Monthly Archives: April 2008

My Weekend At Tassies

Posted by on April 24, 2008

I didn’t plan on spending a lot of time in Tasmania. It had nothing to do with Tasmania per se, it just had to do with my schedule and the fact is Tasmania is an island, it is really far south, and it is now autumn here in the southern hemisphere. I planned five days in Tasmania knowing that I’d never really be able to experience the whole place, but hoping that I’d be able to at least get a flavor for the place. Also, as is the case with so many of the places I visit, I really had no idea what to expect. If Warner Brothers hadn’t introduced the character of the Tasmanian Devil, it is a place that most people would have never even heard of.

I arrived in Hobart late on Friday night. While Hobart is one of the “capital cities” in Australia where most of the population lives, it is certainly not on a par with the other major cities. When I arrived at the hostel, the office was closed and it was only 9pm. (in fact, I noticed a lot of things closing down early in Hobart). One of the things I try to avoid when traveling is arriving in a new place after dark. You can’t see anything and if you have problems, the odds of getting them resolved are much less likely if all the businesses are closed.

I did manage to eventually get checked in thanks to an elderly Australian couple who had a cell phone. (They were also quick to tell me that they were planning a trip to the US and have been following the exchange rate closely the last few weeks. They locked in their trip when it was 94 US cents to the Aussie dollar). I planned on just walking around Hobart on Saturday exploring the city and signing up for some day trips on Sunday and Monday.

One habit I’ve unconsciously developed is comparing places to other places I’ve been. The place which reminds me the most of Hobart was Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both are coastal cities closely tied to the sea. Hobart has more topography than Halifax, but both have similar harbors and somewhat similar climates. There is nothing between Hobart and Antartica. While the location near the ocean ensures it never gets too cold, once you move up in elevation a bit, the temperature can drop quickly (as I was soon to find out).

Hobart is not a big city. It has a population of 200,000, which would put it on a par with Montgomery, Alabama. The temperature had dropped into the 40s and 50s (7-15C) while I was there. Which was quite a change considering I was Mungo just a week earlier where the temperature was 105F (40C). I had to bundle up in all my layers, which I haven’t had to do since I was in South Korea. (Travel Tip: no matter where you go in the world, take a stocking hat with you.) I picked up a cold in Tasmania which I still haven’t gotten over as I write this in Cairns.

My primary goal before leaving Tasmania was to take some photos of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which includes a good chunk of the land and national parks in Tasmania. I booked a flying tour of the South West Tasmania for Sunday and a day trip to Mount Field for Monday. I figured that would give me the overview of the region I was looking for.

I wake up on Sunday to get picked up at the hostel for my plane flight. I go outside to wait at the appointed time….and wait….and wait….and wait. I eventually went into the office can called the company which I booked with only to be told that the flight was canceled due to weather. Given how they reacted, a part of me thinks they didn’t even realize they had anyone signed up and just say “oh, its canceled” as an excuse. Oh well. That gave me another day in Hobart and one less day of exploring Tasmania.

This has really been a round about way of saying that my exploration of Tasmania really consisted of a single day outside of Hobard. I got a lot in during my day, but nonetheless only a single day and I really can’t say I did Tasmania justice.

Nonetheless, I got to see the major things wanted to see. The trip I took was good because it was just me and a girl from Germany on it. Unlike my tour to Fraser Island which had 28 people, you aren’t rushed and you don’t feel like you are part of a mob.

We started at Mt. Wellington, the mountain which overlooks Hobart. I was stunned at the difference in weather between the summit and Hobart. The summit was snow and ice with a really sharp wind. The wind chill up there was probably colder than anything I experienced on my trip. Colder than it got in Seoul and colder than the glaciers in New Zealand. It was very cloudy at the summit, which made for some really stunning photos of the sun over Hobart.

Beautiful photos aside, freezing my ass off isn’t my idea of fun. I packed for summer, not winter. So we hightailed it off the mountain and headed to Mt. Field National Park.

Mt. Field had the thing I most wanted to see in Tasmania: Eucalyptus regnans, or the Swamp Gum. The second tallest species of tree in the world and the largest hardwood tree. I don’t think that any particular grove at Mt. Field had the biggest examples, but what I saw was pretty damn big. Unlike most trees, you can’t age these trees by counting rings. (I don’t know if that is true of all species of eucalyptus or just these). The estimates of age are just that: estimates. The largest trees are thought to be over 400 years old, and possibly quite older.

