Delighting in Little Things

Leaving Launceston behind, I am on my way back to Hobart for my flight out of Tassie this afternoon.  Surprisingly it’s only a couple of hours drive from Launceston straight down to Hobart so I have plenty of time to stop off and see some sights along the way.

The first one that catches my eye is the town of Perth!  I am from Perth in Western Australia, so I was not expecting to find another place named Perth in Australia, especially here in Tas – a good photo to send home.

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The drive is pretty straight, but there are a number of towns you drive through or past along the way.  A lot of the towns seem to be very quiet with buildings seemingly abandoned or closed.  I can imagine that economic times have hit these little rural towns very hard.

Further along National Highway 1 is the turnoff to a town called Richmond (not to be confused with Richmond in Melbourne).  I had read that Richmond was a great historic town to visit, so I turned off the highway preparing to make a detour.  It can’t be far, I thought, looking at the fuel gauge.  Probably should have fuelled up in Launceston, but surely there’ll be a station soon.

Well, the winding road to Richmond was long.  I kept thinking ‘surely it’ll be around the next bend’.  But I’d turn the corner and there would appear another town, a town that wasn’t Richmond.  Anyway, eventually I arrived in Richmond, having started to seriously worry about my petrol situation long ago. I breathed a big sigh of relief.

I fuelled up first and then set out to explore the town, which was indeed every bit historic.

After driving around the busy little streets of Richmond, I decided that Richmond Gaol would be my first port of call, mainly because the car park was almost empty.

I paid my $9 entry fee and embarked on my self guided tour of the gaol.  Built between 1825 and 1840, it housed not only male and female prisoners, but also the gaolor. Whilst it doesn’t take long to tour the grounds, it’s a really interesting place to visit with lots of information about the prison giving you a real glimpse into the past.

One of the prisoners of Richmond Gaol was Ikey Solomon.  He was an English criminal who because a ‘successful receiver of stolen property’.  He was tried at London’s Old Bailey in 1830 and was then sent to Richmond Gaol in 1832.  It is thought that he was the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist.  He is also the main character of Bryce Courtney’s huge novel ‘The Potato Factory’.

Anyone who’s ever stopped at a country town bakery knows that this is where you best baked treats, so I wasn’t going to pass up a visit to the Richmond Bakery.  Good old fashioned cooking.  It was hard to choose what to try, but I was glad I went for the apricot tart because it really hit the spot.

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After wandering the streets, I decide to visit the Old Hobart Town Model Village before getting back on the road.  And I’m so glad I did.  What a cute little place.  Basically it’s a large scale model of the town of Hobart back in the day, complete with funny little characters doing all sorts of things like spewing over a bridge, taking a leak, getting drunk or working hard.  I spent quite a lot of time there taking in all the little details.  Little placards give you information about what has changed over the times.  I’d highly recommend a stop here.

Leaving Richmond wasn’t such an ordeal as I was able to take a different route out of town rather than going back the way I came and before long, I was back in Hobart with plenty of time to spare.  What to do with some time on my hands?

Well, I didn’t manage to get to the Botanic Gardens when I arrived, so up the hill I went, parked and trotted off to inspect this haven on the hillside.

The gardens were established in 1818 overlooking the Derwent River.  Today, there are over 6,500 species of plants here and the gardens make a lovely place to sit back and relax, whilst enjoying the views.  Beautifully laid out, the gardens are a haven of peace and quiet – perhaps except for wherever groups of children running around playing.

The Japanese Gardens were a treat, as all visits to Japanese gardens inevitably are, with a little red bridge leading between different sections of rockeries and garden.

Glimpses of the Derwent can be seen through the trees where their branches have been shed of their leaves from the winter months.  Really a beautiful place to visit and I’m glad to have had time to fit it into my itinerary.

