I wond’r why there are 151 vaginas on the wall? Entertaining art galleries while house sitting in homely Hobart

It was odd wandering through the town of Triabunna with nothing but my boxers on, in the dead of night. But as the public toilets were across the road from the back of the pub, where we were staying – I didn’t have a choice… Despite my best ninja efforts scampering along the tarmac in bare feet, my return journey featured a herd of drunk AFL supporters jeering me on! In need of a good brekkie following my exhibitionist escapades the night before, we treated ourselves to a stunning brunch and coffee with froth “the size of Alaska” at ‘The Colonial’ – a rather upmarket eatery decked out like it was still the 1800s. 

Fortunately we had time to drop in past the picturesque town of Richmond, en route to our next house sitting assignment in Hobart. Funnily enough it has quite a few similarities to the original British town of the same name; specifically an impressive bridge (Australia’s oldest) and plenty of cutesy boutique shops. Once we’d had a look round and given in to buying some of the handmade ‘convict’ soap, it was time to meet our furry friends for the next week!

Jen the owner was wonderfully welcoming, as she gave us a tour of her modern, homely town house perched high up overlooking Hobart and its famous harbour in the distance. Most importantly however, Meg – a stocky black lab, and her sidekick Belle were friendly bundles of fur, who seemed more than happy to have us stay 🙂

Running on fumes trying to summit Mt Wellington

At a respectful 1,200 + metres high, it’s difficult to ignore the towering slopes of Mount Wellington, standing tall like a big brother watching over his little sibling of Hobart below. Understandably we soon found ourselves tramping along the 9km ‘Organ Pipe circuit’, a name given to some impressively tall, pillar-like rock formations. Dense fog initially dented our spirits, preventing us from seeing much more beyond the surrounding trees and huts (similar to bothies in Scotland) hidden among them. Luckily we persevered and eventually the soup dispersed, giving way to glorious blue skies and views over gorgeous Hobart, stretching South as far as the Port Arthur peninsula!

Our athleticism made light work of the trail, completing it in 2.5 hours, despite the estimated 4. So once back to the car, we set off for the summit to enjoy our hard earned sandwiches.  As we climbed the steep bitchumen, our fuel gauge popped on, although it wasn’t an issue given how short the drive was. Not long later however, an unfamiliar alarm suddenly began aggressively bleeping at us, together with a dramatic fuel warning that read ‘VERY LOW’. Not wanting to be stuck high up a mountain, I soon chucked a U-turn, allowing us to desperately coast down the windy road in search of the nearest petrol station. As the road began levelling off, the fuel light vanished, and our range mockingly jumped from 0 to 80km – doh! 

Rude sculptures & other random art in Hobart’s famous MONA

With our tickets booked, we excitedly set off towards the World famous MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). Ever since my Dad had recited entertaining (and darn right disgusting) tales of toilets offering views below, on his visit a few years ago, this place was high on our list. We could tell we were in for a treat before even setting foot inside, as the car park featured weird and wonderful sculptures dotted about. After finding a space, we made our way towards the entrance of the quirky complex, that’s probably best described as looking much like an evil Bond villain’s lair!

Once checked in, and having picked up our ‘O’s’ (iPod audio guides), we snaked our way through the labyrinth of vast exhibition spaces, strangely shaped corridors and staircases that reminded us of Hogwarts – the building alone was worth the trip! During our 6 hour exploration, we encountered a feast of clever and creative pieces, including:

  • A bright red, lifesize car, made to look fat, representing consumerism today
  • Wacky animations within giant copper heads
  • Vast arrays of lightbulbs that pulsated in time with people’s heartbeats
  • Rows of computers with scientific projections, emitting loud beeps, based on CERN
  • An 8-bit rain machine, printing trending words, within falling streams of water

I thoroughly believe the artist behind casts of 151 vaginas lined up along one wall, was purley invested in the reactions, rather than the piece itself. It was thoroughly entertaining to watch people carefully contemplating the art in front of them, before realising what they were looking at and swiftly moving on; occasionally glancing round to see if anyone had spotted their perceived perversion!

