And now it’s snowing…

I have clearly been out of Tasmania for too long – I somewhat naively assumed we’d have good camping weather when we were down there. Wrong! It’s spring – of course I should have remembered it is still cold and wet at this time of the year in Tasmania!

(I should probably point out for those readers who don’t know, I was born in Tasmania and spent the first 14 years of my life living there. I moved back in my early 20s for a year to study my first year of university at UTas in Launceston, then returned a few years later once I had completed university in Brisbane and gained my first job in academia at UTas Launceston, where I stayed for almost 5 years. I returned to Brisbane at the end of 1998 to start my PhD and have lived permanently in Brisbane since then. Tassie will always hold a special place in my heart but I have very clearly blocked out all the unpleasant weather-related memories.)

My best friend, Kerrilee, lives in Devonport with her 10 year old son, William. I was super excited to drive off the boat (at 6.45am!) and go straight to Kerrilee’s house for breakfast and a catch up 🙂 We had plans to do some camping with Kerrilee and William later in our trip so after stocking up on some groceries and doing some laundry, we reluctantly left the comfort and warmth of Kerrilee’s house and made for our first Tasmanian destination. We had originally planned to head to Arthur River on the north-west coast for a night and then Strahan for another two nights. But it was raining all down the coast and we were going to need to set up the full annex in order to stay warm. Therefore we decided to head straight to Strahan and set up there for 3 nights, which would make setting up the full annex a little less bothersome.

Strahan is a quaint town on the mid-west coast of Tasmania. I remember camping there a bit as a kid with my parents so I was keen to show my own family one of my childhood places of interest. Now that I think of it, it pretty much rained the entire time we camped there when I was young as well. Not sure how I could have forgotten that!

The town sits on the edge of Macquarie Harbour and is famous for two central things – huon pine and convict prisoners. Sarah Island, in Macquarie Harbour, was a convict prison that pre-dated Port Arthur and plays a rich, albeit brutal, piece in Tasmania’s convict history. The forests around Strahan, along the Gordon and Franklin Rivers, are the only place in the world that huon pine grows so abundantly. We did a wonderful boat tour of Macquarie Harbour, Sarah Island, and part of the Gordon River heritage area where we learnt all about these fabulous places and the history of the ‘piners’ who worked deep in the forest to bring the massive huon pine logs back to Strahan for the sawmill. On board the boat we also watched a documentary called The Oldest Living Tasmanian, about the piners and the huon pine industry in Tasmania. It was a fabulous insight into the history of this area and I would recommend watching it if you ever get the chance.

(Side note: this whole area is heritage listed but was once the centre of a massive uproar between the Tasmanian government and the federal government, with the high court having to step in and stop the bitching. Tasmania wanted to log the crap out of this area and put in a whole heap of big dams that would flood the entire area and damage acres and acres of old growth forests of species that only grow in this area. But a good part of the Tasmanian population cried out in protest – yay to Bob Brown, lots of trees were hugged and people chained themselves to trees and essentially lived in the canopies of the trees for months on end, and the federal government finally stepped in and said ‘you can’t do this’. It was one of the biggest conservation protests the world had ever seen and eventually the world heritage folks heard about this and decided it was time to take a look. The area was world heritage listed and the Tasmanian government were made an offer they couldn’t refuse and the area remained as it is now. Happy ending.)

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Brandon on board our Macquarie Harbour cruise
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Captain Charlotte 🙂
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Enjoying our front row seat on the cruise
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The glorious Gordon River
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Macquarie Harbour
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Macquarie Harbour – original lighthouse
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Macquarie Harbour, approaching the roaring 40s
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Exploring Sarah Island
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The old bakery on Sarah Island
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Exploring Sarah Island
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Strahan from the water
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The huon pine saw mill

As anticipated, it rained and rained and rained while we were in Strahan. It was also incredibly windy and on our last night there we encountered 92 km/h winds! Our annex stood through it all (we’d learnt our lesson after Echuca, and we had all the walls attached and the floor down which contributed to the stability). On the morning we packed up we had a brief break from the rain long enough to pack up without our stuff getting wet but the floor and walls all had to be put away quite wet which isn’t ideal. I’m writing this some two weeks later and they are still folded up in the camper and probably won’t get an airing now until we get home!