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After a week that went just too quickly, it was time to drop off the car, check in for my flight and head home.  I was so glad that I had finally made it to Tasmania, and like all trips like this, wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner.  I would love to make a return visit so I can drive up the west coast next time, perhaps when all the berries are in season, and fill up on some more of that awesome fresh Tasmanian food and wine.

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My advice?  Stop talking about it and just go.

 

Travels along the Tamar

I was so excited to get out and make the most of my last couple of days in Tassie, that I didn’t sleep much.  Which, as it turned out, was just another bonus, because as I decided to take an early morning stroll nearby my hotel, these are the scenes that awaited me…

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If you looked up the word ‘tranquil’ in the dictionary, these scenes would have to be pictured there right underneath.  There was a slight chill in the air, the sky was bright blue, with puffy white/grey clouds hiding along the horizon, the water still and reflecting everything in its path.

I decided to spend the day further admiring the scenery of Launceston’s waterways, by joining a Tamar River cruise upon the Tamar Odyssey.  Tamar River Cruises runs a morning cruise which departs not far from my hotel – at Home Point Parade.  Once on board, we are introduced to the crew, and introduce ourselves also, letting everyone know where we are from.  Quite a mix today, some locals, some Hobartians, some Singaporeans and some Melbournites.  We start off down the Tamar, commentary explaining the history of the waterway, local countyside and life staring at us from the riverbanks.

Morning tea is set up, and we munch on local cookies and muffins while meandering down the waterway.

The Tamar was discovered by Matthew Flinders and George Bass in 1798, during an exploration in which they proved that Tasmania was separated from the mainland of Australia.

Then, in 1804, William Collins reported it as suitable for settlement.  The river was named Tamar as a compliment to Governor King who was born on the Tamar in south west England.

On our return journey, we head to Cataract Gorge, while tasting local beers and wines.  All very civilised.

Cataract Gorge is one of Tasmania’s top tourist spots and it’s easy to see why.  The jade coloured waters at the base of the tree lined quarry rocks make for a spectacular entrance to the gorge.

Stepping off the boat at the end of the cruise, I reckon it’s time to explore the rest of the city.  So I walk the streets, which are really quite compact, and head to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Inveresk.  I had a brief look through but the bit that looked really interesting  me was the blacksmiths workshop, which was unfortunately closed due to recent vandalism!  (I believe it is now reopened, though with limited viewings).  Luckily, I was able to snap some photos from the entrance still.

Walking through the streets of Launceston is quite interesting because there are so many different types of architecture.  I found the buildings to be gorgeous and couldn’t stop snapping photos of them.  I love visiting towns where you can still see the charm of yesteryear and not just full of glittering new glass and steel towers!  I love to be able to see the history of a place, and Launceston certainly didn’t disappoint in this regard.

 

Bay of Fires

About two hours drive from Coles Bay is Binnalong Bay, home to Bay of Fires Eco Tours.  A newly created tour company, they specialise in showing you the best way to see the Bay of Fires – by water.

And I am lucky enough to be the only person on the ride today, so I have a nice personalised tour!  Aboard the custom built eco-friendly boat Infurneaux, rugged up in a massive coat and beanie, along with my scarf and jacket underneath, I sit back and wonder at what awaits me.

The Bay of fires is 28kms in length extending from Binnalong Bay in the south to Eddystone Bay in the north.  It was named by Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773 when he noticed numerous fires along the coast from the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area.  The red colour of the granite rocks lining the bays is caused by lichen.

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The tour is about two and half hours long in which time you’ll see loads of beautiful rock formations (not only those of the Bay of Fires) and beautiful clear blue water, hear all about the area and its history and, if you’re lucky, see plenty of sea life.  Unfortunately there was only one little seal playing on my time…

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The boat is designed to ensure a smoother ride, but you may want to take some seasickness tablets beforehand if you tend to suffer for motion sickness.  Also make sure you take enough warm clothes – even if if it looks like a bright day.  I had so many layers on and was still cold at times, and of course, you need to be prepared for that windswept hairstyle once you disembark the boat.

