South East Tasmania

Freycinet NP View from Lighthouse

Freycinet NP View from Lighthouse

Apart from three nights when Julie first arrived in Tasmania we’ve been packing up and moving almost every day so it’s time to find a spot to set up a base camp for about a week and take the camper off the ute to explore the area. The main camping area in Freycinet National Park is located near Coles Bay and the start of some great walks and also has internet and phone cover which we haven’t had for a while so it would make a great choice. It’s usually pretty busy in this national park but as it is the end of Easter we’re hoping it will be emptying out and we can get a good spot. Unfortunately the congestion in the car park at the Visitor Centre and the queue for assistance don’t look promising and sure enough there are no vacancies in this part of the park for vehicle based camping for the next two nights. We decide to spend the next couple of nights elsewhere in the national park and we book a site for the campground at Coles Bay for the remainder of our week.

The free camping area at Friendly Beaches offers an excellent alternative. In fact if it had phone cover we’d probably prefer it as it is more relaxed and we set up for two nights in a spot with a great view over the ocean. The beach offers some great walks with rocky areas to fossick around and long beaches with firm sand stretching north and south. The beach is quiet; families playing in the sand near their camp, occasional tourists wandering down from the carpark to have a look, a few intrepid souls swimming and three local surfers catching some waves so it’s very easy to find a spot on the beach just to yourself. Six vintage VW Kombi vans pull in near us and form a ‘laager’ with their owners chairs and tables in the centre protected from the coastal breeze. The VWs all differ reflecting the personalites of their owners but none would be less than about fifty years old and they have all been beautifully restored and maintained. We really enjoy going to sleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach.

Friendly Beaches, Freycinet NP

Friendly Beaches, Freycinet NP

The rest of the week is spent camped in the main camping area down at Coles Bay itself. As well as internet and phone we have power and hot showers; what luxury! In between walks and sightseeing Paul enjoys time working on his photos. A few steps away a sheltered beach provides pleasant walks along the sand or into the town centre with great views of the ‘Hazards’, a line of distinctive hills which bisect the park. A short drive leads to the lighthouse with its views over the ocean to the north, east and south and to the entry of Wineglass Bay. Half way back along the road another walking track takes us down to Sleepy Bay with fascinating rocks to clamber around and photograph.

Multi day walks lead south around the peninsula but the furthest we walk is up to the Wineglass Bay lookout, down to the bay itself and along the beach then across the peninsula to Hazards Beach and back around the edge of the Hazards. Its a beautiful walk and we take our time enjoying lunch while we are on the beach. The sun is out and the colour and clarity of the water at Wineglass Bay is shown off to best advantage and Paul has fun trying to capture the essence of the scene with his camera.

The Coles Bay township is small and largely holiday focussed and we enjoy the sunset view of the Hazards and dinner one evening in a local cafe listening to a local singer. We sample the local oysters and, while they are very enjoyable, we vote the St Helens oysters to be superior. The local mussels can’t be faulted and they are delicious cooked with tomatoes, white wine, garlic and a touch of chilli soaked up with a crusty loaf of bread … yum. After our relaxing week we head toward our next experience, two nights in a penitentiary!

We make a slight detour back to Bicheno, a popular holiday town on the east coast. We need to visit the laundromat and post office and had planned to do some walks along the beaches and out to a tidal island while we were here but the weather is cold and windy so we settle for some short drives and a chat with the very friendly laundromat operator. Onward we make another stop at a winery in the tiny town of Cranbrook. The wine is not to our taste but the old buildings in the grounds are well worth a good look.

Swansea is a very pretty town on the bay opposite the Freycinet peninsula and we will spend a night along this coast but we’re not looking for a caravan park so we continue south to the very attractive free camping area in the Mayfield Bay Conservation Area. It’s not big and can be very popular with both tourists and locals but we’re late enough in the season for the crowds to have thinned and we snare a level camp site with fabulous views over the bay and across to Freycinet. We have time for a short beach walk down to the historic tunnels built by the convicts which drain the small creek under the roadway.

