Saturday, April 28, 2007

Like a whirlwind through Tasmania...

The second half of the Tasmanian leg of our trip has been a whirl that, combined with the fact that we spent a good portion of that time in bunkhouses in National Parks, has made it impossible to keep up on our blog. So, in the final hours of our time here, Sarah is going to attempt to bring you all up to speed on what we've been doing with a quick photo show... which frees me up to ramble a bit. But, make sure that you take a look at Sarah's post first, since I'll be presuming you'll have read it -and thus- have a rough idea of what's what.

Buying wine in Launceston - Sarah and I spent our time in Launceston touring wineries. While two of the wineries were large establishments, the third was literally a clean, metal shed set up in front of the winery owners house. As we pulled our car into his parking lot/drive way, we could see him making his way down his front walk, where he met us in front of his shed. As we tasted three of his wine offerings, he made entertaining small talk with us. And, after we'd bought some wine, he commented that he "had a good feeling about us. Some couple's talk over each other, of one of them dominates the coversation. But, you seem resepctful of each other, you'll probably have a long and happy marriage." As he shook our hands.

While we pulled away, we could help but comparing him to our family friend, Gary, who makes his own wines and who we worked with to make wine before this trip. We agreed that we both could picture Gary, in ten or twenty years, setting up a shed in his front yard where he sold wine and made conversation with random travellers who happened to stumble upon his place.

The trouble with tour groups - Sarah and I have managed to dodge being in a tour for all of Tasmania, which has been wonderful. Furthermore, Tasmania is definitely behind New Zealand when it comes to developing their tourism, especially in regards to backpackers, so we've even managed to doge having to see tour groups for the most part. There was one exception to this though, at Cradle Mt. National Park.

When we arrived there, we checked into our cozy bunkhouse. In addition to two common kitchens, and common bathrooms, there was probably twenty or so bunk rooms on the campgrounds. But, luckily, most of them seemed empty, so we where excited to get back from our day hike to get a warm fire going in a kitchen, cook up some dinner, open a bottle of wine, and spend a quiet evening reading and writting.

Unfortunately, when we got back from the hike we discovered that a tour group had basically taken over the rest of the bunk rooms, and had completely filled one of the kitchens in a cacophony of "bro"s, "dudes" and "can I bum a smokes?" As I felt my heart sink, and saw the disappointment in Sarah's eyes, I couldn't help but think:

"Y'know, I wish everyone in that tour group well... but I also wish they'd, well, go away."

In the end though, we were able to hide out in the second kitchen with a trio of Aussie bikers who were driving their motorcycles around Tasmania. And, it was an enjoyable night of food and wine. The three bikers were entertaining and friendly, and Sarah made a wonderful dinner of Indian food.

Luckily, the next morning, the tour group had departed before we left, and I would have hardly believed they were even there... if they hadn't turned the men's restroom into a swamp.

Where the wild things are - One of the definite highlights of this leg of our trip has been the wildlife. In addition to feeding the kangeroos and seeing Tasmanian Devils, like I mentioned in my last entry, we've had several other opportunities to see Tasmania's bizarre wildlife.

On several occasion, we've had the chance to see Wallabies hopping around. Wallabies are basically minature kangeroos, standing only a couple feet tall. In additioned, we've also seen their little cousins, the Pademelon. Sadly, we've also see large numbers of both dead by the side of the road, since they seem to fill the ecological nitch of "roadkill," which, in the States is filled by the possum.

But, they also have possums here too, though there are nothing like the rat-like creatures where we have in the states. Instead, they look more like a mix of a cat and a raccoon. Bushtail possums wee always lurking around the edges of campgrounds and hopping to score a quick snack.

In addition, there has been a wide number of exotic birds and parrots. And, we even spent last night trying to spot platapi near the lake we were staying near last night... but to no luck. Maybe next trip. Incidently, the platapus is much smaller then you'd think. I've always presumed it was the size of an otter or beaver, but its more like the size of a small cat or a large guinea pig. We saw a stuffed one, and were amazed at how small they are.

