For those of you who require chronological organization, you are out of luck. This is a report of what I experienced 5 days ago.
I checked in Saturday night to the Norfolk Bay Convict Station B&B in Taranna, so named becasue it was built in 1832 to service the convict railway, a human-powered train designed to transport goods (especially coal) fromPort Arthur to Norfolk Bay via an overland shortcut rather than sailing them through treacherous waters around theTasman Penninsula. Etchings from that time show a precarious track with ill-balanced cars on a steep grade. What fun.
The Innkeepers, Layton and Lowella, appeared to be refugees from the 60’s, having become inkeepers after years in academia that were so stressful Layton had a heart attack. Dealing with providing delicious home-grown organic food to an endless stream of demanding guests in an ancient building in a land plagued by drought and swept by fires seemed less challenging. They both appeared to love their jobs, which made for a very pleasant stay.
Sunday breakfast was ample and delicious. I was able to borrow L&L’s computer (a PC of some vintage with a split keyboard that had a hump in the middle like the back seat floor of a car) to check in with Glenn about the blizzard. Between his sequential photos out the back window, and Matty’s time lapse of the storm in Waltham, I got a pretty good sense of what I was missing - or not missing at all. From such a distance though, the community comeraderie of sharing the job of shoveling and turning the challenge into a multi-day social event did have its appeal. And snowshoeing through that would have been a blast!!
While at breakfast I struck up a conversation with the couple at the adjacent table, and via a circuitous route through midernist cuisine, El Bouli, and Alinea, I learned that their son, Nick Bennett, is the executive chef at Trocadero in Melbourne. Maybe Carey and I will get there for a meal before I leave Melbourne. We’ll see what percs name-dropping gets us.
After a quick walk on the dock for a view of the inlet in the rain, I packed up and headed down the road to the tasmanian Devil Conservation Center. The center has several dozen disease-freedevils, among other indiginous fauna. Part of the mission of the Center is to increase the population of Tassie devils that are not infected with the facial cancer that has plagued the population, transmitted as it is by bites to the face, incurred during fights over food, mating, and territorial activity (thought they are fairly social animals who share their food as well as wrestle for it.) I learned that the cancer is not viral, but is infectious becuase devils immune systems do not recognize the bite-injected cancer cells as foreign, and therefore do not fight them off. It is an imune system deficiency that is not, apparently, a result of inbreeding. Extemely weird biology!
The guide who explained all this also showed us a skull, and the shape of the cranium was remarkably reminiscent of that of an opossum (the virginiana kind we have waddling around at home) if opossum crania had room for ginormous masseter muscles. Marsupials are just plain weird.
The park is set up such that there is a schedule of talks and feedings at the various cages, fields, and enclosures on the premesis. After the devil intro, I traipsed after a gaggle of families with small children to participate int the kangaroo feeding. Up to that point I had primarily seen the fauna of Tasmania as road kill, but at the conservation center I was able to get up close and personal (they were eating right our of my hand!) with Forrester kangaroos (not actually native to Tassie), Bennett’s wallabies, and a slightly shorter-tailed darker version called pademelons. I’m not sure which were more appealing, the lng-tailed hoppers or the similarly-sized little kids feeding and chasing them.
The next “event” was a devil feeding. It was not participatory.They are scavengers in the wild, so feeding entailed one of the conservation biologists tossing them a hunk of roo.
When all was said and done, there was nothing left, neither meat nor bone nor fleck of fur.
I saw some sleeping quolls and somnolent parrots, then went to the “flight show.” This was the most showy, scripted program of the morning, and featured two species of parrot, both long-lived introduced birds that have populated the island from escapees of the pet trade. One parrot had learned to collect coins held out in the audience, and then to said audiences delight, returned the coins to each individual at the end of the show. We were also treated to interviews with an adult and two juvenile frogmouths - very cool birds, just wierd enough to be Australian natives.