We had planned to stop for a night at Derwent Bridge which is approximately half way between Strahan and Hobart. It is also essentially on top of a mountain range and very close to Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair. Anyone familiar with Tasmania will know these places are typically frigidly cold and I wasn’t surprised when I saw the forecast for Derwent Bridge involved snow to 300 metres! That’s it – we were driving straight on through and direct to Hobart! (But not before the ‘kids’ had some snow fun first.)

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The first peek at snow – little did we know, more was to come!
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Our rig in the snow at Derwent Bridge
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Brandon threw a snow ball at his car
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Flowing water down a mountain – stunning
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One of the many hydro-electric power stations in the area
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Snow!

We pushed on to Hobart where we had been offered a place to stay with a primary school friend of mine, Andrea, and her family. The promise of a warm building to sleep in rather than a camper was pretty enticing. The main purpose of visiting Hobart was to spend time with my beloved cousin, Anica, and her partner, Phillippa, the closest thing Charlotte has to ‘aunts’ and very important people to us (not forgetting her real great-aunts, of course!). So we spent as much time as we could with them while in Hobart and didn’t do a huge amount of site-seeing. We’ve been to Hobart quite a few times before so this visit was all about family. That being said, we did go to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) because Brandon hadn’t been there yet; Brandon and I also did a Cascade Brewery tour while Pip babysat Charlotte for us. Brandon spent a lot of time building Lego – our host family are avid members of the Tasmanian ‘brick’ enthusiasts scene and had a ‘brixhibition’ coming up the following weekend. Brandon was more than happy to help out by building one of the displays that Andrea planned to exhibit that weekend.

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Charlotte and Anica have an affinity for building stone cairns
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Brandon takes Anica’s scooter a spin!
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Ready to ride!
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Charlotte, Pip, Anica and Nancy
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The imposing Cascade Brewery facade – I grew up just blocks away from this building
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Enjoying our Cascade tour
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Hmmm, just a small purchase
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Lego Ninjago!
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Lego Ninjago!
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Lego Ninjago!
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Charlotte enjoying MONA
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The Aurora Australis ice breaker was in town
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Fun with Anica and Jimmy
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Constitution Dock
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Fun with the ‘aunties’ in the sun (yes, there was some sun!)
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Family love
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More family love

Andrea’s ferret was also a big hit with Charlotte. I’m not convinced – a little too much like a rodent for my liking and I suspect Dobby would probably dispense of it pretty quickly. Still, she was good for some laughs.

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Ferret on your back?
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Ferret down your shirt?
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Ferret in your lap?
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Ferret selfie!

Leaving Hobart our plan was originally to then travel to the east coast of Tasmania and spend 3 nights camping at the Bay of Fires with Kerrilee and William, then head to Devonport and spend 3 nights at Kerrilee’s house before boarding the boat back to the mainland. Kerrilee and I had already agreed that if the forecast was for rain, we’d just head straight to Devonport and stay with her for 6 nights and do day trips from her place. I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was what happened!

We had a lovely extended stay in a warm, dry house (I’d almost forgotten how to set up the camper by now!) and we visited a number of the local attractions that we hadn’t seen on any of our previous trips to Tasmania. First up was a day trip to ‘the nut’, a landmark in Stanley on the western end of the north coast of Tasmania. When I was first there as a kid, you had to walk up and down the nut if you wanted to check out the view. These days they have a chairlift which made the trip far more pleasant for these old bones!