Probably the big show stopped though ended up being Wombats. I know Sarah will probably post a picture of one, so I won't bother describing it beyond asking you to picture a large koala about the size of a pig, that seems to spend all of its time either grazing on alpine fields or hiding in its den. We saw several at Cradle Mountain, and they entertained us immensely.

Bad parents - Incedently, while hiking, Sarah and I occasially find ourselves talking abotu what sort ofo parents we'd like to be someday. But, while walking on a boardwalk across a swampy field where Wombats grazed we saw another example of the types of parents we don't want to be:

Ahead of us were three adults chatting casually with each other as their three kids ran and tackled each other in the boggy fields while nearby signs clearly read: "Keep on path, fields are delicate and easily damaged." Amazing.

Giving up on Aussie radio - After putting up with Kiwi music for over three weeks, we finally gave up after several days of listening to Aussie music. Sadly, the Aussies seem to listen to the same awful mix of Top 40 American Pop Music tht their New Zealander friends do.

I'm sorry, I don't want to come off as a music snob, but the lyrics of the music which fill the radio stations of Tasmania and New Zealand is awful. Really, and truly awful. A small sampling of lyrics from popular songs (I know, because we put up with it for about a month):

"You make it hard to be faithful... with the lips of an angel."

"When darkness meets light.... it ends tonight!"

"You think you love me, but you don't know who I am. So just let me go."

Seriously. Awful. Why do American's make such awful pop music? And why do we export it to the rest of the world? It's like cruel and unusal punishment.

So, since we realized we'd actually gotten to the point where we were looking forward to them playing Gwen Stefani or Justin Timberlake, we broke down and bought a CD. I'm happy to announce that Arcade Fire's Neon Bible is a dense and operatic piece of gothic Americana that relies as much on the work of Bruce Springsteen as David Byrne. A great album that help us get around the second half of the island.

Sorry, I'll get off my indie-music snob soapbox now.

OK, I've got a million more things to post, but we have a plane to catch... Souteat Asia, here we come!!

Tasmanian Montage

Initially, Tyler and I had tentatively seen our Tasmanian visit as a chance to slow down, recharge, and see two to three places for three to four days each. But once we got a car and found out about all the great things to do, that plan got thrown out the window. Instead, we've driven around the whole country and only slept in the same place twice at one location. And now we're a few hours away from flying to Vietnam. So to aid with some blog catch-up, I'm going to post about the past six days or so mostly with pictures and captions.

Launceston and Surrounds

I could never pronounce "Launceston" to any Aussie's satisfaction. (Lawn-ke-ston? Lawn-che-ston? Lawn-se-ston? Lawn-ston?) It wasn't my favorite city of the country, but it did have an incredible park right near town called Cataract Gorges, created when a terrific earthquake ripped the earth apart. We went on Anzac Day, so there were lots of merry picnickers and decorated Diggers (aka veterans) on one of our few sunny, warm days in Tasmania. We also rode the gondola, which is said to include the longest single span stretch in the world. It definitely felt like a park created in the late 19th century, with manicured lawns, restaurants, and a swimming pool within its confines. It also reminded me a lot of a park we went to a lot when I was growing up called Starved Rock.

After wandering around some nice paths at Cataract Gorges, my nice English gentleman friend drove me around the Tamar Valley Wine region, about 20 minutes N/NE of Launceston.

We went to three wineries, and the wines were definitely different from those we tasted in New Zealand. All the wines--reds and whites alike--often tasted greener and more minerally, even varietals you don't normally think of as having these qualities. We tasted a Chardonnay that could have passed for a Sauvignon Blanc but for the lack of the usual Sauv Blanc oily mouth feel. We also had a Cabernet-Merlot blend that was very reminiscent of the unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon we had tried in New Zealand, with green pepper nose and flavors (again, great with pasta). We saw even more oaked/unoaked vintages of varietals here also--Chardonnays, even Pinot Noirs. To my delight, they also produce sparkling wines in this region. While we didn't make quite the headway into the wine regions of Tasmania, we did have fun trying a few new things and, as Tyler describes, meeting some characters.

