03/21/2012, Hobart, Tasmania, AU
The rain that was threatening yesterday finally arrived in the early morning and continued all day. Thus, the drive back to Hobart was a wet one. While it slowed our driving around the many tight curves that dominate the drive to Hobart from Queenstown, we actually made the trip in about 30 less minutes. Since it was so wet outside, we did not stop along the way to take pictures or sightsee at the various vistas. This saved us considerable time and resulted in making the drive in just 3.5 hours.
The photo to this blog gives you an inkling to how hard it was raining. The photo shows a little waterfall along the side of the road as we drove up the mountain from Queenstown. When we arrived to Queenstown a few days ago, this waterfall was not there. Also, the waterfall is partially obscured by fat raindrops hitting the windshield. I had the wipers on and Mary Margaret took this picture by timing the passing of the wipers. Thus, in just a fraction of a second, the windshield was mostly covered again by the raindrops and thus, obscuring the photo.
We are staying again in the convict cottage in Hobart where we stayed before. It will be for just one night as we leave by plane for Melbourne tomorrow afternoon. We will be returning to the Grand Hotel in Melbourne and will be staying for two days. This will give us one more chance to take in the sights before we fly to Perth on Saturday, the 24th.
If you look closely, you can see a lighthouse on the point in the distance. It marks the location of the headlands to the Macquarie Harbour.
The coast here is littered with scores of wrecks dating back to the 1860's. Strahan was first used as a penal colony for the most dangerous prisoners. I found this write up on the history of Strahan and found it so fasinating that I thought I would pass it along.
"The British invented this place as the ultimate penal colony. Named after Governor Lachlan Macquarie this 50 kilometres long harbour opens to the sea through the narrow, eddying waters of Hell's Gates and receives the waters of the King and Gordon Rivers.
The first European to explore Macquarie Harbour was James Kelly who, with four companions, entered Hells Gate in December 1815.
It is interesting to note that when Kelly entered Hells Gate he wrote 'The whole face of the coast was on fire, lucky circumstance for us. The smoke was so thick we could not see a hundred yards ahead of the boat. On pulling into the 'Narrows' at the small entrance island, we heard a large number of natives shouting and making a great noise as if they were hunting kangaroo.'
"These Aborigines had lived in the area for at least 20,000 years. Tragically by about 1830 there were none left in the area although, in recent times, the discovery of Kutikina Cave near the Franklin River, has offered a rare insight into their lifestyle 15,000 years ago.
James Kelly and his group spent three days exploring the huge 285 square kilometre harbour and it was on the basis of their descriptions of the vast stands of trees that, within a year, timber cutters had entered the harbour and were cutting down the magnificent huon pines. It was probably as early as 1816 that the brig Sophia passed through Hells Gates. This was extremely dangerous as the entrance to the harbour wasn't properly surveyed until 1819.
It was the huon pine, a superb fine-grained wood which was ideal for shipbuilding, which brought the first Europeans to the harbour. It was huon pine which was also the cause for the establishment of a penal colony at Sarah Island in 1821. At that point a signal station was established on Cape Sorell to ensure safe traffic through Hells Gates.
The penal colony, known everywhere as one of the most appalling and cruel of all the convict stations, operated from Sarah Island. It finally closed down in 1833 when the recidivists were all removed to Port Arthur on the east coast. The convicts worked on a nearby coal seam and rowed across the harbour each day to cut down the large stands of Huon pine which edged the waters.
It was from here that the notorious convict Alexander Pearce attempted to escape in 1822. In a bizarre footnote to the history of the region Pearce and seven other convicts attempted to cross the island to Hobart where they hoped they could catch a merchant ship and escape to some ill-defined freedom.
They lost their way and in the ensuing weeks all of the escapees disappeared except for Pearce. When he was recaptured unproven accusations of cannibalism were made against him. The following year Pearce escaped again accompanied by another convict, Thomas Cox. Once again Pearce found himself without food and, to solve the problem, he killed and ate Cox. When he was finally recaptured Pearce admitted to eating Cox and confessed to cannibalism during his first escape. He was subsequently executed in Hobart.
