Sunday, August 5, 2007

Australia: Tasmania: 31 July - 1 August, 2007 (Written 1 August 2007)

The flight from Melbourne to Launceston is very quick. It feels like just after you’ve taken off and managed to drift off to sleep, they are announcing that you’re getting ready to land. Chris was there, waiting, and it felt a bit like a homecoming in a way. It’s always nice when you have that vibe with someone – and I am realizing more and more how lucky I am to have the handful of people in Australia that I feel that way with.

We ran some errands in Launceston, a sleepy town it felt like – compared to the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, its small rows of shops were notably quieter, more quaint. We had lunch at a great little French bakery with some great chai, and continued on. Tasmania is the last populated of Australia’s states, with only 480,000 people living on the island just off the coast of Victoria. It is, in fact, closer to Antarctica. People had been warning me the whole time about how I was going to freeze in Tassie, as the island is commonly known, but it was actually quite mild when I arrived.

The drive home was quite spectacular, at first passing through bright green farmland with cows and sheep grazing – Tasmania also suffered as a result of the ongoing drought in Australia, but the past few months have seen quite a lot of rainfall. We headed south from Launceston and at Conara took the road eastward, going towards the coast. The scenery began to be more dramatic with mountains on either side, and there were dramatic clouds spreading across the sky. This is perhaps the most striking feature of Tasmania that I’ve seen thus far; the sky is constantly changing and the colors and shapes to be seen are transforming continuously – that afternoon, the sky was a pale lavender, which was absolutely gorgeous.

We drove by Elephant Mountain, which I’m not so sure looks like an elephant, but compared to place names like Mount Disappointment in Victoria, I didn’t mind the stretch-of-imagination nomenclature of this odd mountain which had a long gradually sloping side and then a plateau on top. We then passed through St. Mary’s Pass, which had earlier this year been devastated by bushfires dubbed “a moving furnace” rather than a normal healthy fire. As a result of this fire, the trees had sprouted leaves directly along their trunks, giving them what Chris called pajamas. Indeed, the whole forest had an appearance of Ents from Lord of the Rings or something out of a Dr. Seuss book. I’d never seen anything like it before; the silvery blue leaves of the gum trees and the light green fresh leaves in the late afternoon light are imprinted in my memory.

I caught a glimpse of the ocean coming up and as we got closer you could see the perfectly shaped waves crashing in onto the smooth, weathered rocks with thick kelp in some areas. You really got the sense that you were at the end of the world here. We arrived at the property, 25 acres right next to the ocean. We went along the dirt driveway, passing under 2 blooming wattles, their bright yellow balls of fluff dancing in the wind. Jeff was walking the dogs and the dogs started racing us to the door. Monte is a King Charles terrier, sweet as could be with really soft fur. He’s already 10 and deaf, but seems to do ok. Yuki is a crazy miniature Schnauzer, 1.5 years old, still acting about 3 months old.

The house is beautiful, with large glass panels overlooking the cove; you can watch the ocean whilst cooking, eating, lounging. My room is upstairs and on two sides I have windows with ocean views. The sunrise is seen from my window, and in the evening the sunset colors can be seen.

We had come back just in time for sunset; earlier, I had told Chris that I thought it wasn’t worth it to photograph the sky and the clouds because my photos wouldn't do it justice. The sky turned into a brilliant canvas of pinks, reds, purples, oranges, and blues, with tiny cotton balls of white scattered in. I decided I may as well try and capture it on film. And so I did. The amazing thing was that the color of the sky caught on the white of the waves, and the spray; there were pink and purple reflections in the ocean. Breathtaking. It was starting to get much cooler so we ran inside.

We munched on Angie’s smoky tomato sauce (yum! Thanks!) and the King Island Double Cream Brie. Jeff was kind enough to share his Hay Shed Hill Shiraz from Margaret River with me. Australian wines have impressed me overall already, but this bottle really hit the spot. We had a yummy pasta for dinner followed by way too many pastries that had been bought at the Launceston French bakery, and enjoyed a couple different shows on TV. Felt just like the home that I don’t have.

