Bay of Fires

Though Miss 9 was keen to stay in Coles Bay and play with her new friend, we headed East up the coast toward ‘the Gardens’ at Bay of Fires. My Tassie friend formerly from Melbourne had sent me a list of recommended places to stay which included the Gardens so I checked WikiCamps for a campsite and found the Lagoon campsite so we headed there stopping at St Helens on the way when we noticed a few shops we needed. Since we planned to spend the next few days at the beach, we needed either an umbrella or a beach tent (we couldn’t decide between the two so got both) and a boogie board now that the kids had a love of waves.

We soon headed toward the Lagoon down a narrow road after passing multiple signs for other campsites along the way. We eventually reached a sign that said ‘no camping beyond this point’ so had to make the most awkward U-turn with the camper, edging close to jack-knifing to turn around. We then stopped at a little side road with a small sign about fires where I gave the kids the UHF and sent them for a walk to check for possible campsites. They confirmed a few available but they’d all be looking out onto the Lagoon rather than the ocean so I checked Camps 8 for alternatives and noticed that the Cosy Corner North campsite was rated highly so we headed there knowing that we had the Lagoon as backup if no beach sites were available.

Arriving at Cosy Corner North, the campsite looked pretty packed already so I pulled over and sent the kids off with the UHF radio again to search for a spot. Soon after Miss 9 was excitedly on the radio to tell me they’d found a spot so I headed off to park in what was a shady spot under a few trees where we faced the ocean and had only a few metres to get to the sand. After setting up and having some lunch, we headed to the beach to try out our new shade set up, boogie board and the giant inflatable mermaid tail.

The sand was squeaky white and the water crystal clear turquoise and azure with the white-tipped waves gently crashing on the sand. The colours looked like that in a postcard or ideal painting of the beach where the azure darkens to a navy where it touches the horizon and the light blues of the sky take over.

Master 17 enjoyed riding the waves on the mermaid tail while Miss 9 struggled a little with her new boogie board on the waves. The sandbar near our camp meant fairly gentle but relentless waves crashing onto the shore so she opted instead to build sandcastles.

The following day we chilled in the morning before we headed down to the other end of the beach to avoid the wind and our shade tent blowing away to where ‘Cosy Corner’ I’m sure got it’s name. There were a lot of rocks that sheltered you from the wind and waves and the rock pools while the tide was out were interesting to investigate and the rocks fun to clamber on.

Master 17 continued to have fun riding the waves on the giant inflatable mermaid tail – seeing it floating about far out on the water or crashing into the surf on the waves most certainly made me giggle a few times. Miss 9 was a lot more confident riding the gentler waves at this end of the beach and I was happy to wade in the water with them. Miss 9 was fascinated by the giant kelp growing on some of the larger rocks, including one that I thought would make a great ‘mermaid rock’ for her to sit on but it was too slippery for her to climb onto.

We had originally thought we’d stay here for 2 nights and then Policeman’s Point for one night but we loved our campsite and this little spot on the beach so much that we decided to stay here the three nights.

We spent the next day at the end of the beach and Miss 9 and I headed there in the morning while the tide was in. The Cosy Corner was very different while the tide was in and the rocks that we’d adventured around the afternoon before, Miss 9 and I climbed awkwardly around along the shore trying to get to the sand as most of the rocks we’d travelled via the day before, were all under the water! (even ‘mermaid rock’ was completely under water). Once we finally got there, another beach goer kindly told us of a path in the bush that was easier to get us to and from the main beach. When we got to our little nook among the giant rocks, we soon found there was no shade at this time of the day and it was going to be a 35 degree day so we called Master 17 (who was going to head to the beach much later) and asked him to bring down the shade tent and to check out the deeper and calmer morning waters of Cosy Corner.

We spent hours at the beach before I ventured back to make us some lunch to bring back to our neat little spot on the sand (at 3pm!). It’s hard to believe how the Bay of Fires ‘busy’ compares to the Melbourne beach ‘busy’ – despite there being a lot of families and dogs on the beach, it was relatively quiet and we had so much space to just relax and frolic in the water.

We eventually headed back to camp where we all chilled a little while Miss 9 happily played with our neighbour’s Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy (that was nearly as big as her) in the black and ashy sand that is everywhere near the campsites. By the time it was bedtime, I had to stand her in the tub for a thorough wash before she could get into the bed!

