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Mole Creek is a
pretty laid back town. Like most small Tasmanian towns (and they
are all small) it is stretched out along just one or two streets.
On Friday nights outside the town's only pub a bunch of bicycles
gather awaiting their owners. They all have an essential
attachment that even our bikes haven't got, a stubbie holder.
Maria Island (Maria is pronounced Mar-eye-ah, as in Maria Carey)
has an interesting European history. After two periods of use as
a convict settlement (abandoned because it was considered too
soft for the prisoners), a guy called Diago Bernacchi set up a
company to develop the island's resources in the boom of the
1890's. Within four years the company was broke. After setting up
several other failed companies he had another go in the boom of
the 1920s', where punters again lent him the money to set up a
cement works on Maria island. As soon as the operation was up and
running it was realised the price of cement would need to double
for it to ever turn a profit.
In the centre of the Arthur Pieman
wilderness is Corinna, a tiny dot on the map.
Once a busy logging, sawmilling and gold rush town, the dense
local forests have almost completed reclaiming the site. Corinna
boasts "the modern convenience of electricity" for 3
hours a day! The "town" is really a few log cabins and
a kiosk of sorts, selling Cadbury Chocolate, Pieman River hats,
bumper stickers and not much else. The cabins are wood fire
heated, and you only have hot water while the fire is burning.
Queenstown has been a mining town
on the Tasmanian west coast for more than a hundred years. The
surrounding mountains are still almost devoid of trees giving the
town an eerie and sometimes beautiful moonscape appearance,
courtesy of the original copper smelters. For much of the time
the mining operations have been fairly marginal. Government
subsidies, relaxation of environmental controls and other
assistance have kept operations going, and the town bustling. The
towns' only remaining supermarket (the other one burnt down just
prior to our arrival) was doing a roaring trade, and apparently I
needed to book 2 weeks in advance to get my hair cut there. The
optimism of the locals is almost as remarkable as their drawling
accents. As our mine tour guide says, "if someone would just
put in 'nough money we'll knock the top off 'ere and turn all
this low grade ore to copper". If only someone would invest
a few hundred million dollars and not get a return, then they can
literally move mountains. It doesn't seem so ludicrous when you
realise that this summarises Queenstown's entire history.
is just a fabulous place. Situated off the NE corner of Tasmania
in Bass Strait, Flinders is about 100k long and 40k wide. It is a
magnificent mix of granite peaks, clear unpolluted beaches and
flat grazing country. From a cycling perspective the roads are
great (even the dirt ones), there is precious little traffic, the
scenery is brilliant, and the size of the island is just about
perfect to explore on day rides. It can get a bit windy at times,
sitting right on the 40'S latitude line. Its also a pain in the
bum to get there (as well as expensive), giving Flinders one of
its best features: at the height of the holiday season, there are
virtually no tourists! Most of the visitors were either visiting
relatives (ex pats) or riding bikes like us. The locals are
extremely friendly, and there are some great camping spots.
Apparently its also a great fishing destination, like I'd know.
Hobart is Tasmania's premier city.
On my first visit after flying straight from Sydney, Hobart looked like a modest
town. After two months in Tassie Hobart looked like a thriving metropolis. The
traffic certainly seemed commensurate with a major city. Hobart has it's shops,
malls, restaurants (yes!) and supermarkets, but not too many tall office buildings.
In fact it has very few new buildings of any description. On our day of departure
we rode for 3k from the dead centre of town before we hit the bush. Those naming
the roads had a bit of fun with the main freeway to Hobart's south. Hobart may
be a fine lady, but I had no intention of riding up her Southern Outlet.
Linda and I got to test out their elaborate public transport
system. As Linda's tram disappeared out of view, I headed off by
bike. I made the 12k trip back to our motel a full half hour
before Linda. The tram network provides some interesting cycling
opportunities. A not uncommon method Melbourne cyclists use to
turn right is to cross to the oncoming tram tracks, peddle
headlong towards an oncoming tram while waiting for a break in
the oncoming traffic. There is only ever going to be one winner
when playing chicken with a tram.
