Tassie You Little Devil 42:53S 147:20E

Mon 21 Jan 2019 16:50
Tassie you little Devil!
One night after a very good dinner whilst in Fiji, some very good friends we
have made along the way on the Oyster Rally, James and Tiggy Nathan, had
suggested “as we were all about to enjoy a long layover in the antipodes, it
would be a good idea to organise a tour of Tasmania”, particularly as they
were returning to celebrate Tiggys’ 60th birthday with their oldest and
closest friends.
There were a number of factors that made this proposal compelling: firstly
both James and Tiggy were born and grew up in Tasmania, so know the country
very well. Secondly they built up and sold a very successful tour company
‘Top Deck Tours’, so it would be difficult to find any more qualified guides
for this tour.
The big issue we had was the timing. We had already booked flights home in
mid-December to meet commitments we had and were not returning until April
after James and Lisas’ wedding. The proposed dates for the tour fell right
in the middle of these two, so for us to participate would mean flying back
to Tasmania from the UK, then back to the UK and then several weeks later
flying back to New Zealand. Well that would be crazy wouldn’t it? Well to
cut a long story short, James and Tiggy were very persuasive and promised us
a J. Nathan bus tour we would never forget….and boy did they deliver!
Now I have to be honest at this point and confess that Tasmania had never
been on my bucket list of places to visit. Although Lindy and I have had the
good fortune to visit Australia numerous times, we had never felt compelled
to travel further to visit ‘the land under the land down under’. For me one
of the most attractive elements of the proposed tour was the Bay of Fires
Walk on the North Eastern coast. A three night, four day trek along pristine
wilderness coastal pathways, staying in Eco lodges along the way.
On a bright cool morning on the 15th Of February we arrived in Hobart very
tired after a thirty five hour trip from the UK via Dubai and Melbourne. We
were transported directly to the Hotel Lenna. An imposing historic hotel
with commanding views over the Hobart waterfront arriving just in time for
breakfast. The hotel was originally built as the home of a wealthy Hobart
family and still retains many of its original features and memorabilia of
this period. The hotel is currently owned by Lloyd and Jan Clarke some of
James and Tiggys’ oldest friends. We had met Lloyd previously when he had
crewed with the Tiggy’s on the Panama to Galapagos leg of the rally and knew
him to be a flamboyant character, but were still to learn what a hugely
generous host he is.
We spent a few very pleasant and leisurely days exploring the old Hobart
water front bars, cafes, restaurants and shops. We were fortunate to be
there at a weekend and enjoy the Salamanca market, an artisan food and
crafts extravaganza which fills the whole of the waterfront promenade.
Hobart has a really good vibe and energy about the place and appears to be
undergoing a gentle renaissance, attracting many creative individuals to
its slightly bohemian culture. Fortunately there has been an obvious effort
to preserve the old buildings and warehouses that would have served the
whaling fleets of yesteryear and a reminder that the waterfront in those
days would have been very different to the genteel façade we see today.
One of the top attractions in Hobart is a modern art establishment called
Mona. This is an art attraction on a whole different scale. A thirty minute
ferry ride from the city delivers you to a jetty at the base of a high
flight of stone steps. The ascent takes you up to a huge glass atrium where
you are relieved of a not insignificant sum for your entry ticket. You then
descend through a matrix of tunnels hewn from solid rock into large open
chambers and galleries crisscrossed with suspended glass walkways. Each
chamber houses a collection of modern art. Some on loan from other galleries
and some permanent fixtures. I am a complete philistine when it comes to
modern art and I have to say the collections mostly left me cold. There were
some more ‘interesting’ exhibits that certainly created a stir. One was a
whole gallery of white painted plaster casts of vaginas! One hundred, to be
exact. Why? You may well ask, Good question.
Another interesting exhibit was a digestion machine. This was an engineering
masterpiece built by a Swiss engineer/artist to replicate as closely as
possible the human digestive system. The machine occupied a substantial room
and consisted of a series of valves chambers and mixing vats. The machine
was fed once a day with a balanced human diet. It duly delivered excrement
at the other end once per day. If you were ‘lucky’ you could witness either
or both events. The odour in the room suggested he had perfected a very
realistic system! Mona clearly left a lasting impression on us all but for
probably the wrong reasons.
