Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tassie Aussie – 2012 trip to Australia


For years, my family had a wish to visit Australia.  This year, we finally found a time that everyone was available.  We bought air tickets to Tasmania in Australia from Dec 14 to Dec 25 in 2012.  I was the one who planned the itinerary of the trip.

Day 1 – Long flight to Tasmania

On Dec 14 (Fri), we boarded a flight to Sydney at 7:10pm.  The flight from Hong Kong to Sydney was about 9 hours.  Sydney is 3 hours ahead of Hong Kong in summer.  Therefore, we arrived at Sydney at ~ 7 am on Dec 15.  During the flight, I tried to sleep, but my sleep turned into several short naps.

At the Sydney airport, I could feel the warmth of air.  I could hear a different accent of English.  By looking at people around wearing shorts and swimsuits to the airport, we knew we were in the summer.

We connected to a domestic flight to Launceston, Tasmania at 11 am.  There are only two major domestic airports in Tasmania, which are in Hobart and in Launceston.  The flight took 1 hour 45 minutes, and there were no time differences.  After the flight, everyone was tired.

We took an airport shuttle to the downtown area of Launceston.  On this day, we only tried to get acquainted to Australia.  Everyone was tired and would like to sleep early.  However, the sunset time was 8:45 pm in this region.  Therefore, after leaving our stuff in the hotel, we got some lunch and got some grocery.  The food was expensive.  I think 1 Australian dollar is only slightly more than 1 US dollar.  The restaurant food that we got today was $18 per dish.

After these activities, everyone wanted to go back to hotel to sleep.

Day 2 – Launceston

Before beginning our journey today, we went to get a rented car and got some tour tickets in the tourist information center.  We began to get used to the accent of the Australians.  The accent seems to sound more like British, but there are some differences.  For example, “10 am” sounds like “10 im”.  In the information center, we got a national park pass that allowed us to visit any national parks in Tasmania for 8 weeks.  It costs AU$ 60 for a car.  We also got the Bicheno night penguin tour tickets, since the tour was popular in summer and needed to get tickets in advance.

This day, I also needed to feel comfortable in driving on the left.  Our first stop was at Bridestowe Lavender Estate, which is a lavender farm that is 40 minutes away from Launceston.  There were many more roundabouts than in the US, and many parts of the roads tend to be narrower.  Like the US, animal road kills in Australia are quite common.  The first kangaroo that we saw was a dead one on the road.  The number of dead kangaroos on the road in Australia was like the number of dead squirrels in the US.  On the road, we once saw a spiky animal crossing slowly on the road.  We thought it looked like a spiky turtle.  Later, we found out that this animal is called echidna.

At the lavender farm, we were amazed by the purple sea of lavender.  We took a lot of pictures at this place.  In the gift shop, most of the items around were purple in color.  There were some teddy bears that released lavender fragrant after soaking with hot water.  In the café, we had lunch there.  Many foods in this place were added with lavender as spice.  There were also recipes available in the café.

After lunch, we returned to Launceston and went to Queen Victoria Museum.  This is a museum that displays multiple topics.  In one area, there were displays showing the history of Australian transportation.  In another area, there was a kid-friendly area that introduced games to show scientific facts.  The most interesting area was a small area that showed Australian wildlife.  I knew that Australia has some animals that would not be found in other countries.  However, animals in Tasmania are especially exotic.  Several animals in Tasmania can only be found in Tasmania!   Some of the interesting animals are platypus (look like a 2-dimensional duck), echidna (look like a duck with a lot of spikes on its spherical body), wombat (black fat teddy bear), and Tasmania devil (look like a black cute cat with long sharp teeth).


We went to Cataract Gorge that was only 5-minute drive from Launceston downtown. We took a short chairlift ride to look at the gorge.  Then, we walked along the gorge.  During our walk, we saw several peacocks.  One of them had 3 little ducklings following it.  We also saw an echidna on the trail, walking slowly to find ants for food. Some locals introduced us about this animal.  One of them used a stick to poke it, and let us see how echidna reacted with danger.  Echidna would stop moving and hide into its spiky body.

We went for dinner at a restaurant near the Tamar River at Launceston.  Seafood in Tasmania is famous, especially fresh oysters.  Therefore, we had to try some.  Then, we got some grocery and went back to hotel.  By that time, the sun was not set yet.  The sunset time here was ~ 8:45 pm.

