Melbourne and Tasmania Pt 1

27 February – We left Smoky Bay today, leaving the boat behind safe and sound in the caravan park. The manager of the park very generously offered to store it for free. The car was packed to the hilt, with a few items on the roof as well. It was a bit of a guessing game trying to decide what to take with us and what to leave behind. Driving the car without 3 ton of boat behind was also novel but it was wonderful to see the fuel gauge stay steady for a while.

Our route took us through Poochera, Iron Knob and on to Port Augusta, where we took time out to shop and visit McCafe for lunch. When we are on the road, McCafe becomes an essential stop. As Seniors, we can access a special of a toasted sandwich and coffee each for the princely sum of $4 each. Chips and burgers are not allowed. Included on our shopping list were a couple more blankets, with some chilly weather forecast in coming days.

Then it was south to Adelaide, where we found we had made a mistake. We would have been better to take a slightly longer route through the Barossa Valley and Gawler to avoid the peak hour traffic on a cross Adelaide trip. The GPS let us down a couple of times with totally unnecessary turns but we eventually got through and wound our way up into the Adelaide Hills to Murray Bridge.

The tent came off the roof and was quickly set up then it was into the very well appointed camp kitchen to cook dinner and watch our first television in nearly a month. We found we hadn’t missed much.

28 February – Another day of driving, not as long as the previous day, having covered around 500km to cross the border into Victoria and on to Ballarat. We seem to have been over the Western Highway a few times over the last few years so it was mostly familiar territory, including a stop in Horsham to buy a few supplies. The roads in Victoria are excellent, providing frequent passing lanes and long stretches of dual carriageway but the surface is terrible. Either the inital construction is lacking something or the maintenance is not being done. We bumped our way over the wavy surface, thankful that we were not towing anything to exacerbate the movement.

The night was spent at Lake Burrumbeet, about 18km west of Ballarat itself. We were thankful of a well appointed camp kitchen with a good television so we could enjoy the “State of Origin AFL” match. It was a game that truly showcased player skills but completely lacked any form of team tactics. Neither team showed any defensive plan. We shared the camp kitchen with a number of other campers, all of whom had come to Ballarat for a huge three day car parts swap meet. The mind boggles. It was rev-head heaven. We did show off a bit by having an amazing and delicious meal of Oysters Kilpatrick, enjoying the remainder of the ones we had bought in Smoky Bay. They were so big that half a dozen each was totally filling.

Oysters Kilpatrick ready to go

29 February – After covering 1300km in two days, we had a mere 185km to drive to get to Mike and Azba’s place in Mornington. A snap! Somehow, getting through Ballarat proved tedious. We have noticed that Victoria’s excellent road network does not run to ring-road bypasses around major centres and so we spent quite some time crawling through the Saturday morning shopping traffic in downtown Ballarat. Geelong was worse, not helped by a GPS that seemed to delight in taking us in a grand circuit of the city. Once finally on the road to Queenscliff to put the car on the ferry, we hit the road works. Plans of arriving in Queenscliff early with sufficient time to wander the old world streets were banished and we started to wonder whether we would actually meet our booked time of 1pm. Once through the road works, we made good time and arrived to find the noon ferry was running late anyway and we actually had made an early boat.

Leaving Queenscliff on the ferry

The ferry ride was very relaxing after the taxing drive and we were soon off the other end in Sorrento. Saturday in Sorrento is not the time and place to be. The crowds were chaotic and parking was at a premium. We pushed on down the coast for a bit to Rye, a pretty little seaside village and bought some fish and chips to eat in the foreshore park, seeking the cover of a shelter shed to escape the warm sun. The fish was delicious. I had forgotten just how tasty a good piece of gummy shark can be, it has become quite scarce and rather expensive in WA. Lunch over, we headed back to the car and had almost got there when Christine asked, “Where’s my phone? Where’s my bag?” Panic started to set in and I took off, running back to the shelter, my mind full of the horrors of cancelling our entire financial life. Thankfully, the bag was still sitting on the bench, patiently waiting to be rescued. Disaster averted.