The following day we elected to enjoy one of the top activities as listed in
the local tourist office. This involved riding in a van to the top of Mount
Wellington, the flat topped mountain that provides an imposing backdrop to
the city. Behind the van was a trailer containing the mountain bikes which
were to be our means of getting back down. The wind at the top was so strong
you could barely stand up against it. The trip back down was partly on the
tarmac track we had ascended on but predominantly on steep forest tracks. It
was highly exhilarating and how none of us didn’t manage to end up wrapped
around a tree is anybody’s guess. The trail finished at the Hobart Brewery
which is the biggest and most imposing building in the whole city which goes
to show what a civilised place this is! The girls did the same trip in the
afternoon and were nowhere near as impressed with the brewery.
Any sailors trip to Hobart would be far from complete without a visit to the
famous Royal Hobart Yacht Club, home to the notorious Hobart to Sydney
annual yacht race. Thankfully this was the venue for Tiggy’s birthday
celebrations and my opportunity to buy a club cap and polo shirt!
The following morning was the start of the official ‘J. Nathan Tour’ and the
crew gathered in team shirts awaiting the arrival of our driver (James) with
van and trailer which was to be our transport for the following week. Our
crew consisted of: Ken and Lisa Bacco of sailing yacht Altair, Hugh and
Janice Bishop, Andy and Debbie Smith of sailing yacht Meteorite. Us and of
course James and Tiggy from sailing yacht Miss Tiggy. It’s a good job the
team were selected on the basis there were no heavy drinkers included, but
needless to say we filled a large Eski with beer, wine and fresh oysters
before we left town!
First stop on the tour was at Port Arthur where we explored the remains of
the 19th century settlement built for the hundreds of convicts who had been
deemed too troublesome for Australia! You can imagine the calibre of
prisoner that landed on these shores. In the summer sunshine the buildings
and compounds looked quite appealing but I could imagine without any heating
in the harsh Tasmanian winters it would have been a very bleak and
foreboding place to be.
We spent the afternoon wandering amongst the ruins pondering how difficult
life must have been for the poor souls banished to these remote shores for
relatively minor offences. Over a quarter of the 160,000 prisoners
transported here died on the journey, many more never survived their first
year in captivity.
Despite the happy and progressive country we witnessed, Tasmania has a dark
past in terms of how they systematically exterminated the endemic Aboriginal
population. When the Governor was fairly certain there were not too many
left he devised a plan to form a line of soldiers that would march from one
end of Tasmania to the other and finally eradicate the Aboriginal
population. I don’t think I’ve ever learned of a more thorough and ruthless
genocide in all our history.
The other sinister statistic for Port Arthur is that it is was the scene of
New Zealand’s worst mass killing. In 1996 a lone gunman by the name of
Martin John Bryant went on a killing rampage, shooting family, colleagues
and innocent bystanders, by the end of the day 35 people had been killed and
19 wounded.
Despite this gloomy backdrop, spirits were high amongst the Nathan tour
group as we boarded our coach and headed Northerly up the East Coast. Next
stop was for a high speed boat ride out to see the stunning south East
coastline. Basalt columns, rock pinnacles hundreds of feet high and
impossibly steep cliffs, battered by the rollers crashing in from the
Southern ocean. The breeze carried the chill from the Antarctic and had us
all huddled in blankets and waterproof ponchos as we crashed through the
surf at high speed, stopping only to duck into huge caverns shaped by
millennia of pounding surf. The air was filled with sea birds. The usual
Gannets, Boobies and Storm Petrels, swooping, shrieking and mocking our
feeble progress. Most impressive, the hundreds of majestic Albatross
sweeping the waves with wingtips barely millimetres from the breaking surf.
Prior to this I had never seen an Albatross in the wild and here there were
hundreds swooping in every direction as far as the eye could see.
Day one of the tour saw us return for a last night in Hobart and a visit to
a speakeasy. A novel ‘private’restaurant/bar concept set up by Angela and
Clive, some of James and Tiggy’s friends. They had converted a barn attached
to their property and furnished it with an eclectic mix of memorabilia from
the 1920’s. Very rustic, with a bar built from sugar cane pallets and an old
Chevy pickup parked in the corner. Our hosts were hugely generous and this
was the trend that became the norm for the remainder of our trip.
