Thursday, February 25, 2016

Moving Inland to Fly Back to Sydney

After a beautiful day at the Bay of Fires and a nice dinner, it was time to leave St. Helens and head inland to Launceston, TAS, where we would catch a plane the next day for our return to Sydney.

Getting to Tasmania involved leaving the boat, taking a taxi to catch a train for a 3.5 hour ride to Sydney Central Station and a transfer to Sydney International Airport Terminal Station. Going back to the boat will be a reverse trip of cars, planes and trains and even a bus, then a taxi! We are learning to deal with public transportation and find it very convenient!

Our visit to Launceston, the second largest city in Tasmania, is really just a stopover for the night. However, we found the drive from the coast very interesting and pleasant.

Unlike traveling in the interior of New Zealand which was miles of winding roads with hairpin turns through numerous mountain ranges, the trip was over a couple of mountain passes but then along a long valley floor following rivers. The countryside was grazing land and we saw more beef and milk cows than sheep in this region.

In a distance we could see huge areas of white flowers on both sides of the road. As we got closer, Dennis decided to take photographs so he stopped and crossed the road to do so. When he returned, he announced that the flowers looked like poppies. A few miles ahead we saw large signs warning about trespassing next to each field of white. Then it hit us!
They were fields of poppies being grown for medicinal use and under strict governmental regulation. What an interesting crop! And we could fully understand why they were out in the middle of nowhere. Just imagine what people would try if they had access to this beautiful flower in this quantity! Of course, we did not pick a pretty bouquet!

As for flights down there, the choice of carriers is limited with Virgin Australia being the major one. Fortunately, it is a Delta partner. The planes are extremely nice and comfortable which I was happy to see as we will be flying Virgin Australia to Vietnam and back to Los Angeles in 2016. 

The economy service is interesting in that soft drinks are not free – only water, coffee or tea. We did not have food service on this short flight so it will be interesting to see what we get –or don’t – on the longer flights as we have opted for Premium Economy instead of Business class.

Once back in Sydney, we were hit by the blast of 100 degree plus air as we left the train station. I know I will miss the cooler weather of Tasmania! Living on land for a week was a nice change. Now I am happy to be “home” on Trillium.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Next Must See Destination: The Bay of Fires

It was hard to leave the luxury of the Freycinet Lodge; we both would have stayed a few more days as we so enjoyed relaxing there. The view and the food were wonderful as well. But all good things must come to an end, so off we go toward St. Helens and the Bay of Fires. This bay is supposed to be amazing.

On the way north along the coast, we pulled off to check out the beaches and bays and take a break. The drive was pleasant and relatively short so we arrived at our hotel in St. Helens before noon. They allowed us to check in early so we went off to explore the town and find lunch.

St. Helens was originally a whaling and sealing community on the protected Georges Bay, founded in the 1830s. Then the “swanners” moved in to plunder and harvest the downy under-feathers of the bay’s black swans. In the 1850’s, it became a farming community, but changed when tin was discovered in 1874.

Today it harbors Tasmania’s largest fishing fleet so it has seen many changes. However, the bay is still filled with flocks of black swans. Our reason for staying here was to be near the Bay of Fires and have an easy drive to Launceston the next day. We flew into Hobart and out of Launceston.

After lunch we took a short drive further north to the Bay of Fires. We enjoyed Binalong Bay, which is at the south end of the Bay of Fires just 11 km from St. Helens. No white man lived here until the 1940’s and now it is a pricey beach holiday town. This is the only permanent settlement on the Bay of Fires. From there, we could see miles of beach stretching out to the north. Again, the sand was sparkling and very fine.
The Bay of Fires is actually 29 km long (or 26 nautical miles). The powdery white sand and “gin-clear” water have earned the title of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Lucky us; we have seen several with that title! The pristine white sand comes from granite bedrock that makes up the coast line of northeast Tasmania. 

It was so named by a ship captain when he saw the Aboriginal fires along the coast causing him to believe the area was densely populated. Now the name describes the orange lichen-covered rocks that look like fire.

The Bay of Fires is actually a series of beaches broken up with by lagoons and rocky headlands and backed by coastal heath and heavy bush. You can find crawfish, abalone and other species of fish and dive for them if you have a license. The elusive weedy sea dragon is often seen here. And the surf is good, but there are areas of rip tides. Guide books suggest you check with the locals who know the waters.

I wasn’t too thrilled to read that not only does the Bay of Fire have the rare yellow rock orchid and the endangered swift parrot plus many other nearly rare birds, wallabies and wombats (both are nocturnal), but also three Tasmanian snakes with poisonous venom. Fortunately, I did not see any of them!

The road does not run continuously along the bay adjacent to the beaches and only goes as far north as The Gardens. To reach the far north end of the Bay of Fires, you have to go inland and find a gravel road to reach Anson’s Bay. We stopped at The Gardens, which were named by Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of Governor John Franklin, who would ride in the region.

There is no “formal garden” unless you call it a “rock garden” which is also beautiful. And it is here! The coastline is rugged and the waves pound in from the Tasman Sea. The northern end of the Bay of Fires is not a place for swimming or surfing.

 The orange lichen on the rocks glow in the sunlight and make for a most interesting landscape. It appears to be a favorite subject of many artists in the area. The dramatic formations and variety of colors provide great subject matter for the painter and the photographer.

There were huge flocks of black swans everywhere on the water.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Talk About Kicking Back!

