West Coast Wilderness

We weren’t entirely sure whether to explore the western side of Tasmania on this trip.  We couldn’t visit the big draw card of Cradle Mountain as it’s in a National Park; the roads are mostly narrow and winding and the best way to appreciate the rugged landscape is either on a cruise, a helicopter flight or a railway journey through the rainforest.  We heard that if you wanted to see the edge of the world then you should visit the West Coast so that persuaded us.

Zeehan was Tasmania’s third largest town at its height in the late 19th century after silver and lead deposits were found there and its population peaked at 10,000 around 1910 (ten times the current population).   It was known as the Silver City while the boom lasted.  The significance of the town can be seen on the main street.  The West Coast Heritage Centre has preserved and restored some of the historic buildings and is housed in the former Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy.  It was well worth the $25 entrance fee.

We were told by a local that Zeehan’s annual rainfall is 3 metres!

The largest coastal town is Strahan on Macquarie Harbour.  Wilderness cruises take tourists out to Sarah Island which was used as a penal settlement in the early 19th century.  The convicts were made to fell Huon pines for boat building and conditions were harsh.  Convicts called the mouth of the harbour ‘Hell’s Gates’ as they felt they were entering Hell.

The copper smelting process at Queenstown resulted in the destruction of the surrounding vegetation which has only begun to grow back in recent years.  A friend who lived in Queenstown for 12 months said he only saw the sun for three days and it was pouring with rain when we arrived.

The Horsetail Falls walking track near Queenstown has only been open a few weeks.  It’s an impressive feat of engineering, clinging to the side of the cliff face and takes around 30 minutes return.  It was constructed as part of the $2.47 million West Coast rescue package by the State Government after the closure of the Mt Lyell Mine in 2014.   Winston and I did try to bail out two thirds of the way up but Jonathan encouraged us on to the top.  Miraculously, the sun came out for our walk.

‘The Wall’ – Derwent Bridge

Everywhere we went, people told us we must see ‘The Wall’.  Over the past decade, artist Greg Duncan has carved three metre high panels out of Huon pine which tell the story of the Central Highlands region.  It’s located inside his gallery and was certainly impressive.  For the $15 entry fee, I would like to have seen other works displayed in the gallery though.  There was no photography allowed.

Penguins!

The North coast of Tasmania is famous for its Little Penguins so we were quite hopeful of seeing our first penguins in the wild here.   There’s even a town called Penguin which has really embraced its name.

We finally struck lucky at Burnie where there’s a penguin observation centre.   The centre is looked after by the ‘Friends of Burnie Penguins’ who offer free interpretative tours for visitors from September to March.  (This was very different to the highly commercialised  Penguin Parade at Philip Island).  The Little Penguins spend the day fishing and come back to nest in their burrows at dusk.  Volunteers made hundreds of little penguin ‘igloos’ for them which means there are always plenty of penguins to observe here.   Some penguins are still rearing their chicks at the moment so if  you look carefully during the day, there are some in their little igloos.

I’m not sure whose idea it was to house the Burnie Brass Band next to the penguins.

 

Tamar Valley

Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre

Gold was first discovered in Beaconsfield in 1847 and led to a gold rush to the town.   It was the mine collapse in April 2006 that brought the town to the world’s attention again.  The Mine Rescue exhibition tells the story of the rescue of miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb.   Visitors can experience the conditions of the underground tomb where the miners waited for two weeks to be rescued.   The exhibition also tells how the town coped with the focus of the world’s media on them.

It seemed a shame though that there wasn’t equal weight given to the fact that there were three miners trapped and Larry Knight was killed in the rock fall.

The museum also houses several local collections including an impressive display of wooden knobs donated by Mr Ray Porter of Beaconsfield made from over 150 different types of timber.


Seahorse World, Beauty Point

If you like seahorses then this is the place for you.  It’s advertised as Australia’s only working seahorse farm which sounds a bit strange – you imagine them pulling little tractors!  There are very informative hourly tours which end at their aquarium where you can hold a seahorse in your hand.  They’re very wriggly though and I couldn’t hang on to mine.

Seahorse facts:

*the Latin name for the seahorse is Hippocampus.

*the males carry the young

*after being born, the babies (known as fry) are on their own.

*baby seahorses eat sea monkeys

*seahorses can change colour to match their surroundings.

 

 

North East Tassie

Launceston (pronounced ‘Lon-ceston’) is Tasmania’s second biggest city after Hobart.  Its main tourist attraction is Cataract Gorge Reserve which unfortunately is not dog friendly so we took turns having a look in.

Cressy – the fly fishing capital of Tasmania

Cressy is host to the Tasmanian Trout Expo every September.  It’s a shame we weren’t here then as Jonathan might have landed a $10,000 trout.  Cressy sits on the Macquarie River and is also close to Brumby’s Creek and weirs which are regarded as some of the best trout fishing spots in Tasmania.   Jonathan caught a couple of rainbow trout in the Macquarie River.  He’s becoming an expert trout filleter too and we had rainbow and brown trout fillets for dinner to compare the two.

Campbell Town

There were some beautiful sculptures next to the bridge carved by Eddie Freeman from Ross.  One depicted Dr William Valentine and his telescope.  He was responsible for the US Naval observatory team who observed the Transit of Venus at Campbell Town in 1874.

Westbury

This historic town has several National Trust buildings and a very English feel to it.  It even has a village green complete with stocks.

