Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tasmania- Mt. Wellington and Puddleduck

This day we decided to go up Mt. Wellington, which overlooks Hobart from the west. The elevation at its peak is about 1000 meters or so. It's high enough to have its own seperate climate, and on average it's about ten degrees celcius cooler than Hobart. One of the bed and breakfasts we stayed at told us that two days before a group of South Africans were at the peak and it was snowing! Keep in mind, it's our summer. The size of it also protects Hobart from a lot of rain and windstorms. Good job mountain.

We weren't sure how much actual hiking and mountain climbing it would take to get to the top of the mountain, but we were determined. Turns out- not much. You can drive right to the top. We are accomplished "mountain climbers" now.

This sign was posted, and it kind of concerned us. If the radio tower on top of the mountain is throwing off enough interference to potentially disable your car (ours was fine) what other kind of radiation is it putting off? It's possible Greg is now sterile.

This photo overlooks Hobart from the mountaintop. The bridge was built in the sixties to finally replace the ferry system used to connect the two sides of the city on either side of the river. All was well until a barge ran into it in the 80's. It was rebuilt slightly downstream.

It was a fairly cloudy day for us, which was too bad, because on clear days you can see halfway across the Island. Gorgeous scenery regardless, though.

Greg conquers Mt. Wellington by climbing to the highest point. This would have been more impressive had he started at the bottom of the mountain, rather than the car park about 30 meters away. Regardless, he strikes a manly, impressive figure against the horizon.

Since we weren't spending the whole day mountaineering we decided to persue another great outdoor adventure by sampling some of Tasmania's finest wineries in the Coal valley, northeast of Hobart. What we learned is that Tasmania makes very good white wines, which makes sense for a cooler climate. A lot of sauvignon blanc, and chardonay, although Australians do not like to age their chardonay in oak barrels. Not a huge fan of that, personally. Tasmania also claims that they make the best Pinot Noir outside of France. This is false. Maybe in 10-15 years it wil be true, but as of now, not so much. We went to a couple wineries before ending up at a place called Puddleduck Winery.  They may have had good wine, we don't really remember, becuase what they did have were Corgie puppies!

Are those not the cutest little guys ever? Their longtime winery dog, Polly, had just given birth to a litter of seven puppies, and their Great Uncle Bazil was also on hand to keep an eye on them. The two guys above were especially fond of playing a game of "I got your tail!" Laurel was, of course, powerless to resist. The only reason the cats don't have a new friend is that all of the puppies had already been bought.

After awhile Polly got up from her nap, which to all of the puppies meant only one thing- lunch time! Mom looks less than thrilled.

Queensland flooding

So, I know it has been forever since we've posted, and I apologize. It's a combination of unreliable internet access and sheer laziness. We are aiming to do some giant catching up this week, so cross your fingers for mega-updates.

This is a short one, an interlude, before getting back to Tasmania Funtimes '11. Most of you have probably heard about the flooding in Queensland. The province is the size of France and Germany combined.  An unusally wet spring and epic rainfalls in the summer have triggered truly devastating floods across the province, but especially along the Brisbane river. The sheer scale of the devastation is mind-boggling. The Premier of Queensland has compared the rebuilding process to that of recovering from a war.  The Australian government just passed a temporary tax levy on anyone making more than $50,000 AUD to help pay the reconstruction costs. Below is a link to some pretty incredible before and after pictures.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tasmania- Hastings Cave, Tahune Airwalk

We visited Hastings Cave, which is about 1 1/2 hours south of Hobart.  In addition to the cave they also had a nature walk around a thermal hot spring that is home to platypuses.  Sadly, we did not see any platypuses, but I did get to climb into a giant tree.  We couldn't get the entire width of the tree in this shot.

This is us in Hastings Cave.  The inside of the cave stays at 9 degrees C (around 50 degrees F) year-round.  The cave was discovered accidentally by loggers in the early 1900s.  It is composed of dolomite, which is unusual.  Apparently most caves are composed of limestone.  This means that this cave is harder and stronger, but took/is taking longer to form.

This is an actively growing and changing cave.  The stalactites (C for ceiling) and stalagmites (G for ground) were amazing!

These is a shot looking up at some of the stalactites whose tips have been broken off by tourists before they stopped allowing souvenirs to be taken.  The hole in each stactite is called a straw.  This is what the calcium deposits drip through and allows the stalactite to continue to grow.

We also went to Tahune Airwalk, which featured breath-taking scenery, a raging river, giant metal scaffolding that allowed you to walk above the treetops, swinging bridges, and nature walks.  This is us on the "cantilever" at the end of the airwalk.  This is a metal structure that juts out into the open air and appears to only be supported by cables.  It was very windy which meant it swung quite a bit.  Laurel loved it.  Greg hid his terror well-ish.

It's me!

This is one of the Swinging Bridges at Tahune.  Kind of rickety, but beautiful scenery.

We stayed at the most awesome b&b that night.  It was a beautiful stone house with an additional section in the back they referred to as the cottages.  They also had all sorts of critters that lived there with them.  They have 2 Puli, which are Hungarian Sheepdogs, named Sassy and Matilda.  Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of them, but they are black dreadlocked dogs that look like big mops.

These are the geese who were very helpful in cleaning up any leftover bread and keeping the chooks (chickens) in line.

