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Archive for the ‘St Helens’ Category

We got up to a dry but grey morning, chivvying ourselves along by releasing the air from our mattresses. We had slices of toasted raisin bread in the kitchen and then returned to the tent to finish packing away sleeping bags and rucksacks.

It was at this point that we heard the thunderstorm heralding the arrival of the promised front. A few drops of rain were the prelude to a prolonged drenching that saw us throw the girls into the car (with their new books) while we sheltered in the tent, rolling things up and stuffing them into bags. Meanwhile our beautifully dry tent got soggier and soggier, with a fine spray making its way through the mesh of the inner section. The groundsheet squelched underfoot as it floated on the centimetre of surface water that wouldn’t soak away (indeed, the rest of the campsite turned out to be draining via our pitch, even though we weren’t the lowest point in the field).

We donned waterproof jackets and trousers and waited for a lull to load bags into the boot. The horizon-to-horizon leaden sky indicated we’d be foolish to expect much improvement, so we took the plunge (fairly literally) and whipped off the flysheet to let us remove poles and fold the inner tent as quickly as possible before it turned into a paddling pool.

We got soaked, but it was curiously enjoyable to be battling the elements – like one of those challenges on Scorpion Island (a children’s TV show that is on every weekday here). We squeezed a sodden tent into the boot, dropped off our keys and headed south down the A3 for Hobart and better weather.

Our wetsite.
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In Bicheno we paused to see the blowhole in action. Not Pancake Rocks standard, but worth a glimpse anyway.
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After a toilet stop near the departure for the Glass-Bottomed Boat (no, we weren’t tempted), we drove on until our lunch stop in Triabunna. The bakery had very little choice left, so we ended up with a whole roast chicken and chips from another eatery on the main street. Not the best little take-away in Tassie, as they claimed. No toilets and we had to pay an extra dollar per head for the privilege of sitting at one of their tables. The girls liked the chicken, anyway.

We also pulled over to see the Spiky Bridge, which – as the name implies – is a convict-built bridge with spiky bits of stone along each side. Other memorable place names were Break-me-neck Hill and Bust-me-Gall Hill; we survived these unscathed.

Spiky Bridge.
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By 2pm we had arrived in Richmond and the sky was starting to look brighter. We found our holiday park and paid a slightly steep $36/night in advance; slightly steep because the place is a bit tatty and run down. Now that we’ve stayed at a few sites we’re beginning to get fussier, inevitably comparing facilities. So this one has the grottiest kitchen (three rusty fridges full of food that may be months out of date and never cleared out) and a general untidiness about the grounds. On the plus side, it has a (slightly) heated indoor swimming pool, a cared-for wash block and laundry and some stunning views from our pitch. We have opted to site ourselves on a former paddock rather than in the main camping area, giving us a great location, room for the girls to play safely and some relative peace and quiet. (And no, we shouldn’t get flooded.)

Richmond is a pretty, touristy town with plenty of original buildings which have now been turned into cafes and craft shops. We explored it briefly to buy milk and supper (soup and bread) and we’ll return some time to visit the Gaol (the oldest surviving one in Australia).

By the evening the front had passed and we played with our ball and Frisbee in the paddock as the sun dropped behind the hills. Supper was a picnic on the grass (sitting on raincoats) as we had no picnic bench or table and chairs to use, and diaries were postponed.

Brooding Tasmanian landscape as seen from our tent.
Richmond Panorama

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Skeleton Bay

Our second and final full day in St Helens. Another sunny day, and time to catch up with washing and internettage in the morning (we forked out our $8 for an hour’s access). We had lunch at Banjo’s Cafe (named after Mr Paterson?), sharing toasted paninis and drinks. One curiosity – we were given a little electronic coaster-sized disc that beeped at us once our order was ready.

We then returned to the north shore of George’s Bay towards Binalong Bay, exploring the gravel road turn-off to Humbug Point. We didn’t see much along there until we saw a shady carpark off to the right with a few vehicles there. Must be something there – let’s have a look.

And we found ourselves on a real-life pirate map; exploring Skeleton Bay, on the bush path to Skeleton Point. Some breeze and shade to ease the heat, but it was a good twenty minutes through woodland beside a boulder-strewn shore before we reached our site of bony punctuality. An expanse of smoothed sloping granite sprinkled with the orange lichen that you find all along this stretch, fissured by cracks just the right width for little people to jump across.

We sat there for a while, enjoying the views and the smell of the sea. No skeletal remains to be seen (much to Hannah’s relief). Once we were sufficiently parched we retraced our steps, planning to drive back to St Helens for an ice cream from yesterday’s Gelateria. This we did, after an abortive attempt to escape the village of Binalong Bay – we ended up driving round in circles three times before handing over control to Lady TT.

