Wednesday, March 30, 2011

20th Waterfall!

Yesterday we got to see our twentieth waterfall since being in Australia.  There are many that we have skipped along the way so the list could be much longer.

I started the day with a 3 mile run along the ocean.  I ran into town and was on part of the trail for the Great Ocean Walk which is a 91 km walk.  The first walk we did yesterday was to Shelly Beach.  It was nice and cool in the rainforest and then hot and sunny once you got to the beach.  There was a lot of exposed rock with tide pools.
The second walk was to Triplet Falls.  This walk meandered through rainforest and had viewing platforms for the falls.  It's a little hard to tell in the picture because of the trees but this waterfall was actually three side by side, hence the name.  After the falls we walked past some artifacts from when there was a sawmill operating in the area.

The men cutting down the trees put these notches in the trunk, stuck a board in the notch, and stood on the board to saw the tree down.

Tomorrow we are headed to...well, we aren't sure yet.:)  We are using today to plan the next part of the trip, do laundry, and go out for pizza.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Koalas in the Wild

If you asked someone what a common Australian animal was two answers would probably be kangaroo and koala.  Up until yesterday we hadn't seen a koala in the wild yet.  We read about a place that was on our way to Apollo Bay where koalas are commonly seen.  Apparently a lot of people knew about this place too because there were many people there and even a place called the Koala Cafe nearby. 
Koalas spend up to nineteen hours a day sleeping!  The four we saw were all sleeping and the only movement we saw out of them was some brief stretching and scratching by one.  This lethargic lifestyle means they can live on a low energy diet of eucalypt leaves.  They are one of the few mammals besides primates to have fingerprints.

We were pleased to finally see them in the wild.

Great Ocean Road

We're exploring the Great Ocean Road on this segment of our trip.  This is a 243km coastal road that stretches between Torquay and Warrnambool in Victoria.

The road has an interesting history.  It was built as a memorial to casualties of World War I by returning veterans.  The Great Ocean Road was designed to follow the coast, connecting isolated towns that had been difficult to reach.  The coast is rugged in this area and the two lane road was carved into the face of the cliffs.

Originally created by a private company, the road was built between 1919 and 1932.  Initially, the road was a tollway until the debt was repaid.  In 1936, it was handed over to the state of Victoria.

The road remains a challenging, but very scenic drive.

Monday, March 28, 2011


We drove a little over two hours to Lorne for two nights.  We stayed in a caravan park near town and our site was right along the Erskine River.

We're quite happy with this campervan so far.  We were pleasantly surprised when we got in and found out it was an automatic instead of a manual.  There is less storage which is too bad since we have all six of our bags, but there is more counter space in the kitchen and the bed is longer which Ben appreciates.  There were lots of birds around this caravan park which was entertaining at times and annoying at times. 

We did a couple of walks on Sunday.  One was to Erskine Falls.

We also walked to Teddy's Lookout and into town later to look at the shops and watch some surfers on the beach.  I also did a nice run along the ocean.  Monday morning we packed up and stopped on our way out at Sheoaks Falls.

Further on past the falls was a cave called Swallow Cave.
We drove along the Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay and are here for three nights.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


We started our next trip by picking up a campervan and driving about an hour northwest of Melbourne to the city of Ballarat. 

Ballarat is at the heart of Victoria's goldfields, with alluvial gold discovered at nearby Poverty Point in 1851.  The subsequent goldrush brought thousands of people to the area, including many American veterans of the California goldrush.  Millions of dollars of gold was discovered transforming the town with gorgeous Victorian architecture which still survives.  The city continues to be an important inland regional area.

The Eureka Rebellion occurred nearby when miners refused to pay exorbitant licensing fees without voting rights and representation.  It was the only episode of white armed rebellion in Australia's history and is viewed as an important step in Australia's democracy.  Unfortunately, the stockade was closed for renovation.

Hoping to pay for our trip!

We visited Sovereign Hill (hat tip, Paul Q!), an open air museum recreating an 1850s gold mining settlement.  The site sits on 25 hectares of a former gold mining site and contains over 70 recreated buildings.  It explores life in the camps and the position of Chinese immigrant miners.  There are people in period dress demonstrating the different mining equipment and related operations.  Nearby was the related Gold Museum which houses early photographs of the area and several actual and recreated large gold nuggets.  Overall, a very enjoyable day!
Blacksmith making a gold pour

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More Melbourne

Well, we have officially left Tasmania.  It was bittersweet since it had been our home for the last seven months but we were excited about our upcoming travels.  We flew to Melbourne Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning had an appointment with immigration to switch our visas to tourist visas.  We were a little nervous about what this would entail, but the meeting went well and we were granted the visas on the spot.  In the afternoon we went to the Melbourne Museum.  We saw an IMAX movie about Egypt that ended up not being very good at all and was a waste of money, but the museum itself was good and we got to see a stuffed Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine.