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The Nut
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Chairlifts make it so much easier!
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Chairlifts make it so much easier
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Chairlift selfie
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That’s Kerrilee and William up there
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Not keen to fall
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The view from the top

We also visited 41 Degrees South, a salmon farm just outside of Deloraine. I don’t like salmon so the free tasting didn’t do much for me, but I came away with a great jar of what I’m going to call ginseng dukkah (they call it ginseng spice but it seems exactly like dukkah to me!). Can’t wait to try that on some chicken when we get home 🙂 After a visit to the salmon farm, we met a former UTas colleague of mine for lunch in Deloraine, then stopped on the way home at the Ashgrove Cheese Farm, for a tasting of the local produce. Cheese – mmmm – my weak spot 😉

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Feeding the salmon
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41 Degrees South Salmon Farm
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Can’t quite see but there’s a fish down there
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Can’t quite see but there’s a fish down there
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The water that feeds the salmon farm
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If there’s a rock to be climbed, Charlotte will climb it
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Charlotte enjoyed the playground next to the river in Deloraine
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Charlotte and William trying to maim each other at the playground
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See that boil? That’s a shy platypus 🙂
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Painted cows at Ashgrove Cheese Farm

Another trip involved a visit to the Mole Creek Caves. This was a great chance to see a wet cave up close and to see the glow worms they have in the cave. Once privately owner, this cave system is now managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Tasmania and it was a great day out. Unlike Tunnel Creek in WA, we didn’t need head lights or anything here – the caves are all lit electrically. You have to go through the cave with a guide and he turns on and off the lights as you reach various stages of the walking track. It’s very well done and quite enjoyable. It also remains a steady 9 degrees inside the cave all year round, so I was a bit chilled and actually felt warm as we came to the surface again!

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Getting ready to enter Mole Creek Caves (note the lack of hair!)
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Stunning cave sights
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Impressive spelunking 😉
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Leaving the cave

It was lovely to spend some time chilling with Kerrilee and William and not having the stresses and strains of camper life.

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Bananagrams fun (and practicing our spelling)
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Relaxing at Kerrilee’s place
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The view from Table Cape on the central north coast
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Last supper with Kerrilee and William

But all good things come to an end and pretty soon it was time to board the boat again and head back to the mainland.

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On board once again
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Kerrilee took this image of us as we sailed past – if you squint, you can see me in pink on the top deck, far left

The end of our trip is drawing near – I can’t believe that, at the point we got on the boat, we only had 2 weeks left on our adventure! Yikes! I’m not ready to face going back to work just yet. I suspect it will be a bit of a culture shock. But we still have a few things to cross off our ‘to do’ list before we drive back up our driveway, so you can expect to hear about a few more adventures over the coming 2 weeks 😉

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 14 weeks, 1 day.

When it rains it pours…

Our luck with weather was about to change.

Until arriving in Victoria the worst weather we had experienced was cold nights and wind. We had that one experience with rain at Nanga Bay but other than that, the cold wind was all that had troubled us. I should have known that travelling closer to Victoria and Tasmania would see the weather gods turn against us.

Just before crossing the border into Victoria we drove through the Hallett Wind Farm area. Producing enough power to supply 200,000 households, the 167 giant wind turbines that make up the Hallett Wind Farm are truly a spectacular sight – I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Spread out over a series of hills in the area around the town of Hallett, I was struck by the beauty of the wind farm. We couldn’t get close enough to hear them turning but they appeared as majestic tributes to modern energy production. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see all the stone ruins in the area around the wind farm. This area was once a large rail area with the town of Peterborough being the hub of stream trains transporting goods from Port Pirie to Broken Hill. Apparently 100 or more trains would pass through Peterborough each day and the surrounding area was built up to support the rail workers. They lived in stone buildings and the ruins of all these buildings now litter the surrounding fields. Seeing these ruins in front of the giant wind turbines was quite a sight.

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Stone ruins in front of turbines – the old and the new
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One of the many hills of turbines near Hallett

We crossed the border and reached Mildura, our first ‘eastern’ destination. We were spending two nights in Mildura, two nights in Echuca and two nights in Ballarat, essentially following the Murray River. Mildura was a shock to our system – they had traffic lights! After spending so much time away from large towns/cities it was quite strange to drive through such a large town. We saw McDonalds, BCF and the Reject Shop all in one block! 😉

