Thursday, 21 November 2013

A Tasmazing Experience

        Relaxed, revived, rejuvenated...three R's to sum up how I feel after my recent holiday in Tasmania, or better known as Apple Isle. City slickers and shopaholics would be disappointed with Tasmania, which offers opportunities galore to be one with nature (and wildlife). Both my husband and I are nature lovers, thus this holiday destination was just perfect for us.
        Deviating from our usual escorted tours, we took the plunge and embarked on our maiden self-designed, self-drive holiday. There was a fair bit of hassle involved in the planning and booking, but it was all worthwhile. The trip turned out to be cheaper, more places were visited and the flexibility was just great. We have barely been back and we are already talking about returning to Tasmania in the not too distant future.

Day 1 - Hobart

        After an 8-hour flight to Melbourne and a subsequent 75-minute flight to Hobart, we had arrived. Getting a taxi to the city center and checking into our hotel, Mercure Hadleys Hobart, were a breeze. We dumped our bags in the room, freshened up and was out exploring Hobart in a jiffy.
           The famous Salamanca Place was just a five-minute walk away so we headed there first. Salamanca Place consists of rows of sandstone buildings that were formerly warehouses for the port of Hobart. Now these buildings have been converted into fashionable restaurants, galleries, craft shops and offices. My food-trained eyes promptly spotted a cafe selling Valhalla ice cream, made in Tasmania. Mmm...they were heavenly indeed, second only to Devonshire's Langage Farm ice cream.  
A taste of Tasmanian ice cream

Checking out Salamanca Place

Getting cozy at Princes Park
        We ventured on to Battery Point and Sullivan's Cove, all highlights of Hobart's waterfront. Passing Princes Park en route, we decided to just lounge around the well-manicured park, without a care in the world and boy, it felt so good!
A fishy soup at Fish Frenzy
        Dinner on our first night in Tassie was at Fish Frenzy. We shared fish & chips, crumbed scallops and tried the seafood chowder on the recommendation of my well-travelled student. The fish was fresh, the scallops were so sweet and juicy and the seafood chowder was very yummylicious.

Day 2 - Hobart, Hamilton, Mt. Field National Park

Salamanca Market, the weekly outdoor market that brings Hobart’s waterfront alive with colours, sounds and smells

        Checking out early, we proceeded to Salamanca Market, one of the main attractions of Hobart. Rain or shine, Salamanca Market is open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A friendly old gentleman dishing up our Weisswurst breakfast
There were over 300 stalls selling arts, crafts, clothes, food, vegetables, fruits, souvenirs, soaps, hats, etc.  Our noses followed the aromatic smells to a stall that sells German sausages in a baguette. I have never been a big fan of sausages but let me say this, the Weisswurst sausage with mustard was absolutely finger-licking good! I followed up with a cinnamon doughnut (one of my greatest loves from England days) while Derrick tried a bacon sandwich. 

Talented street musicians entertain at Salamanca Market

       It would have been easy to just linger on at the market but we were keen to move on to our next destination --- Curringa Farm at Hamilton. So we walked to pick up our car from Hertz, drove back to the hotel to collect our luggage and off we went. The journey from Hobart to Hamilton was about an hour's drive but we made a stop at New Norfolk to get some provisions for dinner. Again, my food-trained eyes zoomed in on a bakery and found Tasmania's curried scallop pies. They were, sadly, not as delicious as I had envisioned them to be and Derrick did not enjoy them at all.
Over The Back, our 4-star standard cottage
        Locating Curringa Farm, our accommodation, was not difficult, thanks to the GPS we had in our car. This was our most expensive accommodation in Tassie but we were glad we decided on this splurge. Our cottage, Over The Back, has 2 bedrooms and is fully self contained. Besides being clean and comfortable, there is a luxurious spa bath for two...just ideal for a romantic getaway. The cottage is situated in natural bush, beside picturesque Lake Meadowbank and wildlife is close at hand.

Queen sized bed beckons

Views from the deck of the cottage
        In the evening, we drove to Mt. Field National Park, 30 minutes away. From the park office, we trekked for 20 minutes to reach Russell Falls, probably the most photographed waterfall in Tasmania. Seeing its three elegant tiers framed by lush vegetation, one can understand why it has attracted visitors for well over a hundred years. 
The 45-metre high Russell Falls

Day 3 - Lake St. Clair National Park, Strahan

Our very cozy cabin, Over The Back

It was fun to cook breakfast in the lovely cabin
  Taking advantage of the beautiful vast farm surroundings, Derrick and I went for a morning stroll before returning to our cottage to cook breakfast. The hosts, Tim and Jane, had provided us with ample breakfast supplies that included homemade bread, butter, jam, juice, milk, cereal, bacon and eggs.

