Spirit of Tasmania II
At 10:30pm on Sunday we left the Australian mainland on the Spirit of Tasmania II ferry on our way to Devonport Tasmania. The ferry was spacious and very comfortable and the facilities on board more than enough to keep a person occupied.
The announcer told us the journey was to take around 9 hours and we were due to dock in Devonport about 7:30am Monday morning and that we’d be passing the Spirit of Tasmania I about 3:30am. Wasn’t planning to stay up and confirm that so took his word for it. We’d booked a small inside cabin for the overnight journey which, although it was single bunks, was very comfortable. At 6:45am the announcer sparked up again and woke us all up ready for docking. At about 8:00am we were driving off the ferry onto Tasmanian soil. It was the start of our month long, Tassie Adventure.
Our Airbnb in Lilydale wouldn’t be available until 2:00pm so we had a few hours to kill and a pile of work to do. We drove along the road toward Launceston just looking at signs for interesting places to stop and work from for a few hours. Presently Jenni spied a sign for Lake Barrington, it had a nice ring to it, so we turned off the main road at the sign and were on our way.
On the way to Lake Barrington we passed through Sheffield and Railton. The signs at the start of both small town that announced that we had arrived had a subheading. Sheffield was “Town of Murals” and Railton was “Town of Topiary”.
In Railton the main street was lined with well groomed and shaped small trees and many of the gardens we went past had amazing sculptures from plants adorning them. This display was my favourite.
Sheffield had a lot of murals that we saw as we drove through but we didn’t stop there. There is an attraction in Sheffield called “Little Crackpot” which I read about last time we were here. Sheffield is also a short distance away from where we will be staying for a while in the last week of our trip here so we decided to leave it till then to explore properly.
A bit farther past Railton and Sheffield we saw the sign for Lake Barrington, following which took us down a very steep, narrow and twisty lane lined with thick forest. When we turned the final corner and burst through the forest we were greeted by a spectacular sight. Lake Barrington in the morning was as smooth as a mirror, there wasn’t a ripple on the lake and the trees across the lake were reflected perfectly in the mirror like finish, quite staggeringly beautiful.
Lake Barrington, was constructed in 1969 as part of a hydro electric scheme for the Devil’s Gate power station and is the site of a world-standard rowing course and in 1990 hosted the World Rowing Championships.
As if by magic there was an empty covered BBQ area right beside the lake and it was there we set up our office for the day. We do carry our own wifi internet hotspot but there was free wifi floating around as well so I attached to that.
There was a fire ban sign on the BBQ but luckily we came prepared. I got the small camping stove out and rustled us up a cup of tea and heated up some of the food Jenni had prepared for us in Ocean Grove.
It was a feast made even more delicious because of the surroundings. What a great way to start our Tassie adventure. We both reminded ourselves that this was why we decided to come on the adventure in the first place.
After lunch we left Lake Barrington for Lilydale and our Airbnb place called Little Barn stopping on the way there only to fill up with petrol and buy some provisions. The Little Barn is a reconditioned shed on a small working farm with two dogs, this one called Banjo. The farm, and the Little Barn, is owned by Bronte and Darren and Jenni and I are of the mind that they are two of the most generous and nicest people we’ve met on our travels to date. The Little Barn also has a special feature which attracted us to it, it boasts a local platypus family that can sometimes be spotted on the nearby creek that runs through the property. The Little Barn proved to be a delightful and comfortable place to stay. In the end we didn’t want to leave.
Waiting for us when we arrived was a huge food parcel of fresh bread, fresh fruit and veg from their farm, some eggs, Tassie smoked salmon and Tassie smoked bacon. There was cereal for breakfast and milk and condiments in the fridge. On the first night Bronte came to the door to welcome us and bring us a massive cheese platter and some home confit garlic which they grow on the farm. The garlic they grow is normal garlic which they confit at home, just in case you thought they grow garlic already confited which would be pretty amazing if they could.
The next day we stopped our work for a bit to go explore Lilydale Falls which is only about 4 minutes drive away, would be a shame to come all this way and not go see it.
There are 2 waterfalls, 5 mins and 10 mins walk respectively from the car park which is just beside the main road, so are very easy to get to. The small car park has some basic facilities and is also a free overnight camping ground. The falls were quite small due to the lack of recent rainfall but at least they were flowing.
On a whim I did that thing where I thought that a picture of this beautiful scene would be enhanced by a picture of myself sitting beside it.
I was wrong.
This part of Tassie is covered in thick forest, which is supposed to be full of the highest number of wild Tasmanian Devils in Tassie. We’ve heard some crazy noises at night coming from the forest which may be the Devil’s having a party.
That afternoon Bronte left us another massive food parcel from their amazing garden including the biggest heritage tomato I ever saw.
This is some of what Jenni made from this fresh, tasty produce.
The nights here are so clear and free from light pollution, you can see the Milky Way with your bare eyes. That night I set up my camera and tried to capture what I saw.
During the days I often worked outside in the sunshine, the weather has been pretty sunny for Tasmania which isn’t renowned for its warm climate, and the next day was so good I couldn’t sit inside. I’ve read that there is a world wide problem with bees dying and their numbers dwindling, well I have a theory, they’re not dying, they’re all in the Little Barn garden in Tasmania. They’re hanging around with their mates the butterflies. They also grow them big down here. Big fluffy bumblebees and little buzzing honey bees flew around everywhere.
