Search This Blog

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 21 - 25th , 2011 – Pittwater and Newcastle friends and fun!

Palm Beach – it’s not just in Florida – in Pittwater is just one of dozens of amazing anchorages in this part of Pittwater. We grabbed a mooring ball and awaited the arrival of our friends from Sydney the next morning. When they all arrived we found a happy surprise…Tuppenny was among them. After introductions to the gang they announced that we would be actually spending the night at America Bay! So off we sailed around the head back to the Hawksbury River side of Broken Bay. That night was to be a potluck dinner aboard two of the yachts that were rafted to a buoy. Since we’d had no idea there was an actual agenda and this was news to us, I contributed the dinner I had already prepared for Frank and I: skewered lamb souvlaki with homemade tzakiki and green beans sautéed with garlic and almond slivers. We used the lamb as appetizers for the group.  We feasted on a multitude of goodies and finished up with someone’s birthday cake (another surprise for us – but great fun!), then sat around chatting, until late into the night. What a great bunch this Middle Harbour Yacht Club is.

The next day, we all moved over to Cottage Point for breakfast and then the group dispersed so that everyone could do their own thing. Heather and Mark came aboard for the night with us and we returned to America Bay for the night. Early Sunday morning they all left for Sydney. Russell phoned to say that Jan and Tom were back in town and that they were coming over on Tomkat for a visit and to Spend Sunday night. Frank and I were exhausted and had planned a very early departure for Newcastle but looked forward to seeing Jan and Tom, so we found our second wind.  They arrived with a couple of friends on board and an absolute heap of food and drinks, rafted up to us and once again we feasted and visited into the wee hours.

As promised, we awoke at 5 AM on Monday, Anzac Day, gently cast off from Tomkat and whispered goodbye to Kate and Russell who had awaken to see us off.  We enjoyed a fabulous day of sailing up to Newcastle, arriving with the incoming tide as planned. Newcastle is another of Australia’s hidden secrets. Whoever plans a trip to Australia that includes Newcastle? Unless you travel by yacht you probably would not give it a lot of thought. Originally for us it was just another stop along the way to break up the trip along the coast.

The second largest city in New South Wales (NSW), Newcastle is one of the largest shipping ports in Australia and is currently the largest coal-exporting harbor in the world. Its Aboriginal name is Muloobimba. It has a richly colonial and violent history, including convicts used as laborers, suffering and hard times, but as with many of these fascinating cities this history lends to the charm and attraction of its modern self. 

Our first order of business (always) was to hit the grocery store. As we were checking out I wished the young cashier, “Happy Anzac Day!” and expressed my condolences that he had to work on this big holiday. He replied, “Oh, no worries, I’m not complaining because I’m making $53/hour today!” Uh, no wonder our grocery cost so darn much in this country! I’m thinking of getting a job at Coles, myself!  Back at the marina Frank washed down the boat while I trotted off to the laundry room. We didn’t do much the first night, other than bundle up against the cold drizzle and head to the yacht club for dinner. Tomorrow our Newcastle adventures would begin.

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 11 – 21st, 2011 Back to Sydney and Destiny, and Onward to Broken Bay

Destiny was still on the hardstand when we returned. When she splashed a few days later, our destination was Blackwattle Bay, where we spent the next few days readying to leave Sydney. Our highlight was going to dinner one last time with Heather and Mark. Gosh we will miss these two, but will see them again in the Aussie springtime. We were ready for some adventures and had been in Sydney long enough for now. I was happy that this would be the last time for a long while that I'd have to lug the bags of laundry 2 km up the hill to wash.

We left Sydney Harbour on the morning of April 18th; destination Cowan Creek, just the other side of Pittwater on Broken Bay. Frank had a promise to fulfill to our new friend Russell. Broken Bay is a very large body of water, comprised of many smaller bays and creeks. Cowan Creek is actually large and wide – not like a creek at all rather more akin to a river. We motored up Cowan Creek, meandering past beautiful, lush forests and towering embankments that rose proudly along both sides of the creek, so calm and serene. We motored as silently as possible feeling that to raise the rpm's would disturb the peaceful repose of the nature that surrounded us. The Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park flanked us to port (the left side). Now we understood two things: this is why there is no phone and no internet service in here, and this is why it is so peaceful. Clearly, we could hear the gentle water parting for our bow and closing back in around the stern as we passed. This is not a place to rush for anything. The calm water reflected our profile as though we were passing through a liquid mirror. The sounds of nature were all about us as we drifted along feeling…just feeling.  Eventually we arrived at a beautiful park straight ahead, and noticed a small marina tucked into the cove: Bobbin Head. A few boats were anchored to the side of us. Frank put Destiny in neutral and she just sat. So calm. We did not have a booking for the marina, so we opted to anchor.  Frank had been trying to phone Russell on and off all the way up the Cowan Creek only getting an intermittent signal as we passed a valley here or there. He managed to reach his voicemail and had left him a message that we were on our way to Bobbin Head. Not long after we set the hook and sat back to relax, a runabout motored up to us carrying two surly-looking men. As they closed in we heard a very strong Australian accent yell up at us; " I never thought you bastards would come!" Here, bigger than life, stood Russell Meggitt and the marina manager holding onto our railing and smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Russell was so excited to see us, exclaiming over and over his disbelief that we had finally made an appearance. After meeting us in Sydney Harbour over New Year's Eve and inviting us to stop by for a visit, so many months had passed (it was now Easter time) that he had abandoned all hope of seeing us again. He shared with us that he watched for our arrival for months and finally told his family we must have just been paying him lip service, never really meaning to stop in. Frank defended us explaining that we had just left Sydney, determined to make this our first stop and so here we are. He invited us to his home for dinner, saying that he would return to pick us up at 5 PM. I asked what to wear, and he responded "Ah, Mate, just come as you are…I am!" Well one look at him told me I could come as a ragamuffin.  He was dressed like a homeless person. I told Frank we shouldn't expect too much as Russell and the marina manager sped away.

