- Writers Bill Condon and Di Bates continue their tour of Tasmania.
The Penny Royal in Launceston is an "old gunpowder factory which has been jazzed up for tourists," Bill reports. "We rode a barge down an underground stream, had a short ride on a pirate ship and a tram, then had a ferry ride around the harbour."
The next day of their Tasmania travels they set out to find a town they had heard of and which sounded interesting.
They got lost.
"We ended up on a dirt road where we encountered a tiger snake," Bill recounts. "It was black, about four feet long, and deadly. I wanted to get out and catch it but Di outvoted me. (Actually, I not only wound up the car windows, but I also locked the doors.)
'Like something out of a lost world'
"Later we saw our first Tasmanian devil. It was squashed. They must be dumb critters because there were hundreds of them on the roads, all deadybones. So that was Launceston. We never did find the town we were looking for. Oh well."
And so southwest to Cradle Mountain the following day: "You drive along a rough dirt road for about 20 minutes and then you see a beautiful lake which looks like something out of a lost world.
"It's eerie because it's surrounded by thousands of dead trees, but the lake itself looks fantastic because above it and up very close is Cradle Mountain. You have to be there to appreciate it. Why weren't you there? We also saw lots of live animals running about in the bush.
No Tasmanian tigers, alas. (Maybe because they're extinct.)"
Southwest to Strahan
Then it was north to Devonport, from where the ferry Spirit of Tasmania crosses Bass Strait to Melbourne, then New Norfolk, and back. This was now Day 5 or Day 6 of our Aussie writers' Tasmania travels. From there it was southwest again to Strahan on the west coast. "Great view from the motel, overlooking the harbour," Bill declaims.
"Went for a beautiful walk in a rainforest; narrow pebbled path with the forest reaching out at me from both sides. Dead quiet, except for the sounds of animals scurrying about -- wallabies, possums... We were told we might also glimpse a platypus, but they must have glimpsed us first and taken off."
Then all the way southeast to Sorell and to the "nearby historic town of Richmond where we visited the oldest jail in Australia. Got a distinct feel for what it must have been like after spending a few minutes in a solitary confinement cell. The cons had to spend days, sometimes weeks there. Completely dark, claustrophobic. Awful.
'Big adventure for someone like me'
"As well, in a change from just sightseeing, did something exciting. Went on a chairlift ride with Di. This was a big adventure for someone like me, who hates heights. Very high, very scary. Di, the brave one, kept saying, 'Wow! Look down there! Isn't it great!' Then, when we were perched up in the clouds, she said: 'It's too high now. I don't want to do this anymore. I'm scared!'
"Unfortunately, you can't just get off a chairlift once you've had enough. We made it down okay, me pretending to be cool. I even offered to go up again. Thank heavens she didn't take me up on it."
Day 8 of their Tasmania travels was a visit to Port Arthur. Bill relates: "We did a tour and had a ride on the ferry out to the Isle of the Dead. There's 1700 convicts, as well as some soldiers, buried there. The only living person on the island was the gravedigger. At least no one ever answered him back when he had an argument. Although, there are lots of stories of ghosts at Port Arthur."
After a stop at a reptile park just outside Port Arthur, it was on to Hobart, the state’s capital at the mouth of the Derwent River, where they stayed at the Wrest Point Casino.
"Hobart is a very big country town. The Salamanca Markets -- an open-air stall market -- is much bigger than anything we have in New South Wales. We were right in the centre of the city but couldn't find any restaurants open (on a Saturday night). We opted insted for a pub meal. So didn't see much of Hobart, but I wonder if there was much to see.
'Pilot didn't let me steer'
"On Sunday we caught the plane home, had another 90 minutes of terror -- the pilot even refused to let me help him steer -- then got a bus back home.
"Overall, Tasmania is an okay place to go if you like quiet places with lots of very windy roads that are littered with squashed animals. Being a quiet (check and see if he's still breathing) kind of person, I liked it."
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