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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Launceston: Politics and Hikes

First, some political theater from Launceston. The sticker below was on a vacant shop window. As we took the picture a couple kept looking at us, but didn't ask what we were doing. The state elections were four days off (the Greens lost seats), so they may have assumed we had an agenda.
The business? "Cash advance centre" IMO not a loss
Further on we saw an advance polling place. We walked in and talked with an election judge about voting in Tasmania. Voting is mandatory (AUD 250 fine). All Australian are registered as voters at age 18. Within Tasmania on Election Day (always a Saturday) you can go into any polling place and vote.
Campaign ads include a  statement of who paid for the ad and the name of the spokesperson. Direct attacks on individual politicians (by name and without permission) by political opponent can result in a criminal conviction.  Parties can run ads against a specific politician (see the picture on the left - markedly more negative than any other ad that we saw), but it appears limited to the State Prime Minister candidates.  Advertising ends two days prior to the election.

And there is true political theatre, a satirist ran as "Fast Freddie" and campaigned on killing off the iconic Tasmanian Devil, turning the top 300 meters of Mt. Wellington into a duty free zone, and other "outrageous" policies to address Tasmania's problems.

The helpful staff at Launceston's Tourist Information Center suggested hiking in Cataract Gorge that was short drive out of town. We had no trouble finding the gorge; it is a major recreational area with well manicured lawn, peacocks, and a swimming pool. After the long Rocky Cape hike we wanted something less stressful. The name alone of the Zig Zag Track was enough to keep us off that trail. The Duck Reach Trail sign suggested that we might have a challenging walk. We were wrong. The trail was good with a sturdy fence between the trail and the gorge. A hiker we met on later hike accurately described it as a pleasant walk

A view from the trail
A tight squeeze
The construction sign was to cordon off work being done on a lookout, not to signal a premature end to the hike. We walk around the fence and continued on to the Duck Reach museum housed in the area's first power station. The museum described the process and impact of introducing electricity to a community and the process used to generate electricity.

The pipe pictured below was the end of a 850 meter tunnel drilled through rock to provide water to the power station.

The only wildlife we met on the trail
Another view from the trail
Next we went to the Tamar Island Wetlands Center, which was one of our favorite walks. A boardwalk took us through the wetlands  - no climbing or walking on stony surfaces. The brochure was far superior to others that we had received. It told us what to look for at numbered points on the trail. It pictured the most common birds in the wetlands and we saw many. We took pictures of unfamiliar plants to ask the volunteer staff if they could identify them. The walk, the brochure, and the conversations with the volunteer staff made the walk memorable.

Perhaps a marsh harrier - it wasn't about to give us a close look

Bindweed - a threatened species in Tasmania

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stanley: A Great Place to Chill Out

Why was Stanley on our itinerary? None of our many tourist pamphlets did not mention it. Once we checked into the  Stanley Seaview Inn our questions disappeared. Our unit was roomy and comfortable with Wi-Fi (first for us in Tasmania). Our balcony overlooked a pasture where 18 sheep grazed; in the distance we could see the bay. As soon as I turned my camera on the sheep pictured on the left looked up, kept me in her gaze, and nudged the one on the right to get picture ready.

We went to the village center to make a dinner reservation – a good idea on a Saturday night in a small town with few options. As we strolled past the 19th century cottages on Stanley's Heritage Walk the term “tidy town” came to mind. At village had two blocks of shops and cafes. The gift shops were pleasant and free of junky souvenirs. On Saturday afternoon the foot traffic was light, and by Sunday it had nearly disappeared. Not only a tidy town, but a bit of a sleepy one.

At dinner Doug had lobster, but it was served cold, same as Prince Edwards Island in Canada. I had "river trout" that looked and tasted like salmon. No complaints, just unexpected. After dinner we walked behind the town cemetery to see “fairy penguins” (Eudyptula minor) that come to a rocky beach to roost. To avoid predators the penguins come after dark. So not to spook the penguins our flashlights were covered with red plastic. I did take a picture – there didn’t seem to be ill effects, perhaps because we were alone and there wasn't lots of flashes.