There was still plenty of time left in the day for us to go into shore for a look around. Truly it was hard to resist. The allure of this place was strongly enticing. Bobbin Head has been awarded the distinguished Five Gold Anchors award by the MIAA and is described as follows:  "Positioned deep into Cowan Creek within the Ku-ring-Gai Chase National Park, the marina is surrounded by virgin natural bushland that tumbles into the tranquil coves and inlets. It's a little urban treasure…" As we walked over to the little park, I exclaimed to Frank that this is just too pretty and serene to be real. Even the visitors at the park, the ducks in the inlet and the little café/gift shop were almost too perfect. We stopped for lunch and a hot coffee (chilly out), and then ventured over to one of the trailheads called the Bobbin Head Loop. The trees and vegetation bore such remarkable colors and patters, I stopped to take picture after picture of various trees and then we came to some Aboriginal markings in stone; axe grinding bowls cast into the rock and sharpening grooves. We were simply fascinated with this place. Eventually, however, we worked our way back to the boat for a quick shower and change for our dinner date. I did not go dresses as I "was", but put on a simple long sleeve T-shirt, sweats and a hoodie. Russell arrived spit and polished looking quite dapper. I could have crawled under a rock!

 His home is located in the small town of Asquith, surrounded by large beautiful trees it backs up to a dramatic golf course. It is an architectural sensation. Russell and Jan built this stunning home on property that could have been stolen directly from a fairy tale setting. I felt I'd just been tripped up again by my own sense of judging a book by its cover. Twice I'd seen Russell and although we had both taken an instant liking to him, thinking he was a great guy, I had never dreamed of what lay under that layer of country bumpkin façade. Shame on me – again! He introduced us to his daughter Kate, explaining that his wife and son, Jan and Tom, were both out of town. Russell and Frank set off to grill some steaks and drink beer while Kate and I got acquainted. We had a lovely evening, although I was truly sorry to have missed seeing Jan. Russell delivered us back to Destiny later that night making us promise to take our dinghy for a float up the creek past the marina at high tide. He promised we would be impressed with how beautiful it is back there. We couldn't imagine it being more beautiful than what we had already seen. We assured him that we would and then bid him goodnight promising to stay in touch.

That evening we received a phone call from Heather and Mark, hoping that we had not ventured too far along yet, informing us that they would be joining an Easter weekend yacht adventure to Pittwater with the Middle Harbour Yacht Club.  They extended an invitation to us as "honorary members" for the event. We replied that we were in no hurry and would be happy to turn back (one bay over) to meet them in Pittwater on Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday morning after another remarkable bush walk, we cruised the dinghy up the creek. This water is so clean and clear I felt I could drink it, the forest (bush) so lush I could smell it, and the rock formations bursting with colorful designs appeared to be carved by the hand of God. An entire universe was teeming below the surface of the crystal water without making a ripple upon the surface. This is the perfect venue for meditation. We slowly cruised along until we realized we had been out for over an hour, and must turn back before low tide. The return journey revealed even more beauty as we enjoyed another perspective from the opposite direction with sun gleaming on the trees and rocks from another angle. Returning to Destiny we weighed anchor and then moved out to America Bay, closer to the exit for Pittwater.

We had just settled in for a quiet evening when we heard something outside. A large motor yacht was bearing down on us. OH MY GOSH! A powerful light shone on us and we thought – Uh, oh, we are on someone's private mooring and the authorities are coming after us. They large yacht slowed and we heard a voice yell out, "Tried to call you, Mate, but you didn't answer the phone". It was Russell. We had no phone service out here so of course we didn't' answer. Next thing I knew he was tossing us lines and we were rafting up stern to bow. He handed Frank a cold beer and invited us over. His boat (a Riviera) is named Tom Kat and is an absolute showboat. So this is how the other half lives! Russell is one surprise after another. I prepared dinner for the three of us and we visited for quite a while, then I left the boys to their beers, hugged Russ goodnight and returned to my book and the warmth of our bed. In the morning we wandered over to Pittwater to meet up with Heather, Mark and the Middle Harbour Cruising Club.

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 8 – 11, 2011 – Goodbye Tasmania, Hello Melbourne!

Friday morning brought another departure yet another adventure. We packed, loaded the car and then filled our tummies on the bountiful breakfast buffet at the lodge and bid adieu to the lovely national park. I was dreading our long drive back to Launceston airport because the rental car's seats were so horribly uncomfortable. I think someone took the stuffing out of the front and left side of my seat, replacing it with a metal bar. My body ached just thinking of 4 more hours in this clunker. After a few miles, I picked up my purse from the floor, plopped it in my lap to rummage around for some chapstick, and suddenly shouted, "ewwww!" My lap was soaked as was the bottom of my handbag. What now? I groped the carpet with my hand to find it squishy. Frank, not wanting to stop the car until we needed gas said, "We'll deal with it later, just put your purse on the back seat".

Oh, and dare I mention that when we had placed our wet shoes and socks in the back window to dry 4 days ago we had forgotten to take them out in Hobart. They sat and fermented in the car from Monday until Wednesday, resulting in a very smelly car (as in between men's locker-room & dirty wet dog). I neglected to point out that we drove most of the way to Freycinet with windows wide open to try to air it out in the previous posting. I dreaded the thought of even putting those shoes back on my feet in fear of what may be living in them. But they were all we had for hiking (and mine were brand shiny new and mildewed), so we dealt with it.

After about 2 hours of driving, Frank signaled it was time for an apple and something to drink. I lugged the ice chest off the rear floor into may lap and UGH it's bottom was soaked, as was our guide book and the rental car agency's map book. Come on! Frank pulled over; we got out while he surveyed the problem. We never did figure out what was leaking but realized everything we had placed on the floors was literally soaked through. We had no towels or napkins to dry anything, so he instructed me to place everything on the back seat and pray for some sunshine as we rolled down the windows to get some air circulating through the damp car. Sadly our drive back to Launceston is not very memorable other than car distress and so there isn't much that we recall about the scenery on the way. When we returned, Frank went into the agency to sort out the overpriced, leaky, uncomfortable car while I tried to dry out our stuff and to make room for myself on the (now wet) back seat. He came out smiling, followed by a dour-faced woman who grunted as she touched the carpets, mumbled something to herself, walked around the car inspecting it as if it were a prized trophy, nodded and then got into the driver's seat to take us to the terminal.