History, hardship and heartbreak in Port Arthur

Despite being 2 hours drive away, making a trip to Port Arthur while in Hobart is a must. Although principally famous for having been a prison colony during the mid-nineteenth century, a more recent event catapulted the historic site into the public eye: A mass shooting in which 35 people tragically lost their lives in the hands of a lone gunman.

The UNESCO historic site of Port Arthur which is now mostly ruins, was once home to over 3,500 hardened criminals. Despite bloodcurdling tales of floggings in which convicts received so many lashings by the ‘cat o’ 9 tails’ whip, that their backbone could be seen; it was hard to feel entirely sorry for these poor souls. Port Arthur’s population was made up of repeat offenders – those who’d carried out acts of criminality since being shipped to Australia. Worse still, many convicts became insane, while the Governor practised new methods of rehabilitation, namely, the ‘silent system’. This saw prisoners hooded and kept in solitary confinement, leading to the need of a mental asylum being built.

It was fascinating wandering around the 100 acre grounds, learning what life was once like here. The guided walk and narrated boat trip around the ‘Isle of the Dead’ provided a brilliant introduction, after which we were free to roam amongst the various buildings scattered across the site. Many are now ruins, although some are home to museums that transport you back in time – all decked out like it’s still the 1800’s. Our visit came to an emotional close while paying our respects in the Remembrance Gardens, to the victims of the 1996 massacre. Thankfully some learnings resulted from what was a truly shocking act of brutality, with strict gun law reforms being implemented just 12 days later.

A feast for the eyes (and belly) in Salamanca and Farmgate markets

Based upon our Tasmanian travels so far, it was clear to us that independent arts and crafts lie at the heart of what this small island lives for. If the many boutique shops, galleries and makers workshops we’d visited so far can be described as an introduction, then Salamanca Market would definitely be the climax to Tasmania’s creativity. Featuring over 300 stalls, Salamanca Market is bursting with the finest wood work, pottery, jewellery, food and drink than you can imagine; weaving around the historical heart of Hobart’s picturesque waterfront.

Pleasantly the maze of artisan goodies was far less busy than those we’re used in London, allowing for a far more relaxing stroll around. Given that we were sadly nearing the end of our Australasian Odyssey, our purse strings loosened a little while we picked up a few goodies for friends and family. An explorer’s book, detailing his travels by land and sea from London to Hobart caught my eye, and even signed it for my Dad 🙂 Joella couldn’t resist picking up local teas and a few more jars of local honey (after some free tastings of course), to add to our Manuka collection from New Zealand. After refuelling on pastry treats, we spent an extended coffee break writing our last lot of postcards – next time we’d communicate with the addressees, would be face to face! 

The following day was spent exploring more of Hobart, including the myriad of independent shops of Battery Point, before enjoying some flaversome mushroom jaffles, and chicken bao at the Farmgate market.

That evening we were taken out to dinner by Val and Phil, whom we’d fondly house sat for back in Sydney. It was wonderful catching up with them, and getting to see Rosie and Pistachio again. Before dinner, Phil showed us his impressive photos from the famous ‘Quilty’ 24 hr endurance horse race, which sounded exciting and tiring in equal measures. The beer that evening was especially memorable, given that James Squire’s ‘Wreck Preservation Ale’ is made from the World’s oldest yeast – saved from beer found in a 1979 ship wreck off Tasmania’s North East coast! What a lovely way to spend our last night in Tasmania – now one of our favourite places on Earth 🙂

I wond’r if we’re in heaven? Unbelievable picnic spots as we cross over to New Zealand’s South Side

We bid farewell to lovely Lollie in Cambridge – our joint longest housesit so far – and hit the road once again for another adventure in our plush camper named Archie. Having explored much of the area over the past three weeks, we headed straight to a campsite on the banks of Lake Taupo. Following a hearty bowl of soup eaten with giant cutlery, we spent much of the evening playing pool and darts, attempting to hit bullseye during a frantic game of round the clock!

