Tasmania – Devilishly good!

Lobster Pots
Lobster Pots

Note: This is part 1 of a 2 part article. It covers the North Coast and Cradle Mountain National Park. Part 2 will feature the East Coast, Hobart and the Huon Valley.

In 2000 I spent three months working in Tasmania and was fortunate to enjoy a few weekends exploring the capital city, Hobart, and places further afield. I recall Hobart already having a vibrant cafe scene, lively restaurants featuring modern Australian and international cuisine, beautiful coastal scenery, plus lakes, mountains and forests in abundance. Keen to get back to the Apple Isle, my husband and I organised 10 days, joined along the way by our friend Amanda.

We arrived into Devonport on the overnight car ferry from Port Melbourne, across the Bass Strait, at first light. Amanda was to fly into Launceston the following day so we had time to explore the north coast before backtracking into Launceston. We headed west as far as the charming little town of Stanley where there’s a unique geographic feature that begs to be climbed. It’s called The Nut and is an old volcanic plug with steep sides and a flat top. Attached to the coast, it rises up out of the sea to 143 meters. The views of the surrounding countryside are enormous.

Looking back at The Nut, Stanley, Tasmania
Looking back at The Nut, Stanley, Tasmania

We plied our way back east along the coast road, stopping at leisure to see the scenery, take in the brisk, fresh air and stretch our legs. Another volcanic plug, the only other in Tasmania, is in Table Cape Geological Site, more well known for its large-scale tulip growing. It being autumn, we did not get to see the dramatic rows of flowers grown side by side in fields forming colourful stripes across the slopes of the cape.

Then we came to the lively little town of Penguin, named because of the numerous penguin rookeries along the coast. The only penguins we saw were the ones adorning, shops, signs and rubbish bins as well as the Giant Penguin, a very tall fibreglass statue representing what is really a very small penguin (formerly known as a Fairy Penguin – now called the less-interesting Little Penguin).

After a night in Launceston and a trip to the airport to collect Amanda, we headed to Cradle Mountain National Park. Halfway there the rain came and it seemed it would never stop. We passed soaked villages and crossed swollen rivers but the sun finally shown just before sunset and our arrival at our lodgings for the next two nights.

We rented a cabin at Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village, just outside the park. It was perfect and warm – a lovely heat lamp in the bathroom – with a full kitchen so we were able to prepare some of our own meals. On that first evening we took advantage of dinner at the cozy Hellyer’s Restaurant. The standard of the meals was high with the Wallaby rump being a table favourite.

The next day we chose to walk the Dove Lake circuit which we did at a leisurely pace, punctuated by snacks and photo stops. The walk can be done in three hours but we stretched it out to just over four. The track itself is easy to follow and fortunately, the rain of the previous day had not caused any serious mud! Vistas of Cradle mountain went in and out of cloud and we passed through different terrain and types of forest along the way.

Cradle Mountain National Park is a part of the UNESCO declared Tasmanian Wilderness, covering an area of over 1 million hectares. It constitutes one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world. We only scratched the surface with just one walk and a little side loop near the lodge. A week would have done it more justice.

So, we left the park yearning for more and headed for the East Coast and then down to Hobart and the Huon Valley.

Annual year-end review of books on the night stand

Another year is nearly over and the rotating door for books that is my night stand is sporting a lovely and mostly new crop.  A few of them are travel guides recently borrowed from the library and some of them were on the night stand last year, but are at least started. Some from last year’s list were never read but instead moved to the ‘maybe next year’ pile on the bookshelf. And others still are purely for reference and have ben returned to their place in the cabinet.

Those in the ‘maybe next year’ pile have no inherent faults. It’s just that some books need to be saved for the right occasion, like reading on long airplane trips.  Such books need to be not too big to carry around on a trip of 4 or more weeks, but big enough to last the holiday. If, like me, you like to catch up on the year’s films while on a long flight, a moderately long book is sufficient even for the gruelling 12 and 14 hour trips from Australia to North America or Europe. And if, like me again,  you don’t have holidays where you sit around by the pool in a lounge chair reading books, but instead walk for several hours a day and just want to close your eyes and put your feet up when you get back at night, you’ll know that outside of planes and airports, not a lot of leisure reading actually gets done. My on-ground reading tends to be of the travel boos and local information guide variety.

Really big books like Barbara Kingsolver’s La Lacuna (512 pages) need to be savoured over time.  I needed to have a few days break and go back a page or two to catch up and really understand where I had left off while reading this one. It was worth the effort and a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

Smaller books like the Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines (293 pages) are good for reading on the tram or bus to work as they can be chucked into the handbag or lunch box quite easily, and held with one hand while dangling from the commuter strap waiting for some young punk to give up their seat for the nice grey haired lady (fat chance). I enjoyed the writing in this book but did not get a sense of a strong narrative, rather many well written threads.

