Seven Mile Beach

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Charles Wesley B&B

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

We fly low over the midlands of Tasmania, looking out excitedly at the endless ranges of dark mountains to our right. On our left we see rolling hills of grass burnt brown by the summer sun. Its late evening, and our flight from Perth has taken all day because we have lost 3 hours due to time difference, 3 hours stopover at Melbourne, and we've spent over 4 hours in the air.

After a smooth touch down, we step out of the plane and we are immediately shocked by how cold the air feels. We can say goodbye to the mid-twenties to thirties of Perth. In Tasmania, the Summer evenings are often cool at around 10 degrees, and during the day the weather can be anywhere between 15 and 30 in the vicinity of Hobart. There are exceptions though- as we later find out.

We are met at the airport by friends of Oma's, Brian and Judy, who have a limousine-sized V6 Toyota, and have kindly agreed to collect us and take us to Oma's house in Seven Mile Beach. The drive takes all of ten minutes, barely enough to say hello to Brian and Judy, and we are soon in the driveway of Oma's house on Sunways Avenue.

Oma greets us and ushers us to the table where she has prepared a tasty meal for us. Rex, her dog, looks a bit worse for wear, and seems somewhat unsteady on his feet. Last time we saw him 3 years ago he still behaved like a puppy, but today he looks like an old dog on his last legs.

After a good sleep we give Oma a bit of a hand in the garden the next day. Whilst in Perth, there was a big storm, which beat up her garden a bit, and she has a backlog of jobs needing doing. The garden is a long strip running back about 100 metres from the house. There are lots of mature trees and shrubs, vegetable and flower plots, and a long strip of lawn. Rachel gets stuck into some weeding and I cut up a dead plum tree. Flocks of red, blue, and green Eastern Rosellas and pink and grey Galahs peck at grain Oma has left for them by the back door.

In the afternoon we head into Hobart to find out about a couple of walks that we want to do in the National Parks. Oma hands us the keys of her tidy little blue Holden Barina, otherwise known to the rest of the world as an Opel Corsa or a Vauxhall Corsa. I wonder if Holden make any cars of their own or just rebadge others?

The drive into Hobart from Seven Mile Beach is a short, but rewarding one. On the way we cross the steeply sided Tasman Bridge, the crystal blue sea, and we have great views of the dark looming massif of Mount Wellington behind the sprawling city. There aren't really any high-rise buildings at all in Hobart, and the plentiful supply of nineteenth century Anglo-centric buildings makes it feel like a bit like Fort William on steroids. Absence of slate as a building material means that the roofs of even the finest buildings are topped in humble corrugated iron.

At the tourist information office we buy some maps and speak to the one guy there who has done a bit of walking in some of the National Parks. We book up some accommodation for when Yolanda will join us in Tasmania in two weeks time. The girl at the accommodation desk is very nervous and takes about an hour to book two nights in Cradle Mountain and Launceston. The AUD$3 (about GBP 1.50) booking fee won't cover her wages for the time she has taken over it.

In the evening, back at Seven Mile Beach, I wander from Oma's house the 200m or so to the beach. It stretches out in a (seven mile) long spit as far as the eye can see and today there are some respectably sized waves crashing noisily on to the sandy shore. The water is a deep aquamarine blue and contrasts beautifully with the burnt yellow hill with patches of green trees just behind the town. Thank goodness the residents of Seven Mile Beach managed to stop the developers building all over it. Australia generally seems to have a fairly free approach to building (unless it's a National park or reserve) and there are houses everywhere, a bit like Ireland's bungalow-littered countryside.

I decide to take a jog up and down the beach barefoot- not having any trainers it's the only place I can do it safely. The wind, sunshine, and spectacular views seem to fuel me with plenty of energy and I arrive back where I started after half an hour still feeling energetic. To cool off I plunge into the water and try to do some body surfing on the rollers. When I get out and the wind chills me pretty fast and I rush back to the house because I foolishly don't have a towel with me.