We arriving at Victor
Harbour just south of Adelaide on a Sunday and there
were people crawling all over the place. We must have been
overtaken by forty jet-skis on the approach roads. Even on the
following Monday there were lots of day trippers from Adelaide
wandering about the Norfolk Island pines and around the horse
drawn tram to Granite Island. The tram's a modern fake, and the
vegetation on the island bears little resemblance to what was
there before European settlement. Still, that doesn't stop the
tourists, and it doesn't make the blue ocean scenery any less
relaxing. The town water tastes and smells like it's just come
from an indoor swimming pool. Next to the bridge crossing the
town's main creek is an indicator board:
Bacteria: Very High
Fecal Coliform: Off the scale.
I guess the "No Swimming" sign wasn't working.
The first sight we had of Quorn
was it's cemetery. Soon after the town proper came into view. It didn't look
much different. Quorn looks like my idea of an outback town. Broad dusty deserted
streets, three or four pubs, a couple of tiny shops, a few old houses all under
a baking sun. The magnificent old sandstone railway station is by far the towns'
most impressive structure. Now supporting a tourist railway, at first glance
it seems like a train ride to nowhere. The brilliant scenery through Pitchi
Richi pass changed that perception very quickly. It's stunningly beautiful,
by train or bike.
Port Augusta has
the feel of a frontier town. "The Crossroads of
Australia" didn't seem to have too much else to offer. The
CBD was a bit ramshackle, with a fair few seedy looking
businesses, and not many others. Lots of aborigines loitering
about the streets, some drunk, but many waiting outside the
courthouse. Gangs of school aged kids wander in and out of the
local shops on a school day. Very few other people can be seen
around town. Port Augusta is trying to promote itself as a
tourist destination with ads on local radio, TV and in various
publications. They're fighting an uphill battle. The slogan they
came up with "why not?" is all too self explanatory. I
filled in their survey form:
Q: Why did you choose to visit
A: En-Route to somewhere else. No way around.
Q: Which attractions of Port Augusta did you visit?
A: The post office? (There are no other attractions)
Q: Would you recommend a holiday in Port Augusta to anyone else?
A: Sorry, No.
Q: Is there anything you could suggest that would make Port
Augusta a better holiday destination?
It's not that bad a place, but the
only reason to go there is because you are going somewhere else.
Riding into Coober Pedy
it looked like the film set from Star Wars or Mad Max. Turns out
it *is* the film set from Mad Max. Coober Pedy is a very rough
looking town. It seems no-one ever thinks they'll be there for
very long, so they don't get too carried away with setting up a
livable home. It doesn't help that grass can't grow in the area
(no water), and places you'd expect to see lawn are just red
dust. Almost everything in town looks pretty run down and
ramshackle, though the absence of any grass exaggerates this a
bit. A lot of the commercial buildings have limited tenancies.
The bakery is closed and it's building for lease and sale.
Cyclists don't perceive this as a hallmark of a civilisation.
I was a bit apprehensive riding
into Alice Springs. We listened to ABC radio's
forum program where the alcohol & crime problem in Alice was
discussed. All very politically correct. They went right out of
their way to avoid saying they were all aborigines, almost to the
point of not mentioning it. As forecast, we rode into a town
littered with empty wine casks. Most properties along the main
street are surrounded by either cyclone fencing or high
(unclimbable) pool fencing. Plenty have "beware of the
dog" signs that are no idle threat. The hospital car park is
particularly well fortified. Alice's CBD is booming. Lots of
prosperous looking people buying lots of things in thriving
businesses. Lots of tourist shops, backpackers and the like as
well. But these arent the only thriving businesses,
everything else seemed to be cooking too.