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Driving on to Wellington: ‘The city of sails’

After a failed attempt to walk a section of the famous Tongariro Crossing in what felt like a tornado, we made our way West to the seaside town of Whanganui. I can’t recall what led us there, although it may have simply been it’s funny name. On the surface there didn’t seem like much to do, but we trusted our cultural senses and soon discovered the impressive glass works, complete with a glowing furnace and shop. Frustratingly both the museum and gallery were closed to strengthen the buildings against earthquakes, so we made do with a temporary art exhibition that had been set up. Having been warned against staying in Levin due to some unruly hockey players, we treated ourselves to beachside coffees as the sun went down, before settling in for a very windy night at Paekakariki campsite.

Although rather basic, staying at a local Motel was a treat for us. Rather than a campsite out of town, we were an easy 15 minute walk from all that Wellington had to offer. After a quick caffeine hit at a student jaunt down on diverse Cuba Street, we made a beeline for New Zealand’s National Museum: ‘Te Papa Tongarewa’. Despite still buzzing from tasty lattes, our mood soon turned sombre while taking in the impressive WW1 exhibition that was on. The horrors of war was brought to life through enormous and intricate models of soldiers, along with narration and chilling sound effects.

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Staying true to our ‘traveler’ personas, we then skipped paying to ride in the famous red cable car, and instead walked up the steep slopes toward Wellington’s Botanic gardens.

Having thoroughly stretched our legs and taken in the panoramic views of the city below us, our minds soon turned to drinks and dinner. After scrimping and saving all day, we gave into our tastebuds by sipping some fine porters at Chooky’s pub, before tucking into tasty nosh at Ombra across the road. There we enjoyed Venetian inspired small plates, featuring perfect pizzettes, meatalicious meatballs and lovely lentils. All this tasty grub was washed down with gorgeous pinot, as well as sour cherry vino brilliantly pared with our dark chocolate salami and white chocolate pancakes – yum!

Enjoying the oddities of Golden Bay in NZ’s South Island

Up early to catch the red eye ferry to the New Zealand’s South island, we were understandably bleary eyed, although the incredible scenery en route soon got them wide open in awe of our surroundings! While not oohing and ahhing at the luscious green rolling hills that passed us by, we were umming and urring where our travels should take us next. You see, we had 5 nights ‘to kill’ before our scheduled pick up of our mate Sam in Christchurch, who’d unintentionally found himself with plane tickets to the other side of the World, I’ll explain later…

Eventually settling on the intriguing ‘Golden Bay’, I soon begun to question our decision… The only route was via the ‘Takaka Hill Highway that ominously appears on the ‘Dangerous roads’ website, due to the 320 degree hairpins in amongst it’s steep terrain. Safely arriving at the ‘Top 10’ campsite just before dark, we were immediately relieved with our decision; Robin the owner gave us a warm welcome and we were a few seconds walk from a gorgeous beach looking out onto Golden Bay.

Having used the clever Roadtrippers app to put together our itinerary, we set off on a mornings tour of eclectic natural wonders:

  • The Grove – Described perfectly by Robin as “like Jurassic Park, but without dinosaurs”, consisted of an easy half hour walk in amongst trees, limestone formations and ferns.
  • Te Waikoropupu – A boardwalk round a natural spring, believed to contain some of the clearest fresh water on Earth and features ‘dancing sands’ caused by vents below.
  • Labyrinth rocks – An outcrop of natural limestone originally set up by a British chap, now maintained by volunteers, with children’s toys hidden in amongst the nooks and crannies.
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For lunch we fancied a coastal backdrop, so ventured towards Wharakiki beach. After managing to avoid the colourful car park attendant peacocks on arrival, we set off on the hour long walk through luscious green fields, watched on by sheep acting as groundsmen. Sand dunes heralded that our journey was almost over, and soon gave way to the stunning beach that took over our entire horizon. The enormity of our surroundings was further emphasised by the epic rock formations against the deep blue skies, together with our long shadows cast across the smooth sands by the sun. On our way back to the campsite we couldn’t resist a cheeky manuka ale at the quirky Mussel Inn microbrewery, while wondering if it had medicinal qualities like manuka honey…

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Out of this world picnic spots and ghostly roads