It is a short drive next day to our next destination in Triabunna.  We’ll camp behind the pub for the night and catch the ferry over to Maria Island in the morning but it’s early so we have time for some sightseeing first. Rain is drizzling down so a walk around the historic buildings is vetoed and we take a drive through Orford and down along the coast to Spring Beach.

There are no cars on Maria Island, apart from a few national park work vehicles, so the camper stays behind and we are loaded with sleeping bags, food, crockery, clothes and of course cameras and tripod when we board the ferry. We have booked a room in the old penitentiary for two nights, would have liked longer but it’s popular all year round so we were lucky to get this much time. Each room has four bunk beds with a wood fire and tables and benches and there is a communal kitchen and dining area and bathroom. The main campground is also near the jetty and there are bush camps for those who want to explore further afield. Bicycles are a good way to see more of the island and they can be rented in Triabunna or on the island but we decide there will be plenty for us to see within walking distance in the time we have available.

The ferry trip takes around 30 minutes to deliver us to Darlington, the site of the penal settlement which began operation in 1825. It didn’t last long as a penal settlement though as the convicts found it all too easy to escape across the water. The island was later used as a convict probation station for another short period but has also had a number of other uses over the years before becoming a national park. The history of the island is well illustrated in displays in the settlement of Darlington and on signs attached to other buildings scattered around the island. The island is a great place for bird watching with numerous Cape Barren Geese, one of the world’s rarest geese, around the settlement. Wombats are also plentiful and as with other Tasmanian wombats they don’t seem to realise they are nocturnal creatures, well at least the mainland ones are.

Two of the most popular short walks are to the Fossils Cliffs and the Painted Cliffs. Each can easily be done in less than two hours return but there is plenty to explore along the way and on side trips so they can take as long as you want. The Fossil Cliffs walk takes us past old buildings and a cemetery which are great to explore and photograph and to the northern edge of the island where a former limestone quarry reveals millions of fossilised shellfish, sea fans and coral like creatures in layers of sandstone many metres thick. Continuing along the edge of the island the path takes us higher until we are standing on the edge of spectacular cliffs which plunge straight into the ocean. There are great views off the northern edge of the island and up to the summit of Bishop and Klerk mountain and across to a small island off shore. This is definitely a spot for Paul to return to for sunrise photos which he does the next morning. The return walk down the forested gully behind the cliffs takes us past more fascinating buildings and areas to explore another time.

Maria Island

Maria Island

The Painted Cliffs walk is best done at low tide and, as we are a little early, we take the inland path to enjoy the bush and take a look at the old cottages and Oast House.  At the end of our walk the tide has dropped enough for us to carefully negotiate our way around a rocky outcrop to see the beautifully patterned sandstone cliffs. These have been created by the movement of mineral-rich water though the rock, and by the eroding action of wind and wave. The peaceful beaches and shoreline also have a wealth of fascinating tidal-zone marine life. By the time we have had our fill of the cliffs and rock pools the tide has dropped further so the rocks are easier to negotiate and more people are arriving to sightsee. We walk back along the beach paddling along the way.

More time on the island would be great but unfortunately we only had the two nights so we head back to Triabunna on the afternoon ferry and spend another night behind the hotel. We’ve arranged to do some house sitting in Richmond in a few weeks time and we have an introductory visit booked to meet the owners, and animals, and to finalise the dates so we get an early start and drive straight through to Richmond. School holidays have just started so we’ll avoid the coast again for the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for the next adventures.

