To get the Hobart, Tassie's capital, I flew through Melbourne. My Cairns to Melbourne flight got in late at night, and being stingy, I decided to forgo a real bed for the night and just sleep in the airport (my flight left at 6 the next morning). I didn't sleep real soundly, but I think it was the best way to go, because I saved not only the $25 for a room, but $20 for the shuttle bus, not to mention the stress of hauling my bags all over the place.
Getting in to the Hobart airport, the very first thing I saw was sniffer dogs. Like several other states, Tassie enforces a quarantine on fruit products coming into the state. Unlike the other states, Tasmania seems quite serious about enforcing their rules. They had adorable sniffer beagles sniffing all the incoming people and baggage. Awesome.
After dropping stuff off at my hostel, I decided to explore the city. Hobart is a very pretty little city nestled in amongst tree-covered hills and a large natural harbor that services a lot of antarctic expeditions. It also feels a bit more historic than most Australian cities. Maybe it's just the sandstone construction that dominates most of the architecture, or maybe it's their weird statue obsession, but Hobart actually feels like it's seen some things in its time, unlike most of the other Aussie capitals, which could have been plopped down two weeks before. I walked along the harbor, which hosts everything from little fishing skiffs to a massive antarctic expedition cruiser to floating fish 'n chips shops, the IXL Jam Factory, so named like a century ago by the owner, who wanted to make it clear that he excelled at everything (get it? yeah, apparently puns aren't a new phenomenon), and a ton of sculptures. Really, I don't know why, but Hobart has to have about 1.3 statue installations per capita. They even erect statues, and then later add on to them and slap a second plaque on to commemorate the addition.
Back at the hostel, I talked to a Frenchman who had just gotten back from circling the island with a German and an Australian who he had met a couple days before, and also a South Korean who had flown in yesterday. That was about it for excitement that evening. The weird thing about Hobart is that even though it's a sizable city with a perky downtown district, absolutely everything closes down at 6pm. Even the restaurants. It's weird.
Friday, after packing up and shopping, I ate lunch in a rose garden, then hired a bike and pedaled via the Derwent River to the suburb if Glenorchy, which was constructed to house the workers at the Cadbury's chocolate factory located on the scenic peninsula overlooking the river. I also biked across the Tasman bridge, a massive bridge that apparently needs to get even taller from time to time, since it's a drawbridge. After that it was time to catch the coach bus to Lake St. Clair, the end point for Tasmania's wildly popular Overland Track. I wasn't hiking the track due to lack of time (it takes something like six days), but the area offered some nice day hikes, and I really wanted to see some of the wilderness that Tasmania is so popular for. The hostel (really just a bunkhouse as part of the larger campground, oddly enough, was one of the nicest I stayed at. It had a very nice kitchen area, good ambience, and I got a room to myself (thanks to the fact that it wasn't yet peak tourist season). Walking outside, I saw what at the time I thought was the fattest wallaby and joey ever. turns out it was actually a pademelon (which I didn't yet know existed). Eating dinner I talked to a very nice couple from Sydney who were making their way around Tasmania on holiday. Sitting around after dinner, I glanced out the window, only to find a possum looking right back at me with his nose pressed to the glass.
At some point it occurred to me that it was raining steadily and I had left my rain jacket in Hobart. I had also left my chlorine pills and flashlight, all of which I had not and would not need at any other point on the trip except while at Lake St. Clair. Brilliant.
The next day, after talking to a ranger at the visitor center, I set off for Shadow Lake and Mt. Rufus. It was still raining steadily, although not very hard, which was good, because any downpour would have soaked right through my hoodie/long underwear combination. Going up, the trail was frequently a stream. Not a trail with a rivulet of water running down it, no, they were directing us to walk up streambeds. At some point, the lush rainforest started giving way to eucalypt forest and scrubbier foliage, and the rain turned to snow. By this time I had taken up with a group of three who were also aiming for the summit of Mt. Rufus. They were, of course, far better equipped and experienced than me.
After a bit more walking, we hit the ridge climbing up to the summit. Now, when they had said Mount Rufus, I hadn't quite understood what they meant. Our hikes in South Australia had gone over some mountains, but there "mountain" meant "a bit of a climb and then a nice view." Turns out in Tasmania, "mountain" means "terrible visibility, gale-force winds, blowing snow that feels like pinpricks on any exposed skin, deep snowdrifts, cloud cover that blots out the sun and everything else, and poorly marked paths." Who knew? Thankfully, my long underwear actually kept me quite warm, although it would have been nice to have some gloves, and something to protect my face from the biting snow. After a while of this, we reached a high point, and decided that it seemed to be the summit, and perhaps the marker had just been buried by the blizzard in progress. The trail continued down the other side, but the hikers I was with turned back, telling me about the time they had misjudged a distance and ended up weathering a night on a mountain with no tent or sleeping bags ("I don't reckon I want to do that again," said one). I kept going down the other side. Why? Because I'm dumb. A little while later I reached the actual summit, which was marked with a massive cairn. There was one worrisome moment where I briefly lost the trail, but after not falling down the side of the mountain and backtracking a little, I found it again, and soon I was descending out of the blizzard.
Through the occasional breaks in cloud cover, I had been catching absolutely amazing views, and once I was out of the mist, the scenery hit full force. I had heard a lot about how pretty Tasmania was, but this hike was what really drove it home. I was literally stunned by how beautiful the area was. Also amazing was the sheer variety of things to see. From the barren summit, I descended into a mossy forest full of weird palm-like plants, then back into thick rainforest, then into a swampy plain, and finally back into eucalypt forests again. To illustrate in another way, I encountered the following forms of water: rain, hail, snow, lakes, ice-crusted rocks, bubbling brooks, rushing rapids, a spring burbling up right next to the path, and an underground stream (which for some reason the path walked on top of for a while).
I was incredibly glad that the waterproofing on my boots held out through the summit section of the hike, but at some point on the way back down it finally gave up, so by the end of the hike my feet were pretty wet, and I was eager to get back home. Still, I couldn't resist a short detour to Platypus Bay, so named because platypi sometimes come there to feed, and lucky hikers might get to see one. I stood there for quite a while watching the bay, and while I did see a fat pademelon feeding on the shore, there were no platypi to be found. Finally, I gave up and turned for home. As I glanced out for one last look, a rock that I didn't remember seeing before caught my eye. I turned to look, and sure enough, a couple seconds later it disappeared under the water. Holy crap I saw a wild platypus! I watched for a long time as the platypus would dive underwater to feed, then return to the surface to chew its food. I was really excited, and felt very lucky to have gotten to see it (to give you an idea, I was the first entry in two days in the logbook for platypus sightings at the visitor center).
Ok, turns out I have a lot to write on Tasmania, so I'm going to cut off and put up what I've got so far to satisfy the less patient among us. Check back in a week or so for the rest of my Tasmania adventures, and at some point beyond that, the rest of Sydney.