As promised, the new few weeks will recap our month-long sojourn from Warwick to Melbourne then Tasmania and the return trip. Enjoy the respite from the hostilities of the election campaign. This is a special edition (longer than usual – a 5-minute read).
Before the memory of our lovely trip fades, we thought it would be good to jot down some of the highlights.
Not that we’re superstitious or anything, but we left it until the day after the Ides of March to set off on our month-long trip to Tasmania and back.
The first night was spent at one of our more familiar camping spots – the Goondiwindi Showgrounds. It’s only about two hours from Warwick, but we didn’t want to do a long drive on the first day. In fact, most of our drives were less than 350km in a day, and even less than that in Tasmania, where the roads are often quite winding and hilly.
When caravanning, our preferred stop-overs are generally Showgrounds campsites, as they are less formal than standard Caravan Parks as well as being quite a bit cheaper (around $20-$25 for a powered site). The nights were often quite chilly, so it was good to be able to plug in our little fan heater. We do brave the occasional ‘free camp’, but they are usually fairly primitive, with toilets only and no showers. Next stop Narrabri and another Showgrounds campsite. We stopped off at the Visitors’ Information Centre, usually a ‘must do’ when travelling to a new place. There was a video running there showing some of the local Aboriginal people with interesting tales to tell. We also knew of a good ‘birding spot’, birding being one of our interests when on the road.
The townspeople had developed a large artificial lagoon and wetlands in the 90s and the area now attracts a variety of birds – the more common (to us, anyway) Wood Ducks and Corellas, but also large Spoonbills and Herons ‘fishing’ in the shallows.
We drove to Coonabarabran the next day but didn’t go out to the Warrumbungles National Park this time as we had a fairly long drive to do (long for us, anyway – over 360km). We normally drive no faster than 95kmph when towing and often somewhat slower, as many of the roads have been cut up by floodwaters. We keep an eye out for what is following us – this is made easy by having a camera on the back of the van which sends a signal to a screen in the car. If we start developing a ‘tail’, we pull over when it’s safe to do so. I’m a bit surprised that so few vehicles acknowledged this bit of grey nomad courtesy with a toot of the horn, but perhaps I’m just old-fashioned.
Sometimes we come across quite an impressive ‘free camp’ – the one at Wyalong being an example. There was plenty of room as well as some interesting displays such as a reproduction miners’ hut. We stopped there for a lunch break on our way to Narrandera. This area is in the ‘Bland’ shire (named after an early European settler, rather than a description of the surroundings). Someone there has a sense of humour, as they have combined with the town of ‘Dull’ (a village in Scotland) and ‘Boring’, which is in Oregon, to form the ‘League of Extraordinary Communities’) Their slogan was ‘Bland- far from Dull and Boring’.
The next day we drove through Ned Kelly’s old stamping ground – Jerilderie, where he committed a rather famous/infamous bank robbery. The bank in question is now a B&B with a rather impressive rose garden in front. We obtained a map of the town which pointed out many of the buildings/areas relevant to Ned’s exploits.
Then on to a rather unusual ‘free camp’, in that we parked the caravan in the yard of an old friend in the town of Kyabram – North West of Melbourne. Penny and Randall were very hospitable hosts who gave us dinner and then Randall treated us to Bach’s cello concerto, played on guitar by memory – a rather extraordinary feat, we thought.
Then on to Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne which has the closest Caravan Park to the Tasmanian Ferry Terminal. This is the only ‘full on’ caravan park we stayed at. It’s termed a ‘holiday park’, which means Kiddies’ playgrounds, swimming pool, etc. and vans parked rather close together. It did have a laundry, though, which we made good use of, after several days on the road.
Our Ferry ride to Tasmania wasn’t until the next evening, so we had a whole day in Melbourne to do some sight-seeing. We were rather thrilled to have a celebrity tour guide. Margret RoadKnight took us first to the Van Gogh installation. This had been to Brisbane, but we didn’t see it there, so it was a treat to experience it in Melbourne. Several of his paintings were projected video style along the walls of the exhibition space, interspersed with information about his life. Van Gogh sold very few of his works during his lifetime, but he said he was sure that one day his paintings would be worth more than the cost of the canvas and the paints he put on them. Very prophetic of him.
