A Month in the Land Down Under – Part 2
Stumbling into Devonport at 6am after a night at sea, Web and I squeaked out yawns and wiped crusts from our eyes before making the executive decision to head straight for Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm and Café. We’d heard with great appeal that everything on the menu constituted at least some raspberry, and we spoke this language all too well. With bellies full of fresh jam and arms full of raspberry brandy we boarded our caravan for an unknowingly lengthy trip towards the east coast of Tasmania.
The island is deceptively large, though it’s tempting to scoff at local’s warnings of long drive times, let me assure you it is indeed the truth. Despite our seasoned road trip spirits we still struggled to keep down our behind-the-wheel agitation as the supposed 2.5 hour drive took upwards of 5. The winding roads, lack of freeways, and plethora of road kill did not make for a swift journey. I have no gumption when it comes to animals, and my heart tenses with sadness each time I see a furry automobile victim. I’m willing to say we encountered upwards of forty lifeless wallabies before I even saw one alive. Needless to say, not good for my car angst.
We’d begun to question our sanity when we finally caught glimpse of the ocean in all its immaculate glory. We settled on staying in St. Helen’s for the night to explore The Bay of Fires – a remote inlet of aquamarine water and gargantuan boulders covered in bright orange lychee backed by clumps of vegetation we’d never seen before. The first thing we noticed about the island is its abundance of unbelievably beautiful white sand beaches. Strangely enough, each one was void of almost any human activity. Had these beaches been in the US, they would be exploited until their very last drop, but here it seemed to be of no interest to the local residents. The desolation was lovely and creepy all at the same time.
To assist in my ever-continuing quest for all things seafood, Web spotted a well-worn, barnacley sailor with a scraggly salt-and-pepper beard and made a fair assumption that he likely knew his way around the ocean’s secrets. Instant delight appeared in his ice blue eyes as we may have been his first human contact in some time. He pondered the question perhaps more than necessary, working out answers in his head before he gave us his conclusion.
“Well you can dig them up yourself over there in that bay, won’t get any fresher than that.” He encouraged in his barely there German accent
“Great” we thanked him, knowing we were ill-equipped in both time and fixings for such an endeavor, though the notion of self captured oysters sounded delightful.
“Come join for a cup of tea on my boat” he nodded towards his weathered sailboat rocking in the harbor.
With an implicit agreement we quickly nodded. Web and I love this sort of thing, a mutual appreciation for those members of society who live on the fringe of the mainstream. We trotted down the dock to his sailboat.
“We will have you come down first,” he motioned to Web as he gave instruction on how to board his vessel. “See because if you fall in and drown then I get to keep your lady.” Clever.
Our seafaring friend, Stefan, must’ve been starved for some companionship because the next couple hours consisted mostly of us mmhmm-ing and oh okay-ing amidst his scattered storytelling. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it, he was undoubtedly something of an enlightened man, and he certainly appreciated the beautifully simple existence he’d cultivated for himself. We talked about everything from sex to chakras to the world wars. When we finally bid adieu he lamented how much more there still was to talk about, with a look of genuine disappointment that we simply could not truly ever cover it all.
“Til we meet again.” He nodded with a smile. Chances are slim we actually ever do, but charming none the less.
In the midst of shoveling down oysters near Wineglass Bay the following day, we realized an hour before our due arrival that we were supposed to be in Hobart with our camper relocation. We wrongfully assumed we had an additional night, so we quickly scurried down the coast towards the city so as to avoid any fees. Upon arrival I immediately liked Hobart. A small city sprinkled over hilly peninsulas jutting out into the sea, it has a distinct charm in its sleepy cobblestone streets and colorful Victorians. Though we planned to only stay a day or two, we opted to use Hobart’s central location as our home base for several day trips.
Web’s connections once again benefitted us in our car rental, and we received a friends and family discount that was hugely helpful for our budget funds. Our first destination was Mt. Field’s National Park where we hoped to see both Russell Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Now don’t get me wrong both waterfalls were gorgeous, worthy tourist destinations, but it always bothers me a bit when portions of nature are sectioned off for you conveniently in tourist friendly packaging. Visitors head in herds over the boardwalk towards the photography point, snap a few to several hundred pictures, and shuffle back, sans any real interaction with the environment. I realize this is often inevitable for beautiful places, they simply won’t remain a secret, and the less secret they get the more unlike their original state they become. I never fail to get a bit squirrely in these situations and want out as soon as possible, claustrophobic amongst the selfie sticks and general inauthenticity. I try not to let this stop me from seeing places, but the enjoyment lacks for me at times.
My traveling spirits were raised by our next destination – Bruny Island. Bruny is an island just off the coast of the Hobart reachable by a short ferry that departs south of city. Granted the island’s popularity is rising rapidly in recent years due to the internet, it still retains its uniqueness and genuine beauty. A beautiful place can’t be faulted for popularity, but making an effort to wander off-the-beaten path is often more rewarding. Bruny is an island made from the cloth of my deepest desires, in both landscape and food. Departing from the ferry you are funneled down the only road you can take, which leads to their tiny but ample culinary trail. Our first stop was, characteristically, Bruny Island Cheese for a tasting. Can anything more be said about glorious stinky cheese that hasn’t already been said? After purchasing a wheel or two for later consumption, we bopped right next store to Get Shucked Oysters. Oysters and cheese, two of my utmost favorite treats. The oysters tasted of creamy salt water, with that distinct melt in your mouth flesh, made perfect with a splash of hot sauce or vinegar. They go down quite nicely.
