Sunday October 26 (continued) - I feel that lovely sense of anticipation and excitement as I drive out of Launceston airport; a holiday within a holiday as it were. I’m heading firstly for Evandale, just a few kilometres south, where I want to secure my booking for Sunday night two weeks hence, as my return flight on the Monday has been brought forward to 9 o’clock in the morning (thank you Virgin Blue!) The lady in the Evandale V.I.C. seems quite startled to have a visitor on a Sunday morning, so whilst there I make my first modest contribution to the Tasmanian economy by purchasing a booklet detailing a walking route around this historic little settlement. I confirm the location of ‘Greg and Gill’s Place’, which my research has suggested as a good accommodation option, and drive there. The rather gracious main house is approached via a sweeping driveway, to one side of which stands a cottagey outbuilding, where the two self-catering units are housed. At first I think the place is deserted, but eventually a chap appears and I get myself booked in for November the 9th - two weeks to explore this celebrated island state!
Knowing that I’m likely to be arriving back in Evandale quite late on that day, I decide to do my exploring now, with the aid of my recent purchase. First, though, realising that it’s rather a long time since my improvised breakfast at the not-so-lovely motel, I call in at one of the several cafés in the village and order a steak pie, apple juice and a blackberry slice (I’ve been getting pie withdrawal symptoms in the last few days, you see). This makes for a very agreeable lunch in the little courtyard attached to the café, with the sun doing its best to break through this rather persistent layer of grey cloud. Very satisfied with my first Tasmanian meal, I wander around Evandale, booklet in hand, absorbing the atmosphere of this appealing little place. It seems as if most of the buildings here feature in my booklet in one way or another; there’s lots of weatherboarding and pretty gardens (with blackbirds and sparrows hopping around, just to make me feel at home). Half close your eyes and it could almost be an English scene; look closer and notice the differences (like the preponderance of corrugated iron roofs and some unfamiliar garden plants).
The time passes very pleasantly as I complete my stroll around the village, but now I really must head off to Launceston (which I’ve learned to pronounce as three syllables, unlike the Cornish town of the same name). I’m planning a two-night stay here, and I have a place in mind, but carelessly I’ve not made a note of the address. It’s not far from Evandale into the city; back past the airport and on to the main highway. Launceston is very quiet on this Sunday afternoon, and the V.I.C. is firmly closed, so I sit in the car scanning my street map and hoping that a name will leap out at me. I keep coming back to Elphin Road, which rings a vague bell, so head out that way, looking for Kilmarnock House. Success! There on the right-hand side, not very far out of the city centre, is a fine Edwardian house, set in a lovely garden - it looks absolutely delightful from the outside. There’s nobody at home, but I speak to the owner via a phone link at the back door, and she promises to be with me shortly. I’m happy to pass the time sitting on a garden bench, admiring a magnificent wisteria which is in full and splendid bloom, and breathing in the wonderful scent of jasmine (one of the ‘scents of Australia’ for me). I don’t have long to wait before my hostess arrives and shows me to a quite stunningly beautiful room.
After last night’s surroundings, this is truly going from the ridiculous to the sublime. The room is huge, and accommodates a massive wooden framed bed, a sofa, a window table with four chairs, a nobly-proportioned wardrobe, a proper blanket box, a glass-topped table and, hidden behind two tall cupboard doors, a cleverly designed little kitchen area, with fridge, microwave oven, kettle, sink, and a full range of good quality crockery and cutlery. My gracious hostess explains that the house doesn’t have a separate breakfast room, but that she supplies everything needed for a full breakfast. Sure enough, she returns bearing a tray replete with everything I could possibly need, including eggs and bacon. There are instructions for how to boil and poach eggs and cook bacon using the microwave oven - absolutely everything has been thought of. She also brings fresh fruit and a little dish of chocolates! Naturally, the en suite bathroom is immaculate, with a huge stack of fluffy white towels and top quality toiletries. This is such a beautiful room, and decorated in the most tasteful way imaginable, that I take several photographs of it before besmirching it with all my paraphernalia. I make myself a cup of Earl Grey (what else?) before putting all my clothes away ‘properly’. Now I’m ready to begin my exploration of Launceston, very happy in the knowledge that I have such a wonderfully comfortable base to return to (and for two nights too!) All this luxury is costing me just $95 a night. I cannot recommend this place highly enough; it really is one of the best I have stayed at anywhere.