We navigated our way to Azba and Mike’s place. They have moved since we were with them last, selling up and buying a block to build on. A rental would be home until plans and finances came together. Little Evie has grown so much, with speech developing rapidly (she can say Terry but not Christine) and trips and falls becoming less frequent. She is really gorgeous. Christine won her over easily while she mostly eyed me with great suspicion. Of course, Christine had a big advantage in that she had patiently knitted a Jemima (Play School) doll while we were driving across and she was able to bribe her way into Evie’s affections. Evie pretended to be rather off-hand about Jemima but she never let it get too far away. On the other hand, Pickle the dachshund perceived Christine as a threat and barked every time Christine moved whereas I had his measure. We had a wonderful time catching up with all the family news and sharing a glass or two of red wine.

Evie and Jemima get acquainted

1 March – Today was a much needed rest day, relaxing after the days of travel. The annoying tickling cough that I had harboured for over a week had suddenly developed into a full blown nasty cough. There was no pain, no fever and no nausea. However, with the news full of the escalating coronavirus pandemic, walking around coughing your heart out is not recommended.

Christine went off early with Az and Mike to watch Evie’s swimming lesson while I had a sleep in. Later, we did a bit of shopping, took a drive to see the new block of land, took Evie to a park to play, a very relaxing way to spend a Sunday.

2 March –   With Mike off early to work, Evie safely taken to a day play thing, we packed the car and said our farewells to Azba. Then it was unto the motorway for the drive north to Melbourne. Our destination was to be a spectacle shop in Smith St, Fitzroy, so Christine could buy some of these unique glasses. They offer swappable everything and the frames are completely made from plastic (recycled at that), something Christine requires because of a strange metal allergy. We made our way to the spot without problem and found a parking spot marked 2P. Good enough. I did see a strange little sign saying that there were sensors in operation and your time started immediately but we were surprised that there were no tickets required. Further up the road, we noticed the 2P was accompanied by a “METERED”. We were just lucky.  

With the glasses ordered and some cough medicine purchased at a pharmacy, we were done and headed back to the car. Oh no! The sign now said “METERED”. I was sure it hadn’t said that before. There was no tell tale parking ticket, but then it dawned. There didn’t have to be. The technology is so good that the camera gets you and when you fail to input your number plate, the notice is automatically generated. We should have a “Welcome to Fitzroy” letter waiting for us when we get home.

It was a slow but easy drive across the city to Port Melbourne so we could check out the ferry boarding arrangements. We parked up, paid our parking fee, and walked over to the loading area. The Spirit of Tasmania 2 was docked and loading freight and large trucks. Another two cruise ships were also docked and there were lots of passengers milling around with suit cases. With the corona virus scare on and focussing on cruise ships, the idea of a sail didn’t appeal. At least the ferry trip is only 12 hours.

Having found out what we needed to do, we wandered down to Bay St, Port Melbourne’s cafe strip, and had a pie and coffee in a cute little cafe. Loading would not commence until 4:30 so we had quite a few hours to kill. On advice from one of the boarding attendants, we drove a couple of kilometres down to Sandridge Beach, where the parking is free, and walked, dozed and read until the time came for boarding.

We joined the queue and proceeded through the vehicle inspection point and were marshalled into Lane 3 of a 5 lane system. We were first in line, so assumed we wouldn’t have to wait long. The next stage commenced, and Lanes 1 and 2 emptied, the cars behind us were then directed to go around us and Lane 3 emptied of all but us. Lanes 4 and 5 also emptied. The attendant wandered around directing traffic but never offered any suggestion as to why he hated us so much. Eventually, he had no choice but to direct us onto the ship.

Once inside, we passed long lines of freight semi-trailers parked up and were eventually directed to a parking spot. Off we went to find out cabin, a very comfortable job with 4 bunks, toilet and shower. By the time the ship left port, nightfall was not far off so we only got to see a bit of Melbourne’s receding skyline and the upper reaches of Port Phillip Bay. With the ship through the Rip and into Bass Strait, the some motion commenced, a lovely gentle rise and fall and more sleep inducing than sickness promoting. Talking to others, the crossing can be horrible at times.

We found a bite to eat and had a few drinks. There is no shortage of choice, with everything from hot pies through buffet to fine dining. It is all a question of budget and inclination. We had delicious hot Turkish Rolls and chicken.

3 March – The ship’s alarm rang at 6am to get everyone out of bed. A check out the window showed we were already in Devonport and the sun was attempting to rise. We decided to skip breakfast on board and stop somewhere on the road so when our parking deck was called, we headed straight for the car. That proved to be a waste of time because the owners of the vehicle behind us either slept in or enjoyed a long lazy breakfast. Once more, we sat in frustration while all around us was cleared of cars while we sat waiting. The parking attendants had to work hard to get cars to manoeuvre around the abandoned vehicle and not everyone got to go. When the couple finally turned up there was a quick wave of apology to the attendant but he wasn’t really the party most inconvenienced.

