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Posts Tagged ‘Launceston’

This was the first leg of a five-week trip that includes three other Australian states and visits to Singapore and Thailand on the way home. It’s somewhere I missed on my 2000 trip and somewhere I’ve grown more keen to visit as time has moved on. The island state is some 150 miles south of the Victoria coast and only about 200 miles long and wide at its longest / widest, but it has an extraordinary topographical diversity with beautiful coastlines, a mountainous centre, highland and lowland lakes and rivers and temperate rainforest. About half of it is categorised as national park, world heritage and / or wilderness.

I started, exhausted after a 33-hour journey (though only 20 hours in the air, on three flights) in Hobart, a beautifully situated port on the south coast, with Mount Wellington rising up dramatically behind it. Though it’s the capital, it’s more town than city, though 60% of Tasi’s 500,000 population live there. It was Easter weekend and ever so quiet; Good Friday was treated like Christmas Day in the UK. Tasmania’s newest atraction is a modern art gallery called MONA (Museum of Old and New Art, but there’s not a lot of Old). It’s best visited by ferry (a quirky affair with graffiti art and lifesize models of cows and sheep) through the harbour and up the Derwent river. It’s almost entirly inside a hill, with the hewn rock an integral part of the architecture, and it feels like a maze as you wander through the four or five levels of galleries. The experience is more spectacular than the art, but its unmissable.

I took a side trip from Hobart by car through lovely countryside to Port Arthur in the far south where the penal colony has been preserved, together with later free settlements in and amongst it. The beauty of the setting, on a gorgeous harbour, seems incongruous given the horrors of life there in the past. This was Australia’s second proper penal colony (after Botany Bay) though I also went to a much smaller and earlier one on Sarah Island in McQuarrie Harbour in the west of the island on my next stop at Strahan. You’re never far from this colonial, penal heritage in Tasmania.

The journey to Strahan was spectacular, rising through the central highlands, heavily wooded and littered with lakes, with the last stage through the Franklin Gordon NP, a world heritage temperate rainforest come wilderness. Strahan is a gorgeous little town on a huge harbour with its ‘hell’s gate’ entrance from the southern ocean. It all started with a smirk as my host spoke like Kath from Aussie sitcom Kath & Kim, with a touch of The Archers Linda Snell for good measure. Everything was just perfect and everything she said was scripted; it was as much as I could do not to giggle uncontrollably. I took a long cruise through the harbour and up the Gordon river into the rainforst with landings for a couple of walks, covering both rainforest flora and fauna and penal history. The following day I was back in the rainforst, this time on a late 19th century steam train built to transport copper from mine to harbour. A little too touristy but a worthwhile experience nontheless, and the regular treats from the Sydney family seated with me were a bonus.

The final destination was the northern city of Launceston, where I stayed in one of a small row of 19th century workmen’s cottages that each had ‘home country’ themes. The Welsh Cottage wasn’t available but there was much more potential for kitsch in the Scottish Cottage anyway – tartan-a-go-go! Launceston was a lovely town with a lot of well preserved / restored colonial architecture and a very walkable cataract gorge on the edge of town which brough the Esk river in to meet the Tamar, whose valley was the destination of a fabulous wine tour where we visited three wineries with lunch at one and an awful lot of wines at all three. With glorious weather and great company, this was a lovely treat to end the trip.

The following morning I headed to Melbourne where friends Gordon & Liz and Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom – The Musical were waiting…..

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