Next morning is another beautiful day, and we take the hour and a half drive up to Mount Field National Park. After buying our parks pass for AUS$50 (about GBP22.00), which will last us the duration of our stay in Tasmania, we take the dirt road further up the mountain to Lake Dobson. From Lake Dobson there are a number of trails leading off into the bush. We decide on a 5-hour walk to Tarn Shelf, which climbs up steeply to a high boulder-strewn ridge which has great views out over the distant mountain ranges to the west. To the east, the dead trees look like sun bleached prehistoric bones against the dark velvet green of the forest. These trees must have been burnt by bush fires a long time ago and their stark trunks are a reminder of how devastating fire can be. All around them the forest has regrown in vivid shades of green.

On the walk I run out of water, and fill my bottle up from one of the many small streams. Rachel doesn't believe me when I tell her that the water is good to drink, as a city girl she thinks it has to come out of a tap. Eventually she agrees to fill her bottle too when thirst begins to kick in. The five hour walk takes us over seven and makes us question our level of fitness.

Next morning Oma tells us that Rex, the dog, has had a terrible night and has been coughing and having difficulty breathing. She takes him off to the vet while we eat breakfast. Later in the morning Rachel and I are working in the garden when tearful Oma appears at the back gate with a blanket bundle containing Rex's body. Apparently X-ray's showed his lungs to be full of cysts and his internal organs to be grossly displaced. She decided that the only thing that could be done was to put him to sleep. We find a spot in the flower garden next to the Walnut tree and dig a grave for him in the sandy soil. Erika is pleased that he is buried close to Opa, his master.

In town, we meet with one of the many rangers in the Parks and Wildlife department. We chat to him about different hiking options and we decide to head down to South West National Park to do a walk there. We stock up on dehydrated food and fuel for our stove so that we can do some overnight camping. We find that the food in the camping shops costs about ten times as much as the dehydrated ready meals in the supermarket.

Next day we drive down to the most southerly road in Australia to Cockle Creek, a campsite where a little river emerges into the Tasman sea. There is a walk that finishes here which takes 7 to 10 days along the south coast from Melaleuca, but we decide on just hiking in for one day, camping, and then coming back.

As we are having a cup of tea before we leave the car, we spot four tired but happy hikers appearing from the bush looking and smelling like they have been in the wilds for a week. When I see the amount of mud on their legs I am glad that we are only going to be out for two days.

With all the gear in our packs, they weight about 12kg each, which is fairly light by hiking standards. However, we are not used to walking long distances with a big pack on so even after a few kilometres we feel the weight on our shoulders and legs. The path starts off fairly solid though and we enjoy walking through the Eucalypts and myrtle, which smell fragrant and fresh. It's a cloudy day, and a light rain falls so gently that it evaporates off my clothing faster than it gets wet.

After a few hours we get our first view of South Cape Bay where the Southern Ocean meets the land and enormous great rollers crash on to the mile long white sandy beach in a never-ending roar. Behind the beach huge tracts of temperate virgin rainforest meet the brooding grey sky. We walk along the deserted beach and it makes us feel like pioneers exploring the land for the first time.

After the first bay we head inland again and the path deteriorates, as we have to wade through pools of sticky mud, and the bushes and ferns have overgrown the path to the point where it is completely enclosed. We are wet and tired when we pop out an hour later on another broad sandy bay.

We think this is the last bay, but closer inspection of the map reveals another tramp inland and back on to the beach is required. After a total of five hours walking we see South Cape Rivulet flowing into the ocean, which indicates that we have finally reached our destination. We can't see the campsite anywhere, so we walk back to the forest and sure enough, we can see a couple of tents hidden among the towering Tasmanian Blue Gums, some of the tallest trees in the world. Once in among the trees its like a different world - the roar of the waves is muted and the air is completely still. We find there are lots of flat sandy spots to pitch the tent and we choose one with a good view of the rivulet and the bay.