Day 3 – Nature and wildlife

A summary of where we have been on this day

When I saw the sky getting brighter, I felt like I would like to wake up.  Then, I realized that it was just 6 am.  The sunrise time here was ~ 5:45 am.

Before we left Launceston, we found that one of the tires in the car went flat.  We drove to a gas station (they called gas as petrol, though) and asked a mechanic to patch the tire.  In the end, we learned that a nail punctured the tire.  It was good to repair the flat tire before leaving Launceston.  If we found it on the country road, we would not find a place to fix it.  It was also good that patching a tire was not as expensive as I thought.  The service only cost AU$27.

Our first stop was a salmon farm in Deloraine, which is a drive about 40 minutes west of Launceston.  We only made a brief stop and bought a large piece of salmon for dinner.  There was a tour in this salmon farm, but the tour would take too much time for us.

We drove another 15 minutes to a honey farm.  The “farm” was only a store for honey products.  We stayed there briefly to test taste different kinds of honeys (including Manuka honey).  Then we drove about 5 minutes to the Trowunna Wildlife Park.

I really enjoyed this wildlife park.  During a tour, the guide first introduced wombats to us.  They looked like grey fat bears and looked peaceful.  We were allowed to carry a wombat for pictures, and the wombat did not struggle much when carried by any tourists. In fact, they are herbivores.  One interesting thing that I learned about wombats is that koalas and wombats are relatives.  However, only wild wombats are found in Tasmania.  Koalas can only be found in Australia mainland.


The second animal spotlight is on Tasmanian devils.  These devils can only be found in Tasmania and not even in Australia mainland.  They looked like little black bears and could look cute if they kept their mouth shut.  They looked fierce when their mouths were opened.  Even so, I still think they appeared to be fierce.  They are opportunistic carnivores, which probably means they only find killed animals to eat and do not hunt by themselves.  They could be very noisy when they fought for food from one another.  They are classified as endangered species.  About 15 years ago, a disease wiped out ~80% of their population.  Some may even think they will be extinct by 2015.  Hopefully such timeline will not happen.

Tasmanian Devil

I also had opportunities to see echidnas and kangaroos.  For echidnas, I learned that when they are threatened, their bodies will hide into the spiky balls, like turtles hiding their bodies in their shells.  For kangaroos, I saw a baby kangaroo in a pouch of a large kangaroo.

I hoped I could see a platypus in this park, but the park did not have it.  During the entire Tasmania trip, I had confirmed to see several wild echidnas.  I guessed I had seen several black animals running into the forest from the roads.  I thought they were Tasmanian devils but not too sure.  I did see several dead Tasmanian devils on the roads.  Since the trip to the wildlife park, I did not see a wombat or a platypus at all.  We saw a few kangaroos sometimes, but we saw more domestic animals, especially sheep.  There were so many in Australia.

We continued our drive to the west and stopped by the Marakoopa Cave.  Nobody in my family was interested in paying ~AU$ 20 per person to get into the cave because everyone already had some experiences in seeing the cave environment.  Therefore, we continued to head west for an hour to get to the Cradle Mountain.

Cradle Mountain is part of a national park in NW Tasmania.  Around this area, there were many trees that looked dead.  We walked on a Dove Lake trail, which is a 3-km easy trail that has a good view of Cradle Mountain.  The weather was not that great.  We hiked under foggy and rainy conditions.  Adding the barren landscape, the place may look a little bit scary.

If someone likes long hike, there is a trail called Overland Track in Cradle Mountain-St Clair National park, which I think it is about 70 km long and passes through Cradle Mountain (~1500 m) and Mt. Ossa (~1600 m, the tallest mountain in Tasmania).  I hoped I could take this challenge in the future.

Our family stayed a night in Cradle Mountain.  The room that we reserved had a kitchen.  We cooked our own dinner.  We slept in a cold night (2 C).  The place that we stayed is about 900 m above sea level.

Day 4 – Small town tours

The drive of this day was long, travelling from NW Tasmania to E Tasmania.  We stopped at several small towns.

The first one was Sheffield, which is ~40 minutes NE of Cradle Mountain.  Sheffield is called the Town of Murals.  Some 20 years ago, Sheffield struggled with the finance of the town.  Then, the town people had an idea of organizing mural competitions every year.  The town gradually got the reputation of the murals, attracting people around the world to come to this town.