The Tasmanian Tiger is extinct and the last one in captivity died in 1936.  It was the largest carnivorous marsupial.  It more resembled a dog than a tiger but had stripes on it's back.  Many factors may have contributed to it's extinction including disease, loss of habitat, and maybe most significantly, bounties that were paid to people who killed the Tasmanian Tigers because they were thought to be killing chickens and sheep.  Some people think the tigers still exist and there are sightings reported at times.  There is even a $1.75 million reward being offered by a Tasmanian tour operator for anyone with evidence of their existence.

We also saw a huge skeleton of a Blue Whale that was found stranded on a beach in Victoria in 1992.  It was 19 meters long and quite impressive to see.  We saw some Aboriginal artifacts as well including a crocodile shaped headdress made from turtle shells.  Here is one more picture of me at the museum checking out the ant farm exhibit.
We had dinner on Lygon Street which is known for it's Italian restaurants.  We picked up the campervan Friday and headed to Ballarat.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tasmania's Great Short Walks

While we've been in Australia, we have enjoyed doing many short walks.  Early on, we came across a pamphlet listing 60 Great Short Walks put out by Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife.

We managed to conquer 20 of the walks (and almost finish another one).  Here's the list:

Fluted Cape Walk
Lady Barron Falls Circuit
Russell Falls
Tall Trees
Nelson Falls
Hogarth Falls
Dove Lake Circuit
Enchanted Walk
Fern Glade
Alum Cliffs
Springlawn Nature Walk
Duck Reach
Tamar Island
Liffey Falls
Pine Lake
St. Columba Falls
Friendly Beaches
Cape Tourville
Wineglass Bay Lookout
Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach Circuit

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tasmania's National Parks

We've left Tassie and are in Melbourne for two nights before picking up a campervan for the Great Ocean Road.  This is a good time to recap our Tassie adventures.

Early in our stay, we bought a National Parks pass for Tasmania and attempted to visit as many parks as possible.  Here's a list of parks we've visited:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fluted Cape Walk

Friday afternoon we took a 5k walk via Fluted Cape in South Bruny Island National Park.  Ben's camera battery was dead so we didn't get any pictures of the walk.  The above pictures are from the caravan park we stayed at on South Bruny Island.  It was great to hear the waves crashing as we slept in the campervan.  The walk was quite steep up to the top of Fluted Cape and we had great views of the coast on the way back down.  This was an area where whaling used to take place and we saw some of the ruins from that time and an echidna on the path.  Saturday we stopped in Hobart on our way back to Launceston and went to the Salamanca Market that takes place on Saturdays.  There were lots of artisans selling their goods, food stands, and fruit and vegetable stands.  We bought a pair of salt and pepper grinders made of reclaimed sassafras wood.

We learned a lot on this trip about traveling in a campervan, what is helpful to have while traveling, and what to expect from the caravan parks.  Now we are ready for our next trip which starts tomorrow!  We are flying to Melbourne Wednesday, have an appointment with immigration to switch our work visas to tourist visas on Thursday, and leave Melbourne in a campervan Friday for two weeks on the Great Ocean Road, ending up on Kangaroo Island. 

Bruny Island Cruise

Overall, an excellent trip, but the standout event was our boat trip with Bruny Island Cruises.  Top to bottom, an awesome experience!

We boarded a sleek, supersized speedboat in Adventure Bay on Bruny Island.  After we were decked out in full-length pullover spray coats and given ginger tablets to prevent motion sickness, you knew it was going to be incredible!

The trip south followed the rugged coast of the South Bruny Island National Park.  Periodically, we stopped and the crew discussed the history, geology, and wildlife of the area.  The crew was passionate about the trip and excellent at illuminating the unique characteristics of the area.

We added several birds to our list and learned some fascinating information.  For example, the Short-Tailed Shearwater makes a yearly migration to the Alaskan Aleutian islands.  In order to leave ontime for this massive trip, the pair fattens up their single chick to more than the adult size.  They then leave the chick to learn to fly and figure out the migration for itself!