On our final day at Cosy Corner we decided to get up for sunrise – that was, until the alarm went off and I couldn’t convince either of the kids to get up with me! I wondered down to the beach to watch the sunrise. The morning was calm and warm enough to be in a T-shirt with a thick band of cloud along the horizon that hid the sun for some time. The reflection of the sun on the clouds overhead however, was still evident and the gorgeous colours shifted from bright white and yellow lights, to oranges and reds. A giant sausage shaped cumulus cloud spanned the sky above me and felt close enough for me to put my hand out and touch. While it was calm on the beach, the air overhead wasn’t so calm as the cloud was moving quite quickly above me from south to north.

As the sun finally kissed the clear sky, the wind started to pick up on the beach and I could smell the distinct scent of fire smoke. I couldn’t see any smoke but it was a poignant reminder of the fires currently ravaging the southern parts of the state.

Back at camp I jumped back into bed with Miss 9 to warm up as the wind had really picked up while I was sitting on the beach and I was a bit cold in my T-shirt! We eventually got up and made pancakes for breakfast and chilled for the morning before packing up at lunchtime to head inland for our last few days in Tassie.

Freycinet and Coles Bay

From our driveway camping spot in Orford, we headed up to Coles Bay to stay at the local caravan park. We had hoped to stay at the National Park in Freycinet however, we didn’t know what a popular spot this was and that in order to get a camping spot you need to put yourself into a ballot in July the year before! Needless to say we’d left our run a bit late.

After setting up at the caravan park, we decided to check out the area’s ‘Best fish and chips’. Almost 20 minutes later (back in the direction we’d just come towing the van) we finally found the illusive fish and chip shop – it was the Devils Corner winery that had a series of food stalls on site. $20 later, Master 17 and I decided to share a serve of fish and chips while Miss 9 had a wood fired pizza. While we waited for our food, I took the opportunity to finally try some of the great Tassie Oysters. Master 17 was planning on sharing my 1/2 dozen but after saying ‘hmmm not sure I like these’ after the first one, I very quickly took them all back for myself! The kids and I ran up the lookout tower (ok they ran, I took my sweet time) to check out the picturesque views.

On the way back to camp and the National Park (I wanted to take the kids to the National Park to take a look at some of the shorter walks – can no longer use the work hike – it strikes fear and dread into Miss 9 and she begins whinging about having to hike anywhere lol), we stopped at the Pondering Frog for some ice cream. Master 17 got stuck into the biggest home-made chocolate coated ice cream biscuit I’ve ever seen, while Miss 9 enjoyed a home made Berry Friday (it’s not a Sundae if you sell it on a Friday apparently) and I enjoyed a choc top raspberry ice cream cone. The home made ice creams were delicious!

We finally got back on the road to head back towards the National Park to enjoy a couple of quick views.

We walked up to the light house and enjoyed some of the views along the way, including the ‘Nuggets’, a couple of small islands offshore where thousands of birds nest each year away from predators. The kids discovered a little echo on the walk back so began yelling ‘coo-wee’ from the bushes to each other. Shortly after, we heard a reply call from the other side of the lighthouse of ‘we bought a Jeep’ – our fellow bushcallers could be heard laughing when we yelled back ‘what colour is it?!’.

Next we clambered down more rocks and discovered some unique looking cave rocks and a random boat tied to a tree up on the rocks. After some exploring and even more mosquito bites, we decided to head back to the car and get back to camp for dinner.

The next day I had hoped that the kids would be up for a climb to Mt Amos. Fortunately for me, Miss 9 still had no interest in completing any big hikes after the Overland so we headed for the Wineglass Bay lookout instead. It always amazes me how so many people take off on a walk to a particular destination (lookout, beach, mountain peak etc.) and just put their heads down and walk as fast as they can to reach the final destination first. We prefer to meander along and take in some of the sights along the way – like the cave that we spent a few moments guessing what once may have lived there, or the lizard that everyone else walked past so we pointed it out to a few other children on the path or even the very groovy wave shaped bench seat that was built by local students and placed just off the track.

At the top we took in the spectacular views of Wineglass Bay (which I later learned was named such for the blood that would fill the bay during the whaling season and not for the shape of the bay). We contemplated walking down to the bay for a dip and a closer look but decided against the return walk of 1,000 steps back up the very steep cliffs!

