a taste of the apple isle

New year’s eve 2003 saw us setting off for a 3 week tour of Tasmania.

Tuesday 30 December

We left home at 5.30 am arriving Melbourne around 5 pm after stops at Yass for breakfast and Albury for lunch. Overnight at Gerard’s place – thanks :-).

Wednesday 31 December

We had a leisurely day, meeting cousins at St Kilda beach for lunch and boarded Spirit of Tasmania I around 7pm. It was a very smooth process and  we were soon settled in very comfortable cabin for four people. The boat departed on time around 9pm and we stayed on deck until 9.30pm to watch the Melbourne New Year’s Eve fireworks. Unfortunately we were well out into the bay by then so had only a distant view. We enjoyed a very calm trip across the bay and spent the evening listening to a band in the lounge before taking the kids to bed around 11.30pm. Leaving the bay, the boat hit a modest 1-2 metres swell giving a slight rolling ride. Nevertheless, it was a good night’s sleep and no-one was seasick.

Thursday 1 January

Arrived in Devonport about 7.10 am. Smooth process to disembark from the boat. We then headed into Devonport to shop and then take breakfast at Banjos – a bakery in an otherwise-deserted city mall. After breakfast, we took a quick tour around Devonport (by which time the Spirit of Tasmania had already reloaded and departed for the return trip to Melbourne).

We left Devonport for a leisurely drive to our first stop at St Helens on the North East coast. We went first to Port Sorell, through some lovely rolling countryside including wide fields of poppy and berry farms. Then followed the upper reaches of the Tamar River into Launceston where we had lunch in a local park. Leaving Launceston we stopped for an excellent view from the Brady Lookout. This spot is named, for no apparent reason, after a convict and outlaw hanged in the early 1820’s who (as far as we could tell) had no redeeming qualities to earn the honour. Nice view of the Upper Tamar.

On the way out of Launceston we briefly visited the Swiss village of Grindleward, made up entirely of Swiss style chalets, complete with unique looking gargoyle posts, and a Swiss-themed golf resort. Very pretty location.

We then followed the Tasman highway east to Scottsdale – a very scenic drive through thick pine forests, past scarred logged areas and then winding up and down through lush rainforested mountains. Apparently, the area has the densest populations of tree ferns in the Southern hemisphere.

A brief visit to the Forest Eco centre at Scottsdale housed in a unique building that looks very much like an upturned wine barrel.

We arrived at St Helens on the shores of Georges Bay on the East Coast around 5pm to set up camp in the caravan park.

Friday 2 January

A bit of a slow start today but we eventually got off on a too-brief tour of the north-east corner of Tassie around 11am. First stop in town for petrol, food and directions from the friendly staff at the local info centre.

We headed to the Blue Tier, an area of high country famous for prolific tin mining from the late 1800’s through as late as 1970’s. Again the drive went through rolling hills, cattle and sheep farms and then climbed on narrow, winding roads through more luch rainforest – again with dense stands of massive tree ferns. At Poimena, there is a number of walks through the old tin mining areas with various abandoned relics to be discovered. Here, the scenery changed to tea tree, grass plains and rocky outcrops. The kids could not be encouraged to take a longer walk, and time limited us to the shortest “Goblin Forest” loop walk.

Next stop was Blue Lake – formed in an area dug out during tin mining days, it is a dramatic, striking turquoise blue colour. The colour is apparently the result of the white clay and reflection of blue sky and the water is very acidic.

On to Gladstone, then Mount William National Park – an area of open grassland and scrub with prolific wildlife, particularly a sub specie of kangaroo not found elsewhere. We had lunch by a lagoon and then ventured onto a beautiful, pristine beach but not for long because of time and a stiff wind whipping sand onto bare legs.

Heading south, we had to bypass Eddystone Point and lighthouse but looked in at Ansons Bay, a rather odd seeming collection of shacks and shanties on the edge of an almost-closed bay. Then onto Policeman’s Point which separates Ansons Bay from the famed Bay of Fires. We had afternoon tea here on the edge of the inlet and took a walk along the point to the very northern tip of the Bay of Fires, a beautiful beach with fine white sand, smooth round rocks and crystal clear cold southern water.

Back at camp by around 7pm.

Saturday 3 January

Waterfalls and tin day. Again, a leisurely start to the day. Brief first stop at a local cheese factory – but unfortunately, it was not operating today so we just had a taste and pressed on, passed the Pub in a Paddock (too early) and onto St Columba Falls. These are a 90 metre high multi-tiered falls passing an average 42,000 litres per minute. They are accessed via a 15 minute walk through lush rainforest with some amazing giant tree ferns, sassafras and myrtle. The kids were fascinated by some of the unusual plants – huge twin ferns, large trees growing out of the sides of tree ferns, trunks growing first in one direction then another and so on. The track crosses two creeks before reaching a viewing platform facing the falls which are quite impressive and would be even more so in full flow at around 200,000 litres per minute.

We continued on the road to see Ralph Falls, again reached by a 15 minute walking track to a viewing platform with a view to the falls and a panoramic patchwork of green farm fields below. These are the largest single drop falls in Tasmania and cascade in a ribbon of water over a granite rock face which is striking for the unusual parallel vertical curves – a little hard to describe.

Back at the carpark we found a cool alcove in the forest to have a lunch stop.

