularly like the dog that seems to be staring down into the water as if looking for a fish.

The Female Factory was actually a prison for women. One of their crimes was getting pregnant out of wedlock; of course the men weren’t prosecuted. The prison was run by an
Ross Female Factory and Cynthia
administrator, but overseen on a daily basis by a preacher with his wife who served as the matron. Women were housed in areas based on the severity of their crime and how adaptable they were to re-entering society. Discipline, for some, came in the form of how often and for what amount of time they were allowed to see their babies. If the women worked well as maids, cooks, seamstresses, of such and recommendations from the people for whom they worked, their sentences were reduced. The administrator’s house has become a small museum and the prison yard a grazing area for sheep; the sheep had just been sheared so they looked a bit uneven and were hesitant to let people near.

In downtown Ross is an exhibit that pulls together Tasmania's geography, ecological, social, political and scientific history, the history of surveying in Tasmania, the role and impact of
'Drawing the Line' and Dave
political boundaries, and history of the region. ‘Drawing the Line’, a community project, provides information about the importance of the 42° South line of latitude in Tasmania. This was the first political boundary of European occupation; dividing the island into northern and southern counties. At one time the governor of the southern part of Tasmania was a member of the navy, while the governor of the northern part of the island was an army man; these men didn’t like each other, refusing to report to each other or even work together. When the ‘powers that be’ in Australia proper decided that there should be one governor and one seat of government, it caused a rift between the people living near Launceston and those living near Hobart. Each group thought that the political capital of Tasmania should be housed in their town. Hobart won the nod, but people in the north continued to petition for government agencies and services to be Launceston. Fights broke out in pubs and heated arguments in more refined venues. As late as the 1950s this dispute over location of the capitol continued, and in some cases, still remains unresolved. The ‘Drawing the Line’ exhibit is interesting and well worth taking time to read each of the panels.

The small port town of Saint Helens on the east coast has a couple of parks and some good views of the ocean. On a rainy day, the Bay of Fires Coastal Reserve was pretty, but not like it would have been in the bright sunshine. However, getting there was a wild ride. I had no idea that Tasmania had temperate rain forest and 'mountains' (about 1000 to 1500 feet; 305 – 457 meters). The ferns were more than 10 feet (3 meters) tall and about that across; the trees stretched up to beyond 80 feet (24 meters). The winding roads from Launceston, complete with three-trailer logging trucks careening toward us, encouraged us to look for 
Man and dog; World War I sculptures
places to pull over to admire the view. And of course, there were the signs about falling rocks! Once down closer to the coast there are oodles of sheep with accompanying flocks of cockatoos rather than cattle egrets. Farther on down the coast is St Mary's where people come to surf. The water, straight from the Tasmanian Sea and the Great Southern Ocean had to be cold; maybe that's why surfers try so hard to stay on their boards. The water and the beaches were quite beautiful, even in the rain. Sometimes rainy days lead us to unexpected places, which give insight into the people of an area. Tasmania seems to be a haven for folk artists and the town of Dorset is no exception. In the early 1900s cedar trees were planted in honor of soldiers who did not return from World War One; at the base of each a plaque honors the fallen heroes. Unfortunately, as the trees aged, city fathers became concerned that the trees could fall, injuring someone. Rather than simply cut the trees down, Eddie Freeman of Ross, a chainsaw carver was asked to sculpt each stump. The Legerwood Carved Memorial Trees were fashioned into the likeness of each soldier along with scenes from World War One. This interesting exhibit reminded me of the trees that were carved after hurricane that hit Galveston Texas (see All Aboard!).