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Our time in Mildura was largely to refresh our batteries after a series of one-night stops. We didn’t have any plans ahead of time as to where we wanted to go but it was nice to drive around and see what the town had to offer. We went to Lock 11 and the Mildura Weir, walking along the banks of the river. We also visited Woodsies Gem Shop which was a surprisingly pleasant little find. The Gem Shop advertised a maze and ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of gems which we were interested in seeing. A family business, Woodsies is owned by the Woods family (surprise surprise) and is situated on their own land next to their house. The original shop has expanded now to a thriving café, gem shop, maze and pay-to-enter ‘cave’ that houses their collection of semi-precious gems and related artefacts that have been collected from around Australia and the world. It really was an engaging place that kept us busy for a few hours. There were also a few humourous signs on the displays 😉

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The entrance to Lock 11 and Mildura Weir
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Walking along the Murray River
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Woodsies poking fun at their own display? (note the dead fly which is in a gem display behind a glass wall)
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Finding our way around (and out) of Woodsie’s maze
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More maze musings

Our campsite in Mildura was full of wildlife and interesting sights. Rabbits wandered the grass at night, there were fairy lights in most of the trees and the odd tree carving as well. We even had a very friendly possum visit our site – clearly he/she was used to being fed by the campers because he came right up to us and essentially demanded we feed him!

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Carved tree at our Mildura camp ground

 

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Friendly possum decided to join us for dinner

From here we travelled to Echuca, staying in the near-new Moama Waters caravan park. This park was similar in quality to the Streaky Bay caravan park given how new it was but the difference was we had an ensuite site. I haven’t seen one of these before so it was a bit of a novelty. The site was essentially a drive-through site where you park/set up next to a building that houses a toilet, vanity and shower just for your use only, accessed with a key. We used this as a space to lock our bags etc in when we went off exploring and it was great to have this little luxury right next to our camp site. The fauna visitors this time were in the shape of two ducks that just wandered through the camp site helping themselves to whatever they could find! We had to shoo them away because they seemed to take a liking to the ant powder we’d put down around the bottom of the annex poles.

The site also came with a fair deal of wind and unfortunately we came back to camp one day to find our annex had been blown down. Our neighbours had thoughtfully tied it off so that no further damage would be done but we snapped the new make-shift ridge pole that Brandon had put together back in the first weeks of our trip (after we left the original one at Bramwell Station). Thankfully we had spares of these poles so a new one was soon created 😉 But that was our first taste of the wind that would soon mar a number of future camp sites.

The main activity we planned for Echuca was a Murray River paddle steamer cruise. I remember doing one of these as a kid and I really wanted Charlotte and Brandon to enjoy the paddle steamer like I had once done. We went on the PS Emmylou and enjoyed a nice lunch on board as we cruised up and down the Murray River. At one point we went past the giant pile of wood they have cut up for the Emmylou which impressed Charlotte. She was able to see the engine working as we chugged up the river but I was disappointed to see that the paddle itself was housed behind a series of wooden slats so Charlotte wasn’t able to see that in action. There was a small window looking in to the paddle wheel but it was a little hard to see.

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PS Emmylou
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Enjoying the Murray River
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Daddy and daughter on the PS Emmylou
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Engine room – fuelled by steam, there was a giant wood fire down below this.
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Piles of wood for the PS Emmylou

Leaving Echuca we stopped at McDonalds to grab a quick breakfast. At every stop we make like this Brandon has gotten into the habit of checking our rig – going around the outside to make sure all looks OK, touching the wheel hubs to check nothing is running too hot etc. This is left over from all the corrugations we experienced in the first half of our trip and it certainly helps to avoid potential hazards to check things like this and make sure all your ropes are still tied etc. On this occasion, as Brandon was checking the hubs, he felt that one of the camper’s hubs felt extremely hot, even though we’d only been driving for 10 minutes. This wasn’t a good sign L We drove to a quiet back street that had lots of room for us to pull over and Brandon proceeded to take the entire wheel assembly apart to check the bearing. He could smell burnt grease which can sometimes be a brake issue, but as we’d only been driving for 10 minutes around the Echuca streets, it wasn’t likely to be caused by that. Without a replacement bearing kit on board, all we could do was pack in more grease and hope for the best. We drove very slowly onwards, stopping every 20 minutes or so to check the hub. Thankfully the work that Brandon did must have made a difference because we made it to Ballarat without any problems and in fact, that wheel ended up performing much better than any of the others on the car or camper! Disaster averted 😉

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Hmmm what’s wrong with this picture?
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I think there’s supposed to be a wheel in there somewhere?