Thankfully our flight into Melbourne was a non-event, putting us on the ground in time for Loretta Wise to pick us up on her way home from work. We spent the weekend with her, John and their two sons, Keenan and Jordan. We had met John and Loretta in Sri Lanka at Andy Heger and Melissa Woolf's wedding. We had become fast friends with these two and the Spencers, Scott and Muriel from Brisbane. Friday night we enjoyed a real Aussie Barbeque and then settled in to watch the Collingwood Magpies in Australian Rules footy. John is a former player for the team so it is a very big honor for us to watch Collingwood footy with him at his house. In fact, there is a Collingwood room in the Wise home. What a great night!

Loretta and John had our weekend well planned out. After a nice long walk after breakfast, John and Loretta took us for a bit of a driving tour of their favorite historic areas of Melbourne, we of course drove past the famous Collingwood Magpie grounds before lunching at their favorite pub in Abbotsford called The Retreat Hotel. It oozes old world charm, showcasing beautiful stained glass windows, antique appointments and walls adorned with memorabilia and authentic old photographs. A former historic Australian hotel, this one is now a restaurant, bar, function venue. It is also famous for having been location for the filming of a favorite Aussie TV series, "The Sullivans". John and Loretta gave us a bit of history of the place and while we awaited our food I took a self-guided tour.  Surprisingly, the food was absolutely gourmet quality. My simple dish of corned beef and cabbage was better than any I've ever made or eaten elsewhere.
Early Sunday morning, after our walk, Loretta announced plans for the day. She had the day precisely planned out – nearly to the minute. I was really impressed as they loaded us into the car for a trip to Melbourne's famous Queen Victoria Market. My goodness what a market! It is the largest open-air market we have ever seen. Opened in 1878 it features literally everything. We could have spent a weekend here and not seen it all, but what we did see: farm fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats; and then seafood, baked goods, home goods, arts and crafts, jewelry, clothing, fresh herbs and spices… This was big time sensory overload. We were in and out though within an hour – and could see why we had arrived so early. By 9 AM the crowds were nearly elbow-to-elbow. Frank and I did manage to make a few purchases of kitchen goods and spices, lamenting not having Destiny with us so that we could really stock her up. Gosh I'd love another chance at that market!

We returned to the house, stowed our purchases and then drove into the wine country for an afternoon of wine tasting. I'm not sure if Loretta remembered that I do not drink, or they figured we'd really enjoy this outing since it is a "do not miss" on everyone's travel plans to the Yarra River Valley, but I kept my trap shut and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Our eyes were not disappointed and neither were Frank, John and Loretta's palettes. At some of the vineyards, gift shops and galleries abutted the tasting rooms, giving me my own distraction to the commentary of the tasters. After the third winery, I could tell that Frank and John felt a little uncomfortable that I was not joining in. Frankly I did too, because one who goes to wineries but just hangs around loitering whilst the others are tasting stands our remarkably. I would be arrogant if I didn't admit feeling jealous and a teeny bit irritable that this was how we were to spend our day, but by the same token I was happy that Frank could finally enjoy this with them since losing his wine-loving partner (me). Fortunately my love affair with wine ended in an ugly break-up which helped ease the pain of being on the outside looking into my favorite candy store. The highlight of the day was a late lunch at Oakridge, a winery featuring one of the best restaurants around. Unluckily, an indoor/outdoor wedding was in full swing at the same time we were booked, which caused a delay of over an hour. Loretta and the boys tasted wine during the wait. I began to snap photos when an ugly storm raised its ghastly head, clawing at the horizon and breaking through throwing fierce gusts of wind and angry torrents of rain at the lively wedding party. Quickly, tables overturned, guests scattered and staff responded en masse, swooping in, gathering up and moving indoors as quickly as the storm had emerged. We were bustled into the restaurant where the sliding glass doors were slid to a close in time for us to only have gotten a bit splattered. Loretta really fretted over this delay in our tightly woven schedule, sending John to expedite our service. Finally seated, because we had already memorized the menu, we immediately placed our food and drink orders. Sadly the food arrived a very long time later, but was so well worth the wait! Because we had spent an inordinate amount of time at Oakwood, we rushed into and out of the tasting room at our last stop, Domaine Chandon, Loretta's favorite. Because Loretta's birthday was close by we purchased a top of the line bottle to give to her as a birthday/thank you gift which we presented later that night.

Back at the Wise household we feasted on fresh seafood and baked goods that John and Loretta had purchased earlier at the market. I felt as though all I had done was eat for the last two weeks and looked forward to taking a break from gourmet on our return.  After dinner we all retired early because Monday morning was a workday for them and a flying out day for us. Early flight back to Sydney and our beloved Destiny.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 6 – 7 Freycinet National Park (2 of 2)

Thursday morning, we enjoyed an absolute feast for breakfast, packed up a picnic lunch and set off for the long hike around to Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay. It was a circuitous 12k route that would take the better part of our day.

As we pulled into the car park at the trailhead I saw a wallaby standing between our car and the one just the other side of us. I got out and walked up to the little guy. He didn't move, so I bent down to have a chat with him face to face. He didn't really chat back but Frank was able to snap a cute photo of the moment, while advising me to back away from the animal.
We signed in at the trail hut. By the way, I've not mentioned this before but I like this about Tasmania; there are so many trails and so many hikers that the park service requests (requires actually) that all hikers, walkers, etc., sign the ledger stating name, time at
beginning of hike, name of intended hike, estimated time on the trail and then at the conclusion of the hike a sign-out and time. We have heard of Australia's deadly critters and of the perils of hiking in various areas but have yet to encounter any real danger or to come to harm. Another point of note is that up until just a few years ago, Tasmanian Devils were abundant in Tasmania, particularly on the eastern side. Tragically, since around 1997, they have been all but wiped out from a deadly cancerous disease known as DFTD (devil facial tumor disease). Grave concern has been expressed that they will become extinct within the next 5-10 years, as about 80% of the population has already been affected. No cure has been found and the disease is highly infectious and deadly, but only to Tasmanian Devils. We found this very sad. We continued to be on the lookout for them, but the only ones we encountered were healthy and at the zoo.

