I wond’r if we should move here? Falling in love with the wonders of Tasmania

After having our apples confiscated by the savage quarantine officials, just half an hour after buying them, we resentfully but excitedly nonetheless, boarded the ferry South. Not too dissimilar to the Titanic I suspect, Spirit of Tasmania II offered floating, dry conditions on board, as well as the usual maze of decks that could only be navigated by recalling the differing styles of seating on each. Figuring out where our reclining seats were for the night became even more challenging, while feeling more spaced out than a hippie on acid: I’d irresponsibly washed my pizza and more problematically, anti-seasickness tablets down with a crisp, cold, golden XXX lager…

Cradle Mountain’s mirror lakes and a dream come true

Following a broken nights sleep constantly interrupted by hyperthermic air conditioning and thunderous snoring, we perked ourselves up with coffees and breakfast at a nearby Maccas in Devonport. Despite feeling rather groggy, we bravely opted for a full days walk up Cradle Mountain – we didn’t want to waste the day, given that it was only 7am and had the entire day ahead of us. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves marching in the direction of snow capped peaks, having already spotted some creators of wondrous square poo: Wombats!

IMG_4028
IMG_4027

The trail kindly offered a civilised boardwalk to ease us in, although this didn’t last long, as flat wood became a gravelled incline, and finally gave way to sheer cliff face! Fortunately chains to help our step prevented an untimely demise, although required careful handling, as we shared this lifeline with other walkers traversing back down. It was all worth it though, once we’d reached Marions lookout. There we were treated to stunning views of Crater Lake’s mirrored perfection, making us question which way was up, as reflections of fluffy clouds soothingly drifted by. Casting our eyes up towards the real sky, rewarded us with views of Cradle Mountain’s unique crown-like peak. Topped with a dusting of snow, we were reassured this was more than a casual morning stroll – we’d just climbed up a flipping mountain and it wasn’t even lunchtime!

IMG_4079
IMG_4210
IMG_4114

Little did we know that our first day in Tasmania was going to finish off with a life long ambition achieved… While driving through the coastal town of Burnie, we’d spotted some unusual road signs, warning drivers of crossing wildlife. Pulling over to investigate further, we discovered a dedicated observation area, that left us with no choice but to stay put for the night. As dusk arrived, our excitement climbed, higher than our morning hike. First we heard them, frantically calling to their mates who’d spent the day out at sea, fishing their feathers off. As our eyes became accustomed to the dark, my black and white obsessions soon came into focus. It was mesmerising watching this animal drama play out in front of us; as more and more fairy penguins appeared from nowhere, welcoming their loved ones back home, or chasing others away who’d mistaken them for their own. It was truly a special evening, witnessing my favourite animals in their natural habitat for the first time 🙂

DSC04777
DSC04792

Breathing the purest air while on ‘The edge of the world’

Given the wonders of our first day on the island, we’d honestly have been happy to leave already, although fortunately we still had many weeks ahead of us on Tassie! So after our morning shower and a slice of banana bread (why can’t we get away with eating cake for breakfast back in the UK without feeling guilty?) we were ready for another day’s adventure. Following a brief stop in cutesy ‘Boat Harbour Beach’, we continued driving West along the coast, until an enormous site began to fill our horizon. At first we were confused – were we back in Uluru? It turned out that this giant monolith goes by by the name of ‘The Nut’, and forms a striking backdrop to the old town of Stanley, perched below. Opting against the gondola, we took the healthier (and cheaper) option, in the form of a steep path up. There we circumnavigated the top, like a secret garden in the sky. 

IMG_4136
IMG_4152
IMG_4146

While continuing West we entered the Tarkine, and were ominously welcomed with a large warning sign: ‘No more petrol for 140 km’. Given that the Tarkine is awe-inspiringly referred to as ‘one of the last, great wilderness regions on earth’, I guess it’s understandable. On tenterhooks, we looked down at the fuel gauge; nope, our range was closer to 120km, but that didn’t stop up pushing on to find close-by excitement… When you spot a place name on a map by the likes of ‘The Edge of the World’, one can’t help but become transfixed. Although it sounds rather dramatic, it’s a fair title as looking West from here is the largest empty expanse of ocean on the planet, stretching over half way round, all the way to Argentina! After taking time to gaze off into the distant roaring seas, then reading the stirring poem by Brian Inder inscribed on a plaque, we set off, fairly certain the Earth isn’t flat… 