The morning had exhibited highly changeable, intermittently showery weather which continued as I drove to the Coal Miner’s Heritage site. This was another collection of ruins where rally low grade (lignite, maybe? No science signage since the focus all around the area is on history) coal was mined, by convicts of course. The site had no maps beyond one etched, with no trail names, in metal at the site entrance. Trails were unmarked, and distances (again, at the entrance) were given in “return walking time.” I found this decidedly useless. In some locations there were plaques indicating what had been there (they didn’t correspond to anything on the aforementioned etched map) and included contemporary quotes about philosphy, conditions in the mines, or behavior of convicts. I thought the quotes were the most interesting aspect of the site, though the views, once the sun came out mid-afternoon, were beautiful.
It was disconcerting wandering along the trails which had little to distinguish the unless they included one of the ruined buildings, but I bravely (or foolishly) hiked around a bit, then adopted the mantra “Bay left return” once I got out of the woods and hoped to navigate my way back to the carpark. Eventually, I was successful.
One other good thing about the site was that I finally got cell reception at high point of hill and I was able to talk to Glenn. Hearing his voice was a huge psychological boost, and changed the color of the day. Travelling alone is lonely, and absurdly quiet! While I was happy to be warm and near water, I missed the camaraderie of cleaning up after the storm.
I headed north off the Tasman peninsula through the fire-ravaged areas I’d traversed on my way in a few days before. This time I was able to expand my concentration beyond white-knuckling the steering wheel and navigationg the hairpin turns to note that what I though were only burned forests actually contained burned houses and other buildings. What I had failed to note earlier was that these building had been completely annihilated, so unless there was a chimney left standing, they were invisible to me among the charred tree trunks. One of the patrons of one of the B&B’s I stayed in said she was there just to support the community, and had chosen to spend her few days of vacation in Tasmania for that reason. I hope the community can recover, becuase it really is a wonderful place.
Once I left the peninsula through Eagleneck, I drove toward Sorrell and the major east coast road, the A3. The speed limit is 100 kph on hilly, narrow, extremely serpentine, two-way roads that often skirt cliffs. It’d be great for my crazy biker and motor cycle riding friends with a death wish. At one point a group of 5 motorcycles passed me going at least 120, then two more passed on a blind curve so they could catch their buddies. Crazy shit!
Though treacherous, the route was beautiful, with spectacular coastal views, mudflats and turquoise water, cove after cove of white sand beaches, blues and greens of the sea decorated with breakers along the shore and white caps when the wind was up, then rolling cow and sheep pastures, hay fields, and patches of forest.
The miniscule towns were few and far between, and when I drove through them, there were no lights, and no stop signs. There were no street lights either, so driving the roads at night would certainly be lethal. The variable terrain kept drive interesting, and the character of road required full attention most of the time, so the fact that there were only two radio stations (one a terribly dull classical station, and one a top-100 station that was going gaga over the upcoming Grammys - it was still Saturday in the US) didn’t bother me and I didn’t get bored. Much as at home, the headline news never altered - 9 dead in northeast US snowstorm (details never forthcoming), 2 named in Aussie cricket doping scandal, Grammys tomorrow.
I pulled over to visit a few beaches when I got back to the coast and closer to Becheno, my final destination. I took several short beach walks becasue they were too beautiful to skip.
In Bicheno, I arrival at the Backpacker Hotel, and as I was getting out of my car a middle aged woman offered me her spot because, she said, everyone else was so young she was going to move on. I said I had a bunk reserved, so she decided to stay. She accompanied me to the end of town, a two-block walk, to pick up bottles of wine for the next two nights. We chatted pleasantly for a few hours over nibbling dinner and a tasty Tassie pinot noir. We made plans to take an early morning beach walk and find the Bicheno blowhole, wondering if the couple of dozen 20-somethings would allow us to get to sleep before the wee hours. It turned out we had nothing to fear. Most of the kids hit the hay before we did, and several groups were breakfasted and packed by 7AM. I knew I was not in the US any more!