Thursday 11 December
- Arrived in Launceston, which despite what a lot of mainland Australians think of it, is a great place, even if the pace is somewhat slower than, say, Melbourne or Perth. Like Mt Gambier, it's a city and a town at the same time and seems to have found the balance without turning it into a contradiction. Unlike most other cities, they haven't ripped up their heritage and so there's a lot of beautiful old buildings and houses to see there, and all with the backdrop of the hills and forests around Launceston and which intrude on its suburbs. I spent a while watching the Japanese snow monkeys in City Park (a park which is so green I have trouble explaining it to those back home) and admiring the 1932 John Hart Conservatory in the middle of the park which has both rainforest and alpine settings just metres apart. And I don't know many cities you can stay in a place (North Lodge Motel) twice the size of my last apartment with a complete kitchen for $60 a night.
Friday 12 December
- Got the Metro 80 'Shopper Stopper
' around Launceston and explored its suburbs from the window of a bus. It was interesting seeing how much you miss when you just stay in the city centre - a mix of nice but rundown houses, stately English-style houses on Hobart Road (which used to be the main highway) and more modern houses in Prospect which reminded me of Perth suburbs like Padbury and Craigie. Later on I tried to walk up Invermay Road in the northern suburbs but driving rain prevented me from doing so. Invermay reminded me a bit of Adelaide.
Saturday 13 December
- Spent about 7 or 8 hours walking right around most of the 'Shopper Stopper' suburbs on a beautiful fine day, talked to heaps of locals, and had a great time with the camera (and my thigh muscles got plenty of exercise walking up suburban streets with 35-40° inclines!). However, I managed to get myself chronically sunburnt. The day sounds boring without the photos, so I won't elaborate further.
Sunday 14 December
- Walked around Invermay again, and then went on a Tigerline bus tour up the Tamar Valley. There was only three of us on it as it's low season (the high season starts just after Christmas), but I have to admit I was unimpressed with the lack of stops. We went through Grindelwald
, one of the area's major attractions, without actually stopping there, yet managed to stop at a vineyard down the road for 15 minutes. One big highlight was Seahorse World
at Beauty Point, where we got to check out tonnes of seahorses, sea dragons, sea monkeys and other unusual creatures in both natural and artificial settings - it's an amazing lesson in a bit of nature you don't normally get to see and is well worth a visit. Then it was off to another winery (via the Batman Bridge, the only bridge across the 6km-wide Tamar River) before returning home. That evening was the Carols by Candlelight in City Park, and while initially enjoying the fact I could hear the entire thing with my doors and windows closed in my motel without having to pay to get in, it started to seriously annoy me when the doors rattled with the bass drum, so I ended up going for a late-night walk to Cataract Gorge to check out the floodlights.
Monday 15 December
- The late-night walk led to me sleeping at 1:00am, just after finding out about Saddam's capture from ABC NewsRadio
. Let us just say that waking up at 8:55am for a 9:30am bus departing 20 mins from you, while needing to have breakfast and get dressed and ready, is not a good start to a morning. However getting to Perth (the Tasmanian one), a peaceful country town of about 1,500 people just 20km from Launceston, was well worth it. I freely admit my main reason for wanting to go to the town was a curiosity to see what the other Perth was like. After amusing myself taking photos of the Perth Roadhouse and such things, I discovered the South Esk River and some really beautiful picnic spots. I ate and gathered supplies at the Perth Roadhouse before moving onto Highway B52 to walk to Longford, about 8km away by the route I took. Because of the savage sunburn I got on the 13th, I decided to wrap a towel around my head to cover my neck, and this evidently amused and/or shocked quite a few of the highwaygoers (I got a few toots from excited teenagers though). I later found out (after taking off the towel) that some Longford residents had reported to local shopkeepers that an Arab was walking along the highway.
I spent the afternoon on a $35 cruise
(Afternoon Discovery) of the Tamar River in a ferry, which I'd strongly recommend to anyone, if not for the fantastic views, but for the interesting bits of history and trivia one finds out on the way. The story of Bruno, the large bull who somehow ended up living by himself on an island for 23 years, was quite entertaining. It's strange to think the founders of Melbourne, the pioneers of the Australian airline industry and the cousin of Alfred Nobel all came from this little region of the world.
My final view of Launceston wasn't that interesting, but this was my own fault. I'd prepared an itinerary for my parents' benefit and noted the air flights in Perth time. So at 8:30am I dutifully turned up to the airport ... 4 hours early for my flight. I spent the time with a pair of teenagers who'd missed the 6am flight, and at 2pm we were all happily in Melbourne, where I wrote this update from. :P