Welcome to Canberra

I hate early mornings. I was up till after 1am sorting this blog out and copying pictures to Taketo’s laptop as his camera had died earlier in the day. My flight was at 6am, so I had to catch the 4:45am shuttle bus. Argh.

Just to add to the fun, I couldn’t get to sleep as I was too wound up about maybe missing the bus. When I did nod off, the guy opposite not only snored but shouted in his sleep! Something about “kill all the English ones” (I swear). This didn’t help me get back to sleep…

I was out of bed before my alarm went off, grabbed all my stuff and ate two oranges for breakfast. I then hitched all my bags, spotted another tear on one of my rucksacks (I need a bag repair shop toot sweet) and waddled to the cathedral, arriving at the same time as the coach.

The journey to Canberra may have been uneventful or we may have been held up. I don’t know. I slept through both short flights and staggered off the second at 8:45am feeling like someone had been using my eyeballs to mix cement. One thing I do remember is that I’ve now had three Virgin Blue flights in a row with no jokes fromthe flight crew. Not good enough!

Unbeknownst to me, Canberra underwent the most severe storms in ten years last night. Hailstones the size of marbles still lay on the streets when I arrived, despite the temperatures pushing thirty degrees by lunchtime. Many shops in the town centre were closed due to flood damage, as are several rooms in the YHA Central which meant they couldn’t check me in when I arrived. Not their fault!

I whiled away the day between the War Museum and wandering around the Parliamentary area. The War Museum is superb – right up there with the Imperial War Museum in London. Anzac Parade, the road which leads to the museum, has numerous memorials along it dedicated to various conflicts and forces. The Vietnam memorial in particular is a stunning piece of work. Water flows, a large blown-up black and white image dominates and phrases from radio conversations are imprinted on one wall like fragments of history. You can almost hear them being shouted in your ear.

The Lonely Planet I have describes the State Library as “massively symmetrical” which is simply just bad English. However, it’s both massive and symmetrical. That is, it’s like a huge, boring 1970’s concrete block. A shame as so many other buildings in Canberra are really nice.

The oddest one has to be the museum which looks like it was put together from plastic Meccanno and then melted.

I grabbed a decent lunch from an Irish pub a few blocks from work – $9.90 for a pint of Coke and a large chicken schnitzel and chips. Just what I needed.

The YHA checked me in fine when I returned, and I’m sharing a dorm with six people so far (more keep arriving). I’ll pop my earplugs in tonight, just in case!

I’m off for dinner now – beans on toast sounds good – and then hopefully meeting Kat (yet another online friend) for a beer or three.

End of the road

I woke at 5am and couldn’t nod off again. Matt popped his head into the dorm at six to get myself and Michael. Gustavo, again, was the only other member of the group up for the walk.

We had a rushed breakfast, packed some fruit and snacks and zipped off in the bus. We got to the base of the trek in about twenty minutes and started off through the forest. Even this early, it was quite light and the trees were alive with birdsong. The sounds, smells and sights were amazing. Just like being in another world.

After an hour or so we reached the first viewing point by a cliff’s edge. It looked like the world ended a few metres from our feet. The cloud cover was so heavy we couldn’t see anything past the edge!

We had a quick discussion and decided to keep on trecking and see if the clou cleared.

It didn’t.

At the next viewpoint, we admired the way we could hear the sea but not see it and then decided to head back to the bus. Not a wasted trip by any means – what we did see was fantastic and I just want to go back sometime when the weather holds out.

The one upside was that it meant we were back in time to do the walk and boat trip in Port Arthur. The boat trip was OK for the twenty minutes we got, but we skipped the guided tour and just walked around by ourselves.

Matt managed to squeeze in a visit to a nearby Tasmanian Devil refuge where we arrived in time to see four of them being fed. Noisy little critters!

