It turns out that Tasmania is really the Australian equivalent of Alaska – an amazing place and one that few people actually seem to visit. Best of all, I had Benjamin, Donna, and of course Lisa, along with me.
A short week
The last seven days went by incredibly quickly. My nephew Benjamin and my sister Donna arrived last week for a week in Australia.
Having each of them here individually was great; having them both here was phenomenal.
In Rollins’ fashion, the ‘get adjusted day’ involved a long walk through Sydney, seeing the Sydney Zoo, and dinner with Mickey & Alane. A packed schedule, and Donna and Benjamin were worn out by the end of dinner. Despite generally not enjoying zoos, the Sydney Zoo is exceptional – the combination ticket for ferry, sky rail, and zoo pass is hard to beat. And what would be a common theme for the week: things are expensive, but they are done well. At least all the taxes that the government is collecting do seem to go into parks, zoos, etc.
The next morning we flew to Hobart for our whirlwind tour of Tasmania. First stop, Port Arthur.
Port Arthur – Not just for convicts anymore
The historical Port Arthur site is what everyone says – something worth visiting. The introductory tour is fantastic, and walking the grounds is a great way to spend a day. While we didn’t get to visit the boys prison on the other side of the water, it’s apparently the first time a separate prison for juveniles was created. So for everyone who spend time in juvie, you can thank the early Australian correctional system for paving the way. Despite bad weather and most of us under the weather suffering from colds, allergies, and sleep debt, we had a great time.
After my brilliant idea to “try a shortcut”, which ended up being Lisa driving through 50 kms of gravel road, we eventually made it to Coles Bay, the town at the entrance to Freycinet National Park. Overall, I don’t know if I would recommend Freycinet if it’s your first time in Tasmania. I’ve heard that the nearby Maria Island is amazing. Freycinet is certainly beautiful, and perhaps all the rain grayed my emotions towards the park. The trails are well maintained and easy to walk. The water is beautiful, and the rivers are clear and not muddy like all of those in Australia. Overall it reminded me more of the Visitors Center walk back home in Eagle River – a great little park, but nothing on the scale of what I think of in terms of a National Park. Wineglass Bay, considered the crown jewel of Freycinet, was to me, just another beach with mountains. I think the hype on Wineglass Bay is far, far overdone. I would rather have spent all of our time in Cradle Mountain.
(Here, Ben is not trying to choke the wallaby. He’s just annoyed that his every move seems to be recorded on camera)
Cradle Mountain – Doves and Devils
We arrived in Cradle Mountain under another curtain of rain. Again, everything in the park is well done. Shuttle buses getting you to all the trailheads to minimize car traffic, well-marked and incredibly well maintained trails, and friendly park rangers combine for a can’t miss experience.
The park is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in Australia, hands down. Likely because it reminds me of Alaska, only the mountains and lakes are smaller. Cradle mountain eventually revealed itself and we could see the jagged teeth along the summit. We hiked around Dove Lake at a good pace and then visited Devils@Cradle, a breeding center to help diversify the genetics in the Tasmanian Devil population. Chris, the speaker and guide at the center knew more of the science behind the extinction threat to devils and quolls alike. Highly, highly, highly recommend Devils@Cradle. Watching the devils and quolls feed was amazing. I actually wish they wouldn’t let anyone pet the devils – yes, it probably brings in more tourists, but it seems the wrong thing to teach people or devils.
Our final day in Tassie began with climbing Crater Peak, where you get a great view of Cradle Mountain, Crater Lake, Dove Lake, and all the surrounding peaks. The climb is actually quite small – just about 90 minutes to the summit and an hour to get down. And the peaks are all under 1500 meters (less than 5,000 feet) so it gives you a rocky mountains experience though at a miniature scale.
The sun finally shined on us and make the hike up and down involve lots of layers coming off and going back on.
Our hike took us over the very first section of the Overland track, a six-day trek covering 80K. Something to think about making sure we do while we’re living in the Southern Hemisphere.
When it was time to pile in our rental car and return to Hobart, I wished I had more time in Cradle Mountain. I guess when I think of loving the outdoors, Cradle Mountain is the first example of this in Australia – the Blue Mountains, Great Barrier Reef, and other parts have been good – but Cradle was great, and we just scratched the surface.
Surf’s Up in Manly
After returning to Sydney, we had a killer time getting a surfing lesson from Manly Surf School. Our instructor Matt was awesome, and Ben popped up and rode the wave in on his first attempt. Not a huge shock given how quickly he’s taken to snowboarding, and just about anything else that requires balance. Ben has a ton of natural athletic talent that Uncle Bryan is lacking. But, the old man managed to ride several waves in towards the beach. We stopped by to say howdy to Kyle and Jill, our friends in Manly, before returning to Sydney on a failed quest for dinner. My intention was to try the best burger in Sydney at the Rockpool Bar and Grill, but the place is made for suits and not two guys who need a shower. Even the Lord Nelson failed us since they didn’t start serving until near 6:00 PM. So we settled for mediocre Chinese food. Luckily Ben had never seen Serenity, one of my favorite movies of the last decade, so we ended the night with some popcorn on the couch.
No place like home
Saying goodbye to Donna and Benjamin at the Sydney airport today wasn’t easy – it just about tore me in half. I’ve always wanted to live closer to my sister’s kids and be a part of their lives – I know kids aren’t in the cards for me (my own decision), and I know I’m not capable of being a good father, but being able to drop by to hang out with Benjamin on a free Saturday would make my life 100 times better. It makes our decision to move to the other side of the planet a strange one indeed. I left the airport feeling like someone had shown me a mirror, and that I could finally see the gaping hole inside of me that can only be filled by being with those kids. While we love Sydney, there’s no question that I’m still in many ways lonely here, and I have to accept that I’ll feel that way as long as we live here. I’m excited that Lisa gets to see her niece in March, and that we have families on either side that care about us. It does make the distance even more difficult, especially as we try and spend more holidays here in Australia.