Dancing with the Devils – Tasmania

On our day in Hobart, Ricky, Liz and I headed to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. I had been told by many people it was a must see, eclectic gallery, Lonely Planets number 1 for Tasmania and number 3 for all of Australia. First up you catch a ferry, painted in army camouflage, the staff wearing boiler suits and army boots, to an area outside Hobart. The journey is a beautiful trip along the water, we passed a ship soon to set sail to Antarctica, but it is definitely a different way to start the day bearing in mind your essentially visiting a gallery.

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Inside the gallery is three floors below ground and instead of wall descriptions you are given an iPod which knows which art you are near and gives you some description. The first exhibition we looked at was ‘Rivers of Fundamentals,’ a mix of Egyptian artefacts, carvings and tombs, interspersed with cars and engineering. The link we had missed is this all belonged to a book and play in which, now I’m not exactly sure about this, Egyptian gods were represented as cars. You see where I’m going, the link isn’t obvious.

We also wandered briefly through the other floors, all bumping into each other occasionally and flashing weird looks at each other. Upstairs we reconvened for some food and a coffee, a debrief and then Liz and I headed back downstairs. In a new frame of mind the gallery seemed to make more sense. Once you realise there is very little context or link between the art, I managed to appreciate each one a little more. It was a little like the Tate, on drugs?

Some pieces were abrupt, 77 mouldings of vaginas to question why the subject is taboo, a bowl filled with water on a seat where you might normally expect a room guide, instead inside is a sharp knife and two goldfish..! Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca was another interesting one, a machine that poos. Literally 7 tubes hung from the ceiling recreating different parts of human digestion. The machine ate and created poo. The description was even more bizarre, a concept that Bacteria were the reason for human existence, playing host to them and that they had inspired the machine to make the human race redundant.

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There were some strange movies, a fat Porsche to challenge consume tic and greed, and a room with 30 TV screens of Madonna fans singing her songs. It was supposed to mock and celebrate fan culture, but it was quite fun.

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Perhaps it helps to know that the Multi-millionare who owns MONA is a mathematician come gambler who won his money ‘card counting’ in Casinos. He probably is the most fascinating exhibit of them all. Even with the warnings I had received, it wasn’t at all what I had expected. I almost had expected it to mock the pretentiousness of other art galleries, but instead I felt it retained that a little, maybe that was the point?

One last thing before we got the ferry back again, the toilets played a movie projected onto the floor as you sat on the loo.

Day 506

Liz dropped us off at the car hire shop, probably relieved to see the back of us and our mass of luggage. We picked up our old Toyota Corolla and headed out of Hobart for Mount Field national park. The damp forest was home to impressive Russell falls where the water streamed over several levels. The forest scraped the sky with Tasmanian swamp gum trees, some up to 80 metres high!

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Back on the road we were heading west to the less populated side of the island. Most of the days drive was winding roads and no radio signal, passing very few cars. It was hard to believe on an island comparable with Ireland there was this much space for nothing!

As we reached Derwent Bridge we visited Lake St Clair, a vast expanse of water and the start of the overland Track. From here our drive dissected two national parks, amazing scenery on both sides. We approached mining country and the road began to hairpin bend. We could see the settlement of Queenstown in the valley below and we took a looping route down into it, like skiing down a mountain. The town itself was surreal, a forgotten settlement at the edge of the world. There was no one on the streets, colonial style hotels and post offices which looked untouched from prosperous days gone by. Aside from that it was nestled in beautiful mountainous countryside which was being mined for iron. We asked ourselves where everyone could be, there was nowhere but there to go?!

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Our stop for the night was on the coast at Henty Dunes. At this quiet spot we set up our first nights camp, enjoyed dinner around a campfire and then climbed up the white sand dunes to watch the sun sink into the ocean.

Day 507

In the morning we drove into Zeehan, another once prosperous town. Despite not seeing much sign of human life, the sign assured us this town once had a population of 10,000 and was Tassie’s 3rd largest city due to its large tin mine. Nowadays it ticks over, largely forgotten. We accidentally took a scenic route to Cradle mountain passing very few cars on our two hour journey to Cradle mountain but the scenery more than made up for it!

When we arrived, we took the shuttle into Cradle mountain national park alighting to walk around Dove lake at the foot of the mountain. The water was clear and glassy smooth as our walk took us in and out of dense tree cover.

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In the afternoon we visited Devils@cradle, a protection centre for Tasmanian devils who are extremely endangered due to the recent development of Deadly Facial Tumour Disease, as recent as 1996 which has killed 80-90% of the species so far. The disease is 100% fatal and so this centre and others make up a breeding programme with an aim of maintaining a strong population of 500 devils with enough genetic diversity to prevent extinction. They are such cute creatures, bigger than I expected, about the size of a small dog, black with a few white markings unique to each devil. One of the first ones we saw was a pen of three very active brothers who ran the perimeter of their area, stopping occasionally for a sniff or a drink. Their run is more like a rocking horse or slow gallop, a bit funny looking!

