A Travellerspoint blog

February 2011

A Week in Tasmania

sunny 19 °C

Ben Williams has been a close friend of mine ever since we started at Worcester Sixth Form College, over two years ago. We were in the same law and history classes and have been on many Duke of Edinburgh and BELA expeditions together. So, when we discovered that we would both be in Oz at the same time, we had to meet up.
Ben is currently living and working in Adelaide but suggested a trip to Tasmania, so we got some cheap flights and off we went. Unfortunately the early flight meant Sonya and I had to be up at 4am – sorry Son!


We flew from Melbourne to Launceston (in the north) because it was cheaper; the plane was in the air for less than an hour. However, once in Launceston and after many frustrated phone calls, we discovered that the only company prepared to rent us a car (as under 21s) was based in Hobart (in the south). So, we had to get a bus from one end of the island state to the other. Only three hours, but would have been 15 minutes extra flying time and only a few dollars more to fly directly to Hobart. Talk about the benefit of hindsight!
The rest of that day we spent exploring Hobart. Tassie is often compared to England; its weather, landscape and colonial landscape give the place a very English feel. The state capital is a pleasant port city. It reminded me somewhat of Bristol, with the historic marina, old buildings and pedestrianised High Street, or ‘Mall’.


We had a dinner of fresh fish and chips from ‘Flippers’, a floating shop in the marina, and then set about trying to find a place to camp.


Eventually, after over an hour and walking several ks, we found a spot – in the corner of a park – out of sight… so we thought. (It ended up being right next to someone’s driveway, in plain view of their house. We thought that was pretty funny in the morning; the homeowner did too)

The next day we finally managed to get a car – an old Mitsubishi Lancer.

Relieved to finally have transport, we bought a road map and got under way.

This rural scene looks like home.

But with rather different wildlife.


We ventured down onto the Tasman Peninsula, in the far south east, which has many beaches and some impressive coastal scenery.

We camped that night next to a beach and were visited by many wallabies and possums.

In the morning, a short dip in the sea was very refreshing, and very cold! The Southern Ocean runs all the way down to Antarctica. Unlike the warm waters at Balnarring beach, where I was a few days previously.

Back in Hobart, we spent a couple of hours in the botanical gardens.

We both thought this looked like something out of a National Trust property.

This was a great place to camp. The reservoir is part of an extensive hydroelectric scheme which powers the state.

Typical scenery on the western side of the island. This side has very few roads and is mostly inaccessible and wild.
The few roads are very windy.

Another wild camp. After heavy rain all night, this place was flooded by the morning. The tent was actually floating… not cool.

Cascade Pale Ale – our decided favourite Tassie beer.

A swing bridge over the Franklin River, at the start of the famous trek to ‘Frenchman’s Peak’.

More wilderness.


This area is rich in minerals and has a strong mining history.


Mineral colourisation of the rock.

The extremely windy road down to Queenstown.

Queenstown is an old frontier mining town. When we were there, there was hardly a soul in sight; like a ghost town. Quite a strange place, it must have been similar to the prospecting towns in the American Wild West.


We had both hoped to do the walk up to the summit of Cradle Mountain, Tasmania’s most iconic. However the weather was that bad we decided it wasn’t worth it. Freezing cold, low mist, heavy rain; there would have been nothing to see of the spectacular scenery – we saved ourselves the misery. Instead, we visited ‘Devils at Cradle’, a conservation centre for the endangered and very vulnerable Tassie Devils.


This centre carries out research into the Devil Facial Tumour Disease, a cancer which threatens to cause the extinction of the devils. One of the guys running the centre gave us a very informative, interactive talk about the disease and their work to prevent devil extinction. Basically, due to historic bottlenecking and subsequent inbreeding, the devils are very genetically weak. This means they are unable to produce antibodies to fight off DFTD; it is always fatal and is transmitted very easily. Conservationists have to take devils from different geographical areas, quarantine them to ensure no DFTD, then breed them to create generations of genetically stronger devils which will thus be less likely to fall victim to disease.
We also talked about other, sometimes contentious, conservational issues, such as the introduction of foxes and dingoes, and how to manage the problems these cause. Sonya will be interested to learn that this centre researches, and has a display of, thylacines.

Tassie devils are the largest carnivorous marsupial in Australia.

I think they’re cute. They sound fearsome – growling, screeching and yelping – however these noises are not acts of aggression but a means of communication; they are very intelligent. Ben and I both thought that we had heard similar sounds outside our tent at night a few days before, however not sure.


