Thursday, January 28, 2016

The last post from Tasmania

We visited the world famous Museum of Old and New Art ( yesterday, and it was provocative to say the least. We had been warned. There are plenty of signs saying that patrons may find certain exhibits offensive. Well, I can't say I was offended...just mightily uncomfortable in many of the spaces. Physically uncomfortable in the Cloaca exhibit...a massive machine that is fed twice a day and poops once a day so the smell is atrocious...worse than a badly maintained outhouse! Mentally uncomfortable in others! One fascinating installation was a waterfall of random words, depicting bombardment of information and how ephemeral it is. Ironically one artist statement was about how accessible his art was..."the cleaning lady likes it!"  And I struggled to understand it. So, art is meant to evoke feelings, and this sure did. We were happy to have gone, and happy to leave! Saw this car outside the museum entrance...

One fabulous display in Tasmania is "The Wall" in Derwent Bridge, a very small community about halfway between Queenstown and Hobart. A wood sculptor is creating many panels in bas relief using salvaged  Huon pine. His work reminded us of the lifelike marbles in Rome where the textiles and skin appear to be alive.

We've enjoyed the wildlife here, but what is dismaying is seeing the carnage on the roads. Wallabies, pademelons, wombats and others. We have tried to travel in daylight so as not to add to the roadkill. We have seen the echidna a couple of times...

...and the elusive platypus!
(You have to use your imagination to see the duckbill in the centre, but know that we were very excited!)
Both of these are "monotremes", creatures that lay soft shelled eggs and express a milk-like substance onto their fur for the young to lap up. (Handy travelling with a biologist who says this is another environmental experiment.)

A white parrot--these are very noisy!

And the more colourful variety!

We are off back to the mainland tomorrow, Saturday, and will be picking up yet another rental car to drive between Melbourne and Adelaide and eventually Sydney by February 24. My next post will be from the Great Ocean Road in a few days.

Australia Day in Strahan, Tasmania

When we arrived in Queenstown last Sunday, we saw a poster for "The Picnic Train" on Australia Day. This is the continuation of a tradition well over 100 years old where a special train is put on for the people of Queenstown to travel to the seaside town of Strahan for an annual picnic. (The tradition isn't exactly that old however...the railway was discontinued in 1963 and the rails taken up. Thirty years later the community succeeded in attracting enough funding and investors to re-establish the corridor, lay the track, rebuild the bridges, refurbish several cars and locomotives, and a new railway was born, the West Coast Wilderness Railway, We got our tickets and were on the train at 7:30 AM for the three hour journey to Strahan. 

Our engineer loves her job!

The King River Gorge...she stopped the train on the trestle bridge so photos could be taken...

A little knitting time sitting in the gorgeous wood panelled carriage. This is Black Sassafras wood.

The picnic was a fun time for kids!

And of course we had to try some of the picnic food...a sausage topped with fried onions and relish wrapped in a slice of white bread and a beef patty with the same toppings between two slices of white bread!

(We then left the picnic to walk into town in search of more appetizing food and beverage!) and a walk through a wonderful west coast rain forest to Hogarth Falls.

The diversity of Tasmania

We are on our last few days in Tasmania and I thought I would post some favourite images showing the diversity of the landscape, from the east to the west. 

On the north-east coast...The Bay of Fire, not named this because of these gorgeous lichen covered rocks, but because early explorers saw fires lit by aboriginal people.

The beautiful sandy beaches and the huge waves...

Some of the temperate rain forest...

A big Myrtle tree, another ancient species now protected from logging...

A canopy of Black Acacia trees on the west coast...

In a forest of big eucalyptus trees in Mt. Field National Park...

Some industrial debris left from the days of tin mining in the north-east.  This is a stamp mill.