The next day we went to a Rocky Cape National Park to take the Rocky Cape Circuit Walk. We accessed the trail at Route 227 and combined four trails routes (the trail to Postman’s Pass, the Inland Track to Tinkers Lookout,  Brandfordia Spur to Cathedral Rocks and the Coastal Trail back to Postman's Pass) for a total of 8 km. The hills were beautiful (think Sound of Music), but trudging on the gravel path scarcely inspired singing. The Brandfordia Spur Trail was seriously overgrown and we had to be careful not to lose site of the trail – not a popular walking path. In fact we saw no one hiking and no other cars in the car park at the information sign near Burgess Cove. The day was windy, but once the wind stopped the flies came out.  The signs said that the hike would take 2.5 hours. We took 4, about what we expected. The views were good and the hike was never dull. We appeared to be the only ones on the trail that day.

The first part of the hike was through these hills

Note the trail surface! Hard on the feet

Lost in the weeds?

Keeping our eyes on the ground had its reward
Bass Strait is in the background

On our way to Stanley we stopped Burnie’s Makers’ Workshop where up to 36 artists and crafters share work space. Of the artists who were working on the Saturday we visited were a paper folder, a paper maker, a fiber artist, and a bead maker. We talked to Ritchie Ares Dona the paper folder. He uses discarded materials to make various objects. The work takes patience, attention to detail, and vision to transform “rubbish” and create art.

Ritchie Ares Dona with his tools
An outer paper vase and an
inner glass vase
In addition to the artists the Makers Workshop houses a pleasant cafĂ© and tourist information. The staff at tourist information were particularly helpful. It was they who alerted us to the fairy penguins in Stanley, and SteamFest 2014 in Sheffield.  They even gave us a red transparent paper to put over our flashlight when viewing the penguins coming in at night.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cradle Mountain Tasmania

At Christmas friends went to Tasmania to trek on the Overland Track. Their enthusiasm was contagious even if their stamina wasn't. They convinced us to spend more time in Tasmania and to fit in a lot of hiking. Our planning started with Cradle Mountain in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and the beginning point for the Overland Track. It was the most remote area of our trip, and we were advised to buy our provisions before we came. We stayed at Discovery Holiday Park; its small provision store (it had milk but no fruit juice) that closed at 6.

On our way we spotted a sign for a scenic view. Given the line of cars parked by the side of the road we assumed that stopping was worthwhile. It was. A short hilly climb took us to the Vale of Belvoir an ecologically valuable grassland that was inhabited by aboriginal people 18,000 years ago. Our views included a river, mountains, foliage and grasslands.

Background center - Cradle Mountain
Ready for autumn
The benefit of traveling  in Australia at the beginning of fall is that it is neither too cold or too hot. Some flowers and plants still are in bloom. At the same time we missed the orange glow of Cradle Mountain's autumn foliage and the hills filled with spring wildflowers.

Cradle Mountain is a large expanse of a temperate rain forest, which has been invaded by foreign plants. Some trails included long board walks; they cover fiber optics, water and sewage lines. We could stop to admire the vegetation instead of watching where we placed our feet.

Board walk at beginning of Crater Lake Walk

Pandani (looked like yucca to me) 
Three different foliage snaps
We took two walks: Dove Lake Circuit (6 km) and Crater Lake via Wombat Pool (8 km). The Dove
Dove Lake

Lake walk was relatively level and bug free. We took 3 hours for a 2 hour hike - lunched, watched  large birds that we couldn't identify, and took pictures. The Crater Lake walk was hilly in sections and had more scenic variety. One rocky outcropping (just before Wombat Pool) was particularly dicey. Younger nimble hikers didn't hesitate a second in scrambling down. Both trails were well marked and easy to follow. The signs give a time estimate instead of distances - in our case the time estimates were aspirational.

Crater Lake

The trails were totally trash free. Undoubtedly the result of consciencous hikers. But on one walk we followed this ranger as he picked up stray tissues and other debris.

At Wombat Pool not a wombat was to be seen. This was hardly surpising since it was midday. Much of the wildlife is nocturnal and we're not!

Since our accommodations were in the forest we saw wallabies as dusk. As we left a kangaroo crossed the street in front of us. Too fast for a picture, besides I found it hard to believe that I wasn't watching a Disney Cartoon.

A few logistic notes: During the day Cradle Mountain has free shuttles to take visitors in and out of the park. The stops are at the various trail heads. On the Dove Lake Circuit a few signs pointed out the foliage. I didn't take notes or pictures. I assumed that there would be pictures of the common foliage and animals at the Visitor Center. There weren't. The large birds at Dove Lake had a distinctive call, but we found nothing on the birds of the park nor a ranger to ask. Park rangers and private companies offer guided interpretive hikes. The ranger led hike was $35 for two hours, so we skipped it. As for nocturnal animals I suspect that our accommodation's camping areas would have rewarded a patient, alert camper.