Sand, Strahan and speeding

Our main destination for the day was the Henty Sand Dunes. This was a bizarre experience – acres of soft, white sand containing vegitation and leading to a beautiful stretch of beach.

We swam in the South Sea, frolicked, threw tennis balls at/to each other and chucked a frisbee around for a while as the ozone-less sky allowed the sun to turn us all a very fetching shade of red.

Lunch was a filling BBQ by a tributary near the port town of Strahan. By now, we were starting to get to know each other as a group and – like the Outback tour again – everyone mucked in to help out with the preparation and cleaning up.

Matt drove us into Strahan for a short while and we walked around the souvenir shop. Some of us weakened and bought some rather expensive, but utterly delicious, hand-made fudge from a local shop. Almosty everyone ended up with equally artery-hardening ice-cream from another vendor. A great end to the day out. But it wasn’t all over yet!

Canoing or cycling was also an option once we returned to our accommodation (the Tullah Lakeside Chalet again). There was a bit of “fun” getting the shutter doors open, but eventually myself and three others (Paulo from Portugal, Gustavo from Colombia and Leon from Wales) saddled up… and got a lift to the nearby dam. Because of the lock problems, we didn’t have time for a return trip so Matt kindly ferried us and the bikes uphill before letting us loose.

The first section is very fast. Very fast indeed. And I very almost became at one with the asphalt just before the first corner. Hammering the rear brake to slow down caused my back wheel to judder quite violently and attempt to throw me from my saddle. Matt was driving behind me in the minibus at the time and told me later he thought I was going to do a flier. Somehow, I managed to keep control and the rest of the ride down was uneventful – aside from being good fun and allowing good opportunity for a couple of stops to take pictures of the astounding scenery.

Dinner was another simple, filling affair – and this time I OD’d on desserts. Three of them. Well, I’d burned off a lot of calories on the bike ride! Four of us shared a bottle of wine, and then we headed bedwards. Well, I sat down outside to read for a while as there was a nice breeze, and Ashley the random dog kept me company. He waited until I left my seat to go to bed, then jumped up onto it and curled up. I’m going to miss that pooch. I can’t believe he’s a stray.

By now I’d worked out the makeup of our tour group: England, Wales, Colombia, Portugal, 2 x Thailand, Korea, 4 x Japan, 3 x Germany, Holland, Denmark, France, Belgium, Canada, US and 2 x Australia (not including Matt). Again, another great mix and everyone spoke good to superb English. Even the American girl.

Bussing and dozing

Well, I hardly slept a wink. I guess a lot of people in my dorm were heading for the 4:45am airport bus as several alarms went off and the rustling of packing bags occurred around 4am. Just great. Especially as I had to be up at 6am to be collected by my tour bus.

As through the Outback, I was to be travelling with Adventure Tours Australia. Sat outside the Cathedral were a handful of other people who I’d get to know quite well over the next few days! Matt was to be our driver/guide for the trip and, as with all the ATA staff before him, made us all feel very welcome from the off.

Our first day was to involve a lot of driving. After a short stopoff for snacks and registration at the local office, we started the long ride to the west coast. We stopped off at the Mount Field National Park to look at some trees – tall ones. Very tall ones. And some wallabies that were a little nervous.

We stopped a few times more along the road for some spectacular views, waterfalls and suchlike. Our final stop before reaching “base camp” was Queenstown where we hoped to supply ourselves with cheap snacks and beer. Only the power was out to the entire town. We finally got some food, though, and drove the last short stretch to the Tullah Lakeside Chalet.

The accommodation was great with friendly staff, good food, hot showers and a resident stray dog that stuck to our group like glue. As in Queenstown, though, a thunderstorm caused a power cut so we ate our dinner by candlelight! I had two helpings, courtesy of a travelling companion who wasn’t hungry.

Around Hobart

What a day… I elected to get up at 6:45am and scarper before the staff found me on the sofa. I then headed to McDs nearby for some hotcakes and syrup to give me energy and then trundled round the corner, dumped my bags and stuck out my thumb.

I ended up being one of two hitchers when a Swedish guy in his 60’s appeared. Fortunately the first car to stop was more than happy to take both of us all the way down to Hobert. Two ladies on their way down for a hospital appointment and to collect a wedding dress respectively! Thank you to both of them for the lift and the chat – and I’m sorry I nodded off when we got close to Hobart. I’d only had three hours’ sleep!

This saved me around $30 on the bus fare, and I also emailed the hostel from last night and told them what happened. Hopefully I won’t be charged for that.