Cradle Mountain National Park

We left Launceston and headed directly to Cradle Mountain National Park. It was everything you can hope from a great national park--lots of great hikes, beautiful scenery, and creatures! On our first day in the park, we saw:

Wombats, essentially really cute marsupial cows,

Our second live wallaby (there are distressing numbers of dead ones killed on the road all around the country), and

a small flock of wild cockatoos!

And that doesn't even cover the great 2-hour hike we did that afternoon, when we walked to a Crater Lake, past a waterfall, and around two other lovely alpine lakes (including Wombat Pool, though we didn't see any wombats there).

Crater Lake with fall foliage

Wombat Pool and Lake Lilla (I think)

The next day we did a more ambitious 5-hour circuit through the park. It was beautiful and one of the most difficult hikes we've done on this trip, and maybe ever. There were scrambles over rocks with chain ropes to aid your climb, steep climbs uphill, boggy areas where the trail could even be hard to follow--but it was all great fun. And the many lakes and viewpoints made all the effort worthwhile.

Tyler ascending the first scramble

Tyler and Cradle Mountain, closer up. You can see the neat bands of rock at the base below the craggy granite top.

Artist's Pool, with the artist, one of my favorite stops along the hike

The moody peaks peeking out from the fog that covered them during much of our visit at the park

Dove Lake, from the base of Cradle Mountain looking toward the car park entrance

The Cradle Mountain peaks finally cooperating! We could have climbed the summit, but we were content to walk behind, beneath and all around them, especially with the weather and warnings about having to haul yourself up over car-sized boulders to reach the top!

Strahan and Queenstown

We decided to drive from Cradle Mountain through a scenic town on the west coast, Strahan (pronounced as though it rhymes with "Drawn"). We ended up only passing through long enough to get some information from the tourist center, but we did backtrack a bit to see the Henty Dunes. Though our muscles were a bit sore from our two previous days' hikes, we decided to walk out a bit and were rewarded with views of the beach and many of the mountains in that part of the state.

Dunes with the beach in the background

There were lots of neat tracks, including birds, wallabies, caterpillers and the round circles around the grass you can see here from the wind blowing.

After testing our strength climbing this hill up to the dunes, Tyler decided to try and jump down it....

To his dismay, I never managed to get a mid-air shot....

We kept driving with the goal of reaching Queenstown, climbing a scenic overlook hill and eating lunch. Queenstown is mostly famous for not being particularly scenic; it still has an active mining operation, and it's impact is easy to see. After an aptly described "short but steep walk" up the hill, we got 360-degree views.

Rather than staying in a sleepy mining town, we pressed on for another hour to stay at the other end of the Cradle Mountain National Park at Lake Saint Clair. We took a short interpretive hike, tried to spot a platypus or echidna, and tried to wrap our minds around the fact that we're leaving for SE Asia...while not taking any photos. But it was just as beautiful as the other end of the park.

A friend who had spent time in both countries worried that we might feel underwhelmed seeing Tassie after New Zealand. I definitely didn't feel that to be the case. The scenery, beaches and hikes were all equally amazing to our experiences in New Zealand. There's definitely still more worth doing here if we had more time (as always) and it's a place I can imagine coming back to with more time and more camping gear.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tasmanian Beaches

I suppose if Tasmania were a little bit warmer, it would be overrun and as popular as Tahiti, Bali and Hawaii. They have amazing beaches here! White sand, clear turquoise-green waters, beautiful surroundings. And that's not just my opinion. Since we've been here, we've visited a beach that was voted in the top ten beaches of the world and another beach that someone else listed as the second best beach in the world last year.

After Port Arthur, we headed north along the coast to the Freycinet Peninsula, famed for the Freycinet National Park and for its oysters. Despite my love of seafood in general and sushi in particular, I haven't had enough oysters to be a true lover. I blame my first experience for delaying my development in this particular area. While living in Austin, I went to dinner with some friends who were originally from the east coast and eating a big platter of oysters with great gusto. At my initial show of trepidation, they suggested that maybe I should try one first with a saltine. I think that had to be the worst suggestion ever, as I was then stuck trying to chew up a dry cracker along with the oyster. I had oysters again once during a happy hour in Seattle, and while I thought it was alright, I hadn't developed the love and fanaticsm that others sometimes have. But after reading about the local delicacy as a sweet-salty treat, reading about MFK Fisher's first experience with oysters, and my friend Jody's ode to them, I had to give them another try. And I'm glad I did. They're very similar to mussels, mostly just tasting fresh and of briny sea. While they don't lead me to wax rhapsodic as, say, sashimi scallops--which are possibly the most deliciously smooth and sensual thing I've ever eaten--they were quite good. I just wish that, like wine, I could have tasted a few different kinds at one time to better appreciate the differences between different varieties. (I should also imagine the shockingly good backpackers we stayed at in Swansea--modern, new, clean, a great respite from our past few accomodations! Definitely stay there should you find yourself in this neck of the woods.)