Such a great morning and I’d definitely recommend the tour!

From Binnalong Bay, back on the road, I stop in at St Helens, park my car and sit peacefully picking at my fish and chips whilst watching the seagulls circling the harbour.

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Then it’s time to get back on the road because I have another couple of hours of driving before I get to my accommodation for the night in Launceston.

In Launceston, I head straight to my accommodation for the night at the Leisure Inn Penny Royal Hotel.  It was built in 1840 as a corn mill and then moved 54 kilometres, stone by stone, to be rebuilt as a hotel over 130 years later.  It’s full of character – a sweet alternative to a big chain hotel, even if there is no lift.

It’s been a long day of driving on some pretty windy roads and I can’t wait to have some dinner and a glass of wine at the restaurant downstairs and hit the sack.

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Tomorrow is for checking out Launceston.

All Wheel Adventure

I was thankful for my early start this morning because as I drove out of Port Arthur, this is what greeted me….

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so calm and pristine.  I was starting to realise exactly why everyone who visited Tasmania was bewitched by her beauty.  It was all around you, all the time – Tassie showing you all her gorgeous faces.

As I was too early for breakfast at the Lodge, I decided to grab a bite along the way while I fuelled up the car.  Scallop pies are the thing around here.  In fact, they are world famous.  So tank full, pie in hand, I drive off down the road to find a spot to eat my breakfast.  The pie is good, a nice creamy curry sauce and beautifully flaky pastry.  I can’t remember ever eating a seafood pie before, but if ever there was a pie to represent Tassie, this is certainly it.

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And the view wasn’t half bad either….

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A short way out of town, I take a little detour and come across Doo Town where all the homes are quaintly named using the word Doo.

Just past Doo Town are the Blowhole and Tasman Arch.  I have now arrived in the Tasman National Park.  These are just two of the geological formations that you can find in the park and can be reached by car.  I stand for a while just watching the waves crash up against the rocks and hearing the roar of the water.  There are sheer drops off the top of the cliffs which reconfirms what a hard time settlers must have had coming to this place they called Australia.

After another two and a half hour’s drive, I reach Coles Bay where I am staying tonight.

This afternoon I have organised to do an ATV (all terrain vehicle) tour with All4Adventure. I am more than a little nervous, cause I’ve never done anything like this and I’m scared about gears and the possibility of falling off.  But my mind is set at least partly at ease when my guide, Tim, announces these are automatic bikes, no gears will be involved today.  YAY!

Our ride takes place inside the Freycinet National Park and once we have had a tutorial on how to use our bikes and our guide is satisfied that we won’t do any danger to ourselves or the vehicles, off we go.  The road is bumpy and filled with little rocks, and large crevices that require avoiding or at least serious navigating.  The landscape is scrubby.

There are five of us on this tour and most of us haven’t ridden before, so I don’t feel too bad.  In fact, once I got going, the ride felt quite exhilarating.  We stop along the way for short chats about the area and whenever there are some challenging patches coming up – our guide then tells us how to expertly navigate them.

Then comes the water.  Yep, there’s a large puddle in the middle of our track and Tim tells us this is a great photo opportunity.  He rides across with all our cameras in hand and then off we ride, flooring it so as to make a nice big splash whilst trying not to forget that we have no idea what to expect going through this puddle and how much of us will be submerged!

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Midway through the ride, we reach our snack stop – a beautiful stretch of beach called Friendly Beach.  The beach was thought to be named after the first encounter between European’s and the Aboriginal tribes that lived in the area.  Beautiful white sand stretches around the bay, hugging the crystal blue waters.  The sun shines on the waters, reflecting like little crystals.  It’s inviting enough for a swim, but I have no doubt those waters will be freezing.