Due to the foul weather, we had elected to stay in wood cabins rather than camp. This turned out to be a very good decision as it rained almost nonstop for two days.

At one point the rain turned to large hailstones, the temperature dropped to around freezing and snow fell in the mountains. In the middle of an Australian summer! We’d never get such weather in August in Britain… Tasmania is so different from the rest of Oz. Still, the place we stayed had a lounge with log fires, so we remained indoors all day drinking tea and playing cards.

An ostrich and emus at a farm.

Cup of tea – a regular ritual.


Back in Launceston, we visited a gorge with a walk around it, within the city limits. I didn’t really think much of the city the first time we were there, but beneath the surface it’s actually very pretty.


The infamous Bendigo Bank, who’s ATM stole $200 of my money.

Lots of thylacine references here.

This building looked a bit art deco – like something you’d see in Napier.

Boags was our second favourite beer.


Back on the mainland, I returned to the Mornington Peninsula and to a meal hosted by Jo, Sonya’s daughter, with Chris F., Caiden, Liam, Martin, Max and Sonya. Chris Dobbo wasn’t there but I’d met him the previous week. So, more or less, I got to meet the entire clan – albeit briefly. Still it’s good to be able to finally put names to faces.

One of the things I enjoyed most about staying with Sonya was the wide range of interesting conversations we had, something I'd dearly missed during the times spent by myself. Even fellow traveler chit-chat rarely goes beyond just that. ("Hi/where are
you from?/Where have you been?/How was it?/Where next?" ... etc). Of course, not always; now and again found myself in deep, heavy
conversations with interesting people, but that's not the norm. It's a shame my time in Balnarring was so short.

Following all the hellos and goodbyes, I met up with Ben again in Melbourne.


The next day we both caught ‘The Overland ‘train to Adelaide.


I chose the train, rather than flying, because I wanted to see some of the countryside. The scenery changes quite dramatically, from mostly green, fertile land in Victoria to much drier scrub in South Australia.

Posted by AlTiffany2 05:15 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Victoria, Part 1

sunny 25 °C

From Sydney it was a 12 hour overnight Greyhound Australia bus to Melbourne. Not an enjoyable experience, largely due to a couple of guys
behind me making so much noise all through the night. It also began to rain very heavily once we crossed into Victoria, a reminder of the
floods and how widespread the problem was.

Once in Melbourne I met my Mum's Godmother Sonya in the National Gallery of Victoria where we lunched and had a wander through the
gallery. Again, it was great to be with (practically) family again. Traveling alone is brilliant but it gives me a real boost to see a
familiar face once in a while.

That afternoon we visited the Australian Centre for the Moving Image which had a traveling exhibit on Walt Disney, featuring
some of his original sketches and videos showing how the first animated cartoons were made. It's amazing how much they managed to accomplish with such basic technology.

My time at Sonya's place in Balnarring, on the Mornington Peninsula, south of the State capital, was an ideal opportunity to take things
easy and for rest and recovery. We walked along Balnarring beach one day and had the place to ourselves, except for a couple of dog walkers and a group of friends playing cricket on the sand. It was very peaceful, and a good chance for reflection.


We went to visit Jim and Val, old friends of Sonya's since she moved to Australia. They live in a lovely house surrounded by 100 acres of land, mainly forest, in the hills, just outside the village of Gembrook.


I'd heard many stories of the numerous parrots we'd almost certainly see on their terrace, however these frequent visitors decided not to show up when I was there, despite a liberal scattering of seeds. There was plenty of birdcall coming from the forest though, and frogs making 'knocking' sounds. Walking through their vast property, Jim showed me a tree that had recently fallen down, after many hundreds of years growth. It was huge!


Over the years, Jim had cut tracks through the jungley undergrowth and, for the most part, we stuck to these. However, once we went seriously 'off piste' and (whilst not 'piste off' - sorry, couldn't stop myself) ended up scratched to bits. And with several lovely leaches to pick off.

We stayed the night there and, in the evening, it was decided that we should go out for a drive to look for wildlife. Not sure how good an idea that was, given the amount of beer and wine that had been consumed with dinner! Again, on the wildlife front we were disappointed. No wombats (the main focus of the venture), just a single kangaroo - which hopped off into the bushes as soon as it heard the V8 engine and saw headlights - and a dark, scurrying, possum-like object.

However, once back at the house, there was a huntsman spider on one of the cars. Big and scary looking, but relatively harmless.

