Have you ever seen a sunrise at sea? Assuming the horizon is clear, the eastern sea begins to glow deep blue, only barely perceivable against the night. The light grows in intensity and color though violet and indigo and then gives way to the reds and oranges before the sphere of the sun breaks the surface of the water and it’s officially daybreak. Many people have witnessed the reverse of this at sunset, but it seems few have seen the birth of the day. There’s something truly magical about it. Since we’ve been here in Australia I’ve been hoping to catch this very sight. Unfortunately, during our time here in Australia, there’s been a rather persistent squall line blocking the aquatic rise of that fiery orb, but still I try.
At home, we get up at a reasonable hour. On vacation, we get up at unreasonable hours. What’s up with that? Anyway, today was no exception. We were up before dawn from our Swiss village in Tasmania (if that seems really odd, read my earlier posting) and ascended the hill that took us to the lookout gazebo. April in Australia is like October in the States, and Tasmania is like Oregon. So it’s cold here in the morning in the fall; cold being around 40 degrees or so. Anyway, we set the alarm and dutifully hiked to our gazebo lookout, and while we were still unable to see the sunrise I described, we did see some glorious sights. The clouds add a spiritual element that seems appropriate.
After the sunrise, we tottered around the lake/pond then headed for breakfast, during which we were presented with a unique opportunity: to try Vegemite. Now for anyone who spent their late teen or early twenties in the early 80’s, we learned about Vegemite from the Aussie band Men at Work in their song “Down Under”, during which they make reference to a Vegemite sandwich. Of course, in my case that’s not really accurate because I had no idea what the hell they were saying and I thought they were saying “bit of my” sandwich. But I digress. So here was our big chance. Now if you’ve never tried Vegemite, I encourage you to do so. Of course I’m one of those people who will try almost anything at least once. That said, there are very few things I have actually considered spitting out after trying. Vegemite falls into this category. For starters, it’s a very dark, almost black substance with the consistency of peanut butter (which is funny because I’m told the Aussies don’t like PB). It’s also very salty. After that, words fail me. I’m trying to make a comparison to something (anything) else and it simply cannot be done. Vegemite is a paste made from yeast extract. Now for those of you who don’t know, I make beer. Part of that process is working with yeast. It turns sweet water into the elixir of the gods. When the yeast is finished, it settles to the bottom of the vat in this grey sludge. As much as I appreciate what yeast does in the creation beer, I’m not going to spread it on my toast. Ok, so enough about the yeast paste. I’m just glad we were able to try it without having to buy any.
The Tamar River originates at the small town of Low Head on the Bass Strait on the north coast of Tasmania. A cliché-cute little town, but a real sailor’s nightmare with boulder-strewn beaches, hidden reefs and gale force winds.
The lighthouse was our destination and when we arrived, we had to force the doors open against the wind. Walking at a 45 degree angle, we circled the lighthouse and took in the view. It looked far colder than it was, but was still pretty chilly. (Note to self…. return to here one day to see the fairy penguins.)
Our goal today was to make it to the east coast by nightfall, and try to see everything worth seeing between Low Head and St. Helens. Not gonna happen, but we were determined to give it the old college try, so off we went. The Aussies have a sick sense of humor when comes to foreigners driving on their roads. Not only do they require us to drive double opposite (right side of car, left side of road), then they have to throw in roundabouts. Not that I find those little circle-drives in the middle the road very difficult to navigate under “normal” circumstances, but when you’re already white-knuckle driving, it adds an unnecessary element of complexity. Fortunately, there were very few drivers and even fewer roundabouts.
The midway point on our easterly trek was the town of Scottsdale. A small town with an enthusiastic visitor’s center, we were quickly inundated with options. By the far the most intriguing was one with a familiar theme.