We put up our tent and get started on the cooking. I can see that people are washing their socks in the dark limpid waters of the river so I decide that we should boil the water that we want to use for drinking next day. Whilst we're cooking (or should I say re-hydrating) roast lamb, mashed potatoes, and vegetables, we see a bedraggled looking lady who appears to have difficulty in walking. She is covered from head to foot in mud, and I can see her boots have completely disintegrated; the soles are attached only at the heel and she has made an attempt to bind them together with string. She tells us that she has been walking for nine days carrying everything in her pack, she got lost in a storm early in the walk, her boots fell apart on day 1, she is a grandmother, 60 years old with a 40 year old son. I can't quite believe what I'm hearing and I can't make up my mind whether she's mad or brave.

By the time we finish cooking its nearly 9pm and light is fading fast. We walk out on the bay and see that the cover of grey is breaking up into patchy groups of clouds. We watch the waves surging up the deep rivulet and think that we're lucky not to have to cross it. That night we fall asleep with faint sound of the ocean and the gentle swish of the wind through the tall trees.

Next morning the sun is out and we can't believe how soundly we've slept. We cook some porridge for breakfast but it is insipid without salt, sugar, or milk. We pack up and begin the return hike back to the Cockle Creek. We are amazed by how different it all feels now that dark mantle of cloud cover is gone and the sun and the wind dominate the mood. We take some photos of the sweeping bays and big country scenery and feel refreshed by the cool bright weather.

Back at Cockle Creek we walk down to a sculpture of a baby Southern Right Whale 1km from the carpark. Apparently the whales were hunted in the bays of southern Tasmania when the first settlers arrived in the early 1800's. The Southern Right used to be plentiful and rapidly came to the point of extinction. The whale oil was barrelled up and sent to Europe to run the streetlights, since fossil fuel was not yet in widespread use. We find out that Hobart was largely established on the back of the riches of whale oil. I think its strange in this day and age that whaling is still carried out freely by the Japanese in the waters of the Antarctic.

Next day we take it easy and enjoy a relaxing day around Seven Mile Beach. We get invited out for lunch to Brian and Judy's house in Bellerive. Their house is built on a hillside and has a broad frontage of glass with panoramic views over the Derwent Estuary and south Hobart. I could spend hours just watching the clouds and light change over the water from their living room. Later in the afternoon I enjoy another plunge into the sea at Seven Mile Beach before we head round to another friend of Oma's for dinner. Anne is a schoolteacher who has recently branched out as a consultant to help dog's homes and other societies to organise events and carry out marketing. She also helps educates children about pet care. It is a career that is about as far as it is possible for me to imagine from my own. However, she has backpacked through Europe and Africa and has lots of stories to share with us, and a plentiful supply of information about where to go hiking in Tasmania. Her little house in Seven Mile Beach is rustic and homely with great views of the countryside out the back. As we sip drinks on the veranda, a clutch of water hens in the creek cackle loudly as they congregate together before sunset.

Next day Rachel and I drive the little Holden up to the Walls of Jerusalem where we plan to do another overnight hike. It's a long but scenic drive from Seven Mile Beach (nearly 300km) and we finally get started on the walk about 1pm. The first stage is a 600-metre ascent through Eucalyptus forest, until the track levels out and we walk through some colourful alpine bush that reminds us of what we saw in Lake St Clair region when we were last in Tasmania three years ago. The myrtle has a distinctive orange tinge to it, which is complemented by iridescent orange lichen growing on rocks that look as though they have been indiscriminately spray-painted. As the gum trees peter out we start to walk through strands of Pencil Pine - knarled conifer trees approaching a thousand years old, that only grow in a few isolated pockets. Dotted amongst the landscape are lots of small lakes reflecting the light of the pure blue sky, and containing dark water coloured by the tannins in the button grass.

After a few hours we climb through a valley called Herod's Gate and into the area known as the Walls of Jerusalem. All around us are steep cliffs of dark rock that seem to enclose the area that we are walking through. Towards then end of the valley we find a strand of pencil pines beside Pool of Bethesda, and we pitch our tent in a small clearing by a bubbling stream where we can easily get water. Apart from two men camping about 300m away there seems to be no one in the valley and we are really pleased with the peaceful spot. We put up the tent and eat an unappetising dinner of re-hydrated Thai Green Curry with rice watching wallabies munch away at their more tasty dinner of grass just a few metres from our tent.

