Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tasmania - Travel Notes

Based on our friends' comments about their recent trip to Tasmania to hike and see wildlife, we decided to go there 12 days. Our recent routine has been to identify where we want to go (country or region), search the web for a domestic travel agent, and ask for proposal. We request budget accommodations (usually ** or ***) and a tour that covers wildlife, historic sites, and any scheduled musical or dance performances. We specify that we don't want any animal rides. Tasmania is not South Asia and booking through a travel agency would have cost a small fortune.

Accommodations: Tasmania is a state/island crammed with small towns and national parks. We contacted a travel agent to arrange our accommodations. We stayed in self contained units - kitchen/sitting area, two bedrooms (one with a double bed and the other with two bunk beds), and bathroom. All the units were clean and relatively well equipped. The knives were usually dull. We stayed at Discovery Holiday Parks in Strahan, Cradle Mountain, Launceston. and Coles Bay (Big4 Iluka on Feychinet Holiday Park) and in Stanley at Seaview Inn. All the holiday parks had self contained units, sites for tents and campers. They were surprisingly quiet and private. At Cradle Mountain we saw wallabies and at Launceston and Coles Bay parrots. We particularly liked Seaview in Stanley with its good view, better kitchen, and speedy Internet!

The picture below from Coles Bay suggests the layout of the Holiday Park facilities with its self contained units and trees. All had laundries and barbecue areas. Over all, the parks were a well maintained campground.

For our non-hiking portion of the trip we stayed at an airbnb between Port Arthur and Holbart. The location and b&b suited us. We recommend selecting a place based on host's write up and guests comments. No place is perfect for everyone. We were happy with our choices - although an entire vacation of interacting with hosts might have worn us out.

Sunset at Primrose Sands (location of our airbnb)

What we did: On driving days we seldom took hikes (the only exception was Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain). After checking our first stop was the local travel and information centre. Typically, they were well stocked with free brochures, but the best resource was their staff.

We would tell the staff what type of walk we were looking for (6-8 km) and they would make recommendations and give us basic trail maps. Undoubtedly they make the same recommendation over and over, but we would never know it. They were consistently friendly and engaged. They were a good source for restaurant recommendations and knowing the local IGA's hours (they close early).

Our "Bible" was the 60 Great Short Walks in Tasmania, available at information offices and on-line. For the most part the trails were well marked, and the signs gave estimated times to the end of the trail. We came in consistently slower than the time estimates, but we expected that when we started. We found that the time estimates in the Blue Mountains were closer to fiction, but that may have been due to poor signage.

In Port Arthur we only went to the historic site. I had thought that we would have time to go to the Tasmania Devil Conservation Park, but we didn't. At site overlooking Port Arthur information signs told about facial tumor disease that threatens to wipe out the devil population.

Overlooking Port Arthur

A place for everyone at

the market

In Hobart we stopped at the Cascade Brewery, but decide to skip its tour.   The brewery tour was AUD 25 with a sampling of beer.  Its cafe was crowded; apparently the brewery is a popular weekend site. We did go to Hobart's other must-do activity - the Saturday Market. It was worth the hype. Broad rows with stalls selling a bit of everything: snacks, whiskey (with tasting), honey, leather goods (Doug bought a belt), and so on. Also, a fair number of buskers with limited talent. 

We arrived at the market around 10 and left a few hours later went to the Female Factory which left us little time to explore the town and its other activities.

Buying apples

Hard to resist, but probably not meant for a cold climate

I think that they have been doing this a long time

(and probably not making a lot of money)

Cascade Brewery

Food: To manage our budget and preserve our waistline we prepared most of our meals. We brought an insulated bag, which allowed us to stock up when we found a large grocery store (Launceston and Burnie). We forgot to bring spices, but most of the stores sold Indian and Asian spices that could be added to chicken. They weren't bad and Tabasco sauce helped if something was dull. The one airbnb place fed us - and we were spoiled with excellent home cooking. Stanley, Cradle Mountain, and Coles Bay had the smallest stores with limited selections. Our best meal out was the oysters and mussels at Freycinet Marine Farm.

Telecommunications: At the Melbourne Airport I purchased my mobile service at the most convenient the International Terminal.  I was told the by the service provider that they covered 97.7% of Tasmania ("It's part of Australia you know").  But Tasmania has a small population mostly in small communities and a couple of urban areas.  So most of Tasmania was not covered.  Telstra is the major mobile carrier and has the most coverage in Tasmania, but that is no guarantee.  Internet service was slow and not widely distributed.  Many towns have libraries and free internet may be available, but not wifi.  We did not visit the "American Consulates" better known as McDonalds to see if they had wifi.  We also skipped Starbucks.