We also viewed a haul-out of Australian Fur Seals.  This area is almost all males (the females reside in the Bass Straight).  The poor females give birth and then are impregnated a couple of weeks later, spending more than 95% of their adult lives pregnant!

Beyond these rocks, 2200km to the south, lies the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica.  With the cold sea spray and 3 meter swells, this was a trip that felt like being at the end of the earth.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Living in a van down by the river

The caravan park we stayed in at Mt. Field National Park was much more rustic than the other two parks.  It was also more scenic and our site was along the Tyenna River.  Here's another shot of the campervan.
We did a great walk Wednesday afternoon in the park and saw Russell Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and Lady Barron Falls.  We also did the Tall Trees walk and saw huge Swamp Gums.  These trees are the tallest flowering trees in the world and can get to be 100 meters tall! 
I'm standing inside a HUGE fallen tree!

Russell Falls

Horseshoe Falls

Ben in front of a huge 200+ foot Swamp Gum that wouldn't even all fit in the picture!

Lady Barron Falls
We walked back down to Russell Falls once it got dark to see the glowworms.  The glowworms are larval insects that attract prey by glowing.  They are typically found in caves but there is an area right before the falls where they can be seen.  They looked like tiny glowing stars.  We also saw several possum and Ben got a great picture of one.

Tasmania and the Environment

Tasmania has a long history of logging and mining in remote areas.  Over the past 30-40 years, this has resulted in several controversies.
Franklin River
We visited one of the sites of controversy on our cruise on the Gordon river and our stop at the tiny suspension bridge over the Franklin river.  This early controversy was the Franklin Dam project, initially proposed in 1978.  The proposal mobilized environmental groups including the Tasmanian Wilderness Society.  The controversy brewed for several years, eventually culminating in protests at the dam sites and hundreds of arrests.

The controversy eventually pitted the State of Tasmania against the Commonwealth of Australia in a High Court case.  The Court ruled against Tasmania in 1983 which ended construction of the dam.

The successful outcome is seen as a pivotal moment in the history of Australian environmental groups and the growth of the Green Party.
During the controversy, the Franklin and Gordon rivers were named a World Heritage Site.  The site comprises 20% of Tasmania and met 7 of 10 possible criteria for inclusion.  Few World Heritage Sites meet as many criteria as the Tasmanian Wilderness.

The Franklin Dam controversy echoes today in a fight against a planned pulp mill and a related change in Tasmania's logging practices.  Current articles can be seen here, here, and here.

En route to Mt. Field

We had a four hour drive from Strahan to Mt. Field National Park so we made a couple of stops along the way.  First we stopped at Nelson Falls.  It was a short hike to the falls.

Next we stopped at the Frenchman's Cap trail.  The Frenchman's Cap is a mountain that you can hike to but it takes 3-5 days to complete the hike.  We did the first 15 minutes or so of the hike to the suspension bridge over the Franklin River.

The bridge was very narrow and only one person could cross at a time.  It was nice to take a couple of breaks during the drive.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cruising the Gordon River

On Monday we booked a Tuesday morning cruise with World Heritage Cruises.  We boarded the boat with a couple hundred other people around 8:30.  Soon after leaving, the boat passed through Hell's Gates-the very narrow passage to Macquarie Harbor.  Macquarie Harbor is one of the biggest harbors in Australia but very hard to get to due to this narrow passage.  It was named Hell's Gates by the convicts on their way to Sarah Island.
When we got to Sarah Island we got off the boat and had a tour.  Sarah Island was a convict settlement between 1822 and 1833.  This settlement was for convicts who committed offenses while under sentence.  1300 prisoners were sent to Sarah Island.


We got back on the boat after the tour of Sarah Island and had lunch on our way to the Gordon River.  It was so peaceful and beautiful to float along the Gordon River.  It was perfectly still and the water is stained brown from the tannins of the buttongrass plants found along the banks.  These two factors meant the reflections of the trees in the water were amazing.

We stopped at Heritage Landing for a short walk through the rainforest and then the boat took us back to Strahan. 

We watched the movie Rabbit Proof Fence on our computer Tuesday night.  It is about three Aboriginal girls in 1930 who were taken from their home because they were half Aboriginal and half white.  They were taken to a camp with other girls like them and the three girls escaped to try to go back home.  It was a very good movie.  It was based on a true story.  We looked up several Australian movies to download and watch during our travels so expect more movie reviews in the future.