We finish dinner about 6.30pm and decide to climb up to King Solomon's Throne (about 1500m altitude) on top of the walls for the evening view of the walls and their surroundings. The climb only takes us half an hour as we discover a really good path that hasn't made it on to the maps yet. At the top we have an awesome panorama looking over to Cradle Mountain, Mount Ossa (highest in Tasmania), and Mount Pelion East. The other way we can see an alpine plateau dotted with thousands of lakes as far as the eye can see. We take a few snaps and then wander back slowly to our tent. Rachel manages to creep up to some of the wallabies and take some photos of them before they bound off like zebedees.

That night the wind gets up and it becomes really cold. I can't sleep properly despite having on a T-shirt, long john's, a fleece, socks, silk liner and 3-seasons sleeping bag. I curse my Vango sleeping bag because it really isn't up to what it says on the label. In the morning the valley is cloaked in low cloud and it can't be more than 3 or 4 degreesC. The wind is howling loudly round the tent, and I put on all my clothes and coat before I venture out for a pee. I get back to the tent and tell Rachel that its simply too cold to sit outside with the stove and make porridge. Fortunately we have some sandwiches and chocolates that we eat dolefully for breakfast inside the tent. After breakfast we quickly pack up everything and start walking which soon gets us warm.

As we walk back, the cloud slowly starts to lift and the temperature increases. Soon we're back to T-shirts and we laugh at how cold it was. We remember the blizzard that we walked through in Cradle Mountain three years previously.

On the way back we stop in Deloraine and eat pies and cream cakes from a local bakery. The grazing fields around look green and lush and we see lots of cattle that look just like the Angus and Herefords you'd find in Scotland. Farmers are making hay with the same ancient machinery we used at home twenty years ago. The weather here is dry enough to make hay reliably unlike Scotland where most farmers resort to silage.

We take another stop in Richmond, a historic town that boasts the oldest bridge and the oldest Catholic Church in Australia. The town is normally bustling with coach loads of tourists during the day but in the early evening everyone has gone and its very peaceful and relaxed. We walk down by the river and watch some fat ducks glide along and I take a couple of photos of the town, which is hard to distinguish from a typical English village. I have been struck on this visit to Australia by how British its people and customs are. The more I think about it the more I realise that Australian culture is really British culture spiced mildly by good weather. Really, the differences are in the minutia. There are more differences in culture between France and Britain than between Australia and Britain. I'd even go as far as to say there are more differences in culture between Ireland and Britain than between Australia and Britain. I could happily write an essay on this topic but I think I'll stop now before anyone gets bored or upset.

Next day we originally expected to remain in the Walls of Jerusalem, so we have a rest day in Seven Mile Beach. The waves are much bigger than usual and my regular dip in the ocean has some added fun-factor. Oma's car is covered in grime, and I give it a wash a wax in her back garden. Its so clean that I have to move it into the garage because the seagulls are pecking their reflections in the paintwork. Oma is missing Rex a lot and talks excitedly about getting another dog from the dog home. She feeds some friendly magpies from her hand at the back door and shoos away the neighbour's cat, and a seagull, which come to watch the proceedings.

We take a trip into Hobart and go to the Cascade Brewery which has a beautiful eye-catching stone façade with Mount Wellington as a backdrop. After taking some snaps outside we go inside the visitors centre and pay AUS$18 (about GBP7.00) each for the tour. The tour is boring and the explanation of the brewing process is unclear, but it is not helped by the fact that the factory is a higgledy-piggledy mess. I expected that there would be a state-of-the-art facilty behind the façade, but it turns out to be a rather run-down, dirty, cramped, and inefficient factory owned by the Foster's group. Back at the visitor's centre we enjoy tasting the different beers, but the staff have limited knowledge of what makes each beer taste different. Perhaps they want to keep it a secret.

We have lunch in Salamanca Place, where the old stone warehouses from the early 1800's have been converted into beautiful shops, restaurants and art galleries. We eat in the Vietnamese Kitchen, where a two tasty dishes plus rice costs only AUS$7.50 (GBP3.50) each.