from Kakadu the traffic gets steadily heavier on the Arnhem
Highway. Through painstaking research (asking at the Humpty Doo
takeaway) we discovered a back route to Howard Springs avoiding
the Stuart Highway. There is a lattice of very good sealed roads
criss-crossing the bush surrounding Howard Springs and Humpty
Doo, about 30k south of Darwin. These roads look very strange in
that they don't seem to go anywhere, just straight through virgin
bush. As 5:00pm rolled around the traffic stream heading from
Darwin steadily increased, and by 5:30 it resembled a suburban
access road during rush hour. A few strips of manicured lawn
strewn with palms and the occasional real estate agents' signs
reveal the whole area has been subdivided into very small acre
holdings. Just big enough to build a suburban house in the scrub
so it isn't visible from the road or your neighbours' place. Sort
of a suburb for people who don't want to live in a suburb.
Timber Creek on
the western fringe of the Northern Territory is little more than
a police station these days. In fact, it has never been much more
than a police station. For 50 years prior to World War II Timber
Creek was the limit of navigable shipping on the Victoria River.
It was an important supply line to the local homesteaders, who
felt constantly under threat from "wild blacks". Their
fears were probably well founded, as this is magnificent country
and not something anyone would give up without a fight. The
police station was installed primarily to "tame the
blacks". Some unkind souls might suggest it's still here for
the same reason. Other than the Police station Timber Creek has a
24 hour bar/pub that seems most profitable on pension day.
certainly threatened to live up to it's reputation as a rough
mining town and a hot spot for racial tension. Riding into a town
covered with litter along unguttered streets with little grass
and lots of red dirt and dust does not present an image of a town
with much civic pride. There must have been three or four hundred
aborigines squatting around burning refuse piles on the outskirts
of town. Enough to have a makeshift football game on the town
oval. The caravan park is opposite the pub, and the sounds of the
local aborigines' mostly verbal confrontations filled the air day
and night. The local police periodically show up to rudely (and
ineffectively) bark a few orders before driving off. The most
repulsive aspect was the group of white caravaners standing at
the gates watching as if it were staged for their entertainment.
Broome was once a
small pearling port. Now it's a bustling tourist town bursting at
the seams with caravaners and four wheel drives. While pearl
boats still operate around Broome, they avoid coming into town.
We managed to meet a pearl boat worker (not involved in the
tourist industry) who hates the place. He prefers Derby for it's
better sense of community. Broome is renowned for it's cultural
diversity. This is true. You can meet caravaners from Sydney,
Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne. Every building in the old
Chinatown district is now a retail outlet selling western tourist
trinkets. For all this Broome is a beautiful place. Swimming in
the turquoise waters of Roebuck bay is magnificent, like floating
in liquid pearls. It's even a beautiful turquoise colour when
viewed underwater. Cable beach is also beautiful, even if it does
have more than three people on it. A lot of tropical beaches can
be mud flats at low tide. Here the gentle surf curls in over
clear white sand all day long, as the sea birds skim the updrafts
of the waves.
The coast at Kalbarri 600km north
of Perth is fabulous, with towering cliffs and huge waves crashing into the
local beaches. Surfing these beaches is not for the faint hearted. In fine weather
the waves average a good 3 metres. If you get dumped by one, it's not a soft
beach sand you're thumped into, but solid rock. Still, surfing was extremely
popular, and the quality of the surfing was just incredible. Pipelines, 360s,
S maneuvers, surfing the top of the wave, back down the face to do it all again.
This was the first ride we saw, and was not at all untypical. Maybe one ride
in twenty ended in a wipeout. These surfers take the understandable precaution
of wearing helmets, but some of these kids rely on nothing but their skill and
their blond locks for protection. They'd sit and watch the small three to four
metre waves roll past waiting for something suitable.
Peppermint Grove is a leafy
Perth suburb comprised almost entirely of million dollar mansions
and private girls schools. Overlooking the beaches and marinas on
the Swan river, I guess it is no surprise this is such an
affluent suburb. You have to ride very carefully here, as Audi's
have right of way.
Lincoln is a beautiful port town on the tip of the Eyre Peninsula.
