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                  Debbie & Geoff's

                  Australian Safari


                          Travel Blog February 2017


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Wednesday 1st February to 8th February 2017

Next stop, and still on the beautiful west coast of Tasmania , we head towards Cradle Mountain with a detour (as we could take our time) we ventured to the Arthur Pieman Conservation and State Forest. Again an old mining area and with plenty of tracks to explore we headed off to Balfour, which seemed to be very lacking in everything, a few houses at the end of a bumpy dirt track and a wooden sign stating Balfour. Guess we weren’t lost after all!

Balfour     Tasmanian Devil
Balfour                                  Tasmanian Devil

One thing on this day’s journey was the spotting of our first and only wild Tasmanian Devil. Running down the road (which was more like a sandy track) it kept stopping and looking at us. It stopped and Geoff would jump out of the car with the camera and take a few shots, then it took off and so did we, after it. We wanted to make sure the little critter made it off the road to safety before we went any further.
Our destination today is a tiny town called Waratah . Heading up towards Cradle Mountain it was a cheaper alternative to accommodation. The town was again a ghost of its previous tin mining self. The Bischoff Hotel where we stayed was old and up for sale for only $420,000. The sad part is the lady had only owned it for a short time till she got sick and now after 14 months of ownership and her failing health she has stopped operating the pub bar service. The bottle shop opens at 3pm till 6pm. The accommodation is typical pub, old but great and the only reason she had dinner on that night was a tour group was booked in, otherwise the only other dining was the servo/convenience store (who makes a good hamburger) for dinner. The building itself was a bit like faulty towers, with rooms and corridors leading everywhere. The dining room was large with laminex tables and heat came from a large electric heater, not the fireplace which you would imagine in a building of this style.

Bischoff Hotel     Bischoff Hotel
         Bischoff Hotel - Waratah

A grand stair case took us from upstairs to downstairs, the bar from what we could see was average and needed a bit of TLC, but since it wasn’t used I guess it was as it was. ,Br/> Speaking to the lady at the convenience store (that is the only place to get coffee) she said the town was really hurting not having the passing trade with the pub. Where the bike riders and tourists would pass by and stay, eat and drink, they are now just passing by. She just wished someone would buy and reopen the pub as it was.
The town itself is very picturesque, with a waterfall right in the centre. A small museum donating how tin mining was the town’s history and a caravan park and police station, though I am not sure the station was open. But it was lovely and very green, of course it is green, it rains nearly every day there.
So after a night of rest we drove off to Cradle Mountain. Of course it was raining when we left and pouring by the time we arrived, and cold, oh my, the wind just whipped right through you and so cold, ok I said that already. We sat in the car and all I could say was “do we really want to do this?” but of course we were there and Cradle Mountain is a must for anyone down in Tassie. So with gloves, scarfs, beanies, jackets, and any other warm clothes we could find we ventured on the 5 ½ klm walk around Dove Lake. We were lucky that the rain passed and the sun came out and even though it was still cold the breathtaking scenery was well worth the slow walk that we did. We even saw the top of the mountain appear as the clouds occasionally parted.

Cradle Mountain     Cradle Mountain Hut
Cradle Mountain                                  Cradle Mountain Hut

Heading back to our hotel room we were very glad we made the effort to visit this national park.
Our next stop was Strahan . What another gem of a place. Very picturesque and right on the west coast. Our big tourist venture was to do the West Coast Wilderness Railway from Strahan to Queenstown . Now we or should I say I, decided to splurge and do the day trip including food. This included a glass of sparkling wine when we arrived at 8.30am with a salmon and cream cheese blinis. Followed by morning tea, of scones with jam and cream. Lunch was at Queenstown at the café with your choice of Salmon, Chicken or Vegetarian meal then back on the train for a cheese platter and before disembarking a lemon slice and caramel slice. It was very impressive indeed and not one morsel of food was wasted on our table.

West Coast Wilderness Railway     West Coast Wilderness Railway
          West Coast Wilderness Railway  

The train itself was a steam engine with carriages done up in the appropriate period. The wood panels were oak and Blackwood, with every detail from light fittings to luggage racks from the old NSW red rattlers, with the brass all polished to its former glory.
As the train chugged its way up the mountain we passed brilliant dry and wet forests, rivers and gorges. Some of the bridges you just did not want to look down as you would see how high we were. This was first built in the 1800’s with the oldest engine just celebrating 120 years.