(Sorry Jono)

The next morning Jim and I got up very early, before dawn, and went out again in the car looking for kangaroos. After a while of not seeing anything, and sunrise, accompanied by a noisy, laughing kookaburra (very Aussie), we saw some 'roos in the distance.


As it got lighter more arrived, one deciding to stand in the middle of the road.

The steep driveway back down to the house.

Later, we decided to go to a wildlife sanctuary, where they breed and take care of native species. The drive to this place, through the hills, was very scenic.


One of the most noticably different features of Australia is the trees. Gum trees give the place a very distinctive feel.

Sonya, Jim and me.

The message: Use recycled toilet paper!

The sanctuary had every species of native animal imaginable, including an excellent birds of prey display.



Lyrebird (so called because of the shape of the tail feathers); Val said one of these likes to scratch up her garden at home.

Platypus. This is the first place to have successfully bred platypusses (platypi?) in captivity.


Because Australian wildlife (and plantlife) is so unique, there is a great movement to conserve native species. Many introduced species threaten the native ones (as happens in New Zealand) and habitat destruction is another threat.

Back at Gembrook.

Posted by AlTiffany2 04:21 Archived in Australia Comments (0)


sunny 32 °C

After a short, 3 hour, flight I arrived in Sydney. Armed with a map of the city, I set about trying to find my bearings. After the many rural areas I'd been in during the past few weeks, it seemed quite strange to be walking around a big city again.

The weather was awful. Driving rain and a wind to knock one off balance. And cold. Not what I'd been expecting in the middle of the Oz summer.

Maritime museum.

That night happened to be the night of the Chinese New Year parade, so I went out and watched that with a few people from my room.


Afterwards, there was an impressive firework display over the harbour.

The dome of the Queen Victoria building. This building is connected DSCF2956.jpgto others by a network of underground passageways, originally intended to make it possible for civil servants to move around without having to face the busy streets. Now, they are filled with markets and shopping arcades.

St. Mary's Cathedral in Hyde Park.

Sydney AMP Tower.

Fountain used in the filming of 'The Matrix'.

Many of the older buildings are in the European colonial style. The city's founders clearly wanted to be reminded of home.

Quirky; 'Waiting'.

Notice the Australian and British flags in this Anglican church in The Rocks, Sydney's oldest district and site of the penal colony.

The two classic landmarks.

Old and new architecture.

The city skyline, from the Manly ferry.

I took a ferry over to Manly, on the far northern side of the harbour mouth, partly to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and also to see Sydney's skyline and harbourfront - best viewed from the water.


Manly is famous for its surf; there were many people out riding the waves.

For such a popular beach however, it was not crowded at all.

I walked over to Shelley beach, where a game of cricket was fully underway.

Considering making an Ashes comment... I thought better of it.

An eastern sea dragon on the coast walk.

Once the sun had set, giant fruit bats (or 'flying foxes', as they call them) swooped around overhead, screeching noisily. Not expecting it, the first one took me quite by surprise.

From the boat back to Circular Quay, the illuminated skyline was amazing.


My last day in Sydney I spent in the botanical gardens.

Hyde Park, on the way to the gardens.



There is a stunning variety of plants and trees here, as well as many butterflies, birds and fruit bats (literally hundreds of them on some trees - they are a bit of a pest as their swamping of certain trees can cause damage).

Sulphur crested cockatoo.


Is that a skull?


The Opera House, up close.

Circular Quay, viewed from the Opera House. This is where the many ferries depart.

This cockatoo bit me!

An Ibis. There are loads of these prehistoric looking birds. Very Ancient Egyptian.

Posted by AlTiffany2 00:43 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Dolphins and the Bay of Islands

sunny 33 °C

After another long bus ride (12 hours, with an hour in Auckland), I reached my final destination in New Zealand - the Bay of Islands. The truth's in the name - there are about 150 islands in and around this large bay in Northland, at the very top of the country's North Island.

The little towns around the bay - Paihia, Russell and Waitangi, where the country's founding document, the famous Treaty, was signed - have much cultural significance, as well as being very attractive. As a popular holiday destination, the place is surprisingly unspoilt. Many people sail around the bay and there are countless secluded places to explore. Whilst I didn't get a chance to go sailing, I had already booked to go on a dolphin cruise.

The boat left early in the morning and, after a bit of cruising around the bay in search of them, we eventually found a large pod of bottlenose dolphins. These were larger than any dolphins I'd ever seen before; up to 3 metres long. Watching out for them is exciting - you see one, then another appears in the corner of your vision, disappears from sight as you turn to look, then another one surfaces the other side of your vision. So, your head is constantly turning and your eyes scanning the water's surface. Due to their fairly random appearance, getting good photos was really hard. I have a couple of brilliant videos, one showing a dolphin back flipping high out of the water, which I will try to upload...

