Thursday, August 31, 2006

31 - August 2006

The biggest highlight of today was calling home this morning--even if Sadie had very little to say! We really miss you guys and loved hearing your voices.

The day started out overcast and chilly, but as soon as we started hiking ("trekking"), out popped the blue skies and bright sun (we instantly regretted our long-sleeved attire)! Our first destination was the Wineglass Bay Lookout. The trail ("track") wasn't too long, but it was more strenuous than we anticipated, so we quickly abandoned any thoughts about hiking all the way to Wineglass Beach itself (I love having "the baby" to blame for taking it easy!). The view was fabulous (Wineglass Bay is quite likely the most photographed image in Tasmania, and the beach is considered one of the top ten beaches in the world), and we met several friendly folks along the way (oddly enough, we haven't yet encountered any other Americans in Tassie--it seems most visitors are from Mainland Australia, New Zealand, or Europe).

Then we set out beach hopping. Each beach along the Freycinet Peninsula is incredible, and each is unique despite how very close they are! One will have the whitest sand you've ever seen and the next will be richly golden; another will be pebbly and the neighboring one rocky. The water never looks the same, either--sometimes it's a bright aqua, sometimes it's a rich jade, and sometimes it's nearly colorless. Even the shells vary dramatically from beach to beach. But two things are consistent: the water is always so clear that you can see every detail under the surface, and the beaches are always pristine (often ours were the only human footsteps to be found). We covered Honeymoon Bay, Richardson's Beach, and Sleepy Bay, where we hiked to perhaps the most perfect and perfectly unforgettable beach there ever was: Little Gravelly Beach.

Incidentally, we had most all of the beaches entirely to ourselves today. Between the privacy, the relaxed pace, and the ideal weather, we're thinking there may be no better time of year to visit this state. And we've certainly never enjoyed more spectacular scenery--we're hooked on Tasmania!

On our way back from Cape Tourville Lighthouse this afternoon, we caught a wallaby on camera for your viewing pleasure:

We didn't want to dine at the lodge tonight (last night's meal was an overpriced disappointment), so we headed to Coles Bay (just outside the park) and lucked into a hole-in-the-wall market called Iluka attached to a hole-in-the-wall eaterie called Jus Food. We ordered fish and chips and picked up Tasmanian sodas (from Cascade Brewery in Hobart) and original Tim Tams for dessert (we wanted to know what the hype is all about). The woman at the counter piled up two huge, piping-hot orders of fish and chips with lemon slices onto a piece of butcher paper and wrapped it in newspaper for us. We headed across the street with our warm bundle to Muirs Beach to eat by sunset. Never have we shared a more relaxed, romantic, and crazy-delicious meal! And it was all to be had for about $15 AUD. (Oh, but the Tim Tam hype? 'Fraid we just don't get it!)

(Note: Internet connections have proven hard to come by in some of the more remote areas we're visiting. We're doing our best to stay in touch every day, but sometimes we'll have to hold our daily entries and post several at once when we finally get a reliable you might need to keep scrolling!)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

30 - August 2006

This morning we explored Port Arthur by daylight as well as by sea (we took a short boat cruise around the site and to the Isle of the Dead). Even in the daylight, Port Arthur felt dark and eerie (though Mike contained himself--no crying out in terror this time around).

We then made our way to the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park in Tarrana, where we saw not only the Tassie Devils (they sleep flat on their bellies!), but also Cape Barron geese, wedge-tailed eagles, brush-tailed possums, masked owls, a Peregrine falcon, kookaburras, and more. But most memorable of all was literally hanging out with a whole bunch of very relaxed kangaroos and wallabies. Sadie, you would have loved seeing the Mama 'roos with babies in their pouches!

We also managed to solve the roadkill mysteries:

We had an awesome lunch at The Mussel Boys (also in Tarrana and with a great water view), where we gorged ourselves on local delicacies including Norfolk Bay oysters, Port Arthur mussels, Pirates Bay octopus, salmon, and Federation chocolate creme brulee. From there, we checked out more of the Tasman Peninsula: we saw Fossil Bay, the Tasman Blowhole (it wasn't blowing), the Tasman Arch (whoa--it's so much more massive than the postcards make it look!), and Devil's Kitchen (a knee-wobbling experience a bit akin to visiting the mighty fissures in Yosemite). Photos don't do these sights justice--they are the kind of majestic natural wonders that make you feel miniscule, insignificant, and awed.

Then we drove a few hours through mostly bushland to get to Freycinet National Park, where we're staying at the Freycinet Lodge for the next two nights. Along the way, we saw a wombat cross the road, a brush-tailed possum, and many, many wallabies in the wild! The Australians probably get a good giggle from our excitement--but I imagine they might get a thrill from sighting your average squirrel, raccoon, or deer back home, eh?

Today's sign of the day:

(We didn't see any, darnit. That would have been a kick!)

How to speak Australian:
--"trash" or "garbage" = "rubbish"
--"napkin" = "serviette"
--"dock" = "jetty"
--"loading zone" = "set down zone"

They really do sound much more civilized, don't they? Except they don't ever say "bathroom" or "restroom" (and they look at you funny when you do)--it's strictly "toilet" here. Speaking of toilets, every one we've encountered has two flush buttons. We still haven't figured out the difference (they aren't labeled anything obvious), though presumably they're for varying power/duration according to flushing needs at any given time?

Today's head-scratcher:
We read in the newspaper that Australians play underwater hockey. Huh?!