West Coast Wilderness Railway     West Coast Wilderness Railway     West Coast Wilderness Railway
          West Coast Wilderness Railway  

Upon reaching Queenstown we were taken on a guided walk through the town. My how things have changed. It was over 20 years since Geoff and I had been there and with the mining stopping and the air cleared the mountains are now greening up. Quite a difference to the barren moonscape that we had previously encountered. The walk was not only informative but made us see Queenstown in a different light and where we might have previously bypassed it I can now say it is a destination worth seeing.

Empire Hotel     Queenstown
Empire Hotel - Queenstown                                  Queenstown

Our next day was spent driving and exploring. I had never been to Hells Gate which is the opening to Macquarie Harbour so we went touring out to investigate, white beaches and very windy. That evening we went to see the play “The Ship that Never Was” based on Sarah Island Macquarie Harbour and how convicts built a ship and then stole it to sail away to freedom. It is a two man show and has been running for over 20 years. There is audience participation and lots of laughter. As the show is in an outdoor theatre with sails on top they even supplied you with blankets to keep you warm as you joined in with the spirit of the show. I can highly recommend this as a very affordable and entertaining evening.

Hells Gate    
Hells Gate on good day

Time to head off again and our road took us again through Queenstown where we took our time to visit a few lookouts and more time to take a stroll around town since our appetite was wetted by the tour we had done a few days earlier. From here we visited the Franklin - Gordon Wild rivers national park for a stroll to a beautiful waterfall and a swaying stroll across a suspension bridge.

Queenstown     Bridge over Franklin River
Queenstown                                  Bridge over Franklin River

The next few nights are spent at Tarraleah. This is a ghost town which was previously a booming Hydro town. Now it caters for tourists and is privately owned. We had a cute little cabin nestled in the town of large grassy fields and backing onto the dam. There are no shops in this part of the world and we hadn’t stocked up on supplies, but they have a brilliant pub with great meals that fed us for the two nights we spent there.

Tarraleah     Tarraleah

Our reason for stopping here was to visit The Wall at Derwent Bridge. We had been told about this often on our trip around Aus. by fellow travellers. One man has over the years sculptured a wall out of Huon Pine. It tells the story of Tasmania, from wildlife that is now extinct to man’s struggle with the land, then the Hydro gets mentioned and war with the last panels dedicated to a man meeting a girl, having a baby then her getting the telegram of his death and her packing up with her small son and leaving the farm. I know these words do not do it justice and no photos are allowed, but it is so hard to describe the wall is 3 metres high and 100 metres long. The buttery tones of the wood and different panels and strokes showing the story. The artist is Greg Duncan and he is in his 60’s. His son served us in the café and as we had lunch in the garden neither of us could stop talking about what we had seen, add this on your list to do people.

Geoff found an Eagle at The Wall    
Geoff found an Eagle at The Wall

Wednesday 8th to 21st February 2017
Now at Hobart and we got to catch up with Sydney friends Andrew and Rosalie who arrived to see the Wooden Boat Festival. Andrew had rented an apartment and told Geoff that we need to come down and join in the fun. The apartment we stayed at a was just across the road from the dock so it was a perfect location and was well appointed. The road noise in the night was a bit daunting as we were just upstairs from a pub, oh and they had garbage trucks collecting rubbish what seemed to be every morning just before sunrise.,br/> What can I say about this week, Hobart and Tassie you again amaze me with your culinary delights. The most spectacular being a lunch at the Frogmore Vineyard. Each course was beautifully presented, delicate flowers adorned the plates as each came out as a work of art. The building itself had an upstairs section with artwork of wooden jigsaw puzzles adorning the walls and floors. I felt like I was in Master Chef as I tasted elements on the plate like chocolate dirt, tiny dots of green which were a pea puree, scallops and crab balls rolled in a Japanese sauce. All so very yum and washed down with a Frogmore wine. It was an experience I will never forget.

