Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Tasmanian Devils (2010)

To the west coast

As we ate our second and final breakfast in Hobart, we reflected on our short visit. There was little doubt that the city itself had fallen short of expectations, especially for a state capital surrounded by so much natural beauty. On the other hand, our lodgings had been excellent and given that we wanted to make a short pause in our travels towards the southern end of the island, why not do it here? Verdict: no regrets. Previously mixed-up feelings now rationalised, we set about the already familiar task of loading the car. It was time to move on again, and another long drive lay ahead, one that would take us to the quieter, more remote west coast of Tasmania, and specifically to the little town of Strahan. (Congratulations, incidentally, if you've just mentally pronounced that as Strawn.)

Leaving town was easy, the nearest main road being the one we wanted. We soon picked up the A10, known as the Lyell Highway throughout the stretch that we would be driving to Queenstown. The countryside started out with a pastoral theme and there was a somewhat surreal period for me when we drove through Gretna and Hamilton, and saw signs for Meadowbank, Elderslie and Bothwell. It wasn't difficult to guess the ancestry of most people in this area! A little later, we passed into the State Forest and made a short stop at the viewpoint at Tarraleah Lodge, which itself appeared to be closed for the winter season. The viewing platform gave a dramatic panorama of the densely wooded landscape, with wisps of morning mist adding a touch of mystery, while water pipes plunged towards the distant valley floor and the hydro-electric power station located there.

Back on the road, there was a brief respite from the forest as we passed by a number of lakes, and then the road turned resolutely westwards and re-entered the forest. Emerging into the light once again brought an initially placid stretch of highway as we skirted and finally crossed a narrow part of Lake Burbury. This was followed by the most dramatic part of the drive so far, crossing a wild and rugged mountain pass to reach the mining town of Queenstown, the largest settlement in the western part of Tasmania.

I was pleased that the journey was more than 80% complete, yet it was only lunchtime and I didn't feel the slightest hint of fatigue. We had prepared a picnic-style lunch, first and foremost because it seemed like a nice idea, but also with the intention continuing our highly enjoyable experiences of sampling the island's fresh, local produce. Most of the food had been purchased the previous day in Salamanca Square, for this specific purpose. There were now only two problems: there was some doubt over whether the weather could be trusted and Queenstown itself seemed a little run-down and uninspiring. A short drive around the streets revealed a little park with a couple of picnic tables, so we decided to zip up our jackets against the strong wind that was blowing through the valley and brave the less than ideal conditions. It somehow felt a bit like seaside Britain of yesteryear as we sat there convincing ourselves that the weather wasn't really so bad, while at the same time grasping at items that threatened to take off in the gusting wind. But the food was absolutely delicious, perhaps even more so for being eaten outdoors.

We were soon on the road again, for the short but tortuous final section to Strahan. On arriving in the little town,. I was slowing down for the main T-junction when Bruce realised that we had just driven past our cottage! A quick spot of reversing - not an issue on these quiet roads - and I was able to pull into the driveway of our latest self-catering cottage. We decided to defer the process of getting settled in, in favour of quickly setting out for the short walk down to the bay-front area, with a view to putting some arrangements in place for the following day. There were several options: a sea-plane was available for aerial tours and there was the so-called Abt Railway back to Queenstown, named after the particular Swiss-designed cog system that it uses in order to negotiate the steep gradients. Additionally, two separate companies operated bay cruises. In the end, we settled for one of the latter, buying tickets from World Heritage Cruises, whose staff had most helpfully invited us to go aboard to inspect the vessel and select our reserved seats!

Back at the cottage, it was nice to get the open log fire going. Bruce was back on chef duty again and busy conjuring up his latest treat of pasta with meatballs and fresh tomato sauce. After dinner, I dug out my little wallet of DVDs for the first time on the trip and we watched The Menagerie, which every Star Trek aficionado will instantly recognise as the only two-part episode in the entire original series. You didn't know that? Tsk, tsk!  

Friday 28 May

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