Everything in one day

Trip Start Oct 23, 2009
Trip End Nov 08, 2009

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Ana's place

Flag of Australia  , Tasmania,
Saturday, October 24, 2009

The boat docks at 6am and announcements had warned us we'd be woken at 5.30am so it was an early start! I opened the curtains to see Devonport sparkling back at us in the pre-dawn light. Our cabin was on the starboard side of the ferry and facing away from the dock so our view was almost pretty - I'd been warned Devonport wasn't known for many redeeming features but it clearly retained a lot of that colonial architecture I expect to see so much of in Tasmania.

Erin had gotten it just right - due to our almost late check-in time at Melbourne, we were the third car off the boat! It felt good to be moving, and we headed off down the highway to a raspberry farm we'd seen advertised and hoped to get breakfast at.

Unfortunately being so early in the morning we had to pass the chocolate and cheese factories on the way. But this was a magical hour as the thin yellow-gold light gradually warmed the landscape. True to form, it was green everywhere, with rolling hills and dairy cows in fields dotted with sweet wooden farm buildings. The hedges which frequently grew as borders to pasture or along the road were a strong link to the English countryside this island is so often compared to.

And water, everywhere! Gleaming in the sun like mother of pearl, spread generously across the land in flat abundance and soft, grassy edges rather than hard dam walls. It has been a wet winter and spring in Melbourne, but Erin commented that he'd seen more water in one morning that what we probably have in the whole of Victoria!

We were the first visitors to the raspberry farm and the proprietor was just hanging the 'open' sign as we drove in. They placed us by the open fire which was bliss; the outside air was still a tiny bit nippy. We quickly warmed up and had to back off a bit though. I was seduced by the promise of local deep fried mushrooms and cream cheese, paired with a raspberry and chilli sauce. It came out accompanied by some luscious spinach and tomato. Despite the odd sounding ingredient combination it was really tasty.

We had the whole day to get to Launceston, which is actually a fair amount of ground as far as the distances we plan to cover each day on this trip. Erin expected to be there by 9am but I knew we would find some interesting things to do on the way. In fact, our first stop was a place I only suggested as it was mentioned in passing on some tourist paraphernalia - the Alum cliffs. It was just a short diversion on the way to the Marakoopa caves and we didn't really know what to expect. 

The walk began surrounded by farmland (another English parallel!) but quickly entered bushland filled with deep golden wildflowers and fascinating shrubby plants with beautiful foliage. We read about the local Pinterrairer people and how this was a sacred woman's area, a source of highly regarded ochre deposits (we figured Erin was ok to enter as he had a girly name). 

 Another information board introduced us to the native cherry; a pine-like tree which grows tiny berries on the ends of its 'leaves'. In the photo we could see they turned a rosy colour, but the ones we found just had a blush of red. They weren't large - about the size of a coriander (cilantro) seed - but we gave them a try to discover they had a very dry, almost apple-like flavour. I suspect they weren't quite ripe so I'll reserve judgement on their suitability as a food!

The Alum cliffs were before us quite quickly, and that shock took our breath away a bit. The lookout sits on the other side of a steep gorge covered in tall, straight trees with minimal foliage. A moderately sized river powered at the bottom, with several rapids breaking up its dark mass. The grey-white limestone cliffs faced us from the other side, with straight layers breaking up their facade before dipping almost horizontal from some past earth movement. The sun alternately moved in and out of the clouds, spotlighting the light coloured rocks brilliantly. They were majestic.

We got to the Marakoopa caves just after a tour had left, which gave us time to chat to the Parks Ranger. He noticed my interest in a tree identification book on sale. He told us all about the native Myrtle beech tree, which Australia only has three species of. There's an evergreen one and a deciduous one in Tasmania, both of which have very Northern hemisphere-like leaves. He showed us the tree in the information centre's back garden, and we could see the strange stipple effect each leaf has. For the rest of the day I recognised this tree throughout the parks we visited and it was a thrill to add another tree variety to the very short list I can identify!

You can drive to the caves, but we opted to take the short fern walk up instead. The path crossed over a creek three times and it was surrounded by several varieties of fern, all in the process of unfurling their fronds. The largest of these had orangey fibres growing off them so they looked like orangutan hair!

The Marakoopa cave is a wet cave, which means water still runs through it. Inside a myriad of limestone deposits made up all manner of shapes and textures ranging from broccoli-like stalagmites, spaghetti-thin stalagtites, coral-like rock by our feet and strange, intriguing damp nobules everywhere. Iron in some places had coloured the deposits a rusty colour, some even were two toned. 