Our next shop was the small vineyard to collect our final fixings for an impromptu picnic in the island’s National Park, complete with our cheese wheels, a loaf of bread and some local Sauvingon Blanc out of plastic wine glasses, we lushed out overlooking the coastal mountainside. You can leave me here to die!
We rambled on down towards the lighthouse and climbed to its peak to take in the epic view. The moment we made it to the lighthouse the mighty sky opened right up. Web and I sought refuge inside the lighthouse where we struck up a conversation with the caretaker. I never caught his name but his genuine Australian ruggedness was apparent. He’d lived remotely on Bruny for several years, and worked in solitary daily – a true recluse of a man. He nodded and agreed with a distinct “yeeee” to every sentence. As storms tend to do, things blew over quickly and gave way to a sliver of sunshine. We unhooded ourselves and stepped out to view the jagged cliffs eclipsed by mountains and pristine white sand beaches.
We parked our car in line for the ferry back to the mainland and shuffled towards the tiny café for some coffee. As most things on the island, the place closed early but a group of friendly locals set up snacks and instant coffees which they happily offered up in condolence. Web and I picked their brains for a day hike to tackle the while in Tasmania and the hardy folks pointed us to Hartz Peak, since we nodded when they asked if we “liked to climb.”
Hobart is home to a renown museum called MONA, or the Museum of Old and New, and its peculiar contents have largely put Hobart on the international map. Web and I hoped to escape the weekend tourist crowds and paid MONA a weekday visit. We ate our muesli soaked in apple juice – a breakfast which was rapidly becoming routine – eagerly as we awaited the museum’s opening. Inside you shuffle down the nautilus stairwell as you are instructed to begin at the bottom floor and work your way up. The next few hours were a wonky and wonderful ride of the inner workings of generations of creative brains. Too much to explain, and not enough words to capture, but well-worth exploring. So it goes.
The next day we were off to the high country again as we made our way towards Hartz Mountain National Park, listening intently to Anthony Bourdain’s reading aloud his famed book, Kitchen Confidential. Willie Smith’s Apple Cidery made for a pleasing pre-hike pit stop and we promised between samplings that we’d be back later for a well-earned pint, but first we had a peak to summit. In staring out at the mountainous horizon we could almost be tricked into thinking we were still in Colorado, but the exotic vegetation reminded us we were indeed in some far away part of the globe. As things would have it, the nearer we pushed towards the top the cloudier it became, until the view disappeared entirely. Still we finished our endeavor, if for no other reason than to say we did. Back for the pints we went.
Saturdays in Hobart revolve mostly around the enormous Salamanca Market in the harbor. We happily obliged with the hurried crowds and wandered the countless stalls of local merchants selling prized Tasmanian goods. High off the intoxicating scents from the market and damp from not escaping the rain in time, we lazed the remainder of the day away with wine and books in bed. A holiday from the holiday.
For our final full day on the island we headed out to Tasmanian National Park. As expected, I was a bit sluggish and underprepared for any sort of hike, but I was assured it would be an easy one. Wine seeped from my pours as we climbed several sets of stairs, dually noting the warning on the sign that there would be “short steep portions,” but nothing I couldn’t handle. This was one of those times where ignorance was indeed bliss. We cruised along the trail, confused by the estimated time given of 4 hours for only 4.4km – we chalked it up to the fact most tourists were likely not as used to mountains as we were. Finally we glimpsed the coastal cliffs known as The Lanterns and our pace quickened with excitement. We were filled with awe and dread as the land dropped away to a valley and we saw the several hundred stairs – literally – that stood between us and our elusive destination. Of course we pushed on and stood triumphantly at the cliffs, our eyes following them down as they plunged hundreds of meters into the ocean. We slunk along on our hands and knees as to avoid any unsuspecting breeze knocking us off balance. Needless to say the grueling Stairmaster 3000 was worth it, and our aching bones only served as a reminder of one of the best hikes we’d been on thus far.
Our last night was spent in the “Wild West of Tasmania,” about an hour outside of Hobart. There, we couchsurfed with a wonderfully eccentric sheep farming host. He welcomed us warmly, showed us around the small, dusty town, and took us to his parent’s house for tea and great conversation. He told us with a laugh that the town locals loved when he hosted international couchsurfers, as it was likely their only chance to experience the vast world that lies outside their little microcosm. Expanding knowledge one open mind at a time! We slept soundly beneath a heated blanket listening to the newly separated calves cry for their mommas. We’ve all cried for our mums at one point or another, so I could relate.
Early the next morning we boarded our flight back to Sydney before heading north – another chapter closed.