A beautiful creation each evening!
As we were planning this adventure and saw that the travel agent had booked us in a one room cabin in the national park, I was expecting a rustic cabin, maybe a fireplace and probably a little worn. Much to my surprise – and pleasure – we were in a beautiful modern unit at Freycinet Lodge, which is a resort within the Freycinet National Park! There was nothing “lodgie” about this place; it is a 4-star resort. Nice!

A beautiful location for a national park. Coles Bay is on
the left and the Tasman Sea is across the way on the right.
The lodge is set on Coles Bay within Freycinet National Park, one of the first national parks in Australia, at the foot of the dramatic pink granite Hazards Mountains. The town of Coles Bay is just across the bay and can be reached by a long beach walk or by car. There wasn’t much there, but the view of the Hazards mountain range and the national park was beautiful. We were in search of a seafood restaurant, but ended up back at the lodge.

Coles Bay, which is inside Great Oyster Bay, was named after Silas Cole. He arrived in the 1830s and is known for burning shells from Aboriginal middens to produce lime which was used to make mortar to build the town of Swansea, a little south of the bay. The beach sand here is sugar white and very fine. This is because of the granite particles.
Dennis found his little reading nook.
Not a bad view from our room - especially at sunset
As for the meaning of middens, I found this: Shell middens are places where the debris from eating shellfish and other food has accumulated over time. They can contain: shellfish remains, bones of fish, birds, and land and sea mammals, used for food, charcoal from campfires, tools made from stone, shell, and bone. Shell middens tell us a lot about Aboriginal activities in the past. The types of shells in a midden can show the type of marine environment that was used, and the time of year when Aboriginal people used it.

Across the isthmus is the famous Wineglass Bay, shaped like a goblet. The only way to get to the bay from land is to hike one of the most popular walks in Tasmania. We did not do this as it was a steep one and a half hour climb up and over the saddle to the beach. And then you have to do the reverse to get back to the parking lot. There is a lookout part way which reduces the time, but it is still a steep climb.  There are a number of hiking circuits and walks in the park as well as many free campsites. I am not a great climber, so  I usually pass on these events.

Coles Bay beach
We took a long walk on Coles Bay and a hike to Honeymoon Bay where we explored the rock formations. The lichen-covered rocks glow with orange color in the sunlight.

Again, the wind was very strong the day we were there. The weather was beautiful when we arrive, had a drizzly morning the next day with afternoon clearing and then a lovely day when we checked out. We took advantage of the wet weather to vegetate a little and read. It was nice to be off the boat in a homey atmosphere with a great view.

Looking back from the other end of Coles Bay beach

Honeymoon Bay below the Hazards Mountains

No! He is not doing what you think!

Beautiful and colorful rock formations everywhere!

Interesting shapes and layers.

Dennis exploring at the limits-again!

One is mine, really!

I will let the photos tell the story.
For all you trekkers out there, this place should be on your bucket list. It is wonderful here.
We lovingly refer to the birds as Bill and Thelma /
Monnie and Joe - our parents!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Off to Find the Beautiful Beaches

One night in Richmond was enough. At least we were out of the city  of Hobart and somewhat on our way to the Freycinet National Park where we would stay at Freycinet Lodge for two nights. We tried a few places for Sunday dinner in Richmond, only to be told the kitchen was closing or that they only had snacks. Finally, we found a lovely winery cellar door in town! And it had a restaurant!

There was only one couple eating and a few outside tasting wine. It looked like they were getting ready to close, too, but the owner and his wife were smart business people and offered to cook us a meal even though the chef had left for the day. While we waited for food, several more customers arrived so I think they had more business than they expected on a late Sunday afternoon. Hopefully they will keep the doors open a little later during tourist season.

Our lodging was an interesting experience. The place looked good on paper, but was rather eclectic and needed some TLC. A family has owned the property for 30 years and they looked as weary as the place. It was clean and it sort of grew on us, but I was glad it was only for one night. The place is called a “manor” on  a 100 acre working farm and is publicized as an event and wedding venue. Humm…

They turn the horses and sheep loose to “mow” the grass so the entry gate has to be closed while they are grazing. Larry, the ram, greets you with several loud Baaaas! Then he settles down. The owners were lovely people, but the furnishings and layout left something to be desired. But it was just a place to get a good night’s rest and we did. Breakfast was hearty and served with a pitcher of home-grown apricot juice. They used to raise a lot of apricots and made apricot wine. The orchards have aged and the production is low now.

Now we are off in search of the beautiful white sand beaches of Tasmania. And, boy, did we find them. They are miles long, wide and windy. The wind coming off the Tasman Sea gave us a sandblasting and forget wearing a hat or visor if you ever want to see it again! They are absolutely stunning. Second only to the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia.

 The biggest difference besides the wind is the various rock formations along the beaches. There are no crowds as these beaches are a long way from population centers so it would be a weekend trek or holiday vacation to bring crowds out there. You can just pull off the road onto a track and head toward the beach. People were camping near the water in many places.
We finally found a place to eat on Sunday night!

Along the way we stopped at Convicts’ Spikey Bridge to see a rock bridge build by convicts. Like I mentioned before, a lot of Aussie history centers on the convicts.

There are a number of Convict Bridges in Tasmania, but this one is known for its rock spikes. It was in service until they moved the highway a few years back. We drove across it just to do it!

For lunch we found Kates Berry Farm and saw an interesting array of ice cream flavors, including lavender. I had a taste – nothing distinctive.
This was the first stop along the way! Beautiful!
We stopped at several beaches along the road,
Convicts' Spikey Bridge
This is how it got its name!

Time to keep going toward the Freycinet National Park to get there before dark.