Frogmore Vineyard     Frogmore Vineyard
Frogmore Vineyard

Frogmore Vineyard     Frogmore Vineyard
Frogmore Vineyard with Rosalie and Andrew

We ventured down to the wooden boat show a few times during the running, Rosalie and I would go walking and investigating the area and of course the shops whilst the boys scoured the boats. Geoff even bumped into an old mate whom he had done quite a few adventures with over the years. On the Saturday Rosalie and I went to Mona . This winery and art museum is an experience not to be missed. Even though Geoff and I had done this previously it was still worth the trip. We caught a ferry over and paid for the posh pit where you are supplied with sparkling Riesling from their own vineyard and canapes. Don’t mind if I do! Upon arrival we visited the museum with headsets and audio so we could learn about different things that might interest us. There are no information boards so it is all done with the audio. It could place you in what ever room you were in the show you the items in the room. Click on the one that interested you and it would do a 1 to 2 minute spiel on the piece. Then it was time to do a wine tasting tour before a light late lunch. I do love Mona, it is a museum with a difference and the surroundings are spectacular.
Another great day was country side drive to Port Arthur then off to lunch and finally stopping at Richmond. What a beautiful town with a very picturesque bridge and fields of flowers. It was all so green and the sun kindly shone for us so we got to go topless in the Mercedes sport that Andrew and Rosalie had hired. It was lots of fun to end our week together and I am sure I put on a few kilos even though Rosalie and I would go walking every day to get up our 10,000 steps.

Bridge in Richmond     Crusing with the top down
Bridge in Richmond                                  Crusing with the top down

From Hobart to Battery Point, Rosalie and I would go walking. One night we even ventured out at 9pm, but felt quite safe as we strolled the streets. Up hills and steps noticing all the beautiful houses and buildings in the area. Exquisite galleries in the Salamanca area and we even got to go the opening of one. And the old pubs, wonderful sandstone walls and everything so green. Except for the weather I recon I could live in Tasmania.
After Hobart our destination was down south to Snug to catch up with an old sailing mate Grub and his family. They have a very cute house with amazing views. Think of the countryside, log house suitable for the climate and perched up high with views of mountains and sea. Pam cooked us a Thai dinner that was lovely and very appreciated and the boys stayed up way too late reminiscing of old times. Poor Grub (real name is Ian) had to go to work the next day so I did feel sorry for him after a fairly big night.

Ian's house Snug     Ian's house Snug
Ian's house Snug

He runs the chandlery at Kettering which was not far away, and we went to visit him at his shop before we left the area.
From Snug to Bicheno for a nights stay. We did a walk around from the blow hole along the coast. The rock formation was worth seeing with large boulders fringing the ocean. Also the colour of the rock was a striking orange that certainly made them stand out.

Blow Hole Bicheno     Bicheno coast walk
Blow Hole Bicheno                                  Bicheno coast walk

We then drove to the Douglas Aspley National Park where another walk led us to a beautiful fresh water river. Crystal clear and aqua in colour, nothing like the brown stained tea tree colour we are used to on the west coast.
Another special catch up for tonight at Four Mile Creek with Sadie and Gaz. Geoff and Sadie go back 40 years from the old Byron surfie days. Their house is amazing and it is perched on a cliff that overlooks the ocean. Geoff was so happy to again launch the drone to photograph another amazing view.

Sadie & Gaz,s house   Sadie & Gaz,s house  Sadie & Gaz,s house
Sadie & Gaz,s house

Though located not far from Snug the scenery was so different and no less spectacular. Again we were privileged to stay the evening with friends and in another spectacular house and surroundings. Having breakfast in the morning we could not believe our eyes when a White-bellied Sea-Eagle flew past carrying a large fish, all at eye level as the cliff is quite high up. Geoff was probably kicking himself that he didn’t have the camera on hand but the moment will stay with both of us how the fish was perfectly placed in the eagles talons, facing forward for less wind resistance.

Onward we travelled touring the coast line up to Rushy Lagoon where they have a large wind farm and then to the top of Tassie Cape Portland checking out the coast and beaches.

