Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016 – The Convict Trail

On Monday morning we drove the 1 ½ hours down to Port Arthur.  Port Arthur is a former convict settlement in Australia and a significant historical site, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is one of the best surviving sites representative of convict transportation and colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts. It was also the site of a mass murder attack in 1996 which killed 35 people and injured 23 people and which was the driver behind the Australian prime minister’s (then John Howard) decision to implement strict gun control laws. It was a complicated event and you can read more on Wikipedia at

The site was founded in 1830 and operated through to 1877 when the prison was closed. It was more than a prison, it was a whole community of people including convicts, government officials, and prison officials. Some of the buildings are originals, some are rebuilds.

The site is situated on the slopes of the hills at the end of a peninsula surrounded on 3 sides by unfriendly seas and a narrow “neck” joining it to the rest of the peninsula that was guarded by wild dogs. Escape was almost impossible. But, it is beautiful, and the convicts would have stood in their prison cells and looked out over the bay.

 Although life was harsh, it was better in many cases than the life the prisoners were leading in England…and the convicts were all repeat offenders of secondary crimes. The site brought alive the conditions that existed in Britain with convicts, their transportation to Australia (as the guide told us “The US had had their war and didn’t want the convicts anymore, so the only place the British could send them was Australia.”), and the life that the convicts led when they got here. Some of the stories are heart breaking, some of them chilling, and others of them motivating. There were a total of about 160,000 convicts in total who were shipped out to Tasmania, including boys as young as 8 or 9, men, and women. When freed, most of them chose to stay in Tasmania.

When you start to imagine the immensity of the “punishment” it seems unbelievable and many of the prisoners never saw their families again.

The drive there and back was quite pretty, along narrow, windy, tree-lined roads, with glimpses of the bays and ocean that are such a prominent part of this part of Tasmania.

On the way back though, we hit into “rushhour” and sat in traffic for about 20 minutes before making it back to the apartment. We had about a 30 minute turnaround and Ray went down to pick up Peter and Sue to bring them back for a glass of wine and appies before we set off for dinner to Salamanca on the water front with its old sandstone warehouses now converted to galleries, pubs, restaurants, and a Saturday market.

Sunday, February 21, 2016 – Off to Join the Tasmanian Devils

We were up at 7 and out of the hotel by 9:00 a.m. for our flight at 11:25. We knew exactly where to return the rental car to, so no worries there. Promptly into the shuttle van to the airport. As we neared the airport about 7 minutes  drive away, three lanes of traffic ground to a halt. Grunts and moans from the shuttle driver.

“Airport’s been a zoo  these past two days.”

“Is it always like this?” I asked.

“Nope, but it’s the Superbike World Championship. Everyone is coming in for that.”

Our hearts sank, we remembered seeing the advertising for that when we were watching the bikes at the race track a few days earlier. February 26 to 28. We never gave it another thought…until now!! But there was more.

“I can’t take you to your terminal,” the driver announced. “We are not allowed to go there, but I will try and drop you as close as possible.”

“Is it far,” Ray asked nervously. “Yeah, it is a long way. I’ll show you where to go. Government restriction. Many passengers get really angry at us, but there is nothing we can do” was the response.

I fast forwarded to the security line up, and immediately started thinking of ways we could push through in time to catch our flight.

 Well, I needn’t have worried. Being a shuttle service, we had priority and were able to beat the queue. Then we only had to walk “a long way” with our baggage to the terminal. But that proved to be an exaggeration. It was only about as far as from one end of the Toronto terminal to the other. Not far at all, and when we got in there, sanity prevailed. This was a brand new terminal for Jet Star, the Australian equivalent of West Jet. They apparently had designed the terminal to be traveler friendly. There were self service kiosks to check in at, an automatic bag drop that told you the weight of your bag and confirmed it was acceptable for travel. You immediately go through security….easy….no shoes off, no belts off, no starting up computers, cell phones, cameras….but ……all umbrellas must be opened!! Then when you arrive at the departure lounge you can go on a shopping spree, including Robin’s favourite store “Desigual” with its flamboyant colours, while you wait for the departure gate to be posted about 30 minutes before departure. There are mollifying notices to “relax” if you look at the board before the gate is posted!! When the gate number is posted, you head immediately through the gate and directly on the to plane without going through a second “check” in. Very sleek!!

 The flight was short, about an hour, smooth, and efficient, and we were on the ground in no time waiting for our baggage. As we stood waiting amongst the melee of passengers, a woman pounced on Ray and at the same time we both recognized Sue and Peter Morgan from Vancouver. We knew they were coming to Tassie but thought they were flying on the 22nd . They thought we were flying on the 22nd so we were all incredulous at meeting up with each other!  We agreed to meet for dinner and went our separate ways to find our luggage and pick up our respective rental cars.

