So the day finally arrived. On Friday 22nd I left Melbourne, the one place where I will have spent the most time in my year in Aus, and I think it was a pretty good choice. World’s most liveable city they say? I’d be inclined to agree.
I boarded the Spirit of Tasmania from Port Melbourne in the evening after a bit of confusion with my luggage. At the check-in desk I was advised to check it in because there wasn’t much storage space in the recliner lounge. I agreed, as there wasn’t anything I needed in it for the trip and it was more effort to carry it on board with me. I put a tag on it and was advised that someone would take it from me when I got to security.
Then I got to security. I went to the desk where a lady was checking bags and she proceeded to ask me repeatedly whether I had any fruit or vegetables on me. I’d already read that you’re not permitted to take them through so I didn’t and I assured her of that fact. She looked confused and then said “so what’s in your bag?” as if she couldn’t conceive the fact that my huge 20kg backpack wasn’t full of potatoes I was trying to smuggle into Tasmania. I told her what was in the bag and after a few more times asking “are you sure you don’t have any vegetables?” she finally believed me and let me through… to the boarding area. It then occurred to me that I’d missed the opportunity to check in my bag having been so distracted by the vegetable police. I also seemed to be the only person they hadn’t made walk through the metal detector but I wasn’t about to complain about that. Once I explained to another crew member that I’d made a mistake and forgot to check in my bag she assured me that there was “loads of space” in the recliner lounge so I should just take my bag on board.
The crossing was uneventful and consisted of minimal sleep as expected but gladly also minimal seasickness, which I’d been less certain about especially considering the bad weather when I left Melbourne.
Arriving in Devonport in the morning it was beautifully sunny but, as I’d been forewarned, cold! After a few hours on the bus I arrived in Launceston and being unable to check in until the afternoon (as always) dropped my bag and headed to City Park where I was well-informed that there would be Japanese Macaques. There were indeed Japanese Macaques but they weren’t exactly as advertised. Perhaps naively, I walked around for a bit looking in the trees for the wild monkeys then felt pretty stupid when I saw everyone crowded around an enclosure. It was pretty strange. I mean the monkeys seem happy enough but why they’re on display is a bit of a mystery. The sign didn’t give much of a hint other than explaining that there has always been an animal attraction at City Park and when the animals have all died (morbid) they replace them with a new type.
After a further wander of Launceston I concluded that it’s pretty compact – the free bus they have going around whilst convenient seems kind of unnecessary – and it’s very quiet. There seemed to be barely anyone around despite it being midday on a Saturday and, as I later discovered, the last weekend of the school holidays here.
Not feeling up to much after my measly 3 hours of sleep I had a several hour nap upon checking into my room. Launceston Backpackers is like a big old converted house, which is quite charming but extremely cold at night. Absurdly I had to specify what bedding I would like upon check-in. With it being the first time I’d had to do this I went with the usual blanket and sheet option you get at all other hostels. Apparently this was the wrong choice. The man behind the desk looked at me pitifully and then said “I’ll give you two blankets”. Maybe he thought I really couldn’t afford the 50c for the extra blanket whereas the truth was I’d honestly thought 1 blanket to be sufficient. It would not have been sufficient. I was extremely grateful to the man at the front desk when I found myself climbing into bed at 7pm just to keep warm. (It’s since gone to the other extreme because our heater has kicked in after two nights of not working and now we don’t need ANY blankets).
My second day in Launceston was taken up with a visit to Cataract Gorge. You’d never believe in this place that you’re just a 10 minute walk from the centre of the city – it’s like being in the middle of a national park. There are lots of beautiful scenic walks around the gorge and a flat grassy area for picnicking which has a public swimming pool right by the edge of the water. It ended up being so warm when I was there that there were quite a few people swimming. That was definitely unexpected for Tasmania in autumn! There are also two ways to cross the gorge; there’s the world’s longest single span chairlift and there’s a suspension bridge (which does wobble!) and both gave great views.
Despite it being a lovely day and again a weekend there were also not the huge amounts of people you’d expect at such a lovely place so close to the city. Maybe the people of Launceston have become used to the natural beauty surrounding them or maybe barely anybody lives there, which I suspect is true.
Day three in Tassie was my trip to Cradle Mountain. This is one of the places I knew I had to go to but unless you have a car there’s no way to reach it on public transport in one day from the main cities so I booked a day tour. Unlike other tours I’ve been on though this one mainly took you to the one place and then left you to your own devices when you got there. We did stop briefly at Sheffield, the town of murals. No offence to Sheffield in the UK but I’m not sure it can compare to this tiny town which has the most incredible mountainous backdrop. Again it was deserted – seriously where are all the people in Tassie?
The mural thing is really just to encourage some tourism to this tiny place but I did enjoy this one featuring Tim Minchin which was one of the entries into the annual mural festival competition this year. It did not win.
Onwards to Cradle! Our tour guide informed us upon arrival at the National Park that there were two walks we could do. One around Dove Lake – which is the lake Cradle Mountain overlooks – and one up to Marion’s Lookout, which was “a bit harder”. Rod, our guide, said he was going to do the lake with a couple of the group who weren’t wearing shoes that could withstand the walk to the lookout. The remainder of us obviously wanted to do the lookout walk and he tried to show us where the top was by pointing “look, see where those people are up there”. “Yes” we all agreed and then set off along the track where we then confessed none of us had had any idea where he was pointing and we just hoped it wasn’t the highest point.
It took us about an hour and a half to get to the highest point. No wonder we couldn’t have seen it, the car park looked like a tiny dot from the top. The hike (yes it was a hike) was pretty tough at points. Although we’d been warned about the lots of steps it was the last couple of hundred metres that involved physically pulling yourself up the rocks with the help of a chain attached to the mountainside that really stretched us. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sore the next day and upon returning to the hostel promptly passed out from exhaustion at 9pm after vowing to just lie down and rest my eyes for a minute.
I’m getting too old for this! The view was absolutely amazing and well worth every moment of the effort put in. I might say it was one of the most rewarding climbs I’ve ever done but I don’t think I’ve ever done another climb as yet. Some of the girls in my hostel room warned me about Mt Amos at Wineglass Bay and I think I’ll be passing on that one when I get there (they described it as “walking like spiderman” and said they saw one girl crying over it!)
With good old Cradle having thoroughly done me in I spent the last day in Launceston taking it pretty easy. I headed to the Queen Victoria Museum and realised I should’ve got there much earlier as there was loads to see and I had to rush around a lot of it. The highlight was the Planetarium, which is the only part of the museum you have to pay to enter, but was easily the best part. I was also lucky enough to get a private viewing as there was (you guessed it!) absolutely nobody else there! The museum guide did assure me though that it was a stark contrast to last week when the schools were on holiday – with the evidence I’ve gathered so far of there being absolutely nobody in Launceston I’m not sure whether he was just telling me this out of embarrassment.
So I got a personal viewing of the film about the history of space exploration, which was the usual race to the moon story but pretty cool to watch in the round. The best bit though, was that after the film the museum’s astrologist turns the screen into an accurate mapping of all of the currently visible stars in the sky as they will be that evening and explains where they all are and how and why we see some of them at different times in different places. You also get to see what the stars look like from the South Pole.
I’ve also learnt a survival skill just in time for the next part of my trip. I now know how to find which direction is south using the stars as a map, which means I can walk my way to Hobart.
On second thoughts I might just get the bus.