Edistone Point Lighthouse     Cape Portland Wind Farm
Edistone Point Lighthouse                                  Cape Portland Wind Farm

We stayed at the Welborough Pub up in the hills in the middle of the rainforest. There is nothing else in the town and seems to be the main stop for a quite a few weary travellers. It was certainly cool up there and I felt sorry for a few of the back packers who only had tents to sleep in. Now the pub was a bit of a classic and we got a bed in the room and that was it. Share bathroom, one ladies loo and shower and one gents for 14 rooms. Surprisingly was dinner that night, more than just pub grub was on offer and the food was really enjoyable.
Still more touring as we made our way back to Launceston . We had two more nights with Kim and had the pleasure of meeting her daughter, Anna, who joined us for dinner. With our last day at Launceston we went to town and caught up on some errands including getting our hair cut as it had been some time since the last one before Christmas.
We were sad to say goodbye to Tassie as it had been an excellent state to visit. At the moment I still think it is my favourite as the scenery is remarkable, if only the weather could be a bit kinder all year but maybe if we won the lottery it could be our summer holiday home and leave in April to miss the cold that we know would come. Leaving Launceston early in the morning to make Davenport by sailing time we travelled again through beautiful country side that was shrouded in mist. Yep I am going to really miss Tasmania, but we will be back that’s for sure.
Thanks again to all our friends down there, Kim, Ian and Pam, Sadie and Gaz for putting us up in their homes. Also Rosalie and Andrew for allowing us to share their accommodation in Hobart and see the Wooden Boat Show. It was great to catch up with you all and hope one day to repay the kindness. It was also to catch with a longtime friend Peter who brought his 120 year old wooden boat (Heartseas) down to Hobart for the show.

Tuesday 21st February – 27th February 2017
The Ferry again was a very smooth crossing and we disembarked and drove back to our caravan at the storage yard in Broadford. Again we stayed the night there ready to head off the next day to Euroa where we stayed for 4 nights. This was close enough for us to venture back to NSW for the day so Geoff could get his driver’s license renewed. Once that was done we headed back across the border to the lovely caravan park right on the river. We certainly have had some great spots and this was one of them. It must be end of season for them the park was practically empty. The town itself made its money from Merino wool, so literally off the sheep’s back. We did a walk around the town spotting the old buildings and the river walk. Geoff kept looking for platypus as we were told there was a few in the river, but alas none came to say hello.

Edistone Point Lighthouse     Cape Portland Wind Farm
Edistone Point Lighthouse                                  Cape Portland Wind Farm

The ladies at the tourist information centre were very helpful with maps of the area for us to explore. We drove up to Mount Wombat reserve and met a lovely young lady who was on fire watch in the lookout. She was an avid Eaglecam follower and thrilled to meet Geoff. We were very impressed with Kate who was studying to be a vet, worked during summer for the Forestry as a fire spotter and in the Rural Fire, was also into show jumping, and lived on a farm 20 km up the road.
Our bush walk at Strathbogie also took us past a few farms along a river walk where we were met by the friendliest Alpaca who just wanted to play and have a pat. I laughed when it started to frolic around and it had a friend who was a sheep that it jealously kept shooing away from us. Looks like we were its playmate and no sharing with dolly the sheep.
Our next venture was to go to weigh the car and the van at the free weighbridge that Vic. Roads has set up near Broadford. We were only 500 kilos over weight, so now we are all on diets. Me, the van and the car!
Southward we travelled and stayed one night at Kilmore. This town was certainly quite large and I could shop for a few supplies so we had food for the night. It makes things a lot easier when you can stay close to where there are shops, I can stroll up and get errands done while Geoff does his thing.

Tuesday 28th February

Balnarring here we come it is catching up time with Keith and Diana. These are friends who have travelled with us quite extensively through Europe and also joined us on a few trips in Australia when we have had time share accommodation. We get on famously and they were the perfect hosts. Balnarring is in the south of Victoria, one the coast looking over to Phillip Island. It is right on the beach though way too cold for me to think about swimming, and beautiful for walks.
Keith and Di took us on a few road trips exploring the area. We had a wonderful day at Point Nepean National Park which had a critical part of Victoria’s defence from 1878 till 1948. It was the largest and most heavily armed installation in the network of fortifications around the entrance to Port Phillip. We walked around gun emplacements and in myriad of tunnels that held the arms. This is also the area where Harold Holt disappeared all those years ago.