 

Back on the bike, I feel so much more in control and find myself easily being able to navigate some of the tougher parts of the track.  I’m proud of myself.  This ride was one of the best things I’ve ever done.  I’m so glad I pushed all the ‘what if’s’ out of my mind to give it a go.  I loved it.

But I still didn’t think I was dirty or tired enough, so I jumped in the car and headed to the carpark at the bottom of the Wineglass Bay walk.  At the tourist bureau they don’t really tell you how hard the hike up to the lookout is, because the truth is, you probably wouldn’t do it.  It’s quite a hard hike up through the granite mountains and a few times I almost thought about quitting, but after a quick hit of my asthma puffer, I would launch myself off again, eager to get to the top.

Although you’d be forgiven for thinking that the bay was named for it’s shape being similar to that of a wineglass, this is not where the name came from.  It is actually a reference to the days when whales were hunted here and their blood would bleach the sands the colour of red wine.

At the top, tourists happy to have made the trek, snap selfies and look out over the bay with smiles on their faces, thinking ‘I did it’.  The walk down the hill is no easy feat either and you need to watch the ground constantly to make sure you don’t miss any of the steps or gravelly patches, but when you get to the bottom of the hill and see little wallabies hanging around the car park, it’s a nice touch.

Tired and very dusty and dirty, I arrived at my accommodation for the night – Freycinet Lodge – which is set in the Freycinet National Park.  With the daylight starting to disappear, my little hut along the end of a boardwalk looked a little creepy, surrounded as it was with lanky, spindly ghost like trees.  Inside it had everything you could want though – including nice cold beer and an even nicer hot shower!

So the hut may not have been much to look at from the outside, but the views from the bay a few minutes walk away, as the sun set into the sea….

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…stunning.

 

 

You Little Devil!

Last stop in Hobart is the Salamanca Markets.  It’s definitely one of those things on the must do list for your visit to this neck of the woods and you won’t be disappointed by the row after row of tents selling all sorts of goods.  The perfect place to go shopping and the best bit is there are loads of places to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat while you ponder that purchase.

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Leaving Hobart behind, I am on my way to historic Port Arthur.  The drive only takes about one and a half hours, but I’ve decided to make a stop along the way to check out some cute little devils that can only be found in Tasmania.  The Unzoo, the first of its kind in the world, is home to a number of devils and works hard at preserving this endangered species.

So what is an unzoo?

An unzoo is a concept born of John Coe.  The philosophy behind it is to remove the cages and management of captive animals and focus instead of building relationships between the animals and visitors and in the case of the animals, let them act and roam as close as they would to when they were in nature.  It’s basically a move away from the days when animals were simply kept in cages for our entertainment.

There are a number of devils at the park but your first stop should be to watch the video about them in the presentation shed.  I was quite surprised to realise that they were so vicious and to learn that their jaws were strong enough to snap your bones into pieces.  There is a video of a devil crunching some bones and I can assure you the sound is something from a horror movie.

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Check out the devils den if you can get down on your hands and knees enough to crawl through the tube, and you’ll pop up in a dome where you might be lucky enough to be surprised by a devil or two scratching around.  After seeing that video, I must admit I’m a little scared to see a devil’s mouth so close up – even if I am protected by a massive bubble.

But that’s nothing compared to seeing one eat in the flesh.  At the unzoo you can have the opportunity to watch a devil being fed.

Of course, there are other animals here to see and you shouldn’t miss the bird shows.

Now it was on to the historic settlement of Port Arthur.  Despite having been told the weather in Tassie can be pretty miserable at times, today – with its clear blue sky – was a perfect day to explore Port Arthur.

A small talk and guided walk kicked off the exploration before we were left to roam the grounds ourselves.

Between 1830 and 1877, Port Arthur operated as a penal settlement.  Men and women convicts, most of whom would have been poor young people from rural areas or big city slums of Britain were sent here to be punished for crimes that most of us would call trivial.

Life was harsh here and there was little chance of escape.