Before heading back to Stanley for the night, there was just enough time to enjoy an amble down to the beach from Bluff Hill lighthouse. Despite having to navigate near impenetrable bushland, our efforts were rewarded in a variety of ways. First were some archeological curiosities in the form of ‘Middens’, where Aboriginal people left the remains of their meals over many generations. Then there were natural wonders; a gorgeous display of pink wildflowers, followed by two sneaky Echidna’s we almost mistook to be boulders 🙂 

IMG_4188
IMG_4198

Imaginary tulips and a giant penguin

The following day started with a drive past ‘Table Cape’; incredibly home to such a perfect tulip growing climate, that they’re supposedly shipped over to Holland! Unfortunately we were a few weeks early, so had to rely on our imagination to paint in the colours. Next was the University of Tasmania’s ‘Makers Workshop’ back in Burnie, offering stunning woodwork, jewellery, prints and edible delights. I couldn’t resist picking up some tasty ‘tilsit’ cheese, after having tried at least a dozen others. 

IMG_4230
IMG_4231

Despite Joella’s very best efforts to convince me otherwise, we soon found ourselves pulling over in the wonderfully named town of ‘Penguin’. Before we knew it, a local spotted Joella taking photos of me, so frantically veered off the road and embarrassingly for Joella, insisted on taking photos of both of us in front of the giant penguin statue, flapping our arms like flippers! Content (well, I was), we drove South to the mellow melodies of Meander Valley FM – a local community radio station broadcast from the arty town of ‘Deloraine’, which inspired us to be our next stop. Another inspiring arts collective caught our eye, and we were even given a personal guided tour of the eclectic works by a friendly artists, who passionately educated us on the colourful and unique fungi of Tasmania. Following a quick browse of the upmarket boutique shops, we sourced a caffeine hit in a coffee shop surrounded by old motorbikes, seemingly more hipster than Hackney!

IMG_4244
IMG_4257
IMG_4260

A little daunted by the lack of choice, we headed in the direction of ‘Quamby Corner’. Yet again Wikicamps proved it’s worth – Quamby Corner Campsite, originally just a 200 acre dairy farm, run by a friendly, semi-retired English couple felt like the middle of nowhere. The low ominous clouds with Quamby Bluff occasionally poking through, also added to the dramatic setting. Our modest meal of beans on toast was sophisticatedly followed by our boutique tilsit cheese on crackers, washed down with a tin cup of ruby tawny from the Barossa 🙂

IMG_4264
IMG_4265
IMG_4262

Exotic fungi and stunning beaches on Tassie’s East side

Helpfully, the campsite’s information point provided us with the next day’s itinerary, taking us first in the direction of a hill that had been looking down upon us earlier. Apparently there’s a walk up Quamby Bluff, although we found little more than a lay-by and viewpoint. Liffey Falls was next on our list, featuring water cascading down numerous step-like rock formations, occasionally littered by fallen trees. While taking in the soothing sounds surrounded by lush ferns, a local outdoorsy looking lady pointed out to us some rather exotic looking fungi – just as the artist yesterday had spoken about. Hilariously the locals then managed to digress from our oohing and ahhing at pink growth on the forest floor, to laughing about the ‘205 vaginas’ installation at the Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)!

IMG_4463
IMG_4464
IMG_4465

For lunch, our appetite took us past the historic town of Evandale – famous for its prestigious John Glover painting prize and eccentric Penny Farthing Championships. Sadly all we found was a large statue in honour of these odd Victorian contraptions, although the general store was fabulously decked out like it was still the 1800s 🙂 Continuing East led to some rather windy roads, going by the creative name of Elephant Pass, before finally revealing golden Lagoons Beach and the deep blue sea beyond. Once we’d arrived in Bicheno, we wasted little time in exploring its lovely coastal walk, which culminated in an angry blowhole finale, surrounded by coach loads of selfie-stick waving tourists. Drinks that evening were rather more awkward than usual: All the locals were sat round the bar, while we sat alone in the middle of the room at the only table – the place was being redecorated, so most were stacked, out of the way…