Once off the ferry, we found Highway 1 and headed off towards Launceston. The countryside was mostly rolling green hills with patches of forest and altogether very European in appearance. The road system was excellent with good signage. We soon took the Launceston bypass and on to Perth, which we thought a good place to stop for breakfast. A roadhouse provided an excellent double egg and bacon toasted sandwich and pot of tea which sustained us as we travelled south following the A1 to Hobart.

The good thing about Tasmania is that distances are small, compared to other parts of Australia. The entire trip from Devonport down to Hobart (nearly the length of the island) is a mere 232km. It wasn’t long before we were negotiating our way across Hobart to the suburb of Mount Nelson, slightly south of the city itself, to pick up our caravan.

The caravan was hired privately using a web site called Camplify, which allows people to put up their private vans for hire. We had hired a 16’ older style van that had the basics yet was small enough to tow easily. We met our hosts and went through the key points with them before hooking up and driving a mere 20km or so further south to the little town of Snug, overlooking the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Snug has a timber history and a tragic past dating from 1967 when most of the town was destroyed by fire and 22 people killed. We booked in to the caravan park for a three nights, set to use it as a hub to explore the southern areas over a few days.

4th March – The day started badly. We awoke to find the floor of the van awash, including the carpeted rear section and the inside of many of the cupboards. A quick inspection revealed that the connection to the sink tap was dodgy and that water was leaking under pressure. Not too much damage done apart from the wet carpet smell and the need to mop out. We contacted the owners to let them know. I figured I could probably fix it with some plumber’s tape and a spanner but if not, we would just make do with the water tank and hand pump.

We opened all the windows up to air out before heading off on a drive north again to Margate, another small forestry town. An interesting enterprise is a “train market”, where a restored 1950s steam loco and train of carriages serves as a set of shops and food outlets. It creates a terrific atmosphere. The only trouble is that almost everything was closed, except for a pancake restaurant. From the online reviews, this is normal. What a shame. It could be a big attraction.  

The next stop was the delightful town of Huonville at the head of the Huon Valley. A drive through the valley is reminiscent of a drive from Donnybrook to Manjimup, with loads of apples, cherries and apricots, along with vineyards and stands of towering timber. The biggest difference lies with the surrounding mountains, low by European standards but big enough to justify the title.

After Huonville, we drove south a little to Franklin, a lovely little village on the banks of the Huon River estuary. Franklin is home to Australia’s only wooden boat building works and we took some time to go through the museum display and watch the apprentices and master craftsmen at work. In times past, they built some serious ocean going ships here but nowadays it is mostly wooden dinghies. Tasmania still leads the World in the supply of premium boat building timber.

The Wooden Boat School

Next stop was the apple capital of Huonville then around in a long loop to take in the seaside towns of Cygnet and  Kettering. The scenery is absolutely glorious, with views from the high country across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel being quite breathtaking. 

Back in the caravan park, I had a go at fixing the plumbing to the tap. The owners had dropped in to pick up some stuff we didn’t need and to drop off some plumber’s tape. It proved to be of little use. The problem was a stripped thread on the attachment. Parts and some plumbing surgery would be needed and we decided to make do with the tank water. Knowing that the tank had been little used, I decided to drain it and refill. Climbing underneath to drain the tank, I glanced across at the nearest tyre. What looked acceptable on the outside was completely bald on the inside and there were even wires showing through. It was about to blow. The other side proved to be the same. The spare was unused, but an inspection showed it was 18 years old and had a large crack in the sidewall. More bad news for the owners. We rang and made it clear that the van was not safe to be towed.

They were full of apologies and organised to come and collect it the next day for three new tyres.  This was fine by us. The weather forecast showed extraordinary rainfall forecast for the entire east coast of Australia, including eastern Tasmania. We would hunker down in the well appointed camp kitchen and forgo our planned excursions further south. With 50 to 70mm forecast, we didn’t want to be out on mountain roads.

5th March – The forecast rain started around 4am, light at first but it held steady and when the sun rose, it looked unrelenting. We had breakfast then relocated to the camp kitchen, along with a few other campers. The owners arrived, encased in full wet weather gear, and had the unenviable job of hooking up the caravan and towing into Kingston for new tyres.