The next day we headed to the peninsula. On our way there, we were quite amused by these road signs:

However, we found out later that they only put these up where there are multiple animal fatalities. Actually, we've seen much more roadkill than live animals since being here, so it really is a problem.

But then it was time for the hike. We decided to do an 11 kilometer loop which would lead us past the Hazards, granite mountains that line the park, to an overlook of the famed Wineglass Bay, down to Wineglass Bay Beach, across the peninsula to Hazard Beach and back to the carpark.

The first stretch to the overlook was up, up, up along some neat granite steps and past the Hazards.

Steps to the Wineglass Bay Lookout

The granite Hazards

Then the bay. It lived up to its reputation, with beautiful blue waters and soft white sand.

Wineglass Bay from the overlook

Wineglass Bay Beach

I got a bit obsessed with trying to capture the color of the water

After the hike, we drove a short way to see the lighthouse with more views of the coastline.

The lighthouse, mostly referred to on its signs as a "Marine Vessel Navigation Aid"

One nice thing about Tasmania compared to New Zealand is that it's a much smaller landmass, so it's been quick and easy to get from one point of interest to another. We made our way to St Helens for access to the Bay of Fires. I hadn't heard about this beach until we read our inflight magazine to Tasmania and decided we had to go. It talked about amazing water and beaches (this is the number two beach in the world according to someone), with rocks that glowed in the sunset. It was amazing, even though you can see the weather only half cooperated by not actually raining on us. My only regret was that it wasn't a good time of year for camping. For $25 a day, we could have had a free camping spot and hired everything we needed to stay right on the shores of these amazing waters.....

Bay of Fires at Binalong Bay

Bundled up at the beach!

Tyler camoflagued amongst lichen-covered rocks

Who knew Tasmania would be filled with such great beaches? If only we had been here a bit earlier to better enjoy them.


So, I was planning on writing an extended entry covering everything we've done since we left Hobart... but apparently life had other plans for me. Earlier this week, when I was unpacking in Hobart, I noticed that the head of my shaving razor was missing. Well, today I found it when I plunged my hand into my bag and proceeded to shred the end of my right middle finger on it. So, since I now effectively have a club of bandage for a finger, I think that I will give you an abreviated version of what we did from Hobart to Port Arthur. And, for the record, I'm blaming all my future typos on my injured finger... even after it heals.

So, after visiting the street market in Hobart, we headed over to Thrifty to pick up our rental car. And, let me tell you something, its really, really cute. We don't have any pictures of it, but this is what it looks like. And, since its a manual, Sarah is unable to drive it... so it's mine! All mine! Bwahahahaha! Actually, I've never driven a car this small before (much less a manual on the left side of the road), but its a lot of fun, especially on Tasmania's windy roads which give New Zealand a run for their money.

Anyhow, we imediately headed north from Hobort to make our way to the Tasman Pennisula, at the end of which lies the old penal colony of Port Arthur. On the way, we stopped to see a blowhole... which of couse wasn't blowing. Plus some other impressive rock formations along the coastline.

But, before reaching Port Arthur, we had one more importnat stop the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park. There, we were able to feed kangeroos, see wallabys, check out some kookaburras, along with other woldlife native to Tasmania.

First off, when people think of Tasmania Devils, they think of fierce creatures or the Warner Brother's character. But, in reality, they are really, really cute. Here's what we saw...

Not so fierce.

Oh, and look, here we are feeding kangeroos! There's nothing like having a kangeroo eat out of your hands. Well, until they grab your hands with their clawed paws!

