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 deceptive 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 an inkling of autumn in the air. We pass above the aquamarine rectangle of an Olympic-size swimming pool, full of water but not people. Lightly, we 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, despite my misplaced parasol.
We follow a path along the stream that tumbles 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 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 regal 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 and cries. Once we have settled in and poked at all the idiosyncracies of the place, we decide to go for a short hike to Sleepy Bay. The name is enough to merit a walk. The sun is setting, exaggerating the rose-gold glow of the granite shore. The trail offers a number of opportunities for a snapshot. Immovable groups of tourists 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.