Because they are hardwoods, they don’t seem as big as redwoods when you are up close. The trunks are thinner so they don’t give the illusion of being as large as they are. I don’t think there are any swamp gums so large you could cut a hole in it to drive a car through.

We spent about two hours hiking around the park. In addition to the swamp gums, we also were able to explore several waterfalls, one of which, Russell Falls, was rather impressive. It was a very wide waterfall with two distinct levels. The tree growth on the second level made it very difficult to see the whole thing however.

The actual peak of Mt. Field was Lake Fenton, and the very strange site of palm trees covered in snow. The weather up near Lake Fenton was almost as bad at Mt. Wellington, but not quite. There were at least trees to block the wind. People from Hobart used to come up to Lake Fenton during the winter to ice skate when the ice was thick enough. It seldom has ice thick enough to skate on now days.

We ended the day at a private zoo that had various native Australian animals including the Tasmanian Devil. The Tasmanian Devil got its name because it is a scavenger which eats dead meat. They are actually sort of cute. They have fangs and red ears. They also had wombats and koalas. I didn’t know that wombats had a thick layer of skin on their butts which they use as a shield.

I was hoping to get a glimpse of a platypus, but no such luck. It had rained the night before and the level of the nearby river was high. I guess that makes the platypuses less likely to be running around looking for food. The wombats they had were interesting. I had seen wombat road signs all over Australia, but didn’t really know what they were warning. The signs sort of looked like pigs. They are burrowing animals and the animals at the zoo are kept until they can burrow on their own, then released into the wild.

A single day to explore really wasn’t much and I’d certainly go back to Tasmania if I ever have the chance. Tasmania is probably the most unspoiled part of Australia given its distance from the mainland. While I more often than not end up leaving a place with a list of things to see and do, that list is probably longer in Tasmanian than in most places.

The Banana Republic of Cairns

Posted by on April 21, 2008

I’ve finally arrived in Cairns. Total damage done: nine days, four World Heritage Sites, and 3,030 km (1,882 miles).

I’m staying in Cairns for five days to catch up on my photos and get my things together for Papua New Guinea. I’ll also be able to spend ANZAC Day in Australia, which should be interesting. (more on that later)

The drive was long, but Queensland is very beautiful. Espcially considering I didn’t have any rain to deal with.

I was surprised by the farming I saw on the way up. From Sydney to Cairns, I saw two and only two crops being farmed: bananas and sugar cane. It sort of surprised me if for no other reason that I usually associate those crops with developing countries. I had never given any thought to the agircultural products of coastal Queensland, but I always just associated Australia with cattle, wheat and wine.

I’ve had to really change my diet while I was driving up here. Most of the food you find when driving is McDonald’s like fast food, or junk food at gas stations. I have never seen fruit being sold at a gas station in Australia. I’ve been going out of my way to stop a grocery stores more often just to buy apples, grapes and bananas.

The pronunciation of “Cairns” is the oddest linguistic thing I’ve encountered in Australia so far. It is pronounced like you are nasally saying “cans”, or like the French city “Cannes”. The city seems very reliant on tourism. There seem to be more Asian tourists here than I’ve seen in other parts of Australia. I’m guessing that is a funciton of its latitude (warmer than the rest of the country) and proximity to Asia.

Disaster Strikes

Posted by on April 16, 2008

All the effort I went through to back up my photos may have been for naught. I took everything to a FedEx/Kinkos store in Sydney to send it back to the US. So far, the package hasn’t been entered into the FedEx system to track packages, and there hasn’t been a charge to my credit card. To the best of my knowledge, no phone calls have been made, no emails have been sent to notify me of a problem. Nor has the package been delivered.

This is highly unusual for FedEx, considering I was told it would be in the system the afternoon I sent it out. The only thing I can think of at this point is that the contents were opened and stolen at the store before it was ever picked up.

Which means that every photo I’ve spend the last year taking has been lost. Gone.

I used FedEx instead of the post office precisely because I could track the package and I have never heard of something like this happening.

I’ve contacted FedEx via thier website, but I don’t know what else to do.