Try as I may, I still only manage 3 or 4 books a year.   So, between studying Italian, work at the documentation factory, volunteering for the Fringe and enjoying summer and the festival season, here’s the list I will work with this year (subject to change without notice).

This year's crop - some carried over from last year

I’ve just started a blog to get organised for our trip to China

Just a 16 day trip to Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing. On a previous trip in 2007 we visited Shanghai and Beijing briefly.  Now we’re going back to experience a bit more.

Visit my China Revisited Blog and subscribe if you want updates from the road.

That was the year that was – 2010

How lucky am I that last year, 2010, was one of mostly ‘highs’ for me.  Even some of the lows brought unexpected moments of bitter-sweet melancholy. And that’s a good thing in my book.  The idea that we must always be happy is such a western concept. Times of sober pensiveness are important aspects of a life lived in the real world.

So, the year is over.  Here’s how it stacked up for me:
  • I had the great fortune to spend time with an old friend who was in Adelaide for a few months to see her mother out of this world. We shared cups of tea and meals and more than a few laughs to help her through the dark times.
  • I spent 5 whole weeks with my big sister Annie in Italy where we studied Italian, spent time with our wonderful and generous relatives, consumed fabulous food and drink and made some new friends. Basically, it DID NOT SUCK at all! It has been years since we have had such a carefree time together, probably since our childhood or maybe our early 20s at a stretch.  We may never get the opportunity again given we are at opposite ends of the world, so I am going to savour that  5 weeks for a long time.
  • My husband and fellow adventurer, Roo, joined me for a second 5 weeks in Italy, mainly Naples/Amalfi Coast and 3 glorious, slow-paced weeks around Sicily. We were blessed with great weather and friendly folks at every turn. Sicily rejects the stereotype of a dark, secretive, dangerous place. And it can not be rushed.
  • On the work front I was incredibly challenged with an interactive forms design project and completed some work that a colleague and I can be quite proud of.

Some obvious highs and lows there I guess. But I can tell you that the lows were valid, important experiences that seemed insurmountably difficult at the time, and from which I learned a lot.

And now 2011 is already lining up some interesting times. Here’s hoping that I’m up to it!

Cheers!

Desperately seeking downtime

Another day of work (Wednesday) then we are off to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for 5 nights.  A quick break to make a long overdue visit with Roo’s mum and a chance to not have home chores to occupy us.  It’s all work lately and my body threw a fit last week.  A bit of R&R is in order.

I’ve booked an apartment with kitchenette near the beach.  The place is built around a lagoon-style pool and there is a cafe by the water.  I predict walks at the beach, meals in Mooloolaba (Hot Pippis was good last time) and a day in Noosa.  Some markets, some hanging out with Hilda and some reading by the pool.  Maybe visit Mel’s folks. Not much else.  Desperate for downtime.

San Pedro de Atacama, Peru – 6 May 2009

Hola Chicos!

Well, we got to San Pedro de Atacama on Sunday night and checked into a quite unexpectedly cool accommodation…A mud brick little private cottage!

The town is all made of adobe and with no measurable rain in the last few years is unlikely to wash away.

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San Pedro de Atcama, northern Chile
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San Pedro de Atacama
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San Pedro de Atacama
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San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile
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San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile

We are at 2400 metres altitude in town and have done some day trips that took us over 4000 metres.  Andrew was fine up at El Tatio Geysers and was bopping about disappearing into the mist taking photos.  I however was taking it very slowly and had a bit of a tight headache until we came down a bit lower.  Puno/Lake Titicaca should be interesting, altitude-wise!

The geysers were pretty amazing.  We had a 4 am pickup at our hotel and a 2 hour very bumpy minibus ride with other weary travelers to the geyser field.  There is also a thermal pool that one can swim in which is one of the highest in the world. Let me remind you that we were over 4000 m and it was minus 10 celcius.  But I am proud to say that I took the plunge and was warmer there than in three layers of polar fleece, 2 pairs of wool socks and boots. Andrew, as ever, took photos!

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El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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On way back to San Pedro de Atacama from El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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On way back to San Pedro de Atacama from El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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On way back to San Pedro de Atacama from El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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On way back to San Pedro de Atacama from El Tatio Geyser, Chile
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Valle della Luna, San Pedro de Atcama, Northern Chile

That was today.  Yesterday afternoon we headed out to the Vale de la Luna which as the name suggests, was quite lunar!  We stayed for a sunset like you only see in the desert!  Really fabulous rock formations and canyons and in the distance, the view of 8 or so volcanoes, 2 of them active.

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Valle della Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile
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Valle della luna, San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile
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Valle della Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile
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Valle della Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile
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Valle della Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile
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Valle della Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile

Food – it has been pretty good here!  Interesting courtyard restaurants with tourist oriented food. Well executed chicken, fish and beef dishes with local twists like the addition of Quinoa (a grain) and local herbs and spices.