Soon it was time to bid farewell to the cozy cottage and friendly hosts to continue on our journey west. On the recommendation of Jane, we stopped at Derwent Bridge to view the Wall In The Wilderness, a 100 metre-long wall with sculpture done single-handedly by Greg Duncan.
Lake St. Clair, the deepest lake in Australia
        Next up on our agenda of the day was to commune with nature at the Lake St. Clair National Park. This is the southern end of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park and is part of Tasmania's Western Wilderness. It was pure bliss to just sit quietly by the lake for more than an hour while Mr. Photographer happily clicked away.
        Things went a little downhill after this scenic stop. The reason : the road to Strahan is terribly winding and I succumbed to a bad bout of motion sickness. Upon reaching Strahan Backpackers, our accommodation for the night, I crawled onto the bed gratefully.

Day 4 - Strahan, Wilmot
A-frame huts at Strahan Backpackers
  Completely recovered after a good night's sleep in the tiny room, I joined Derrick for breakfast at the communal kitchen. Then we checked out and proceeded to board the Lady Jane Franklin II for our 6-hour Gordon River Cruise. As Derrick drove to the Strahan harbour, I caught glimpses of Strahan, 

The lonely town of Strahan
 I was unable to do so the previous day. Being the last outpost of civilisation on the West Coast of Tasmania, Strahan is a small lonely town.
        The many positive reviews of the Gordon River Cruise had prompted us to take this up. We sailed across Macquarie Harbour to Hell's Gates, which took us away from the sheltered waters of the harbour to the rough Southern Ocean. Then we glided back down the Gordon River, passing by endless tracts of untouched rainforest. We disembarked briefly at Heritage Landing to view the rainforest up close before returning on board for our buffet lunch. The cruise also took us to Sarah Island and we were able to walk amongst the ruins of one of Australia's harshest convict settlements. At the end of the cruise, we both agreed that despite the promises and positive feedback, the cruise was not all that exciting and could have been given a miss.
        After shopping for food at a local supermarket, we drove 169 km to Wilmot. Locating our accommodation, Love Grove Guest House, would have been immensely difficult had it not been for our trusty GPS. It was nicely tucked away in the wilderness, making it an idyllic hideaway. Our host, Tania, and her daughter were warm and friendly, making us completely at home. The cottage was luxuriously decorated, complete with a kitchenette, spa bath for 2, washing machine and a bottle of port. In addition to a horse and some native hens that belong to Tania, there were rabbits and wallabies around.

Delighting in the beautiful surroundings of Love Grove Guest House

Day 5 - Cradle Mountain

        Our stay at cozy Love Grove Guest House included a generous breakfast hamper so we were able to cook our breakfast and have it in the comfort of our cottage. With our bellies filled, we embarked on an exciting day at Cradle Mountain National Park.
        The weather, unfortunately, was rather cold and dismal. But we nursed hopes that it would clear up. At the Visitors Centre, we decided to purchase a pair of gloves each as the weather was turning wintry. Derrick wisely got a beanie for himself. As we waited for the shuttle bus to ferry us to Dove Lake, rain started to pelt down.
        In view of the slippery conditions, we decided against trekking the entire Dove Lake Circuit.
The tranquil beauty of Dove Lake astounds one and all
Instead, we trudged a short distance to the boat shed, the scenic spot where most Dove Lake photographs are taken. We experienced the true nature of fickle Tasmanian weather as it started to snow (and this was on a summer's day)! The snow added to the mystique of Dove Lake, with the iconic Cradle Mountain framing the background.

        We bumped into a friend from Ipoh when we were leaving Dove Lake. Prior to our trips, Helen and I had exchanged itineraries and we noted that we had the chance of crossing paths on this day. But Derrick scoffed at the idea, saying that Cradle Mountain National Park is too vast. It felt good to prove my husband wrong, yet again  :)
         After lunch (fish & chips again) at the Visitors Centre, the weather finally seemed to clear up. Brimming with enthusiasm, we proceeded to the Enchanted Walk, a lovely 30-minute walk. For a moment, I thought I had been transported to Narnia for it really was enchanting to be surrounded by dense, old-growth rainforest, acres of buttongrass plains and cascading waterfalls. There was not a soul around and it felt as if the trees were bending down to welcome Derrick and I as we explored their world. It was oh-so-natural to start talking to the trees, and that was exactly what I did. On our way out, snow flurries started to fall, lending additional lure to the place.
        We could hardly believe our luck when we spotted a wombat right in front of our eyes. Cameras were whipped out and the oblivious wombat was stalked for more than half an hour. At one point, it was just burrowing around near my feet and I could have easily reached down to pet it.
A very oblivious wombat scurried around us