They also had a handful of alpacas.  This is one of the ladies walking past.

And this is the cottage.  It is a beautiful, historic building with contemporary-styled interiors and a large variety of modern art- very cool.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tasmania- Yacht Race and Taste Festival

Hobart around New Years is a happening place. First, there is the yearly Sydney to Hobart yacht race which departs Sydney on Boxing Day (26 December). We still have no idea what Boxing Day is. The yachts arrive in Hobart anywhere from 30 to 31 December. More on that later. Now, the yacht race we knew about- what we had no idea about was the Taste Festival which is from 28 December to 3 January right on the waterfront. Lucky us! 

The Taste Festival is dedicated to showcasing the local restaurants and wines of Tasmania. Essentially, you show up and just eat and drink to your heart's content. It's like they designed it just for us! An appetizer of oysters was quickly followed by a mussel and chorizo pialla, roasted quail, and thai chicken curry puffs. Mmmmmmm, delicious. The festival has gotten huger every year, and the first day pulled in over 33,000 people. We went on day 2, which as you can see below couldn't have had many fewer. Note the lines of food stands on either side.

The Sydney to Hobart yacht race was just the beginning. There are 3 other smaller races happening all at the same time. There were 2 seperate Melbourne to Hobart races, one going along the east coast of Tasmania and one going along the west coast. Lastly, a race from Launceston (a Tasmanian city on the northern side of the island) to Hobart. Below is one of the yachts from Launceston pulling into the harbor. I think they were the third place finisher. Good job guys!

Another ship coming in.  We just loved the beautiful landscape beyond.  Our photography skills can't truely capture just how beautiful this island is.

What better way to celebrate a few days sailing than beer? We figure this is one of the primary reasons these guys do this race. Motivation 1: Sailing. Motivation 2: Finish line beer is the best tasting beer of all.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tasmania- Devils, Prisons, and Caves

We visited the Tasmanian Devils Conservation Park outside of Port Arthur.  They call this park an “unzoo” because they are working to transform the area into more open, free-flowing spaces that are only divided up by natural elements rather than the traditional cages.  The visitors will be the ones that move through a series of enclosures in order to minimize disturbing the animals.  They were still working on it, but it looks like it will be really nice when it’s done.
Tasmanian Devils are only found in Tasmania, and are part of the marsupial family.  This means they carry their babies in a pouch, like kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and koalas.  We were able to attend one of the Tasmanian Devils feedings.  Turns out they are scavengers and will literally eat everything- meat, hair, bones, even teeth.  They must have an extremely hardcore digestive system.

We can confirm that Loony Tunes mislead us on their movements, as we saw no evidence of them turning into tornadoes.  However, the slobbering, snarling, and overall lack of intelligence they got spot on.  I think the best word to describe the Tasmanian Devils would be “rascally.”  For critters that spend their life snarling, slobbering, and fighting every chance they get, they’re actually pretty cute.  Our tour guide explained, “They’re not very fast, their eyesight isn’t very good, they’re not that smart, and they don’t live that long.  Really they don’t have much going for them.”

Tasmanian Devils are currently on the endangered animals list.  About 80% of the population has already been killed off by a contagious cancer that is spread by saliva.  Since the Devils fight over everything the disease is only stoppable by quarantining those that have not already been infected.  Despite tons of research they still have no idea how this cancer started or how to cure it.  It is only the 3rd known cancer that is contagious and spreads live cancer cells from one animal to the next.  The other 2 are a venereal cancer that affects dogs and some rare hamster cancer.  Bizarre.  It also does not help that they can only have 1 litter per year with a maximum of 4 babies, and their lifespan is 5 years.

We also saw a bird show at the unzoo.  Here their bird Talkie is collecting coin donations from the audience.  We need to teach our cats this trick.

This is Kermit a Tawny Frog-Mouth bird.  He is a strange looking guy, almost no beak or visible face and blends in particularly well with the trees he likes to hang out in. 

Another weird thing about Kermit is that he does not chew his food, just opens his mouth wide like a frog (hence the name) and swallows it whole.  This is a demonstration of just that.

After the unzoo, we went to Port Arthur. Port Arthur was the British prison in the 1800's for the worst of the worst. As the Brits used Australia as a penal colony, anyone sent there was already a convict. If they continued to commit crimes while in Australia, they were sent to Port Arthur. Judging by the bios of some of the convicts the crimes committed sounded pretty arbitrary. In the late 1800's, Port Arthur was shut down as gold was discovered in Tasmania, and the authorities figured that sending criminals to a place where they could potentially strike it rich wasn't much of a punishment. However, as the prison was converted to an insane asylum, largely for the current prisoners who had been driven insane by the horrible conditions, it doesn't seem like too realistic a concern.

This is just hilarious. Even the road signs for the Devils are snarly. And yes we did stop the car in the middle of the road to get this picture.

Just south of Port Arthur was a gourgous bay whose names escapes us. Really strong waves were breaking over the rocks, and the wind almost knocked us over a couple times. The coolest thing though was "The Remarkable Cave." Seriously, that is the name.

This cave is indeed remarkable. This picture doesn't really do it justice, but its absolutely beautiful with the tide coming in through the cave and the dramatic, rocky landscape.