And, this bird was a real show-stealer for us. It's called a Frogmouth. They look like Owls, but aren't. And, as you might guess, they defend themselves by pretending they are branches.

After exploring the park, and taking in their birdshow, we where back on the road to Port Arthur. One of the things we've quickly learned about Tasmania, is that its a lot smaller than New Zealand. Generally, driving from point A to point B on New Zealand took 3 to 4 hours. In Tasmania, the trips are generally 1 or 2. So, it wasn't long until we were in Port Arthur.

Unfortunately, the only place we could afford was a bunkhouse in the Pprt Arthur campgrounds. And, since we don't have sleeping bag, that would later prove to be a very cold experience. But, there was no time to worry about that, because we had a Ghost Tour to catch!

As you probably all know, Australia started out as England's penal colony. Well, during that time, Port Arthur was Australia's penal colony. So, to end up there, you had to mess up bad enough to get shipped to Australia... then mess up again to get shipped to Port Arthur. As you can imagine, Port Arthur has a long and sordid history. Which, in turn, means it has a ghost tour.

Suitably, it was downpouring for the entire duration of the tour.

Now, we didn't have any major ghost sightings, but the tour was still a creepy introduction to the grounds of Port Arthur. The guide took us through the old church, into the parsonage, into the basement of the doctors house and other similar creepy locations while telling us stories about murders that took place on the prison grounds, and popular ghost legends surrounding the prison. Oh, and I volunteered to hold the lantern at the tail end of the tour group... Boo!

See any ghosts?

I still think I heard singing while we were in the basement of the prison doctor, too.

The next morning, after spending the night curled together for heat on a single bunk with only our sleep sheets to keep us warm, we awoke under menacing grey skies. Luckily, the skies were suitable for exploring the grounds of Port Arthur in daylight. We took a daytime tour to familarize ourselves with the ground (in daylight), then a boat tour to see the port itself and the imfamous Isle of the Dead (where the prison graveyard was).

Port Arthur in the day light.

Possibly the most fascinating part of Port Arthur was the Model Prison, so named because it was modeled after a prison in England that supposedly had developed a way to reform even the worst criminals. It was also called the Silent Prison because prisoners (and even guards) weren't allowed to talk. In fact, guards even went so far as to cover the ground with turf and wear silk slippers over their boots so that not even their footsteps made a sound. The prisoners spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, and when they were allowed out to excerise for one hour, they had to wear hoods so that none of them would recognize each other. The only time they could speak was when the sang hymns in church three times a week and even that wasn't a pleasant experience, as Sarah will now demonstrate by standing in the cubicles that they would have to remain in for the duration of the service...

After spending the first half of the day exploring the grounds of Port Arthur, we hopped back in our car and headed north for more cheerful experiences.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Charming Hobart--Photos Added

This morning, after two nights spent in a questionable hostel then another in a cold, unwelcoming bunkhouse, Tyler and I ate a delightful Tasmanian-bred breakfast: local organic bread toasted with a delicious late summer apricot jam, more bread with some local Tilsin cheese, and our usual English Breakfast tea. All bought from a fantastic Saturday market. But I get ahead of myself.

On our flight from Christchurch to Melbourne, the inflight magazine included a section on Hobart which said something to the effect of "Hobart is happening." While I think Tasmania is a bit of Australia's whipping boy, our first day in Hobart proved it to be pretty charming.

Before we arrived, I wondered how similar and different Tasmanians (Aussies) would be from Kiwis. While they both are part of the same continent and have British roots, they do have some noticeable differences. The first one revealed itself during breakfast. The whole time we were in New Zealand, we heard about the upcoming New Zealand versus Australia rugby match to be held in Brisbane. It happens every year and must be held in each country every other year, because I think New Zealand hadn't won on Australian soil in several years. We saw interviews of players, the selection of the new team captain was leading news, and we were all primed to watch the match on Australian soil. But when we asked our waiter at breakfast if he knew when the match was, he just looked at us a bit quizzically and said it "wasn't really his thing. Cheers!" Then we asked while at the local information center. The guy there also didn't know, and he and his colleague nearby confessed that this was really "footy" land. We never did see the match, but we did see a show on Friday Night Football before going to bed. Australian Rules Football looked to be a strange mish-mash of football, rugby, basketball (it appears some dribbling is involved) and soccer. Odd sport, though one that might grow on us in the next week or so. The other difference so far (though it's really too early to make too many judgements) is that the Aussies haven't been quite as friendly so far. They're not unfriendly, but at a similar campsite in New Zealand, we had lots of random conversations while sitting in the kitchen with other travelling couples, most Kiwis and most quite a bit older than us. But here the Tassies seem to talk to each other and not pay much mind to us. But, as I said, it's too early to make any firm judgements.