And then back to Hobart and various accommodation drops. I was back in the City Backpackers with most of the group. We arranged to meet for dinner around 7:30 and at that time walked up the Mall to find somewhere that would and couls handle 14 backpackers. We settled on the Queens Head where the staff shifted tables, moved chairs and even relocated another punter to squeeze us all in. To top it all they sold Brown Ale in bottles and the food was great!

Finally, on to the Republic Bar with some superb live music where Matt met up with us again. He let me know I’d left my jumper on the bus (d’oh) but that ATA would get it mailed to me if I called them.

Email addresses were exchanged as were hugs and handshakes. As with the Outback tour, I made a lot of friends from the great bunch I travelled with. I have two definite offers of accommodation in Lisbon and in Seoul, should I head in either direction. And I think I will at some point!

Unscary ghosties

Today we had a short hop to Freycinet where again we divided into two groups. One hiked to Wineglass Bay, one of the finest beaches in Australia. The smaller one, myself included, clambered up Mount Amos for some more astounding views. Well, before the cloud came in anyway.

On the way to our new house, we stopped by the Remarkable Cave. This is a natural formation where two separate caves have been carved through a rock wall over the millenia, feeding into one outlet behind. The sound of the waves pushing through from two directions and then being sucked back out is like nothing I’ve heard before. Large rocks are dragged back by the current and their clacking can be heard over the crash of waves.

Our house was located in Port Arthur, and was another pleasant place with a pool table, large telly, comfy beds and hot showers. We had pasta and sauce for dinner, all home-made, and then walked down to the local Information Centre for a Ghost Tour. I’ll spare you the details – it was pants. The history of the area is interesting (an old penal colony for re-offenders), but the ghost tour was more about things that had happened to previous tour groups.

Matt gave us a choice for the morning. We all had tickets for the day trip round Port Arthur and for the boat cruise around the bay. We could sleep in and head down for any of the half-hourly trips from 9am, or we could get up at 6am and go with him and a friend for a trek in the hills for around six hours.

Guess which one I went for? And was still one of the last ones to go to bed after walking our two Australian ladies to their home down the road?

Start of part two – East Coast

Just for a change we had an early start this morning. We had a pickup to make in Launceston to get our new travel companions, two girls from Korea. The two German girls, two Thai girls, Mariah and John from Alberta had all departed at Devonport. Well, the two Thais actually cadged a free lift to Launceston but that’s just a technicality. As it happens, they checked into the same hostel I couldn’t get access to the other night.

An hour or so down the trail, we stopped for another quick walk around a wonderful waterfall. Three of us – myself, Gustavo and Michael – plus Matt clambered up the side. And then higher. And up a bit more. It was quite hairy, but we actually found that the waterfall at ground level was the lower of four in a cascade. We managed to get some great pictures and somehow managed not to lose Gustavo. Our Colombian friend has a habit of vanishing off into the distance ahead of everyone else, and usually for longer than he’s meant to!

Out of our whole group, we were the only ones to make the climb. Makes me feel good when you consider that Matt does this thing for fun and money five days a week, Michael’s ten years younger than me and a mountain climber, and Gustavo lives in the hills in Central America and treks regularly.

After lunch cooked out the back of the truck, we visited another beautiful beach. This one had some pretty intense waves and Matt zipped off out on his surfboard while the rest of us messed around in the water and played with three dogs.

We stayed in a small town called Bicheno for the evening. There’s not a lot there, but it’s really pleasant. In the evening, most of us had signed up for the penguin tour as recommended by Matt. There are a few of these trips around Oz, but the one on Tas lets you get closer to the penguins than any of the others. So filled with a huge helping of curry and some really crap lager (so bad, even Australians won’t drink it), we were picked up to see the little tottering munchkins.

The tour took around 45 minutes and was really good. The guide was informative and we saw plenty of penguins. I think some of my pictures even came out, which surprised me as there was very little light.

