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.

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.

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.

 

Mawson’s huts Replica Museum, Hobart

Sir Douglas Mawson led an Australasian Antarctic expedition during the great period of Antarctic exploration in the early 1900s.  His ship the SY Aurora left Hobart on 2 Dec 1911 and landed at Cape Denison.  The expedition members built themselves huts and lived in these for two years through constant blizzards and winds up to 320km/hr.  After the expedition left, the huts lay undisturbed until the 1970’s when attempts began to preserve them.  The huts on Hobart’s waterfront are faithful replicas of the originals (probably better as they were built by skilled carpenters).  They are near the wharf from which the SY Aurora sailed.

The gift shop sells knitting patterns so you can knit your own replica Mawson balaclava. I was tempted as it’s been pretty cold so far in Tassie and if it saw Mawson through an Antarctic expedition it must be pretty cosy.

Snug Beach

Snug Beach is an interesting little town south of Hobart.  They are commemorating 50 years since a devastating bushfire killed 11 residents.  The Duke of Edinburgh visited the town a month after the fires and a plaque says “His words of encouragement to those who had lost everything in the fire lifted the spirits of survivors.”  It goes to show he doesn’t always put his foot in it.

The caravan park is right on the beach and the bay is beautiful but when the wind is blowing in the right (or wrong) direction, the smell of the seaweed is quite overpowering.  Seeing the Southern Lights more than made up for the honk though.

Victorian Goldfield Towns

Ballarat

As described in the previous post, Ballarat was the site of the Eureka Stockade and is now home to a museum dedicated to the history of Australian democracy.  I think I should mention that its showpiece tourist attraction is Sovereign Hill, an open air museum and recreation of a gold rush town in the 1850s.  Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in Sovereign Hill and it’s so big you could easily spend the best part of a day there, so we decided to leave this for another time when we could visit together.  After two very hot days in the Grampians, it was now freezing cold and wet anyway.

Looking round for something else to do, I noticed that the inaugural Ballarat Writers’ Festival was on at the weekend.  The theme of the festival was democracy.  I took the opportunity to go to one of the workshops on crime fiction at the Old Law Courts in town.  It was run by local author Dorothy Johnston and was an enjoyable couple of hours discussing crime fiction with some like minded ladies.

Clunes

This historic town was the site of Victoria’s first gold strike in 1851 and many of the original buildings line its wide main street.  I was keen to visit, as nowadays it’s famous for its many secondhand bookshops and an annual book festival in May.  Most of the bookshops are only open at the weekend.  I couldn’t find anything worth buying at their overinflated prices though.  Ironically, the library had been abandoned.

Talbot

Another interesting and historic town with impressive 19th century buildings indicating its wealthy gold rush past.  It also has a privately owned observatory which is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday on clear nights.  Shame his neighbour at the back has let a large tree grow, blocking the eastern night sky.

Maryborough

The sun was out again and we instantly felt relaxed at Maryborough Caravan Park which is next to Lake Victoria and within walking distance to the town.  We could see why several people had written on Wikicamps that they came for a day and stayed for a week.  The only downside is all the ducks which I think remind Winston of our chickens he used to round up.

The railway station is huge as Maryborough was seen to have an important central position geographically.  Novelist Mark Twain visited the town in the 1890s and famously described it as ‘a railway station with a town attached’.

After the disappointment of Clunes, we discovered a little gem of a secondhand bookshop in Maryborough run by the Lions Club.  All the books are in good condition and most are $1 or $2 with all proceeds going back into the local community.   I came away happily with a bag of books.

Eureka!

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting for what to have for lunch, (Benjamin Franklin)
Liberty is a well armed lamb contesting the vote (anon).

The Eureka Stockade in Ballarat is a pivotal moment in Australian history. This gold rush town was in full swing back in 1854 and full of colonial immigrants chancing their luck in the world’s richest goldfields. Greed and corruption were rife and the ruling UK government imposed a £1-3 monthly mining tax on the locals as a blatant cash grab. This did not sit well with the miners, most of whom were Irish and already somewhat less than pleased with the UK.

On the 3rd of December 1854 the ‘Southern Cross’ flag, designed by a Canadian miner, was hoisted over a fenced in stockade and battle commenced against the army. By the morning, 27 lives (mostly miners) were lost but despite the lawlessness of those gold diggers, public support for their actions was through the roof.

Two years later, the Colony of Victoria enshrined a secret ballot for men (Ladies came some time later) which was only the second government to establish a common democratic vote after France.

And so; the site at Eureka is thought to be the birthplace of Australian democracy and the flag, now known as the Eureka flag, is its symbol. In reality the flag is a symbol of liberty not democracy – I think I’ll be flying it myself more often!

Oh, and one more thing, the site was totally destroyed other than some remnants of the flag itself. Today it’s a pleasant park, a large but ultimately disappointing visitor centre and a jolly nice caravan site where we are now 🙂

J-Ward Asylum, Ararat, Victoria

Described as Ararat’s premier tourist attraction; J-Ward asylum housed the who’s who of Victoria’s criminally insane for over 100 years until its closure in 1991.

Our volunteer tour guide was Nola, a former psychiatric nurse.  She took us to every part of the complex and was talking non-stop, so there was plenty of information to take in.  The asylum started out as Ararat Gaol and there were three executions within its walls which are commemorated by small plaques at the burial site.  Nola told the stories of notorious inmates such as Garry Webb who became violent at the most trivial of provocations and killed himself by eating razor blades.  Bill Wallace who was admitted in 1926 age 43 and who died there age 107.  The inmate who believed he was a member of the British royal family.

There’s plenty of memorabilia such as an autopsy table, a collection of restraints, a re-creation of an electric shock therapy room and carvings made by inmates on the walls.

I thought the tour was an hour but it lasted nearly 2 hours and Jonathan thought they weren’t letting me out.  It’s not surprising that you can also go on ghost tours of the asylum  and join paranormal investigators on an overnight visit.  Interestingly, that night on TV, the ‘Haunting Australia’ team were investigating nearby Aradale Asylum which claims to be the most haunted building in Australia.

View across to Mt Ararat and Aradale Asylum

 

Carry on up the Peninsula

On the drive up the Eastern side of the Eyre Peninsula, we stayed at the little town of Cowell, on Franklin Harbour, which was the last stop on our oyster odyssey.  The pubs were the only places open on the Saturday afternoon when we arrived and we weren’t sure whether we would be able to buy local oysters over the Labour Day long weekend.  The wide streets and impressive buildings are an indication of the town’s importance as a port in its early days.   We did think that perhaps ‘Home Hardware’ could have made an attempt to blend in to the historic main street by not painting their building bright blue.

It was also Grand Finals weekend and South Australians had footy fever as the Adelaide Crows were in the AFL Grand Final.  You would have thought there was no other news happening in the world on the local news channels.   However, after a lacklustre display by the Crows resulting in them being soundly beaten by the Richmond Tigers, not much more was heard about the game.

Luckily for us, a little seafood shack on the jetty was open on Sunday morning and we were able to buy a dozen Cowell oysters.  They were were quite salty and zingy so we decided they would taste better cooked and we ate them fried in Tempura batter.

We were cheering on The North Queensland Cowboys in the NRL Grand Final on Sunday night.  They had somehow made it to the final without their two star players.  Things didn’t get off to a good start for them when a player went down in agony after only 3 minutes, having broken his leg.  Ultimately, the Melbourne Storm were too strong and won convincingly.

South Australia has daylight saving and the clocks went forward an hour during the night.  We’ve changed our clocks so many times over the past month that it’s starting to get confusing.  I think we’re now 9 ½ hours ahead of the UK and ½ hour ahead of Brisbane.