I’ve already realised that Launceston is quite a compact city, so I should be able to explore at a suitably leisurely pace. I walk down a side road off Elphin Road which leads me past the cricket ground, where I notice that the legendary David Boon has a modest grandstand named after him (legendary - quite apart from his deeds on the cricket field - for putting away 52 cans of lager on an Australia - England flight; that’s what I call slaking a thirst). The road brings me round to the riverfront, which I follow past the old gas works, with its ‘Cook with Gas’ message picked out in the brickwork - I love little details like that; and Boag’s brewery (I’m sure I’ll soon be sampling their products) to the boat marina, where there are some stylish and very appealing apartments and one or two restaurants set back from the boardwalk. It’s all quite low key, but seems to ‘fit’ the location very well. Launceston is growing on me by the minute.
The waterfront walkway takes me as far as the yacht club, with intriguing glimpses of Cataract Gorge across the river (I intend to go there tomorrow) and fine views of the surrounding hills, which are dotted with plenty of enviably located properties overlooking the water. I earmark a seafood restaurant for dinner, but first extend my walk back into the city centre and take a couple of photographs of some fine wrought iron balconies on a row of buildings on Cameron Street.
The restaurant is quite busy, which is usually a good sign, even though the rest of Launceston is practically deserted. I order flathead, which I haven’t yet tried, and a glass of one of the local sauvignon blancs, to celebrate my first evening in Tasmania. The fish is superb; four or five fillets perched atop a little mound of perfectly sauteed potato discs, with fennel shavings on top of that; the whole thing surrounded by a garlicky/buttery sauce. Lovely food, nicely put together; a perfect start to my gastronomic tour of the island (and I even manage to avoid a brief rain shower whilst I’m eating - this clears to a much more pleasant evening, with that clammy grey cloud now gone).
The walk ‘home’ is very pleasant; through the city centre and past a very pretty looking park, which I shall certainly explore tomorrow, and finally, along Elphin Road, breathing in the heady scent of all the flowering shrubs. A nice shower and a cup of Lipton’s finest, and I’m ready to write up a very full day; one which started rather badly but which ended quite sublimely - and that lovely big bed to fall into as well! Tasmania is working its spell on me, I’m sure…
[Launceston airport to Launceston: 30 km.]
Monday October 27 - I’m now into my fifth week since leaving the UK; hard to believe really. A wonderful undisturbed night’s sleep, as anticipated; now I must rise to the challenge of producing poached eggs and bacon in the microwave. It works! (I must remember the poached eggs trick: rinse a cup in water; crack the egg into it; cover with an upside-down saucer and full blast for 30-40 seconds, depending on how you like your eggs). In these surroundings I feel it appropriate to devote a decent amount of time to preparing, consuming and then clearing up my breakfast, so I’m a little later than usual in heading out, but I’ve already decided that I’m going to work at Tasmania’s slightly gentler pace while I’m here, so no needless rushing to hurry things along.
Today, apart from a little banking business and e-mail checking, I want to explore Cataract Gorge; but beyond that, I’m just going to follow my nose and see where it leads me. It’s a bit grey and hazy just now, but the weather forecast has promised a brighter afternoon. At the bottom end of Elphin Road is Town Park, which I by-passed yesterday evening; now I have a wander through it, and am charmed both by its general ambience and by the little conservatory and nearby children’s fountain. A little further on I find myself at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, where two delightful ladies tell me all about the building, and also make several complimentary remarks about Manchester, which pleases me! This church has a really bright, cheerful atmosphere which I like very much, so I’m happy to post a donation into the ‘hole in the wall’. Next I explore the grid of streets which makes up Launceston’s shopping core, and attend to my financial matters. There are some fine individual buildings in the city centre - you just need to be prepared to look above the ground-level shopping façades, and there is a wealth of architectural detail, with the Edwardian period particularly well represented (it does help that so many buildings have their construction date prominently displayed!) I’m also realising that Australia has a fine and extensive legacy of Art Deco-style buildings; not something we can really lay claim to in the UK.
Having bought some postcards, including one of a particularly street-wise- looking echidna (an echidna with attitude?), I decide to skip lunch in view of my substantial breakfast, and call into a coffee shop for a cappuccino and a raspberry muffin instead. I didn’t expect it to arrive heated up, and with half a strawberry and a little swirl of cream on the plate! I think this is called gilding the lily? Sad to say (and I really should have learned my lesson by now), the muffin - as muffins inevitably do - tastes of very little. I’ve never worked out why this should be, but it seems to be a world-wide phenomenon. Anyway, that’s me sorted, food-wise, until dinner tonight.