IMG_4292
IMG_4293
IMG_4302

Not usually ones to follow the crowds, we couldn’t resist a trip to Wineglass Bay – one of the most photographed spots in Tasmania, and that’s saying something. Bravely, with only a couple of cereal bars and apples between us, we set off on the 5 hour long walk. Luckily most tourists were there solely for a quick vanity Instagram shot at the lookout, so things soon quietened down. The walk offered everything we could have wished for; stunning views of the bay below, beautiful beaches scattered with mysterious shells and starfish, strange rock formations and even an unexpected encounter with an inquisitive wallaby 🙂 

IMG_4325
IMG_4362

While driving South, our valiant exercise efforts were rewarded in the form of GIGANTIC blueberry and chocolate ice creams at the Pondering Frog cafe. There the friendly owner recommended staying at the Pub in Triabunna. Little did we know, but it was AFL final night and saying the pub was rowdy would be an understatement. So after a brief schooner, fish and chips down the quayside and another episode of the heart-warmingly funny Detectorists, we hit the hay. The next day we’d be checking into Hobart for our first house sit in almost a month – we could hardly wait!

I wond’r if we’re going to bump into Karl Kennedy? Roadtripping South from Sydney to Melbourne

It was touch and go whether we’d be allowed to leave New Zealand, well, at least for Joella. We’d forgotten about re-applying for our Australian tourist visas, and only remembered the night before. Mine came through but there was no sign of hers… Fortunately, after running around departures in Christchurch like those idiots you see on airport documentaries, a member of staff managed to sort things out for $50NZ – phew! So after a warm welcome back in Sydney from Uncle Martin, Auntie Christa and excited Lilly the American Staffy, we were ready to sink a few beers over a Mexican (meal, not a person).

New adventures travelling on familiar roads to Narooma

Having been thoroughly organised before we’d left for Middle Earth, our car was packed and ready to roll, leaving time for a relaxing brekky. It was good to be back on the road again with Pelly our trusty(ish) white Holden Commodore, and even more so to be joined by Sam! We were headed for Melbourne, but our first days drive was to Narooma, where we’d enjoyed a lovely beach holiday back in January. This allowed us to enjoy the familiarity of the road and surroundings, whilst feeling like experienced tour guides, impressing Sam with knowledge and sights along the way.

First stop were the glorious views from Bald Hill lookout, mesmerised by swarming hang-gliders gracefully looping their way dow to Stanwell Park Beach, far in the distance. Our surroundings continued to impress, as we drove along the aptly named ‘Sea Cliff Bridge’ that slowly snakes its way over crashing waves hitting the steep cliffs below. Jealous of the treats our eyes were gorging on, the sounds of rumbling stomachs soon became the soundtrack to our drive. Successfully making it a little further South to Kiama, we made peace with our appetite in the form of flavoursome Banh Mi and meatalicious pies. Before leaving town, we couldn’t resist checking out the giant ‘Kiama blowhole’, whose watery tantrums briefly created colourful rainbows in the spray overhead.

Keen to work off our carb heavy lunch, we pulled off the main highway to take a stroll on Hyam’s beach – said to one of the whitest on the planet. Although after a quick Google we discovered this is very much fake news, we were more than happy with our surroundings, especially the comedic squeakiness of the sand between our toes. Successfully making it to Narooma just before dark, we parked up under the glowing eyes of a hairy possum, then fittingly enjoyed a documentary on Australia’s past presented by Tony Robinson.

Making a (Lakes) Entrance

Despite failing to catch a glimpse of migrating whales from the cliffside golf course, our early morning wasn’t completely wildlife free. Fortunately a herd of playful and lazy seals alike, were ready to greet us down on the quayside, as we posed for cheesy photos at the peculiar shaped ‘Australia rock’. As Sam, like I, lives for food; we made a ‘brie’-line for Central Tilba and its famous dairy, to satisfy our lust for cheese. Having pushed the limits on what’s considered samples, and possibly crossing the boundary into theft, we made some token purchases and hit the road once again.