Shipbuilding also took place here.  It was introduced in 1834 to give the convicts a useful skill to take with them once their sentences had been finished, and only those who were well behaved or deemed to be receptive enough to take up the challenge, were allowed here.

When transportation ceased in 1853, the site saw several changes of usage – as an industrial prison, a welfare centre for aging, infirm and insane prisoners and a township, renamed Carnarvon.  The name Port Arthur was reinstated  after 1897 and Port Arthur was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2010.

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Unfortunately, the historic settlement was the sight of Australia’s worst ever mass killing when intellectually disabled 28 year old Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded another 23 here in 1996.  The tragic killing lead to the introduction of tougher gun laws in Australia.

That evening I stayed at Stewarts Lodge which was right on the edge of the Port Arthur site.  I don’t normally wax lyrical about the accommodation I stay in because it’s more about the travel for me, but this?  This was something wonderful.  My little ‘hut’ was a spacious apartment with both the bedroom and lounge overlooking the beautiful forest.  There was a gorgeous wooden deck off the lounge complete with local bird wildlife, a spa bath in the bathroom and a generous kitchen – I really should have stayed longer.  Best of all, there was no internet or phone reception.  Just like the old days!

And then when the sun started to set, OMG – how beautiful.  I walked down to the bay, a short distance from my apartment to watch the sun setting over the water.  Beautiful pinks and mauves washed the sky until the moon made its appearance over the water.  It was so peaceful and heavenly.

I was going to enjoy my one night here – with the help of a little cheese, pate and sparkling wine and some amazing views – and then tomorrow, I’d be on the road again.

 

 

A mountain of wonders

I hadn’t planned to start my day this way, with a slight panic attack.  In the early hours of the morning, I decided that with time to kill before I headed off to explore MONA, I would take a drive up to Mt Wellington, just for the sake of it.

The windy drive up the mountain was nice – it was quiet with little traffic on the roads and it looks as thought it was dawning a beautiful day.  I kept driving with the scenery changing slightly as I would my way up to the summit when I made the mistake of looking out my driver’s side window.  It was only a brief moment, but what I saw started my heart fluttering.

Looking out the window again quickly, it was clear what had startled me.  Clouds.  And I was driving up through them and above them.  It was the strangest feeling – a weird kind of ‘I’ve lost all control’ feeling.  I’ve flown hundreds of times now and I see clouds out the window all the time, but I’ve never driven up into the sky!  I started to panic and had to pull over to the side of the road for a moment, reassuring myself to continue the drive to the top.  It was weird, but it was ok.  You just weren’t used to it.  Keep going.  Something in my head told me that if you kept going, it was going to be worth it.  So I kept driving looking only at the road ahead and not out my window.  And I arrived safely to the top of the mountain.

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I can’t even describe the absolutely beautiful view that awaited me at the top.  But I can describe the cold – bloody freezing.  The thermometer in the car read 6 degrees, which made me think it would be warmer when I left the comfort of the car, but I guess being 1,269 metres above sea level and with a smattering of ice covering the ground, I should have known it would feel colder.  My teeth were chattering and my hands were numb as I tried to capture the wonder of what I was seeing with my camera.  Just as well I had thought to pack my beanie at the last minute!

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Others had the same idea as I did, so I wasn’t alone on the top of the mountain, but it certainly felt like I was on top of the world.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to top this, but the day had only just begun, so I headed back to town to swap my car for a boat and check out the Museum of Old and New Art.

I like a bit of art and everyone had been raving about MONA since its construction in 2011 so I booked myself a Poshpit ticket on the Mona Roma and off I went.  The Poshpit is a separate section of the Mona Roma boat.  You pay a little extra, but you get priority boarding and disembarkation, yummy little canapes (savoury on the way, sweet on the way back) and complimentary drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) for your 30 minute journey.