For animals of their size, they really are very graceful in the water.

It is possible to swim with these dolphins in the bay (I'd brought swimwear!), however this pod had babies so we weren't able to. The reason being, the babies are so curious, they will interact and play with people so much that they forget to drink their mother's milk. They are so playful and use up so much energy that the babies need to feed every 10 minutes. Whilst they would enjoy swimming with people as much as we would enjoy swimming with them, it could be potentially very dangerous for them. Still, just seeing these animals was very beautiful.

Later in the cruise we came across a pod of common dolphins which, again, had babies, so no swimming with these either. These, much smaller, dolphins were very playful - they loved swimming alongside and under the boat. Unlike dolphins kept in tanks, which I disapprove of, these ones could easily swim away from the boat if they wanted to. The fact that they chose to be around, and follow, the boat shows that they really enjoy contact with people.

I lay over the front of the catamaran, so I could see down in between the two hulls and watch the animals up close. Sometimes one would swim between the hulls, easily matching the boat's speed, and it would hold eye contact. You can sense their intelligence, almost see them thinking, considering you, as their eye fixes itself upon yours. It's hard to explain, but felt very special. One of them kept splashing upwards with its tail, trying to get me, and my camera, wet. Whilst doing this, its eye never left mine - it was clearly playing a game of 'soak the human', and enjoying it.


On the way back to Paihia, the boat moored at Otehei Bay, on one of the many small islands. From here I walked up to the top of a hill in the centre of the island, which offered great views of the surrounding islands. This really would be a fantastic place to explore with one's own boat; there are countless little corners to explore.


The following day, 5th February - the day before Waitangi Day, NZ's national day of celebrations - I walked over the bridge to Waitangi. Whilst I didn't go inside the Treaty House, where British and Maori representatives signed the country of New Zealand into existence, it was interesting to be at the site of the nation's creation.

Being the Waitangi Day weekend, there were tents, stalls and people everywhere. Some Maoris, in traditional dress, were rowing across the bay and up the river in ornately carved wooden canoes.

To escape the noise and commotion I decided to do a walk from Waitangi. This trail passes through kiwi habitat. Whilst not certain, I think I saw something on the ground which looked like a kiwi, scurry off as I approached. Maybe, but maybe not.


I certainly did see, and hear, many other types of bird, including several tui, with their distinctive call, and a pair of herons.


At one point, the path became a boardwalk to cross the swampy mangroves. Scuttling around in the mud were tiny crabs and there was a constant clicking noise coming from the mud - snapping shrimp.


On Waitangi Day itself I headed back down to Auckland and spent my last night in NZ in the same place as my first - Frienz Backpackers.
After this, it was an early ride to the airport for my flight to Sydney.

Posted by AlTiffany2 06:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Te Anau, Wanaka and heading back north

sunny 30 °C

The next few days I spent at Te Anau and Wanaka. I was supposed to have a day less than I did in Te Anau and have a full day in Queenstown. However, due to getting the wrong bus time, and Nakedbus bureaucracy working against me, I was unable to do this. Still, Te Anau is a pleasant place and I didn't really mind. Besides, there's so much to do in Queenstown which costs lots of money (not good for a penny-stretching world traveller), I probably saved myself from the temptation and subsequent disappointment I would've felt spending time in NZ's adrenaline capital. I'll have to come back and do the skydiving and legendary bungee another time; when I have money!

I didn't do all that much in Te Anau or Wanaka, just chilled out and did a few short walks.

My portable home. A bit cramped with all my stuff in there - especially when it rained and I was forced to stay inside. I was trying to camp where I could to save a bit of money on the accommodation front. However, it wasn't as cheap as I'd expected (and therefore, budgeted for) as many places charge per tent site, not per person. Thus, if 3 people were all sharing a large tent it'd cost each a third of what I had to pay. Some places it was actually cheaper for me to get a bed in a dorm room than camp!

An evening by Lake Te Anau. The float plane does aerial tours of the area and the fiords. Some helicopter tours land on glaciers. Again, that'll have to wait 'til I have money!

Interesting thing to have on the menu...

In Te Anau there is a little park with a water feature in the shape of Lake Te Anau with rocks for mountains.

A Tui bird I saw from my tent. It has shimmering black-purple feathers, a white ruff at its throat and a very unnusual call. I have videos of the call... still trying to find a way of getting them online!