Back at camp and some new neighbours had moved in – turns out they were from Preston so Miss 9 quickly made friends with their Miss 6 and we headed to the beach for a quick swim before we headed off on our 3 hour sea kayaking tour.

The kayaks were doubles so Miss 9 and I were paired up while Master 17 paired up with another young man also from Melbourne. We set off across the bay with Miss 9 doing some of the work and me quickly realising that I would likely have some very tired upper body muscles by the end of the 3 hours!

The waters were calm other than the odd remnants of passing boats and their wake so we enjoyed the paddling over to the other side of the bay to a smaller inlet where we stopped to hear a little about the area before heading along the route of the bay to another inlet further down. Here we learnt additional information about the whaling history of the area and then followed the curve of the bay to another spot where we stopped for some tea and biscuits. It was at this stop that the mother of Master 17’s kayak buddy fell out of her kayak and got drenched in the shallow waters (she blamed her son on the other side of the kayak but I think it was just that she was impatient and didn’t listen to the instructions on how to get out of the kayak without falling out).

Another stop a little further along where some Italian brothers had found some red granite and after not finding they work they had come to Australia for on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, set to work hand drilling the granite into blocks for sale. We could still see remnants of the hand drills stuck in a couple of pieces of the granite. Apparently the ‘People’s Purse’ in the Bourke Street Mall was carved out of the red granite from this very site – I’ll be sure to pay more attention to the sculpture next time I see it!

The final stop was at the RACT Country Club where we heard the history of the man who first dreamt of this place and had to rebuild it three times after fire ravaged the site before going bankrupt and selling. At the club there was a small jetty and we were challenged to ‘limbo’ under it in the kayaks. I thought it looked a little low to try but Miss 9 was super excited by the challenge. The mum of Master 17’s crew wasn’t keen on her son giving it a try so I reassured her that Master 17 was very mature and responsible – to convince her of this I yelled out to him to please take care – he was goofing around with his new mate so his response unfortunately didn’t reassure her. As it turns out, even though it was a VERY close brush with the bottom of the jetty, we made it through.

The final leg of the kayaking was one long straight paddle all the way back diagonal across the bay. By this stage, my neck injury was getting the better of me as my shoulders got tired and it started referring pain. Despite Miss 9 doing her best to help, I was doing most of the work on my own so our paddle back was the slowest but we had our guide, Sam paddling alongside as the sun was very slowly setting on the calm waters. We got back to the shore in time to watch the sun make its final descent into the horizon as I popped some ibuprofen and we headed back to camp for a light (and late) dinner before bed.

I must admit, despite the hard work of it all, a sunset kayak on the bay was the perfect end to our time in Freycinet and Coles Bay.

Maria Island

Despite lots of last minute checks, Miss 9 still managed to leave something behind with our farm hosts in Hobart… On the plus side, our host family also happen to have a little shack in Orford and were visiting there the day we were in Port Arthur so dropped the stuff off for us to collect on our way up the coast.

Orford is also only about 15 minutes from the ferry in Triabunna so from Port Arthur, we headed to the shack to drop off the camper and drive to Triabunna to catch the lunchtime ferry to Maria Island.

With the eery lightening strikes of our ghost tour, over 2,200 strikes hit the ground in Tasmania, starting fires right across the state, including on Maria Island. The fires were well contained however, a number of the longer hikes and camping grounds were closed for the day.

The ferry ride over was relatively short yet entertaining with a comical captain providing some running commentary for us. Once we arrived at the island we headed into the historic Darlington township, past the oldest building on the island which is now the information centre.

Based on our online booking attempts, we had thought that the hire of bikes would be very difficult with insufficient bikes for visitors. I was grateful that our online booking attempt had failed as when we arrived and rushed to the bike hire shed, we found that there were not only plenty of bikes available for hire but that the hire price was quite a lot cheaper than online! With some (limited and grumpy) assistance from the bike hire man, we used our pedals to take us out to the Painted Cliffs to make the most of the low tide. When we got there, Miss 9 quickly befriended a Master 9 who together, clambered up the cliffs in search of adventure. We decided to follow their lead and take a slight detour up the cliffs and into the bush to get ourselves down to some of the crystal clear azure waters on the other side of the painted cliffs.

The beach and the painted cliffs were definitely the highlight for us on the island. The unique colourings and markings along the cliffs were quite remarkable (and I did find one area in particular that looked a little like the rocks were mooning you but didn’t share this observation with the kids!).

