Monthly Archives: June 2018

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Monday, 9 April

Our trip will come to an end tomorrow. Share the ambivalence. It’s been magnificent, but both of us are feeling the tug of home. Enough with the brave adventures; it’s time to admit to bone-weariness. We take a morning flight to Sydney and the convenience of an airport hotel. My friend, Amanda, wasn’t able to catch up with us during our official stay in Sydney, so we’ve plotted to get together for dinner with her and her husband, Kevin on our final night in Australia.

Kevin meets us at our hotel. He’d just gotten off the plane from Melbourne and had a car service pick him up. This car of his is the plushest Holden we’ve ever seen. Though it’s dark when we arrive, I deduce that their house must be on a hill or slope overlooking Bondi Beach, because it’s inverted, bedrooms downstairs. Kevin proudly shows off his art collection, which is characterized by large, weird paintings, some of which keep moving about the house in search of rooms that will tolerate them.

We chatter amiably over delicious Asian food. Kevin, the prince, drives us back to the hotel. We’re already hurtling across the Pacific.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Sunday, 8 April

The Wineglass Bay tour boat will pick us up at 9:45. The day is overcast. The sea is glassy. A smart-looking catamaran docks and we board. A party of eleven, possibly celebrating something, gets the top deck all to itself. Our trip will take us around the Freycinet Peninsula, stopping for lunch in Wineglass Bay. The garrulous guide points out seals and blowholes and rocky islets as we motor south. The coast feels like Maine under this burden of clouds. As we approach Little Lemon Island a pod of dolphins takes to swimming with (under) the boat, sort of playing peek-a-boo. This is glorious. Standing in the wind in the bow is bone-chilling, so we reluctantly retreat.

Wineglass Bay opens like a fan into a splendid, sheltered lagoon, at its head an arcing, unpopulated white sand beach on the list of the world’s best beaches. The boat anchors and we nosh on bento boxes of snack-ish food. The galley serves a different (and inferior) brand of ginger beer than the Bundaberg we’ve become accustomed to. Although Wineglass Bay resembles a goblet, it got its name in the 19thcentury from the wholesale and bloody massacre of whales. The entire bay would turn crimson, like claret. We head back the way we came, which promotes the notion and practice of napping.

Somehow, we are shunted on to a different route back to Hobart than the one we took north. We’re the only car among sheep. The countryside passes mellow and empty. Our entry into Hobart is accomplished with ease and even aplomb. We return to the Henry Jones Art Hotel for one last night. This time we each get duplexes in the new section of the hotel. This time, the design shows an ignorance of nocturnal needs. The beds are above and the baths below. I think Henry ought to stick to making marmalade.

I made a reservation at the restaurant Templo several months ago. It rated highly in a couple guidebooks and sounded like the ideal place to spend our last night in Tassie. The food is truly wonderful. You can order a la carte if you want to, but their custom is a five-course tasting menu. We are seated family-style around a large round table, with five other couples. There are a handful of smaller tables. Once the meal begins, we relax into the experience and the awkwardness of the common table subsides, though no crosstalk occurs.

 

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Saturday, 7 April

Launceston is blessed with a city park called the Cataract Gorge Reserve. Before we leave we must go, the guidebooks insist. With take-away coffee and toast to start our engines, we pack the car. The Gorge is a slow reveal. It begins with a theme park element, a chair lift ride from one side of the Gorge to the other. It’s a giddy trip, a double chair. The sun is shining bright and there’s a whisper of autumn in the air. We pass over the aquamarine rectangle of an Olympic-size swimming pool, then skip off the chair into a Victorian-era park with pavilions, peacocks, specimen trees, and tended paths. The terrain is rocky and challenging, especially if you’re a Victorian lady, such as I am, though I misplaced my parasol.

We follow a path along a stream tumbling at the bottom of steep and wooded cliffs. Striking vistas open at every turn. Ahead of us, a group of moronic tourists dances self-consciously to silence while waving selfie-sticks. Grudgingly, we forgive them. Heeding the call of lunch, we retrace our steps. A peacock perches in the tree above the only available table. Standing like a fool holding a cafeteria tray is one of my least favorite poses. An all-business-type woman gestures with her arm, offering us her table. “I was just leaving.” Bad sandwiches. To return to the car park without dangling above the Gorge involves a walk that takes us across a bouncy, tourist-clotted suspension bridge.

Now we’ve officially begun our trip to Freycinet National Park on Tasmania’s east coast. Midway, we make a pitstop in Campbelltown again, detouring for an unsatisfactory browse at an antique shop. Through hills and pastures, forests and grassland we hurtle as the space adventures of the Rocinante (The Expanse) unspool. At last, at the park entrance, we purchase the entry required and heed signs to the Lodge. Ah, The Lodge. It is a semi-grand edifice with acres of windows looking out at the great ocean, a grand staircase providing one with a suitable entrance at dinnertime, and an immense four-sided fireplace. Very National Park.