In 1914, the small town of Legerwood didn’t even have a name, but it had heart. A sawmill town, it sent its sons to war along with the rest of the ANZACs. Seven of them never came home. In honor of their sacrifice, seven trees were planted along with one for all the ANZACs and one for Gallipoli: 2 Weymouth Pines, 2 Douglas Fir, 2 Sequoia and 3 Deodar. Over time, the wartime residents of the town moved away or died, and lacking a descriptive marker, the meaning of the nine trees was forgotten to all but a few. By 2001, the trees had grown so large that they were deemed a hazard and were slated for removal. The town rallied, led by some of the surviving town members who still knew the trees’ story, and an ingenious compromise was reached. A local chainsaw artist was commissioned to carve the stumps of the trees into likenesses of the fallen soldiers. He researched each man, and the result was a “living” memorial that speaks far louder than the original trees ever could have. Each carving includes a story about the man; his life and his death. While it’s very sad that the trees needed to be cut at all, the result was something even the original town folk could not have imagined.
Still several hours to the coast, we decided on a route called Mt. Paris Dam road. It was the hypotenuse of our route and looked as though it would save us some time and, based on the name, we thought it would give us a neat view of the dam. Not! For starters, it was what we in the States would call a fire road: a hard-packed gravel road with occasional ruts and potholes. Driving fast was not possible, especially considering the gerbil cage we were driving. Not that others weren’t able to speed along the path. There were the Toyota 4×4’s and the Land Rovers, and oh yeah, the OVERSIZED gravel trucks, all of whom sent us cowering to the side of the road as they roared. And the great view of the dam? Yeah, not so much. The route to the dam was actually a side road off the main and it was definitely 4×4’s only. Oh well. Even though we did not save any time, did not see the dam and put our safety and that of the car at great risk, it was a nice drive.
Our interim destination was a cheese factory near Pyengana. We’d heard that the cows were milked robotically, that and that fact that we’d not eaten since breakfast, made the Holy Cow Café sound pretty interesting. Though warmer than the morning, it had still been a pretty cool day with intermittent showers. Inside the café, a fire was burning in a stone hearth with a big cushy couch in front perfect for enjoying both the fire and the valley view. Though the cows had already been milked (so no robots), the food, cheese and wine were all still good. One menu item really caught our eye, it was the game platter. When we asked, we were told it included wallaby and venison. We’d already had kangaroo (very lean, similar to fillet), so we guessed that wallaby was similar. But as for the venison, that had us a bit puzzled. Yes, we know that venison is deer meat, and actually, neither of us is very fond of it. But what had us puzzled was that it was on the menu at all. We’d seen signs for wallabies, cows and sheep. We’d been told to watch for Tasmanian devils and wombats. But no one had even mentioned deer, so it made us wonder what exactly the Aussies meant by “venison”. Well, like I said, neither of us really cares for the stuff anyway, and the wallaby was heavier than we really wanted, so we opted for a pot pie and soup. But it was rather curious.
The east coast of Tasmania is a mixture of rock and sandy bays; one of the most famous is the Bay of Fires. A multi-day hike for the more ambitious, we opted for a stationary view from the south shore. The stones here must be iron ore because they look as though they are bleeding orange rust, set off even more by the setting sun.
The winds had died down and the clouds were moving off, but whether it was residual rain or sea, we were treated to some really spectacular rainbows as we sat alone one the sugar white sandy beach. Very romantic.
St. Helen’s is the quintessential fishing village known for the oysters. Though we did not stop, it was obvious that this was the place for fresh seafood. The sun was setting and we still needed to find a place to land. Our map told that there was a brewery a short distance down the coast (how cool is it that a MAP tell you stuff like that), so we headed south. Mile after mile was a postcard.
We arrived at the brewery very close to sunset. Much to our dismay, the resort was hosting a wedding reception and rooms were pretty scarce. Fortunately, the wedding party had a few cancelations, and we were able to secure the last cabin. Similar to the Swiss village, the White Sands Estate (home of the Iron House Brewery) consists of 28 stand alone “cabins”, that are more like small 1970’s brick starter homes, but they were clean and modern. We learned later that a major overhaul and building project was in the works. We were able to dine on the premises, and though the food was good, but the beer was better. Located just south of Iron House Point, the property is wonderfully isolated. After the sun had set, the darkness was complete and the stars shone so bright, I’m sure I could have read by them.
And so completes day two of our Tassie adventure. So what to do a whaling captain, a French explorer, and a bird of peace all have in common with a giant wine glass that can’t hold wine? You’ll have to check back later to find out.