From here we rode our bikes back to Darlington and then onto the Fossil Cliffs. There was a bit more uphill work to be done on the bikes in the blaring sun for this track so Miss 9 and I walked our bikes up a section of these (she has a knack for asking me to stop just as I’m gaining some momentum).

The Fossil cliffs, while historically significant, didn’t share the beauty of the Painted Cliffs so we decided against staying there for lunch (there was also no shade on this part of the island). We had caught up again with Master 9 and his mum so joined them for the ride back to Darlington to return the bikes. The first leg of the return trip was an extremely steep grassed pathway to the top of the hill – one very fit, experienced and enthusiastic mountain bike rider got up the hill in about 3.5 minutes – I could barely pedal the first two metres! We decided to walk the bikes up the hill (which was a workout enough in itself) and needed enough of a rest at the top that we stopped and ate part of our lunch. While we could see the walking tracks for the Bishop and Clerk summit, we couldn’t see any signs of the fires on the island from the top of the hill.

The kids and I enjoyed the ride downhill and then along the track back to Darlington (it helped that Master 9’s mum knew a lot about mountain bike riding and could give us some additional tips to get the most out of the bikes). After returning the bikes, we took a look around the township at the historic buildings that remain in tact on the island.

From the ‘Coffee Palace’, separate apartments, school master’s quarters and the Penitentiary where you can book and camp in a prisoner’s barracks for the night, much of the buildings are still in tact and include a number of artefacts (inducing a piano that you’re allowed to play – Miss 9 proudly got me to play ‘chopsticks’ before another visitor took over and played some real music! She was then outdone by a young girl who hopped on the keys and started playing some Queen.

We finished the day with a splash on the shore while we waited for the final ferry to come and collect the day’s visitors. We joined Master 9 and his mum right up the front of the boat on the outside deck with the wind in our hair (as if Miss 9’s hair needs any assistance to achieve the ‘windblown’ look!). As we approach Triabunna the gorgeous sunny weather very quickly went black before our very eyes and the rain came down hard so we all retreated to undercover before landing ashore where you wouldn’t have noticed that any rain had been there had it not been for the young crew woman trying to shift some water from the roof of the outdoor section of the boat and all of the water rolled to the edge of the roof and then doubled straight back in under the deck completely drenching her to the delight of her fellow crew!

Maria Island was a lovely place to visit and like so many other places we’ve been, has a really rich and diverse history. From a whaling and sealing island, to a failed convict station (too many escapes off the island meant it was converted to a convict probation station), to a vineyard and base for the National Portland Cement Company. Many of the islands structures are still in place, while others have left behind ruins simply photographs of what once stood.

Port Arthur

From seven mile beach we headed to the Port Arthur Holiday Park to set up the camper and have dinner. I had hoped to camp at the Fortescue in the National Park but had left our ‘she’ll be right’ booking a little too late and the only campsites they had available were for tents not camper trailers. I couldn’t convince Miss 9 to stay in our hiking tent for the night so we ended up booking the last site at the Holiday Park – it wasn’t until I’d booked and they asked for my credit card details that I bothered asking the price (minor heart attack though later I was grateful for the van when we had some rain as our tent is purely a hiking tent with room for sleeping only).

The rain stopped and the lightening started just as we headed to the historic Port Arthur site for our evening ghost tour. Miss 9 was really looking forward to the possibility of seeing a ghost on the tour but we had no such luck. We did however, hear some very interesting tales of the ghost experiences of those who lived at the settlement during it’s time and from those that have been doing tours since it’s closure.

These tales were told by our Drizabone clad host carrying a candle-lit lantern while walking through some of the iconic old buildings around the site all to a backdrop of constant lightening (with no rain) on a fairly fine night.

At one stage we were in a small underground room with our guide building the suspense of his story while Master 17 casually lent against an old door. All of a sudden at the height of suspense, the door he was leaning on flew open. He jumped. We all jumped & a few screams may have been heard also!

The following morning we headed back to Port Arthur to check out the historic ‘machine to grind rogues honest’ site in the daylight, starting with a walking tour with another guide around parts of the site. Neither of our guided walks take in the entire site as it’s around 100 acres in size but both provide some great background and insight into what life, and the structures that once stood, were like back when the settlement was still running.

