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Archive for the ‘Launceston’ Category

Perfect pitch

Time to move on. We were awake from around 6.30am, so ample time for showers, breakfast, the usual packing of bags – but this time followed by dismantling the tent. Good teamwork from Global Prices got this done in 20 minutes, the girls putting the pegs away and folding the segmented fibreglass poles. I got the job of squeezing the air out of the mattresses, thanks to my superior mass…

And so we were away by 9.40, handing in our two ‘amenity keys’ (that’s a new thing, too – stopping outsiders from using the facilities) and the clothes pegs we borrowed. Our last Woolworths shop for a while – they don’t have them on the coast – to stock up with assorted carbohydrates (okay, a reduced pack of nine large muffins and some cheese and bacon rolls for lunch), and a tankful of petrol before we leave for the wilderness. When paying in the kiosk I was ‘darl’; I’ve had very few G’days in Australia, but plenty of ‘How’s it going?’.

As we were leaving the outskirts of Launceston, the car in front of us had the personalised number plate ‘STOLEN’. I suppose that’s one unusual way of protecting your vehicle; no-one is likely to relieve you of it with such a blatant self-advertisement for the crime.

Our drive across to St Helens passed through miles of rolling farmland countryside and hilly forest; the closest we’ve come to the landscapes of New Zealand since leaving it. All very green and scenic, and very little traffic on this key link in the tourist circuit (indeed, fewer vehicles than in much of rural NZ).

There’s an annoying advert for Cornetto ice creams which is based on the conceit ‘Imagine there was someone out there who looked exactly like you, but who would take care of all the boring bits.’ This ‘boring twin’ is then shown doing the ironing, attending a Maths lecture, etc., while the ‘cool dude twin’ has a good time, getting the ice cream his twin has queued for, and then getting the girl. Likewise, a Cornetto supposedly has no boring bits.

Well, perhaps Tasmania is Australia without the boring bits; so many people we have met have raved about it – “It’s God’s Own”, “We’d love to live here”, “You’ve got to go there” (this last from a New Zealander). It’s certainly got the beaches, the mountains, the holiday destinations, without the harsh extremes of climate, dangerous sea life or thousands of miles of featureless outback.

We stopped for lunch in Scottsdale, next to their Eco Centre (‘Eco’ in that it had lots of glass and an automated louvre system to maintain a steady temperature within) which looks like a headless Dalek (according to the guide book) or a half-collapsing creme caramel. The building housed a Tourist Information place so we asked them to book us in to a campsite in St Helens. The lady wasn’t too sure at first (they usually book people into hotels and onto expensive tours, I suppose) but when we explained that we had no mobile phone signal she obliged. Yes, they had space, and three nights would cost a total of $66.

We drove on along more twisty and hilly roads, plenty of roadkill in evidence. As I remember someone else commented, the dead animals here are by and large intact and readily identifiable, unlike the fur pancakes of the mainland. Many, many wallabies, and even the odd echidna.

Through Derby (Durr-bee) and beyond; here they make their roadside letter-boxes out of metal beer kegs or plastic barrels. By half past three we were passing through St Helens and soon we found Hillcrest Holiday Park (there’s a clue in the name). We checked in and paid $89. No, not $66 – that must have been based on the 2-person rate instead. In case you’re wondering how 3 goes into 89, there’s a $5 deposit for the amenity keys.

The receptionist showed us to our pitch; a vast expanse of grass with just one small tent currently standing. We were placed right next door (why?), and Team GlobalPrices sprang into action once again. We surpassed ourselves, getting our marquee-sized monstrosity up in less than one hour, including air beds, sleeping bags, the lot. It helped having sandy soil free of obstructive stones, so the pegs went in like a dream, but mostly we didn’t have to stop every five minutes this time to puzzle over the inadequate instruction sheet.

We rewarded ourselves with frozen treats once again; how true it is that the best ice creams are those earned through hard labour under a merciless sun (well, that’s Van Dieman’s Land for you). The onsite shop also serves hot food, so we took the easy way out with fish and chips for supper.

So where do I stand in the Tent vs Campervan debate? No contest, as far as I can see. We pay a fraction of the rental (a campervan for four of us would be <em>well</em> over $100/day; the tent and equipment cost $15/day) and fork out far less for our unpowered pitch. In return we get an acre of grass for the girls to run around in, instead of a barely-sufficient morsel of concrete or gravel squeezed between serried ranks of similarly hemmed-in neighbours. We get a large camp kitchen and games room pretty much to ourselves and a full-sized fridge which was empty when we arrived. We can pop out in the car any time we want without packing everything away first. And we can turn up anywhere and get a pitch even when all the serviced sites have been booked up weeks in advance.