The streets are lined with Norfolk pines, the houses dot the hills overlooking
Boston Bay and the offshore islands. It's just such a beautiful place, you can't
help but wonder why they thought a large green grain loader would be an aesthetic
enhancement. Grain storage and export is one of the town's main industries,
the other being tuna fishing. Just south of the main town is a burgeoning canal
development. Lots of new "luxury" houses crammed next to each other
around the canals on flat reclaimed land. It's mostly for wealthy Adelaiders
to cruise across the Spencer Gulf for the weekend in Paradise. 700km is a bit
too far to drive but 200km is a practical sailing distance. The marina facilities
are excellent. So good in fact that moorings which should be crammed with cabin
cruisers and luxury yachts are filled with every vessel of Port Lincoln's sizable
fleet of fishing trawlers.
We reached the River Murray at Morgan
in South Australia. Its a sleepy village with nice parks and a
string of houseboats. Like most South Australian towns at the
wrong end of the Murray, the drinking water looks and tastes
terrible. Sort or browny, muddy and very heavily chlorinated.
Every now and again green algae spots form in the bottom of our
water bottles. We usually need to clean them out with bleach. The
two spots growing in my spare bottle disappeared without trace on
contact with the Morgan tap water.
strikes me as a strange sort of place. As a planned city built by
and for the needs of government it has a lot of curious design
features. There are lots of large elaborate buildings, lawned
areas and parkland gardens, strangely laid out circular streets
and a certain undefinable blandness. The whole city is like a
university campus. The design of Canberra make it almost
impossible to find anything. For starters, there are no
convenience stores, at least none in a convenient location. We
stayed in the northern suburb of Dickson, which was where some
bureaucrat in the dark ages of the white Australia policy decided
all the ethnic food restaurants should go. There are now over 30
restaurants serving Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Japanese,
Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese (all of which serve Laksa), Italian,
Polish, American (KFC), English (Fish & Chips) and Australian
cuisine. Just to walk in this district after dark and smell the
wonderfully spicy aromas is a culinary thrill.
Sydney can be a
fabulously beautiful city. Sometimes human endeavours like the
Sydney Opera House can enhance the natural aesthetics. Most of
the time though they turn out like the Redfern housing commission
towers. Maybe I'm just disappointed the trip is over but Sydney
seems to represent the worst of modern urban life. The traffic,
the selfishness, the greed, the opulent housing, the envy and the
shopping malls. I could imagine myself living in every other
Australian city we visited, even Melbourne, but not Sydney. The
thing that struck me most here is that everyone seems to be angry
about something pretty much all the time. I guess in a few weeks
I won't notice it. By then I'll be as mad as everyone else.
You've been in Tasmania to Long when:
- A few cars pottering about
town seem like heavy city traffic.
- Broccoli that looks vaguely
green seems nice.
- Three people on the beach
- You start to crave fresh
- The sun going down before
9:30pm seems like winter.
- The pace of life in Anglesea
(a "quiet" holiday town on the Great Ocean
Road) seems frenetic.
- A business suit looks
- Everyone sounds like they are
speaking too quick.
Wilson's Promontory in southern Victoria
is without question the best place we've seen in Victoria. It is mountainous,
rugged and had superb coastal scenery, beaches, rainforest, lowland forests,
buttongrass planes and best of all extensive hiking trails. We spent three days
hiking, camping and washing (ie a brief swim in the icy surf) in this spectacular
country, that resembles a cross between Hinchinbrook Island and the Wilds of
Tasmania. For those who know, this is high praise. The only downside was the
rain, which the local mountains seem to bring on all too easily. There is something
strangely therapeutic about hiking in the rain.
The Walls of Jerusalem
are absolutely magnificent!! While a lot of the attraction is no
doubt in the naming, the park itself offers some spectacular
scenery and great variety of vegetation and landscapes. The park
rises from the upper reaches of the Mersey river, covered in
dense eucalypt forests that are heavily logged. As you climb into
the mountains the trees get steadily smaller and more scraggily.
