November 17 - Melbourne to Hobart

You know it's a small airport when the aircraft stops at the end of the runway and does a u-turn before heading back down the runway to the terminal. Haven't done that since I was flying Cessnas at the little country airport north of Orlando. Then we walked across the tarmac to the terminal. Fortunately it wasn't raining.

Cynthia, Kristine's aunt, was waiting for us just inside the terminal (one of the advantages of a small airport) and looked relieved when we told her that we only had carry - on bags. We trooped outside and after a few anxious moments looking for her car ("no one would steal it" said Cynthia) we realized why she was concerned about our luggage. It was VERY small but no problem ("no worries") everything fitted and off we went.

Cynthia wanted to give us a quick tour of the Hobart area before heading to her home in Bruny Island, so our first stop was Richmond, a pretty little tourist town built mostly by convict labour and with the oldest bridge in Australia. We spent about an hour in Richmond seeing the sights and getting to know Cynthia better. As it was a beautiful day, we stopped for traditional English afternoon tea - scones with thick cream and strawberry jam. Sorry, no photo.

For our first night, Cynthia had reserved an apartment ("unit" in Aussie parlance) called "The Flourish" which was the first floor of a house that had been built in the 1880's. It was located just on the edge of the CBD (Central Business District) of Hobart, so the plan was that we would see a little of the city before heading to Cynthia's home the next day.

Cynthia gave us a quick driving tour of the area, including the house where she and her husband  John, had lived when they first came to Hobart many years ago. We also went to a hill overlooking Hobart to the Mount Nelson signal station so we could get a sense of the layout of the city and the way it sits on the water. Although it was a little cold and windy, it was nice to get a quick overview and Cynthia was able to give us not only a historic overview but her own history in the area after she arrived from the UK via New Zealand.

As the day was moving quite quickly,  Cynthia wanted us to see the wharf area before it went dark, so we headed back down the hill and parked on the Wharf. We then spent about an hour walking the area, looking at the old buildings and warehouses,  most of which are now shops, galleries or hotels. As it was getting late, we finished our tour and our day with dinner at a restaurant called "Fish Frenzy". The food was served in large paper cones, a bit like an ice cream cornet. Interesting and the food was good. !

         Converted Houses (now shops and restaurants)     

    The "Lady Nelson" replica

November 18 - Bruny Island

Next day, we went back into Hobart to see the CBD when it was open and to do a bit of shopping. Cynthia admitted she didn't have a hair dryer and although Kris declared "it didn't matter" it seemed like something worth finding - which we did ! After about an hour in the shopping district, we set off south to Kettering, to catch the ferry to Bruny Island. As we weren't in a rush, we took the slower, scenic route and made some stops along the way to catch views of the Sound and to see some of the sights along the way. 

We arrived in Kettering in plenty of time for the ferry and soon we were headed across the water to Bruny Island

                      Bruny Island Ferry (the cars are underneath)       

                 Kristine & Cynthia on the ferry

Stopping only for a quick coffee on the other side, we arrived at Adventure Bay in less than an hour. Cynthia's home is a very small two roomed wooden cabin facing the ocean. It was never intended to be a permanent home, but recent circumstances, including her husband's illness, have required her to sell her own house and move into this smaller home.  Her other house is about to sell and once the deal is done, she plans to enlarge this house. However, with poor timing on our part, she is right in the middle of moving from her old house and everything is still in boxes. Fortunately, Cynthia has a small workshop behind her house and she used the workshop as a makeshift bedroom while we stayed in her room. We did feel a little guilty, but Cynthia made us feel at home.

          Cynthia's two room house    

           Her house from the outside 

  Once we had settled in, Cynthia took us down to her old house (the "stone house" as she called it)  and showed us around - obviously with some sadness on her part. We sat in the garden for a while and talked about the house and how it came to be built but eventually we had to leave and headed back to the smaller house which is now her home.

Cynthia and Kristine in the garden of The Stone House

Cynthia made an excellent dinner which included Christmas pudding for desert. Christmas pudding, a steamed plum pudding, isn't popular in the States but it's a real treat for Brits. After dinner, we went hunting for the white wallabies. Not albino, but white. They are quite rare and found only on Bruny Island. Just before the last light failed, we saw three bounding around like so many ghostly little kangeroos.