We stayed in this town for a while to look at a mural competition area.  There were 10 murals drawn.  During the time of competition, we were allowed to vote which one was the best.  At the back of one of the mural, we found what my sister would like to see.  A Hong Kong singing artist, Eason Chan, had been here to draw a mural.  We found it and took a picture.

After that, we bought some postcards and sent one of them to our own addresses.  We also saw more murals on the walls of buildings.

The next town that we went was Longford.  The town is not far away from Launceston.  We went to Brickendon historical farm.  We could get close to many kinds of livestock, including sheep, donkeys, horses, and chickens.  We got a large, filling, but inexpensive quiche for lunch in Longford.

Then, we headed south to the town of Ross.  Ross was regarded as the midway between Hobart and Launceston, the two largest cities in Tasmania.  There is a famous bridge in Ross that shows the distance to these two cities.  There are also some nice historical buildings around this town, as well as the Ross Bakery.  Legends said that the bakery shop in “Kiki’s Delivery Service” was inspired by this shop.  I thought Kiki was in the town with an ocean view, but Ross is in the middle of Tasmania.  I am not sure if the legend is true.

Finally, we headed east to a coastal town called Bicheno.  This was the town that we stayed for a night.  In the Tasmania east coast, there were some good seafood restaurants.  We got a dozen of oysters from the Bicheno Sealife Centre, which had good reviews on oysters.  We visited a blowhole on the coast, seeing seawater shooting upwards from the rocks.  We also saw some rocks tainted with red near the ocean.

One reason that we stayed in this town for a night was the night penguin tour.  At 9:30 pm, when it just got dark, we were brought to a protected beach to watch small penguins coming back to land.  The tour guide explained a lot about the behaviors of penguins.  One interesting fact was that penguins tend to move onshore as a group.  They choose themselves a leader when moving, but none of penguins wants to be a leader, so they push one another at a spot for a while.  Once there is a leader walking, a group of penguins will follow. (Sorry that there is no pictures for penguins.  Photography is prohibited in the penguin tour)

The place that we stayed this time also had a kitchen, and had a great ocean view!

Day 5 – Tasmania Ocean Shore

We had a lot of driving on this day.  We also planned leaving a little bit late (~ 9 am) because of the penguin tour last night.  The aim was to get to Hobart in the evening, and there were several stops along the Tasmania east coast.

Our first two stops were in the Freycinet Peninsula.  We went to Freycinet National Park and took a short hike to get a view of the Wineglass Bay, which was said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  Besides hiking, one can take a boat tour or a helicopter tour to view the Wineglass Bay.

We backtracked to Coles Bay.  There was an oyster farm in this area and we tried fresh oysters in our third time.  We thought we liked the first two oyster experiences more, though.  However, we also ordered mussels and we enjoyed them a lot.

Then, we drove to Swansea, which can view Freycinet Peninsula from the other side of a bay.  There was a famous Kate’s strawberry farm in this place.  It attracted a lot of tourists to buy their strawberry desserts.

After that, we had an hour and a half drive to Hobart.  After hotel check-in, we familiarized ourselves around the city.  We walked to Mure’s for seafood dinner.  We found a supermarket called Woolworth for grocery.  At this point, we found our first free Wi-Fi hotspot.

Day 6 – The Prison

We slept in Hobart for the rest of the Tasmania trip.  This day, we also had a lot of driving.  From Hobart, we drove 1.5 hours to Port Arthur, which is at the SE corner of Tasmania.  Then, we drove NW to the town of Richmond.  Finally, we went to Mount Field National Park to see Russell Falls, which is 1 hour NW of Hobart.

Actually, our first stop was at a fruit farm in Sorell, which is ~ 15 minutes from Hobart.  There were many kinds of berries that could be taken, if we paid for the admission fees.  However, we knew that we had a busy schedule today, so we only stayed in the fruit farm briefly.

So many berries that I have not heard of

Then, we drove more than an hour to Port Arthur.  If we had time, we should spend the entire day here.  Port Arthur was a prison for the early Australians who committed crimes.  Australia was once a place where convicts from Britain were sent to in the 19th century.  However, if people in Australia continued to commit crimes, Port Arthur was the prison to send to.