When we arrived in Ballarat it was raining, cold and windy. I had decided we would try to get a cabin at the caravan park because we were only here for 2 nights and I didn’t want to pack up a wet camper to then get on the boat with. We’d also be warmer and more comfortable. Thankfully the local Big 4 had a cabin free for us to use, although we still had to use the caravan park amenities. It was a small, quiet caravan park and within walking distance to Sovereign Hill, so this only caveat wasn’t too problematic. It also helped that our cabin was directly across the road from the toilet block 😉 Once we were settled in, I looked out our window from the warm, dry cabin at the others in camper trailers who were setting up in the rain and felt rather satisfied with our decision!

Our main purpose for going to Ballarat was to see Sovereign Hill, another memory I have from my younger days travelling in this area. Sovereign Hill is like a living museum and piece of the Australian goldmining history. Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851 and within 10 years the city had grown to be an established town. You walk the streets of Sovereign Hill and soak up the history, the shops are all set up like the shops would have been in the mid 19th century. There’s a blacksmith, a wheel-maker, bakery, and metalsmith. There’s a confectioner, horse and carriage rides and you can even pan for gold in a stream of water that was what the original goldminers used back in the day. All the attractions are staffed by people in period costume who show you how people did those particular trades back in the day. There is also a tour of one of the underground gold mines where you enter and exit on a genuine mine tram that takes you down into the very dark mine. There’s also a ‘gold pour’ where molten gold is poured into a mould to make a $160,000 gold bar. As part of that demonstration and the mine tour we learnt about how the gold was separated from the quartz rock that it came from. The whole day was just fascinating and other than some tired legs by the end of the day, we all had a great time. That being said, it was a nice treat to come home to a warm cabin at the end of the grey and dreary day.

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It was a bit wet and cold in Ballarat
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A goldmine @ Sovereign Hill
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Charlotte trying her hand at using a proper fountain pen and ink in the old school building
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Charlotte trying her hand at using a proper fountain pen and ink in the old school building
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Red coats on the march
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Genuine working parts
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Pouring some valuable gold
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Making a $160,000 gold bar
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Panning for gold
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All that panning for this?

We left Ballarat on the morning of the day we were due to board the Spirit of Tasmania and cross the Bass Strait to Tasmania. It was a relatively quick and easy drive to Melbourne where we caught up with a friend from Charlotte’s original parents group who had agreed to hold some of the stuff we had that we weren’t sure we’d be able to take into Tasmania (e.g. all of Brandon’s frozen fish!). Thanks Matanis family! Great to see you 🙂

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Pretty soon it was time to head to the boat in Port Melbourne. You wouldn’t believe how excited Charlotte was about the boat trip – I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this excited before! We were the first tall car on board (i.e. over 2.1m tall, park in a special area), so we were marshalled on fairly quickly (and, as it turns out, were able to get off pretty early). We had a porthole cabin with 4 bunk beds in it right under the bridge at the front of the boat – Charlotte was even more excited when she realised she could see out the very front of the boat as we were underway. Alas we couldn’t book a deluxe cabin with a large bed in it because they only cater to two people – next time when it’s just us adults 😉

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The Spirit of Tasmania here we come!
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Lining up to board
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Up this ramp…
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… and on to the boat!
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Charlotte loved our porthole – it looks directly out front of the boat
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Goodbye Melbourne!
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Hello Devonport!

The trip started out well with reasonably smooth sailing while we were in Port Phillip Bay. But as soon as we left the bay and went through the headlands the boat started rocking a little more noticeably and I started to feel a little queasy. Too late for a sea sickness pill now! I just had to put up with feeling a little unwell while I showered and got into bed. I figured if I slept through it, all should be OK. Thankfully that’s exactly what happened – I woke up around 5am to lovely smooth sailing as we approached Devonport’s harbour. As predicted, we were amongst the first cars to leave the boat and by 7am we were driving the (very quiet) streets of Devonport 🙂

The second-last part of our big adventure was now about to begin…

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 12 weeks.