Amazingly, I wasn’t the last one to go to bed. Taketo is actually travelling around Oz after going to a medical conference to help cover the costs. He’s actually working while on the road, and spends the evenings tapping away on his laptop at various projects and documents. Mind you, he catches up on the sleep in the bus during the day.

Huge hike and floor space only

Today we had another early start (they were all early starts this week) to get to Cradle Mountain. You can see how it got its name when you view it from certain angles – imagine a hollow volcano with a part crumbled away so as to give it the appearance of the chair. There is one large lake and several smaller ones at its foot and a variety of walks available for those of varying degrees of ability.

The majority of us opted for the long-haul three-hour hike up to the peaks and around the lake at altitude while around eight of the group decided to walk around at ground level and paddle. I’m really glad I went for the tougher option. The views were astounding, the animal and plant life fascinating, and the company just great. Lyn, one of the two Aussie ladies in our group, somehow managed to make it around on her own steam – not too bad for someone (I don’t think I’d be rude in saying) of pensionable age. It certainly wasn’t all flat plodding – a lot of clambering was involved.

We ate our packed lunched on a summit with the sun beating down before trudging for another ninety minutes to meet up with the rest of the group at a coffee shop. Astoundingly, despite my ramshackle footwear ($18 in Singapore) I didn’t have a single blister. I did, however, still have a spring in my step and an urge to do more walking.

Today was the end of the three-day “West Coast” part of the tour and we were to lose a handful of our group as they boarded planes and ferries from Devonport. Mariah, the American girl, had a minor nightmare due to her travel agent making a cockup by booking her in accommodation flipping miles outside of Devonport. Fortunately, she managed to change her ferry booking, so didn’t need to make the long journey by taxi in the morning.

What remained of the group – the people doing the full 6-day tour – arrived in Devonport slightly behind schedule at 7pm. We were all pretty much ravenous after the day’s plodge and desparate to dump our stuff, shower and get out for a meal. Fate, however, was having a bit of a giggle this evening. The hotel we were staying at had overbooked big style. Five of us ended up with two single rooms to share. Floor space was organised and spare blankets from the cupboards spread out to make the carpet a little softer.

We met up as a group and strolled into town – what there is of it around Devonport – and ended up in two groups. The majority plumpled for a seafood restaurant which was overjoyed to see a huge bundle of tourist money drop into its lap as closing time approached. There were a few of us, though, who weren’t too keen on fishy dishes, so we elected to go next door to an Indian. Good choice, as it turns out.

The crowd to went to the seafood restaurant all enjoyed their meals while Delphine, Sophie, Makiko and another Japanese girl had a delicious curry each. The “hot” beef vindaloo I had wasn’t anywhere near as spicy as the food I was getting in South Asia but that’s usually the case! Regardless, it was a decent size, well cooked and very tasty – and not a bad price either. They even had Kingfisher beer to wash it down!

Back at the hostel, we tried to sort more rooms out, but the only one they’d had spare (a double-booking with one of our own group) had already been allocated to someone else. To be honest, I was fine with that as the pair of people who ended up with a bed were an elderly couple who had been stuck in the same situation as us. I’d rather they’d had a bed and we were on the floor than the other way around. I had a chat to the guy running the bar in the hotel and he apologised, said there was nothing he could do (which was true) and offered free beer all night to those stuck in the two single rooms. Result!

Paulo and Michael went AWOL with two German girls, though, so they missed out. Taketo was already upstairs doing work on his laptop. Instead, Leon, Nettie and myself sat downstairs quaffing Mercury cider and Hoegarden until it flowed from our ears.

We retired after midnight, and I found Taketo still tapping away on his laptop. I think we talked till around 2am before I flaked out on my mildly-padded floor. In the morning I found out that Michael and Paulo (sharing the room with Leon) had been refused entry to the hotel as they didn’t have a key to prove they were in a room – single room, single key! They tried to clamber up walls, throw stones at windows and eventually just walked round the back to see the fire escape door at the top of some metal stairs was wide open. Handy.