There were several things that we could do in Port Arthur.  Each of us got a bronze pass, which included a guided tour and a boat ride, as well as the admission into Port Arthur historical site.  In the exhibition hall near the entrance, there were many displays that showed examples of convicts’ lives when being transported to Australia and lives being in Port Arthur.  We were given a playing card at admission.  The card corresponded to one of the convicts in Port Arthur.  We could learn about this specific convict in the exhibition hall.

The boat ride was also a tour that showed parts of Port Arthur that were better visited by boat.  There is an island in Port Arthur where the dead convicts were buried.

The guided tour told us the history of Port Arthur.  The guide gave us a lot of interesting information.  We learned about the type of prison Port Arthur was.  For example, this was one of the few prisons that did not have walls and could keep convicts from escaping successfully.  The reason was that Port Arthur only connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of road.  This narrow strip was of course heavily guarded.  By that time, escaping by sea was not favorable because most convicts did not know how to swim.

Moreover, there were some experiments in Port Arthur to see if the prison could turn the convicts into good men by putting the convicts that repeatedly behaved badly into silent rooms and dark rooms.  Now we knew the experiments were failures, since a lot of these convicts were turned into mad men.  An asylum was therefore built for these mad men.

One funny thing in the tour was that when the prison of Port Arthur was closed in late 19th century, most convicts were allowed to leave, but they preferred staying in Port Arthur because they could not find any jobs outside.  The prison, as a government establishment, provided food and bed for the convicts without charges.  Therefore, the convicts were likely not happy with the prison closure.  The prison reopened as a tourist area after a year of closure, though.  Then, some convicts returned to the prison as tour guides to earn money.  Hopefully, the tourists did not know the identities of these tour guides, and hopefully our tour guide was not one of them.

In the historic site, we walked through many buildings in ruins and learned about the functions of these buildings.  Some of the houses were preserved better and we could go inside to see these houses in 19th century.  From the tour, we knew that only ~30% of the buildings in Port Arthur that we see now were the actual prison buildings.  Many buildings were burnt in the previous fires and some buildings were built later for tourism.

I think people can spend the entire day in Port Arthur for various tours.  There is a Port Arthur ghost tour every evening that shows the historical buildings in the dark.  The tour guide will give ghost stories during the tour.  Although we did not take this tour, I think this tour is recommended.

When we left Port Arthur, it was already 3 pm.  We drove an hour back through Sorell and drove to Richmond.  The town had a famous bridge and an oldest church in Australia.  We also went to a bakery that served inexpensive and tasty breads and pies.  We left Richmond at 5 pm.

We drove another hour to Mount Field National Park.  From there, we walked 15 minutes to visit the Russell Falls.  I hoped the waterfall is spectacular, since we drove for an hour to only look at the waterfall.  In the ends, even my parents also enjoyed looking at the waterfall and the walk to it.  My parents were very picky about scenery places.  In this trip, a cave that needs to pay to get in (e.g. Day 3 in Marakoopa Cave) would not interest my parents because they visited many caves before.  The forest looked primitive, liked the forests millions of years ago that turned into coal now.

We drove back to Hobart after that.  The sky began to get dark when we got back to the hotel.  We also got the Wi-Fi opportunity by visiting the same supermarket in Hobart.

Day 7 – Huon Valley

We woke up on this famous day of the end of the world without any problems.  Because the itineraries of the last few days were long, we had a shorter trip on this day.  We drove to the south part of Tasmania, passed through Huon Valley, drove more than 20 km on a narrow road inside a forest, and got to Tahune Airwalk.  In this area, there are many tall trees.  An airwalk was built so that we could look at the tall trees at a higher level.  The hike in this area, including the airwalk, was quite nice.  Many tree trucks are so thick that they need more than 3 people to surround them.  There were also two swinging bridges that crossed two rivers.  According to my sister, although the color of the water in this Huon River is brown as tea, the water is generally safe to drink.

Then we drove back to Huonville and looked for an apple museum.  There was nothing much interesting in this museum, so we did not go in.

We drove east to the Peppermint Bay.  From there, we could view Bruny Island on the east.  We did not include Bruny Island in this trip.  However, we knew that there were boat tours that cruised around the island and showed rock features around the island.  In Peppermint Bay, there was a restaurant in which the Tasmanians thought it was the best restaurant in Tasmania.  Therefore, we had dinner there.  We got several dishes, including seafood.  After the meal, we thought the quality is as good as what we had heard from reviews.  This restaurant is highly recommended to visit.