I’m now making my way in the general direction of Cataract Gorge, with the inevitable diversion whenever I spot an interesting-looking building or street. Across Kings Bridge and follow the easy path along the northern side of the gorge, which is also the shady side (it’s now a lovely warm, sunny day, as promised, but with a very strong breeze). Every now and then there are little overlooks, built out from the path, from where there are great views up and down the gorge. After twenty minutes or so’s walking, the gorge opens out at the ‘First Basin’, where there’s a perilous-looking chairlift across the river; alternatively, a path skirts around the basin to a flat grassy area and a (dry) swimming pool. The north side is more park-like, with a rotunda, café and peacocks strutting around. What an asset this place is for a city to have on its doorstep! There are plenty of people enjoying the afternoon sunshine, including a big party of schoolchildren, clearly on some kind of educational outing. As I’m in strolling rather than serious walking mode today I decide against extending the walk further upstream and instead retrace my route back into Launceston. On a whim I make for Boag’s brewery to see if they are running any mid-afternoon tours, but I’ve missed the last one, so it’s doubly galling to see the group gathered in the tasting room enjoying their beer samples and plates of cheese.
A wave of indecision now engulfs me - should I walk back to Kilmarnock House, pick up the car and have a drive out somewhere, or carry on with my exploration of the city? I end up not really doing either and have a sit down outside the art gallery, still mulling over the options. This would be an ideal time to catch up with my trip diary; instead I eventually walk back to base for a pot of tea and a shower, just to enjoy my comfortable surroundings. A pub meal tonight, in the Royal Oak Hotel - ‘lamb hotpot’ is on the menu, which sounds good and homely to me. Of course, the obvious accompaniment here has to be Boag’s draught, which is fine, if (inevitably) served a bit too cold for my taste. The hotpot is a massive plateful; more of a casserole really, and it comes with potatoes, carrots and creamed cauliflower. Excellent stuff, though it requires a further Boag’s to finish it off - such a hardship…
I round off the day with a flower-scented walk back along Elphin Road, and discover the decanter of complimentary port in the ‘upstairs foyer’, which greatly aids my travel diary writing-up. There really is nothing that hasn’t been thought of here - I just wish I could take Kilmarnock House with me for the rest of the trip.
Tuesday October 28 - It almost goes without saying, but another great night’s sleep in that wonderful big bed. Repeat my little breakfast ritual and with not a little reluctance get packed up and bid farewell to my delightful hostess and her beautiful house. Today I’m heading west with the intention being to stay overnight somewhere along the Bass Strait coast; I’ll see which of the places takes my fancy. It’s a pleasant drive to Deloraine on the main Bass Highway; then an even nicer one, through farming country, to Mole Creek, with the dramatic Western Tiers rising to my left.
I arrive at Marakoopa Cave with just five minutes to spare until the 11 o’clock tour. About a dozen of us gather at the cave entrance waiting for our guide Clare to let us in. My camera batteries choose this moment to expire - and my spares are back in the car! As it turns out, the cave, although full of many weird and wonderful calcite formations, isn’t in all honesty any more spectacular than others I’ve been in, so fortunately no ‘unmissable’ shots. The highlight is in fact the glowworm chamber, which is quite near the entrance, and which we view on the way back, once our eyes have adjusted to the dark. This is really quite something, and when the lights are dowsed, it’s exactly like looking up at the night sky.
Having completed the cave tour, I retrace my route to just short of Deloraine, where I rejoin the Bass Highway through Devonport (and there’s the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ again!) to Ulverstone. I quickly decide that there’s not really enough here to detain me overnight, but as it’s now lunchtime, I find yet another bakery/coffee shop for another steak pie/apple juice/cake lunch. Then on to Penguin, where of course I just have to have a photograph of the giant concrete penguin by the waterfront. On through Burnie, which strikes me as quite industrial and not very appealing, to Wynyard, which looks like the best bet. The ever-helpful V.I.C. staff supply me with accommodation and restaurant lists, from which I pick out the Waterfront Wynyard Motor Inn (which also features on my own list of possibles). I drive up and down the main street several times before managing to find it (just incompetence on my part rather than it being particularly hidden away…) It’s in a pleasant spot a short distance out of town, overlooking the Ingle River estuary. The two cheerful girls on reception fix me up with a $90 room - of course, after Launceston, everything is unfortunately going to seem like second-best, but it’s basically perfectly okay.
I dump all my clobber, make a cup of tea, and then go for a walk to the beach. It’s been a lovely warm, sunny and fresh-feeling day, and the notorious Bass Strait is like a millpond. I extend my walk by heading into town via the riverside path, and restock my breakfast/lunch larder at the local Woolworth’s (little realising that that famous name store will, within three short months, have disappeared from the British high street). Laden with my goodies, I return to drop them off before heading across the road to the Wynyard Hotel, which, décor-wise, is a little smarter than the average hotel ‘bistro’. It also has a ‘scallops and prawns special’ night on, so I go for breaded scallops and a glass of chardonnay. It’s all perfectly fine - I just feel a little flat today (a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’, I think).