The walking tour and a boat cruise around the harbour are both included in your entry fee to the site (entry also provides 2-day access) so we took advantage of these first up in the morning to help us with the rest of our self-guided tour of the site. The harbour cruise takes you past Point Puer Boys Prison – the British Empire’s first separate prison for boys (some as young as nine – a fact that Miss 9 was both horrified and delighted with). The harbour cruise also takes in the Isle of the Dead – a tiny island where around 1,100 convicts, officers, women and children are buried.

From our morning tours we then traipsed around the historic site reflecting on some of the stories we’d been told previously. Miss 9 delighted in retelling some of the ghost stories from the night before for others to hear (I think she was secretly hoping to spook a few of them too!).

We heard about the life and times of a few interesting convicts through a series of short plays on site too. Miss 9 and Master 17 even got involved in some art activities making peg dolls and whale skip boats.

The history of the site is much richer than we had thought it was -starting as a timber station and ship building site (though the ship building had to stop as other builders couldn’t compete with the free labour of Port Arthur) and even an attempt as a flour mill and granary in the huge four-storey building that later became the Penitentiary, housing hundreds of convicts in dormitories and solitary cells. Port Arthur was designed to use physical labour to not only punish the convicts but to provide them with useful skills to use once they’d been released as well as religion to rehabilitate the convicts.

Taking a tour through the Separate Prison – modelled off a prison in the US and the similar solitary cells built on Sarah Island (where it was recommended to never use that type of confinement again due to the psychological impacts it has on the prisoners) was an eye opener (both on the ghost tour and during the day). The Separate Prison was a place of solitary confinement with 23 hours a day spent in a small cell where no sound could be made. Prisoners and guards couldn’t talk and even wore woollen boot covers so that their footsteps made no noise. For one hour a day, the prisoners could walk around (in solitude) in a small outdoor area of the yard with walls so high that all you could see is the sky above. Movement throughout the building required prisoners to cover their faces so that all of their identity was removed. The impacts were extreme psychological trauma with many prisoners becoming dangerous and violent or withdrawn and moved to a separate end of the building before an asylum was built. It was the Separate Prison that shifted the penal philosophy from a physical punishment to psychological punishment.

Later, as new prisoner numbers decreased, the site took more of a welfare approach with the asylum built along with a Pauper’s Depot for those old prisoners who had no family or community to be released to and were too old to rejoin the general community.

Once the site was closed as a penal settlement, it was renamed Carnarvon and opened to tourists to stay there and others to live. Later, it reverted to Port Arthur and commemorated it’s historic past. The site also includes a memorial garden to acknowledge the tragedy of 1996 which was a sobering and reflective space to walk through and talk to the kids about the tragedy that occurred.

After a day at the historic site we took a drive up to the the Blowhole and then Devil’s kitchen and the Tasman Arch – both once caves carved into the rock over thousands of years by the ocean with their roof collapsed to reveal open arches in the rocks.

When we read ‘Blowhole’ I think we were expecting something like what we found in Quabba WA so were a little disappointed that it was just waves crashing into rocks. The fact that the rocks seemed inland as the ocean had carved a tunnel underneath the land to crest the ‘blowhole’ was pretty impressive though.

Hobart and surrounds

We contacted the lovely family we met on our final Overland night in the Narcissus Hut who had given us their number and offered to host us on their 8 acre block outside of Hobart (we meet some of the nicest and most generous people when we’re on the road). From Strahan, via Derwent Bridge where we checked out the amazing hand sculpted Huon Pine works at ‘The Wall’ and enjoyed a yummy lunch, we arrive just outside of Hobart in the late afternoon to set up on our new found friends farm and enjoy a yummy dinner with them. We happily based ourselves here for a few days to explore Hobart and surrounds with the added bonus of some lovely company each evening.

Our first day, Miss 9 was more interested in playing with the two daughters (she’d not seen other kids for the first two weeks of our trip as she was the only child doing the Overland and was craving some ‘play’ time) so she hung around with our hosts on the farm with the animals for the morning while Master 17 and I thought we’d check out MONA.