November 19 - Bruny Island

The next morning we were introduced to Cynthia's dog,  of unknown parentage, who had been staying with friends, but was to accompany us on our upcoming trip to Dover. Most  would be thrilled but as  Paul is (very) allergic to dogs this unexpected news was a bit worrisome.

The weather in Tasmania is much cooler than in Australia and it rains quiet a bit, so we were delighted to wake up to the sun shining into our room. Cynthia had booked us on the Bruny Island Wilderness Cruise, a three-hour boat ride around the rugged coast of South Bruny National Park and into the Southern Ocean to view seals, albatrosses and with a bit of luck maybe even whales. The boat left from a location close to where Cynthia lived in Adventure Bay and she went with us to introduce us to her good friend Andres who was our boat captain.

The boats were the type used by the Coast Guard to hunt down smugglers and illegal immigrants, very powerful and fast and we were told that we would get cold and wet out in the ocean. To help combat this we were kitted out in long red rain gear. Fortunately Andres saved us the best seats on the boat and because it was one of the few warm days expected this year we didn't get wet or particularly cold. The three hours went by quickly as Andres whipped within feet of the towering cliffs and squeezed the boat through narrow rock formations. A visit to a small island populated by seals was entertaining and Andres pointed out Shearwaters and Albertrosses skimming across the water. We kept scanning the ocean for whales but unfortunately they did not visit Bruny during our stay.

Andres giving a briefing before setting out on the "eco-tour"

The blow hole

That afternoon Kristine and Cynthia went off for a drive through the narrow winding roads of the Mt. Manguna Forest Reserve and then to Alonnau home to Bruny's Police and Fire facilities. The small health center where residents can meet with the Doctor when he visits from the mainland once a week is being enlarged. The school is also located in Alonnau, but the only general store on the island is located in Adventure Bay next door but one to where Cynthia lives. The tour also included Lunawanna and the pretty Daniel's Bay.

November 20 - Dover

 Paul had wondered how Cynthia was going to fit our luggage and the dog in the car and was concerned that being in the car with the dog for three hours would set off his sneezing. Cynthia did a great job of packing the car and Kristine was relegated to the back seat with the dog at her feet. On the way to the ferry we toured North Bruny with a stop at Dernes Point and Barnes Bay so that the dog could run on the beach and Paul could get some air. The 12:35pm ferry set off in heavy winds that blew waves into the open ferry, washing over the cars in the front row. We took the slow scenic route to Dover through some fabulous scenery along either side of the Huon River.

Cynthia originally met her husband John, who is almost 20 years older than her, on the ship from England to New Zealand over 50 years ago. John was a well driller and drilled for everything from oil, water and to drilling supports for bridges and large buildings. Cynthia accompanied him on many jobs in remote places in counties such as Turkey, Greece, Pakistan and Egypt. John gave up drilling about 30 years ago and they moved to Bruny Island. They traveled extensively for pleasure and visited us in Orlando about 25 years ago when they were back packing around America on Greyhound buses. John is now 93 and about 4 years ago it became obvious that he had Alzheimers. Cynthia kept him at home for as long as she could but earlier this year she was persuaded that he would be much better looked after in a nursing home. Cynthia has been making the six hour round trip from Bruny to Dover twice a week for the past eight months - now that's devotion. Paul and I visited him and although he didn't remember us, it was nice to see his comfortable room and that he was well looked after.

 We stayed in a two-bedroomed unit at the Smugglers Rest overlooking Port Esperance and the beach at Dover. The weather had been quiet warm all day but as the day progressed it grew cooler. The unit had a nice living room and cooking facilities so we heated a lasagna that Cynthia had prepared at home and ate that along with a salad for dinner.

November 21 - Dover

 Cynthia spent the day with John and very kindly lent us her (very old, stick shift) car. We drove through some spectacular scenery to a small narrow gauge railway that had once been used to haul limestone from the quarry to the ships. The trip took about an hour round trip and traveled parallel to Ida Bay, a very pretty body of water.