Although I didn´t see any kea (alpine parrots) on the way to Milford Sound, a bird sanctuary near Te Anau had some. This place takes in injured birds and releases them when they´re well enough to have a good chance of surviving by themselves.


Another view of Lake Te Anau from a walk leading to the beginning of the Kepler Track, a famous multiday hike that I, unfortunately, didn´t have the time to do.

They´re rare and nocturnal. The only place you´re likely to see them in the wild is on Stewart Island, off the coast of Southland.

Parts of Central Otago and Fiordland have an abundance of red deer. There are many deer farms you see from the road. A pie shop in Te Anau is reported to make the best venison pies in the world. I had one every day I was there (total of 3) - they were that good!

Scenery on the way to Queenstown.

The Remarkables range - a steep ridge over 2000 metres high. Queenstown is just the other side.

As I previously wrote, I hardly spent any time in Queenstown. However, in the brief time I was there, I made sure I ate a Fergburger. These things are famous and an absolute institution for backpackers. Everybody who has been to Queenstown as a backpacker has eaten at least one - a kind of right of passage. They are exceptional. I opted for the traditional Fergburger with Cheese, but there were many others on offer. Bun Laden was the falafel variation. Cooked and made infront of you as you wait, these things are seriously good - and huge! Sometimes I feel certain things people rave about (as I´m doing now) don´t live up to the hype... Not these beasts.


Wanaka is a peaceful, pleasant, lakeside town. This is the height of summer and I was there at a weekend but, still, there were hardly any people around. I did a walk along the lakeside, past sunny vinyards, and lay on a beach which I had completely to myself.


With nobody else in sight I fell asleep there, and woke up rather sunburnt. The lack of ozone above NZ means it´s very easy to get burnt.

I had planned to go, from Wanaka, up the west coast to Franz Josef to see the glaciers and mountains up close. However, the busses were all booked up (should´ve booked earlier) so I had to go back up the east coast again via Christchurch and Kaikoura. The weather was a bit better this time though so at least I got to see these places in the sunshine. Thankfully, my timing didn´t coincide with any of Christchurch´s terrible earthquakes. Whilst looking at the media coverage more recently, the images showed places I recognised, except when I was there they were still standing.

Cathedral Square in the centre of Christchurch, with the iconic tram.

ChCh Cathedral.

The Chalice, built to celebrate the millennium.

All of my worldly posessions. Looks so small in a pile there. To last me 8 months!

I liked this.

My hostel in Christchurch, Jailhouse, was in the buildings of an old prison, only closed in 1999. Instead of a dorm, you get a cell! A really fun place, it certainly had the novelty factor.

They kept a few cells in their original state, to remind all what would happen if anyone broke the house rules...

In Kaikoura I tried a different hostel - Albatross Backpackers Inn - and was really impressed with the place. The owners were very friendly (they gave me free eggs to make an omelette for breakfast) and the facilities were great. There was free organic fairtrade tea, coffee and drinking chocolate, a herb garden for visitors to make use of in their cooking, loads of board games, guitars, ukuleles and a fantastically well equipped kitchen. In addition, they had guests´artwork all over the place, produced in the "creative corner", with paints and canvasses, and they recycled almost everything imaginable - including all kitchen food waste, which was fed to local pigs, in exchange for fertiliser for the herb garden and flower beds. Full circle.

Whilst the weather was pretty terrible when I got to Kaikoura (again! - heavy rain), it got gradually better until, by the time I caught the train the next day, there was glorious sunshine and superb views of the mountains - the first time I´d seen them.

The whole journey up the coast to Picton I spent outside on the observation carriage, getting some great views.

Very 'Lord of the Rings'-like scenery.

The sailing on the Interislander Ferry was really enjoyable. The sun shone and the sea, this time, was calm.
Leaving the South Island, the North Island is visible in the distance.

The next place on my itinerary was Napier. Totally destroyed by an earthquake in February 1931, this town was rebuilt in the, then popular, Art Deco style. When I was there the place was gearing up for Deco Weekend, when people dress up in 30s costumes and cram the roads with vintage cars. There were displays everywhere and I got the feeling that some people go a bit crazy for it.


It was certainly interesting to see the architecture as many functional, everyday buildings are in full Deco style - quite unique.


In Buenos Aires I´d met a couple from Napier, Kelly and Rick, who very kindly offered to put me up when I was there. We shared our thoughts and experiences of Argentina, and travelling in general, over a bottle of local Hawkes Bay wine, which was great. Thanks again guys.

Posted by AlTiffany2 05:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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