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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tasmania (Part 1)

We arrived at the Melbourne airport to discover that not only was the flight to Launceston not run by Qantas, but also we were for some reason not in the computer system! Fortunately, all that was straightened out but we barely got to the gates on time. After all the smooth flights so far this was quite a shock.

Arriving at Launceston airport, we found ourselves in an airport so un-automated that baggage carousels didn't exist! Tasmania was also very strict about enforcing quarantine, and they used dogs to sniffed our carry-on baggage as well as our lugguage for non-native plants and fruits. The process was long enough that I had time to check out the rental car and still come back and watch the baggage carousels unload.

Then we headed downtown to buy everything we couldn't buy before --- fuel for the stove, lighters, matches, and regular food for 3 nights of car camping. We found an organic foodstore that had vegetarian indian pouches for food, and the super-market had Horlicks instead of just Milo. That's quite a treat for us, so we bought it despite the price. We loaded up with water, and then headed over to Cataract Gorges, which was both a swimming area and a hike.

While Lisa took a nap, I swam around the pool and then checked out the gorge's swimming hole. It was the oddest swimming experience I ever had --- the top layer of water was warm, but if you swam around you swirled water up from the bottom and got quite chilled!

We then took a quick walk and then I looked at the map as to where to spend the night. The visitor center had suggested Longford, but I saw pictures of Freycinet National Park 2.5 hours away, and was captivated and wanted to drive there right away! It was a long drive, but quite worth it as the scenery along the way was gorgeous. When we got to the Park the visitor center was closed but they had kindly listed the open camp-sites. We visited the first one that was free (site 19) and couldn't believe our eyes! The site is a raised platform that had fences on four sides, no benches or table, but the beach was literally 10 foot steps away! Not only that, the beach was next to empty!

We just couldn't believe how luck we were, until we had to drive the stakes into the ground --- Freycinet is only recommended for free standing tents, and we didn't bring one this time! Nevertheless, we got dinner, sunset pictures, and then discovered that the showers were cold! Ouch ouch. That night a possum visited our site, attracted by our garbage --- it must have een quite used to people, since it did not scare at all, and after we took away the garbage bag, it climbed a tree.

The next morning, we made a quick breakfast, and then were approached by a ranger who gave us a friendly notice to pay up! He noticed me struggling with the stakes, got a pair of pliers, and helped me with them. What a nice guy. We took a walk on the beach and then we to pay up our visitor park passes as well as the camping ($13 a night!). Then we were off to hike Wine Glass Lookout (pretty, and not at all strenuous) and the Cape Tourville Lighthouse (gorgeous!).

One of our Easton aluminum stakes had a separated cap as a result of our struggling with stake removal, and the ranger had suggested that we go to Bischofen for contact cement. We drove there and found that as promised, the general store (named The Log Cabin) was indeed opened, and sold us super-glue, some guylines, and a couple more stakes for car camping. I'd spied a scenic drive marker earlier, so we went back and drove that. There's an incredible blow-hole right in Bischofen, where the waves pushing through below some beach rocks, would pressurize and blow water up through some holes. Touristy but in a nice way.

More scenic driving until about 4:30pm, when we arrived at St. Helens and determined to find a campground with hot showers this time. We ended up at the Tourist Caravan Park just out of St. Helens, and had a grand time talking to our neighbors in the park, who were eager to give us suggestions as to where to go and so forth.

That night, I discovered that my CPAP machine was no longer getting power from the battery. A look at the cigarette lighter mechanism showed that it had broken. Well, I could take it apart but that would take daylight, so I went to sleep without it instead.

The next morning started off gloomy. We ate a quick breakfast, took down the tent, and were sent to a local auto-parts store to find a replacement fuse for the cigarette lighter adapter --- when I took it apart, I found a broken fuse. Replacing the fuse did the trick, and I bought several more fuses to tide me over in case of another failure.

We then drove out to the Bay of Fires and the Garden, which was a pretty collection of rocks similar to what one might see in Point Reyes, but in a desolate and windy environment with very few tourists. Wild and desolate country indeed! That detour took a couple of hours so we had lunch back in St. Helens on the way out. We then started to drive West towards Cradle Mountain. Lisa wanted to see a Lavendar farm/garden that was on the map, so we drove there, stopping only for a short walk through a rainforest that was an educational exhibit on the road. Arriving at the Lavendar farm, we smelled lavendar oil in the air and went to see the distillery.

After that we had a decision to make --- camp out on the North coast? Or head down to Longford where we had a campsite recommended to us on our first day in Tasmania? Looking at the map, I wanted to avoid more driving, so we drove down to Longford to find that the commercial campground was pretty and very well laid out. Well worth the $20/night.

The next morning, I started by arranging transportion from Lake St. Clair back to Cradle Mountain for when I shuttled the car to the southern end of the Overland track. Transportation being what it was in Tasmania, it took me a few calls to find someone who would do it --- it turned out that the Tasmania Tour Company was happy to do so.

The drive to Cradle Mountain Lodge was interesting, taking us past King Solomon's Caves, where we arrived just in time to get a National Park Service tour. This was much different from the Jenolan Caves --- this tour was much more about ecology and damage, as well as living creatures in the caves than it was about the formations. Quite worth the money, however, and the views were very good.

Arriving at Cradle Mountain around 1:00pm, we ate lunch at one of the hotels, then visited the park information office to confirm everything. I was then told that I had to book the ferry for our return if we were planning to use the ferry. Discovering that my cell phone didn't work, I had to wait until we got to our hotel room at the Cradle Mountain Lodge to make that arrangement.

By the time all was said and done, it was time to take the Enchanted Walk scheduled at the lodge to see and hear about the interesting animals living in the park: the Wombat, the Platypus, and of course, the Tasmanian Devil. I also found out that it would take a 3 hour drive to get to Lake St. Clair, which meant that I had to get up at 6:00am the next day to make the 10:00am shuttle that I had arranged!

The evening was spent packing, arranging what had to be brought with us on the overland track, what would be left in the car, and checking that we had everything we needed for a 6 day, 5 night walk --- the longest self-contained backpacking trip I had arranged in my life.

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