MONA is the brainchild of David Walsh, a professional art collector, gambler and businessman.  Yes, that’s right – gambler.  He made his fortune developing a gambling system used to bet on horses and other sports, which led to quite a row with the Australian Taxation Office back in 2012.  He was requested to pay $37 million in taxes from the profits of his gambling system.  The issue was sorted out in a secret deal and MONA, a world class tourism draw-card, has remained open.

The art in MONA is not going to be to everyone’s liking, but then that’s the point of art really – to generate discussion.  And there are some pieces which you may want to hide from your children’s eyes or cleverly mislabel as ‘flowers’ – if you’ve been, you’ll know which piece this refers to and if you haven’t, well here’s a spoiler….

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MONA is a day trip.  A destination.  You get there by boat, by car, by bus or by helicopter (should that be the way you roll) and once you are there, not only can you entertain yourself at the museum, but you can stroll around the grounds taking in the sculptures and the views, set yourself up for a wine-tasting, have a picnic or grab something to eat from one of the restaurants.  Sometimes there’s even music or movies!  And if you don’t think one day is enough, you can stay the night.  So if the art doesn’t entertain you, something will.

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MONA was awesome, but the day wasn’t over yet.  I took a walk around the historic precinct that I was staying in, wandering the streets of gorgeous old sandstone homes and businesses.  Battery Point is one of Hobart’s oldest and historic areas and it was named after the battery of guns that was established on the point back in 1818 as part of Hobart’s coastal defences.

Rumour has it that Hollywood actor Errol Flynn was born here in 1909 at Queen Alexandra Hospital.  Andrew Ingliss Clark, the principal architect of the Australian Constitution also lived here at Rosebank Cottage.

Taking on Tassie

Whilst travelling in Europe last year, I was asked a number of times about different cities and places in my home country of Australia.  What upset me about this was that I had never visited them myself and couldn’t talk about them.  Those who live in Australia, or have traveled there themselves, know that Australia is definitely not a cheap country to either live or travel in.

It’s a sorry state of affairs to find that it’s cheaper to travel overseas than to travel in your own country.  You could get a week in Bali for the same price as it costs for a couple of nights in the South West of Australia (Margaret River region) or a flight over to one of the other capital cities.  But that’s the way it is.

So while I was living in Melbourne and living so close to most of the other capital cities in Australia (I’m a Perth girl), I made the decision to make sure I visited them.

One weekend was spent in Brisbane checking out Southbank, bussing it around the city and hanging around Fortitude Valley, but didn’t really feel any great vibe there – I even tried to leave earlier (sorry Brissy).

Getting out and about in regional Victoria was awesome – Bendigo, Ballarat, the Yarra Valley, the Great Ocean Road, Daylesford/Hepburn Springs and the Dandenongs – beautiful country.  You can spend your times tasting wine and farm grown fruits, listening to the birds, soaking up historical vibe, photography views that stretch forever and watching the sun set through the trees.

I had a weekend in Sydney where I pretty much holed myself up in my hotel doing nothing cause – well I don’t like Sydney.  But I thought I’d give it another chance.

But the one place that I was so glad to have visited was the one place that perhaps gets mocked the most in Australia.  Tassie.

Tasmania was once a part of the Australian mainland – though probably around 10,000 years ago.  Today it lies a short plane or ferry ride from Melbourne so I jumped on a Virgin Australia flight and found myself arriving in Hobart a few hours later.  I had a week up my sleeve so I hired a car from the airport and started off in exploration of the east coast of Tassie.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I had no plan really other than where I would spend each night according to how much I wanted to drive.  I had chosen the east coast simply cause one of my best friends back in Perth called St Helens home growing up and knowing that the historic settlement of Port Arthur was also on the east side, it seemed as good a side to choose as any.

Arriving in Hobart city, I was struck by the lack of high rise buildings and the small town feel of the place – particularly because the capital cities of WA, SA, QLD, VIC and NSW all have relatively large city centres with skyscrapers, apartment buildings and financial centres.  Hobart in comparison, felt cosy, personal and homely.  Beautiful old colonial style buildings lined the streets, the waterfront looked beautiful and the surrounding hills were green and alive.

