Saturday, April 28, 2007

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.


eddybles said...

I love the picture of you out on the dunes Sarah! Are they doing anything to prevent the roadside fatalities of the wildlife in Tasmania? I can't wait to read aobut Vietnam. Safe and happy travels.

Sarah said...

Thanks! Yes, Tyler was inspired by the drama of the long shadow on the sands.

Actually, the signs that we posted earlier from Freycinet (with the car ramming the kangaroo) are part of an effort to keep people aware of their speed and attention from dusk to dawn of the wildlife in the area. And there are the crossing signs in some places for the wombats, echnidas and others sometimes. We didn't see a lot else, but anytime you do see a wildlife show or go to a National Park office, you see information about the issue.