The township of Strahan wasn't really founded until 1877. Prior to that the small port had been variously known as Long Bay and Regatta Point but in 1877 it became a vital port for the tin mines at Mt Heemskirk. It was named after Major George Strahan who was the Governor of Tasmania from 1881-86. The town was officially proclaimed in 1892, two years after the government had constructed a railway from the booming mining town of Zeehan. A railway line from Queenstown was opened in 1899. Thus, at its peak, during this mining boom, Strahan had a population of over 2,000 people and was the second busiest port in Tasmania.
The town continued to prosper as a major port until the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960 the rail link to Zeehan was closed down. Three years later the same fate befell the Queenstown rail link (there is still a remnant of the railway line on the shore near Regatta Point) and in 1969 Mount Lyell Co. started to send its ore by rail to Burnie. The result was that while its importance as a port declined the town became a major tourist centre."
We had this whole beach to ourselves and it just went on in both directions for miles and miles.
Here is a view of the Southern Ocean as it washes up on the beaches near Strahan. Since we are in the roaring 40's and the wind was blowing, we were expecting the surf to be much rougher. However, they were gently breaking and washing up on the beach. Go figure!
Here is a shot of part of Strahan. It is a small town that lives on fishing and the tourist trade.
These are the mountains that surround Queenstown. This is a view as we are heading down the road toward Strahan. Note the ugly skies.
We were so lucky to have no clouds and bright sun yesterday when we went on our train ride. It rains over 360 mm a year here and rains 300 days a year!
03/20/2012, Queenstown, Tasmania, AU
We decided to take it a bit easy today since we have a long and windy road to take tomorrow as we return to Hobart. Thus, we decided to just take the short drive to Strahan, which is a small coastal town that is on Macquarie Harbour. Strahan is also the terminal destination for the Wildness railroad we road on yesterday. We were prevented from completing our trip to Strahan due to the closure of the tracks caused by the heavy rains this region received this summer. As it turns out, the western coast of Tasmania receives the greatest amount of rainfall than any other location in Australia. It averages over 360 mm of rain each year.
The drive down the mountain from Queenstown to Strahan was a good warm up to what we will be doing tomorrow since the road was series of sharp S-curves. It was only 41 kilometers but took about 45 minutes since the curves kept our speed down.
When we arrived we found a sleepy little fishing village which caters to tourists who come to take the Gordon River cruise and/or the Wildness Train. However, the village was pretty dead today with few people besides us there. We stopped for lunch and I had a wonderful crusted ocean trout. I have never tried this fish before but will whenever I see it on a menu. It looks like and tastes like salmon but it is not as oily. I have since read that it is a cross between a steelhead salmon and a rainbow trout. It is like Arctic Char in taste and texture. Coupled with smashed potatoes and asparagus I kept smacking my lips throughout the meal. Mary Margaret had the fettuccini in a garlic cream sauce with prawns that was pretty good.
With our tummies full, we took the beach road that ended at the ocean, 6 kilometers away. Here we had miles upon miles of a pristine beach with mellow swells breaking and spilling up to the sand. The wind was blowing a bit and we were surprised that the ocean was not more cantankerous since all we could see was endless ocean as we looked out from the beach.
Despite the strong wind, the cold water and overcast skies, the air was much warmer than we expected and we were very comfortable just in short sleeve polo shirts. However, a major change in the weather was very apparent as the sky was looking pretty ugly. We are expecting to be driving in the rain when we return to Hobart tomorrow.
In a couple of days we will be returning to Melbourne. We will be there two days this time and then we will be flying across country to Perth. We will spend 5 or so days there before we return to Brisbane for a night. From Brisbane it is a 5 hour train ride to Bundaberg and good ol' Leu Cat. We both are getting a little homesick for our wonderful boat. We feel this way each time we visit the ocean and stare out into the sea. It must be the pull of the ocean that raises our loving feelings for Leu Cat and our desire to return to the sea and our cruising life.