The Ida Bay Train

Chas, the driver

The train from the last carriage

Kristine in the last carriage

After departing the train (and warming up - it was a cold day) we headed for the next attraction on our list - the Hastings Caves. The caves are located in a National Park, so we had to stop at the Visitors Center. The fees for the caves included admission to the "hot springs" and  all the other features of the park. We thought we might as well take a look, so we wandered down to the "hot pool" which was actually just a regular swimming pool full of small kids. We decided to give it a miss, but just behind the pool was a short walk called the "Platypus Path". Now the ranger hadn't given us much encouragement that we would actually SEE a platypus, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. And to our surprise, we DID see a platypus swimming and diving in the stream, but by the time we had our cameras out and focused, he or she was gone.

So off to the caves. After a steep climb to the entrance and short wait our tour guide appeared - clearly a little surprised that he only had two customers. Once inside, he would "reveal" different parts of the cave by turning on the lights ahead of us, so we could focus on different features. At one point, just to make it clear HOW dark it was, he turned all the lights out and it was BLACK - no light at all. An interesting sensation, to say the least.

That was enough sightseeing for that day. so we headed back to the Smugglers Rest, where Cynthia had prepared a unique meal of Crayfish, but not just any crayfish - a giant crayfish caught by her friend Bruce a few days earlier. By the time we had finished the whole thing and a couple of bottles of wine, we were certainly ready for a good nights sleep.

 November 22 - Dover to Launcester

Today, we had to say goodbye to Cynthia, who had been so kind to us for the previous five days. She had to get back to organizing her home and preparing to close on the sale of her Stone House. We were heading north, to Launceston, to continue our sightseeing of Tasmania. After breakfast we loaded the car one last time and headed to Hobart, where Cynthia dropped us at the Hertz office. After a quick goodbye and promises to keep in touch, she climbed in her car and headed out.

We, in turn, picked up our rental car. As Paul had done all the driving from Adelaide to Melbourne (some 1,500 miles) Kristine had agreed that she would do the driving in Tasmania, so she was the only driver on the rental car.  We headed out of Hobart and after some GPS confusion (it was trying to take us a shorter route on minor roads) we hit the main highway to Launceston. About an hour outside Hobart, with the rain coming down, Kris suddenly swore and started looking anxiously in the mirror. There's only one thing that produces that combination of behavior and it was just what you think. Kris had been caught speeding !

Paul looked over his shoulder and sure enough an unmarked car with flashing lights was on our tail. Kris slowed down, hoping (praying ?) that it would pass her, but no such luck. We stopped and she wound down the window. Kris had stopped just off the highway and cars were wizzing past, so the (female) police office asked her to pull over further. Once Kris gave the officer her US licence,, she was asked if she understood the speeding signs (red circles with black numbers inside). She acted dumb. "I just picked up this rental car in Hobart and I'm still getting used to it !" Sure ! "Well, you were doing 104 in an 80 zone". Kilometers of course. Kris acted baffled by the whole thing !

Anyway the officer was a bit taken aback at the US license and it was raining, so she went back to her own car to figure out what to do. When she came back she had a ticket in her hand. She explained that because we were foreign visitors, she had made out the ticket for 94 KPH and she had made it a warning only. No fine ! "Not sure if they would have done the same in Florida" she said. Probably not for us, but for a couple of Aussies - maybe !

So on we go to Launceston - driving carefully all the way.

So after almost forty years of driving, Kris finally gets a traffic ticket !

We hadn't booked a hotel in Launceston and by the time we arrived, the Visitor's Information office was closed, so we sat in the car and started calling. After three of four tries, we called the Penny Royal, which Cynthia had recommended. They were close and had a room, so off we went.

The hotel is based in an old mill and all the rooms have been converted. It's a strange mix of old and new - I guess it works.

It was getting late by now and we hadn't eaten since breakfast (other than Kris, who had to eat crow when she got her ticket!) and the only place we could find open (it was Sunday night) was a KFC. Yes THAT KFC ! We grabbed a quick meal and Paul wanted to go to the movies to see "A Christmas Carol" with Jim Carrey, but Kris had no interest, so Paul went by himself and Kris walked back to the hotel. Not a bad movie, actually.

November 23 - Launceston and the Tamar Valley

We decided to stay at the Penny Royal for three nights and do some sightseeing using Launceston as a base. The Tamar River flows due north from Launceston so it made sense to go west one day and east the other, so the first day, we drove up the west bank of the river before heading west.

