Montana Wolf

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mystery Never Goes Extinct (Tasmania Blog Six)

I rose before sunrise in search of the thus-far-elusive Tasmanian Devil. I was beginning to think I'd come halfway around the world and might not not see one. Once plentiful and considered a nuisance, the fatal Devil Facial Tumor Disease had infected 75% of the wild population and a cure eluded the scientists. Traffic killed many more: Devils were run down in the night when they fed on wallaby and possum roadkill. Alas, I saw no Devils as we departed Bay of Fires and headed inland, pointed toward the western coast. The signs along the road, however, yielded hope.



Tasmanian Devil


Trout Rock 
The first half of inland Tas was beautiful and serene, a contrast from the touristy, raucous coast. Community bursts of personality were fun, like  this mural of a trout painted upon a huge rock along the Ringarooma River; fruit and vegetable stands dotted the road. We stopped in Launceston for lunch and realized we had tired of fish and chips when we decided on "Burger Got Soul" that advertised "lean, preservative-free meat." Hmmmm, the texture was soft and grainy and it was pretty tasteless. No country does burgers like the US.

Continuing west we began to skirt Walls of Jerusalem and Mole Creek Karst National Parks, popular starting points for extended bush
walks (long backpacking ventures). We were negotiating high curves when we suddenly saw a small brown animal with large white spots along the side of the highway. A quoll! said Greg. It wasn't even on my radar. Declared extinct on mainland Australia, here was the little marsupial, about the size of a house cat. We pulled over and I jumped out with my camera for a few more looks before it disappeared into the forest. Shy and nocturnal, even a zoo would not top my rare, daylight look. I managed this shot later in a nocturnal exhibit to help me remember the miraculous day I witnessed the spotted one.

This interpretive sign needs a little work! 

We were running out of steam, cranky and closing in on Mole Creek. Positioned half way across Tasmania, the Lonely Planet Guide mentioned it for possible platypus sightings. We entered the small village as I remembered the "behind the Pub" rule we'd discovered in Triabunna. We pulled over at the Tassie Tiger Pub and I walked around the back. Voila! A grassy, shady and quiet unadvertised dry camp. And empty. We checked with the pub owner who said there wasn't a charge as long as we ate at the Pub. We were in for the best lamb pie we'd ever tasted. Okay. The ONLY one for me. Fresh, flaky and richly mild to the palate, made on the premises, of course. I struck up a conversation with three of the pubbies (my word, it just fit!) sitting at the end of the bar. Old-time, beer-bellied locals happy to chatter and share their tales. They had lived their lives in the area; I eventually asked them about platypus. After explaining there used to be one in the creek behind the bar, they directed me a few miles down the road where I was likely to see them. I rounded up Greg and off we went, but not before I bought a Tassie Tiger Bar baseball cap. Make that two, said Greg.

The directions didn't add up and we found ourselves wandering along a small river by a packed RV Park. My bad: I had a hard time deciphering the thick Tassie accent. We were walking along the road, confounded, when along came a pubbie in his pickup. Wrong bridge, he said: we had turned too soon and  had several miles to go. We found the bridge, parked and headed down to the river. Greg knew what to look for: the give-away bubbles, soft movement of the water, and hopefully the eventual, surfacing Duck-billed Platypus. We waited. And waited. They are extremely shy; one must sit very still. I glassed the riverbanks looking for a burrow. No luck. Any sighting would come when they surfaced from feeding on crustaceans, worms and tadpoles. Twilight set in. Then there it was! - the flat tail, the beaver-like body and the head with a long bill. We saw at least four adults and a young one. Not to mention a stunning parrot along the shore. From this day forward we searched for platypus every time we hiked along a fresh water river or stream. We never saw another.