        Finally, Mr. Wombat grew weary of our untiring devotion and decided to disappear for good in the undergrowth. We were happy with the many up close and personal photos that we got of it. We then went on to trek round Pencil Pines before finally tearing ourselves away from Cradle Mountain National Park.
A little devil shows his true colours
        We had a date with the Tasmanian Devils. A few minutes away from the Visitors Centre was the Devils @ Cradle, a Tasmanian Devil sanctuary. Here we met the adorable carnivorous marsupials and watched them in action. As part of the Night Feeding tour, we were given a briefing on the endangered species, their life cycle, the ongoing breeding programmes and the dreaded devil facial tumour disease that is plaguing them. We were then taken on a tour around the sanctuary, where we also saw the Eastern and Spotted-tail Quolls. Soon it was feeding time. When the keeper nailed down part of a dead wallaby, there was a feeding frenzy. The little devils attacked the meat with gusto and tore at it with delight. All was gone in no time. I felt a little repulsed at the sight of raw meat being torn apart but no one else seemed to share the same feelings.
        By the time we were ready to leave, it started snowing heavily again. We also found our windscreen covered with snow. It was quite daunting driving in the dusk in such weather and I prayed hard that our Lord would deliver us "home" safely. As always, He listens, and we soon arrived back at Love Grove Guest House safe and sound.

Day 6 - Promised Land, Sheffield, Stanley

        After a hearty breakfast in our cottage, we had to pack up and bid adieu to our hosts. It had certainly been a lovely stay but we had to move on. Even the skittish wallabies were out to say goodbye.
        First up on today's itinerary was Tasmazia, Promised Land. I came to know about this place from a friend, Anne Foo, who visited Tasmania in 2011. It is a little theme park with miniature buildings and mazes. We arrived early so we literally had the entire place to ourselves.
        Venturing into the Great Maze, barking up dead ends and encountering whimsical signposts were fun. Derrick thoroughly enjoyed turning here and there, not in the least worried that we would be eternally lost in the maze, thus proving he's a leader, a courageous adventurer, a dreamer and a good loser. Ever mindful of the time, I was very eager to get out as quick as possible, and every wrong turn sent my spirits plummeting, thus proving I'm a follower, a control freak, a timid unadventurous soul and a quitter (I kept urging Derrick to sneak out using the path we took to get in).
        The Village of the Lower Crackpot, a model village built to 1/5th scale, consists of a lot of colourful and whimsical buildings like The School of Lateral Thinking. We had a jolly time wandering around, laughing at the many funny names and taking pictures.
UNESCO was here
We also visited Cubby Town, the Correction Centre, The Three Bears Cottage and of course, the Pancake Parlour, where we shared a lovely Devonshire Pancake.

        As we had a long journey ahead of us, it was essential to be on time today. We drove to Sheffield, 15 minutes away. Sheffield, the Town of Murals, is Tasmania's outdoor art gallery. Virtually every piece of blank wall has been beautifully painted, making the little town a delight to visit for even the most unartistic person like me.
Life-like murals abound in Sheffield, making it a very interesting stop

        We could not dally for long as we had to drive 144 km north west to Stanley. The road to Stanley was quite scenic for we were driving by the coast, but apart from a toilet stop, we remained in our Kia Cerrato all the way to our destination.
        Many tourists omit Stanley from their itinerary because it is a long drive, out of the way of the usual Hobart-Launceston-Cradle Mountain route. That is a big mistake for the historic town of Stanley is scenic and steeped in history. We checked into the Stanley Seaview Inn, chosen for its fabulous views of the Nut, a solidified lava lake of a long extinct volcano. The Nut was also the main reason why we decided to include Stanley.
        It was an awfully windy day and I was bitterly disappointed to find that the chairlifts up the Nut were not in operation. The alternative was a long and steep climb up, which would have been all right had it not been for the ferocious winds. We wisely decided against the climb. Derrick made no attempt to hide his delight as the non-operational chairlifts meant more time for him to drive around Stanley to survey the best spots for sunset and sunrise pictures of the Nut. I was, naturally, seething in anger.       
        A drive up to Highfield Estate, an elegant gentleman's home and farm in the 1830s, rewarded us with excellent views of the Nut.  
The Nut beckons
But the astounding scenery did little to lift up my spirits. It was only much later, when walking along the main street of Stanley and admiring its genteel, colonial buildings whilst waiting for dinner to commence, that my cloud of disappointment dissipated. Dinner that night was aptly all about beef. After all, Stanley is situated near Cape Grim, famous for beef that is sought after by Australia's top chefs and featured in restaurants across America, Europe, Japan and Korea. I am not much of a beef lover, but I must say the steak was incredibly juicy and flavourful.

