Tag Archives: Tasmania

Batman Bridge

Our last stop before heading for the Launceston Airport was at a picnic area that gave us a great view of the Batman Bridge. This bridge was named for John Batman, a Tasmanian businessman who, in 1835, was among those who sailed across Bass Strait to mainland Australia and founded the village that would become the city of Melbourne.

Aside from thinking the bridge was strikingly handsome, I also found the concept of its construction interesting. The bank on one side of the River Tamar is solid rock and on the other is soft clay. The 300-foot high, steel, A-frame tower was anchored on the solid rock side, and it supports almost all of the weight of the bridge. Opened in 1968, it was the first cable-stayed bridge in Australia. Aside from thinking it looked cool, I was pleased to be reminded that there are people out there who can create solutions to “impossible” engineering situations such as this one.

Batman Bridge

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River Tamar

In England, the River Tamar flows north to south across that western bit of land that projects into the Celtic Sea and bounds the English Channel. The river forms the historic boundary between Devon and Cornwall and separates Cornwall from the rest of England. Launceston, the ancient capital of Cornwall, is about a mile west of the river. So it was not a complete surprise, as we drove to Launceston, Tasmania, that we encountered another River Tamar.

Tasmania’s River Tamar is formed by the joining of the North Esk and South Esk rivers (themselves named for rivers in England, though not, in this case, rivers in Cornwall), and it flows north into Bass Strait. About two miles across, the river can be navigated along its entire length. Aside from being important to commerce, it is exceedingly lovely, and it was its beauty we enjoyed, from a hilltop not too far away, as we finished the last leg of our Tasmania trek. The hilltop is known as Brady’s Lookout, for the “bushranger” (outlaw) Matthew Brady who in the early 1800s used it to get a clear view of the surrounding countryside. It still offers a splendid view, and on such a beautiful day, it was the perfect place to take in Tasmania’s greenery one last time.

Tasmania's River Tamar

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Trigger Flowers

While the really overwhelming floral displays were in Western Australia, springtime in Tasmania still offered some delightful blooms. In the book, I mention having seen trigger plants in fields and along the roads.

When I first heard the name, I expected to find out they were carnivorous—though to be honest, only the Venus’s flytrap has a potentially dangerous-sounding name. Sundew and pitcher plant don’t sound threatening, and bladderwort just sounds silly. There are, of course, a number of things with gun-related names that do have mechanisms that help it obtain food (the pistol shrimp, for example). However, the trigger plant is not among those that uses it’s ability to “snap shut” to trap or injure. When triggered, this delicate little flower simply smacks a visiting bug, either dusting it with pollen or picking up pollen from another plant.

Trigger Plant

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The Weldborough Hotel

The Weldborough Hotel was originally built in the late 1800s and rebuilt after a fire in 1928. It’s classic Australiana. It offers accommodations for travelers and is well located for bush walking in the mountains, with the temperate rain forest close at hand. It is said to have an outstanding pub, though it was closed when we visited. While we didn’t get in, we still stopped briefly, to read the “menu” and enjoy the wonderfully skewed humor that is so common in Australia.

Weldborough Hotel

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Tassie’s Cool Temperate Rain Forest

In my February 21 post, I mentioned that a lot of the rocks and some of the trees in Tasmania are more reflective of the geology and flora of Antarctica than of mainland Australia. (Antarctica before it froze, that is—there is a substantial amount of frozen flora beneath the ice, all dating back to the time before that hunk of terrain drifted so far south.) Nowhere is this more true than in the island’s cool temperate rain forest. In fact, Tasmania’s rain forests are at least partially defined by the absence of the dominant trees of the mainland— eucalyptus.

These temperate rain forests have something of a parallel in the old-growth rain forests of America’s Pacific Northwest: ancient trees, lots of mosses and lichens, cathedral-like effect of soaring trees. I have enjoyed both locations, and while they are not identical, they have a similar feeling of antiquity and seclusion.

It was our last day in Tasmania, and we started the day in the cool, quiet, shadow-dappled splendor of one of these forests. We were surrounded by tall ferns and fragrant trees. The trees in Tasmania’s rain forest include Tasmanian myrtle, leatherwood (from the flowers of which one of Tasmania’s most splendid honeys is gathered), celery-top pine, sassafras, Huon pine, pencil pine, and deciduous beech. Most of these trees are incredibly slow growing, and areas that are burned are unlikely to recover in several human lifetimes.

Cool Temperate Rain Forest

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Binalong Bay

Continuing our northward journey, we came to Binalong Bay.

Binalong Bay Beach, which borders the vivid blue water of the bay, is said to be one of the loveliest beaches in Tasmania—and it certainly seemed so to me. This is a popular holiday area, with nearby clusters of holiday cabins. However, most of the area around the bay is either conservation area or national park, so there are few buildings and beaches are wide open.

As the coast sweeps northward, Binalong Bay transitions into the Bay of Fires and then takes a sharp turn out to Eddystone Point. The scenery becomes more dramatic and even more beautiful.

The Bay of Fires was named by Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773. Furneaux (who, despite the evidence of his name, was a British naval officer) had accompanied Captain Cook in 1772–1775, commanding a companion ship. Becoming separated from Cook when they reached the southern seas, Furneaux charted the east and south coasts of Tasmania before locating Cook and friends in New Zealand. While in this area of Tasmania, he saw a surprising number of fires burning on the beach. He named the spot Bay of Fires, guessing (correctly) that there must be a fairly substantial Aboriginal population in the area. (In fact, there is still abundant evidence of those early occupants, including middens of bones and shells scattered among the sand dunes—and visitors are warned not to disturb any Aboriginal artifacts or middens they might find while hiking.)