Hobart is set on a bay with an English/nautical feel. We found our way to Salamanca Square, an old part of town with converted warehouses from whaling days that is now a hip part of town with shops, cafes, and bars. It's a neat street--curved with the buildings all built right next to each other with slightly different styles (sort of Boston-esque, maybe) and a nice park with big old trees lining the street. After wandering through Battery Point, lots of old cottages and a nice neighborhood, we wandered through St. David's Park. Interestingly, the park was originally a cemetary for early settlers that had fallen into disrepair and gotten inconveniently close to businesses and the town. Hobart decided to repurpose the land for a city park, keeping some of the larger monuments up while building walls that included the headstones. While it sounds a bit morbid, it actually felt really respectful and like a wise decision.

Old headstones in wall around St David's Park

Then we headed off for a tour of the oldest brewery in Australia--Cascade Brewery. Set at the base of Mount Wellington, the highest point overlooking the town, we got to see the original brewery, learn all about making malt (they make their own from barley) and beer brewing. Then we got to taste. While they were all solid beers (if a little light to my usual tastes), there was one standout, the First Harvest. Each year they make one batch of beer from fresh hops when they are harvested. The result a fresh, almost green-tasting beer with a lovely reddish color. It was fun to be in the right place at the right time to try something unique.

Cascade Brewery

Considered extinct stuffed Tasmanian Tiger, or Tylacine, behind the bar (actually a large, meat-eating marsupial rather than being like a tiger)

Delicious First Harvest

During the tour, we had noticed some racing-type cars going down the road past the brewery. I had a vague recollection of hearing that there was a car rally going on in Tasmania this week, and it turned out we were seeing part of the Targa Tasmania, a rally that has classic and modern cars racing throughout the country. I hadn't given it a lot of attention since I figured it would be happening in far-off places where we wouldn't be, but it was pretty fun to see many different cars passing by. However, they were all abiding by the city speedlimit, so I think it was just a time for them to get from one race to another, while waving at random fans on the street. Definitely made waiting for the bus much more interesting than usual!

Tyler and the Targa Racers

After that, back to the wharf for more fried fish than you can shake a stick at. There were three floating docks we had noticed in the morning where they sold both fresh catch of the day as well as fish and chips in many types and varieties. With our bellies now achingly full, we watched 300, grabbed a Cascade Stout at a local Irish pub, and called it a night.

Then to the market of the delicious local goodies. The Salamanca Market is a weekly affair, featuring over 200 stalls and everything from produce to jams to honey to clothes, records, food booths, bread, you name it. Picture the Pike Place Market outside and multiply by at least two. We managed to do a fair bit of damage, buying some local apricot jam, mustard, bread, cheese, corn, apples, olives, and Tyler's third hat of the trip:

Tyler looking quite dashing in his new Harris Tweed hat

Isn't he cute? Sadly, I had to pass up spicy rhubarb jam, kumquat marmalade, beetroot marmalade, verjus, elderflower juice.....and more goodies that we just couldn't possibly make it through in our remaining 8 days. But I did learn that there is wine country in Tasmania, specializing in cold climate wines including Pinot Noirs and sparkling wines, so I'll have even more to look forward to on our journey around the country!

Ninja stars, chicken burgers and Strawberry Shortcake.

First off... Before.

And after

As you may have noticed, I haven't trimmed my beard since starting the trip. As a result, I was starting to look a little Shaggy Baggy™. So, after a few drinks at the Twisted Hop (a great little pub that brews its own beer in Christchurch), I decided to do something about it. So, I still maybe be baggy... but I'm signficantly less shaggy.

