Sunday, March 04, 2007

Tasmania! Part Two!

Pictures for this are in the same photo set as last time. We start here.

As you may recall, we left off my Tasmanian adventures at Lake St. Clair, where I had survived Mt. Rufus and seen a platypus. I had one more day in the area, and while it was still raining, I had exhausted the life-threatening possibilities of the area, so I opted instead to take a ferry that dropped me off at Narcissus Bay, very far away from the campground with no way to get back except walk. I was following the last leg of the Overland Track, which, as I mentioned in the last post, is the big draw for this part of Tasmania. It was easy to see why this trail is such a popular destination. The area was the same sort of lush, moss-covered rainforest that I had passed through the day before. There were impressively large trees, burbling streams everywhere, ferns way bigger than any I had ever seen before, and picturesque pebble beaches (I was following the lakeshore a lot of the time). The fog and rain burned off as the day progressed, affording me some very nice views of the surrounding mountains, especially the stunning Mount Ida.

When I got back to the campground, I discovered that there was another problem standing between me and making it back to Hobart: I didn't have enough money. Somehow, in amongst all the other brilliant planning I did for this particular part of the trip (see the last entry concerning everything I wished I hadn't left behind), I had also managed to not bring quite enough money for the return bus fare. To make matters worse, my debit card was mysteriously denied by the machine in the visitor center (I still don't know why, as I had plenty of money in the account, and it worked fine everywhere else). And those traveler's checks that I had carted everywhere I went, just in case? The coach service didn't accept them, and the visitor center couldn't cash them. In the end, I payed the bus driver the last two and a half dollars of my fare in 5 and 10 cent pieces that Katherine had left in my backpack.

The next day I spent the morning shopping, doing laundry, and walking all over Hobart. I also visited the Botanic Gardens to continue the trend established in all the other cities (they were pretty nice). That afternoon I caught the coach bus heading out to Port Arthur. Some of the coach lines, like this one, serve primarily as school buses for kids who live farther away. None of the schoolkids seemed to be carrying backpacks or any homework to speak of, even though it was a Wednesday, further reinforcing our earlier hypothesis that Australian schoolkids don't actually do any work in school. On the bus I also talked to a nice German guy, Tom, who had just finished walking the Overland Track, and had been on the same bus back to Hobart as well. He and I turned out to have pretty much the exact same itineraries, even more so when we arrived at Port Arthur and turned out to be rooming in the same bunkhouse. There were a couple French guys in the bunkhouse who had also just finished the Overland Track. I spent part of the evening exploring the shoreline, ate dinner, read for a bit, and went to sleep.

On Tuesday I walked the half mile from our campground to the Port Arthur site. Port Arthur was once an old convict camp, which has now been converted into a popular tourist site. Many of the old buildings are still partially instact, and you're free to wander around the ruins, which are marked with informative signs and the like. The parts I enjoyed best were the "separate" prison, a building for troublesome prisoners that practiced a fearsome sort of psychological punishment, and the interpretive center, where you were assigned a specific prisoner from the records of the camp, and followed their story from the crime that got them transported in the first place to their fate, whether it was to die at Port Arthur, escape (unlikely), or earn their freedom.

That night I had signed up for one of the special ghost tours on the site. A guide with a lantern led us around the site in the dark, stopping frequently to relate spooky stories and stuff. I wasn't sure going in what sort of quality to expect, but the tour turned out to be very good. Our guide told us a nice mix of fascinating historical tidbits, reported ghost sightings, and things that had supposedly happened to her and other guides. I don't know if she was just a good actor or actually believed the stories, but some of them were genuinely creepy. We also got to visit several places that aren't open to the general public during the day, and just seeing the site in the dark was pretty cool. Then, when the tour ended and everyone else headed for the parking lot, I realized that I had to walk back to the campground. Half a mile, on a overgrown dirt path through the forest, with only my headlamp, in near pitch-dark. Good plan, Ian.

The next day I got up nice and early and boarded the bus back to Hobart (again). At Hobart, I parted ways with Tom, the German guy, who was continuing on to Freycinet National Park. I spent the morning wandering around the city, saw some neighborhoods next to the downtown area, and bought some fresh fruit and bread at a nice market. In the afternoon, I walked to the Cascade Brewery, where I had reserved a spot for one of their brewery tours. The place is still a working brewery, so we had to wear safety vests and glasses. We got to see all the different parts of brewing Cascade beers. One of the cool parts was how much was recycled from the brewing process. Leftover parts of the barley and hops are sold to local farmers to mix into animal feed (many of the same farmers who sell barley to the brewery), and carbon dioxide created in the fermentation process is piped to their non-alcoholic beverage factory, where it is used in the bottling process. At the end of the tour, we got to sample their line of beers. On the tour, I talked to Laura, an ex-grad student from Utah who was spending eight months in Hobart. After the tour, since neither of us had anywhere to be, she suggested we drive up to Mount Wellington, which overlooks the city, and I agreed. We stopped at a nice little cafe on the way up, where I bought a wallaby burger (it was delicious). Then we hiked out to a scenic overlook, which provided an excellent view of the city and surrounding landscape. Laura was an avid surfer, so she pointed out all the beaches with the best surf (it was a very clear day). After that, she drove me back to the hostel, where I relaxed and watched Fargo in the common room. It was kind of funny to realize I was the only person there who actually 'got' the caricatures of Minnesotan accents. Bedtime was early because the next morning I had to get up at 4 to catch a shuttle to the airport for my flight to Sydney. Four in the morning.

That's it for Tasmania. Tune in about a month from now for when I finally get my lazy self around to writing up the (presumably) final installment of this blog, my second Sydney visit and the trip home.