Gordon River Cruise

Trip Start Feb 26, 2013
Trip End Apr 15, 2013

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Flag of Australia  , Tasmania,
Sunday, March 10, 2013

We had to get up extra early this morning to drive to Strahan - rhymes with prawn or lawn - for our Gordon River cruise.  Doreen was setting her phone for a 5:50 am ring, but somehow we didn't wake up until 6:10 am.  We showered, had instant coffee, packed up and were out by 7 am.  We made it into Strahan from Zeehan in 30 minutes.  It always seems shorter going to Strahan than coming back - we have driven both ways twice now.  We had enough time to get some coffee in Zeehan at Molly's Cafe.  People are very bright and cheery here.  I had trouble conveying what kind of coffee I wanted - I ended up with a large flat white - I think that it is sort of plain coffee with milk and no sugar but sometimes the milk gets foamed anyway.  I will have to clarify this.

Once in Strahan in the public parking lot, I was trying to find the correct change for the parking meter but couldn't find the one dollar coins that I needed - 2 of them, but somehow Doreen did.  (Later I discovered that there is a $2 coin that is smaller than the one dollar coin and I kept mistaking it for a smaller denomination and therefore could never figure out the coins.)  We parked and got our boarding passes for the cruise.  At 8:00 am, they started boarding and we were one of the first on.  People were supposed to be on by 8:15, but they were still coming until the 8:30 departure I think.  The boat holds a little over 200 passengers but our seats were numbered in the 300s.  Odd.  We had window seats, so that was nice.  Once sitting down, though, I felt like going into the air so I went up to the top deck and watched us cruising around from there - at least until just before lunch time.  There weren't that many people up there, but one family, especially the father and three children, spent a lot of time there. 

We went out the harbor through Hell's Gate - called that by the convicts because going through there meant they were entering hell.  It was quite interesting.  Near Hell's Gate, a stone wall had been built in the water with stones quarried from nearby by the convicts.  You could see the line of rocks in the water.  This wall stopped the sand from silting up the harbor.  Apparently it had been very shallow and they made it deep enough for all the traffic it would bear through history.  It is the second largest harbor in Australia.  We also went by a few islands that had been used to keep the convicts.  There was a small one that had held the hospital and the 8 women convicts used as nurses.

Hmmm, there might have been more - oh, yeah, we passed by several lighthouses and the lighthouse masters house and some other houses that had only been reachable by boat.  The cruise captain told us a story of how the people in Strahan had to go all the way to Melbourne or was it Sydney to do any serious shopping.  The harbor master's wife and children had gone on such a voyage and were coming back when a storm hit.  He went to try to find them when the ship was wrecked.  He saved 4 people, but didn't find his family until the next morning when he found their bodies on Ocean Beach across the harbor.

We went on two excursions from the boat - one on a walk through the rainforest where were saw a very old Huon pine - indigenous to this area - and a fallen one that was estimated to be 2300 years old when it fell.  Huon pines are notable because they will not rot in water - thus excellent for shipbuilding.  Their oil is the only oil that will sink in water and it has medicinal properties.  If you put it on a cut, the cut will not get infected.  The Huon pines may not be the most beautiful trees.  They aren't like our pines with long needles but more like cedars.

We also toured Sarah Island, home to the convicts.  We heard lots of stories about the horrible administrators, the drunken doctor, the different convicts who tried to escape and free their fellow convicts.  Most of the escapees got caught and hung. 

I think the restaurant is closing so I will quit for now.  Nope the owner or manager said not until around 9 pm.  Therefore I have another 45 minutes or so.  Shouldn't need that long.  Now I am in a Queenstown pizza joint that has wi-fi.  We did order food from here so I don't feel guilty about using the wi-fi.

Back to the convicts.  Some were trained to build boats by a premier boat builder from Scotland.  Many of the convicts had been sent here for trivial offenses.  When the Port Arthur prison was built nearer to Hobart, the convicts were moved there.  Presumably they fared worse because the administrator there was even more sadistic than the one on Sarah Island.  At that point, the authorities began to send the re-offenders to Sarah Island.  Hopefully, I can find more on the net later and my info will be more accurate because I am not too sure about this rendition.

When I got back on the boat, I bought a plant guide that is really good.  One of the cruise staff - a young man recommended it.  The staff all were multi-talented and performed all sorts of tasks on the boat.  Anyway, the young man had led us on the nature walk and I had asked him about a few plants that I hadn't seen before - the swamp paperbark tree and the whitey wood that looked rather shrubby.  He was quite pleased to see that I bought the plant guide.  All the crew were exceptionally nice.  The captain was a real jokester but I had a lot of trouble understanding him because he slurred his words quite a bit.  Oh, I also forgot, we saw a Tiger snake on the walk too.  There are 3 snakes in Tasmania and all are venomous.  It got quite warm this afternoon after being quite overcast in the morning, so the snake came out to soak up the heat.

Another thing that I forgot was the quality of the river.  It is very brown from tannic acid which comes from the roots of the buttongrass plants.  The landscape here is part moorland and part rainforest I guess, just like Cradle Mountain.  Also, there is the issue of fires.  The Aboriginal peoples used to use fire to make the land more fertile.  After a fire the grasses are small and more edible for local animals.  Most animals can't eat the mature buttongrass.  Another thing is that this land has very little topsoil - even though there are a lot of big trees - mostly secondary growth after the first colonists cut all the trees to make money.  The river is very clear - despite being brown - because it doesn't get silty at all.  I guess that is because there is little soil - I can't really remember from the talk.  Then, because of its being deep and having no shallow shoreline, there are very few birds in this environment. 

We were the first boat out this morning so the captain said we were lucky in that we got the smoothest water.  Once boats go through, the water becomes ripplier, I guess.  In any case, when I looked at the water then, I saw that it was glass smooth.  The captain said that all the primo photos get taken here because of the glassy surface of the water.  You could see the Huon pines and other trees reflected in the water as well as the cloud formations and there were some nice fluffy ones today.  So I felt I needed to try to take a bunch of water reflection photos.

We had a nice lunch at noon and the crew organized it all very well.  It was after lunch that I bought my plant guide.  I left Doreen by the window and I went back up again to savor the sunlight, the wind and the beautiful scenery.  We got back pretty nearly on schedule at 2:30 pm.  I had asked Doreen to drive this am since it was still a bit dark - maybe from the cloud cover as well as a late sunrise.  But I drove from this point on.  Doreen did stop at the wood shop and got her brother a special piece of wood.  I love that place!   So I drove back to Zeehan because the road was less windy and then the 33 km to Queenstown.

Once we got to Queenstown, we passed a few motels on the hill.  We then went to the info center and an elderly man gave us the list of accommodations here.  We drove down the street and saw the old hotel but Doreen doubted that they would have rooms we wouldn't have to carry our bags up to.  We saw the cottages but they were full up.  We came around the corner and tried Mt Lyell - they had a twin for us and we went to it.  It was the worst we have been in so far but also the cheapest.  The town I think is wonderful with its old hotel.  Even our hotel building has an arcade over the sidewalk.  There are quite a few old buildings and you look up at Mt Lyell probably at the end of the street.  Once we got to our room, we had cups of green tea - I wrote a number of postcards and then we went for a walk.  We ended up getting takeout at the pizza place so I could later use the free wi-fi.  When we went back to our room after getting our take-out, a little train engine rode into an open door of a huge building at the end of the street kittycorner to our hotel.

So Doreen's chicken was good.  I had OK calamari and decent fries that I couldn't finish.  Now I am at the pizza place obviously trying to get in some internet time.

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