In Hobart I’m staying at the Central City Backpackers and it’s a lovely looking place. I arrived shortly after 10:30 (two hours before the bus would have got me in) and too early to check in. I dumped my bags and followed their map to do some sightseeing.

First stop was the nearby Citizens Advice equivalent for free internet. Swap your passport/ID for thirty minutes online. Sweet except that attempting to access GMail freezes any of their terminals. Which is annoying as it was email I wanted to check! I ended up in another place at $6 an hour which seems to be the going rate in Tasmania.

After lunch, I walked like a fiend to get to the Cascade Brewery in time for the 1:00 tour. I was just too late, but they squeezed me on anyway and I spnt an enjoyable 90 minutes or so being shown around the oldest brewery in Australia. The three samples of beer at the end were also rather welcome!

I then decided to walk back towards the city centre and do the “2 1/2 hour” walk around Hobart detailed in my Lonely Planet. This was quite entertaining, though I was getting a bit on the hot side by now. A good job the walk only took an hour! I don’t know who would take 2 1/2 hours to do it unless they only had one leg and their hands nailed to the pavement.

Back at the hostel I checked in and got a load of info about the airport shuttle and surrounding area. It seems the airport closes overnight, so I can’t go straight there when I get back from the trip. Instead, I’ll have to stay here and get the 4:45am shuttle. Argh. Ah well, a comfy bed at least.

I’m fairly certain I won’t be online again until I return from the trip on the 27th, so don’t worry if things go quiet for a few days. I’m just busy enjoying myself!

Welcome to Tasmania, hope you enjoy walking

A fairly busy day travelwise. I woke early, used up all my internet credit at the hostel and very gratefully accepted both lunch and a lift to the airport from Mel. Thank you – you’re a sweetheart! To brighten my morning further, a small songbird actually walked up to my fingers and pecked at me as I was stood by the car. It seemed utterly unafraid, almost tame. A very surreal and very nice moment.

My flight was only delayed 15 minutes and as ever the Virgin Blue cabin crew were superb. “Please refrain from using any MP3 players, phones or laptops during takeoff as they can interfere with the captain’s pacemaker.” The only flight crew I’ve ever known who regularly get an ovation.

During the flight, I had a good natter to a young lady off to Melbourne for work. Sorry, I didn’t get your name but I do hope you get the time to go to Draculas!

I only had an hour for my connecting flight, so I decided against an overpriced airport meal and reluctantly paid $2.20 for a Mars Bar to tide me over till I got to Launceston. This was to prove a mistake…

The flight landed early on Tasmania, and we queued for our luggage. No carousel here. Instead, the luggage is driven up to a driveway on the back of a truck and customers pile in and collect it direct!

Outside, I queued for the airport shuttle bus along with a few other people… until one of the airport staff told us that he bus wouldn’t be coming. This despite one of the people in the queue contacting them earlier in the day to make a booking and being told she wouldn’t need one as the bus collects from all incoming flights.

Great.

So a group of us ordered a maxi-taxi to save on money. It didn’t show. We checked with a taxi driver who said he’d radio in and ask where it was. Half an hour later, another taxi driver promised the same. A third – almost an hour later – told us that one hadn’t been ordered. Two of the lads in the queue gave in and got that cab.

Eventually, with the help of one of the airport staff, we got a maxi-cab for eight of us (they only seat six) and the end result was a $1 saving on what the shuttle would have cost me.

The downside was that the hostel was locked up when I got there an hour after the time I’d said I’d be arriving. Despite having a contact number for me, they’d not called when I didn’t show up. OK, so I didn’t have their number to hand either but I didn’t expect to need it.

Eventually someone let me in (three people sat near the door ignored my pressing of the bell) but there were no staff anywhere to book me in. So I settled on a sofa, found some internet and whiled the time away as I starved. Remember I’d not eaten in over 10 hours by now except for that Mars Bar. And I couldn’t go out to look for food as I didn’t have a key to get back in!

I caved. I wedged the front door open with a book so it wouldn’t lock and ran round the streets for fifteen minutes. Nothing. The closest I got was a pie shop which didn’t open until 5:30am. Gah.

Back at the hostel I found the door still unlocked (phew), but discovered someone in the kitchen. I begged. I lucked out. It was a German girl with the munchies who was just trying to use up some of her food before the morning as she was checking out and would be ditching it all anyway. Result!

So I sit here, typing this up with a fairly full belly and watching a stick insect crawl up one of the walls.

Tasmania seems OK. The hostel itself seems really nice – but I think I’ll be out of here early enough that there’s no point in me paying for a room. After all, I didn’t get to sleep in a bed! I’ll ring them from Hobart tomorrow / later today.