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We got an introduction to the centre and then a staff member took us around to meet some Devils. We got to stroke a 6 month old female, newly transferred to this site. Soft as a cat, she burried under the ladies arm. Our guide also fed a few of the young, energetic males who had been pacing out their perimeter. She had a possum tail which they took and fought over. Their jaws are much stronger in proportion to their size and in the wild they eat an animal bones and all, so those strong gnashers get plenty of use! They displayed their defensive behaviour, screeching and screaming much like they are represented in the cartoons.

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Also at the site they had Quolls, little rat like indigenous creatures who although aren’t endangered, come under threat from feral cats. They often co-inhabit with Devils as they kill animals much larger than themselves and eat the best bits before they are accosted by a hungry screeching Devil.

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We drove north heading to the coast and towards brighter weather. Our nights stop was at gorgeous Boat harbour beach, a little town with grassy green for tents. We cooked dinner with our beautiful view as the clouds gained a pinky glow.

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Day 508

Awaking to the beach view was just as impressive as at sundown. We made bacon sandwiches and packed up then enjoyed our morning coffees on the beach. It’s white sand was incredibly soft and fine between our toes.

Further to the north west we drove to Stanley, a town with a quiet colonial feel, fringed with beautiful beaches. Out of the town sprung the nut, a hill formed from Volcanic pressure. It was a short, steep climb to the top where it flattened out into a large area. We walked the circumference, enjoying the 360 views out to the Bass Strait and back to Tasmania. We encountered wallabies and blue tongue lizards, quite oblivious to the great height of their habitat.

Back in the town we checked out Ye Olde Chocolate Shop for some ice cream!

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Retracing our steps we headed to Table Cape, an amazing lookout point on the north coast. Mountains in the distance and a lighthouse and tulip farm in the foreground, a mark of Tasmania’s Dutch heritage.

From west to east we passed familiar ground, calling in at our first cherry farm before crossing the Batman bridge, signifying East Tasmania. We camped for the night in Beechford, a town smaller than we imagined. It’s eerie abandoned playground and few houses showing no signs of life. We were alone in camping there that night, a large stretch of beautiful beach to ourselves.

Day 509

In the morning we continued further east stopping at Gladstone. Where I was expecting a town was essentially a petrol stop and signifying the end of Tarmac roads. The slow gravel road took us beyond into the Bay of Fires. We came across two tiger snakes basking themselves and stopped to look at their scaly physique, pleased for the cars protection.

This gorgeous stretch of coast was unspoilt white sands, cold seas and huge boulders marked with orange flecks. The name came not from these markings but from first contact when aboriginal fires lined this stretch of coast.

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We camped at Jenceynet beach and as soon as we had established a sheltered spot, the wind and rain descended. Later afternoon when it passed we sat in the tent doorway making homemade meatballs and spaghetti, a somewhat difficult feat for one gas cooker and limited resources!

Day 510

With the sun smiling on us once more I walked the length of our near private beach, even working up enough of a sweat to brave the water and wash up among the waves.

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St Helens was the nearest town. We had pictured a cute town centre with coffee shops but it was a rather functional little harbour town, with wifi.

Moving on down the ‘Great Eastern Drive’ we came across Bicheno, crossing paths once again with Liz. A nice afternoon on the beach ended with fish and chips, shared with a lot of seagulls.

We camped the night just inside Freycinet National park at Friendly beaches, picking up our first hitchhikers on the way. It may have only been 2 kms but it was a travel first for us, and they didn’t show any signs of murders! We think Friendly Beaches might have been ironically named as on our evening walk the waves looked far from friendly as they crashed on the rocky beach.

Day 511

Freycinet national park is the jewel in Tasmania’s crown. Having saved it until last we were pleased to have a hot day. We parked ourselves on Honeymoon beach, it’s inlet making for silent, ripple free waters. For 15 minutes I submerged different body parts, trying to acclimatise to the water. Finally in the snorkelling was beautiful, grass like coral covering the rocks and some fish life.

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We had lunch at Coles bay, a lookout over the whole peninsula. Full and rested we attempted the walk to Wineglass bay. A fully wilderness beach, it has no access by road. A steep walk brings you to the lookout where you can testify for its perfectly round bottomed bay. The rocky path then descends to a beach where there can be no doubt it was worth it!

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We nabbed the last spot once again at Friendly beaches for a final nights camping and that night dreamt of a real bed and shower.

Day 512

In the morning we took a slow drive back to Hobart along windy coastal roads, sad to see the end of our Tasmanian mini break. Driving back we noticed amusing signs of Tasmanian sense of humour, including
Wye River
hanging below another sign read
‘Cos it’s bigger than a creek!

After 7 days of camping the first stop was a much needed shower. Smelling better we headed to a movie and finally to the airport wishing goodbye to a state which has quickly become a favourite!

Total showers: 0
Total snakes: 2
Total wallabies, road kill and breathtaking views: uncountable

Distance: 1581 kms
Total cost (between 2): $948

Next stop, back to Melbourne.

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