Before reaching our destination for the day, we were pleasantly rewarded with some exciting driving in the form of numerous rickety wooden bridges criss-crossing the numerous waterways that feed the inland Gippsland lakes. Lakes Entrance, our stop for the night turned out to be rather more quiet than expected, feeling more like an old people’s home than a holiday town, so we struggled at first to find drinking or dinner options. Having told Sam tales of whale sized chicken parmiganias, the Bowls Club buffet certainly wasn’t going to do. Luckily my gamble of pushing us on to the Community Club further afield paid off, where they knew how to make these Australian pub staples.

A cheeky drive-by on Ramsay Street in Melbourne

Keen to make Melbourne in decent time, we departed the slower coastal roads and headed inland towards the gumtree forests. One of the highlights of our drive that day was unashamedly the splendid array of pies we came across in Warragul. Regretfully I can’t recall the exact fillings we went for, but I can assure you they they were of the usual high standard we’d come to expect down-under. Feeling a touch of pastry regret soon after, an outdoor adventure was very much needed. What we thought would be a quick stretch of the legs turned out to be a half day detour, encompassing nearly 2 hours of driving down dirt tracks. I’m not sure whether seeing the Ada Tree – the oldest in Victoria – was necessarily worth it, but it certainly helped break up the day!

IMG_3962
IMG_3945
IMG_3954

For our 2 nights in Melbourne, Sam’s welcoming Aunt Nora and Uncle Max kindly took us in, and looked after us like long lost relatives (although Sam is their nephew, so that probably helped). Their hospitality was very much welcomed, while they fed us local travel tips on Australia’s second largest city, as well as plenty of hearty, home cooked meals – it was great to have a roast dinner again!

The general vibe in Melbourne definitely felt more urban than it’s sunnier counterpart Sydney; in fact it very much reminded us of being back in London. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why, but the colder climate, greyer skies and fact that it doesn’t seem squeezed in between numerous beaches definitely plays a part. Our first morning was spent whizzing through the maze of buzzing tramways taking in the giant street art, while trying to pick which cutesy eatery we’d dine at. Once filled up on brunch and people watching, hipster Brunswick street kept us busy with it’s lovely independent boutique shops.

IMG_3974
IMG_3969
IMG_3971

Unexpectedly, the next morning led us somewhere we really should have paradoxically predicted – Ramsay Street of course! Feeling rather like criminals breaking into a TV set, we parked up at the far end, and took a wander, then a cheeky drive down the famous cul-de-sac, half expecting to be shouted at. The fond memories of our uni days rushed back, as we attempted to recall the residents of each house – Karl and Susan Kennedy, Harold Bishop, Toadie…

Once over our adrenaline fuelled shenanigans, we headed over to the seaside town of St Kilda, where we enjoyed incredible cake and coffee, before our day came to a comedic close: My poor eyesight coupled with penguin obsession caused me to become mesmerised by a black and white critter sitting on some rocks opposite the pier. Disappointingly and rather embarrassingly the creature flew off, leaving me perplexed, and Sam and Joella in hysterics!

IMG_3985
IMG_3990

It was lovely spending time with Sam, who’d travelled so far to be with us. So much so, it felt like a holiday within a holiday – if that’s even possible to contemplate. Time to wave goodbye to ‘Melbs’ and it’s urban charm; the wilderness of Tasmania beckoned…

I wond’r where the padded rooms are? Staying at an old mental asylum while venturing West on NZ’s South Island

Cheating on our instant coffee with some proper latte’s at Berlins cafe, we took in the beautiful views overlooking the national park, readying ourselves for the day. We were headed West towards the coast, but not before some more inland, outdoor adventures…

Getting lost in nature

First up was Nelson Creek Reserve, that begun with a river crossing over an old rickety wooden suspension bridge. We continued deeper through the forest, and found ourselves at the edge of the dam water, glistening in the sunshine and surrounded by the site and sounds of nature. Once we broke from our trance brought on by dancing butterflies overhead, we faithfully followed what seemed to be the path, before getting hopelessly lost; forcing us back the same way we’d come.

Just outside Hokitika – a seaside town famous for its driftwood festival – was Hokitika Gorge. After a short walk through some trees, the valley opened up before us; with the milky Hokitika River below. Continuing further along the boardwalk, we followed the smoothed rocky edges of the gorge, eventually coming to a swing bridge crossing the expanse of water looming underneath – a sight straight out of Indiana Jones! The final viewing platform rewarded us with dramatic views down through the gorge, at the blues and greens flowing slowly before us.