[Launceston to Wynyard: 240 km.]
Wednesday October 29 - Apart from the unusual lack of a toaster, I manage my well-rehearsed breakfast, after a good night’s sleep in another extremely comfortable bed. Pack up; hand in my room key, and drive into town to access the internet at the library. I’m 30 minutes too early, however, so decide to give it a miss this morning in favour of getting an early start to Cradle Mountain. It’s a cloudy day and rather cool, and the Bass Strait looks slightly less benign today, though still far removed from the stormy stretch of water I know it can be.
Heading inland the road becomes eerily quiet and there is mile after mile of rolling moorland and cleared trees. I turn off to Waratah, for a coffee, and end up in a little café where a nice old couple start chatting to me. This is the sort of chance encounter which I’ve been hoping to experience more often than has so far been the case… Suitably refreshed, I press on towards Cradle Mountain, which I get my first sight of as the road reaches a broad crest - it’s a truly huge view over miles of semi-wilderness. Shortly afterwards, the turn-off to the National Park appears and in a few more minutes I’m pulling into the car park at the Cosy Cabins complex. This is one of those key locations where I felt it prudent to pre-book, but in fact it doesn’t seem all that busy. My Cosy Cabin is decidedly chilly (I suspect it hasn’t been occupied for a while); switching on the convector heater improves matters, however, and I take a look around my home for the next two days. There’s a well-equipped kitchen and sitting area; a curtained-off big bed; plenty of storage space; a kitchen table and four chairs; a bench-type sofa; a bathroom with separate toilet; and also four bunk beds. It could happily sleep seven, with one on the sofa - more than big enough for little old me.
As the weather forecast for tomorrow isn’t great, I decide to do the Dove Lake Circuit walk this afternoon, and see what tomorrow brings. There are ranger-led walks listed, including an evening ‘Meet our Wombats’ one, which sounds particularly appealing, but I later discover that they’ve been cancelled, though no reason is offered. A modest lunch today of home-made cheese and tomato sandwiches; after which I drive the short distance to the Park Information Centre and buy a Tasmania National Parks ‘Holiday Pass’, which will get me entry into all the state’s National Parks, for $56. I think I will more than likely get my money’s worth out of it by the end of my two weeks. Now ‘legal’, I drive on to the little car park at the northern end of Dove Lake and get my first close-up views of Cradle Mountain’s famous jagged profile, now looming large at the far end of the lake. The path is well-engineered; a mixture of boardwalk, flat gravel and rock-cut steps. It takes me just about an hour to reach the far end of the lake, including numerous photo stops, before heading back along the western shore, where the path is a little steeper. It’s a peaceful and serene place and I encounter very few other walkers along the way. As I’m enjoying a ‘proper’ walk, I extend it via a side track to Lake Lilla and beyond that, to Wombat Pool. Again, it’s delightfully tranquil; just me and the frog chorus, and the occasional bird call. Finally, I rejoin the ‘main’ lake circuit path and arrive back at the car park. A thoroughly enjoyable 3-hour walk.
Walkers and trekkers are required to ‘sign in and sign out’ every time they set out on and return from a walk; a sensible idea which I will come across elsewhere. Having filled in the book, I drive back to my Cosy Cabin for a shower and a change of clothes before dinner. I need to head back to the Tavern Bar at the Lodge, which is at my sort of price level. En route I come across some local wildlife; a couple of wallabies and a wombat gathered on a grassy area near to the Transit Terminal, so they are obviously around.
The Tavern Bar turns out to be quite a jolly rustic set-up with a big wood-burning stove in the centre of the room, which is actually quite welcome on a decidedly chilly evening. Lamb shank with mash and veg is a good choice - and they serve pints of beer here; none of your poncey schooners out here in the wilds! After a good feed I drive cautiously back, and wisely too, as it turns out, as something hops across the road just in front of me - was it a wallaby, or something else? (it was fat and it hopped, but I didn’t notice a long tail). Arrive safely back at base, looking forward hopefully to a cosy night in my Cosy Cabin.
[Wynyard to Cradle Mountain: 152 km.]
Thursday October 30 - Once I had learned to ignore the occasional scufflings and scratchings from outside, and the cracks and clicks from the heater and the TV set inside, as they cooled down, I managed a reasonably undisturbed night. Today it’s grey and dank - quite Scottish, in fact - and I’m so glad I decided to go for the Dove Lake Circuit walk yesterday, when there were fine views all the way round; today I’d see nothing. As the woman in the Visitor Centre so rightly said: ‘Here, you need to take your opportunities!’