That’s until we get a drenching, at which point I suddenly see the benefits of staying in a cabin…

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Cataract Gorge

A glorious morning to drag us from our sleeping bags; one of the benefits of camping, to wake up and immediately know what sort of day awaits us on the other side of the canvas (or whatever lightweight synthetic fabric they use nowadays).

Breakfast at our usual table, then into Launceston (they can’t pronounce it properly here, mind you; it’s ‘Lawn-cess-tun’). We stopped at Woolworths to get some picnic things; at the checkout I reached for my wallet, and… gone. Mild panic (no credit cards in there, only around $60 cash) so I paid by card and we returned to our campsite to check if the wallet was there. Fortunately I found it inside one of the sleeping bags, so we recommenced our journey and drove to Cataract Gorge, a local beauty spot with the longest single-span chairlift in the world(!)

We did a little walking circuit across the river and back over the Alexandra suspension bridge. (We explained to the girls that the chairlift would cost around the same as 20 ice creams, and that was a convincing enough argument for them.) Lovely views up the Esk Valley and over the First Basin area. It was time for our picnic by now so we sat in the sun (we missed our earmarked shady table by seconds as another group got there first) for our crackers with red pepper dip and nectarines to finish.

After lunch we were tempted by the free open-air swimming pool by the river. One side shallow enough for Ellen to explore with confidence, and the other a uniform 1.3m deep. The ‘deep’ side proved too cool for comfort, so the girls and I splashed around in the warmer section for a while. We avoided the principal hazards of thirsty wasps and a liberal scattering of unidentified poo on the grass (squishy and slug-like, not the hard rabbit pellets we see around our tent). But it wasn’t such a hot day that we were comfortable staying in for ages.

Back to the tent for tea (well, some crisps) and some TV time for the girls in the Games Room. Once we move on to the east coast tomorrow we shall be without a Vodafone internet connection, and maybe without all these cushy camp facilities that we have here. At least the good weather should hold for the next four days or so.

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Platypus House

A reasonable night’s sleep in our new tent. We certainly have ample space; although it’s meant to sleep six, it seems to have three times the floor area of those 4-person domes. So the girls are down one end with a zippy partition to create a nice den for them, and we are miles away in the west wing. The air mattresses held up and our sleeping bags are rated down to sub-cryogenic temperatures so we were too warm, if anything.

While we are entirely happy with our accommodation, we appear to be the one-family shanty town on the outskirts of campervan city. We have no electricity, no water – we are the only tent on an unserviced plot, while the rest of the campsite is full. At least we shouldn’t have any difficulty in finding somewhere to stay as we do our eastern loop of the island. And as for tiny little Tassie (as it appears relative to the vastness of Australia), it’s still the size of Ireland – we can’t expect to see it all in two weeks.

We had breakfast at the picnic bench in the kitchen area (never used to have communal gas hobs, microwaves, toasters and fridges on campsites when I were a lad). We bought some little 200ml cartons of milk which don’t need refrigerating until you open them – perfect for cereal, coffee and tea in the morning.

A grey day with the threat of rain (yes, thanks to our Vodafone USB stick we can get an internet connection from our tent and check the forecast). Kirsten did a load of washing and hung it on the rotary dryers, then we got in the car and drove up the West Tamar Highway to Beauty Point. The drizzle began before we got there (oh well, at least there’s a tumble dryer) but our destination was an indoor one, fortunately. Platypus House, to be precise; one of the only places you can easily see the Tasmanian platypus (genetically distinct from its mainland cousins).

They run guided tours every hour, and this time we saw our elusive monotreme (having failed to do so in Sydney Zoo). The most striking fact is how little they are – pictures in books don’t convey the scale, so you imagine them to be beaver-sized (conversely, we thought wombats would be smaller than the reality). In fact the male platypus is only about a foot long and the females are even smaller, bill and tail included.

They have five altogether in a complex of tanks and pools and we saw three of them. They are buoyant like corks so they need to wedge themselves under convenient logs in order to stay under water for any good length of time, to save paddling energy. The male is venomous enough to kill a cat or a dog, and humans will be in pain for up to six months (there is no anti-venom available) – the bluebottle jellyfish doesn’t sound so bad after that…

The final part of the tour let us meet their three echidnas. We’ve seen these before, but never up close where they come and sniff at your toes… They have a male and a female, Edwina and Eddy (no, they didn’t get the sexes right originally) whose offspring is Dame Edna (hedging their bets gender-wise, I suppose).

Also on the tour was a Danish family with two young children. We spoke to them at the end and they are travelling around Australia for seven weeks, feeling a bit miffed that they kept bumping into families travelling for even longer (does size matter here, or is it what you do with it?). But it is odd that we have already met so many other travelling families in Tasmania – well, three in two days, including the older chap who took his children around Europe for nine months in 1977.