So back on track, we started for Hazard's Bay. The first few hours of the hike were on the leeward side; hence the landscape was thorny, brown, absolutely teeming with large black flies and slippery going across the granite. The trail as it were was not so much laid as marked across the granite up steep, natural inclines and down jagged rocks, sending a variety of lizards and dragons skittering.  Thank goodness we have no snake sightings to report. We liked the fact that
for the most part this area is simply marked as opposed to stepped with concrete or wood. I spent quite a lot of effort breathing through my teeth and then vigorously out my nose so that I would not suck in any flies. Because of the lack of wind and moisture on this side they must be attracted to the moisture from our bodies because they were swarming about us. Now I understand the use of corks dangling from hats. Wish I'd had a net around my body. The pesky flies gave us momentum to forge ahead as briskly as possible, slipping and sliding along. I hated rushing through this because the rock formations were utterly unique interestingly stacked like little statues and majestic columns. This area of Tasmania is amazing in that every section reveals completely different landscapes and examples of nature's architecture.

Eventually we came upon a clearing at Lemana Lookout. The view was directed toward Coles Bay, a smaller area of Great Oyster Bay. The water sparkled like millions of crystals set into a lapis colored pool. We took a few minutes to sip water and take in the eye-catching panorama. The trail then wound steeply downward to and along to Hazard's Beach where the water was crystal clear and more of a turquoise at close inspection. We could understand why it is called Hazard's Beach – whether or not this is the intention – while the water is so  alluring and inviting, access to it is flanked by granite boulders and dangerous looking rock formations. We continued onward winding back up the mount, which would eventually lead us to Cook's Beach. More ooh's and ahh's and some relief once again by cool breezes coming off the water. By now, although it was mid morning, the sun was getting HOT. At Cook's Beach there was an optional detour up and over to yet another beach that was not circuitous so rather than trek in and back out for another 1 – 2 hours, we took the overland route across Mount Freycinet that would eventually lead us to Wineglass Bay. This trail finally led us away from buzzing flies into greener and lusher surroundings as we trekked the mountain. We got a little more shade and cooled down a bit, as we neared Wineglass Bay. Finally we wound down hundreds of yards and as many steps to the beautiful bay that we had glimpsed from above the previous day. It is absolutely pristine and painted in more colors of blue than the mind can describe or our pictures can capture.
Several wallabies bounced about as we scouted a good spot
out of the wind for a picnic. Although it was only mid afternoon we began to lose our sun. We donned our jackets and packed up the
supplies, ready for the rigorous climb straight up Mount Mason, one of
The Hazards. Frank and I are more walkers than real hikers. This day
had taken about 50% of whatever I have in me. As I looked up, daunted by this monstrous climb I realized we had opted for the "expert" hike. The vertical steps appeared to be just in front of my face. I thanked goodness we were actually going up instead of down, because hiking down at this grade is more difficult for me than going up. What were we thinking anyway? I kept the self-talk up: "breathe easy, breathe steadily, don't grunt, use your muscles, (what muscles?), focus on one step at a time…" Then out of nowhere a wallaby came bounding toward us. He stopped just in front of me and looked back up the trail to a woman who was making her way down. When she caught up to it, the wallaby commenced his downward journey. I asked her, "friend of yours?" She just laughed and said it adopted her on the trail and seemed to be escorting her down. How cute is that? An hour later we neared the summit and began to hear laughter and conversation. Alas
just another 200 – 300 yards to go to the top! When I looked back down I appreciated the sheer grade of our climb and felt very proud. Frank just felt like sitting and breathing. Once again we had sunlight that warmed our bodies. We knew our way from here and were consoled at the though of being only another 45 minutes away from the hot tub and a
foot rub. Those were my thoughts – Franks ran more along the lines of an ice-cold beer and some pre dinner snacks.

Back at the cabin we fulfilled our wishes and then dressed (up) for dinner in the Bay Restaurant. We absolutely feasted again. The menu read like a gourmet's dream making it difficult to decide what to choose. We settled on the mixed natural Tasmanian oysters for a
starter, then went for Lamb rack (Frank) and Tasmanian salmon (me). The dinner was as outstanding as we had anticipated. Afterwards, we took a moonlight stroll before collapsing into our wonderful bed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 6 – 7, 2011 Freycinet National Park (part 1 of 2)

Frank had booked us at the Freycinet Lodge, situated right in the middle of the National Park. The setting is tranquil and entirely surrounded by nature.  Our large cabin was the top-end luxury accommodation, complete with a deep Jacuzzi bath large enough for 4, a beautiful bathroom, kitchenette, sofa, sitting area, and a freestanding king bed. I opened the fridge to place our fruits, cheeses and snacks inside to find a large platter of cheeses, fruits, crackers, breads and nuts. We laughed as we read the personalized welcome note from the resort manager. Accompanying this was a bottle of champagne and chilled flutes. I felt like such a hillbilly bringing my own ice chest filled with snacks. Poor Frank was faced with the challenge of consuming the champagne all by his lonesome.  But right now daylight was burning, so we dropped everything but the hiking supplies and set off for the trails. We drove over to the trailhead and read the descriptions of various hikes.

We chose the Wineglass Bay hike. It begins with a vertical climb that is mostly stepped but steep and rigorous. There are several stopping and lookout points along the way. It is so beautiful that I hardly noticed the steepness. The colors and formations of the rocky cliffs and ledges were just remarkable. Lizards scurried about, bees and flies attacked! The greenery became dry and brittle but those rocks were beautiful. Although the weather was very cool we warmed up quickly and began to shed layers. We kept meeting people on their way down, who would remark to us: “It is well worth it! You’re half-way there!” “Stunning! You’ll love it!”, “Don’t give up – you are nearly there…”. Gosh I was loving this part so I couldn’t wait to see what was next around every bend and curve and outcropping. I was so busy looking, swatting flies and trying to breath that I kept forgetting to take out my camera. At about 2/3 of the way up we came to an inviting wooden-slatted lounge chair. We took a little rest. If I had been 30 or 40 years younger I would have thought I’d gone to heaven seeing all the cool caves and hiding spots in which I could have built a fort! We were like children all over again. Eventually we came to the summit, where a large platform had been erected to give a breathtaking view of Wineglass Bay. We posed for pictures, sat for an apple and some nibbles, explored around the area a bit more and then set off for the trip back down.Going down was amazingly steep and tricky.
I’m wobbling about trying to keep my balance going straight down when a mob of teenage boys came dashing past me on all sides, nearly knocking down a couple of elderly women in front of us. My joy was dashed as I thought, “Little Turds!” After that I snapped to it and decided to just get on with it. We excused ourselves past the older ladies and quickstepped past the flies and lizards hitting the car park in half the time it had taken us to go up. Although the hike was only about 3k, it took us about an hour and a half all together. We felt exhilarated and hungry.