In my next post, I will tell you how we spent Australia Day, Tuesday January 26.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

More Delightful Tasmanian Encounters

Since I last wrote, we have travelled into the western rainforest to the old mining town of Queenstown where the usual annual rainfall is 2 to 3 metres, but not this last year. Lake levels are low (these are lakes created from damming rivers years ago) and the bush is burning to the north east of us. We stopped in Deloraine to check on road closures, and one of the routes here was in fact closed. The stop in Deloraine was fabulous because we got to see a community art project done twenty years ago called "Yarns". How could we not stay for a while? This exhibit is four enormous panels depicting the four seasons in Deloraine and the surrounding area, the Great Western Tiers (mountains). It was three years in the making from 1992 - 1995, and seems to have involved everyone in the community. The fabric is predominantly silk and techniques are hand, machine and ribbon embroidery along with hand and machine appliqué. The panels hang in a small purpose-built theatre, and for the first ten minutes we sat and listened to a commentary as various sections were spot lit, accompanied by (of course) Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Then we had fifteen minutes to closely inspect the work. I am so impressed with how this all came together. The coordinator must have had a strong vision and a strong personality to bring it all together so well. See the website for more info:

We've had some more fabulous encounters, from hilarious misunderstandings due to thick accents and idiosyncratic phrases to in-depth conversations with small business folk. Regarding the former...we booked the Mountain View Motel in Queenstown on-line for three nights. When we arrived, Lloyd said to the owner, "The name is Davies". The owner went away and came back, saying "What did you say your name is?" So Lloyd repeated it, then spelled it. "Oh, Dye-vies", the man said. And we all laughed! (I was reminded of My Fair Lady, and since then my ear worm has been, "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain...") And then the owner said, "Shall we fix you up then?" As we stared at him blankly, another woman waiting to check in said "he means pay the bill now!" And more laughter ensued. It's lovely to laugh together.

On our way out of St Helen's we stopped at the Priory Ridge Winery, ( and within minutes were engrossed in a conversation with the owners who lived and worked in Banff and Canmore in the late 60s, and still keep in touch with friends in BC and AB. Julie and David have been growing grapes on her family's property for the past 9 years or so. The tasting room is an old shearing shed built 80 years ago and on the walls are old family photos and memorabilia. We bought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and opened it a few miles down the road to have a glass with our picnic lunch, thanks to the plastic wine glasses that she gave us...

Yesterday in the small community of Strahan we visited Tasmanian Special Timbers, and what a great showroom of slabs of wood! 

I was most taken with the statements on each one. 

I felt as though I was in a gallery enjoying carefully crafted artist statements. I commented on this to Dianne behind the desk, and she is the author. We had a delightful and wide ranging conversation about the art of story telling over the ages, aboriginal issues, colonialism, environmental protests, and so I said, it was wide ranging!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Of Tasmanian Devils and other wonderful encounters

We are now in St Helens, a small town on the north-east coast of Tasmania, for a couple of nights. There are bush fires burning to the north and north-west...we are going to look at the fire services map before deciding which direction to go from here on Saturday. Not only do we want to be out of the smoke, we also don't want to be bothersome tourists. We don't have a fixed itinerary so we can go where we won't be in the way. This apparently is one of the worst bush fire seasons in recent history (not surprising given how dry it is) but fortunately the fires are burning in mountainous regions at a distance from homes. 

We spent most of Wednesday on short walks in Freycinet National Park. There are many French names in this area as a result of French explorers on the east coast in 1802. This expedition during the Napoleonic wars is what spurred the British on to lay claim and start settling here. Wineglass Bay is probably the most famous short walk in Tasmania, and we shared the trail with a multitude of people from all over the world. 

The pink granite boulders on the hillsides are amazing.

We have noticed a lot of Chinese tourists here, mostly travelling in extended family groups in large white vans, about 10 to 12 people in each group. Tourist information is often in both English and Chinese, and includes signs like this in many bathrooms.

