Friday, January 16, 2015

A Tassie-tastic Time

Henty Sand Dunes
Tasmania, the "West Virginia" of Australia (no really, they joke about people from Tassie marrying their cousins and stuff).  It's an amazing place with some very neat things to see.  We started our 6 day tour with Under Down Under on Friday (Jan. 9th) in Hobart.  I'll do my best to give an interesting overview of our week, but I'll be honest we saw so much you'll really only get the highlights.  I hadn't really anticipated how much colder it would be down south, and although I had thought I'd packed a pair of pants, it turns out I did not.... I was lucky enough to be able to fit into a pair of Rith's pants so I wore them on a few of the colder days. Summer in Tasmania is not as warm as you might think.

We had a really good group with a nice mix of people, including 5 Australians (I count Rith in that total since he's lived here 95% of his life). To be honest the first day wasn't that impressive in terms of what we saw, but we stayed the night in this great little town called Strahan and saw a beautiful sunset.
 I had not been offered the previously mentioned pants yet and was freezing cold while eating our BBQ dinner.  When the time came to head out to view the sunset I ended up wearing my beach towel wrapped around my legs.  Joh found it amusing, but a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do!  Joh is a teacher from Sydney (she reminded me of my Aunt Cindy) and she hung out with Rith and I quite a bit on the trip.

The next day I wore the pants (thank you Rith!!) for our boat cruise down the Gordon River.  I always love being on the water, so I thoroughly enjoyed that day.  We cruised out into the Port Macquarie Harbor and saw the cutest little lighthouse on the edges of Hells Gates (the narrow entry to the harbor named by the convicts on their way to the Hell on earth of Sarah Island).
 We did a tour of the old convict settlement of Sarah Island and it was one of the highlights of the cruise because our guide was an amazing story-teller and made the history of the island come alive.  It's actually a rather fascinating place, in terms of its history: "This isolated island was a Penal Settlement between 1822 and 1833, established, before the more well-known Port Arthur, as a place of 'secondary' punishment, an attempt to control the uncontrollable (source)."  Another cool thing about this area of Tassie is the Huon pines that grow here.
The wood doesn't rot, and the trees don't even start to reproduce until they're 500 years old and they only grow in Tasmania, nowhere else in the world. The true highlight of the day though was attending the play "The Ship That Never Was" (it's the longest running play in Australia with over 5,000 performances) --
It's January 1834. The Frederick, the last ship built at the convict settlement of Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, is about to sail for the new prison at Port Arthur. Ten convict shipwrights have other ideas. So begins the story of an amazing escape, an extraordinary voyage and an intriguing twist in the tale of The Ship That Never Was......performing in Strahan since 1993...The play tells the dramatic and hilarious true story of the Great Escape from Sarah Island! 
There were only 2 actors in the play, so they used audience members for some of the roles which actually made the play all the more humorous (mostly because I was NOT chosen to be a character).  No one should leave Strahan without going to see this play (if you visit in the off season you'd be excused because they only perform during tourist season).  It was enhanced by having visited the island earlier and knowing more of the history of the convict settlement there, but the play would have still been entertaining without that background knowledge.

On Sunday (day 3) we did hike in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.  It was a beautiful, clear day and actually quite warm.  Travis (our guide) gave us three options for our hike: easy, medium, and hard.  90% of decided to do the medium with the option of continuing on for the harder portion if we so desired later on.  The medium grade hike was quite difficult in my opinion, so when we reached the summit many of us weren't sure if we really wanted to attempt the difficult track.  But when Travis said you can see all of Tasmania from the top Rith exclaimed, "All right everyone, let's go!"  It made us all laugh and most of us decided we might as well, we had already made it this far, we'd probably never be back, so Carpe Diem! In the end I'm so glad I did because the "hard" part (climbing and scrambling up a steep rock face) was sooo much easier (and enjoyable), for me, than the previous part.
The "summit" where we decided if we wanted to
climb up the mtn. top in this photo.
It was quite steep!
  I truly enjoyed the last leg of the hike, and the view from the top was spectacular. It was a 6 hour hike and my knee did not appreciate a lot of the terrain, but it was a great day anyway.

I had a few highlights on day 4.  The first one was that Lisa joined our morning walk around Cataract Gorge. You might remember me mentioning her and Sam a few months back -they worked at Bohemia when I first arrived in Cairns, they live right outside Launceston and it was great to catch up with her and hear how their last few months of traveling had gone.  It was a bit discouraging to hear how hard she was finding being back home and not traveling - I'm anticipating a similar fate - but it was great to see her again.  The second highlight was Bay of Fires: I have NEVER seen so many shades of blue in the water - God's a fabulous artist.
 It was incredible and I took so many photos, but it's just not the same as being there in person.  To finish off the day I got to do a Penguin tour in Bicheno to see Fairy Penguins in the wild.  You can't take pictures of them, but I've always wanted to see penguins outside a zoo (not sure when I'll get to Antarctica so this was my chance) and they are absolutely adorable!!

On Day 5 we visited the famous Wineglass Bay and also a wildlife sanctuary to see Tasmanian Devils and feed kangaroos.

On our last day we did a tour of Port Arthur, which is officially Tasmania's top tourist attraction.  When they closed Sarah Island they sent the prisoners to Port Arthur.
"From 1833, until 1853, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. Rebellious personalities from other convict stations were also sent here, a quite undesirable punishment. In addition Port Arthur had some of the strictest security measures of the British penal system.....Despite its reputation as a pioneering institution for the new, enlightened view of imprisonment, Port Arthur was still in reality as harsh and brutal as other penal settlements. Some critics might even suggest that its use of psychological punishment, compounded with no hope of escape, made it one of the worst." source
It was actually astounding how cruel prisons were back then.  They did have some beautiful old homes and cottages you could tour, as well as the remains of a large cathedral.  We didn't really have near enough time to visit everything there was to see, but it was an interesting spot.

Whew...what a trip!  Rith and I had a wonderful time and since several of our group were actually heading to Melbourne after Tasmania we were able to meet up with a few people the next week (but more on that tomorrow).  Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my tour of Tasmania!

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