Wild (and some tame) life down under / Part II: Biggish cities, Tasmania and the East Coast
19.10.2011 - 08.12.2011
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While the others had a nice 8h bus trip back to Alice Springs in front of them we had booked a flight out of minuscule Uluru Airport. We said our goodbyes and boarded our plane to Melbourne. Well, plane to Sydney, actually, where we had a connection to Melbourne. Seeing all the nicely dressed business people was a bit weird. We had been out of western civilisation for a few months (Darwin and Alice hardly count as civilized...) and the people in suits and business dresses reminded us of how lucky we are, to have stepped out of this thread mill for a while. I'm not sure what kind of impression we made on them, Karmen's motto at the Rock Tour had been "You will get smelly, you will get dirty, but it’s so worth it!". Well, we certainly lived up to that...
Back in Melbourne Anna (a friend from back in Barcelona, who has recently moved to Melbourne) waited for us. At her nice home, with red wine, pan tomaca, tortilla de patata and home made Croquetas! Yummi.
So started our short visit in civilisation, we had our first shower in days and then Anna told us, that we were in visited to a party. An opening of a posh stretch of Restaurants and Bars by the river Yarra. And here our problems started. Even after abusing her washing machine, the clothes we found in our backpacks were hardly posh party garb. Well, in the end we made do, Myriam borrowed a nice dress from Anna and Andreas let himself be convinced that, the motto of the party being "Pirates" dressing up in white cotton shorts and short sleeved shirt would do. Well, there was approximately one other person at the party wearing shorts, so he wasn't the only one totally under dressed..
Nevertheless, being on the guest list got us in easily, so we whiled away between Melbourne's bold and beautiful, sipped champagne, accepted hors d’oeuvre and slurped oysters as if we hadn't ever done anything else in our lives.
After a few days in civilization (we really enjoyed staying in a proper home for a change) we moved on to Australia’s southernmost wilderness, Tasmania. We really had enjoyed Melbourne. We didn't do or see too much, just spent our time enjoying the restaurants. We also went for a nice run on the Melbourne GP circuit, to prepare for the city to sea run, which we were planning to do when returning from Tasmania.
In this nice little town, you could really feel that summer was coming, which opens up the people at any end of the world!
We landed in Launceston, with about 50'000 inhabitants Tasmania’s second biggest city. A nice small town, with nice small people. We stayed in Batman Fawkner Inn, a heritage house, in which Mr Batman (not to be confused with his cousin from Gotham City) and Mr Fawkner had decided to found a new city on the mainland. This city was to be called Melbourne later...
Launceston was mainly our stop over to get our equipment for the overland track together. We had our basic tracking gear, but for this six day walk through the wilderness we needed a tent, sleeping bags and mats, cooking utensils, better rain gear and gaiters. We were very happy to find Jenni from Wild Island Adventures. A former trekking guide herself, she now rents out state of the art trekking equipment. And not only that she also had a million good tips for our trip and offered to send all the stuff we didn't want to carry with us to our hostel in Hamilton, where we could also return the equipment. One of the nicest things she gave us on our way were her parting words: I really envy you guys.
We had become a bit nervous, that we might have picked a walk that was too hard for us, so some cheering up helped.
The Overland Track
The Overland Track was the main reason, that had brought to this remote island. It is about 70km long and traverses the Cradle Mountain National Park. The track is at not more than 20km a day not too hard. But it takes you through a region in which the height of civilisation are compost toilets and rain water tanks for drinking water. We mostly slept in simple huts on wooden berths. As there is virtually nothing in terms of resources but water, we had to carry food for seven days (one day as buffer...) with us. We did, especially considering our lack of experience, a very good job with our supplies. Nearly all our food was dehydrated, from milk powder and muesli for breakfast, noodle soup and muesli bars for lunch, to pasta, rice and dehydrated minced meat and peas; the only water we carried outside our drinking bottles was that in a few bags of tomato concentrate, two onions and some garlic.