***Happy first day of school, Sadie! We can't wait to hear all about it. And happy 42nd anniversary, Susie and Noby/Mom and Dad!***

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

29 - August 2006

We awoke in time for a beautiful sunrise over the Hobart waterfront. After strolling through the many courtyards, cafes, boutiques, and grassy parks within Salamanca Place and Battery Point, we savored a leisurely brunch at the Jackman & McRoss bakery (they make a to-die-for chicken and mushroom pie and goat cheese/spinach/tomato/carmelized onion tart as well as flavored iced milks, which we hope to recreate at home).

We wish we had booked another night in Hobart and definitely intend to return and stay longer. The European-feel city is much bigger and more fashion-forward than we expected but really warm, welcoming, and charming all the same. We admired the traditional architecture (from grand colonial homes to sweet little cottages to sandstone and brick buildings and warehouses) and enjoyed learning about the city's history and reading about some of the people who settled there starting in 1804.

And what an ideal time of year to be in Hobart--everything is in bloom, the air smells sweet, and the skies are so blue!

Sawyer, we spotted Herbie! Guess everyone needs a vacation sometimes, eh?

And check out this in-progress (and mighty intense, I might add) chess game at the park...

In the afternoon, we drove to the pinnacle of Mount Wellington (which nestles the city of Hobart and protects it from the wind). It's a frighteningly narrow road but well worth the white knuckles; the views of Hobart and far, far beyond were breathtaking (note to self: pack ear muffs next time!). You wouldn't believe the amount of undeveloped land in Tasmania--it's immense and magnificent and evident everywhere you look.

Tonight we made it to Port Arthur, a notorious and fascinating penitentiary established in 1830 and closed in 1877 after housing more than 12,500 prisoners. It's located on the wild and beautiful Tasman Peninsula that is nearly an island in itself (the narrow isthmus that serves as a link to the mainland was once guarded by ferocious dogs). After dinner (and a delicious affogato dessert that we also hope to recreate at home), we took an eerie moonlight Ghost Tour with a really entertaining guide, Todd. Mike got seriously spooked several times (to the amusement of many, myself not included--his jumps and yelps startled me more than any ghost probably would have!). Let's just hope he can get some sleep tonight.

--It seems we're in a nation of squatters. There hasn't been a toilet seat cover to be found in Australia thus far. (Good thing my Mama taught me to squat even with the added paper protection we enjoy in America.)

--McDonald's steps it up in OZ! Within the Golden Arches, there's a "McCafe," complete with elegant and beautiful desserts and a coffee selection to rival any Starbucks. (Yeah, we admit it--we stopped in for some fries for the road!)

--You don't need to wait for your water to be refilled at restaurants here (hallelujah!)--at the start of a meal, they bring you glasses and a perfectly chilled bottle of water (no ice necessary). It's lovely for guzzlers like us!

Favorite signs of the day:
--"Discount You Know Whats" (at a petrol--or gas, as we know it--station on the road toward Mount Wellington; we've given it a lot of thought, and we still don't know what...maybe you gotta be Australian?)

--"Speedo check ahead" (on the highway toward Port Arthur; Mike wasn't wearing one at the time, but I'm confident he'd have passed with flying colors.)

--And of course, there's...


(No sightings of either as yet, though we have driven past many an unfamiliar and mighty peculiar roadkill.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

28 - August 2006

We're starting our journey in Hobart on the island of Tasmania, "where a minute lasts ninety seconds" according to a nice ol' couple from Adelaide with whom we had the pleasure of sharing an airport bench and some good conversation in Sydney earlier today.

We left our home at 3:15 PM on Saturday, August 26, 2006, and arrived in Hobart at 6:00 PM on Monday, August 28, 2006 (Australian day/time), after a lengthy day-and-a-half of real-time air travel (San Francisco to Los Angeles to Sydney to Hobart--with plenty of layovers in between). Security was tight in both countries, and Mike was extensively searched (including a visit to the "puffer" room) for chemical explosives at every checkpoint. Each time, he was "randomly chosen," but we didn't see a single other person searched at any of those sites...there must be something suspicious about that fellow!

After landing, we enjoyed a blessedly uneventful sunset drive in our rental car on the wrong--er, other--side of the road (once Mike stops hugging the left shoulder, we'll be golden!). We haven't had the chance to do any exploring yet, but at first glance, the place reminds us of Monterey Bay back home.

First impressions: in addition to the great accents (Mike says that's the one souvenir he wants to take home--can you imagine him with an Australian accent?!) and wicked wit, Australians are incredibly friendly, approachable, and relaxed. And they seem endlessly amused by us Americans (or perhaps just me, suggests Mike). The international Qantas crew mistook me for the wife of our seatmate, a guy on his way home to Sydney. The Aussie got an obvious kick out of the whole scenario as he quietly drank his Tooheys New (that's Australian for beer), snickered at our seemingly constant confusion, and kindly explained the contents of the random packages of goodies offered up by the flight attendants (so, really, a "socket" is a toothbrush? Or am I still all mixed up?!).

Note to anyone planning a similar trip: make sure you book the red-eye as we did--we're not at all jet-lagged! Of course, that's not to say we aren't going to sleep like babies tonight. We're all showered up and ready to do nothing at all, so it's fish and chips via room service for dinner tonight!

Snapshots of the day...

What's not to love about a man who carries more than his share of the luggage?

Just before touching down in Tasmania...

Who put the steering wheel over here?

The harbor view from our Hotel Grand Chancellor room...not too shabby a reward for all that air/airport time!