Today, it was a leisurely morning, I was awake just in time for sunrise over the ocean and we had breakfast on the veranda. Jeff had to do some work so Chris and I decided to go to Binalong Bay. The whole area around Binalong Bay and further north is called the Bay of Fires because the rocks are covered in lichens, ranging from the soft yellows of kindling to ochre, and the deep red of a raging flame.

It was just over an hour to get to this impossibly beautiful bay with soft powdery white sand and clear turquoise, green, and aquamarine water. It seemed as though every moment as the light changed, and the movement of the water changed, the whole bay was changing – my camera shutter was going basically nonstop. We went a bit further to the Skeleton Bay carpark and did the easy walk to Skeleton Point. Skeleton Point was beautiful. The black rocks had orange and red lichens on them, and the contrast between the black, yellow, orange, and red with the green, blue, and white found in the ocean was like something out of a fantasy novel. We sat and contemplated and ate snacks. Ahh.

We then drove a bit further north to a few beaches, saw some saltwater moss which I’ve never seen, and turned back. On the way home, near Scamandar, we stopped at the Winifred Curtis Conservation Area. This area had been heavily damaged by bushfires this year. This was evident from the charred trees that remain in the area, along with the fresh new growth that is just emerging from the ground. We went on the lagoon track, walking just next to the lagoon with a view of the Sisters and other distinctive mountains in the area. The grass growing along the lake was the same silvery blue green that is found in eucalypts. We went down a bit further and turned inland towards the Old Coach Road.

The vegetation changed completely. Now, there were plenty of tall black charred trees. Interspersed amongst them were the other ‘pajama’ trees, with fresh new foliage adorning trunks and branches, and as we continued on we came across a plant that Chris referred to as “Black Boys.” Supposedly it is now politically incorrect or inappropriate to call them this name. However, it is entirely fitting – the trunk is a charcoal black color, and in the center of the plant is a very phallic stem that stands erect. The proper term now, apparently, is Native Australian Grass Tree. We walked a bit further and found that they were all around us, and many of them had multiple stems; perhaps nature’s way of promoting regeneration after the devastating fire. I had never seen anything like this before, and the combination of all the different types of vegetation with the mountains looming behind presented a scene that was somehow nostalgically prehistoric: dinosaurs could have roamed here.

After we had satisfied our desire to photograph all the plants in the area, we continued home. Once we arrived, we went in the John Deere to see the property on the south of the house. We went down to the rocks with the waves crashing in, we visited the veggie garden with the sections with some broccoli and peas left- the remainder is all prepared for strawberries, cauliflower, tomato, apples, pears, lemons, nectarines, mulberries, and a whole variety of other produce.

I had a quick siesta and woke up just in time for sunset – except there was nothing resembling yesterday evening. The house faces east so in order for the sunset colors to be there the sunlight needs to light up the clouds above the ocean; for some reason today that didn't happen. Perhaps tomorrow.

We munched on some stuffed red peppers and Margaret River Smoked Cheddar cheese, and had some Stella Bella Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc medley wine (Lisa, Chris and Jeff’s daughter who also came to Japan, works for Stella Bella in Margaret River).

Dinner was absolutely gorgeous. We had Yudofu, boiled soft tofu in a soy based sauce with ginger, spring onion, sesame, and seaweed, and a plate of veggies; cauliflower, homegrown butternut pumpkin, snowpeas, and broccoli, with a miso based paste. It was the first time I’ve had Japanese food in Australia and I found that I missed it more than I had even realized.

I’ve found Tasmania to be the most beautiful state I’ve seen in Australia. Yes, I’m aware that it is an enormous country and I’m seeing a very very small percentage of it, but of what I’ve seen it is the most striking. It is largely untouched by humans, it is not densely populated by any means, and it is really accessible, at least where I’ve been. Through the whole day along the coast at Binalong Bay and then at the Reserve, we did not see one other person. How refreshing. The quality of food seems to be really high (but that might just be the Sedevic household standard) and of course, the ocean view doesn't hurt. I could stay here a lot longer than the 5 days I’m here for.

No comments: