Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tasmania - Westward bound

Following on from my last post (mmmm, still thinking about Cadbury chocolate!) I begin to make my way northwest.  Sticking to the A10, I pass through the townships of New Norfolk, Hamilton and Derwent Bridge.  Somewhere along the way (I wish I had paid closer attention) I passed a roadside stand selling strawberries.  You know the kind, where they still operate on the honour system?  Well, I buy a punnet of strawberries and get back on the road.  Halfway through, I realized that I should have bought 2 or 3, because they weren't going to last long!

Past Derwent Bridge (before I got to Queenstown), I stopped at Nelson Falls, more to get out and stretch my legs than for anything else.  Boy, wasn't I pleasantly surprised after a short, easy walk through the lush rainforest to find these pretty falls at the end?  The rainforest was so dense, it was at least a couple of degrees cooler inside than it was out near the road.
Nelson Falls

Continuing on to Queenstown, I was struck by the change in the landscape.  Up until then, for the most part, it had been a very pleasant drive though the countryside with farms, trees and plenty of rivers.  Areas around Queenstown, however, looked almost desolate with not much vegetation on the hills.  The scenery changed again soon after I had this place in my rear view mirror.  I was so absorbed in watching my surroundings that it took a while to notice the lack of traffic.  It got to a point where I was surprised to even see another car!  Not exactly like Dallas rush-hour traffic, that's for sure :-)

My accommodation for the night was in Strahan (pronounced Strawn), a little seaside town about mid-way down the west coast with a decent sized harbour.  The first word that came to mind when I saw it was 'quaint'.  Charming cottages on the hillside, an esplanade, lots of small boutiques and shops.  You can read more about Strahan and the West Coast on our website.
Luckily the weather was perfect, if a little cool, for the Gordon River Wilderness Cruise I had booked the following day.  The cruise starts out by crossing Macquarie Harbour to Hell's Gates (what a great name, hey?) the incredibly small gap in the rocks that provide the only access from the Southern Ocean to the only safe harbour on the west coast of Tasmania.  The here was whipping something fierce - I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be piloting a boat.  From Hell's Gate we travel the length of the harbour to enter the Gordon River.  Now we are transported into what seems like a different world...the rainforest, the glass-like river, the tranquility.  After living in a major city for many years, it was so nice to truly be able to hear the wildlife around us all without any background hum.  It's easy to see why this area is World Heritage Listed.

We had the opportunity to disembark at Heritage Landing and have a bit of a stroll on an elevated wilderness walk.  I know there were a few 'real' photographers on the tour that made the most of it with some pictures that put my little snapshots to shame.  A lovely buffet lunch was served on board and we turned back towards the harbour, with a quick stop at Sarah's Island - yet another convict settlement, this one from the 1820's (before Port Arthur was established).  With a guide leading our little group around the ruins on the island, we learned a bit more history about the place.  The boat gets back to Strahan mid-afternoon which allowed for a look about town before dinner.  You can learn more about the cruise, or make a booking, on the Gordon River Wilderness Cruise page on our website.  Seating is limited, so I highly recommend booking ahead.

I will finish up the last leg of my journey to Launceston in my next post - stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Driving Around Southeast Tasmania

As I sit in a sweltering summer in Texas, I can't help but remember my last visit to Tasmania - cool, crisp and refreshing.  I find that a little ironic, since it was the end of Spring/start of Summer when I was there, but oh, what a difference!  For this trip, I let some of my colleagues plan the itinerary for me.  Since that is one of our departments at work, why shouldn't I work with an Australian travel planner?

Using Qantas, I flew into Hobart where I had a hire car reserved.  You can get your car hire in Tasmania from our website.  From Hobart, I headed towards the Tasman Peninsula and Eaglehawk Neck, stopping at Pirates Bay lookout to take a few snapshots.
Pirates Bay and Eaglehawk Neck from the lookout
Eaglehawk Neck is at the northern tip of Tasman National Park (although not a part of it).  Within the park you can find lots of great stuff to see, including Tasman's Arch, the Blowhole, the Devils Kitchen (and no, you won't find Chef Gordon Ramsey there either) and Waterfall Bay.  There are walking tracks through the bush and along the cliffs if you feel so inclined and have the time to do so.

Following an afternoon spent wandering, I headed west, towards the township of Koonya, and my lodgings for the night at Cascades Colonial Accommodation.  What a treat!  The history buffs out there would love this place.  Originally a convict barracks in the 1840s, Cascades has been authentically restored/renovated to provide self-contained cottages for guests.  The location was tranquil, being set on the shores of Norfolk Bay with plenty of wooded areas to explore.  In hindsight, I would have stayed here more than just one night, especially since it was so conveniently located to the Tasman National Park and Port Arthur.

Next stop on my itinerary was the Port Arthur Historical Convict Site.  You can read more about it on the Port Arthur Tasmania page on our website.  I was immediately struck by the sheer size of the 'settlement', for want of a better word, and the number and variety of buildings and ruins.  I would say the most recognisable building would be the Penitentiary, where the convicts were housed.
Port Arthur Penitentiary
The grounds were beautiful, as was the setting.  As I stood at the water's edge, looking out to sea, I couldn't help but wonder what the convicts that had lived there almost 200 years ago had thought at the first sight of their new 'home'.  After spending the better part of 8 months on a ship to get there, they had to know they were miles from anywhere; the water temperature must be bloody cold for most of the year, so escaping that way wouldn't have been an option, not to mention the possibility of sharks.  It's hard to describe, but I could really feel the isolation of the place really penetrate.

As part of the entrance ticket I had pre-purhased was a cemetery tour of the nearby Isle of the Dead, located in the harbour, and accessible via a short cruise.  It was an interesting guided walk with a lot of history about some of the people who had lived and died at Port Arthur.
Isle of the Dead
Again, hindsight being 20/20, I wish I had allocated more time to this area, but I suppose it's impossible to always fit in everything you want to do, right?

On the way back towards Hobart, I stopped to stretch the legs (and the camera) in the small historic town of Richmond, which boasts two of Australia's 'oldest' titles - the oldest bridge still in use, and the oldest Catholic Church (St John's Roman Catholic Church).  I thought the bridge had much more charm and character than today's modern monstrosities.
Richmond Bridge
One of the highlights of this trip was my early morning visit to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory in Claremont, a northern suburb of Hobart.  I was lucky that I got this tour in before they stopped allowing access to the manufacturing area.  Being the confirmed chocoholic that I am, this place was heaven!  There were lots of free samples handed out and I actually learned some interesting bits and pieces along the way.  Plus, they give you a great discount in the gift shop.  OK, so I had to buy another suitcase to fit the 5kg box I purchased, but it was SO worth it!

If chocolate factories aren't your thing, then check out our Hobart - Activities and Tours page to find something that tickles your fancy.

Stay tuned for the second half of my trip where I cross over to the west coast of Tassie and then up to Launceston.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ningaloo Reef and the North West Cape of Western Australia

Off the beaten path.  That would probably be my key description for a holiday destination such as the North West Cape of Western Australia.  Not a lot of glitz and glamour of a fast paced city rat race, which is just how I like my trips.  (Of course, a bit of dazzle every now and again doesn't go astray).  To be honest, it's not the easiest nor most convenient of places to get to, but then, nothing worthwhile comes easy, right?  To put this area into perspective, have a look at the Ningaloo Reef Travel Destination Map.  With this as your key destination, you should fly into Exmouth (Learmonth Airport).  Qantas, Skywest and Virgin Blue all service Learmonth from Perth, so you do have a few different options.  

Here's a link to some info about Ningaloo Reef Australia Hotels, so that you can read up a bit before you actually search hotels in Exmouth.  As I normally do, this is another place where I'd strongly recommend booking your hotel in advance.  You have plenty of options to try, from upscale resorts to budget lodges, to unique eco accommodation.  Once you get there, there's plenty to keep you occupied.  One of the main attractions if you're travelling between March and June is to swim with the Whale Sharks (sounds a bit scary, but it really isn't). 
Snorkeling with the Whale Sharks
The entire region is home to a wide variety of wildlife and sea life.  It's on the winter migratory routes of humpback whales, dugongs, dolphins and manta rays.  In addition, the beaches in the area are an important nesting ground for turtles.  Thanks to great conservation efforts and relatively small populations, the beaches are pristine and the flora and fauna are prolific.
Snorkeling at the reef
If you're thinking to yourself, "do I want to go to the beach in the wintertime?", then it bears mentioning that the winters in this area are typically warm and dry, with average temperatures of 25 C (75 F).  Summers are usually hot and dry with an average temperature of 38 C (100 F).  To use an old Australian phrase, don't forget to Slip-Slop-Slap!  (Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen and Slap on a hat).

Still, if you'd rather travel during the southern springtime, then you'll be treated to a spectacular display of wildflowers in September and October. 

So, no matter what time of year, just GO!  You won't regret it!

For a bit more history and geography of the region, check out the Travel Destination Ningaloo Reef page on our website.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


In my ongoing effort to inform/educate you about all things Australian, I have decided to do a slang word/phrase of the week.  I'll pick a word or phrase, give its definition and then use it in a sentence so that you can get the context.  To help keep everything together, I've created a separate Slang page for this.  So, tune in once a week - you might learn something, and hopefully you'll get a laugh out of it too!  If you've heard a word or phrase that you didn't know, please leave me a comment so that I can include it in future posts.

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