Green Rosellas - WOW.  Belong here, not a cage

Left to right: tail, body, head and eye, and their uber-sensitive bill

We awoke fresh and returned to the historic bar and hotel to view the displays. It was no accident that we'd wandered into ground zero for Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) sightings. Greg had been determined to see one from the outset of the trip. In fact, he was certain he had seen one years ago on the mainland at night as he drove. A nocturnal, striped dog-like predator, it was once widespread in Tasmania and Australia. The bar brimmed with images and articles of the mysterious one, declared extinct in 1986. Since the declaration, many around Mole Creek claimed to have seen one in the mountains. The Australian desire was so great for its return that scientists had attempted to extract DNA in order to clone the species.

Alas, we never saw one, but the mystery, the local characters and the landscape that enveloped us made us wish we could stay longer. The place was enchanted. Tiger, tiger still burned bright.

my prized cap

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Bay of Fires Sparks the Soul

Bay of Fires and the Tasman Sea
Tasmania Blog Five

Bay of Fires here we come! -- but not before some unplanned stops. It was the road trip shuffle.

Miles of vineyards overlook the sea in this part of Tas
We were almost past the entrance when we swerved into Devils Corner winery. It's all in the name, right? And there was plenty of parking. We hit the tasting room first. Tasmania is making it's mark with fine wines and I was about to find out first hand. I was so impressed I bought four bottles for gifts. It seemed a grand idea at the time. I would later doubt my choice as my luggage got heavier and heavier. As in, "Christina, there are so many light and easy things you can bring back!" No argument, a taste of Tas it was.

We pulled out of Devils Corner and headed toward Bicheno. But first we turned off for a gander at a historic stone bridge with formidable stone spikes protruding from the top. No one knew if they were for livestock or people. The bridge's function remained a mystery.

I turned the pages of Lonely Planet for lunch places in Bicheno. We were passing places left and right when I spotted a familiar name: Pasini's: "antipasto plates, wood-fired pizzas, homemade pastas and 'Ooomph' fresh roasted coffee. We'd just dropped into heaven. I ordered an antipasto board that was, hands down, one of the most flavorful meals EV-aaa. I asked to buy their fresh ground coffee and even though they didn't sell it tthey fixed me up a container. We topped off the lunch with a lemon cheesecake so light it floated down the gullet.

Fresh smoked salmon, fresh-made mozzarella, homemade bread, prosciutto, ham, fresh calamari, a dolmada, marinated olives, spiced marinated tomatoes ... every taste a foodie high
It may seem that $22 Australian (about $17 US) was a lot to pay for this lunch until one remembers there is no tax and one does not tip in Tas. Wages are good! Restaurant service and demeanor was consistently the best I have experienced in any country. People are happy here and it shows. (They also have free health care.)

Up the coast we continued, pulling off once more to take a short beach walk. It was a nondescript pullout with a narrow path to the sea. A few steps revealed one fisherman, an unforgettable sea view and shells like that I have never seen.

We arrived Bay of Fires late afternoon. We searched out the boondocking area beyond St. Helens, north toward The Gardens. After a couple unsuccessful tries (campsites maxed out,) we pulled into Cosy Cove and found a primo spot with privacy. Bay of Fires was described as 18-mile long "sweep of powder white sand and crystal-clear sea." I could not believe the scene that unfolded before me as I topped a small knoll. In all my world travels I'd not see a beach this spectacular. Fine white sand like gypsum. Lichen draped rocks that glowed like neon.

Greg sat and breathed in the sea while I walked up the beach. I spied a couple on a rock taking photos and was curious what they were doing. A twenty minute walk and climb delivered me to their sides. I asked if they were rangers. The man smiled. No, he said, he was an aboriginal descendant. His wife pointed her camera into a cleft in a rock where she photographed a sea rat. Rare to see them, she said. We began to talk of our passions for the planet and the wild as I shared a bit of my life. He explained that Bay of Fires was named for the line of fires lit along the shores by his people when the Bay was first seen by explorers. He began to tell me a near by aboriginal site he had discovered, looked in my face and asked if I had time ... he would take me there. Time? Linear time would not get in the way of this meeting.