National Parks: Over 40% of Tasmania is covered by National Parks.  It is possible to purchase a two month parks pass for AUD 80.  If you are traveling by car and have two or more people it can be a cost saving purchase.  It does not apply to some of the historic parks.  Best value was the Port Arthur park fee.  But remember in Australia...nothing seems to be free and bargains for few and far between.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Historic Prisons - Tasmania and Sydney

As Americans we knew that Australia started as a British penal colony, but few other details. We added substantially to our knowledge while in Tasmania.

Prison at Port Arthur - being rehabbed
Most convicts had been charged in Great Britain with robbery or a similar crime - men might be transported after several arrests, women after one. The males transported to Australia had or learned skills important to its development.

In Tasmania we visited Port Arthur and the Cascades Female Factory, which respectively housed men and women who had re-offended in Australia. A visit to both contrasts how male and female convicts were treated and the resources spent to develop these historic sites.

The Port Arthur Historical Site was probably our best travel bargain (except for the free tour of the Botanical Gardens in Sydney). The $35 AUS/person ticket included a harbor and foot tours. We skipped the former to have lunch (a reasonably priced cafeteria with lots of choices). As part of our tickets we received the name of a former prisoner and our visit started with visiting an exhibit that told his story. Our inmates' biographies reinforced two themes: most were convicted of theft and learned skills while at Port Arthur.

Next we joined our walking tour. Our guide was Colin - he moved us from place to place and told us stories of prison life and the prisoners - much better than trooping from building to building. Shortly after their arrival inmates were typically assigned to hard labor, perhaps as part of a logging team. Inmates who did not cause trouble could be trained in trades needed by the prison community or to help with the development of Australia, e.g., ship building.

The complex included a Special Prison, similar to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Its inmates lived in total silence except during chapel services. Each day they had an hour of solitary recreation. It seemed less harsh than Eastern State because of the church services and the men seemed to have access to more reading material than just a Bible.

The grounds involve a lot of walking. We spent four hours and could have easily stayed longer. We enjoyed the Government Garden, which was still in bloom, and watching the bees at work. We visited the convict-built church which could accommodate 1000 persons. It was gutted by fire in 1884. Nearby was St. David's Church, an active Anglican Church, that was built after the prison was closed.

A busy bee
Two busy bees

Prison Church
Inside St. Davids
Meredith, Guide at Female Factory
The next day we went to Cascades Female Factory in Hobart. What a contrast. Women sent to the Female Factory had a shorter criminal record than the men at Port Hobart. When the women arrived those who had exhibited good behavior on their way from England were immediately available for domestic service. The women who hadn't behaved as well and were guilty of minor crimes or who had been promoted from the "criminal class" were assigned to tailoring duties. Eventually these women could enter domestic service.Women  who had caused trouble on the voyage from England or at the factory, or who were repeat offenders were assigned to the criminal class and they did laundry for the Factory and locals. (The details of who was assigned to the criminal class and for how long vary, probable due to the limited research on the women convicts as opposed to the men.) The skills the women were taught were appropriate for domestic service, and unlike the Port Arthur inmates schooling was not available. The Factory was overcrowded and conditions were grim; 80 percent of the babies born at the Factory died within a year.

We learned the above from the Factory's brochure and our guide. The site has had little rehabilitation. It consists of only 3 of the 5 original yards. We arrived about an hour before a scheduled tour, but the site had too little information to make just wandering worthwhile. So we waited for the tour. Our guide Meredith filled in the blanks. I left with the impression that the women were warehoused until they could be moved into domestic service. Also, women were needed to help increase Australia's population. Marriage after entering domestic service apparently was not uncommon. When I asked about food (unlike Port Arthur the factory did not have a garden), I was told that the women were fed gruel. At Port Arthur the food wasn't great, but it did include protein.

The Female Factory site has fewer resources than Port Arthur. A visit of an hour is probably sufficient, but it is valuable to contrast the treatment/opportunities given to the men. Meredith insisted that the women were provided a better future than they would have had in industrial England. So did the men, but recogonizing women's worth outside the home and domestic work was over a century away.

When we were in Sydney we went to Cockatoo Island to see an art exhibit, which gave us an opportunity to visit a 3rd prison site. Our walk along the Convict Trail was a spur of the moment decision. There were a few signs, and remember observing that the daily rations contained far more protein than the men at Port Arthur. A few guards were around, but their task did not seem to include answering tourist's questions.