We occupied ourselves with reading, watching the news (all coronavirus and panic toilet paper buying) and chatting to other guests. Meanwhile. The caravan park filled up with water. The rain was steady and the ground boggy so the place became a swamp. We saw a few tent camps that were really struggling.

The van was returned, the owners looking rather water-logged, with a new set of tyres. We pondered setting out on an afternoon of exploration but decided to give travel a miss until the weather cleared. By the mid afternoon, the rain was down to light drizzle and we took a short walk along the coast. We spent some time reading through the history of the 1967 bush fires at a very moving memorial site.

6th March – We packed up the van in light drizzle and negotiated our way across Hobart, up and over the huge Tasman Bridge and along the Tasman Highway. Hobart and many fine sights to the south are left behind but since we have to return the van to Hobart, we reserved four days at the end of the island circuit to explore the city.

Our destination was the historic town of Richmond, set in the Coal River Valley. The town was established in the 1820s and many fine stone Georgian style buildings line the main street. The Richmond Bridge is a beautiful stone bridge built in 1823.

We stayed in a caravan park on the outskirts of town and got the bikes into action. We didn’t bother with the bikes back in Snug because of the very hilly terrain and the constant rain. The bikes proved to be a good way to get around Richmond and admire all the wonderful old buildings. There is a large model of old Hobart Town, creating a complete, if not dismal, picture of life in the early capital. The free settlers had it little better than the convicts. The vast majority of shops seem to be involved with antiques, curios or local wood carving. It is a bit of a worry when wandering through an antique curio shop I recognised many objects from my childhood days. Ok, I know.

The Model of Old Hobart Town

By early afternoon it was actually quite sunny and the tables outside the Richmond Arms looked inviting. We obliged with a beer and some chicken wings. It was a beautiful afternoon and almost approached warm.

7th March – The day began with drizzle and dull grey skies. The temperature promised to peak at around 15 degrees but the wind chill factor kept the “feels like” temp below 10. Heaven knows what Tasmania is like in Winter.

We drove the 90 odd kilometres to Port Arthur, through the town of Sorell. Once past Sorell, we were glad that we hadn’t bought the van down this way, with steep and winding roads the norm. A stop at Eaglehawk Neck was on the agenda and it impressed. The neck is a 200m wide strip of sand bar that joins the Tasman Peninsula to the rest of the island. It formed a perfect barrier to escape from the Port Arthur penal colony but to make sure, a horrible “dog line” of 18 savage dogs was set across the narrowest part of the neck. The dogs were chained up but their barking on disturbance was sure to alert the guards. A wooden officers’ cottage on the site is the oldest remaining timber building and has been left as a fascinating museum.

I brave the “Dog Line” at Eaglehawk Neck

The nearby attractions of Tasman’s Arch and the Devil’s Kitchen are spectacular landforms well worth a visit. Both are collapsed caves, exposing enormous holes in the great cliffs of the area. With surging seas and heart stopping sheer drops, both are fantastic views.

Port Arthur itself is a sombre place in many respects, not least because of the awful shootings that occurred in 1996. The history of the place is so grim that upon the decision to close it as a penal settlement in 1877, Queen Victoria desired that the place be levelled and that all signs of its existence removed. The result was to rename it Carnarvon for 40 odd years.

A trip to Port Arthur starts with a 20 minute guided tour, designed to give an overview of the history and some insight into which parts of the ruins one can visit later. The guide was a hoot, easily one of the funniest spiels that we’ve ever heard. He actually made some really grim subject matter funny. Admittedly, some of his historical interpretations did not stand the scrutiny of some later Google research but then neither does that of our political leaders. The main problem with the talk is that it was conducted outside so we had to endure the bitingly cold wind. The weather report suggested that the temperature was 11 but felt like 8.5.

After the intro walk and talk, we headed back to the car to make lunch then explored some of the inside galleries of convict memorabilia. Anything to avoid going outside again. Then it was onto a boat to tour the harbour and get a look at the penal settlement from the sea and take a peek at “The Isle of the Dead”. There are quite a few of these scattered around Tassie, wherever there was a convict settlement, which is most places. The bad people were given unmarked graves while the good people got a headstone.