Day 7 - Smithton, Launceston

        The day started off well for Derrick, who managed to get some excellent sunrise shots of the Nut.
Sunrise shot of the Nut
After a simple breakfast of instant noodles (Maggi mi goreng) in the hotel room, we checked out and drove 21 km to Smithton for some thrills.

        Tarkine Forest Adventures - Dismal Swamp is often missed out by tourists due to its location. But it really is quite interesting. Dismal Swamp is a natural blackwood forest sinkhole, believed to be the only one in the world. Formed over thousands of years by dissolving dolomite, the 40-metre sinkhole is a unique forest habitat supporting a range of plant and animal species. From the Visitors Centre, we took a thrilling 110-metre slide down to the swamp floor. I think the entire forest must have heard my shouts of exhilaration. In addition to bushwalking and bugs-seeking (that's my hubby's second love), we were delighted to encounter wallabies all over. As the admission price includes 2 rides on the slide, we trudged up to the Visitors Centre for another scream-your-lungs-out ride down.
        Thoroughly invigorated after a pleasurable forest walk, we left for Launceston, 230 km away. We stopped at Wynard for a lovely Chinese lunch and some food shopping at Woolworths. The long drive was taking a toll on poor Derrick and we had to stop for coffee at Burnie to perk him up.
        Our accommodation, Launceston Backpackers, is centrally located in the city. It is clean and comfortable, an excellent bargain for the price we paid. After freshening up, we proceeded to Cataract Gorge, Launceston's own piece of wilderness within the city. Unknowingly, we chose the strenuous path up...the Zig Zag Track. I am glad my knees served me well as it was not an easy climb. The descent was equally tough. But it was good exercise and a long rest by the gorge, with its endless torrent of freshwater tumbling down, helped to restore sufficient energy for a steep decline back into the city.
        Having Chinese food for lunch that day had reminded us of how tasty Chinese cooking is so we popped into a Chinese restaurant to take away some additional food. Back at our lodgings, we microwaved our frozen food at the communal kitchen and had a very tasty Chinese cum Western dinner.

Day 8 - Launceston, Nabowla, Pyengana, St. Helens, Bay of Fires

        Before we left Launceston, Tasmania's second largest city, we made our way to the City Park, with some Japanese macaque monkeys as its main attraction. Blissfully unconcerned about the many prying eyes, they went about their usual monkey business like grooming each other, performing trapeze stunts and cheekily annoying each other.
Going jubilant amongst the lavender
After having enough of the monkeys, we drove 52 km to Nabowla for a lavender session. Nabowla is where the famous Bridestowe Estate is located. It was a spectacular sight to see the endless rows of lavender. We were told that the flowers would be in full bloom around Christmas and the sight would be even lovelier. I could not resist getting a lavender teddy bear as a bedside companion and a pair of cute lavender teddy bear soaps to adorn my bathroom. Derrick and I also filled our bellies with lavender, well, not literally, of course. We had lavender milkshakes, lavender scones and lavender sausage roll, finishing off with lavender ice cream...mmm...scrumptious!

Trekking out from St. Columba Falls Reserve
        Reasonably relaxed after an intimate lavender session, we drove for 1 hour 35 mins to St. Columba Falls, Pyengana. From the car park, it was an easy walk through a forest of tree ferns to reach one of Tasmania's highest falls and be awed by the sight of it plunging 90 metres down. 
        We were impressed to find that our Budget Cabin at Big4 St. Helens Holiday Park was very cozy and well-equipped, again a terrific choice for the price we paid. It could accommodate 6 persons, so you can imagine how comfortable we were with the amount of space.
        Without wasting any more time, we drove on to explore the magnificent Bay of Fires, 11 km away. Photos of the endless stretch of white beaches, sparkling azure water and granite rocks splashed with orange lichen cannot do justice to this region. Being there in person, sinking your toes into the powder-soft sand, dipping your feet into the cool and clean waters and resting on those "fiery"'s a totally unforgettable experience. No wonder Bay of Fires was voted as the No. 1 travel destination for 2009 by Lonely Planet.
The mesmerizing Bay of Fires

         Needless to say, Mr. Photographer was enthralled by the site and I was very content to laze around, lulled by the soothing sounds of the sea and bewitched by the breathtaking views. There were only a handful of campers around so we almost had the entire beach to ourselves. It was very romantic to stroll hand-in-hand on such a stunning expanse of beach.