Next stop was ‘The Vault’ where there is an exhibition of major Australian performers. Margret had donated her first guitar to the exhibition and I spotted a festival poster where she featured. (Ed: There’s also Missy Higgins’ first songbook from her days at Geelong High).Then on to the National Gallery where we saw an exhibition of bark and pole paintings from Arnhem Land. Of course, one could spend hours at the Gallery, but time was limited, so we continued to a spot that for some time has been my ambition to visit, but not for entertainment. Our Federal Government, to its everlasting shame, has been incarcerating several asylum seekers who were sent to Australia for medical treatment. Instead, they were locked up in a shoddy hotel for years, with no access to fresh air or outdoor exercise. We stood there for some time as a small gesture of solidarity. (Just prior to the announcement of the next Federal election, the remaining detainees were released – not out of compassion, but most likely because some ‘focus group’ has told the current regime that incarcerating innocent people was not popular).
We were using public transport, so Margret walked us through Carlton, where we caught the bus back to her place, after having the ritual coffee in an Italian cafe.
After a long delay boarding the Spirit of Tasmania, we set sail about 11pm. We had a cabin, so after a sentimental rum and coke for me (the drink to drink when sailing), we headed off to our cabin for the night. The passage was quite rough, but not too uncomfortable, as we were lying down and could look out the porthole if we wanted to.
Next morning saw us in Devonport. We took a slow drive to Stanley, stopping at Ulverstone for breakfast and at the little town of Penguin, where Bob posed for the obvious photo alongside the giant penguin statue. Stanley’s main feature is ‘The Nut’, a large flat-topped rock – remnant of some ancient volcanic activity. There is a walking track to the top, but we were satisfied with walking half-way up the very steep track, stopping several times for photographs (or to catch our breath – probably the latter). There is a chair lift to the top too, but it was not operating on the day because of the strong wind gusts. I suspect I may not have partaken of it at any rate.
From Stanley, we drove to the small West Tasmanian town of Waratah. Its claim to fame is a waterfall right in the middle of town. In the past, it had been harnessed to provide hydro-electric power for the nearby tin mine, but this was no longer operative. I happened to see a notice on the wall of the Post Office advertising a singing session on Thursdays. So that was serendipitous, as we arrived on the very day. The group was very welcoming and we enjoyed a two hour singing session with them.
The other useful thing about Waratah is that it is a relatively quick drive to our next destination – Cradle Mountain National Park. There is a caravan park just outside the National Park itself. The cost of staying there reflects its proximity to a world class National Park, rather than the quality of its amenities. There had been quite heavy rain for a couple of days before we arrived (fortunately to a lovely sunny day) and there was quite a bit of construction happening in the caravan park, so the access roads left something to be desired. The van site was very tight, but fortunately a helpful fellow guided us into the spot.
We were in Tasmania to do some walks, so walk we did – around the circumference of Dove Lake. This is classified as a grade 3 walk, so quite do-able for the average person, but I wouldn’t say it was a walk in the park (Ed: bahaha). Actually we were pretty fatigued by the time we got to the end and hopped or staggered back on to the bus to take us back to the campsite. Groans on getting aboard the bus were fairly common, so I didn’t feel too conspicuous.
From there, it was on quite a scenic route to Strahan, a fishing port on the West Coast of Tasmania. It is also a major tourist attraction, as it is from there that tourists can catch the boat trip up the Gordon River. It was another beautiful late summer/early autumn day with barely any wind and a very smooth sail on the large passenger boat. Definitely a ‘must do’ if you’re touring Tasmania. The cruise included a passage through the narrow ‘Hell’s Gates’ – named either for the difficulty of the passage in a sailboat and/or the feelings of the convicts transported to the notorious Sarah Island penal settlement. On the way to Sarah Island, we passed several Salmon and Trout ‘farms’ anchored in the harbour. The ecological wisdom of these has been disputed, particularly by famous author Richard Flanagan whose title for his work about the salmon farms is ‘Toxic’. Sarah island has some very good interpretive signs indicating the original buildings that are now in quite deteriorated condition. The cruise included a stroll through remnant rainforest – trees of such ancient lineage that their ancestors grew before birds were part of earth’s ecology. A silent forest.