On Wednesday night we went on a wildlife tour "Devils in the Dark" to see Tasmanian Devils in their natural environment. These are small endangered carnivorous animals--very hairy with strong jaws and sharp teeth--about the size of small pigs. We were ushered into a blind in a wildlife park, and served refreshments of Devil's Corner (an appropriately named local wine) and local cheese. 

For well over an hour we watched about 9 of them alternately feasting and fighting. It was fascinating to see how they tackled the carcass (going for the rich internal organs first) and fought off their opponents. Clearly these particular animals are well fed, and when each of them had had enough they walked away to be replaced shortly by another. Our guide said there would be nothing left of the carcass in the morning, not even its hooves or fur, which is why Devils are so important to this eco-system.

Devils are endangered because of a rampant jaw bone infection. They also feast on road kill and don't have the smarts to drag the carcasses off the road out of harm's way, thus becoming road kill themselves. In this wildlife park they are trying to breed, develop and support Devils who are resistant to the infection, and reintroduce them into areas where they won't be in as much danger from traffic. Given the amount of road kill on the roads (wallabies, hedgehogs and possums) I wonder if part of the strategy should be to quickly clean up the roads too, or at least to drag carcasses off into the bush.

We had a couple of very pleasant encounters Thursday in the village of St. Marys. I noticed a sign on a shop advertising Art Quilts and organic clothing. I persuaded Lloyd to turn around (not too difficult...he's very amenable), and I had a very pleasant visit with Rita Summers, a fibre artist specializing in natural dyed clothing. Check out and also on Facebook...Gone Rustic Studio Gallery. She collects vintage natural fibre clothing--t-shirts, blouses, shirts, dresses, vests--from "op shops" ("opportunity shops" or thrift stores) around the state, and dyes them with iron, eucalyptus and other plants and mineral sources nearby. So everything is one-off, and I valiantly tried on a few pieces but nothing was quite right. It would have been wonderful to have been able to buy something from her. As it was, we had to be content with a great conversation and a "meeting of the minds". As we were leaving she suggested we drop in on her husband Ian in his "Museum of Interesting Things" (aka St Marys Cranks and Tinkerers) in the old railway station, and again another delightful encounter and a lovely wander amongst curious objects from the last 100 years. I can just imagine Ian and Rita talking about their day over supper and discussing our visits! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

First few days in Tasmania

We left Melbourne Sunday morning for an hourlong flight to Hobart, Tasmania, and after a wait of almost two hours finally got our rental car. For accommodation, we had booked two nights with ATC (Affordable Travel Club) hosts Kevin and Heather near Hobart. They had other commitments Sunday, and it was most convenient for us to show up later in the day. In the meantime, Kevin had suggested we visit Richmond, a Georgian village not too far from the airport. This is also the Coal River Valley wine region with about 30 vineyards, and we stopped at one of the first in the area, Coal Valley Vineyard for a most welcome lunch after that long wait at the airport. Richmond is indeed most picturesque wth many stone buildings intact from the early 19th C. The village was once strategically located between Hobart and the Port Arthur penal settlement, and was bypassed when a causeway was built in 1872...the town remains much as it was 150 years ago. 

Port Arthur was our destination on Monday...we arrived at 11:45 and didn't leave until after 6 pm and could have stayed longer. This World Heritage Site is a significant part of the British settlement story of Australia. It was first established in 1830 as a timber camp with convict labour. Shortly thereafter it became the prison for repeat offenders from all of the Australian colonies. The iconic Penitentiary...

...was originally built as a granary and converted into a prison with 136 cells for "prisoners of bad character" on the lower two floors and space for 480 "better behaved" convicts on the upper floors who also had hot and cold running water.
We joined a very informative 40 minute walking tour at the outset, and learned that this place was on the cusp of prison reform in the British empire. In the early to mid 1800s, British society was undergoing a huge upheaval due to the industrial revolution. Unemployment was rampant, and living conditions in the slums of London, Manchester and Birmingham was intolerable. People were desperate. There was an attempt at reform, education and training, as well as discipline and punishment, "a machine for grinding rogues into honest men". Port Arthur was a prison for men (the women convicts--about one in four were female--were housed elsewhere such as at the "Female Factory" in Hobart which we have yet to visit.) Medical care and treatment was top notch for the times, and there was a hospital for treating respiratory ailments and an asylum for the mentally ill. The hospital was destroyed in a bushfire in the late 1890s... was the church...