The expedition with Cook ended in 1775, and by 1776, Furneaux was off the coast of South Carolina, contributing to Britain’s efforts to get the revolting American colonists under control. (I am always astonished at how far flung were the adventures of the seafarers of this era—and how interconnected were events worldwide.)

At Binalong and Bay of Fires, the beach alternates between granite boulders and soft white sand. We sampled a bit of both, and enjoyed the cool water and the area’s beauty, before heading off to the evening’s camp site.

Binalong Bay

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Bicheno

Whaling—the hunting of whales for food and oil—stretches back through history to the Stone Age. As a food source, whales were vital in many areas. However, in the centuries before petroleum was discovered, when vegetable oils existed in only a few areas (because most commercially used vegetable oils—corn, safflower, canola, and cottonseed oils—are modern creations), the oil from whales may have been even more important than the flesh. Whale oil fueled lamps and stoves, it was used in cosmetics, soaps, and candles, it treated wool, was used in cooking, and it was turned into margarine. It was the first oil to become commercially important, and it became important worldwide.

Before steel was widely available, “whale bone,” really the baleen of filter-feeders, was also commercially important, as it was both strong and flexible in a day when nothing else offered this combination of virtues. For centuries, every corset in Europe was reinforced with “whale bone.”

When most of us think of whaling, if we think of it at all, we envision the Nantucket whaling vessels described in the Herman Melville classic, Moby Dick. Whaling was immensely important to New England in the 1700s and 1800s, and images of the harpooner balanced in the front of a small boat with a few men at the oars accurately reflects whaling of the era. Those images also suggest how commercially important the oil was—you didn’t risk your life for something that didn’t matter.

Australia was being settled in the midst of this era of classic whaling, and because the South Seas were even richer in whales than the northern seas, whaling came to Australia with early settlers. Our next destination in Tasmania, Bicheno, was established as a whaling center in 1803. While whaling still relied on boats for the actual capture, Bicheno had the remarkable good fortune of having a high, granite outcrop that overlooked water deep enough to be home to whales. Called Whalers Lookout, this hill offered a land-based “crow’s nest” for viewing spouts and alerting the fleet.

Today, it is a popular spot for simply gaining a view of the surrounding countryside and ocean, and it was the view that drew us to the top of the granite outcrop. The hill itself was lovely, and the view of the small town (current population around 700), surrounding greenery, beaches, and water was certainly worth the climb.

The sea is still vital to Bicheno, but the prizes sought today are rock lobsters (called crayfish in Australia), abalone and Australian salmon. Fine by me. I’d much rather eat lobster than salmon.

The images below are from my climb up Whalers Lookout in Bicheno.

Whalers Lookout, Bicheno

Bicheno, from Whalers Lookout

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Spiky Bridge

Heading north again, up the east coast of Tasmania, we stopped at a spot outside the old town of Swansea, which sits on Great Oyster Bay. The road to Swansea is crossed by a deep gully, and the gully is in turn crossed by a bridge: the Spiky Bridge, also known as the Prisoners Bridge.

Constructed in 1843 of local fieldstones, the convict-built bridge was created almost entirely without mortar or concrete. In the book, I mention that there are more practical explanation for the rocky spikes along the bridge than the one I reported, and the most common of those practical reasons seems to be that it would prevent cattle from falling over the edge. I can imagine they’d accomplish that.

Swansea overlooks Freycinet National Park, one of Tasmania’s oldest national parks, but that park, along with the other colonial-period relics in Swansea, will have to wait for a return trip to Tasmania.

The Spiky Bridge

The Spiky Brige

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The Isle of the Dead

The name sounds like a bad horror movie, doesn’t it? Isle of the Dead. It is, however, the island that Port Arthur used as a cemetery from 1833 to 1877. It was a wise choice, as burying the dead off shore limited the spread of disease.

Everyone who died was buried out there, though convicts were separated from soldiers, sailors, doctors, ministers, administrators, and their wives and children. At first, only those who were not convicts got headstones, but starting in the 1850s, headstones dedicated to convicts did begin to appear.

Near the end of its useful life, two structures were built on the little island: a hut for the grave digger and a shelter for mourners.

The island was surprisingly lovely when we were there. It was spring, so everything was in bloom. The lovely surroundings made the headstones poignant, rather than grim.

Isle of the Dead

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Wall Flowers

I took this photo for reasons other than recording information about Port Arthur. I have a particular fondness for things that grow where they shouldn’t—grass pushing up through asphalt, vines growing over a windmill, a plant slipping up through a crack in a sidewalk, and flowers like the one in this photo, just sprouting out of a stone wall.

I have myriad photos of these “wall flowers,” as I love the juxtaposition of opposing elements. It reminds me that nature is designed to bounce back. Whether it’s Vesuvius burying Pompeii or Angkor Wat disappearing beneath a tidal wave of greenery, nature wants to win and will take back anything we leave alone for too long. And so I had to include the wall flower in this photo of an arch framing the penitentiary at Port Arthur.

Port Arthur with Wall Flower

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