Returning to our cabin, we grabbed our platter and some drinks from the fridge and retired to the back deck for a sundowner. Our cabin was surrounded by a densely forested area teeming with songbirds and other chattering wildlife, as though it was built to be part of the nature around it. Rays of sunlight were streaming down through the canopy giving our little world a sense of heavenly tranquility. Just through the trees we noted a path that led down to a golden sand beach. We sipped, nibbled and enjoyed the sounds of nature with the sun warming our faces through the chilled mountain air.  I could do this for a while.

We pulled ourselves from the dream, tidied up and walked over to the lodge for dinner. We opted for the casual dining room. The specials board featured lots of tempting dishes, including Tasmanian (whole) lobster and Sri Lankan curry. I chose the lobster; Frank the curry. We stuffed ourselves and then took a little stroll. The night air was quite chilly, but so clean and fresh! We decided a soak in our tub was in order. Afterward, Frank donned his robe, grabbed a beer and decided to sit on the back deck for a cool down. I was just getting out when Frank parted curtains and jumped back exclaiming, “Barbara, there are mammals on our deck!” What? Mammals?

I grabbed a robe and ran to the patio doors; peering out into the darkness I saw flashes of big, round eyes and heard scratching, growling and knocking. Frank grabbed a flashlight and shone it out up against the glass. It illuminated four bushy-tailed and very beautiful possums fighting over an errant beer bottle. It was so eerie and they were so pretty that I grabbed my camera for a snapshot before they disbanded. As I eased the glass open, a scrawny claw reached out toward the screen directly in front of my face. I had visions of it shredding the screen with lightening speed and then setting itself upon us and annihilating the contents of our room. (I’d read about these occurrences in the “wildlife warnings” section of our travel guides). I snapped a quick photo and slammed the patio door shut. They started making a really loud ruckus out there, fighting over that beer bottle! Frank turned on the porch light and started yelling at them like a banshee, banging on the gladd door. They scattered and then he threw open the door and dived for the beer bottle. That settled that. By now we were getting cold again, so we dived into bed with the electric blanket.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 4, 2011 Drive to Hobart/Hobart

Our drive from Cradle Mountain was interesting enough, as we seemed to enter and leave one small village or hamlet after another; some sparsely populated, some abandoned and yet others were more like small outcroppings of a few homes and then nothingness. We could see that this is valuable farm country. Tasmania ranchland generates some of the finest meats and cheeses in this part of the world. Suddenly the landscape turned ugly. If land could be described as eviscerated then this would be it – even more so than what we saw up the mountain. Just on the outskirts of Queenstown we noted, firsthand the effects brought about by the gold mining industry before safeguards and restrictions were put into place.  So now we have seen what lumbering and mining have done to tarnish some of the beauty of Tasmania, but there is so much more to see that is now protected and untarnished. We did spotted lots of wallabies and other wildlife along the drive, which made it particularly enjoyable.

Around mid-day we came upon an inviting sign pointing to a turn off for a town called Tarraleah. What a musical and delightful sounding name! This town is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet. In fact, nothing past Queenstown is mentioned in the Lonely Planet??? It is as though the writers just cut out a chunk of Tasmania along the A10 roadway. Hmmm. It was lunchtime and we felt this town needed to be explored and besides as far as we knew, it was the only town between here and Hobart (several hours away). We took the turn-off to Tarraleah. The short detour revealed the most adorable, quaint and picture perfect village we’ve ever seen. We thought perhaps we had driven onto a movie set. It was too perfect! There was a main road that circled through, past a café, a schoolhouse that is now a hotel, some cottages and a very impressive lodge. We pulled into the only parking lot visible and entered the café. As we browsed the menu, Frank picked up a book that gave a short history of the town. It was created in the late 1800’s as part of the Hydro development off the Derwent River as a settlement for the Hydro engineers and the company directors. Apparently no expense was spared in the endeavor and the result was a luxury settlement and accommodation for the employees. It boomed into an impressive, high-end town until the 1980’s. I suppose after the work was completed the town just died away, although there is no explanation why by 1996 the population had dropped from 1600 to 4 and the town was closed. In 2006 someone, from somewhere came along and infused a large amount of money into purchasing and revitalizing the town; refurbishing the buildings, converting nearly every structure into a resort style setting. Now it is an exclusive getaway for those who want peace and tranquility among nature and basically anything else if you are willing to pay. It’s philosophy somewhat reminds me of Neiman Marcus: if you want it and can afford it you can have it here at Tarraleah. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, browsed the impressive gift shop and walked about admiring the allure of this special place. We were even interested in spending a night here but it was completely booked. So off we drove, ambling toward Hobart in our jalopy.

Landscape continued to impress as we noticed traffic picking up a bit (from 1 or 2 cars every half hour to several cars every 15 minutes or so), as we neared Hobart. Then suddenly we were on a real highway that delivered us into the heart of Hobart town. We had no trouble finding our boutique hotel, which was at towne center and only two blocks from the waterfront. We checked in, dumped our bags and set off to explore this famous seaside town. It was utterly walkable. It is rich in history and charm. We were drawn to the waterfront where we did a little recon for our Tuesday activities and then settled on a recommended Vietnamese restaurant for dinner.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 2 – 4, 2011 Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

We awoke at the crack of dawn so that we could drive back to Melbourne, return our rental car and get to Tullamarine airport by 11:30. Our flight was to depart Melbourne at 1 PM, arriving Launceston, Tasmania, @ 2 PM, however, it was delayed, and delayed and delayed. We finally departed around 3.  We had booked a rental car at Lo-Cost Auto Rent, one of the very few available. They have no kiosk at the airport, and we had been advised to phone the agency upon arrival, which I did and was advised to phone back when we actually had our checked bags in hand. OK. We called back when our bags arrived on the carousel and after following instructions about where to meet our driver we waited another half hour or so. Finally a woman arrived in a raggedy economy car and bounced us for a good twenty minutes to the offsite rental office. It looked more like a port-a-shed in the Texas backcountry. She then commenced to pull out pages and pages of paperwork for us to complete. Hadn’t I already done this online? She instructed us complete this and that and sign here and there and of course we asked all the WRONG questions, which we would discover all too late. We were tired and just wanted to get underway.  We still had a 3-hour drive to Cradle Mountain. Once the paperwork was finalized she led us right back out to the raggedy little car – ugh – with stained and torn seats and smelling heavily of cigarettes. I mentioned that this looked nothing like the car we had reserved. Her terse response was that it was all that was available given the lateness of our arrival. Lord. She then informed us that the fuel tank was empty and directed us to the gas station that was NOT in our intended direction. I asked myself if I had been praying for patience lately, because this was truly taking up all that I had stored in reserve.