We continued on the narrow winding dirt road back to the main highway and then onto Derby, an historic little village which was once the centre of tin mining in the area. In April 1926 (I think), a section of the town was wiped out when the Cascade Dam above the town burst its banks and sent a 30m wall of mud and debris crashing down the valley killing 14.

A feature of the town is the Tin Mining Museum and replica Shanty Town. For a reasonable $13 for a family this was a very worthwhile stop. The kids were interested in the many old fashioned artifacts in the museum and loved the shanty town. For a relatively small attraction it was very well done with miner’s house, general store, butcher, mine office, semi working tin sluicing operation, blacksmith and more. Mitchell particularly liked the radio station setup recreating the original setup from the 1930’s.

We had a late afternoon tea in the adjacent coffee shop and then headed home. Unfortunately, time was too short to detour to Cascade Dam, Tunnel, or Mt Paris Dam as planned – maybe another time. Just out of Derby, there is an unusual rock formation which someone has painted to make a very realistic giant rainbow trout!

Sunday 4 January

We thought about catching sunrise on nearby Peron Dunes but at 6am a warm bed seemed the more sensible choice on a cool overcast morning.

We’d heard about these large dunes the previous day and after breakfast we headed out down the southern side of Georges Bay to check it out. The dunes back a long stretch of beach and comprise fine white sand with a sparse covering of spiky grasses and low shrubs. The area is a nesting ground for terns although we didn’t see any today.

The kids had fun jumping and rolling down the dunes although the dunes weren’t quite as large and impressive as we’d expected.

We returned to the car and explored some dirt tracks in the area which lead to a number of small rocky coves which, on a sunny day, would have been perfect for a swim and picnic.

Returning to the main road, we drove south following the coast. We stopped for morning tea and a play at Scamander, a pretty seaside holiday town. We turned inland at Chain of Lagoons having failed to find any chains or lagoons in the vicinity.

The road narrowed and wound steeply up into the mountains via Elephant Pass through mostly eucalypt forest. The township of St Marys sits on a plateau at the top and we stopped here to refuel and have a late lunch. An equally steep and winding pass took us back down to the coast road and we headed back to St Helens.

With plenty of daylight left and the sun finally beginning to shine, we skirted the northern shore of Georges Bay out to the ocean at Binalong Bay, the southern most end of the justifiably famous Bay of Fires. Here the beaches are pristine white sand and crystal clear seas of azure blue, with orange-rusted boulders fringing the ends of each curve of beach. The water looked so inviting; Ken and the kids went swimming but it was very cold. It would have been good to have another sunny day to spend in this area but we move on tomorrow back west.

Monday 5 January

Left St Helens heading for an overnight stop around Launceston. We stopped at Bridestow Lavender Farm for a tour and lunch break. We were fortunate that the plants were almost in full bloom so we had a very colourful display. An interesting tour provided information on the history and development of the farm, apparently one of the leading Lavender producers in the world. The plants flower once a year and are harvested for the flowers and oil. Harvesting and production takes only about four to six weeks of the year; the rest of the time is spent on plant development and maintenance such as weed control etc.

We had lunch amidst the brilliant purple field under a 100 year old oak tree.

Then we went onto Launceston hoping to fit in a tour of the Seahorse farm – unfortunately, we were too late and had to consign this one to the missed opportunities bucket.

Tuesday 6 January

Now onto Stanley where we will meet up with another family for the rest of the trip.

Today we travel due west along the Great Western Tiers route; our first stop is a short walk at Alum Cliffs for a spectacular view of sheer cliffs dropping into the Mersey River. A little further we reach the Mole Creek Caves district where we plan to tour the Marakoopa Caves. The caves tour included underground streams, reflective rim pools and glow worms along with the usual collection of stalactites, stalagmites and other formations. The glow worm cave, in particular, was a highlight with a myriad of small blue lights in the pitch dark – not unlike being in a planetarium.

We had lunch here and then retraced our steps back to get to the road to Sheffield. Sheffield is know as the town of murals, with paintings adorning many of the businesses and homes in and around the main street. We also stumbled across small robotics attraction. It had three very clever robots displayed which would perform for a $1 coin: a parrot which would repeat (and sometimes embellish) anything it heard, a kangaroo and the terminator. Also a 10 minute robotics theatre told a humorous story of the Tasmanian tiger – the kids thought this was fabulous.

After an ice cream here, we went directly on to Stanley to set up camp and experience our first bad weather of the trip. A southerly change battered the town overnight and we spent the night wondering if the camper would hold – it did; in fact, it seemed much worse on the inside – from the outside it looked fine apart from the canvas wall billowing in.

Wednesday 7 January

This morning we woke to driving wind and rain and stayed in bed until it settled a little. The Cooney family arrived mid morning bringing sunshine and clear skies. For the rest of the day the weather alternated between warm sunshine and cold gusty winds and rain.

The main attraction in Stanley is an unusual geological formation known as the Nut – a large flat-topped hill at the end of the beach. It is apparently formed from a “pipe” of volcanic material reaching the surface.

We took a chairlift to the top and an hour walk around the rim of the mound, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding coast and country side. Very strong, cold winds blew us all around the walk. In one spot, gale force winds literally howled up to us as they battered the cliff face below.

We then toured around the ruins of some convict stations in the area and Highfield Station with remarkably well-preserved buildings from the 1830’s. It makes one wonder whatever encouraged people to settle here in such a remote and inhospitable place.

A break in the clouds and a brief moment of sunshine produced a rainbow arcing perfectly over the Nut – one of those infrequent magic photo moments.

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