As we drove from the airport to the hotel, we felt we would like Tasmania. The scenery seemed comfortable, beautiful, and welcoming. We checked into our rental “apartment” and were very happy with what we saw. But we didn’t stay long, long enough only to change, and then we headed off to visit Jimmy and Clare whom we had met on our West African trip. Jimmy was one of our tour leaders, and Clare, his then girlfriend, travelled with us as a passenger. Their acreage is in the beautiful Tasmanian countryside, half way up a mountain, and minutes from Hobart. As well as their own house, they have built two “eco” pods or rental units overlooking the Derwent Estuary. It is simply beautiful. Since we last saw them they have married, and had a beautiful little daughter named Priya.

On the way home from their place we stopped off for some food for dinner, breakfast, and nibbles for the Morgans whom we had invited over for dinner the following evening.

It was evening when we got back to the flat, and I took time to walk around and look out from the balcony. The view looks over Hobart and the estuary, from the top of a hill in West Hobart. It is also beautiful and the quality of the flat along with this view make it a very enjoyable place to stay.

We enjoyed a “home” cooked dinner, a bottle of wine, and a good night’s sleep.

Saturday, February 20 – Catch up with a Friend; Melbourne; and White Night

We were excited this morning to drive out to Frankston to meet up with Charlie whom we first met on our South American trip in 2007. A lot has happened in the intervening years. Charlie married Kris whom she met while we travelled; and Charlie and Kris now have two adorable children, Harley and Holly!! They are full of spunk, friendly and chatty, and polite!!  It was a great visit!

After our visit, we ate lunch in Mornington, a busy little beach suburb of Melbourne with eclectic shops and masses of people and action. Then we drove into Melbourne, parked the car, and set off on a “city walking tour”. Between the walk we did and the “free” tram ride around the City Centre, we saw a number of the beautiful older buildings including Parliament House, the Princess Theatre, a lovely statue of Pastor Sir Douglas and Lady Gladys Nicholls, and a mural commissioned by the Fire Brigades Board on the “Legend of Fire” among many other enchanting buildings.

After the tram ride we walked down Elizabeth Street to Bourke Street and dodged in and out of some of the many “lanes” that Melbourne is renowned for. These are streets not even wide enough to drive a car down, filled with shops, restaurants, wine bars, etc. Very quaint….and very busy!! We flirted with Chinatown, had a love affair with the Flinders Railway Station, and then realized that all the streets were being closed to traffic, and at the same time were filling up with people. Then we remembered. Our friends last night had talked about “White Night”, and then we noticed the signs. So, we decided we had better leave the downtown area. This was around 6:30/6:45. White Night starts at 7:00 p.m. So we dodged the road closures, avoided the heavy traffic heading into the downtown area, and headed out to the suburbs and our hotel.

Our visit to Melbourne was fleeting, but our feelings are that it seemed much more like Toronto than Sydney. It was easy to get around, lots of big highways, a good mix of original 1850s/1860s buildings and new highrise buildings, had a great mix of peoples and races, and all in all seemed a really nice city.

When we made it back to the hotel, we tried to check in to our flight to Hobart tomorrow. The JetStar site told Ray that our tickets were on hold because we owed them 90 cents. Anyway, he paid that, and then a box popped up that this would be confirmed in 48 hours!!! There were a few tense moments, but in the end we were able to check in successfully.

Pictures to come

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016 – Sick Day in Melbourne

I don’t know what happened last night, thought I was getting one of my stomach aches, but it turned out to be much worse than that, and I was quite sick when we arrived at the hotel. Needless to say I didn’t feel great this morning so Ray let me sleep in and we took it really easy. It was about 1:00 p.m. when we eventually ventured out of the hotel and went to one of the shopping malls to see about our phone top up.

After that we came back to the hotel and repacked our clothes appropriate to our Tasmania trip, headed out for dinner, and I worked on my blog, but to my dismay, I can’t get the pictures loaded,I ‘ll have to try another time. Now it is time to go to sleep.

I am feeling much better now; not sure what it was, but thank goodness it is over.

Thursday, February 18 – Phillip Island, the Bass Coast ….and Dinner with Friends in Melbourne

We headed through some attractive coastal scenery this morning, between Inverloch, Cape Paterson, then inland to the old coal mining town of Wonthaggi, and then back to the shore and on through Kilcunda, and San Remo onto Phillip Island. There were beautiful beaches and craggy rocks, and inland rolling pastures and grazing cattle, sheep, and horses. Phillip Island is just 90 minutes south-east of Melbourne. The first few towns such as Cowes and San Remo, were holiday towns with the usual attractions one finds in beachside resorts. The northwest corner though was much more rugged and wild and absolutely fabulous.

The first thing we did was to go and see the Koala Conservation Centre. The landscape in the Park is quite natural and we were able to walk along stilted boardwalks and come face to face with the laziest, sweetest, animals imaginable. Then we went for a walk through the parkland and saw wallabies and some beautiful birds. You can see from the pictures how amazing the koalas are. We read some information in the centre about the breeding and birthing process. The babies are tiny, about 2 cm long and weigh about half a gram – tiny!!! The newborn “Joey” keeps its head in its mummy’s pouch for about 6 months before it becomes strong enough to venture out. The mother usually leaves the Joey at about 10 months.  Do you think they are sleepy? Well, they need to sleep about 20 hours a day which slows down their metabolism so that they can survive on the eucalyptus leaves. Sort of like the eagles, although I must say, the koalas are more inactive than the eagles!!  The wallabies too are lovely, but not as adorable as the fluffy koalas. We saw some neat birds including these parrots. All in all, a lovely couple of hours.