Whilst we're in town I buy a new sleeping bag from a camping shop. I decide to buy one that looks and feels warm rather than just going on the label. I find one and cross my fingers - it will probably be in Patagonia that I get to try it out.

Next day we head off with Oma to Bruny Island for a wildlife cruise with Bruny Island Charters. Oma has bought this for our Christmas present, and I am looking forward to it, but I can't forsee how it could possibly be worth the AUS$95 (GBP40.00) that she has kindly paid. We drive down to Kettering in the car in plenty of time for the 9.30am ferry (AUS$25 or GBP11.00 return) that takes us over to Bruny Island. We head south on a mixture of dirt and tarmacadam roads to the isolated Adventure Bay where the cruise begins. Much of the southern part of the island is a National Park and we will cruise from Adventure Bay to the very remote southern tip of Bruny Island State Park where is no road access.

We park up and walk down to the jetty where there are lots of people getting on to two 25ft custom-built boats. Our guide explains that the boats are ideal for close up wildlife encounters and are very environmentally friendly. I wonder to myself how three 275 horsepower 6 cylinder supercharged outboard motors (yes that's 825 horsepower on tap) could ever be considered as green, but Australian's have a selective way of looking at things that doesn't come naturally to the Scots. We are all given seasickness pills, a knee-length Mackintosh, and woolly hats are handed round for anyone who wants one. We are told that the seats nearest the front of the boat have the choppiest ride and that those who are frail should consider sitting at the back. 78 year old Oma makes a beeline straight to the front of the boat where Rachel and I join her and fasten our seatbelts. This is the first time that I have ever worn a seat belt on a boat and I wonder whether this is Australian safety obsession, or something that's really needed.

We motor out of the harbour slowly and as we round the head, the waves of the Tasman Sea are coming head on and the small boat pitches violently. The captain steers carefully through it but there are moments of weightlessness and the seatbelts help keep my bum connected with the seat. Rachel and I keep shouting to Oma through the howling wind if she's OK, and she beams back like a teenager that she's fine. We didn't expect a fairground ride and its certainly exhilarating.

The stormy sea makes me think of those early explorers who had to make their way in all weathers, who couldn't use a powerful engine to get out of difficulty, and had no maps or charts of where they we going. No wonder those guys felt that they owned the place when they finally found Australia. Our guide tells us that the sea is not particularly rough, but it's as rough as anything I've ever travelled in before.

We pull into a bay to look at some sea caves and a big wave crashes over the side of the boat. Fortunately my mack takes the brunt of it and the guides hand out towels to those who need them. The guide is really attentive and even gives Oma a tissue to wipe her glasses with. After the sea caves we look at some stunning sea stacks that look like tall thin figures standing like giants beside the cliffs. The dolerite rocks form stunning columns and steep cliffs that create a very wild an inaccessible coastline around the south of Bruny Island.

After some hesitation, the Captain decides that the weather is improving and its OK to go down to Tasman Head and the Priory Islands to see the seals. As a precaution he moves the three of us into the back of the boat where it is indeed a lot calmer. At this cape, the Southern Ocean meets the Tasman Sea and it is a very rough stretch of water. We reach dolerite outcrops where there are is a large colony of fur seals sprawled over the rocks. Several dive into the water when they see us. They swim around skilfully in the water under the boat and look up at us inquisitively to see what's going on. Others bask in the warming sun or scratch themselves with a flipper. I am surprised by how far up the steep rocks many of them have managed to clamber. They share their rocky home with hundreds of black and white cormorants, which have nested just out of reach of the seals.

After moving around the seal colony, we start the journey back to the jetty. Several albatross zoom in across the water like fighter planes and disappear back across the deep swell, wingtips almost touching the water. Suddenly we spot a bottlenose dolphin next to the boat and within moments there are perhaps 50 of them, and the captain slows down to allow them to swim alongside the boat. We look down into the water and see their pale bodies swimming powerfully beneath the blue surface. It seems that they move unnaturally fast for such a large beast beneath the water. Suddenly one jumps out and there is a scream of delight from the passengers on the boat. Soon there are many of them leaping all around us, and its hard to know which way to look in the excitement of the moment. I try to take a photo with my camera but it proves difficult because there's so much action everywhere.