The real reason I wanted to visit though, was to see the glow worms. I'd seen a few pricks of light during the tour as we'd walked through with the lights on, but the guide turned everything off at the end so we could see them in full effect. They sparkled over the roof cavity like tiny stars - apparently a little kid had commented to his mother on a previous tour "now I know where the stars go during the day". The glow worm's light attracts unfortunate insects that find themselves in the cave system from outside. We were 150 metres under a cliff and it amazed me that enough insects got lost to support so many glow worms. 

 We were getting pretty hungry by this stage, so we drove to Deloraine to pick up some food. Deloraine is apparently an historic town, but its history hasn't remained a lot on the main street although the library/old post office was a sweet building, and the side streets had some lovely residences. I did however, enjoy the little sculptures that were scattered around the town centre depicting, I imagine, all the different inhabitants of Deloraine from animal lovers and Rotary members to skateboarders. We ate our lunch on the banks of the Meander river, which I almost expected to see someone punting along, as they do in Cambridge and Oxford.

Next stop was the Liffey falls, which we elected to drive to via the back road. This probably ended up a little difficult for Madeline the van once we hit unsealed road...oops. This area is known as the Western Tiers, and Deloraine especially is dominated by the Quamby Bluff. Driving to and around Liffey, we also go to see the Projection Bluff and Drys Bluff. They never failed to capture our attention with their magnetic presence. 

 The Liffey falls was in a different kind of forest to our morning walk around the Alum cliffs. This time it was all about tall, towering myrtle beeches and gigantic tree ferns. the falls were actually a collection of four cascades (the whole river has waterfalls along it, but this section apparently showcases the biggest and most impressive of these). 

 It was lovely to be around the energising presence of all that moving water and Erin convinced me to try stepping across the river to view the falls from the other side. I'd promised myself that as in Scotland, I'd try to get wet every day of our trip, so we took off our shoes and half paddled, half teetered on stepping stones to return to the side we had started on. The water was cold enough to make my ankles hurt within a minute, but each time I re-entered the water from a stepping stone it got better.

We sat on a flat rock waiting for our feet to dry and watching the little wrens flit over the water, presumably fishing for insects in the air. A tiny little red-breasted gentleman settled onto a large rock like it was his throne. Whether it was because we sat so still, or maybe they're so used to the presence of humans in the area, but that little wren flew forward a couple of times until he was perches on a stone a metre from us. A perfect position for Erin to take his portrait.

We walked back up to Madeline in silence, and absorbed the sounds of birds and our footsteps as the water receded. A quick toilet stop resulted in us following a curious sign which pointed to a 'big tree'. Well, ridiculous as the sign looked in a forest where all the trees were taller than me, that tree sure was big! I can't remember the dimensions now, but merely standing next to it and looking up helped to understand its incredible mass. Even then I don't think I could fully comprehend it.

It was still only mid afternoon, but it'd been a big day, plus I was worried about Erin getting tired having driven all day; so we drove through to Launceston, passing through more towns with old churches and Boags, not Carlton, as the tap beer.

Our host in Launceston, Ana, lives in an old weatherboard house with a verandah (they seem ubiquitous in Launceston, barely a brick in sight) which was set well off the street and seems to exist in a microcosm of its own. Ana's just finishing school and is brimming with enthusiasm for the activities she's involved in, especially 'Food not Bombs', which I'd never heard of before.

We chatted in her kitchen as we got to know her, then she invited us to a BBQ at her friend's place. It was a fun, relaxed gathering, conducted on milk crates with lots of singing and chatter. I loved their sense of humour and lightheartedness. The conversation flowed easily.

Ana had some assignments to do and our long day had made us tired, so we left the party early. Ana had a treat for me though - I'd seen on her Couchsurfing profile that she was a freegan. I'd read about dumpster diving in the past, but had been too nervous to try it on my own. We drove to outer Launceston where Ana said the dumpsters were better, as they're not usually locked.

The first one we tried had black plastic bags full of meat, which was pretty gross, but down the bottom Erin and Ana extracted packaged baked goods, breads and 11 bottles of chilli sauce in perfect condition. A guy drove up and warned us the cops had been called, so we left to try the next supermarket. This one was even better and yielded pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, a mango and broccoli, most of which was fine with only a few possessing parts you might cut off.

I learnt you need to wear old clothes (the dumpsters are really rank and grimy on the edges) and that gloves are a good idea. I can't imagine its a great solo activity, if only for the safety aspect, yet that was something I'd never considered before. I guess being such a marginal activity I'd always imagined individuals doing it, but the task is much easier with company to help.
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