It wasn't far. We hiked inland up a sandy wash and around a couple of curves to a circular area that unfolded before us. He explained how he was certain this was a permanent settlement. He pointed out the trees and bushes by name and how they would have supplied food and medicines in addition to the bounty from the Tasman Sea. He described cleared out spaces in the center of the area, and how they would have been used. I was in awe; deeply thankful for his time and care. I could tell you would appreciate this, he said, I saw it in your eyes. I did not want our encounter to end as the sun slipped down. We hugged our goodbyes and I turned and walked down the beach, drinking in the magic. From penguins to Aboriginals, synchronicity was in play.

In praise of the ephemeral

We welcomed dawn with Ooomph espresso on the beach. We found high tide sitting rocks to feel the power of the waves, thrilling until a big one swept us off the perch and soaked us good. Laughs galore. I found a calmer spot for  tai-chi-like meditation to the sun and the four directions; then we returned to the van and packed. My Aboriginal friend had told me not to miss The Gardens before we departed. We were on our way to the end of the road.

The Gardens: 

The Lagoons along the way ...

Tasmanian Pelicans!


Tasmanian Black Swans

Black Cockatoo, Greg's spirit bird

Cockatoo in flight


The Gardens: from calm to raucous

Who goes there??

Ms. Wallaby!

Imagine fires burning as far as the eye could see: Goodbye Bay of Fires

Goodbye Aboriginal Friends

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Wine Glass Bays and Wallabies

Tasmania Blog Four

Wombats and roos -- I was over the top down under. Still no Tasmanian Devils but no worries. There were many critters I had yet to see and others I was about to see that I didn't know existed.

Awesome license plate. 
I was forever thankful that Greg could drive on the left, I had to repeatedly remind him, however, that he wasn't driving his Subaru. Just because the camper van could peel out and go around curves with speed and panache didn't mean we should. One paid the price in shifting cupboard contents. BAM, olive oil fell from a top cupboard and dented the table top. Crash, two wine glasses were down to one. Such were the realities as we shifted into mosey-mode and talks that ranged from chit-chat to heart-to-heart. It was special getting to know Greg. Montana born and raised, he'd served in Viet Nam and had migrated to Australia not long after. He'd sacrificed his US citizenship to become an Australian and long regretted being forced into the decision to chose countries (dual citizenship wasn't an option back then).  He was finishing a book on PTSD. The book had stalled; I was intent on a jump start with queries and conversation.

We continued north through miles of sheeped-out hills and rock. Sheep are big in Australia, good for the economy, not so much for the land grazed down to the nubbins. Our destination was the Freycinet Peninsula, the location of Wine Glass Bay, repeatedly voted one of the world's top ten beaches. The National Park also boasted numerous bush walks (uh, hiking trails) and who could resist the "sugar white beaches and gin-clear water." The books didn't mention the remarkably stunning trees that held sway over lands.

The National Park spaces were taken. We didn't know if we'd find an RV space on the weekend and lucked out when I entered an office that boasted a huge "No Vacancy" sign. The friendly, harried man magically found us a spot for the night. Coles Bay it was. It was our first RV park and hook-ups on what proved to be the hottest day of the trip. We napped with the air conditioner.

Wine Glass Bay
We left early the next morning to complete the 800-steps to Wine Glass Bay Lookout, ahead of the throngs soon to follow. Wallaby's abounded -- okay, bad pun.  We also hiked down to a stunning cove and headed up high to the original cloud-shrouded lighthouse. As with all parks we would visit, including Maria Island, several day bush walks were an option for those who wanted a deeper wilderness experience. Freycinet lived up to its billing but was too peopled for me. I was ready to continue north toward a place that had captured my imagination: Bay of Fires.

Nice place to get married!

And there they were ...

Our secret cove ...

Momma and her babies inside a cave


RV Neighbor

Lighthouse in the clouds

Ghost Islands

Perfect dinner. Sorbet and cider. It's a long story.

Whad'ya gonna do when they come for you?

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