Ice at a price, but worth it for its smooth texture (I tried the Turkish Delight flavour for probably the first time in my 42-and-a-lot years). We picked up ingredients for spaghetti carbonara at the IGA supermarket and got back to the campsite around 4.20pm. Not so busy around our tent tonight, and we still hardly ever need to share the kitchen facilities with anyone else.

We’ve been thinking about the rest of our time in Tasmania; seven more nights which we had planned to share between two sites, but perhaps it would be better to base ourselves near Hobart for a full week and do day trips from there. There is so much to see round there – Port Arthur and the reconstructed penal settlement, a trip to Bruny Island, driving up into the wild western region of the island, animal parks with Tasmanian Devils, a treetop walk. We’d gain three full days in the area, and some of the days we’ll miss near Freycinet National Park would have been drizzly (not that we’re likely to hike the three or four hours to photogenic Wineglass Bay anyway).

It’s back to that negative correlation between the number of stops and the number of days available for exploring; less really is more. Try to pack in too many locations and you spend too much time on the move (our mistake in New Zealand). By stopping in only three towns, we’ll have just four packing/unpacking/driving days and ten ‘settled’ days.

Apparently yesterday’s Bay of Fires stretch of sand has been rated one of the best beaches in the world. Why? On the basis of what criteria? Just like ‘perfect’, ‘best’ only has meaning when followed by ‘for …’ – is it one of the best beaches for surfing, for paddling, for collecting shells, for building sandcastles, for stunning sunset photos, for nudist sunbathing?

Tomorrow we’ll get some drizzle as a front sweeps across the island, but there should be more fine weather on the way for our second week. So far this camping trip does feel like a holiday within our travels; we’re all getting earlier nights and lots of fresh air as well as a change of routine and scene.

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A pretty good “tent” sleep for all of us.  I tend to sleep fairly solidly for about 5 hours and then sleep in blocks of 1.5 – 2 hours.  The evening started off being a little noisier than at the previous campsite with a group of women laughing and our neighbour having a telephone conversation with a girlfriend, but shortly after 9pm all went quiet.

We woke up to a sky of clouds and the sun trying to get through.  We had some more muffins for breakfast and then took our time getting ready to go out. 

First we decided to visit St Helen’s Information Centre to pick up the usual leaflets and get ideas of what to do or where to go with the girls.  Then we popped into the local library hoping to use our laptop as we don’t have any connection at the campsite.  The girls had no problem finding a book to read, but nowhere to sit as the librarian was preparing the room for “Rock and Rhymes” for parents and babies/toddlers.  Tim in the meantime had disappeared into the computer room where he found out we would have to pay $8/hour for the use of our own laptop.  We decided to leave it for now, and maybe try to get a connection further down south.  We did however let the girls have a good read, while I looked at some newspapers.

We stopped at Supa IGA to stock up on items for our picnic lunch on the beach.  The supermarket was very low on fresh salads, so we settled for mini sausage rolls, crisps, olives (only for Tim), fresh Tasmanian strawberries and four little jellies.

Shortly before mid-day we arrived at Cosy Corner beach in the Bay of Fires between Binalong Bay and The Gardens.  The sand was white and almost deserted, the sea and sky different shades of blue.  We had brought our swimming stuff but everybody seemed happy to sit on their towel and enjoy the view and warm sunshine.

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We spent the afternoon sunbathing, reading, drawing in the sand and walking up to the rocks.

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After more than three hours we called it a day and headed back into St Helens for something cool.  Both girls settled for an ice cream (surprise, surprise) and Tim and I shared a large Sunkiss – a fresh fruit juice made of pineapple, strawberry, pear, orange and mint – very refreshing!

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As we arrived back at our tent we noticed that the grass area had started to fill up, with 2 campervans to our right and another one to our left (including a small dog).  After supper we were joined by yet more campers, this time a young family in a tent with a toddler and a labrador.

Tonight we tried out our own little one-hob camp stove for the first time.  This camp kitchen has a fridge, microwave, toaster and kettle but no cooker (unlike the previous site).  We had planned chicken korma with rice and were pleased with our efforts.  It all came together nicely and we had pretty much four empty plates.  OUr supper was washed down with some local cider, Mercury, which both Tim and I liked a lot.

The girls quickly settled to catch up on their diaries before one last play in the playground before getting ready for bed.

Tomorrow we’ll make plans for the rest of our stay on Tasmania.

My thoughts on camping :

I’ve never been particularly keen on camping and roughing it in a tent, it’s just not my sort of thing.  The couple of times we have tried camping in grandparents’ garden did not convince me of trying it “for real”. 

After almost a week of camping I am ready to change my mind.  At the end of the day I am actually looking forward to crawling into my sleeping bag and settling down for the night.  Cooking food on a little stove and using public amenities is an adventure in itself, but what really made me change my mind is the amount of fresh air you get and the girls are absolutely loving the experience.

I have even talked to Tim about maybe trying camping back in the UK, but only if we can get warm enough sleeping bags!

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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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