I headed to my hotel, an actual hotel (pub hotel), the Prince of Wales and checked in for my stay in Hobart.  Located in a historic precinct at Battery Point, the rooms were nothing special at all (think old school, man style hotel rooms), but I wasn’t here to spend time in my room and the area couldn’t have been more charming.  It was a short walk from Salamanca Place, Brooke Street Pier, Sullivan’s Cove and well, pretty much everywhere.

My time in Hobart started with a trip to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery down near the waterfront.  The tour starts in the old bond stores which were built in the late 1820’s to relieve pressure on the Commissariat Issuing Store across the road near Sullivan’s Cove.  It stored bonded goods (such as tobacco and alcoholic spirits), grain and other material needed to supply the colony.

Standing in this section of the gallery, I am reminded that if I was standing here 180 years ago, I would have been standing in water as this is where the waters of Sullivan’s Cove flowed before the land in this area was reclaimed.

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Further inside the museum there are many exhibitions, some permanent and some temporary.  The first I came across was “Our land:  parrawa, parrawa!  Go away!” which tells the story of the local Aboriginal people and their interactions with early colonialists following the invasion of Tasmania.

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Ningina Tunapri is an exhibition focusing on the lifestyle of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and includes some great displays of boats, huts and beautiful shell jewelry.

The museum is brilliant with loads of interactive displays and hands on exhibits so that you get the best learning experience out of your visit.

There were even some stuffed little friends – the thylacine (the long extinct creature also known as the Tasmanian Tiger, though there are still some unconfirmed sightings…) and the Tassie Devil (more on him later!).

Back in the car, I take a drive a little out of town to see the Cascades Female Factory.  It was the name of the place that got me intrigued enough to visit because I really hadn’t read much on the history of Tasmania.  Operating from 1828 to 1856, this is where women convicts were sent to be imprisoned and reformed, though many never left once they entered its gates, mainly due to illness and high infant mortality.

Australia was one of the few places in the world were women convicts were sent for incarceration.  The Female Factory was the primary site of imprisonment and it sought to remove female convicts from the temptations and influences of town in order to reform them.

It is Australia’s most significant history site associated with female convicts, and though there is not much left of the prison itself, the way in which the site is presented leaves a sad and hollow feeling inside.  With the beautiful misty Tasmanian hills in the background, it’s hard to imagine the sadness and hardship of the lives of those on the inside.

It was built to hold 700 women and their children, though at its peak, there were more than 1,200 incarcerated here.

After such a sobering visit, I drove around the streets surrounding the area, past the Cascades brewery rising out of the mist, pondering how lucky we have it today and feeling a little sorry for the harshness of life that abounded in these early Australian colonies.  I was sure there were plenty more of these history lessons to come in the week ahead.

Brisvegas

Living in Perth means that you usually don’t get to see a whole lot of the rest of Australia.  Why?  Well, it’s expensive to travel in Australia, it takes time to get everywhere and it’s expensive when you get there.  Why would you spend $1,000 on airfares and accommodation to get to the Eastern States for the weekend, when you could go somewhere in Asia for the same amount but probably stay for a week?

So while I was living in Melbourne, I decided that I would check out the other cities of Australia because it’s so much cheaper to do so from Melbourne than Perth.

I decided to do a quick weekend trip to Brisbane, Queensland, in the north of Australia.  I didn’t make any plans of what to do, other than to make a hotel reservation in Fortitude Valley.

Jumping off my Virgin flight with only my carry on luggage, I headed for the Airtrain.  This is a quick rail service that can take you from the airport to Fortitude Valley in around 16 minutes (or to the CBD in around 23 minutes).  These trains run every 15 minutes – an awesome service!  Perth needs something like this!