This way, we where able to keep the weight of our backpacks down to about 12 and 16kg, including tent, etc. (and were the envy of all the other trekkers that we met on the walk). So we were ready to go!
The first bit of the track leads through rough alpine terrain. On our first day we walked through sunshine and snow along cradle mountain. After a long day with two long climbs we reached our first hut. And while we did our first look around we saw our neighbours. Wallabieeeees! Grazing directly next to the hut. We jumped to get our camera out!
Then we made ourselves comfortable in the primitive but cosy hut. One nice thing about the track is, that most people do it in the same direction and on a similar schedule. So, while you walk on your own, you often meet up with the same people you spent the last night with in the next hut. It being shoulder season we rarely were more than 10 people in the huts. Enough to give us some company and the chance to chat about last days walk and next days plans; but never so many, as to make it crowded.
In one of the following pics you can see, Jason, Steve, Steve, Dave and Alex (and Andreas) whom we also met after the trek in Hamilton, for steaks and lots of drinks.
During the first few days we were incredibly lucky with the weather. According to the locals it rains 300 days a year in this region. Out of the 60 nice days per year we had four in our week! Our second night we stayed in our rented tent (we had paid for it, so we wanted to at least try it out one!). That night the temperature dropped -5 °C. No problem for us and our sleeping bags! Even if the frozen hatch of the tent opened like a piece of cardboard in the morning we had stayed nice and warm at night!
The landscape during the first days really was amazing. But one of the most memorable moments was in the morning of the second day. We had just stopped to look around the gorgeous landscape when we turned around a black snake, about 150cm long, slithered over the path in front of us. Myriam had just time to yell and Andreas time to take one picture before she appeared in the under brush right next to the path.
The good thing about Tasmanian snakes is, that there is only three types, which all have the same venom. The not so good thing is that they are all potentially deadly. It wasn't easy to convince Myri that we would not turn around (and quit the whole trip...) and that we would not run past these bushes either, but walk on slowly... The (deadly) black tiger snake probably was several miles away before we passed the bushes nervously...
Apart from this small shock in the morning we enjoyed the walk and the landscape thoroughly. Wide plains, intermingled with rough mountains and deep blue lakes, interchanging with green brown swamps and enchanted forests. The walk offers a new and beautiful view after every other bend...
Only in the last days did it start to rain. One day it was really pouring down on us non stop. In some places the way turned into a small river, in others huge mud puddles appeared. We both sank knee deep into mud several times. Here we were truly happy about our rented (and our own) equipment: We managed to stay relatively dry, even after 10 hours of rain and wading through mud...
After a week of walking we reached Lake St Clair.
Tired, cold, smelly (did we mention that the huts had nothing but rainwater tanks and NO showers?) and very happy about our adventure. After a first celebration beer, we took the bus to Hamilton, Tasmania’s capital, where we first had a shower and then some meat and quite a bit of celebration wine with the new friends we had met on the track!
The rest of Tasmania (and a broken ankle)
We rested a couple of days in Hamilton, enjoying cheap oysters and seafood. Then we rent our second camper van to further explore Tasmania. A hippy camper!
Tasmania is very relaxed regarding free camping. We did not spend a single night in a proper camping. We just explored the beautiful east coast and stopped wherever we liked the view.
We also visited a nature reserve where we met Tasmanians most famous local, the Tasmanian Devil! Cute little buggers, that look something between a big rat and an aggressive pig, they are now under threat by a contagious form of cancer. 75% of the wild population died during the last few years...
On Nov 6th we did a nice walk to beautiful Wineglass Bay.
For the way back we decided to go for a run, still the preparation for Melbourne's City To Sea run on our mind. After about 500m Andreas stepped on a root and twisted his ankle. Badly. It would later turn out that he had an avulsion fracture of the left ankle. But at that moment we didn't know what it was.
Attrackted by his yell, a couple of helpful people provided us with tape and pain killers.