Our visit to the koalas was juxtaposed with our next stop, the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit: world superbikes, hot laps, go-karts, and V8 super cars. The race circuit has been operating annually since 1928 at first over closed public roads. We watched some of the motorbikes practising. I have watched this sort of thing on television, but nothing prepared me for the actual speed of the bikes. They literally “flashed” past!! I looked it up and the fastest bikes get up to a speed of  344 Kph . The bikes corner at an angle of 64 degrees, literally just skimming the ground. So frightening but totally thrilling all at the same time.

Then we moved on to Point Grant and the Nobbies Centre on the western tip of the Island. Whereas the rest of the island may have resembled PEI in serenity, this point resembled the ruggedness of Newfoundland.  We trekked out around the point on the board walk and saw little boxes placed on the cliff. We looked inside and there were Little Penguins. Apparently they go inside the boxes to molt after they have bred. Don't know if you can see one inside the box in this picture, but look hard!

So with our hearts brimming over with love for all the animals we had seen we headed off the island and drove up to St. Kilda’s in the suburbs of Melbourne – about an hour and a half. We met our friends from Uxbridge, Diane and Terry who are out here staying with their son since before Christmas;  had a lovely walk out the pier…where we saw more Little Penguins hiding in the rocks, the golden sunset, and the multitude of yachts glistening in the sinking sun; then found a restaurant for dinner.  After dinner we made our way to our hotel and collapsed in bed.

Wednesday, February 17 – Gold-digging: Traralgon to Inverloch via Walhalla

We were up bright and early this morning (7:30 a.m.) and made a real effort to get on the road early. We pulled out at 9:18 a.m. ……remember that my “mantra” is “within the realm of possibility”!!

Wow, what a day! There was nothing super adrenaline boosting, but it was one of those days when with everything you experience you sit back and say “I am grateful to be able to experience all of this.” We left Traralgon and headed up to a small and remote town called “Walhalla” set in a deep mountain valley.  Ray had read some information which said this was an old gold mining town, and since much of the area around us seemed to be involved in the “gold rush” we thought we should learn some more about it. The drive was amazing. We climbed up through romantic rain forest, through numerous hair-pin bends, and through the mist, to this little town, population today about 20. But it had a past. In its peak it had about 4000 residents and it touts that over 100,000 visitors come every year to learn about its gold-rush days. The great thing was that there were no “crowds” of tourists, and that the restoration of the town to its “gold-rush” days is in process, so it didn’t look like an “artist’s impression” but had retained its rather worn, age old look. Some of the buildings had been restored, and they looked amazing, but many had not and there was an air of “genuineness” that many of these “quaint” little historical towns have lost in translation.  We parked the car and walked through the town, including a walk along the “tram line” above the town, to the mine. The “tram line” appeared to be the rails that all the little carts travelled to pick up the gold bearing material from the mines and transport it to the processing plant. The village was founded in 1862; its boom period was 1863 to 1900, by 1915 most of the major mines had closed. In 1888 there was a major fire and many of the wooden buildings were destroyed, and rebuilt. I guess it is the stories of the various villagers that make the place interesting!!

We left Walhalla and found a directional sign to “The Thomson Dam”…..we thought this would be interesting….and it brought back memories of our trip to Bumbuna in Sierra Leone in 2013. So, we climbed even more, negotiated even more hairpins and arrived at the “Dam”. It wasn’t really a dam. It was the reservoir for Melbourne’s water. It was actually quite stunning, so we took some pictures and left!!

Our journey from the dam to our night-stop was frustrating to say the least. I had a map; I had road numbers; and when we went through Trafalgar neither were signed. We have found that street signs, and sometimes road signs are challenging here…i.e. they are not consistent, or don’t exist. The Sydney area in particular often did not put up road signs. I guess because we have been remiss in requesting a “gps” the two rental cars we have had don’t have them!  I really miss that. So, we revised our plan and went to Warragul and caught a different road which was marked and found our way to Inverloch. The route was absolutely beautiful! We went through truly amazing countryside on winding, hilly, roads through the most beautiful hills and vales. Sheep, cows, and horses grazed contentedly as we passed by.

We rolled into Inverloch expecting something more dramatic, but it is a laid back town, with a beautiful ocean presence, and we found a pleasant motel. We wandered down the main street looking for a restaurant around 7:15. Many were closed….maybe permanently as the season seems to be over….and found a pub. We stood looking at the posted menu and a voice from behind said “tonight the steak is on special”….I turned around and two guys with two dogs were sitting at a streetside table. They were “tourists” and had noticed the sign previously and determined to come back….I guess they had the dogs so couldn’t go inside. We did. And thoroughly enjoyed our $17.00 steaks – “blue” and “medium” perfectly cooked!!
Now we are headed to bed. Good night!