While driving south from Pohara, we begun to get hungry, so took a pit stop for lunch at Lake Rotura that I’d spotted on Google maps earlier. The scene before us as we arrived in the empty car park completely blew us away. A large lake with water like glass, perfectly framed by hills at the far end, and snow capped mountains beyond. An old wooden jetty stretched into the lake nearby, with a picnic table offering what I’m prepared to say is probably the most beautiful lunch spot on earth. While enjoying our humble tuna sandwiches, struggling to believe our eyes, two swans then gracefully swum past as if to mock our senses further. At this point we looked at one another in disbelief – had we crashed and were now in heaven!?

Despite continued deep talk about the mesmerising scenery of our picnic earlier, Joella’s eagle eyes spotted an intriguing sign up ahead that peaked our interest: ‘The Old Ghost Road’. There we started the 85km trail used by trampers and advanced mountain bikers alike, through the hilly forest not sure of what we’d find… It turned out to be another remnant from the gold mining era of the 1800s. Perched on the steep hillside on which we were walking, were once entire towns built upon wooden stilts, that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Western. The information boards helped take us back, to a time when people were prepared to take great risk and hardship, in a bid to find riches beyond their wildest dreams. The end of the gold rush era, together with earthquakes in early to mid 1900s led to the demise of these towns and sadly some of its people.

Pleasantly that evening we found ourselves a picturesque place to park up for the night, in Buller Gorge. There we were treated to a spellbinding sunset atop of the nearby hillside in pre-historic surroundings before a quick nightcap of silky smooth porters to warm our cockles, at the Berlins cafe and bar.

I wond’r if we have enough petrol to make it to the next town? Petrol scares and kayaking with crocodiles en route to Darwin

Our first days drive from Cairns to the nice little historical town of Croydon was a rather sophisticated affair by our standards, seeing us drop past Coffee Works in Mareeba, the region that grows 80 % of Australia’s coffee. There we took the opportunity to sample some cold brew nitro – silky smooth icy cold black coffee that tricks your tastebuds into thinking it’s been sweetened and has milk added, by being poured from a tap with the help of Nitrogen, similar to beers like Guinness, mmmm…

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Settling back into outback life

The next days travels took us past Normanton, where we checked out the impressively large tourist information centre that reminded us more of a museum, staffed by local Aboriginals with great local knowledge. Before heading off we couldn’t resist taking some obligatory photos with ‘Krys the Savannah King’ – a massive life-size replica of the largest Saltwater Crocodile ever caught. It was hunted and killed in 1957 by Krystina Pawlowski, a Polish crocodile hunter who amazingly switched sides and became an outspoken crocodile conservationist in her later life! That evening we camped in a sunny show ground with plenty of space for a spot of badminton – a great way to stretch our stiff legs after a long days drive 🙂

The following few days saw things become even more desolate, with towns growing further apart and roads deserted, except for the occasional monstrous road trains we overtook once having plucked up the courage!

Surprisingly we didn’t often know where we were headed each night, as the maps hadn’t finished downloading on the WikiCamps app (Australia’s campers bible) and we rarely had any signal. Amusingly this meant all we had to go on was distance and direction, while trying to home our flashing blue dot in on a campsite, shown on a blank background. It certainly provided some entertainment at the end of tedious afternoons full of monotonous driving!

A benefit to being in the wilderness of the Outback however was the enormity of the nights sky; with no light pollution, the infinite twinkling stars that flooded the sky above us was truly spellbinding.

Despite the emptiness of our surroundings, there were usually things to see along the way to reward us for driving these long lonely roads. A couple of notable examples were the never ending magnetic termite mounds that stretch out into the horizon (so called as they’re always aligned North to reduce heat from the sun) and the brilliant Royal Flying Doctors Museum in the lesser known town of Cloncurry. John Flynn is famous for setting up the innovative Royal Flying Doctors Service back in 1928, bringing much needed medical help to the remote towns of the Outback. The impressive museum features three floors full of fascinating history and enthralling stories, brought to life through a variety of galleries, exhibits and film.