After cooling the ankle in the freezing ocean Myriam taped it and we started hobbling back the one hour walk over a small mountain. Luckily Douglas, an incredibly helpful young man from Hobart who had seen us shortly after the accident came back to check if everything was OK. It was not... Supported on two sides we went back to the car park. The walk took us two hours.
Douglas then invited us to his "shack", only a few kilometres away. We were happy for the chance to take a shower and just rest on his sofa...
It was an incredible experience meeting someone who so selflessly helped someone he didn't know at all. So everybody who ready this: send a nice thought to Douglas Finley, maybe it will help him find that final varnish for the perfect violin he is trying to build...
The next day we drove to the next hospital, in Hobart, a good 100km away. There we spent a delighting afternoon waiting. And waiting. And some more... After the diagnosis the doctor wanted to put the broken leg into a plaster. Yes, the white stuff we thought they stopped using ten years ago. Maybe we shouldn't have gone to a public hospital. After a lot of begging a wailing we convinced the doctor that we'd come back the next to to put the foot into a "moon boot" instead. Light, removable, and much better for quick recovery and enjoying our further travels!
Best thing was, that in the hostel we were staying we met Alex and Jason again and had the chance to dance a little...
The Great Ocean Road
The next day we flew back to Melbourne, where we stayed in the Marriott for a day (to meet Anna and her sister). In Melbourne we hired a car (with automatic transmission, hitting the clutch with a crutch doesn't really work...) and drove down the Great Ocean Road for a few days.
The following Saturday we had to back in Melbourne, where we met Andreas little (not so little any more...) Cousin, Stefan, with whom we were going to spend the next three weeks. On Sunday Myriam and Stefan ran 14km from Melbourne's centre to the ocean "The City to Sea" run is trying to compete with Sydney’s "City to Surf". Well, in Melbourne only about 13'000 runners started, compared to 50'000 in Sydney. Still some way to go.
Andreas did the cheering and documenting, as he could not run too well in his moon boot...
The East Coast
From Melbourne we flew to Cairns where we got ourself our third camper van.
From Cairns it took us three weeks to drive down about 2000km of the east coast to Brisbane. One thing that is slightly annoying is, that the ocean up there is really infested with dangerous animals, crocs, stingers and other wild things make for a rather nervous swimming experience.
Down the road we saw a lot of beautiful beaches, but also -to our surprise- a lot of beautiful back country national parks. We stayed half of the time in nice (and expensive) private camping places with wifi, pool and all amenities and in the other half in rather basic government run places in national parks. The latter often were only reached by unsealed gravel roads, but in truly beautiful settings.
We also spent a couple of remarkable, ah that is AWESOME, days sailing the Whitsunday Islands on "Hammer", an (not so) old racing boat that had been turned in to a tourist haul. Just the feeling of freedom and tranquillity that sailing gives you is wonderful. We left the boat dreaming of doing our next great trip on our own sailing yacht...
We spent the days lounging on deck, snorkelling with giant turtles and, yes, doing all our swimming in extremely fashionable "stinger suits", the only protection against poisonous jelly fish... For Andreas it was great, he had visited his first in a series of physios a few days before and had gotten the OK for swimming and snorkelling. Finally out of the boot and some water fun!
On the second evening on board we could watch the dark shapes of dolphins zipping through the water, hunting for squid. Time and again their backs would brake through the surface. The speed of these guys is really amazing!
After disposing of Stefan and the camper van in Brisbane (we would meet one of the two again for Xmas in New Zealand!) we flew down to Sydney.
Thanks to the rather bad weather we did neither see nor do much. An evening with Manoj and Divia, two friends who had moved there from India, and one at the Sydney Opera House, where we saw a beautiful one man piece "Story of a Rabbit", were the high lights, before we flew on to New Zealand after only four days.
Lots of sun shine, the people relaxed and sometimes a bit disconnected from our world, impressive landscape and beautiful beaches. Even one very European city. And so much wild life in all corners. Some dangerous but much of it also very cute. Two month in Australia have made an impression and left much more to explore!
But please, beware, and don't break a leg!