From the train station, I made my way through the streets to my hotel.  I stayed at Limes Hotel and arrived to find really friendly staff and this cool, funky little room.

Now to explore!

Fortitude Valley is next door to Chinatown, so I stopped for a quick stroll.  There were some half-hearted markets on, but nothing special to check out.

So I decided to jump on a tourist bus to get the lay of the land and check stuff out.  Driving through the CBD, the place seemed deserted!  I thought I was back in Perth for a moment!  The high buildings blocked out the light and it was so cold and empty feeling – there didn’t seem much point in getting off the bus to explore because it looked like everything was closed and there was hardly a soul around.  The buildings were gorgeous though.

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The bus kept going.

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Would you believe the reason for this great big canopy below this office building?  It’s because due to a design fault, the windows regularly pop out of their frames and smash onto the street below.  This canopy is the stop gap measure for those windows landing on someone’s head!

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Continuing on we pass by some traditional Queensland styled homes.  These are called – are you ready? – Queenslanders.  The style is characterised by the home being perched off the ground on stilts and with wide verandahs encircling the home.  The term was coined in the 1840’s and the construction is due to the fact that Queensland suffers from tropical heat with bouts of excessive rain and flooding.  Placing the home on stilts means ventilation in the heat and protection from the flooding during cyclone season!

I hopped off the bus at Southbank (not the one in Melbourne, the two cities are not that close!) and stopped for some lunch and a glass of wine.  I sat at a restaurant with a view of the ferris wheel right outside and did a spot of people watching.  It was a lovely day and the sky was blue as anything.

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From here I decided to wander around the Southbank area.  There’s a walkway all the way round and families were out in force enjoying the day.  There’s even a little man-made beach section for paddling.

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Surely, it can’t be that far to walk back to the hotel, I thought to myself.  So I kept following the path back around.  I was wrong, but I was enjoying the view and the walk, so I kept going.

I was at least an hour away from my small room in Fortitude Valley.  The afternoon was closing up shop and the sun was starting to set on the horizon by the time I finally stopped walking.

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The next morning, I took a wander down to the shopping precinct for a wander.  I did a quick browse of the shops but didn’t find anything of particular interest.

If I had more time and had hired a car to get out of the city, I might have enjoyed Brisbane a bit more, but I only had a day and a half.  I probably didn’t give Brisbane much of a chance, but nothing seemed to entice me and I was bored.

I couldn’t wait to get back on the plane to Melbourne.

Not on your Nellie

Out in the beautiful Yarra Valley, I came across a winery I had seen on one of those TV travel shows.  But not just any old winery – Coombe Estate.  Dame Nellie Melba’s Coombe Estate.  One of the largest AND oldest family estates in the Yarra, Coombe was established in the late 1800’s by the great Dame herself, and was named after a home she had rented in England whilst performing at Covent Garden.  She paid just $2,165 for the 61 acre piece of land and It is still owned and operated by her descendants.

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Nellie was born Helen Porter in 1861.  She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a musician and was one of the most famous singers of the early 20th century.  She trained and performed in Melbourne (though probably not in the Bourke Street Mall I’m assuming!) before she headed to Europe to embark on her singing career.  Nellie found success in Brussels and performed in most European cities before she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1893.

Most famous for her role in the Barber of Seville, she was known for her flamboyance style and surrounded herself with many a celebrity friend – artist, actors, royalty and the like – even chefs (most notably French chef August Escoffier who went on to create Peach Melba, Melba Toast and Melba Sauce in her honour.

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Dame Nellie returned to Melbourne in 1912, where she taught singing at the Conservatory.  Coombe Estate has a wonderful small gallery of Nellie’s memorabilia, including paintings by Hans Heysen and her Louis Vuitton luggage – made by the great man himself.

Nellie died in 1931 in Australia.  The world came together to mourn the death of the ‘most famous woman in the world’ and her funeral was a national major event.  Cheers Nellie!

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