We’re assigned a two-bedroom cabin in the woods. Rolling our goddamn suitcases over sloping boardwalks makes for an awful racket, punctuated by curses. Once we have settled in and poked at all the idiosyncracies of the place, we go for a short hike to Sleepy Bay. The name is enough to merit a walk. The sun is setting, casting a rose-gold glow on the pink granite shore. The trail offers a number of opportunities for a snapshot. Immovable groups of Asians clot the pathway, taking the same picture over and over. We attain the pebbly beach, a cup in a saucer of hollowed-out boulders. It reminds me of Maine, except Maine is more gray and Cubist.

Dinner is hugely disappointing in a who-gives-a-shit kinda way. The chef certainly does not. I deal with a gristly chunk of lamb and we both order a dessert called Petit Fours, which turns out to be a demented medley of bullshit sweets on a plate.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Friday, 6 April

An early start is imperative because we have a 2pm tour at Platypus House in the town of Beauty Point on the north coast of the island. We take the main highway which tracks through grazing land and wooded hills. The landscape is unlike anything we encountered on the mainland. More water. Midway, in a town called Campbelltown, we stop for a lunch of excellence. For once, we’re not eating on the fly. We pass through Launceston, where we’ll sleep eventually, and make it to Beauty Point with fifteen minutes to spare. Platypus House and its companion, Seahorse World, are former fish processing plants occupying a pier on the wide Tamar River, which drains into the Bass Strait. We are doubly ‘in’ because we have printouts and our names are on the list.

Platypuses and Echidnas are monotremes. Simply put, they have a single orifice through which all their waste is conducted and, in females, this opening also serves a reproductive function. Males have a simple penis that doesn’t fulfill any excretory purpose. But, most intriguingly, they are the world’s only egg-laying mammals. These creatures are incredibly unusual and rarely, if ever, found in zoos. Platypuses are nearly invisible in the wild due to their watery environment and the nocturnal hours they favor, while echidnas are more common, visible, and adaptable. Neither species is threatened.

We have a guide, Ben, a large young man with an enthusiastic, open demeanor. Our initiation to the platypuses is in the room of the tanks of the females. One tank belongs to Dawn, the girlfriend of the male in the tank in the next room, while the neighboring tank belongs to four rejected females. Jupiter, the alpha (only) male merits his own room, where his tank has a bridge/tunnel connecting with Dawn’s tank for that occasional conjugal visit. In the wild, males tend to have multiple honeys. Ali and I are wide-eyed.

These platypuses are rescue monotremes, as are the echidnas. None of the animals was plucked from the wild for our amusement. The platypuses of Platypus House subsist on a diet of kibble and worms. Their physical weirdness is uncontestable. Those bills. Those tails. Watch out for the males, though, for they possess a venomous spur. The poison, rarely fatal, is very, very painful and long lasting. No anti-venom is possible because each individual’s poison is chemically different. Stay away from the guys: you could end up in a world of hurt.

Here come the echidnas. Words will just have to suffice. Our group of ten is asked to stand in a circle and Ben places three bowls of insect parts in chicken broth at three points on the floor. Enter Thomas (a male) and Eddie (a female). They wobble slowly and aimlessly inside the circle, but when they discover the yummy bug feast, their impossibly slender, four-inch, pink tongues go crazy. Where’s Edwina? Ah, there she is.

 These animals are fantastic and fantastically appealing. Formerly called Spiny Anteaters, they’re high on the adorability scale, yet near the bottom of the IQ scale. About the size of a quokka (semi-deflated basketball), they have a coat of fur and quills / spines and a nozzle-like proboscis. Their rear feet attach backwards, which explains the loopy gait, but this adaptation enables them to bury themselves in the sand in fifteen seconds should they perceive a threat.

After scouring the gift shop of intriguing items, we cross over to Seahorse World. It’s necessary to wait twenty minutes for the next seahorse experience. The World of Seahorses is the source for many of the world’s aquarium seahorses. The building contains many, many tanks of these critters at various stages of seahorse existence, from ovoid to grandpa. Compared to the monotremes, they’re dull and we depart midway through the tour.

It’s a short drive back to Launceston. On the way, we pass a sign pointing to two neighboring villages, Flowery Gully and Winkleigh. I have no photographic documentation, but, trust me, I can’t make this up. We find lodging in Cap’n Stirling’s House. Two bedrooms and cozy. For the evening meal, we amble a quarter mile to Stillwater, a lovely restaurant on the river. Tasting menu once again. So fuckin’ good.