Day two saw us depart from Hobart after a large trailer was hitched to the
van to carry our luggage but most importantly the large cooler box which was
now fully victualed. We drove north to Oxford where Lloyd and Jan have their
‘shack’. This is the name Tassys’ use to describe their holiday homes on the
beach and most, particularly in this case are far from what we would
commonly imagine as a shack. We were royally entertained with fresh lobster,
prawns and beef tenderloins cooked to perfection on the Barbie.
A short hop up the coast to Wayne and Keitha’s ‘shack’ called Salt Works in
Little Swanport. We arrived early as Wayne was keen to take the boys fishing
for flatty’s, an ugly but delicious fish that live in abundance on this
stretch of coast. A short trip out of the bay in Wayne’s tinny, a sturdy
aluminium fishing boat familiar all over Australia, no frills but highly
functional. Under Wayne and his mates expert guidance we soon had enough
fish for a veritable feast. After a short detour up a river delta to visit a
giant Sea Eagles nest, we were soon back at the boat ramp where Wayne
proceeded to fillet about fifty fish in less than ten minutes. A very sharp
knife and well-practised technique are clearly the secret. The fish scraps
ere quickly taken care of by a pair of giant rays who emerged from the
depths of the lagoon to hoover up the tasty morsels, an easy feast for them!
Back at the shack we settled easily into deck chairs around the fire pit to
watch the next stage of the process. A good fire was set under a substantial
iron grate, a heavy cast iron frying pan was filled liberally with oil. The
flatty fillets had been put into a plastic bag containing a mix of curry
powder, flour, salt and pepper and shaken to fully coat the fish. The coated
fillet were dropped into the sizzling oil and cooked for no more than thirty
seconds. Placed between two slices of generously buttered fresh bread and
washed down with a chilled glass of Tasmanian Sauvignon Blanc. ”Food doesn’t
get much better than that”.
Onward and upward. A short hop up the coast delivered us into the care of
Richard and Sam who live in a beautiful home overlooking the bay of
Binalong, fortunately for us they have a holiday let right next door to them
which provided excellent accommodation for us all.
Over a few glasses of fine wine at a lovely local sea food restaurant, we
learned from Richard more about James’s formative years than he may
otherwise have wished us to know! After a short but very pleasant stop we
pushed on North again. We made a short stop at a small nature reserve called
Nature World where we got to see some Tasmanian Devils up close. They are
running an intensive breeding programme here to try and bolster their
numbers as the wild Devils are dying of a virus which is decimating their
numbers. Hopefully the Tasmanian Devil won’t go the same way as the
Tasmanian Tiger which is now officially extinct. We continued our travels
onto the Edge of the Bay Resort at Coles Bay which would give us easy access
to the Freycinet National Park where we were to hike the following day.
To get the best perspective of Wine Glass Bay, its best viewed from
neighbouring Freycinet Mountain. Generally all the best views involve some
investment by way of a lengthy hike or strenuous climb, this one demanded a
bit of both. The exposure on some of the steeper sections towards the top
took some of our party out of their comfort zone, so sadly for them they
didn’t get to see the spectacular view North along the coast and the reason
for the aptly named bay. The two coasts converge sharply to form the stem of
a wine glass with the coast then flaring out to form the bowl of the glass.
More Champagne than Chardonnay I would say! We abandoned a proposed second
walk that day in favour of returning to the lodge and enjoying a siesta
before dinner. As it turned out we all en-camped on the small beach in front
of the lodges and tested each other’s musical and film trivia knowledge
whilst consuming far too much beer and wine. Even here, it’s impossible not
to wonder at the pristine nature of this environment. The beaches were
absolutely spotless, the water gin clear. The foreshore was alive with a
myriad of Oyster Catchers, terns, gannets all clearly having more than their
fill of the oceans bounty.
We made a very early start the following day to drive a hundred kilometres
North to Barnbougle on Cape Grim. James had arranged for us to leave our van
and trailer at Barnbougle farm in the care of another of his friends,
another Richard, or Richard the second, as he became affectionately known to
us. We were collected by the Tasmanian Walking Company and taken to the
start point for our Bay of Fires Trek. We were to carry everything with us
for a one-way trek so our rucksacks were packed accordingly. There was at
this point much discussion about how many changes of clothes Lindy may need
for a three-day adventure! Not surprisingly my pack ended up holding far
more than my two pairs of pants, one clean T shirt and some spare shorts. My
real regret was not taking my best quality camera, as little did I know at
this stage that we were to encounter such stunning seascapes and amazing
clean air.