Hungry (no time for lunch), and thirsty and ready for adventure, we stocked up on junk food, water and soda at the small gas station. Frank gasped at the fuel price and I tried not to hyperventilate at the cost of the junk. We were thrilled to be underway. The drive to Cradle Mountain was actually quite enjoyable. Tasmania is beautiful. The roads are slow going yet because of the natural beauty we didn’t really mind. We were going to be very late for our hotel check-in, but no matter because we were prepaid so we just enjoyed the twisting and turning road ahead. Eventually the elevation began to rise as we traversed up the mountain. The beauty turned to horror as we noted the utter devastation of the countryside. Beautiful trees and greenery became knarled stumps, burned out landscape and dead and twisted skeletons of what must have once been majestic trees. Truly it looked holocaustic. What on earth has happened here? We began to dread what awaited us. But then we turned into the Cradle Mountain National Forest. WOW. The scenery began to change and the greenery became denser. Thank goodness! We eventually found our way to the Cradle Mountain Lodge.  When we saw our cabin we put all the annoyance of our trip here behind us. It was perfect. By now the weather had turned quite cold and rainy and although all we really wanted to do was to sit in the spa and then cuddle up by the fireplace in our fluffy robes afterward, we forced ourselves to head back up to the main lodge for dinner. The lodge is magnificent, large, welcoming and cozy at the same time. There were literally dozens of people grouped about sitting on large leather wingchairs and sofas, reading, playing board games and cards, sipping cocktails and warming up beside any number of the many large stone fireplaces. It was historic, grand and homey all at once. The lodge houses a pub and a fine dining venue. We ventured over to the pub for a delicious meal and then attended a slide presentation of the history of Cradle Mountain, including wildlife to be watching out for. We learned that lumber companies in the late 1800’ s/early 1900’s caused the wreckage of the landscape. They took what they wanted and left the rest to ruin. Very sad.  Excited about our hiking prospects we returned to the cabin for a warm-up by our own fire.

On Sunday we enjoyed a large breakfast at the lodge before our day hike. We set off, following the trails on a little brochure we’d picked up at the reception desk. It was very cold out but the sun was shining. Immediately we were struck by the beauty of our surroundings, streams and brooks, waterfalls and boardwalks through the bush made it one of the most picturesque hikes we had ever been on. I was keenly on the lookout for wombats and wallabies. In our slide show tutorial the previous night we were told to watch out these and a variety of wildlife including snakes and leeches, but that there are no kangaroos or koalas on the island of Tasmania. About 15 minutes into our hike we spotted our first wallaby. We saw several dropping of wombat scat – which oddly is perfectly cubed. I took some photos but Frank wasn’t real pleased with my taking pictures of poop so I deleted them. I was truly impressed at their “squareness”, however. So onward we roamed until we found ourselves back at the main lodge about an hour later. That was the scenic, nature hike. We decided to find something a little more challenging so, consulting our notes we took off in search of a longer route.

Eventually we discovered one that promised us a 4 – 5 hour trail and so we took it. It actually led out of the forest into what resembled a field with few trees but with very large clumps of tall grass. Eventually, the trail became much narrower and rutty.  The ruts became very damp, soaking my shoes through so that my toes began to feel cold. After a while, the ruts became running streams and the area so boggy that I was trying to hop from one clump of grassy stuff to another. I kept telling frank this didn’t feel right. Onward he pushed promising that we were on track. After 2 hours my feet were soaked through and I was dirty down one side because I kept falling down. There was no longer a trail, just bog. We were following the rut that had become a stream and it seemed to be wandering in no particular direction. We finally came upon a clump of trees, where we sat for a drink and an apple. I explained to Frank that although I indeed was looking for a bit more challenge, this was no longer very much fun and was far from pretty and interesting.  We were both very cold and damp and now the sun had been obliterated by clouds. Dark clouds were now threatening rain and I surely did not want to be stuck out here in this mess in the rain. He admitted that he wasn’t sure exactly where we were and of course we did not bring our GPS, thinking that we would be on well-laid trails. We were lost. I felt that if we continued ahead we would eventually find our forest again, but we were clearly in the middle of no-where and too far from a forest to spot anything promising. The saving grace is that there were sticks in the ground about every 100 yards with little plastic flags tied around them back the way we had come, so disappointingly, Frank suggested we turn back. I was close to tears at the thought of going back through that awful stuff but we really didn’t have many options at this point. We turned back. Another two hours later, wet and freezing we hit the edge of the trees where we had emerged. We double-checked the signposts to confirm that we were in fact on a marked trail. Hmmm. Mystery why anyone would send people out there! Happily we were back in the protected part of the hiking area and couldn’t to get back to the cabin fast enough.

Once back in the room, we stripped our mud covered clothes tossing them all into the shower. When I got down to my shoes I shrieked! There were leeches sticking out of my shoes, stuck to my shoelaces and one on my hand that had burrowed in through my glove. As I got the shoes off I found blood spots all over my socks, and noticed that there were brown slimy things in the blood. EEK! Leeches were sucking my blood through my socks! I began pulling them off as quickly as I could and only afterward began to realize the pain in my feet. Searing pain. Pain that felt like flaming hot pokers were stabbing me. Frank also had some leeches but not as many because his shoes were leather; mine leather with mesh. He seemed nonplussed by the leech bites (or whatever they are called). I must have been having an allergic reaction because large red welts began to form all over my toes and feet, and the bite marks were very pronounced. I was horrified. We soaked and soaked our socks and shoes and then set all of the wet stuff around the base of our fireplace to dry. There were two leeches still stuck to my laces and as they felt the heat they tried raising themselves up and reaching out, like grisly tentacles. It was grotesque to see these things groping at the air. I seriously thought I was going to be sick. Frank urged me to just go get cleaned up and dressed for dinner. We had reservations in the fine dining restaurant that night.