After fifteen minutes or so, the captain opens up the throttles and we sadly leave behind our friendly escorts. As we speed off I see some of the dolphins trying to break the high jump record as they leap vertically out of the water. The heights they reach don't seem physically possible, and I am left with a warm sense of wonder and amazement at those animals.

We get back to the jetty after 3 hours on the water and the captain hands round chocolate Tim Tam biscuits to further ingratiate himself with the passengers. Rachel, Oma, and I agree that the tour was memorable and well worth the money.

We drive around some other spots on Bruny Island and get some great views of the wild coastal scenery. There is an amazing spot at Isthmus Bay where the North and South parts of the island meet. Oma runs up 235 steps on a giant sand dune ahead of us to get the view of the surrounding countryside. There is a memorial to Truganina, the last purely aboriginal woman who died in 1865. It is sad to read about how the first settlers to Tasmania decimated the entire aboriginal population in approximately 50 years. We take a couple of photos of the big view and then head back to the car; we are just in time to catch the 5.30pm ferry back to Kettering.

Next day Rachel and I head off to the Tasman Peninsula which is a wide expanse of Natural Park, state forest, farmland, and coastal scenery in the South East of Tasmania. It is connected to the rest of the island by only the thinnest strip of land at Eaglehawk Neck. We meet Oma's friends, Frans and Ruth, who have kindly agreed to put us up for a night while we tour around. Firstly they take us to Waterfall bay where we have agreed that they will drop us off so that we can walk the seven hours coastal path along to Fortescues Bay.

Rachel and I look with excitement at the 200m high sea cliffs, and the steep mountain behind which has dense strands of Tasmanian Blue gum growing. Frans points south and tells us that he will drop off the Holden at the other end and gives us instructions for getting to his house afterwards. Rachel and I set off and climb through the shady forest admiring the huge ferns that seem to enclose us at times. A friend of Frans's cut the path many years ago, and it is extremely well made with not a spot of mud along the way, although occasionally we have to skirt around a fallen tree. After what seems like an eternity we reach the highest point of the walk at 500m and emerge into sparse vegetation where we can see up and down the coast. Chains of tiny islets string out from capes into the cool blue sea, marked by flecks of white where distant waves crash on the shore. After the long climb through the forest we walk along the cliff edge admiring the views and being careful not to tread to near the sheer drop on our left. Eventually we drop down towards Fortescue bay, but the walk is far from over as the bay is in a huge semicircle with a 3km diameter, and we have to walk about another 4km round the bay to get to the car park. As we walk round, Rachel spots her first Tiger snake, a fairly big one at about 1.5 metres in length slithers out of the way. Its my 3rd one of the day because usually Rachel makes me walk in front to clear the spiders webs, and scare off the snakes. I tell Rachel coolly not to be too concerned - they are only the fourth most deadly snakes in the world.

We reach the car park after walking for about 6 hours - our fitness must be improving because it's the first time we've managed to finish a walk in less than the recommended time. But then maybe its because we're just carrying daysacks and not all the camping gear in the big rucksacks.

We head back to Frans's place following some fairly detailed instructions because his house in Koonya is up a tiny dirt road in the middle of nowhere. His eco-house is set in 40 acres of native wild bushland with a fenced off vegetable and flower plot to keep the wallabies out. All the water is collected rainwater stored in huge tanks, and all the heating was formerly by wood, although he has now installed gas water heating system, electricity, and phone. I admire the outside toilet, which is of the longdrop variety, and is enclosed on only 3 sides so one can watch the wildlife at leisure. Frans, a keen ornithologist, tells us that he has spotted 72 species of bird on the property (although not all from the toilet), and that wallabies, possums, echidnas, and Tasmanian devils are all regular visitors.