Higher still and the Solomon's Jewels's are reached, a chain of
glacial ponds. These are ringed by a smattering of Pencil Pines,
a slow growing tree unique to this area. Pencil Pines have a
distinctive cone shape, not completely unlike a pencil tip.
Across a few alpine meadows and the track climbs again, up to a
saddle known as Herrod's Gate. After climbing up and through the
gate, another world reveals itself. The country looks magical,
like a Tolkein landscape, with glacial lakes, button grasses,
mosses, cushion plants (rocks coated with a slow growing moss
making all the rocks look like lounge cushions) and strands of
Pencil Pines being the only trees surrounded by sheer mountains
or "walls". Beyond this amazing world the track climbs
further through the Damascus Gate to Dixon's Kingdom - a sloping
realm of Pencil Pine forest and grassland, also ringed by wall
like mountains. Eventually the track climbs the penultimate Mt
Jerusalem, where all the realms, and the thousands of surrounding
glacial lakes of Tasmania's high central plateau sparkle in the
sun as far as can be seen. As you can tell, I liked it very much.
Mt Field National Park
includes some lowland rainforest and waterfalls, which are
reasonably impressive in their own right. However, for the
benefit of winter sports the park also encompasses a significant
highland section as well. In summer the beauty of this area has
to be seen to be believed. Crystal clear glacial lakes and tarns,
bonsai-like miniature alpine plants, precipitous cliffs,
extensive pencil pine and snow gum stands create a spectacular
environment. All this is nothing compared with a clear moonless
and cloudless night in this high country. There is no
electricity, and thus no nearby lights, and very little
atmosphere, so the clarity of the stella display is absolutely
Kakadu was once
described by a former foreign minister as "clapped out
buffalo country". It is now a world heritage conservation
park, and well worth of such lofty status. The park encompasses
just about the entire South Alligator river system, and contains
significant samples of all the Top End environments and
ecosystems. In the park's south the South Alligator river rises
in "the sickness country". Indigenous people believe if
you spent too long there you'd get sick. Subsequent mineral
exploration revealed extensive natural deposits of copper,
uranium, lead, mercury and arsenic. I'm feeling sick already. The
Arnhem Land plateau or "stone country" is a sandstone
tableland fractured in places by deep gorges. A sheer escarpment
separates this spectacular feature from the low woodland and
wetlands. During the wet water pours off the escarpment through
the famous falls into brilliant plunge pools. It's hard to find
an unflattering analogy for this beautiful pandanus lined
tropical paradise, but it does remind me of the set from
Windjana Gorge in the Kimberly is one the
most spectacular in all the gorges of northern Australia. It cuts right through
the Napier range, a 350 million year old limestone reef dividing the Kimberly.
The permanent water is teeming with freshwater crocs, the trees filled with
squawking corellas and the gorge's sheer walls which literally glow red in the
afternoon sun, are lined with stalactites. It's also easily accessible by foot,
once you've negotiated the 100km of rocky dirt track to get there.
Just off the western coast of Cape Range
National Park sits Ningaloo reef, a brilliant stretch
of coral reef extending more than 100km down the coast. The most remarkable
thing about this reef is not the spectacular coral (though there's plenty of
that), nor the abundance of marine life (heaps of that too), rather the proximity
to shore. Turquoise Bay is well named, and I'd have thought this was a beautiful
spot if I'd never stuck my head under the water. However, it's best feature
lies below the waves. You only need to swim a few metres off shore and you're
among the coral and reef marine life. Lovely formations in quite shallow water,
ideal for the optically challenged novice snorkeller. Apparently it's also good
for those with more experience lying face down in the water.
The Royal National Park just south of Sydney
protects a small but significant stretch of bush and eastern coastline. Riding
past the coastal cliffs and through thick untouched forests it's hard to believe
this park is regularly burned down, currently every four years or so. Maybe
I'm being parochial, but after a wet Sydney winter its lush and green making
it one of my favourites.