Later, sitting in wing-backed chairs not far from the fireplace in the large dining room, we enjoyed an amazing 5-star dinner. Our taste buds were so happy that for a short while my stings, bites and burns were all but forgotten. The welt on my finger was an ugly reminder of the trauma earlier endured. We relaxed and enjoyed a lovely dining experience. After our coffee and dessert we ambled out to the reception area where we bumped into the staff member who had presented the previous evening’s slide show. We told him about our experience that afternoon. Shockingly his reaction was admonishment! We were scolded for having ventured out onto forbidden terrain. He went on and on about how dangerous that area was and how fortunate we were not to have encountered deadly snakes and the like. Whu-the??? When we explained to him that the trail markers and signs pointed to it and that there was no warning sign, do not enter sign or circle with a slash through it forbidding entrance to that particular trail he mere shrugged and mumbled something like, well there should have been. Odd fellow.

We returned to our room where I popped into the spa tub to soak my throbbing leech bites. Frank kicked back with a beer and a book. There is no television, radio or internet here. It was a bit too chilly out to sit on our balcony, so he lit a fire and kicked back.

Monday morning, our shoes and socks were still wet so we set them in the back window to dry in the sun. We loaded up on a hearty breakfast and then hit the road. We had a long drive down to Hobart ahead of us.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

March 29 – April 1, 2011 – The Great Ocean Road (part 3)

We arose very early on our last day of the GOR and backtracked to Port Campbell to pick up where we had left off the previous day. First stop was the Bay of Martyrs where, once again we found amazing rock formations that literally appeared as though they were laying about in repose. There were several small roads that led out to the Bay that gave varied observation viewpoints of this stunning area. We drove down three of them and were not disappointed at the beauty of this amazing bay. Next stop was The London Bridge, which sadly has fallen down – maybe this is really the one from the childhood song J!

We took lots of pictures and were blessed with blue skies for the better part of our morning.  After looking in at the Bay of Islands – another beautiful bay with lovely vistas – we set off for Port Fairy. Port Fairy was highlighted in The Lonely Planet as a loveable little town steeped in charm and history, settled by the whalers and sealers in 1835, and further boasts a popular "Shipwreck Walk" and "History Walk". We arrived ready for breakfast and more fun-filled sight seeing.

Driving in on the main street leading to town center, we thought that we'd accidentally ended up in a retirement village. Everywhere we looked the townspeople were buzzing about in electric wheelchairs, spiffy "pimped-up" walkers and hobbling along with walking canes. We did a drive through and found that the town consisted of basically two streets. We still had not seen anyone under about age 65, so as we stopped in front of a bakery that served meat pies, I said to Frank that maybe this was like a day out for the retirement home citizens; you know like when they all catch the bus into town for a little shopping and whatnot? We ate our meat pies and took a stroll. Every other shop was an Op-shop (second hand store). We passed the Cancer Society shop, the Red Cross shop, the Arthritis Foundation shop, and so on. There didn't seem to be anything else in the town. To top it off, we nearly got run down by all the electric wheelchairs zipping up and down the sidewalk. It felt like a time warp.  We both agreed that this would be a real fun place for our parents to live. Eventually I did end up purchasing a couple of musty smelling books by Wilbur Smith and Bryce Courtenay for under a dollar each in one of the Op-shops. Frank was getting antsy so we headed for the car and drove back to Warrnambool.

Warrnambool is really not such a small town once we figured out how it was laid out. We took a beautiful drive following the beach that yielded to several lookouts along this part of the Shipwreck Coast. There is a little village within the town that has been recreated to assimilate a colonial village from the 1800's. By now the rain clouds were coming back around so we stopped for lunch just above the colonial village. We browsed a maritime museum and then by late afternoon realized we were pretty worn out and so we called it a day.

Friday, April Fool's Day! We had a long drive ahead of us back to Geelong, so up and at 'em! We were going to take the inland route, Prince's Highway (the A1), back and we knew that on the way our only planned stop would be the Warrnambool Cheese Factory. We had seen it coming and going the previous two days and decided it was meant to be. We could have taken a tour, had a feed and spent ridiculous amounts of money in the gift shop but we came for the cheese. We tasted and purchased a variety of absolutely delicious cheeses. Thank goodness we had our trusty travel cooler with us. We picked up a few extras such as fruit, bread and some meat for a picnic along the way. Thinking back on it I wish we'd been able to buy so much more because many of those cheeses are not available anywhere else. But alas a cheese does not lat forever.  So we enjoyed a rather beautiful drive along the A1 through lovely farm country and past vineyards. This part of Australia is just outright lovely. It's a good thing I no longer drink wine or we would probably never have made it back to Geelong for stopping and wine tasting on the way.

By late afternoon we arrived in Geelong, check in at the Chifley hotel on the Esplanade that happens to be right across from the beach. Geelong is a very beautiful town, and one which we now wished we had spent much more time enjoying. This being our last day in Victoria, we set off for a long walk. Of all the times not to bring the camera this was not a good one, and one which I truly regretted. The waterfront is absolutely charming! Famous for its Bay Walk Bollards, 104 brightly painted bollards depicting colonial people dressed in the fashion of the day, ladies, gents, birds, ship personnel, swimmers, athletes, policemen, nuns…  We were delighted and I was just tickled walking along looking at these and everything else along the walk. It is so clean and pleasant. This area must literally boom during tourist season.  We settled on a waterfront café that looked very popular for an afternoon snack. We truly enjoyed our half-day at Geelong, and had thought to return to the waterfront for dinner, but by the time we returned to the hotel we were once again pretty bushed so we had a quiet dinner in the hotel restaurant and retired early again because Saturday we had a flight out of Melbourne at mid-day to Tasmania.

Friday, April 8, 2011

March 29 – April 1, 2011 – The Great Ocean Road (part 2)

The Victorian coastline is known for many icons of beauty; however, a certain stretch of it beginning from Cape Otway heading toward Port Fairy is known as The Shipwreck Coast. During about a 40-year period in the late 1800's – early 1900's, it is said that more than 80 vessels have met their doom along this 120 km (approx 75 miles) of notoriously dangerous coastline. All along this stretch of Victoria are little museums filled with relics and tales of the old ships. Being sailors ourselves we somehow feel drawn to these horror stories and their spoils.