Bay of Fires, NE Tasmania

We found another fabulous free campsite at Swimcart Beach on the Bay of Fires and we managed to get a spot with direct beach access.  I thought the bay probably got its name from the bright orange lichen on the granite boulders but apparently it was named by Captain Tobias Furneaux who saw the fires of the Aboriginal people on the beaches in 1773 as he explored the coast of Van Diemen’s Land.

I can imagine this campsite will be absolutely packed over the summer.

Port Arthur Historic Settlement

The only thing we really knew about Port Arthur was that it was the site of Australia’s worst massacre in 1996 when 35 people were killed by a lone gunman and many wounded.  Most victims were shot at a cafe at the Port Arthur settlement and you can pay your respects at a memorial.

The settlement at Port Arthur started out in 1833 as a place to send convicts who continued to offend once they reached Australia.  It became a model for the rehabilitation of criminals based on Pentonville Prison in England.  Prisoners were disciplined and punished but also received religious and moral instruction, training and education.  As well as the prisoner population, soldiers and civil staff and their families also lived at Port Arthur and by 1840 there was a population of over 2000.  Convict transportation ended in 1853 and the settlement then housed an institution for ageing and infirm convicts who became known as the ‘old gentlemen’.  Some of these old gentlemen even led tours for the tourists who began arriving.  As free settlers arrived, the name was changed from Port Arthur to Carnarvon to distance the town from its convict past.  In 1856, the island also had a name change from Van Diemen’s Land to Tasmania.

Today, the site contains more than 30 buildings and extensive ruins and is set in landscaped gardens overlooking Mason Cove.  Apart from the fact that it had turned cold again, this was a good tourist attraction for the Bradshaws as dogs are allowed into the site.  The entrance ticket includes a 40 minute guided tour and a cruise round the cove (which wasn’t dog friendly).

In fact the tour had Winston’s paw of approval as there was frequent stopping when he could amuse himself by rolling in roo poo.  Being the only dog there, he also received a lot of attention.

Extreme Star Trails!

I took this dusk till dawn image of the night sky rotating about the south pole at Tasmania’s most southerly point, Cockle Creek. The site was so dark and so remote that during the entire time I photographed the night sky, not one aircraft passed by and not one stray photon of light pollution illuminated the foreground. If you look closely, you can find some meteors in the image too.

I sat and stargazed under the most pristine conditions imaginable and watched faint wisps of southern lights flickering just over the tree-line.

Astro-bliss 🙂

Cockle Creek

Our stay at Cockle Creek is a good example of the highs and lows of travelling.  Cockle Creek is the most southerly campsite in Australia and we found a perfect spot to park up.  It was the warmest day so far in Tassie at 29 degrees and we were hotter than Cairns, Brisbane and Alice Springs.  There were oysters and mussels on the rocks and Jonathan used his geology hammer to harvest some for dinner.  Winston enjoyed swimming in the creek and running on the beach.

After a fabulous day, we set off back to Hobart the next morning only to get a flat tyre 10km out of Cockle Creek.  A lovely local couple stopped to assist with a tyre change and we were on our way again an hour later.

We spent the afternoon on a quest to get some new tyres and TyreRight in Hobart managed to sort us out.  While we were waiting, we went to the Electoral Commission office and cast our votes for the upcoming Queensland elections.

In other voting news today, the results of the same sex marriage survey were announced and 61.6% of Australians voted for the law to be changed to allow same sex couples to marry.  Many landmark buildings around Australia were lit up in rainbow colours to mark the occasion.

Inverawe Garden, Margate

Margaret and Bill Chestnut have turned 22 acres of weeds into a beautiful native garden which attracts over 100 species of birds.  I booked into one of Bill’s bird spotting workshops which gave me a chance to test out my birthday binoculars.  Our group spotted 35 species over a couple of hours.  As the gardens are next to the North West Bay River, there were also plenty of shore and water birds.  Margaret laid on a fine morning tea for the group.

The gardens are behind the Margate Train whose carriages house various traders such as the Devil’s Brewery, Choo Chews and the Pancake Train.

We camped at the Bowls Club, next to the gardens which was a very scenic spot.  There was a platypus in the river and some elusive trout which kept Jonathan occupied for a few hours.

 

Hobart

Hobart’s not that easy to get around in a motorhome as you’re forced to drive through the busy centre and there aren’t many spots to park a large vehicle.  We managed to find a fairly central spot at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.  The Museum has an exhibition dedicated to the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger called Skinned, Stuffed, Pickled and Persecuted.  The Thylacine was hunted to extinction in the wild and the last known specimen died in Hobart Zoo in 1936.  There are still reported sightings but any footage is always grainy and the image unclear.  This is one of the most recent.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-06/tasmanian-tiger-sighting-claimed-by-trio/8877598

 

The museum has an extensive collection of Tasmanian colonial and contemporary art.

From the museum, it’s a 5 minute walk to the hugely popular Salamanca Markets, held every Saturday near the waterfront.  There are hundreds of stall holders selling everything from Tasmanian produce, crafts, clothes and giftware.   We had our first taste of the famous Tasmanian scallop pie which is traditionally filled with a creamy curry sauce.

Mt Nelson lookout gives you a fabulous view across Hobart.  There are picnic tables, a café and also the Mt Nelson Signal Station.  Between 1836 to 1877, the station sent semaphore messages across to the penal settlement at Port Arthur.  A 20 word message could be sent in 15 minutes.

We stayed at the Hobart Showgrounds which was handy for Bunnings.  Strangely the camp kitchen was in the Ferret Pavilion.