Inside the house its very cosy, and Ruth has prepared a monster meal of comforting food for us. Starting with cream of broccoli soup we move on to a delicious fish pie and the pavlova, all of which dulls the appetite for staying awake and chatting. Later we retire to the studio a few metres from the house for the night. We sleep really well apart from a possum on the roof at 3am which interrupts our sleep. I get up to find out what the noise is, and see the little wide-eyed fellow in a tree above the roof. He calls out noisily and another possum in a tree about 50 metres away shouts back his greeting.

Next day Frans shows us some 19th century cottages in the village that have been restored as holiday cottages. The owner is so obsessed with detail that he has even refurbished the rusty corrugated iron on the roof rather than put on new pieces. He has also handcrafted pieces of new wood into the old veranda to retain as much of the original material as possible. Frans admires the cottage, but wonders if there will ever be a financial return.

Rachel and I say goodbye to Frans and drive the long way round the Tasman peninsula to get to Port Arthur. This place is where the first convicts to Van Diemens Land were incarcerated and put through a system of 're-education'. The prison complex is now a place where 'excursionists' can visit and has been out of use for more than 100 years. Our guide gives us an informative and enthusiastic overview of the facility, and points out some of the interesting buildings like the church - which was never consecrated and burnt down over 100 years ago, the lunatic asylum - where the inmates who went 'over the edge' wound up, and the main prison building - which was originally a mill but was converted to grind down men rather than cereal.

We take a look through the old governors house, which was converted into a hotel after the prison closed. The rooms are pristinely conserved in 150-year-old style, and It feels strangely like the farmhouse I grew up in in Scotland - with the same kind of sash windows, woodwork, and brown and white paint effects.

Our entrance ticket entitles us to a cruise around the bay. We join a hundred or so other people on board, and endure a pointless 40-minute drive in a circle around the bay in a gigantic boat, not seeing anything new or learning anything useful.
The port Arthur site is beautiful, and well maintained, but I think is being over-commercialised with its steep entry fee (AUD$24 or GBP10.00 each), excessive staff, expensive cafes, and range of artificial secondary activities - like harbour cruises - that people are not really interested in. I hope this is not the direction that tourism in Tasmania continues to take.

On the way back to Seven Mile Beach Rachel and I admire a whole series of geological wonders: the Remarkable Cave; Tasman Arch; the Devil's Kitchen, The blowhole, and my favourite - the Tessellated Pavement. The tessellated pavement is a an area of flat rock on the beach which has fragmented along regular lines into what appears like tightly fitting paving stones. The rock material adjacent to the joints between the stones has either eroded faster than the remaining block or slower, turning each stone into raised 'loaves' or hollowed out 'pans'. The pavement area, between the sea and the cliffs, looks like the foundation of an ancient city that got washed away by the marauding waves.

A couple of days later Rachel's friend Yolanda flies down from Sydney to meet us. She works in a high-pressure job with HSBC Bank, and although we were originally going to join her in Sydney for a week, we decided that it would be better to drag her down to Tasmania for a few days to help her forget the pressures of work as best as possible. It transpires that she has been working twelve hour days and weekends for some considerable time, and we can tell just by looking at her drawn white face when she walks off the plane that she's stressed.

That day we just take it easy and stroll on Seven Mile Beach, wander through Salamanca market, and take a drive to the top of Mount Wellington which overlooks the sprawling city of Hobart. The weather is warm and clear and the views from the top of Mount Wellington are stunning. It feels inspiring to have such a tall mountain at the back door of the city. It is a contrast to the last time we drove to the top of Mount Wellington at night with Brian and Judy. Then we could only watch the view for about 30 seconds before we were chilled to the bone by the howling sub zero wind.

In the evening we introduce Yolanda to the delights of swimming in Seven Mile Beach, before tucking into a trio of fresh fish cooked by Oma.

Next day we take the 5-hour drive up to Cradle Mountain. It's the hottest day since we arrived in Tasmania, and I see that its 30 degrees C at the reception of the camping and caravan park. We get the keys to our cosy cabin which costs AUD$150 (GBP 65) for a night. Inside it has every possible amenity including TV, microwave, airconditioning, and electric blankets. Rachel and I contrast the luxuries of the cabin with the wild camping experience we had here before starting the Overland Track three years ago. We ended up with a possum in the tent eating our Tim Tam's (Australias most celebrated chocolate biscuit), and a Tasmanian Devil barricading the men's toilet.