Once off the boat, we braced ourselves and walked up to a couple of old buildings, the church and the Government cottage. Buildings in Port Arthur don’t tend to have roofing, because of the devastating bushfires that raged through shortly after the penal closure. The stonework remains largely intact, despite the fact that in the 1880s the Government allowed pillaging of the stone for a very small sum. The church and the Government Cottage are beautiful examples of convict stonework. The imposing penitentiary is the dominant building but all around there are amazing remains of an enterprise that was fundamentally flawed and brutally executed.

With the weather more conducive to walking and exploring, we may have spent more time at Port Arthur but the feel of the place had definitely penetrated our cores and the wind had too so we made our farewells and departed. On the way home, we stopped briefly in Sorell to by something for tea and some more cough medicine (yes the cough is still an embarrassment).

8th March – From Richmond, we drove east then north to the little town of Triabunna. Once the site of a huge woodchip industry, today it has little going for it other than the ferry point to nearby Maria Island. A short drive from Richmond had us back on the Tasman Highway, although by now, the term “Highway” was fast becoming a bit of a joke. The regular overtaking lanes and sections of dual carriageway are behind us and we face mountain climbs on roads barely able to allow two large cars to pass.

We passed through the little won of Orford, which seemed to be packjed to the hilt. The waters off shore appeared to be filled with small sailing dinghies so we assumed that the town was hosting a regatta of sorts.

The caravan park at Triabunna is somewhat of a dump, certainly the lowest standard we have found to date. It was a shame that we booked and paid for two nights because later we found that it is free to park in the field across the road from the pub. Lots of people chose this option. It being a Sunday, little was open in the small town. We counted a pub, an IGA and a fish and chip van. We rode our bikes around to take in the few sights and buy some tickets for the ferry to Maria Island the next day.  We also bought tickets for the bikes.

The pub at Triabunna.

9th March – After breakfast, Christine busied herself with putting together some essentials for our day on Maria Island. There are no food or drink outlets at all on the island so everything must be taken over. I suspect this would seriously challenge the coffee culture set.

We caught the 10:30 ferry, a fast vessel that takes a mere 30 minutes to cross over to the island, passing the abandoned woodchip loader and a salmon aquaculture farm along the way. The ferry berthed at a jetty near ruins of an old cement works near the small convict settlement of Darlington. Maria Island has a short convict history but the buildings from those days are largely the ones that remain today. Other uses for the island include sealing, whaling, concrete making and mixed farming. Today it is a nature reserve and tourist destination, with most choosing to day trip but others staying in the very basic accommodation available in the old penal settlement.

Access to wildlife encounters attracts many. There are wombats galore. They are everywhere and very approachable. A 2m approach limit is strongly enforced. There are also small wallabies, pademelons, a lot of Cape Barren geese and a colony of Tasmanian Devils. The devils were introduced as a disease free colony in 2012 after so many of the population across Tasmania showed signs of the facial cancer causing virus. Both the wombats and the geese do a great job of keeping the large areas of open grass neat and tidy, almost like a bowling green in places.

We used the bikes to follow a couple of different trails, one to the Fossil Cliffs, where 250 million year old shell fossils are in abundance. The views along the way are simply amazing. The hills on the trail are not so wonderful. Even our e-bikes couldn’t cope and there was a bit of pushing uphill to be done. It was all worth it. Back at the settlement, we found a spot out of the bitingly cold wind and had lunch. We sat on some benches outside a place called “The Coffee Palace”, which we, along with many others, thought might offer a coffee. Not to be. It was named that from as long ago as 1890 when it was a boarding house.

The settlement at Darlington

After lunch, we hit the bikes again to ride to the “Painted Cliffs”, a stretch of coastline with colourful sandstone cliffs. Unfortunately, Christine’s bike decided to play up and lose power intermittently, usually on a hill. This has happened before and remains a bit of a mystery. We’ve tried swapping batteries around to isolate the problem but we still aren’t sure what the issue is. I offered to take the sick bike but Christine declined (honest, I really tried). I tended to turn my power off and cycle the hard way out of sympathy.

The Painted Cliffs

After the Painted Cliffs, we found a spot to shelter up out of the even colder wind until it was time for our 3:30pm ferry. Unfortunately, the ferry ran over half an hour late. By the time we got home, we were exhausted and frozen but very satisfied with our day on Maria Island. It is one of the “must do” things in Tassie.

A reminder of the whaling days

But more awaits.

  1. Laura Cooke

    Such great memories. Love watching your travels. Reminiscing about ours.

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