North East Tasmania

Bay of Fires

Bay of Fires

We had a staggered start to our travels in Tasmania, Paul arrived in Devonport on the overnight ferry on the 1st of March and Julie flew into Launceston on the 17th March after spending extra time in Adelaide. In the interim Paul sampled some of the north west region, the Western Tiers and the Central Plateau. First on the agenda was a short first visit to Cradle Mountain, then a visit to Susie, a friend who lives just outside Wynyard. From there he headed to Rocky Cape and Stanley on the north coast and Marrawah on the west coast, but then decided to head east again because the rain was moving in from the west and parts of the Tarkine were still inaccessible after the extensive fires which had caused havoc in the area for about three months. Plans to visit the Tarkine were put on hold, but hopefully we’ll get there before we leave and the forest will not be too badly burned. Paul then travelled east along the bottom of the Western Tiers, exploring tracks and waterfalls in the area before driving up onto the Central Plateau and around the Great Lake through Miena and down to Launceston. From there he headed north to the coast for a break in a caravan park before heading back to Launceston to pick Julie up from the airport.

From Launceston we headed north east passing through Bridport to reach some quiet beach camping at Waterhouse Point. Tasmania has numerous free camping sites in many popular locations and this was one of them. It was a great spot to relax together for a few nights before we moved on.

Continuing along toward the north east of the state we reached the Mt William National Park and after looking around the area we spent a night at Stumpy Bay. We could easily have spent more time in the area but were keen to reach the Bay of Fires slightly further down the coast just above St Helens. Eddystone Point and Lighthouse in the southern section of the National Park were worth a detour on our way. The Bay of Fires received its name after early colonial explorers saw numerous fires along the coast, which the aborigines were using for land management, but it could very well have been named for the bright orange lichen which decorates many of the rocks edging the ocean. We camped at three different campsites in the area and enjoyed our walks, drives, swims and most particularly the beautiful, fresh and cheap oysters. Paul braved the water to swim a couple of times but Julie was sensible and realised the water was far too cold.

By now it was Easter and as the area is a popular holiday spot for Tasmanians we decided we should head inland to avoid the crowds. With another dozen oysters in the fridge for later consumption we drove inland to the tiny community of Pyengana. It’s known for its heritage ‘Pub in the Paddock’ and the marvellous cheese factory. As it was Good Friday the pub was closed for the day and we had to shelve our idea of staying in the free camping area nearby and having a counter meal that night but we were delighted to find the cheese factory was open. They make a fine range of cheddar cheeses and we enjoyed all of our samples and purchased some of the prize winning aged cheddar before continuing up into the hills. Columba Falls are not far up the road and they are on the tourist trail so there is a good bitumen road and there were quite a few vehicles around. The short walk down to the falls  passes between ancient tree ferns with amazingly huge trunks covered in bright green mosses. The falls are very attractive and well worth the easy walk.

After lunch we left the bitumen road and followed a gravel road through the forest toward Ringarooma. We climbed steep hills and wound our way down between lush forest and by mid afternoon we reached the carpark for Ralph Falls. At the bottom of the parking area a line of shrubs hid a flat area suitable for camping, perfect for the night’s camp. Before we set up we headed down the trail to the falls. The fungi are amazing, with wonderful colours and lots of varieties. From the lookout at the falls we saw the narrow creek tumbling off the plateau down the sheer and curved cliff and into the valley far below. Turning to look the other way we enjoyed expansive views over a valley with cleared farmland and scattered houses joined by a winding dirt road.

The trail continued past the lookout over a rocky section on top of cliff and over a small bridge spanning the creek which formed the waterfall. The grey trees are tall, slender and gently curved and, with little undergrowth to clutter the view, they appeared to be dancing sinuously. When the trail crossed small watercourses the undergrowth reappeared but as we were on the top of the hill the air was much drier and the fungi far less prolific. We reached the other side of the hill top and found a lookout over the gorge below then the track returned to the start by crossing the top of the ridge on timber planks raised above the fragile damp surface. At first we walked between head high shrubs waving in the breeze then the vegetation changed to waist high clumps of grasses so we had views over the top of the hill. We crossed the creek again and soon we were back at our camp to set up for the night. In the morning Paul headed out again before first light to capture some of the magic of the forest and Julie joined him there later. Breakfast back at camp then we set out on the road to see what we could find next.