Today´s empanadas were (as my nephew Gram says) nearly as big as your head! Muy Grande and hand made of course.

Tomorrow night we have an overnight bus ride to the Chilean coast to the town of Arica, where we will relax a few days at the beach before charging feet first into Peru!

Until our next instalment, keep well and stay away from pigs!

Cheers, Lou and Roo

Santiago Chile – 3 May 2009

We are in Santiago and getting ready to fly to San Pedro de Atacama (Calama) this arvo.  Our flight from Mendoza to here was canceled as it is a small airport with  no health screening facilities for the Swine Flu.  So we had a fantastic bus ride during daylight hours over the Andes!  It was really beautiful and potentially breathtaking over the high pass (over 4000 meters).  All the foreigners had to have a temperature check.

We have only had one empanada here as there are some good cheap restaurants here.  I had some Patagonian lamb and have had some seafood which is quite fresh here. We have been to Valparaiso, which is colourful but very ratty looking and dirty.  A real shame because it has world heritage status.  Santiago is actually very nice and has a great, clean and safe metro.

Of course we have been taking heaps of pictures, particularly of markets and architecture.

Ciao for now.

Lou & Roo

Mendoza Argentina – 29 April 2009

First let me apologise for my typing on a spanish keyboard with different characters and some of the letters worn off!

Greetings from Mendoza Argentina, wine country.

The vuelta de empanada continues.  We would like to say we have not had a day without an empanada but that would probably be false. However some days we have had two lots to make up for it.  By far, the best we have had was a Quatros Quesos (4 cheeses) in Puerto Iquazu!  It had delicate pastry and inside were the 4 cheeses: manchego, cream, parmesana and roquefort!  Had to be tasted to be believed.  The super-chilled Patagonian beer washed it down perfectly! And it topped off a pretty grand day of walking around the falls at Iguazu!

There have been other highlights and Andrew is attempting to photograph them before we scoff them down. Refer to our Flickr page for photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lou_roo/sets/72157619047932933/

Empanadas seem to be found in the loftiest restaurants as well as the humblest corner stores.  Most advertise that they are Artesanial indicating that they are home made on the premises by a master!

We have had other food.  With a large Italian heritage, there are pizza and pasta joints everywhere as well as the ubiquitous ´Parilla´ or charcoal grills where huge sausages and slabs of meat are cooked.

Our hostel in Buenos Aires had a live music night up on the rooftop garden on Saturday and the did 10 peso (less than $5 Aussie) Beer and Churi Pane.  Churi Pane is a Big sausage (Churi) in a crusty bread roll (Pane).  It was great value and we went back for seconds.

Sunday night we went to a more fancy Parilla with our friend Amalia and her husband Gustavo.  They introduced us to some fantastic Argentine Malbec wines.

Deserts are pretty special here too.  Flan is very popular as is ice cream called Helados here.  We have sampled a few flavours.  Another unique food is a sweet breakfast spread called dulce de leche kind of like a thick caramel spread.  Of course it is also a helados flavour and as a filling in chocolate covered cookies.

So although this is a vuelta de empanada, we are by no means restricting our diets.  And we have done other things besides eat!  We have been to the falls at Iguazu, and in BA been to the MALBA (Museo del Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) museum, seen the strange National Library, been to Evita´s mausoleum at Recoleta, seen the Botego torso sculpture and the giant flower in the park, walked the modern Puente de Mujeres at Puerto Madera strolled Calle Defensa on Sunday for the San Telmo Feria (markets), and visited La Boca briefly (it was very touristy so got a bus the hell outta there).  There are paintings from both Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera at the MALBA for my fellow fans!!  Oh and we spent a day in Colonia Uruguay, the ciudad vieja which is World Heritage listed! Very charming indeed and an hour´s ferry ride away frm BA. Photographer´s paradise!

We are hoping to do a short bike ride around the Maipu wine area tomorrow befor heading off to Santiago Chile on Thursday.

We hope this finds you all well.

Cheers for now.

Lou & Roo

3 weeks and one day ago

That’s a sad sight for a wannabee blogger. It’s too late now to add much, except to say that we have been away. I had limited internet access while away as we stayed in a cabin on a hill near Apollo Bay and spent our days hiking to waterfalls and admiring the scenery along the Great Ocean Road. At night we ate, then slept. We slept in. It was glorious.

Then we spent a few days in Melbourne. So much to see and do, fabulous laneways and alleys full of graffiti and little shops and restaurants. Pelligrini’s for pasta and watermelon granita. Queen Vic Markets, National Gallery of Victoria, Chinatown and the amazing Chili Chicken of Dainty Sichuan. Wow, it nearly blew our heads off.

I can’t wait to go away again…but where?