It was a reunion with tour guide and driver Phil for this stage of the Tassie Explorer with Under Down Under Tours.
We got underway from Hobart for what Phil described as a Big Day of Driving across Tasmania. Destination: Strahan.
However, he reassured us that we would see some stunning scenery. Best of all there would be a coffee stop in 30 minutes.
(I really did leave Vietnam with a significant coffee fixation).
So, a rainy stop in New Norfolk… which, history buffs, was settled by people forcibly transferred from Norfolk Island, which had been colonised as a penal colony and later by surplus population from Pitcairn Island… the descendants of the former Bounty crew.
The town was given the name New Norfolk in recognition of the Norfolk Island origins.
We were then on our way up the Derwent Valley, heading for Mount Field.
This part of Tasmania is very green, the rain helps, and there is extensive farmland, including raspberries, apricots and hops… the latter of which were introduced in 1810.
At first, the crops did not do well but with some experimentation, they became established. The fields we were passing supply the hops for the Cascades Brewery based in Hobart, the first brewery in Australia founded in 1824.
As we passed fields of hay, Phil told us that much of this would be exported to mainland Australia where the bushfires have caused extensive damage to farmland and crops.
While rain may not be what you want on a tour, it is desperately needed here. I’d already seen many dry river beds so the rainfall was to be welcomed.
We were following the course of the River Derwent to Mount Field, our destination, was the first National Park to be declared in Tasmania in the 1860s.
Leaving the fields behind, the road began to climb through rolling hillsides – fields, moorland and tree plantations. I couldn’t make my mind up as to whether it reminded me of the scenery around the M62 in Northern England as it traverses the Pennines or if it made me think of Scottish views.
That could have just been a result of the low lying clouds resting on the tips of the trees.
We walked through temperate rainforest, similar to what I had seen in parts of New Zealand. It also reminded me of forest I had walked through in Madeira in early 2019.
Lichen covered the trees and the rocks and the path wound it’s way beneath tree ferns, spreading their leaves above, sheltering us from the rain.
After a short walk, we reached Russell Falls.
The next part of our day was a two hour drive up to the Central Plateau to Lake St Clair – the deepest lake in Australia, at 167m, carved out by glaciers.
Phil explained that we were going to see some huge lakes and part of the infrastructure that generates Tasmania’s hydro-electricity.
The island doesn’t have a huge coal resource so has relied on hydro-electricty since the 1930s. Because the Northern part of the island is so windy, wind-generated electricity is being developed there.
While we drove, Phil gave us a little more history.
In the early years of Australia’s colonial history, Britain transported 2,000 convicts every year for 80 years. 68,000 were sent to Tasmania.
All were given work to do on arrival. Women often went to factories or into domestic service. Men could be given a variety of tasks, especially food production, though the hardened criminals would end up on chain gangs.
The convict settlements, such as Port Arthur were created for secondary offenders.
Transportation ended in 1856 but those already here had to complete their sentence.
The tree plantations we drove through were stunning – a mix of blue gum (a type of eucalyptus) and pine. Between the trees were acacia and ferns creating a green floor awash with yellow and cream flowers.
This practice is controversial in Tasmania with debate on the sustainability and impact on the land.
This area is also cut with canals for the hydo-electricity industry, dug in the 1930s by a mostly Eastern European migrant population. The novel ‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’ discusses the harsh life that these people led.
Lake St Clair was named for the St Clair landowners that lived by Loch Lomond during the 1840s by Sir John Franklin (the ill fated explorer who attempted to find the Northwest Passage). His wife, Lady Jane, accompanied him, carried in a sedam chair carried by four convicts.
Walking by the Tasmanian lake was really like being in Scotland, though the eucalyptus and manuka bushes give a very different scent to any that I’ve ever smelt there.
Fresh, citrussy, slightly honey-like. It was a mix of teatree and sassafrass.
On the way along the quiet road from the Lake we spotted another echnidna. We’d seen two or three on the way in but, this time, it was on my side of the bus.
So I tried to get a shot…
…to no avail.
The giant hedgehog just wasn’t cooperating.
Never work with children or animals.
Pub quiz fans, if marsupials’ babies are called joeys and Tasmanian Devil young are called imps… what are the offspring of echnidna called?
And then… we spotted a wombat running across the road…just after Phil had told us how difficult it was to see these animals in the wild…
Honestly, never ever work with children or animals
I didn’t get a photo of that one either.
The landscape of Central Tasmania was some of the most striking I had seen so far – a mix of eucalyptus forest with button grass which is thick and yellow, interspersed with white flowers.
Wisps of cloud lay across the mountain tops creating a very atmospheric feel.
As the road descended, we found ourselves surrounded by temperate rainforest.
Our next destination was Donaghys Hill for another walk through the forest where, as we climbed the path up the hill, we were level with the branches of gigantic trees growing up from the valley floor.
Once at the top, Phil explained the glacier carved valley on one side with the Franklin River heading down the valley on the other side.
The views were stunning.
Back on the road, and we were off to another stop where another waterfall was promised.
This was Nelson Falls.
The journey on to Strahan took us through previously, three years ago, burnt bush. The trees were dead but the regrowth is already showing with ferns, bushes and flowers.
We were passing Lake Burberry – a manmade lake – and around around Mount Jukes to head into mining country. Queenstown’s industry was copper mining but closed three years ago and a small town that was already struggling is facing further challenges.
Copper was mined in this area for around 150 years and the damage from the industry has contaminated the countryside. As well as mining, copper was smelted here, producing sulphur dioxide and in an area of heavy rain… what goes up, must come down.
The acid rain wrought substantial damage here as has the dumping of material from mining. The large trees were all cut down for use in the mining industry and the growth we could see only started within the last 30years.
We were essentially driving through a landscape of mining slag heaps – most of the soil burgundy, traces of yellow and orange throughout.
In Queenstown, many if the original buildings on the main street remain – some of then admittedly in better condition that others.
The hotel was damaged by fire but local people challenged demolition plans and want to retain it as part of the town’s heritage.
We left and headed for Strahan where Phil had hinted there could be a chance of spotting a platypus in the creek close to the hostel where we were staying.
Would I be lucky enough to spot one?
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