Convict transportation ended in 1853 because authorities realized that people were committing crimes in order to gain free transportation to the gold fields! The penal settlement served out its final days as an asylum and finally closed in 1877. Many of the buildings were dismantled or destroyed in bushfires in the late 19th C, but tourists started coming in the early 20th C; this has been an important destination since then. Having convict ancestry used to be undesirable but in the last several years public sentiment has swung the other way. 

We also visited the Isle of the Dead where around 1100 people are buried. On our tour were three cute little 8 year old girls from Sydney who asked very smart questions such as " Is the headstone actually on his head?" And the guide replied very appropriately, suggesting they think of a headstone as similar to a headboard of a bed. We were told about a convict who learned about stone masonry while incarcerated and developed his signature style, that of a rope decoration around the edges of the headstone. 

Other stonemasons were not quite as adept and obviously ran out of room, didn't put spaces between words and made spelling mistakes.

After leaving Port Arthur we visited the Remarkable Caves just 15 minutes south, where some foolish young women gave me the heeby-jeebies as they balanced precariously on the edges, taking selfies...

The cave is quite remarkable...looking like the map of Tasmania...

On Tuesday we drove north-west to Bicheno for the next two nights. Nearby is a colony of fairy penguins (aka Blue penguins) and we were lucky to see them returning to their burrows that night just after dark. These were photographed in a beam of red light.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Marvellous Melbourne

After a three and half hour flight from Queenstown, NZ, we arrived in Melbourne early Thursday evening January 14. To be suddenly thrust into urban traffic was a shock. This city and surrounding suburbs has a population of about 4.5 million (same as New Zealand and also our home province of BC but of course in much smaller areas) and the traffic to go along with that. Our hotel (Brady Hotels) was in the centre of the city, complete with demolition and construction all around, fortunately not through the night. Melbourne is in the midst of a building boom. Here are a couple of views from our hotel room, one a reflection in the windows of the building opposite...

 It's a very diverse city as well, much like Vancouver, and this is reflected in the restaurants and the faces of people on the street. Apparently there used to be more people of Greek descent in Melbourne than Athens, and the Chinatown was once the biggest outside of China.

We went on a "I'm Free" walking tour of the because of the expectation of paying what you think it's worth by tipping at the end. We were led by the very well-informed Matthew who ably managed a group of about 45. Many of Melbourne's grand buildings were constructed during the gold rush of the 1850s and a period of prosperity that lasted into the early 20th C, a period referred to as "Marvellous Melbourne ". Melbourne apparently has one of the largest collection of Victorian buildings in the world.

Street art is permitted in many lanes and alleys. Owners have to have permission from the civic authorities otherwise they are required to remove the graffiti. Most is painted over within days but some has been left up for years. This artist must have erected scaffolding...

...whereas this one is standing on the more traditional rubbish bins...

We treated ourselves to an evening at the Regent Theatre to see "Cats", which neither of us had seen or knew much about except for the very famous song Memories...and while it seemed to be well done we weren't impressed with the lack of plot and story!

We left this hustle and bustle for the relative calm of Tasmania on Sunday. The next post will be about our visit to Port Arthur yesterday.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Last post from New Zealand

From Doubtless to Doubtful in seven weeks! Like James Cook, we have been from the top end of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, from Doubtless Bay where Cook apparently waved his hand saying, "Doubtless a bay" to "Doubtful Sound" where he doubted he would have enough room to turn his ship around. Can I work with these two words some more? We never doubted that we would find it easy to get around NZ...there is no language barrier apart from some occasional misunderstandings due to accents...driving on the other side of the road continued to be a challenge especially for this doubtful passenger but not for the doubtless driver! Okay, that's enough of doubt. We have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves here and don't feel quite ready to leave but the plane takes off today, Thursday afternoon, for Melbourne, and then we begin a seven week stretch in Tasmania and south-east Australia, finishing in Sydney on March 3.

