A Travellerspoint blog

April 2009

Tasmania

sunny 63 °F

Since we had to move out of our apartment last weekend and only have three weeks left in Australia, we decided to go way down under–all the way to Tassie.

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Tasmania is the smallest Australian state, both in size and population. Tasmania is about the size of South Carolina, has 500,000 people (half of which live in the capital city), and has a third of its state dedicated as National Reserves and World Heritage areas. We would spend the next 6 days making our way around the state taking in the natural beauty.

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We left Sydney and flew into Hobart, the capital city (A). Surprisingly enough we knew some people in Hobart. We met up with Rob and Hailey (two of our friends from Sydney) who also happened to be in Tasmania. We spent some time at one of the few bars (that we could find) in Hobart and celebrated St. Patty's Day a little early.

After getting some work in, Dawn and I headed southward and went deep into one of the national forests. Our destination was another tree-top walk to view the ancient Huon pines. To get into the national forest, we actually followed a logging trail (complete with gigantic logging trucks). Several trails and lookouts were available along the way, so we stopped frequently to stretch our legs and take in the crystal-clear air. Even though we have seen them multiple times, I can never get used to seeing absolutely enormous trees. I used to consider the pine trees behind my house monsters, but they are nothing compared to the behemoths located here. The trails were empty, and the feeling of total seclusion took hold as we wound through the forest. Streams ran along the trails, providing pleasant background music. The chilly air was crisp and kept us moving.

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One of the trails we took led us down to the second largest tree in the world. Apparently there is a formula to calculate the weight of trees based on their size, and based on this formula this was the second largest tree known to man. The largest is a redwood called General Sherman (1,256 tons) and the cleverly named Big Tree came in at second with a weight of 405 tons (a blue whale ways a hefty 190 tons). Unfortunately this tree was shrinking (it was reaching the end of its life) by a couple meters a year and will soon shrink below the 80 meter height that makes it automatically protected from logging. The picture doesn't do it justice, this tree was gargantuan.

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After viewing the second largest tree in the world, we were ready to walk among the tree tops. We drove into the Tahune AirWalk and made our way onto the scaffolding. This tree-top walk was different from the one in Perth in that it wasn't a loop, just a large T-like walk that took you to a great lookout. The tree-top walk in Perth was completely surrounded by trees, and although it went higher, never went above the canopy. The tree-top walk here in Tasmania followed a river and presented awesome views of the mountains and surrounding forest. One end of the walk hangs 200 ft above the water. You feel like you are floating above the water while standing at the end, and the views are incredible. The 20 minute walk took over 1.5 hours for us to complete, the views were just that good.

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We came down from the tree-top walk and went along the trail to view the Huon pines. Huon pines grow extremely slow, but also grow to be extremely old. Most of the trees were not very large (in fact they looked like crooked, moss covered, large spruce trees). Ship builders used to use these trees to make ship hulls because of their natural resistance to water. We did see some cross sections of some very large Huon pines though. Here is a shot along the Huon River, you can see some of the pines along the shore line (the pines look like pine trees, the stringy bark eucalypts are the ones towering overhead with exposed trunks).

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The Huon River valley and the national forest was very nice, but our next stop was supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Tasmania. After a night's rest back in Hobart, we drove between two National Parks to reach Strahan (C) for the night and then to Cradle Mountain (D). Driving through the national parks offered countless stunning views. Mountains and valleys created beautiful backdrops. We stopped at a number of lookout points to take in the fresh air and beautiful sights. Clear mountain lakes, mountain peaks standing out above the treeline, mist creeping over the ridgeline–every turn offered another awesome view. Here are a couple pictures from the drive:

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Cradle Mountain is a World Heritage site (a list of cultural or natural sites around the world that hold some significance). A ranger at the visitor center said that Cradle Mountain was the second most beautiful site in the world (first was some mountain in Japan). Despite its beauty, the weather does not always cooperate. It rains 7 out of 10 days, is cloudy 90% of the time, and has snowfall a third of the year. We lucked out and had a clear, sunny day. We started off the day by doing some shorter trails in the Cradle Mountain valley along streams and waterfalls.

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We eventually worked our way up to the Cradle Mountain Lake walk, which was a 3 hour hike around the lake in the valley of Cradle Mountain. The clear skies made the water a cool blue color, and the intermittent clouds danced shadows across the valley.

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We spent nearly all day hiking in the trails around Cradle Mountain, but we didn't even come close to seeing everything. We also have tons of awesome pictures, it's a shame I can't post them all. That night we stopped in Devonport (E). Devonport was the third largest town in Tasmania, but it would be an unremarkable town in North Carolina. However, I did find the best internet connection I'd had in all of Australia (including libraries and internet cafes), and it was free! Welcome to my office in Tasmania: McDonald's.