We retraced our route south, stopping at Exeter Bakery for sausage rolls, a chicken and leek pie and a Cornish Pasty. A few items from Woolworths just a mile from our campsite (we’ll have a warming supper of sausages, beans and toast tonight – it’s around 15°C today) and back to shelter in our tent for much of the afternoon.

The girls have been happily sketching, playing and making up songs for their latest show; the vagaries of the weather are something they’re used to by now. Meanwhile, we have blogs to catch up with.

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House of Anvers

We all had a fairly good but short sleep aboard the Spirit of Tasmania, with the boat gently rocking us to sleep.

We were woken up by a passenger announcement shortly after 5am and docked a little over half an hour later. The process of returning to our car, driving off the ferry and proceeding through “fresh food check points” (no fresh fruits, vegetables, plants or seeds are to brought into Tasmania) was a very slow one. The boot of every single car had to be checked again (we did this last night!), this time by a sniffer dog.

At last, almost an hour after the ferry docked at Devonport, we were finally on our way. Our first stop was at a place called “House of Anvers” for a tasty breakfast. House of Anvers was set up by a chap from Antwerp, called Igor van Gerwen in 2002. He had trained at the Institute of Food in Antwerp, after becoming interested in producing chocolates and pralines.

There was a good selection of breakfast dishes and in the end we chose to share a couple of croissants, pains aux chocolat and brioches with home chocolate/hazelnut spread. These were washed down with a capuccino for the grown-ups and apple/blackcurrant juice for the little ones.

While we were waiting for our order Ellen and I had look at the small museum around the back. It featured a selection of ancient chocolate moulds, old books and adverts, the history of chocolate and a small biography about the owner.

The croissants and pastries were fresh and very tasty and the chocolate spread was delicious, but there was far too much of it, even for the four of us!

Then it was off to Launceston in search of a tent and other camping gear to hire. On the way we enjoyed Tassie’s beautiful countryside, slightly rolling hills and farmlands. My first impression is one of peace and quiet!

We arrived at Launceston at around 9.30am and found “Allgoods”, a large camping/clothes shop. We were directed to a smaller part of the shop around the corner where they could help us with hiring our equipment.

Except I didn’t find them particularly helpful, they seemed more eager to sell us a tent at reduced prices and a camping stove and inflatable mats. “It will only cost you a little more to buy it rather than rent it for 2 weeks!” Alright, but what do we do at the end of the two weeks? We can’t fit it all in our rucksacks and we have enough bags to carry already …

Needless to say we didn’t find anything useful here, but fortunately Tim had a plan B up his sleeve. Tim contacted Doug Snare who also hires out tents, etc by appointment.

Five minutes later we arrived at his house. At first I wasn’t too sure. He looked a little cross and had a scar across his left eye. But once he started talking about tents and some of his other customers I was convinced he knew what he was talking about and would be able to help us.

About an hour later we left with four purple/turquoise sleeping bags, four inflatable mattresses, a cooking stove and four canisters, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans. Only the tent he had ready for us seemed a lot smaller than we wanted. It was one of those dome tents that would probably sleep four people but there won’t be any room to swing a cat around, let alone our luggage …

We really did have to put our foot down and insist we needed the bigger tent that sleeps six. It was still in its original box (unopened) and on the top shelf. But in the end he gave in and let us hire it – his excuse was that we wouldn’t want to spend an hour putting it up every day. Well, we won’t have to as we won’t be travelling on every day. “You’re the first people in five years who have ever asked for a tent that size.”

Somehow I managed to get all the gear in the boot of our car, which still had all our other luggage and food in, whilst Tim settled the bill.

Finally we could go and have some lunch. We were all absolutely starving by now and found our way back to Subway for a ham and tuna sandwich.

Mr Snare had suggested a campsite about 10km from Launceston, so we thought to give that a go. Except we couldn’t find it at all (later we discovered it was more like 35-40km from Launceston)! Not wanting to waste any more time or petrol we made a U-turn and returned to Launceston. On the way there I phoned a campsite in Legana and booked a tent site for three nights for $35/night.

It did take us a little over an hour to put the tent up, this with limited instructions and in temperatures of over 30’C! Not bad, we thought, and treated ourselves to a refreshing ice cream.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the amenities block, open air campsite kitchen and games room. The girls had fun running around and making music using sticks. They caught up on their diaries before our supper of rice, vegetables and tuna.

We met another Australian family travelling around Australia and Tasmania for about 10 weeks. They have three children aged 15, 12 and 9. The father turned out the be a headmaster and explained that after teaching for 10 years a teacher is entitled to one whole term paid leave … sounds interesting!

At about 8.30-9.00pm we all settled down for the night. Let’s hope we get some sleep and no-one needs the toilet …

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