 Our first stop was Devonport which is the on the north coast. Devonport's claim to fame is that the only ferry to mainland Australia, the Spirit of Tasmania, leaves from Devonport, so everyone in Tasmania has probably traveled through Devonport at one time or another. 

There are actually two ferries that leave simultaneously every day from Devonport and Melbourne, meeting in mid ocean and providing daily service from both cities.

Leaving Devonport after a look around and the essential refreshments, we headed south, to Sheffield. The countryside was extremely pretty, helped by a clear sky and bright sunshine. After leaving Devonport, we drove through rolling hills and fields, filled mostly with sheep and lambs and occasionally some cattle. After a while, we started to climb up windy, mountain roads into the Gog Mountains. Although very pretty, the driving was difficult as  the hairpin bends were shared with large trucks carrying lumber and Kris was glad when we came down at the other side.

We completed our circular tour late in the afternoon and celebrated in the evening by going to the movies again, this time to see "2012". We should have saved our money and at $15.50 each, it was quite a lot of money.

November 24 - Launceston and the Hollybank Forest

 We woke up to clouds and a much cooler day so touring the east bank of the Tamar River seemed like a good way to spend the morning. We headed north to George Town which turned out to be an dreary commercial port, in fact the only unattractive place we have seen during our stay in Tasmania. It was cold and windy so we did a quick drive-by and kept going. On the way back, we detoured to the east and came back through the Hollybank Forest, with scenery much the same as we had seen the day before, but with the poor weather, it didn't seem quite as pretty.

 As we were back in Launcestion pretty early and as the weather seemed to improving a little, we ventured out to see some of the local sights and in particular, the Cataract Gorge, which was very close to the hotel.

East Bank of Tamar River

 Cataract Gorge

 We then walked down to the waterfront which, on a nicer day, would have been a nice stroll, but today wasn't the day. After the waterfront, we headed into town, to look around and to buy something we could take back to our room for dinner. Dinner turned out to be chicken and lamb sandwiches, with cheescake for dessert and a glass of beer to wash it down. Actually, pretty good !

November 25 - Launceston to Swansea 

Our three day break in Launceston meant we only had two nights to to get back to Hobart before our flight out, so after some internet research, we decided to stay in Swansea on the east coast and within easy reach of Hobart. We knew there would be a lot of driving but Kris was OK with that, so off we went.

In fact the drive to the coast was very pretty, but what appeared as a major road on the maps in many places became a narrow winding, very hilly road, - little more than a paved track winding up and down hills. The town names ( Derby, St Helens, Swansea) were all very british but were all very small, with little to stop for. We stopped a couple of times to enjoy the view and to stretch our legs but for the most part, we kept going.

 Once we made it over the hills to the sea, we stopped a couple more times to enjoy the scenery and to get some fresh air.

We finally arrived at Swansea and quickly found our lodging for the night - the Redcliffe House. The house was an old colonial house which had been restored and converted as a B&B, but the restoration was less than ideal and our welcome, although efficient and polite, was less effusive than we had received at other B&B's. The large "For Sale" notice at the front of the house wasn't terribly encouraging either ! Also, our room was really small, so we were pleased that we were only staying one night.

 As soon as we had checked in, we decided to go and find the nearby "Nine mile beach".

Nine Mile Beach was completely deserted and could indeed have been nine miles long. We enjoyed the view and left our footprints in the sand and headed back to Swansea.

Swansea turned out to be a pretty small place and as our landlady had made it pretty clear that we weren't allowed to use HER washer and dryer, we wanted to find the "new" laundromat. Thirty minutes later, on the point of giving up, we found it and after killing time on the beach waiting for our laundry, the chore was sucessfully completed. Our evening was completed with a very mediocre meal at the local restaurant (I sent my steak back) we were happy to call it quits for the day.

November 26 - Hobart

 We had decided to spend our last night in Hobart - partly because it meant we would be near the airport and partly because we wanted to see the wharf area again (see earlier). We chose the Airport Hotel, which is just outside the airport and an easy two hour drive from Swansea. Once we had checked in, we went down into Hobart, this time with very nice weather and daylight ! We debated taking an evening dinner cruise but the weather was very changeable and in the end, after walking round the wharf area for a couple of hours, we called it quits and headed back to the hotel, where we also had dinner before having an early night.

Coming next Canberra and Sydney