The following morning, we had a few hours to burn until our flight, so we caught the trolley again, and took it to the Arts Center, a group of small artist galleries, coffee shops and cafes in the campus of the old college. After a little wandering and scoring Sarah some hokey pokey fudge, we made our way of to the Christchurch Public Art Gallery, where we saw number of interesting exhibits including Reboot, "An energetic multimedia exhibition of contemporary art from the Jim Barr and Mary Barr Collection, showcasing acclaimed young New Zealand artists alongside international luminaries." My favorite probably being a video piece involving a breakdancer spinning on his head... but I won't try to explain it further since, like most modern art, when described, it seems less "cool" and more "dumb."

Sarah on the trolley.

Then, it was off to the airport. The flights went fine, and fairly uneventful. I think that Sarah and I have both reached the point where we've flown enough on this trip that we just slip into auto-pilot for the duration: Sit in seat. Buckle seatbelt. Read book. Eat snack. Drink beverage. Use the restroom. Read book. Land.

Now, for this next little bit, I want to say before hand that I am not making any of this up. I say this because it may sound like I'm making some of these up.

As Sarah and I were standing in line at Australian immigration, there was a TV monitor that was flashing a number of things. First, it showed a picture of what looked like a pistol: "ALL B.B. GUNS MUST BE DECLARED AT CUSTOMS."

Fair enough.



"ALL KNUCKLE DUSTERS MUST BE DECLARED AT CUSTOMS." Accompanied by a picture of some brass knuckles.

"ALL BLOWGUNS MUST BE DECLARED AT CUSTOMS." With a picture of some intricately carved, dragon shaped blowguns. Wait a minute...


Finally, "ALL ELECTRIC FLY SWATTERS MUST BE DECLARED AT CUSTOMS." Apparently, Electric Fly Swatters look like small, plastic tennis rackets.

I'm just glad I left my knuckle dusters and ninja stars at home. Oh, and the guy who stamped our passport was unnaturally cheerful for someone working in Immigration. Really, a genuinely pleasant fellow.

So, then we had some time to burn in the Melbourne Airport before our flight to Hobart, Tasmania. And, at this point, I really hadn't had much to eat, so we decided to grab some burgers at Burger King... or as the call it in Australia: Hungry Jacks. Yep, in Australia Burger King is called Hungry Jacks. Pretty much everything looks the same, and the menu is the same, just the name is different. I'm not sure if you can get paper crowns either.

Oh, and while Burger Kings slogan in the States is "Have it your way." It appears Hungry Jacks slogan is "Have it the chicken burger way." To illustrate:

"Hello, can I get a Whopper Value Meal. And a cheeseburger."

"Ok, one Whopper Value Meal. And a chicken burger."

"Um, no. Not a chicken burger, a cheeseburger."

"Oh, sorry about that."

She hands me the bag, and I make my way back to the table. Sitting down, I open the bag to find a cheesbeurger and a chicken burger value meal.

The flight to Hobart from Melbourne is short. Possibly the shortest flight I've been on. So short that I couldn't even go through my usual flight routine. Instead it was more like: Sit in seat. Buckle seatbelt. Read book. Eat snack. Drink beverage really fast as the plane lands.

Early in our trip, Sarah and I realized that when we are flying into a new country late at night, its to our advantage to have a hostel booked in advance. So, before leaving New Zealand, we'd booked a room at the Hollydene Lodge, a hotel descirbed as such: "Hollydene Lodge is one of Hobart's oldest, historic buildings. It has been run as a hotel/guesthouse since it was built in 1820's. Today we continue to follow the tradition of a warm welcome and friendly service for travellers from all around the world."

Shortly after arriving in Hobart, our airport shuttle dropped us off in front of a run-down dive bar, where the slightly confused bartender led us upstiars to our small shabby room with Strawberry Shortcake window drapes. Literally. Look...

(In addition to showing off the Strawberry Shortcake drapes, this photo also shows how I've moved on step closer to my lifelong goal of looking like a British Comicbook Writer.)

The next morning though, we woke up with sun pouring through the windows and ready to explore a new country and island!