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We left Devonport and headed to the east coast. Cutting across Tasmania would be like cutting through West Virginia with no interstates. The two lane roads went up and down the mountains, curving to follow the flattest route. We came to the top of a mountain and were presented with a breathtaking view of some smaller peaks and the valleys below. After not seeing any cars for hours, suddenly a caravan of giant 4-wheel drive vehicles pulled off at the lookout. This crew solicited sponsors for a week long off road event to raise money for a new event every year. They came from Melbourne and planned on tackling the Tasmanian wilderness. While others checked the map, two guys popped open a couple of VB road sodas. I think they were as surprised as we were that there was actually someone else out here in the middle of nowhere. We chit-chatted briefly, discussed routes to take through the mountains (thankfully because they told us our intended route was blocked), and then set off on our separate ways.

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We were truly in the middle of nowhere, because there was literally Nowhere Else to go to.

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We arrived in Coles Bay (F) later that evening. However, it seemed that the hostel we had planned on staying at had confused the night we were arriving and had booked us for the previous night. This was not the type of town that had multiple places to stay. Just as I was coming to terms with sleeping in the car and freezing cold, the check-in lady told us that the hostel in the national park had an opening, but it was a little basic. Since she was also offering it to us for free, it seemed like a better option than sleeping in the car. We drove into Freycinet National Park, followed a windy dirt path along the water, and finally found the hostel. Basic might have been an exaggeration.

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Lean-to shack may have been more appropriate. We had a hole in the ground with a toilet seat to serve as a bathroom. However, we did have a private beach and were actually sleeping in the national park. We went down to the beach to catch sunset. Wallabies were bouncing in the sand and hardly seem to notice us. Later in the night, more wildlife came alive. Possums climbed along the trees while noises came from every direction. I think Dawn was a little freaked out being so far out in the woods. At one point, when I turned off the flashlight and stood really still, she nearly killed me (although she still claims she wasn't scared). The shack on a beach actually turned out to be one of my favorite hostels in Australia.

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The next morning Dawn and I got an early start. We wanted to climb to the Wineglass Bay Lookout, but we also had to head back to Hobart and catch our plane later that evening. Arriving at the trail starting point just after sunrise (and a quick stop at the real bathroom), we started the hike up the mountain. This was easily the steepest trail I had ever been on. There was very few level portions of trail, and most of the trail was actually steps leading up the mountain. Upon reaching the Wineglass Bay Lookout, we were both literally dripping sweat (which is an accomplishment in the cool Tasmanian climate). The view was very nice, and we took our time taking in the sight to give our legs a rest.

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We hurried down the trail (it was much quicker going all downhill) and flew along the road to get back down to Hobart. We barely made our flight and our travels through Tasmania were over.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:26 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains animals hiking national_park world_heritage_site Comments (1)

Blue Mountains

sunny 88 °F

Finally we were able to go to the Blue Mountains. Dawn and I had been holding out until Greg arrived since he had expressed interest in going. The Blue Mountains are the mountain range that surround Sydney. The original colonists called them the Blue Mountains because they look blue when viewed from a distance (like a hazy gray color). Up close, they are your typical mountains. However, just like most of Australia, it seems like it has been totally untouched by human hands and the natural beauty is astounding.

We stopped on the way up the Blue Mountains because our guide knew a perfect place to see kangaroos. The novelty of seeing a roo had slightly worn off, but it gave the three of us a chance to take a hike through the woods. We ended up not seeing any kangaroos (to the disappointment of the rest of the group) and headed up into the mountaintops.

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Our guide had actually grown up in the Blue Mountains (he was 64), so he had plenty to tell us about the area. It was also cool because he knew the best lookouts and trails to take. The first lookout we made it to was unbelievable. It had views of the valley surrounding the 3 Sisters (more on them later) with more mountains visible in the background. It was a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet, with no guard rail! Let the pictures speak for themselves:

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We drove around the valley to some hiking trails. We hiked down to another lookout. This lookout was one of the viewing points of the 3 Sisters. A large waterfall is also visible running down one of the mountains. The Aboriginal story of the 3 Sisters is as follows: A chief had 3 daughters, each unmarried. He was very protective of them. Three men from a foothills tribe fell in love with the women and tried to sneak them away. The chief found out and used his magic stick to turn the three sisters into stones so they couldn't go any further. He then turned the magic stick on himself and changed into a lyre bird to fly down and confront the men. However, he dropped the stick while flying. Without the magic stick, he couldn't change himself or his daughters back. To this day, you can still see the lyre bird scratching in the underbrush trying to find his stick.