As its hot we take an easy walk that afternoon around Dove lake which has the stunning jagged backdrop of Cradle Mountain. The vegetation in the park is colourful and pristine, and it is a bit like walking in an enormous garden. Its easy to see why some early nineteenth century explorers actually believed this was the site of the original garden of Eden. Instead of taking the shuttle bus back to the caravan park, we decide to walk up a newly constructed boardwalk, which is well hidden from the road. Clouds start to gather ominously in the sky, and I comment to Rachel and Yolanda that it looks like we might get a storm. Right on cue there is a loud clap of thunder and we wind up the walking pace. Within a few minutes its pouring with rain so we stop the walk and head over to the nearest bus station. Bored of waiting after about two minutes, we hitch a ride with some friendly tourists who have taken their cars into the park.

Next day its back to the usual cool but sunny weather, and we decide to climb to the top of Cradle Mountain. At 1545 metres, its Tasmania's most famous, but only fifth tallest peak. The walk to Kitchen Hut at the base of the mountain is easy, but after that it gets pretty hairy as we scramble over massive boulders to get to the summit. It feels like we have really achieved something big by getting to the top, and we reward ourselves with sandwiches whilst admiring the blue-tinged mountains all around.

In the afternoon we drive to Launceston, where we have booked a B&B (AUD$50 or GBP22 person) at the Charles Wesley in Charles Street. The house, which was built in 1882, has an old ballroom at the back which has been converted to one generous studio room complete with two queen sized beds, pool table, CD player, and the most comfortable 3 piece suite in Tasmania. We sit back and relax in comfort drinking freshly ground coffee discussing where we will go that night.

We drive up to a place called The Gorge, just a couple of kilometres from the centre of town. Water cascades down through a rocky, steep sided river valley into a large pool, which has been dammed to provide a swimming area. There are lots of little paths meandering through the forest, a large green lawn, a suspension footbridge across the river, and a cable car across the river to the top of the gorge. We take a quick stroll around and I comment to Rachel that it seems like the perfect city park.

That night we eat Fish and Chips at the Sea Front, a complex of modern buildings by the estuary. The fish and chip shop is pretty sophisticated compared to the UK - there's a choice of about 20 types of fish and they can be oven cooked, grilled, or fried. I order a half kilo of prawns, Rachel orders grilled Pink Ling, and Yolanda grilled John Dorey. One portion of chips is enough for all three of us. Complete with drinks, the cost is AUD$ 60 (about GBP 25) all in.

The 'light continental breakfast' as the Charles Wesley turns out to be anything but that. I groan in satisfaction as I work my way through fresh fruit salad, cornflakes, muesli, yoghurt, hot croissants, fresh coffee, toast and marmalade (honey, peanut butter, and six other jams on offer).

We say sad goodbyes to our luxurious accommodation in Launceston and drive down to Freycinet National park in the East of Tasmania. We take a quick, but sweaty hike through giant pink granite boulders, to a viewpoint where we can see Wineglass Bay. From here the way everything looks is summed up in a single adjective: blue.

We stop at The Friendly Beaches and take a short stroll along the dazzling white sand. Walking on the thin salty crust on top of the sand feels like cracking the surface of a giant crème brule. Translucent blue waves fizz on to the beach and the wind blows noisily despite the perfect blue sky.

Back in Seven Mile Beach we take a lazy day, and start to get packed up for our flight to Sydney with Yolanda and on to Auckland. It feels strange to be leaving Tasmania. We have grown fond of it and we can't really imagine leaving it behind when we don't know when we will be back. Oma has been very kind to us and has looked after us 'like royalty' during our stay. While we've been touring around for the last three days she's been busy though, and has found a new dog called Sassi, an abandoned border collie kelpie cross from the Dogs Home, who will arrive the day we leave. She likes to have someone to look after.
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