We went back to hotel and then went to the same supermarket for internet, only finding that the internet was down.  Look like we would not have internet access in the next two days.

Day 8 – Hobart

We did not drive too far on this day, since all the places that we visited on this day were in Hobart area.  We drove to the peak of Mt. Wellington.  This is a mountain that is 1200 m high and next to the city of Hobart.  Although it was cool on the mountain, we had pretty good view of Hobart and the surrounding seashores.  We could see as far as the peninsula of Port Arthur, as well as Bruny Island.

We then spent a brief time in the Royal Botanical Garden in Hobart to see some Sub-Antarctic plants.  They were in a very small room, but we learned where these plants came from.

We drove back to the hotel and walked to the Salamanca Market.  This is an open market that only opens on Saturday.  We spent about 2 hours walking through the market and got some snack food along the way.  Some location had performances in which some of them were worth staying to watch.  For this kind of markets, I liked to find if there were any interesting items.  For example, I found a toothpick holder that looked like an echidna when there were toothpicks on it.  This place was also a fairly good place for buying gifts.

We stopped by the historic brewery factory in Hobart and a Cadbury chocolate factory near Hobart, but both places were closed, so we only took pictures of these places.

In the afternoon, we visited MONA, which is Museum of Old and New Arts.  There were several modernly stylish buildings around this area.  It looked like there was a concert there on that day, and there were many people sitting outside.  This museum was a nice place to stop by.

We got more fresh oysters at Barilla Bay Oyster, which was near the Hobart airport.  The food was fairly good, but no food can match the one we got in Peppermint Bay.

This concludes our trip in Tasmania.

Day 9 – Sydney

We left Hobart in the early morning.  When we arrived at Sydney, it was almost noon.  The weather in Sydney was quite different to Tasmania.  Sydney in December is truly a summer.  The temperature was around 30 C when arriving at the airport.

We stayed in my parent’s friend’s place in Sydney.  After settling down, we went to Sydney city area for the rest of the day.  We visited Chinatown, Darling Harbour, Queen Victoria Building, and Hyde Park.  Then, we visited the famous Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.  We took a ferry from the Circular Quay to Manly Beach and watched the high waves of this beach.  Basically, we spent most of the time taking pictures.

We also got Chinese food for lunch and dinner.  We got dim sum in a Chinese restaurant for lunch.  The dim sum tasted well!  This place made me realize that there were so many Chinese in Sydney that the Chinese restaurant looked very authentic.  The dinner gave me a similar impression.  The fried rice, noodles, and congees were exceptionally good.  My parents thought the food was even better than in Hong Kong.  This probably also reflected the numerous Chinese people in Sydney.

Day 10 – The Mainland Pacific

This day was even warmer.  We were with my parents’ friends to go the places south of Sydney.  We visited a wildlife park in which we saw exotic animals like emus, koalas, kangaroos, dingoes, as well as wombats and echidnas.  Comparing koalas to wombats, I still liked wombats more.  We were also allowed to feed kangaroos with the given shredded grasses.


Then, the car went south to Wollongong.  We stopped at the sea cliff bridge and took some pictures.  In the past, there was a road next to the cliff.  Since the rock on the cliff is unstable and falls down on the road frequently, the road was closed and a bridge was built to keep the cars away the cliff area.  At Wollongong, we walked around a lighthouse and the beach nearby.

In the evening, we went to another Chinese restaurant that had authentic Chinese food.  After that, we went a house to watch Christmas light decorations.  There was rain and mixed with some thunder.

Day 11 – Christmas

On the last day in Australia, which was Christmas, we stayed in my parents’ friend’s home.  The weather was not so great.  It was raining heavily, mixing with thunder.  We had a Christmas dinner in this house.  Some foods, including mussels and salmon, tasted fresh.

We got to the airport at noon.  We arrived at Hong Kong at ~ 10 pm.

Final thoughts

I have heard from several people that Tasmania is boring, but I think I am very happy with the trip.  If I could spend more time in Tasmania, I would do it.  Tasmania is a place with superb natural scenery and fresh seafood.  During this trip, we went to several tours, hiked several trails, and ate in many restaurants.  We had seen many animals that we had not seen before.  Tasmania is one of the best islands that I have even been.  The last time that I gave such comment was probably the island of Puerto Rico.

I was also glad that we only spent a couple of days in Sydney.  It looked like spending a day or two was enough for visiting the city of Sydney.

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