The start point for the trek was a very unassuming layby in a cool shady
woodland area in the Mount William National Park. We were decanted from the
van and gathered together for a briefing from our two young lady guides.
Despite their tender years they turned out to be very capable and
knowledgeable. I’m certain that after a few hours into the walk they must
have begun to wonder what on earth they had let themselves in for. We have
all got to know each other very well in two years of sailing together and so
there always ensues plenty of boisterous banter between us. The girls later
confided that most groups compositions are individual couples who don’t know
the others and the exchanges are much more subdued.
For the next two days we walked along the most pristine beaches I have ever
encountered. Wide sweeping bays of pure white ‘squeaky’ sand littered with
huge granite boulders covered in vivid reddy orange lichen. Its reputed that
this phenomenon is why the Bay get its name: Bay of Fires. It’s more likely
that as the early explorers sailed along this coast they would have seen the
many fires lit by the indigenous aborigines the Palawa. The Palawa farmed
the land during the summer and lived off the ocean during the winter. During
the winters on the coastline, they would eat Seals and fish but
predominantly the plentiful shellfish that proliferate this coast. We
encountered the remains of many settlements along the walk. They were marked
by industrial scale mounds of Oyster, clam and mussel shells, also the
darkened sand which is witness to the fires that had burned there for
Towards the end of the first day, having completed fourteen kilometres
walking on sand, which is surprisingly strenuous, our guides diverted us off
the beach and up a barely discernible trail into the dunes. There nested in
a niche two hundred metres back from the sea was a small tented camp
‘Forester Lodge’ where we were to spend the night. Forester Lodge is a
veritable Eco Haven, the accommodation is understandably very simple and
consists of double occupancy tents furnished with two camp beds and two
blankets. There is a communal kitchen/dining tent and a short walk into the
bush will reveal the dunny (toilet) which is of the ‘long drop’ composting
design. Showers can be facilitated by filling a bucket, specially designed
with holes in the bottom and hanging it over a wicker screen in the sand
dunes. Strictly one bucket per couple!
After a very restful night in perfect silence aside from the soporific sound
of the ocean waves crashing on the beach below, we consumed an early
breakfast of porridge and fresh fruit and set out along the beach. Another
sublime days trekking along sand, shale and the occasional scramble over
boulders, eighteen kilometres later we arrived at the Bay of Fires Lodge.
The lodge this time was a permanent structure erected on stilts high up in
the dunes with a commanding view over the coast. We were graciously greeted
by the lodge staff who immediately ushered us to a lovely sunny deck and
provided us with footbaths and cold beer!
The meal that evening was amazing. I know when you’ve been walking all day,
generally anything tastes good, however the food the staff prepared using
local produce that night was exceptional. The beer and wine was limitless
and unsurprisingly given the composition of the ‘team,’ we were singing and
dancing into the wee small hours.
A reasonably early start next day had us trekking out to a pick up point
where we were taken by minibus to the canoe launch site at the head of the
Anson river. After a short briefing we set off as a flotilla of two-man
kayaks with the exception of our guides who had single kayaks. One simple
instruction they issued was that we should stay behind the lead instructor
and all in front of the tail end instructor. Simple instruction? Not for
this group! Fortunately, there weren’t too many opportunities to take a
wrong turn and so we eventually all rallied at the mouth of the estuary
where it flowed out into the bay. We had been briefed that if the Bay was
choppy at this stage we would end the trip here. If not the option then was
too paddle across the five mile wide bay to a beach on the other side. The
conditions were accurately described to us as marginal, but we of course
replied that we were “rufty tufty sailors and how could a little swell hurt
us”! Onviously the swell and a headwind made the paddle across the bay
bloody hard work and I for one was very glad to eventually reach the far
shore where we landed and had a very welcome picnic. A short walk along the
foreshore got us back to the Bay of Islands Lodge early in the afternoon for
some well-deserved R&R.