We were heading for Ben Lomond National Park which is the major ski resort for Tasmania although nowhere near the scale of the ski areas on the mainland. From this direction there are no direct roads, just lots of dirt roads and tracks through state forests. After passing through Ringarooma we turned south and wound our way up, down and around hills until we left the forests and dirt roads behind and reached the tiny community of Upper Blessington. We took the turn toward the national park and began the ascent. Just after we left the farmland behind we reached the national park camp ground. The temperature was already cooler but it was certainly going to be even colder up the top of the range so we were glad to confirm that we’d be able to have a campfire here when we returned later.

The road continued through the bush until we reached the face of the mountain which appeared almost vertical. A zig zag road has been hewn out of the rocky face, it’s known as Jacob’s ladder and definitely not a road you’d take trailers, caravans or large vehicles up. For all that it’s an easy enough drive, just take it slowly and enjoy the views on the way. At the top there is a lookout over the valley below, definitely a place Paul would like to be at first light. A little further on is the ‘ski resort’. There are a few lodges and ski lifts but it isn’t very extensive. We took a walk around the village and we were pleasantly surprised to find lots of wildflowers in bloom … very pretty. The air was quite cold by now but we had enjoyed our short walk around the area before we headed back down Jacobs Ladder to our camp.

The fire at the camp site helped temper the cold night but it was sure cold when we packed up well before sunrise the next morning to return to the top of Jacob’s Ladder. The car heater helped a little and the coffee after photos and breakfast helped as well. The views from the top of the escarpment and the photos in the soft early light made the effort worth well while.

Easter was almost over so we headed back to the east coast with plans to stop somewhere for one more night on our way. Mathinna Falls are a short drive off the main road into another state forest area. We took the short walk along the creek to the falls, a delightful walk but the light wasn’t good for photographs so we decided not to stay for the night. Instead we drove up to South Sister lookout just north of St Marys. A steep track led to a small carpark at a communication tower and an even steeper walk to a lookout with fabulous views over St Marys and the Break O’Day plains far below. It’s certainly not an official camping area but the views were too good to pass up so we stayed the night. Naturally Paul climbed up to the lookout again before first light and the results were well worth the frozen fingers.

South Sister Lookout

South Sister Lookout

From there it was just a short and easy drive down to the coast and we meandered south along the coast road enjoying the views. North East Tasmania has certainly provided lots of variety, next stop Freycinet National Park and the start of our south east adventures.

Round About Route to Tasmania

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Coorong, SA, Australia

It was raining when we left Paul’s daughter’s home in Limeburners Creek north of Newcastle in early January and its raining now as I sit in my sister’s home in Wangaratta six months later looking out over the green paddocks and the swollen river. In between we’ve visited family and friends in Victoria and South Australia during January and February then spent more than three months in Tasmania returning to Victoria in late June to commence another round of visits to family and friends. All this southern winter time is a stark contrast to the last couple of winters spent in northern Australia with its warm temperatures and vivid colours. When we leave Wangaratta we’ll be making a brief return to Robe in South Australia then travelling up to Sydney and Newcastle and finally southern Queensland before we fly out of Brisbane in late August to start our new adventures in Africa.

Photos and tales from our Tassie time will follow in a number of posts but in the meantime I thought I’d fill in a some details about our travels on the way to the Apple Isle.

Travelling in two vehicles was very useful in some of the more remote areas of Australia but with our plans for Africa and the type of travel we’d be doing up until then it made sense to part with one of them and we decided that’s we’d have to part with Paul’s Troopie. It’s been a great vehicle and tackled some extremely rough tracks so was sold with reluctance but also anticipation of the new adventures ahead.