We could imagine that peril as we stopped along the way to hike out to the famous sites. Most of these sort of clustered around Port Campbell and stretched to Warrnambool. The first of these famous landmarks that we came to is called The Twelve Apostles, majestic columns of rock that rise up out of the Southern Ocean. Standing at the lookout vantage point we could hear the roar and see the crash of the mighty ocean that must have carved out these incredible stacks of beautifully colored rock. In 2005, The Great Southern Ocean began reclaiming these structures, as they are slowly eroding away and collapsing into the sea. We stayed for an indeterminable amount of time just staring in awe. I've said this many times in my blogs; I felt the wonder and presence of God standing there at this site and some others down the way. It was a powerful and humbling feeling. We took lots of pictures but cannot possibly capture the experience on film.

We were losing our sunlight and had so many more stops to make that we reluctantly left the area of the Twelve Apostles and ventured down to the Loch Ard Gorge, which until just less than two years ago formed a natural and quite beautiful arch. Unfortunately the arch collapsed in 2009, leaving two freestanding rock towers much resembling the Twelve Apostles. What is left is still lovely but nothing compared to images of its former self.

Now that our picnic lunch, all of our beverages and junk food supplies were depleted, daylight fading and storm clouds rolling in, we called it a day and pointed our rental car in the direction of Warrnambool where we had a beautiful suite awaiting us at the Sebel Deep Blue Resort. We got checked in and set out on foot to explore the town. We found the sidewalks rolled up and the streets very quiet. Not much open after 5 PM here. We wandered around until we found an inviting Chinese restaurant open.  The food was so good that we ordered enough for probably 4! We thought about getting doggie bags but ended up eating it all before the check came. I guess all that sightseeing gave us quite an appetite. We retired to our beautiful hotel to rest up for tomorrow's big adventure.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

March 29 – April 1, 2011 – The Great Ocean Road (part 1)

We flew into Melbourne the morning of March 29th, picked up our rental
car and took off for The Great Ocean Road (GOR for this journal).
Technically, it is a 250km stretch of coastal highway that stretches
from Torquay to Warrnambool and boasts a dramatic and unique coastline
along the thrashing Great Southern Ocean. In fact as I write this I
realize how many landmarks in Australia begin with the word "great".

Although the GOR begins at Torquay, the jumping off point for many 
travelers arriving from Melbourne is Geelong, Victoria's second  largest city and considered the gateway to the GOR. It is a primary  hub for most of the highways heading in all directions throughout  Victoria, and took us to the B100, leading to the coast toward our big  adventure.

We arrived at Torquay, the surf capital of Victoria and home of Rip 
Curl brand products. It is a bustling surf town with lovely beachfront  areas. We just did a browse/drive through as, not being surfers, it  reminded us of so many California coastal cities we've frequented. And  besides, we were ready for some real adventure.

From Torquay, the road went somewhat inland and we lost sight of the 
ocean, so since I bore easily I played Sudoku and looked up from time  to time to read the map to Frank. We eventually arrived at Anglesea. I  was anticipating some great vistas and a charming town, as promised by  our Lonely Planet. It looked to us a little bit tired, worn and  overrated, with few glimpses of the ocean from the highway. We forged  ahead without stopping.

In and out, on and off along the way to our next destination we 
continued to glimpse pretty areas of coastline and noted the thrashing  ocean below. It was admittedly getting prettier. We eventually reached  the hamlet of Lorne. It was charming and inviting. Flocks of Cockatoos  would fly overhead and seemed to gather in the grass along the  roadside. We enjoyed a nice walk through the area and then settled on  a hotel at the edge of town. Just about the time we were unloading the  car, the hotel manager came out to feed his local bunch of cockatoos.  He has rigged a little feeding trough along the top of the wood fence.  I was thrilled to see them rush to the trough as he spread the food.  They saw us watching and snapping photos and put on a grand show for  us, strutting and posing for my camera, and although they came close  enough for me to touch the manager warned that one quick snap of a  beak would take my finger straight off. So I began to back away. We  spent one night in Lorne, walked along the waterfront and hit the road  again. The highlight here for me were the huge flocks of cockatoos  that seem to thrive here more than any place we've yet been.

Next stop was Apollo Bay, where a nice 1.5 km walk took us to the 
Mariner's Lookout. It is known for the beautiful views of the town and  the coastline. Nice and quaint but still not blowing us away, so we  ventured on down the road to Cape Otway where the guidebook promised  lots of fun and interesting stuff.

Cape Otway was all that and more. We ventured down the 14 km unsealed 
road toward the famous lighthouse, through Great Otway National Park,  where we witnessed lots and lots of koalas hanging out of the trees  all along the roadway. We stopped numerous times to take pictures. In  fact Frank finally had to tell me we'd better get moving or we would  never make the lighthouse, and besides, some serious weather was  beginning to move in on us. Eventually we came to the end of the road  to the station at Cape Otway.

We toured the station there and enjoyed taking in the history of the 
area that marks the beginning of the Shipwreck Coast. We toured the  telegraph station and the lightkeeper's house, read the history of the  way of life there dating back to 1848 and viewed the photograph  collection of the home, the family, crew of workers and various  shipwrecks. It is amazing to me how thrilled we are to see and read  about these tragedies but it really is fascinating stuff! The weather  was turning blustery and nasty as we hiked out to the lighthouse and  climbed the many, many steps to the top. Perched in the keeper's room  was a gentleman (wish I'd written down his name!) who was the last lighthouse keeper in Australia. He was a salty old dog who  regaled us with stories of what it was like way down here in this  lonely, cold and windy place. He loved it though and, although now quite elderly, is happy to make that steep and narrow climb up into the  lighthouse every day to meet and greet visitors. We enjoyed the  view of the raging Great Southern Ocean and stepped out onto the  catwalk, where the wind drove me sideways! I thanked goodness the  organizers had cancelled our circumnavigation of Australia after  seeing that coastline from up there. Wicked and dangerous stuff. We  descended from the lighthouse to take a little walk throughout the  grounds. Trails led us to some Aboriginal sites that we found both  pretty and interesting. Then, cold and wet, we returned to the warmth  of our car. Next stop – Port Campbell