The following morning we had wrongly assumed the ‘walk out’ to a collection
point would be a very short walk. Wrong. The other unfortunate occurrence
was that the driver who was to collect us had forgotten! It’s amazing the
things you can find to do in a forest clearing for a couple of hours. Helped
greatly by the fact we Oyster crew are a generally a competitive bunch, we
whiled away the time with competitions in shot putting large rocks and hop
skipping and jumping over sticks! Lindy was surprisingly good at the shot
putting for such a diminutive creature and won the competition. It must be
the Irish peasant stock in her and their heritage of throwing stones at the
English. She will probably hit me for writing that, but anyone who has
taken a right hook from her wonderful late mother knows it’s true.
Reinforcements eventually arrived and we were duly transported back to
Barnbougle farm where Richard the second had arranged for us to stay at his
golf resort in the Dunes.
Richard is a remarkable individual, a very quietly spoken, unassuming
character. A farmer at heart, he had originally been a co-owner of the Lenna
Hotel in Hobart with Lloyd Clarke. When he and Lloyd parted company in the
hotel venture Richard bought some land and cattle up at Cape Grim. The meat
from these Cape Grim cattle is regarded with almost the same reverence as
Kobi beef is elsewhere in the world. Its unique flavour comes from the salty
marsh grass it eats and the even gentle marbling of the meat due to the
abundance of food on the very well irrigated salt plains of this coastal
region. Richard manages a herd of four thousand head. Also for good measure,
he grows and harvests three hundred thousand tonnes of potatoes a year and
is the biggest supplier to McCains Chips! So how did this result in a golf
course, you may ask? One day an American chap landed his helicopter on the
farm and requested a meeting with Richard. He then announced, “I’ve been
flying along this coast for some time and have concluded it would be a
magnificent location for a world class, championship golf course. I have a
very experienced course designer and I’ll throw two million dollars into the
pot to get things started”. It wasn’t Donald Trump! The best part of this
story is that we were due to play on this glorious course the following day.
If Richards story weren’t impressive enough already, you’ll be amazed to
hear that Richard went on to build a second Golf course called Lost Barn,
which is equally magnificent. As expected, our prowess on the course came
nowhere near the splendour of our environment. It didn’t help however that
we couldn’t retrieve any balls from the rough that had gone slightly wayward
on account of the abundance of brown snakes that thrive in the grasses on
the course. If proof were needed of the toxicity of these relatively small
snakes, Richard had lost a prize bull weighing four tonnes the previous day.
The vet had concluded the cause of death to be a single snake bite on its
nose! Unfortunately, Mr Stapleford makes no allowance for a lost ball, that
isn’t really lost but just too dangerous to retrieve. The only other
experience I’ve had of this situation was many years ago playing golf in
Bali. The course rules insisted that visitors must employ a caddy. My caddy
insisted that if the ball was in the rough and could not be retrieved due to
the local population of King Cobras, if you could see it, you took a free
drop and no penalty! Now my caddy must have had amazing eye sight because I
finished the round with a dozen balls less than Id started with, with no
penalty and I can honestly say I couldn’t spot any of them. Being an honest
sportsman, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this, but on the basis the
chap I was playing with was a terrible cheat anyway, I was on this one
occasion prepared to turn a blind eye to it, unlike my caddy of course who
managed the reverse.
All too soon it was time to bid farewell to the James Nathan Tour crew, it
was however merely au revoir as we were safe in the knowledge we would be
meeting up again a few months back in New Zealand. Lindy and I began our
travels back to the UK to prepare for our son James’s wedding to Lisa the
following week.
I must apologise that the length of my blogs are increasing, I realised some
time ago that being a poor keeper of records and never having taken up the
habit of keeping a diary, these ramblings will in future become my only aid
memoire of our travels around the globe.
At the time of writing, we are sailing westward back across the Atlantic
Ocean. We have traversed the Antipodes, cruised along the Southern Islands
of Indonesia, we’ve crossed the Indian Ocean and rounded the Cape Of Good
Hope, so we are obviously very behind with these blogs. You will hopefully
see over the next few weeks a flurry of additions as we sail the six
thousand miles back to our Rally start point.
Very best wishes from Sipper Peds and the crew of the mighty Sea Flute
sailing the South Atlantic.