Random memories...
-Plentiful road kill, a.k.a. "Squashum-possum". We killed a few ourselves, and certainly ran over many more flattened critters. The possum were introduced for their fur in the 19th C, and have taken over in many places, endangering the flightless Kiwi and other ground-feeding animals. There is a controversial bait program to kill introduced pests such as possums, rats, stoats, rabbits, and feral cats...controversial because in some areas it has been laid down or sprayed in such a way that other animals like dogs get into it. Dogs are also killers of Kiwis. Many communities are establishing "predator free zones" with special fencing and targeted predator kills, and are now celebrating the return of NZ song birds. Nelson is one example. Birds predominated until humans arrived along with other mammals. The only native mammal is a bat.
-Narrow, wiggly roads (Lloyd's favourite and Janet's nightmare) with one way bridges and attention to the signs to see who has the right-of-way,
-Speed limit on the roads, whether it's a secondary or major road, is 100 km/hour, and it's not unusual to see a sign for a resumption of 100, promptly followed by a sign to slow for 35 km for a curve, plus a hidden intersection or two...
-Arrows painted on the roads after major intersections reminding us to stay left
-Wine and beer in grocery stores...readily available and the clerks always had to have a supervisor come and approve the sale...and it's cheap (much less expensive than spirits--a bottle of gin is double the price here compared to home, hence no G&Ts for Lloyd),
-Fruit and vegetable seasons overlap....everything's available right now: cherries, peaches, apricots, raspberries, strawberries, peas, lettuce, cucumbers...Lloyd has indulge in his favourite fruit for the past couple of weeks.
-Fresh produce in the supermarkets is very expensive in spite of being locally grown and in season now...e.g. Cherries $10-20/kg
-Friendly Kiwis...walk down any street and be greeted with a Good Morning or Hello!
-A reunion with an old friend from my days working in a restaurant in Keswick, England in the early 70s...wonderful to reconnect with Mary and meet her husband Duncan in Invercargill on Monday...and most surprisingly, our accommodation hosts, Jan and Graeme, were friends of theirs (we didn't know this until after after we had arrived) and they had all just been on a cycling trip together. Graeme and Jan live on a dairy farm...she has a beautiful "woman cave", her patchwork studio, and Graeme has an even bigger shed for his woodworking. They both create beautiful work. Their home was easy to find because of the instructions plus the Canadian flag flying out front (He changes the flag to suit all their guests' nationalities).
-Yarn shops in every city and town! I had to restrain myself to one ball of sock yarn in each place,
-"Flat White coffee"... More milk than a cappuccino and less milk and foam than a latte, but like any coffee shop the quality varies,
-The varied landscape...just travel 20 km or so and it changes, from wet to dry, from green to brown, and from mountains to plains,
-Familiar plants introduced by homesick Scottish settlers...the gorse and broom that is so prevalent on southern Vancouver Island and the lower mainland is as widespread here, for the same reasons,
-Idiosyncratic mailboxes, like these ones at Arthur's Point, Queenstown near our holiday park...there was a van load of Japanese tourists taking pictures of them when I walked over...

