15 Feb 2021 TASMANIA AGAIN
For someone who enjoys travel as much as I do, it was especially good, during these covid times, to fly to Tasmania on February 9, after too long an interval. Suellen met me at Launceston airport, an hour’s journey from her home at Clarence Point, as the light was fading. The house Craig and Suellen have bought is even more beautiful than their mountain eyrie. Its Japanese garden, planted by previous owners, is widely known in the locality. It was overgrown and unkempt, when they moved in. Craig has spent months and a small fortune to resurrect its former glory and build a labyrinth of paths which must stretch for several hundred metres in all. They have been in Tasmania for just over a year and love living there.
The house is separated by a road and grassed area from the Tamar River, where it widens into promontories, that on the far bank concealing Bell Bay, Tasmania’s main commercial port, and the one on the near bank shielding Beauty Point from view. Beyond the river are ranges of hills and far-off mountains. The field behind the house was animated by sheep and the occasional rabbit. Flocks of masked lapwings were obscured by patches of its long grass. Hosts of welcome swallows swooped all around. Silver gulls floated near the river bank. Galahs flew from tree to tree. As is so often the case, I fell for the beauty and grandeur of a ‘weed’, in this case, the radiata pine, several of which were growing close to the house. It is native to California and Mexico, but has been widely introduced all over the world, though not where I live.
I was keen to revisit old haunts from my previous sojourns in the Tamar Valley. Not all the towns are pretty, but their authenticity makes them interesting. I enjoyed seeing Beaconsfield again, the site of a famous mine rescue in 2006. Road kill, mainly wallabies and pademelons, plus smaller marsupials, is a chronic condition on the roads, which I do not remember from before. It was a relief to see pademelons and wallabies in the safety of a field.
A new place for me was Green’s Beach, at the river mouth where it enters Bass Strait. We walked on the sand, the heat of the sun in a glorious blue sky, alleviating the chill of the wind. We saw Pacific and kelp gulls over the water. They were far larger than the ubiquitous silver gull, reminding me of the herring gulls in Britain. We do not have such monsters in my part of Queensland. In the evening I had dinner in a pub in Beauty Point. On my previous visit, years ago, we drove down to the quay, alongside which an oil rig was moored. It wasn’t as big as the rigs in the North Sea, but it still dwarfed everything in sight. Strangely, I had no memory of the buildings that lined the quay, which I could see from the pub, and thought they were new, only to be told they were there at the time.
Travel affords one the intimacy of absorbing the culture of an area by eating its food, which can be as pleasurable as seeing its landscape and architecture. With this in mind we set off to a restaurant whose food Craig and Suellen rated highly. It was over an hour’s drive from their house, in the direction of the coast. The restaurant stood alone, surrounded by fields. The food did not disappoint, the emphasis being on locally sourced ingredients. On our way back we stopped at Deloraine, an attractive town on the Meander River which I knew from previous visits. We strolled along the river bank and were enchanted by an adult female Tasmanian native hen, a handsome bird, with her three fluffy black chicks, by the water’s edge. The bird does not have webbed feet, is a deft swimmer and a speedy runner.
The following morning Suellen was thrilled to photograph an eye-catching growling grass frog in her pumpkin patch. The frog was bright green with dark blotches and a pale stripe along its flank. The species is confined to southern parts of Australia and is listed as endangered. By the time I appeared the frog had shifted, but we were rewarded by the presence of four European honey bees feasting deep in a yellow, hibiscus-like pumpkin flower. Not long after, Suellen rediscovered the frog and now I was able to see it, sitting on a pumpkin leaf. Bumblebees, which always make my heart skip, were busy in a variety of flowering plants scattered around the garden.
We stopped off at Paper Beach, on our way to lunch at nearby Gravelly Beach and I showed Craig and Suellen the beach-front houses where I stayed when visiting the Alexanders. In its way, Paper Beach with its broad expanse of water and the striking Batman Bridge on the horizon, is as beautiful as Clarence point. Or so I thought, until a 45,000 ton woodchip carrier, ever so slowly navigating the channel in front of the house that evening, tipped the balance in Clarence Point’s favour.
After lunch we crossed the bridge heading to Georgetown, of which I retain fond memories. From there we drove the short distance to the lighthouse at Low Head, which is exposed to the full force of the roaring forties winds. The current structure, built in 1888 and painted in red and white bands, replaced the 1833 original. Later that afternoon Suellen and I had drinks with their neighbours Trish and Chris, surprising some Green rosellas who had been invisible in a tree as we walked to the house. A good time was had by all since we were like-minded on many topics of conversation. From their living room we saw a white-breasted sea eagle skimming above the river. Trish recommended a restaurant in Launceston for Sunday lunch, which was duly booked when we got back home.
Tugs based at Beauty Point were waiting between the promontories, to escort the woodchip carrier to Bell Bay. Several days may go by without a ship passing, but some days there are two or three. On getting up next morning, I was just in time to catch sight of a smaller container ship, attended by the tugs, about to enter Bell Bay, having missed it passing the house.
Suellen had a prior engagement, so Craig and I walked to the jetty at Garden Island, past an extensive abalone farm. The jetty directly faces Georgetown which is less than a kilometre across the water. After Suellen’s return we sat on a bench overlooking the river, sipping a wine and enjoying the bird life, which included a wedge-tailed eagle in the middle-distance and a pair of white-faced herons wading in the shallows in front of us. Greg, their next-door neighbour came over to invite us to a family barbecue. We had a convivial evening in the octagonal cabana, one segment forming a large pizza oven, built by Greg.
The restaurant in Launceston, where we had a very good Sunday lunch, is located on a quay in the redeveloped port district. It is attached to a hotel. After eating, we crossed a bridge just in front of the restaurant. A black swan glided serenely mid-stream. Retracing our steps, but still on the bridge, we were stopped in our tracks as a young woman scampered over the sloping roof of the restaurant (an open window behind her), threw a bag to the ground on reaching the gutter, then shinned down a drain pipe and ran off barefoot. Moments later two policemen emerged from the far side of the hotel intent on catching the woman, but uncertain in which direction to go. I yelled out ‘straight ahead’ and they dashed off. In due course we rounded a corner and saw the woman sitting on the pavement, leaning against a wall, at the end of her tether, with the policemen standing over her. A policewoman positioned at the corner, instructed us to give the incident a wide birth, causing us to go the long way round to the car. We were all surprised to discover that the hotel was being used to quarantine interstate arrivals from hotspots.
My return flight was scheduled to depart at 8.15 pm next day. I wanted to check out two men’s outfitters in Launceston to buy some corduroy trousers for winter on the mountain, reckoning that a place as cold as Tasmania would be bound to stock them. We all fancied a Chinese meal, but Craig and Suellen’s favourite restaurant was closed on Monday, so we selected a highly-rated online alternative called Wang’s. One of the outfitters was minutes from closing, but did not have cords anyway. We went to a most impressive bookshop where I ordered Slater’s Field Guide to Australian Birds for Suellen to pick up in April, the book being currently re-printed. The other outfitter was very up-market and had plenty of corduroy trousers. I found a pair in my size and in a colour and fitting I liked. They came from Germany.
The food at Wang’s could not have been better. Suellen and I ordered a king prawn omelette. The meal was their shout and it was the best restaurant meal of the trip. I had a wonderful time with Craig and Suellen and fell under the spell of Tasmania once more, in spite of it being never reliably warm.