We avoid highways and motorways when we can and had planned a route south from Limburners Creek which would lead us through the edge of the Blue Mountains but the torrential rain and flooded roads back in January defeated us. After reverting to the motorway our first night was spent in southern Sydney catching up with the ‘Unimog Mob’ who we met on the Canning Stock Route last year. After 18 months on the road Jim and Julie and their two kids have settled back into city life and it was good to yarn about the rest of our travels since we last saw them in Halls Creek and hear about their plans for the future.

Finally leaving the built up areas behind we headed into the mountains with a night at the Wombeyan caves and three peaceful nights in the stunningly beautiful Eucumbene River Valley in Kosciuszko National Park. It would have been very easy to spend much longer in the area but with so many people and places to visit we had to continue our journey.

Our next stop was a catch up with Andrew in Khancoban. We met Andrew last year while we were camped on the remote Cobourg Peninsula in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Andrew and his wife spend part of each year in Darwin but the rest of the time they live in Khancoban on the edge of the mountains not far from the Victorian border and we had an invitation to visit when we were in the area. They own the Queen’s Cottage apartments and cabins which are perched on the side of a hill looking over the lake and valley in this lush green slice of the country.

Khancoban, NSW, Australia

Khancoban, NSW, Australia

We spent an enjoyable evening with them before heading on to Wangaratta to stay with my sister Dawn and brother-in-law Graham and to visit my Mum. The north east of Victoria has plenty to offer so while we were in the area we did some sightseeing and were also lucky enough to be able to attend the annual Opera in the Alps concert in the  nearby town of Beechworth.

Opera in the Alps, Beechworth, Vic, Australia

Opera in the Alps, Beechworth, VIC, Australia

Another family visit followed with my daughter Bec and her family in Adelaide. We had a few days to get there from Wangaratta so we took a meandering route avoiding main roads and finding some great spots to camp on the banks of the Murray. We temporarily left the river to bypass some of the bigger towns and followed some rough tracks through the Murray – Sunset National Park. It was reminiscent of some of our outback tracks especially when a detour to avoid a fallen tree meant we lost sight of all tyre tracks and had to cast around to rejoin the track.

A long weekend in Adelaide passed very quickly with sightseeing in and around the city including visits to Chinatown and the Central Market, the Art Gallery, the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Mt Lofty Botanical Gardens and several beaches. Venturing further afield we accidentally ended up in the middle of the Tour Down Under bike race in the McLaren Vale wine region. Our visit with Bec, Erik and family continued with a stay in a holiday house in the pretty town of Middleton on the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula. The weather was cool but it was great fun digging into the sand in the shallow water searching for the seasonal Goolwa Cockles. We enjoyed a few meals of this delicacy cooked with garlic, wine and pasta. As well as the time spent on the beaches the kids loved the visit to Victor Harbour for the camel ride and the horse drawn tram ride out to Granite Island.

Middleton, SA, Australia

Middleton, SA, Australia

From Middleton we had four weeks to slowly travel along the coast to Melbourne in time to board the ferry for Tasmania at the end of February. The first section of the trip was into the Coorong National Park, a very special slice of the coast on either side of a long narrow water course commencing at the mouth of the Murray and extending for over 100km. Our favourite camp site was at Tea Tree across a shallow section of the lagoon at the base of tall sand dunes leading to the ocean.

We made it further down the coast past Robe and Beachport to Mt Gambier to visit my friend Carol when plans changed. Guess we should have realised our plans rarely get followed. We returned to Adelaide where I stayed with Bec until mid March to give her a hand while she convalesced after a back operation. After a short stay Paul continued his journey along the coast past Portland to the Great Ocean Road and reached Melbourne in time for the ferry crossing to Tasmania on the 29th of February.

Bec made a good recovery and I enjoyed the opportunity to stay with her and her family for a longer period of time. An extra bonus was being there for the long weekend in March so we could all attend the Womadelaide Festival. Meanwhile Paul started his exploration of the north west of Tasmania and I flew to Launceston to rejoin him on 17th March. Stay tuned for our Tassie posts to follow soon.