Launceston to Davenport

Spring in Tasmania means changeable weather and very strong winds (called blows). We left for the municipality of Kentish to take a look at Tasmania’s only outdoor art gallery; Sheffield is the town of murals. The entire municipality, and Sheffield in particular, was dying
High School Wall Murals
because the new road bypassed it; the only thing travelers went into town for was to go to the WC (restroom). Town leaders met to discuss what could be done to keep money flowing into the area. They had heard about a town in Canada, Chemainus, that had the same problem and was saved by painting murals on many of their buildings. The Canadian artists were contacted to come work their magic in Tasmania. However, this was much too costly for Sheffield.  As a result, Local artists volunteered to paint the murals with the very first being painted at the most popular place in town: the public WC. The murals depict historical events and the lives of public figures. There are 42 of these artworks and new ones are added fairly often. Dave was coming down with a cold, so he slept in the car while I braved the 45 mph winds with a map in hand and nice warm headphones from the Visitor Center on to see the murals on my self-guided tour. Every so often I'd come back to the car and warm up. Dave would wake up, open an eye, and sigh. I'd leave again and he'd go back to sleep. Evidently the Tasmanians don't mind a sleeping man in a car in the parking lot next door to the old folks’ home. I was pretty tickled that no one came out and wheeled him in! There are some really great artists in town and a couple of them wanted to talk to me about what they were doing, so it took longer than I'd anticipated to make this tour. The murals are rather traditional folk art and are exceptionally well done. My favorites were the only ones painted in a more modern style. These adorned the side of the high school and give homage to education. The scenes depict students learning technology, theater, geography (or animal husbandry?) and music.
The Tasmanian Arboretum didn’t look like much from the entry, but once we were in it was wonderful. Georgie and Rod, the outstanding volunteers, had recently moved to Tasmania and had a wealth of information about what to do and see around the island. They made me
Top: Platypus and Pademelon
Bottom: Black Swan and Tasmania Nativehen
wish we’d had much more time to spend here. They also had an excellent knowledge of the plants and animals we would encounter in the park. Although there are a variety of sections in the arboretum, our favorite was the pond with the platypuses. One was happy to play in the mud and float on top of the water so that we could take some pictures. Up the hill in the Tasmania exhibit, we not only learned about botanists who worked here, but also saw a wild Pademelon (small wallaby). Down the hill and around the pond were oodles of Tasmania Nativehens, a supposedly flightless cousin to the rail, with chicks. The hens did a great job of hiding the coal-black babies so that we only caught fleeting glimpses. Several black swans and one large domestic grey goose were other inhabitants of the pond area. None of these critters would let us get particularly close. This was a great place to visit in the bright sunshine; it’s also excellent to visit in the rain since there are several places you can get under a shelter until the squall passes.
Penguin Statue
We looked for penguins and found all sorts of statues and images in Penguin, TAS. Live ones were a bit more elusive. We did have a great drive over to Stanley to go up the Nut. Of course, since it was lunch, our ascent was postponed until we’d found sustenance at Julie and Patrick’s. The view from the restaurant is of the bay, and with the sun shining you could almost forget the gale-force winds that brought waves of rain and sunshine throughout the day. Once fortified, it was time to get up on top of the Nut. The chairlift ride up the core of a volcano was easy, but the wind on top was pretty stiff and the rain was cold. However, the sun broke through making the views excellent and drying out our clothes. As we walked around the top of the Nut, we descended into trees. This brought us close to several different types of birds and the wallabies that spend their days grazing on the wild chives and sleeping under the low shrubs. A couple of them were kind enough to pose for pictures, but most hopped quickly away when they realized we’d seen them. The blue wrens weren’t quite so compliant. It was really funny how many of the people were in the restaurant with us were also on top of the Nut.
Top: Wallaby and Joey, Bird,
Bottom: the Nut
After we rode down on the chairlift (we could have walked, but really, in the wind and rain on a steep incline, NO) we stopped at the little shop at the bottom for a hot cup of tea. Had we stayed the evening in Stanley, the chair lift operator would have taken us to see penguins. Since we went back to Davenport, we're out of luck.









Davenport to Queenstown

This part of Tasmania is most like Scotland ~ rainy, cold highlands with lots of sheep and just beautiful. I convinced Dave (with his snuffly nose) that we needed to hike three hours round trip in drizzle to look at Montezuma Falls, one of the highest waterfall in Tasmania. What was I thinking!? We were up to our ankles in water and mud most of the way. Also the
Top: Fern and Dave; Falls
Bottom: Rainforest and Swinging Bridge
trail hadn't been manicured for the summer yet so there were lots of trees across the trail and several of the walkways are under the mud. We crawled under and over a lot of deadfalls. It’s amazing that neither one of us fell on our butts. The trail to the falls follows the old tramway that picked up ore from the silver mines. The opening to one of these mines is still accessible and you can go a few meters inside. I was surprised that there are still signs warning against drinking the water since it is still contaminated by residue from mining practices. As we walked through this lovely rainforest, the lush vegetation protected us from the drizzle we could see in the valley barely 100 meters away. Once we got to the falls, we were surprised to see a one-person wide swinging bridge that takes you out over the gorge. Of course we had to venture out, braving the rain and wind. It was well worth getting wet to see this stunning waterfall. Not nearly wet enough to be discouraged, we clambered up onto the viewing platform that is almost directly under the falls for one more look before starting back to the parking lot. What I didn't realize was that the trail was downhill to the falls ~ and uphill all the way back! Covered in mud from toes to knees and with shoes that wouldn’t be dry for several days, we were glad that we were not doing any more hiking for a few days.