The road from Strahan to Queenstown is rather challenging when towing a caravan as it has steep uphill sections and frequent blind corners. It’s a good advertisement for diesel all-wheel drive vehicles, though, as the Hyundai Santa Fe was very sure-footed on the road, which apart from the steepness and the blind corners, was somewhat slippery from recent showers.
Queenstown is no less dreary than it was last time I was there, some fifteen years ago. Closed shops and pubs everywhere, no doubt the result of a dearth of tourists over the past two years when Tasmania was cut off from the mainland owing to the unfortunately necessary Covid protocols. Hopefully things will look up now that tourists are again welcome. (Ed: not that this counts as election comment, but the first thing we saw in Queenstown was one of those union billboards depicting Scott Morrison: “Mate, it’s not my job’).
Once we got to Lake St Clair caravan park, we were rather dismayed to see the narrow site which had to be negotiated around a bend while avoiding several large trees. Watching people park their vans is usually good entertainment for those who are already set up. Our general method for the trickier sites is for Bob to drive while I stand outside the car and direct him left/right/ back/ forth, in my usual dulcet tones. (Ed: bahaha – haha)
The two hour walk at Lake St Clair was well worthwhile and not quite as challenging as the Dove Lake walk. Fewer tourists too, which made bird-watching more feasible. Birdlife was plentiful, but not co-operative with the amateur photographer, so no photographic proof. I did get a photo of the Tiger Snake which was lying curled up near the walking track. Tassie’s Tiger Snakes are black with pinkish bellies, similar to the mainland Red-Bellied Black Snakes, but the former are reputedly much more aggressive and toxic, so we were glad this one appeared to be pretty sleepy!
As we only had a month for this trip to Tassie and back, there were some time constraints, so we had planned most of the overnight stops in advance in order to minimise the amount of time searching for suitable places to stop. However, we also managed to be a bit flexible, so when we saw that there was a National Park (Mount Field) quite near Hobart, we decided to stay there overnight instead of the stop we had originally planned. I was a bit puzzled how I had overlooked an obvious National Park, but I came to the conclusion that it must have been in the crack of the map. This was one of the few overnight stops where we didn’t have a powered site. However, the van is equipped with a solar panel on the roof and an Andersen plug from the car to the van, so the ‘house battery’ in the van is usually fully charged by the time we stop for the night. We had replaced the old battery before we left as it wasn’t charging properly. The fridge and stove in the van run on gas. Lights, charging points, the fan, radio and the TV can all run on 12 volt and all are pretty efficient, so a few days without 240v is no real hardship, as long as we have plenty of blankets in the winter.
The volunteer caretakers at Mount Field looked rather familiar. Turns out I knew them from Maleny, where the husband volunteered at the Maleny Information Centre when I was there.
Of course the trip was not all beer and skittles, whatever that means (Ed: a life of indulgence). Although we had the car serviced and a warranty issue attended to before we left on the trip, what I refer to as the ‘bloody little orange light’ made its presence felt again on our way to Hobart. This light is a ‘Malfunction Indicator Light’ (MIL) which indicates something amiss with the oxygen sensor – part of the emission control system on the car. And now I’ll stop pretending I know what I’m talking about… We had this problem before, and it ended up being a faulty sensor itself, rather than a major issue with the vehicle. However, it doesn’t do to assume this is the case, so we contacted the Hobart Hyundai dealer, who, to his credit, agreed to look at the car the next day while we were off sight-seeing in Hobart. They concluded it was another of the oxygen sensors that was malfunctioning but sort of indicated that unless the car started acting strangely (e.g. losing power, using excessive fuel, smelling like rotten eggs), it was probably OK to drive. Not terribly comforting, as we had some 2000km still to go. But as Shakespeare said at some stage, ‘All’s well that ends well’ – no further issues with the MIL on the rest of the Tasmania leg or the drive home to Warwick.
To be continued…(all photos by Laurel or Bob)
Postscript from Bob
Thanks to those who commented on my Facebook post about my Whitlam song receiving the Alistair Hulett Songs for Social Justice award.