Touring Sydney? Remember the Botanical Garden

As we headed back from our first full day in Sydney we decided to pop into the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was large, peaceful with signs "please walk on the grass." A sign at the Garden Shop announced free tours given every day (except Christmas, Boxing Day and Good Friday) at 10:30. We went the next day. The tour, given by volunteers, was so good, that we wished that we were staying longer in Sydney to take one or more tours.. Each volunteer focuses on a favorite part of the garden, so each tour is different.(Plus repetition helps me remember.) We regretted that we hadn't investigated similar tours in other gardens that we had visited (especially in Sri Lanka).

As we walked to the garden show we saw a display "The invasion." It told the story of the Cadjgal, a story that left no question of the incredible damage to the aboriginal cultures by settlers, more correctly identified as "invaders."

The garden conducts research on ibises and cockatoos, which are easily seen in the garden..

Seeing a cockatoo seems less exotic when it is tagged

Our tour guide pointed out the strong webs made by the golden orb weaving spiders. Here are two views of spiders and there webs. The second picture shows a "golden" web.

Eucalyptus, which are native to Australia, are the country's dominate tree (there are over 700 species in Australia). Its leaves are the sole food source for koala. Note the bark shreds on the tree pictured below. Mature eucalyptus grow a new layer of bark annually; the outermost layer may be shed in long strips or as flakes.

Eucalyptus Grandis

The pride of the garden is the Wollemi Pine. Until 1994 this tree, which dates back to the time of the dinosaurs, was thought to be extinct, Now it even has its own webpage.

As I wrote this page I relied on Google to make sure that I had correctly identified the various trees. When I Googled "Bottle Trees" I found pictures of trees decorated with bottles or bottles that look like trees. Below is the flora version. The tree stores water in its trunk, which gives it its bottle shape.

Bottle Tree

Another blogger identified the tree below as a "holm oak," but I could find any information to verify this. Another website identified it as a fig tree, which seems right.

The garden also has lovely flower beds and lots of roses, some still smell like roses. We also enjoyed the statues spread throughout. We identified with "autumn," and "winter."

We took a tour of the Opera House and ate at the fish market. We took a 9:30 early bird tour of the opera house at $35AUS per person. Backstage tour is available, but more expensive. I imagined that if we went to hear a symphony or opera we would cherish the sounds beginning with hearing the orchestra warm up  The seats in the various houses had no center aisle. (Once we were in Gamage Auditorium at Arizona State and had to literally climb over seats to escape a abysmal dance performance.) The Opera House has several programs going on at any one time. If something appeals it should provide a more satisfying experience. (We chose to see "Once in Royal David's City" at the Belvoir Street Theatre - a good choice.)

Everyone had earphones - so not a word was missed

We went out of way to get to the Fish Market. It isn't convenient by bus. We had asked about recommendations as to where to have fish and the fish market was recommended. (Our internet access was poor to checking blogs for advice was out.) The fish market had loads of fresh seafood and fish, but the cooked choices were more limited. From reading reviews on the Internet - some people liked it and others didn't. I didn't.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast (no breakfast!) at Camperdown. We finished our eat-in breakfast food on Saturday. On Sunday before we headed to the airport we tried  the nearby Bion Societet. What a great note to end our stay in Australia. The owner, Greg, warmly greeted us even though it was 7:30 on a Sunday morning.. (We figured he was the owner as we watched him check the silverware.) I had soft scrambled eggs and toast with herb butter and Doug had a bacon and egg brioche burger. If we weren't leaving town we would have come back the next day to explore more of the menu and enjoy the ambiance.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Surprising Finds in Sydney

By the time we reached Sydney were a traveled out. We hadn't done any planning and left it to the city to expose itself, and as we walked this walkable city we enjoyed the unexpected.

If you are reading this before 15 June 2014 head to the New South Wales Museum to see Afghanistan Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul. The small exhibit encouraged visitors to spend time and appreciate the ancient artistry. In one room each of six cases contained the surviving gold ornaments from the graves of a chieftain and five young women. They were buried around 100 BCE.

A  crown from one of the graves

As I recall the glasses pictured below dated from the 1st - 2nd century CE were found in a store room.

My image of early Swiss hunters

From Begram 1st century CE

At the museum website you will see more pictures of the items and the Journey of the Treasures with its text and videos about protecting the collection. Our $10AUS was well spent, and the Internet has allowed us to continue to revisit the exhibit and its origins. Next stop for the exhibit is Perth in July.