-Sheep and cows everywhere. There are probably still more sheep than people.
-Public toilets, and clean at that, are everywhere!
-Admission prices for many attractions are steep, e.g. $25 and more for a museum operated by a charitable trust which doesn't get any government funding. Major public institutions such as provincial and national museums and galleries are free.
-Hiking ("tramping") tracks are plentiful, well-maintained and very popular.
-Sharing communal kitchens with people of different habits and cultures...why do some people think it acceptable to rinse the dishes and utensils under a tap, dry them with a well-used tea towel, and maybe put them back where they belong??
-The melodic Tui, named "Squeaky bird" by has two voice boxes, one a trill and the other a squeak.
-Best souvenirs not purchased...a tee shirt with a slogan "Same shirt, different day" and a linen tea towel with prints of Pohutukawa flowers 
-Unpronounceable (for us Canucks) place come "wh" is pronounced "f"?
-Evidence of glaciation on the South Island similar to BC
-Gasoline is twice the price as home at $1.89.9NZ per litre. Diesel is about the same as home but the road tax on vehicles using diesel is high. The lowest octane level is 91 & highest is 95.
-Lots of young people from all over Europe on renewable one year work visas
-GST of 15% is included in all sticker prices no no surprises at the till.
-restaurant meals are expensive, but there is no expectation of tipping because the minimum wage is also higher ($14.75/hr)
-Home of adventure activities for the adrenaline-seeking tourist...To name just two, jet-boating in Shotover Gorge...

...and bungy-jumping off the historic Kawarau Bridge

-Ubiquitous corrugated iron...roofs, walls, fences...saw a fabulous exhibition in Christchurch by an artist Jeff Thomson,, who uses this to make mail boxes, cuts it into strips and knits them using a trampoline as a "French knitting " frame ( also known as corking or spool knitting), cuts out shapes of flowers and leaves to form into bouquets.

So that's it from the Queenstown Airport. Next post will be from Melbourne in a few days.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Magnificent Doubtful Sound

We stayed at the Manapouri Lakeview Motor Inn in Fiordlands National Park in southwest NZ last Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday we took a day trip to Doubtful Sound with Real Journeys ( Having only one full day here, we had to decide between Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. We decided on the latter because we wouldn't have to do any driving (the departure pier being very close by), there are way fewer boats in the sound because it's less accessible, and no flight-seeing overhead. Milford is the one that tourists know about and thus with the most coach loads...even from Queenstown! More than a four hour drive each way!

To back up a bit, the winds that we endured to visit the albatross colony continued unabated on our drive across the country from Dunedin to Manapouri on Saturday. The wind speed became even greater with gusts up to 100 km/hr accompanied by pounding rain into the night. Around 4 am the rain had quit and we looked out to see most magnificent stars--what a treat. 

Rain clouds were still evident in the distance towards the sound...This was our early morning view from in front of the motel.

The boat left the dock on Manapouri Lake at 8 am for the 45 minute trip across to the other side. There is a power station at this end, built in the 60s. This is not a dam but the entrance. From here the water falls 176 metres below lake level to the turbines. 

We then loaded onto coaches for the 45 min trip along the Wilmot Pass, a narrow twisting road built to support the dam construction and now used solely by visitors to Doubtful Sound. This was our first view of the sound from the summit.

And then onto the Patea Explorer catamaran to explore the sound for the next three hours. On board was a very well-informed naturalist and historian. He pointed out clumps of blooming mistletoe, an indication of a healthy forest.

This is a fabulous rainforest that receives about three metres of rain per year (much like the Pacific Northwest, e.g. Ocean Falls, Prince Rupert and the Alaskan panhandle). Hence the multitude of greens in a variety of textures--trees, mosses and lichens--with abundant waterfalls! 

At the mouth of the sound, looking out over the Tasman Sea, we saw albatross again. The naturalist said these were "shy albatross " so named because they normally stay away from boats.

Captain Cook named this "Doubtful Harbour" because he didn't enter, doubting that it would be big enough to turn the ship around to sail out. Fourteen years later the Spanish rowed in with a long boat to chart these waters....the same ones that were in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1700s and early 1800s...hence some of the same names were assigned, e.g, Malaspina.

The back of our Volvo coach, obviously designed specifically for their NZ client.

Our last look outside our window towards the Wilmot Pass and Doubtful Sound before leaving Monday morning...every one of the 55 rooms in this place has a magnificent lake view.