Breakfast done and sandwiches made, I’m planning to do a series of short walks, which the weather shouldn’t affect, so after renewing my Tim-Tam supplies and buying a couple of postcards, I drive down to the Visitor Centre to re-check the routes on their large-scale wall maps. Rangers are confirming to disappointed visitors that there are ‘no views at all’ of Cradle Mountain. My first walk in fact starts right at the back of the building and leads firstly to Pencil Pine Falls and then through a section of temperate rain forest before curving back to the Visitor Centre. The vegetation is dense and lushly green, with masses of lichen and mosses covering the trees, and all bathed in a sort of pale greenish light - very ‘Middle Earth’. I follow this pleasant stroll with the nearby ‘Enchanted Nature’ walk, which runs alongside a stream to a wooden bridge and then doubles back on the far bank. Another delightful walk, and I come across a little padmelon grazing in an open patch of grass close to the Cradle Mountain Lodge, where I dined last night (and almost certainly will tonight as well). I decide that it was a padmelon that jaywalked in front of me last night.
At the end of this walk I pick up another trail; the King Billy Walk, which leads to some really big King Billy pine trees. By now it’s started to rain - not heavily, but persistently, so on goes the sweaty cagoule for the first time. An early lunch is in order, I feel; the weather just might improve later on. Sandwiches in the car today; mundane but practical. Next up is the Weindorfers Forest Walk, which involves a short drive to Waldheim, the house built by Gustav Weindorfer, who was the true ‘founding father’ of Cradle Mountain as a National Park, back in the early years of the twentieth century. The structure that stands there today is a reconstruction (the original eventually succumbing to the rigours of the Tasmanian climate), but most atmospheric, and the continuously-running audio tape is really quite touching - this man, to whom everyone who now visits and enjoys this wonderful National Park owes such a debt of gratitude, did not have an easy time of it here, but managed to run, in effect, an early ‘open house’, and entertained visitors with great charm and good humour. His grave is just along the track, and actually has some daffodils in bloom on it; the first ones I’ve seen, and quite probably the only ones I will see on this trip. The forest walk is another miniature delight - more mossy trees (and I almost expect to see elves and fairies in amongst all this tangled greenery). The cloud base has descended even further, so I make a pragmatic decision to drive back to the Transit Terminal, where there’s a little café and an internet terminal, run by a most jolly and friendly lady, for a spot of e-mailing and an afternoon coffee and cake.
It does meanwhile seem to have brightened up just a little, so I decide to do one more walk, which entails another drive back towards the Lodge. This one leads from Pencil Pine Falls to Knyvet Falls, and it’s yet another lovely route. Think I’m just about walked out for today, so head back to my Cosy Cabin and make a cup of tea which I drink sat on the steps of my cabin, where I’m joined by my very own padmelon (I think he was the chap who was snuffling around last night). He (or she) is quite without fear, and happily nibbles amongst the vegetation whilst I manage to get some nice close-up shots of my teatime companion. ‘Tea with a padmelon’ would make a rather good book title, I think…
By the time I’ve showered and changed, it’s turned into quite a pleasant early evening as I drive back towards the Lodge Tavern. No wildlife to be seen near the Transit Terminal tonight, but just as I near the turn-off to the Lodge I spot a wombat snuffling around by the roadside. Probably an everyday sight in these parts, but it’s a big thrill for me to get a close-up view of one of these impossibly endearing animals. I park up quickly; walk back and observe him/her quietly grazing for several minutes. So, so cute - I try a photo, but it’s very gloomy by now. As I walk back and am about to go into the bar, there, right by the front door of the Lodge is another wombat, very close, again chomping happily on grass, quite oblivious to all his fascinated onlookers. It’s been a very good evening for wildlife; just opposite where I watched number one wombat were three wallabies bouncing around by the roadside; two of them actually ‘boxing’ playfully - oh, for a little more light!
The Tavern Bar is busy again, and I immediately pick up the sound of a fellow Pom complaining pompously and embarrassingly loudly about the ‘appalling service’ his party are receiving - oh dear, we’re not all like that, honestly. I’ve certainly no complaints about this place; I enjoy my steak and onion shepherd’s pie and pint of Boag’s draught. Having just warmed up nicely, I step back outside into the chilly night air and drive back to base carefully (but there are no suicidal padmelons around tonight). Finish writing up today’s diary and looking around, realise just how much ‘stuff’ I will have to pack up in the morning. It’s started raining again; I can hear it hammering on the roof, but I don’t imagine it will stop me sleeping.
[Cradle Mountain National Park: 26 km.]