A creepy nights stay at the old Seaview Mental Asylum

When entering the reception to book ourselves in for the night, it felt like we’d gone back in time – surrounded by floral patterns as far as the eye could see. Although not unfriendly, the lady’s distant persona gave us the shivers, while she showed us to where we could park up. Something felt odd, but we became distracted by the impending sunset, of which Hokitika is renowned for…

As we sipped our wine on the beautiful beach, watching the last of the daylight disappear beyond the horizon, our reckless decision began to sink in. “No wonder this place is so cheap and there’s no-one else here!” I proclaimed, while we made our way carefully back up through the ‘Dell’ by the light of a million twinkling glow worms. After checking reviews on Wikicamps, we discovered that we’d booked ourselves in at the old ‘Seaview Hospital’, which was once a mental asylum…

The eeriness of our surroundings aside, Seaview may quite simply be one of the most unique night stays one is ever likely to experience. Incredibly, the interior, awash with retro flowery carpets, seemed unchanged since the 1960s when it was used to home the insane. This made it scarily easy to imagine what life was like here; as we wondered through the day room, down long, dark corridors, through the canteen and finally into the wards lined with beds still made up. Feeling as though we’d walked on to the set of the Shining, we unsurprisingly opted to sleep in our van that night!

IMG_3618
IMG_3637

Once daylight had safely returned the next day, we spent the morning peering through the windows of the many buildings that made up the decaying facility. Failing to find any signs of padded rooms or electro-therapy contraptions, we headed East towards Christchurch, leaving Hokitika and its famous driftwood behind.

Viaducts, waterfalls and parrots while crossing Arthur’s Pass

With town names like ‘Arthur’s Pass’ on our drive East, we were confident the scenery wasn’t going to disappoint, and oh boy how right we were! Immediately after a few cheeky photos of Gandalf being ambushed by a dragon in Otira, the road took us steadily upwards towards the looming hills above.

After passing through a series of tunnels, protecting us from the perils of landslides, we continued higher as the road departed earth upon stocky concrete stilts. It was only once we’d pulled into the car park of the Otira Viaduct viewpoint that we were able to take in the awesomeness of the road we’d just travelled on – snaking between the steep slopes either side.

Before driving off we were lucky to meet our first Kea. Often referred to as the ‘clown of the mountains’, these entertaining dark green parrots are now only found in the alpine regions of South New Zealand. Having heard tales of these cheeky characters damaging cars and flying off with food and clothing, we made sure to keep an eye on it!

The town of Arthur’s Pass seemed little more than a few large car parks and buildings, lining the busy road stretching South-Eastward, towards Christchurch. However, despite its bleakness, our inquisitive nature got the better of us as we popped into the tourist information office to find out what was around. The friendly park ranger pointed us in the direction of the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl Falls’, giving us a an opportunity to stretch our legs. As we neared the end of the relatively easy half hour walk, our excitement jumped up a notch while catching a glimpse of the falling water through the trees. However, it was only once at the viewing platform we could appreciate the beauty of this 131m high waterfall, falling gracefully down from the rocky cliffs above.

Feeling right at home with Malcolm and Ann

Following another couple of hours driving through yet more unbelievable scenery, we neared out final destination for the day. Malcolm and Ann, the owners of the Airbnb we were staying at, made us feel right at home, as we chatted away while cooking up a veggie stir-fry. Originally from Scotland, hence the inspiration for calling their home ‘Cairngorms’ (after the National Park found in the Scottish Highlands), they moved over a number of years ago and never looked back. Stereotypically Ann works for a whisky importer, and Malcolm is a software engineer, (when not tending to his 200 acre farm full of cattle and chooks – chickens).

After a good nights sleep then bidding farewell to our friendly hosts, we were able to appreciate how lucky Malcolm and Ann were. Now in the daylight outside their home, we were treated to stunning 360 degree views of rolling hills and snow capped mountains beyond. Next stop – Christchurch, to pick up a familiar face who’d travelled all the way from old Blighty; Mr Sam Wilson!