As I sat in the sun with my laptop on my knee working away the bees and butterflies explored the garden plants stopping at some to feed off the pollen or nectar or whatever they eat. The bumblebees preferred the lavender bushes and the honeybees the daisies.
They also stopped by the watering hole for a drink or a swim or both.
Quite often they were joined by a bird or a lizard.
I actually only included that piece in the blog so I could use the “lizard drinking” line.
Hollybank Forest Tour
That afternoon we’d booked to go on a Segway Tour of Hollybank Forest courtesy of Hollybank Treetop Tours. Lewis, our guide showed us how to ride the beasts, which took us about 2 minutes to learn, and strapping on our helmets we were away. The all terrain Segway x2’s zipped us through the forest trails like we were floating. Segway’s are great fun to ride, we almost convinced ourselves we need to get a couple for ourselves. Again, the weather was perfect and we had tremendous fun.
Lewis told us a lot about the history of Hollybank forest. Originally it was a eucalyptus forest which was logged to extinction, then it was bought by a family who turned it into a farm. When the men of the farm went to war during WW1 the family found it too hard to cope and moved away from the farm back to Launceston.
Around 1926 Alfred Alexander, a tennis racket manufacturer from Launceston bought the farm. Up to that point he’d been importing Ash wood from England and then turning that into his patented laminated tennis racquets and sending them all over the world including back to England. Alfred’s racquets were distributed worldwide and were chosen by champions. In 1933 Jack Crawford won at Wimbledon with the ‘Cressy Perfect’ flat-top. Rumour has it Alfred had seen this tree in the old farm, it is a very old oak tree, probably originally from England and planted by the original farmers.
He also saw all the holly trees that thrived on the land that were also planted by English settlers (the holly trees that give the forest it’s name) and assumed this place is perfect for English native trees and would be a good place to grow the Ash trees that his racquets were made of. He bought the land and in a massive investment planted over 110,000 Ash trees. Now Ash trees that are good to make tennis racquets grow to about 1-2 metres in diameter, but Alfred planted his trees about a metre apart, so they never had a chance. He also didn’t know that the soil is too acidic for Ash to grow. What he ended up with was a lot of thin and stunted Ash twigs about 10cms in diameter, the enterprise was a disaster. His business went into decline and Alfred lost face and credibility. In the late 1950′s the Alexander Racquet factory was wound down and sold to Spalding.
After the very interesting Segway Tour we went back to the Little Barn.
Darren and Bronte grow garlic as I said. Darren told us that he had 3 fields which he rotated the garlic around each year. Apparently you need to give the fields a couple of years rest after the crop. In the fields that are “resting” he grows grass that is turned into hay. When the grass is cut and the hay made he lets Mary and Dolly the sheep lose to keep the grass down. I can’t remember the name of the third sheep, I hope it’s not offended. In all honesty I can’t tell which is Dolly or Mary either so it really doesn’t matter.
Last year his crop failed spectacularly, all the garlic died. After investigation he discovered that the manure he bought as fertiliser was from cows that ate onions and that there’s something in onions that kill garlic. The worst part of that story is that the field may be unusable to grow garlic for the next 30 years.
For those who have read my blogs before, spotting a Platypus would be a life highlight for me. I’d been calling the animal Duck Billed Platypus, Jenni informed me it’s just Platypus. It’s like calling a Giraffe a Long Necked Giraffe, like there’s another type of Platypus but with a beak or something. Darren told us how to get to the little creek where they often, but not always, come out at dawn and dusk so, since we arrived, Jenni and I have been sitting on the bank of the creek every morning and evening waiting to see a Platypus, duck billed or not, I didn’t care. He didn’t appear until tonight. We were told that we need to sit and listen, there’ll be bubbles where he’s under the water and then occasionally he’ll stick his snout (duck bill) out to grab some air and you’ll hear a little ‘snufff’ when that happens. But every so often, if you are very lucky and patient, he’ll just float along the stream on the flow giving you a show of his entire body and not just a bit of it. We were so hoping for that.
After 3 days of “no shows” we didn’t expect much, Darren had told us the bubbles we’d seen previously were probably the crayfish that live in the creek, there are also eels that cause ripples and false alarms when they skim the surface. That night was no exception. An eels caused the heart rate to rise a little in anticipation when it broke the surface before descending into the murk and gloom. I caught a picture of a bit of it.
But then we heard some bubbles and a splash on the other side and there he was, floating along the surface. A real live Platypus, Duck Bill and everything on show. Of course it only lasted half a second and this is all I got on camera, the picture reminds me of those Loch Ness Monster pictures.
I know it’s indistinct but in my defence, it was pitch black and he was far away but both Jenni and I spotted him and got a good look, I just didn’t get a good picture. We saw him again farther along the creek but he never fully surfaced again while we were there. Bronte said one night she was there he got up out of the creek and walked across the ground right in front of her. I’d have been delighted with that except I read they’ve a venomous claw that can cause injury and pain, but of course they have, they’re from Australia. I’m glad he stayed in the creek tonight. Another bucket list item ticked off. Love you Tassie, and we’ve only been here 4 days so far.
Tomorrow we go to Panama Festival for 3 days, but that’s for the next blog.