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We then took a lift down to the valley itself. It was nuts. The lift just dropped off the mountain and plummeted to the valley floor (check out the picture). Once getting off, we were in the dense forest. We even saw a lyre bird scratching in the dirt! The guide hadn't seen one in months and was surprised to see one (in the middle of him explaining how rare they were, Dawn spotted one 20 yards away). We walked through the valley to the old coal mine. I stopped to fill my water bottle up at a mountain spring run-off, the guide wouldn't stop talking about how refreshing the water was (meanwhile my brother kept trying to tell me about all the bacteria in the water).

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Near the coal mine there was a lift that the coal workers used to use to get up and down the mountain. It is the steepest passenger rail in the world, averaging a 45 degree incline. The seats are reclined so that you can have a more comfortable ride up. It was awesome, and also a little frightening (especially when you go through the cave). It felt as if you were going straight up the mountain.

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We had one last stop before leaving the Blue Mountains behind us. The Blue Mountains are so mystical because it took a long while for anyone to figure out how to cross them. The steep cliffs made simply going over the mountains impossible. Eventually an explorer figured out that the only way over the mountains was to follow the ridge line (the original path is the current paved road, no better way has yet to be found). Of couse the Aborigines had figured this out long before the colonists. To help navigate the cliff lines, they had carved markers in the rocks. These carvings pointed the Aborigines along the correct path. We stopped to see one of these carvings, a kangaroo pointing back down the ridge line.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 12:45 Archived in Australia Tagged waterfalls hiking tour world_heritage_site Comments (1)

Hanging out in Sydney

Figured I'd post some additional pictures from the two week visit by everyone, just to fill in the gaps.

We did spend a lot of time in Sydney. One of the places that everyone visiting Sydney needs to experience is Scruffy Murphys. From the outside, it looks like a cool Irish pub. Hearing about the multiple level bar (top level—laid back pub atmosphere, ground level—bar with live music, sub level—dance club) you'd think they would have something for everyone. Walking around Sydney the first day, Dawn and I were drawn to it to have our very first beer in Australia. However, it is also one of the most frequented by backpackers, instantly making it sketchy and a place where people just get absolutely obliterated. There is drag queen karaoke every Wednesday night. The dance floor is techno only, which is often filled by over hyper people dancing spasmodically. The night we went, it didn't disappoint.

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We also made it back to the beaches. After going to Manly the first day, we went down to the "world famous" Bondi Beach. Bondi received its latest world notoriety due to multiple shark attacks in the previous week (after supposedly having no attacks for the past 50 years). It didn't stop us or the surfers from getting in the water. Lifeguards patrolled the beach in jetskis (possibly looking for sharks, I had never seen them do that before). Multiple news helicopters floated overhead as well. Jason proclaimed the helicopters were there because "they had never seen guns like these" and began his body builder poses. Soon enough, we were all striking poses at the helicopters. This eventually progressed into trying to take pictures of us all synchronously jumping.

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I wanted the guys to meet some of the coolest drinking partners in Sydney, so I called up Nick, Caroline, and Leighanne. We met them at their local bar, a place I was dieing to try out.

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There was another experience the guys did not miss out on. Typically after leaving the bars, Dawn starts chanting one phrase over and over again—"I want Hungry Jacks!"

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The prettiest views of Sydney (in my opinion) are seen from the Botanical Gardens. Not only are the Botanical Gardens close to the harbor, they also offer great views of the Opera House and the Bridge. Of course the gardens by itself is absolutely beautiful. I made sure to show Greg the huge flying foxes that hang out in the trees (look for the bats hanging in the trees in the picture of the spider). We took our time going through the gardens, stopping for a break at Mrs. Macquarie's chair (in the 1800s the governor's wife spent so much time on a lookout viewing into the harbor that a chair was carved for her out of the stone).

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Greg, Dawn, and I also made it back to the zoo. Just like I was, Greg was enthralled by the lion feeding. Being able to stare into the eyes of a hungry lion is quite an experience.

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One of the top things I wanted to do with everyone was hit up the German beer garden. We did all make it to Lowenbraus, but since it was Friday night, they weren't serving their liter beers. Greg, Dawn, and I did make it back before Greg left. Notice that Greg and i got man size while Dawn settled for the woman-and-baby-carriage size.

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Greg, Dawn, and Will made it back out to Watson's Bay for the incredible views of the ocean from the cliffs (it was also where we watched the Boxing Day Yacht Race).

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 11:44 Archived in Australia Tagged animals beer beach state_park world_heritage_site Comments (0)

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