Almost running out of petrol, en route to Katherine

With such large distances between anywhere, comes an element of risk. We’d done well so far to always fill up with fuel when having the chance, but unfortunately forgot while wrapped up in the awesomeness of the museum. We only noticed we were running on empty once half way to the next town, so couldn’t turn back. The next hour was therefore spent in nervous silence, as Joella and I struggled to take our eyes from the petrol gauge, willing the car to keep going. Thankfully our seemingly never-ending tank did us proud, and we made it to the forecourt of BP in Mount Isa, wearing the biggest Cheshire Cat smiles imaginable! To prevent a similar occurrence in the future, I taped a reminder to the steering wheel so it wouldn’t happen again.

After spending a night in Camooweal – the last Queensland town before the Northern Territory border, we intended to hit Tennant Creek the following day and explore the surrounding area. But following a friendly chat with the groundsman of the campsite, our plans soon changed. He recommended avoiding Tennant Creek due to the seeming collapse of the community (petty and violent crime among parts of the Aboriginal population continues to grow). Instead we headed to Banka Banka: A cattle station full of cowboy charm, featuring fire pits, dangerous bulls and camels!

Now a day ahead of schedule, we were nearing true civilisation once again; in the form of Katherine – the town “where the outback meets the tropics”. But before arriving, we couldn’t resist stopping in past the famous Daly Waters Pub for a quick feed. The old world establishment (by Australian standards) is as you’d expect from an Outback pub, but with one significant difference; there’s random stuff hanging from every inch of the ceiling and walls. As the story goes, this peculiar ritual originally started with a bunch of bras being hung up by a bus load of women, who’d lost a bet with their driver! While pretty much draped in lingerie and tucking into our steak pies, we conveniently used the free wifi to book some kayaking the next day, to explore some nearby gorges…



Attempting to avoid crocodiles and snakes in Nitmiluk Gorge

After a very early start the next day, we eventually arrived at the jetty and climbed aboard the boat that shuttled us through the first gorge. During our briefing en route, we were surprisingly advised the signs we’d spied earlier were in fact correct and there are crocs about!

With relief, we learned these are of the fresh water variety, and have brittle jaws that prevent them from tackling larger prey like humans, although can still bite if provoked. Apparently, we can be sure there are no dangerous Salt Water Crocs present from the annual floods, through the use of three methods: 1) Low level helicopter surveys during the day, 2) Night time boat inspections using search lights to look out for reflections from their eyes, and 3) Traps. Although reassuring to a point, these practices don’t sound very scientific or entirely foolproof :-/

Once we’d arrived at the end of the first gorge, we picked up our double kayak and began exploring the second, then third gorge beyond. Kayaking proved to be a fantastic way to witness the beauty of these natural geological formations in such tranquil surroundings, while they slowly changed colour from reds to oranges as the sun rose higher in the sky. Following multiple foul mouthed tirades from me, Joella can confirm it did prove difficult finding a rhythm while paddling together, but we eventually got the hang of it. On our return leg through the first gorge, we were pleasantly rewarded to a double sighting of Freshwater Crocodiles, thankfully from the safety of the boat 🙂

That evening we treated ourselves to a stay in the more expensive campsite within Nitmiluk National Park, allowing us to fit in a longer trek the next day without any driving beforehand. We opted for the charmingly sounding ‘Butterfly Gorge Trail’ that proved to be full of diverse surroundings; first we began with a hike up to a scenic viewpoint of the first gorge below, followed by trails through arid landscape then finally down into a gorge enclosing luscious rainforest.

During this last section through the thicker undergrowth I heard an ominous rustling sound that led me to immediately scream: “RUN, THERE’S A SNAKE!” despite failing to see anything that resembled a threat. We then embarrassingly spent 10 minutes trying to decide whether to proceed or turn back. It was only until some fellow hikers casually strolled past without any sort of issue, that we decided to continue, feeling a little stupid in the process! Thankfully our bravery was eventually paid off, with a beautiful waterside view of the second gorge, appropriately surrounded by fluttering butterflies.

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Next stop: Darwin, to visit my Cousin Jess and her fiancé Ben!