What brought us to the museum was the Biennele of Sydney that ends on 9 June. After viewing the Afghanistan exhibit we called an end to our touring. We had been two Biennele sites which were okay, but not memorable. The non-memorable is not exactly true on Cockatoo Island there was an exhibit of gym equipment that used the equipment to move various objects made from found items. (Here is a 13 second video of Doug using the rowing machine.)  Another exhibit was a recreation of a Danish Village; its houses had human features. The Cockatoo Island exhibit included many videos - not of interest to us.

All those days at the gym paying off

The reward to using an elliptical trainer was a dancing skeleton

I have no idea when a cockatoo was last on Cockatoo Island. In 1839 it was established as a penal colony. A decade later a dry dock was built, ship building started in 1870, and the ship yard closed in 1992. After the prison was vacated a girl's reform school was opened. Later neglected boys were on a ship school on the island. Similar to what we learned in Tasmania, the girls were largely neglected and trained for domestic service; the boys received schooling and were trained for various professions.  The island has two trails: the convict trail and the maritime trail. Even without an art festival the island is worth a visit. (The above link is more informative than many.)

A chance to experience large machines face-to-face

As we left the Sydney tourist office we saw a sign for the Discovery Museum. I assumed that it had some sort of geological exhibit. Since it was free even seeing rocks wouldn't be so bad. Instead we learned the history of an area of Sydney, the Rocks, including an aboriginal community, the Cadigal, that lived in Sydney. It was the first time on our trip that we saw more than a few words that aboriginal people had lived in a given area. We told the receptionist how much we liked the museum and she told us about efforts to document some of the 200 plus aboriginal languages before they totally disappear. The museum provides insights into an important piece of Australia's history, which seems more hidden than its history as a penal colony.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Coles Bay: Best Tasmanian Hike and Oysters

I had visions of Coles Bay as a bustling beach community filled with seafood restaurants. Clearly, I had done no research ahead of time. With a permanent population of 200 the village had a few restaurants, two small grocery stores, and one gas station (very expensive and does not open until 9 am - If coming from Launceston stopping at  Bicheno to fill up on petrol  and buy groceries may be a good idea.)

To organize our next day's hike we went to the Freycinet National Park visitors centre. In addition to the ranger's suggestions and a brochure with information on the park's trails we picked up a book on the park's flora. It was only $5AUS - a price and content to suit our needs. It added for our experience - I wish that we had found a similar publication earlier. (We looked - they just aren't available.)  This was the last of three Tasmanian National Parks that we visited....and our $80 AUS Tasmania parks pass paid off.

We decided on Wineglass Bay via Wineglass Bay Lookout estimated to take up to 4.5 hours. We took 4, better than usual for us. (Over the course of the trip we became less sure if the time estimates reflected reality.)

As we neared the lookout we stopped to admire the lounge chair built by architecture students in 2000.

At the lookout saw this wallaby "entertaining" a crowd. Everyone was on their good behavior - they only observed the wallaby and talked to him. When he got tired of this gig he quickly hopped into the forest.

View from the Wineglass Bay Lookout.
All sort climbed the 250 meter altitude change to Wineglass Bay Lookout:  hikers with boots and walking sticks, Chinese tourists carrying umbrella to shade themselves from the sun, and beach people in sandals or flip flops.  There was a constant stream of hikers but not enough to be annoying.  We enjoyed receiving thumbs up from the Chinese tourists.

We read the sign warning us that the Wineglass Bay trail was steep.  This trail was not crowded as 95% of the hikers stopped at the Wineglass Bay Lookout.  We continued on glad that we had walking sticks. Like the other Tasmanian trails steep trails were tiring and required attention to keep from slipping, but not dangerous. (Although many of the trails could become very slippery if they were wet.)
These rocky steps go on for a long stretch
Eventually hikers coming in the other direction reported a flat area ahead. They were right. Soon after we saw our reward. Totally worth every step.
Our reward - Wineglass Bay
Another view of a top ten beach
Bird nesting on beach, his/her partner was guarding nearby.
Although we heard many birds along the trail the guy below is the only one we were able to photograph.

The return walk was easier - easier on my knees and no worries about stumbling - but tiring.
Great hike - glad to reach the end of the trail
Our hike finished we were ready to test out the Freycinet Marine Farm's oysters about 5 km before Coles Bay proper. Well, Doug was - I have no fondness for oysters. He rated these oysters the best of our trip with Stanley at 2nd best and then Sydney.  Doug ordered his oysters by the dozen and made the mistake of not returning the next day.  I had a generous portion of mussels with lemons. I more or less ignored the lemons because the chili sauce on the table was addictive.  We now understand fully the meaning of "tuck in".

Ready to tuck in and devour the oysters