Queenstown to Hobart

Queenstown to Hobart was one of the longest roads we drove; although the distance wasn’t that far, I don’t know that we encountered very many straight passages. Queenstown was a mining town, copper in particular, with silver, galena, sulfur, tin and a bit of gold in other mines. The rock formations are spectacular and the winding roads are interesting. All of the
Road from Queenstown
forests in this area are in recovery mode since they were devastated about 150 years ago because the mines smelted pyrite releasing sulfur. The sulfur, mixed with water in the atmosphere, produced sulfuric acid, killing most of the plant life in the area. The activity in Queenstown we missed that we will definitely do when we’re back in Tasmania is the West Coast Wilderness Railway. The folks we met at the Tasmanian Arboretum had strongly recommended it; while doing laundry we met a lady who had traveled from Queensland just to make ride the train; and there was an entire bus load of senior travelers who were going on the trip. The scenery is supposed to be spectacular. Once we came down off of the mountains, it was open fields with grazing cattle and sheep but when we got to Hobart, the traffic was a shock after being in tiny towns for five days.

If you’ve never been to a traditional street market, then Salamanca Market in Hobart would be impressive. There are all sorts of folks selling fresh produce, hand crafted items,
Top: Market and Tea Cozies
Bottom: Fresh Veggies and Balloon Clown
collectibles/junk, souvenirs; street performers and vendors with interesting local foods are well represented. Dave wanted to sample the mushrooms on a stick, but we ended up having Pavlova, the national dessert of Australia. Created in 1935 by Herbert Sachse, chef of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, pavlova celebrates Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova’s visit to Australia. Although there are all flavors of the dessert, we had the traditional ~ vanilla meringue with raspberry sauce and slices of strawberry on top of whipped cream. It’s amazing. Although we had a three hour parking slot, it only took us about half that time to tour the area once (including 1950s – 1960s Holden car show) and then go back to buy what we wanted. We were very glad we got to this area early because by the time we left there were cars lined up waiting for parking spots and so many people that you couldn’t see the products in the booths.

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens is a huge area that was established in the 1800s shortly after Darwin’s trip on the Beagle. He visited the gardens when they were eight years old. The two most impressive parts were the fuchsia building and the orchid building. Both
Top: Orchids and Fushia
Bottom: Foxglove and Antarctic Garden
were full of wonderful plants. They also had a good, but small, place to eat. Under the restaurant is the Burrow, a community library that’s open to anyone. There are bean bag chairs, as well as regular chairs, all sorts of books, games and materials for kids and adults, and in general a nice place to wait out the sudden rainstorms. There was also an Antarctic garden building that had plants adapted to very cold, wet weather. We thought it wasn’t much colder than some of the hikes we’d been taking. It was, however, not windy!








Very close to the gardens is the Mount Nelson Signal Station overlook from which you can see the entire city. Although it was windy, it was bright and sunshiny; people brought
View of Hobart
blankets for picnics to catch some sun. At one time this had been the point from which the ships entering the harbor could see semaphore flags. It was important to answer the flags with the correct signs to be able to enter the harbor without coming under fire from strategically placed cannons. The small house in which the semaphore person lived has been turned into a restaurant; a signal house is now a small museum, complete with the flags that could still be hoisted on the nearby flagpole. We hiked along some of the trails until we looked in the direction from which the wind was coming and saw more threatening black clouds. We made it down the mountain in a snap.

The Tahune AirWalk, southwest of Hobart, is a great place to spend time among the very tall trees of a temperate rainforest. The locale we were in is a part of an active logging area, with some of the old growth left for the tourists and other folks to visit. There are three hiking trails and we opted to go on two of them. We trekked among trees that were more than 100 feet (30 meters) tall as we headed toward the main attraction of the park. The
Top: Swinging Bridge, Tall Tree, 30-years of Regrowth
Bottom: On AirWalk
counterbalanced 'air walk' that extends out over the undergrowth at about 80 feet (24 meters), but we still weren't even near the tops of the trees. It was an amazing view of the trees and the rivers when the sun graced us as it did off and on the entire day. On the other hike there were two suspension bridges crossing the Huon and Picton Rivers ~ each was only wide enough for one person at a time to traverse, although each would hold 2000 pounds (907 kg). In the rain and wind I was as glad to know the capacity of the bridges as I was to get to see down the centers of the rivers with the lovely trees overhanging the banks. Returning from our hikes, we found that the Visitor’s Center was doing a booming business in their little restaurant partly because of the cold, wind and rain and partly because the food was really good (chicken and cheese pie for Dave and a chicken sandwich for me). They also had free WiFi and lots of folks were busy sending selfies to their friends. Dave and I laughed that we were at the end of the world and had free internet, but couldn't get it in our room at our latest hotel in Hobart.

Reading in 'The Burrow'
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