Day 9 - Bay of Fires, Falmouth, Bicheno, Coles Bay

        Waking up early to drive to Bay of Fires for sunrise (at 5.29 a.m.) rewarded Derrick with some gorgeous shots. It was not easy to tear ourselves from this little piece of heaven on earth but we had other delightful spots ahead of us.
        We drove first to Falmouth, 25 mins away, to view Falmouth's Blowhole. The winds were not strong enough that day, inadequate to break the waves and cause plumes of spray to rise from the fissures in the rocks. Nonetheless, it was a nice walk along the coast, with great views.
        Worries that we would not be able to view the amazing blowholes assailed us. Fortunately, Bicheno Blowhole did not disappoint us. Bicheno, located 41 km away, is a seaside holiday town famous for great seafood, penguin tours and of course, its spectacular blowhole.
Bicheno Blowhole in action
        With a feast of seafood in our stomachs (we ate at Pork's Place), we proceeded to the Blowhole. Luck was on our side as there were big swells of waves hurling themselves in, aided by the winds that have picked up speed. Timing it right, Derrick was able to capture the massive sprays of water (some can go as high as 20 metres) shooting into the air and raining down on the lichen-covered rocks. Once or twice, Derrick was also subjected to the showers of blessings. I, who felt it was more prudent to view from afar, could not help by marvel at yet another masterpiece of God. The hymn "How Great Thou Art" sprang forth from my lips.
        Would a trip to Tasmania be complete without sampling their oysters? Definitely not. Freycinet Marine Farm is one of the recommended places to eat oysters.
Tucking into the delicious Kilpatrick oysters with special spicy sauce
 It is a small, unpretentious open-
air cafe with very reasonable prices. We ordered the Kilpatrick oysters grilled with bacon and spicy sauce ($20 for a dozen). The oysters were so fresh and juicy that we were literally ooh-ing and aah-ing all the way.

        We drove on a little further ahead and arrived at Coles Bay. Our lodging at Big4 Iluka on Freycinet was, once again, a clean and comfortable cabin suited for 6 persons. As a first timer scouring the Internet for accommodation, I must congratulate myself for having done well this far.
        Wanting to pack in as much exploration as possible, we immediately drove to check out Freycinet National Park. Our breaths were taken away by the incredible views from Cape Tourville. Watching waves crashing down below whilst perched precariously on rocks high above at Sleepy Bay leaves indelible memories. Honeymoon Bay, ironically, was not ideal for honeymooners as there were loads of visitors around to enjoy the splendid views. But the highlight of the place is, undoubtedly, Wineglass Bay. From the car park, we had to climb for more than an hour to reach the Wineglass Bay Lookout. The huffing and puffing were definitely worth it. Drinking in the views of a perfect curve as clear turquoise waters meet pristine white sand down below, I can well understand why Wineglass Bay consistently rates among the top ten beaches in the world. 
The hazardous things a photographer has to attempt in order to get the best angles
Wineglass Bay...well worth the hike to feast your eyes on this gorgeous sight

Day 10 - Coles Bay, Great Oyster Bay, Swansea, Port Arthur, Eaglehawk Neck

        Sunrise at Coles Bay was stunning, delighting Mr. Photographer. More photography opportunities beckoned after we checked out and drove on. We lingered on at Swansea to admire the views of Great Oyster Bay, after grabbing ice cream made from fresh strawberries at a farm. Orford, where we stopped for lunch, is also a scenic little town.
        Drowsiness often followed after lunch and we had to park by the side of the road to have a snooze. Having iced coffee at Dunalley whilst enjoying the views of the sea also helped to break the monotony of being on the road.
        We were glad to finally arrive at Port Arthur and was even more thrilled to find another luxurious lodging awaiting us at Abs By The Bay. For the price we paid, I was a little afraid that it would turn out to be below par. But my fear was completely unjustified as it was absolutely lovely. The host, Veronica, was most welcoming, and the gardens were really well-manicured.
          I felt a little under the weather so I opted to laze around in our cabin, enjoy a nice cup of tea with biscuits in the garden and wander down to the shore for a sunset stroll. Never one to miss an opportunity to scout around for photography spots, Derrick went out to explore on his own. But the next day, after checking out, my loving husband showed me around all the beautiful places in Port Arthur that I had missed. Pirates Bay Blowhole was another example of dramatic geological landscape, widely available in this region of Tasmania. The Tessellated Pavement is a must-visit as the natural geological formations of seemingly perfect tiles on the ground are truly awesome! Devil's Kitchen, a collapsed arch, is another geological formation to marvel at. Don't leave out Tasman Arch
Stuntman vs geological formations at the Tessellated Pavement


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