MONA – well we went there and can tick that off the list but just like the former hit from the not-be-be-named-actor and Check 1,2 – I didn’t think it was worth the fuss. Certainly, the architecture of the building being built underground in an old sandstone mines with the walls were carved into this was a visual delight. While there were a few highlights for us including the largest Sidney Nolan piece, the opening waterfall of words (taken from what’s trending on the internet and symbolic of the rate at which information comes at us online – and again how quickly they pass), and a handful of other pieces, most of the works weren’t my cup of tea. I was intrigued by the room full of sump oil with space for one person at a time to go in and view from a small area (there was a 25 minute queue to go in but we didn’t bother) – it took me back to my childhood (and my dad’s shed) and the days of dad driving the truck and the smells of sump oil – perhaps my dad was ahead of his time and an artistic genius undiscovered! The vineyard driving into the venue is lovely, as is the view from the cafe and outdoor areas. The poo machine was interesting, even if just for the giggle factor (we’d missed ‘feeding time’ and ‘pooing time’ and had no interest in waiting around hours for the next instalment). The giant framed solid blue piece of work laying on the ground was an example of a work that I just wasn’t feeling pretentious or high enough to appreciate.

The irony of an interactive psychotherapy piece looking at the benefits of the real sounds of nature, surrounded by plants and dirt to make it feel authentic when just one floor above the ground you could immerse yourself in some of the freshest air and beautiful natural environments bewildered Master 17 and I.

From MONA we headed to Salamanca. Salamanca was a lovely little town – while we missed the market – we were still able to appreciate the old architecture and thickly constructed brick walls while enjoying a delicious seafood salad and cold drink for lunch.

Off to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary to meet up with Miss 9 and the girls where Miss 9 I’m sure was hoping to adopt some of the many kangaroos there! A great tour of the animals saw us up close with a baby wombat and koala for pats and photos. With around 100 kangaroos there to feed and scratch under the chin, I was hard pressed getting the girls to leave at closing time!

Day 2: BRUNY Island

5.30am start to get the kids off by 6.20am and onto the ferry to Bruny Island by 7am. When we arrived I soon realised that despite a permanent population on the island and the promotion of it as a ‘pretty big island’ there was only one petrol station on the island and I had arrived with only a quarter of a tank of fuel and not much of an idea of how much driving around we would do for the day. With that in mind, we decided our first stop was Adventure Bay where the petrol station was.

On the way, we stopped at the Truganini memorial at ‘the Neck’ lookout where Miss 9 and I walked to the top to check out the view while master 17 recovered from the early start by dozing in the car. Next stop was Adventure Bay and after filling up we made our way to the Fluted Cape Walk for a 6km hike with the promise of spectacular views. It took a bit of bribing (and a few fibs) to get Miss 9 interested in another hike so soon after finishing the Overland but she managed to walk all the way to Grass Point where the rubble and remains of Thomas’ dwelling where he would sit and watch the whaling that thrived in the 1800’s here. We tried our best to find the allusive white wallaby but no luck (nor did we see any Southern Right Whales though they have returned to the bay since being hunted nearly to extinction).

We gave Master 17 the backpack and headed back to the beach and car to wait for him to finish the full hike. It was when we returned we realised the car keys, water and sunscreen were all in the backpack! We spent a bit of time traipsing along the beach Miss 9 getting her feet wet and patting passing dogs before heading to the shade and car to wait for Master 17 (who happened to turn up at the same time).

Then it was south towards the Bruny Island lighthouse with a stop-off at Cloudy Bay to drive along the beach (and I had secret hopes of finding somewhere to buy the famous Cloudy Bay oysters – the ‘Get Shucked’ business on the way onto the island was closed at our 7.30am arrival). We made it to the beach and drive along for a bit before pulling over and stopping for a swim. We pretty much had the entire beach to ourselves on a glorious sunny and warm summers day. If this were Melbourne we’d be scrambling for a space on the sand! Soon after a family with 3 young boys drove past from the opposite direction and I flagged them down to see what was at the other end of the beach – turns out it was a lovely bush camp that would’ve been nice to stay at. They pulled up and hopped out of their car along with 4 boogie boards and a surfboard that they happily shared with Miss 9 and Master 17. After burying the 3 young boys in the sand (with their permission), we left them to the beach and headed to the lighthouse for a 3.45pm guided tour (you can only get up the lighthouse via a tour).

The lighthouse is the longest running in Australia (the oldest is in Vauclause in Sydney and the oldest still standing is in Hobart). It was built by 12 convicts in just 18 months (their sentence being highly questionable given they were all skilled labourers who were coincidentally freed as soon as the lighthouse build was complete…).

Back home toward the ferry and again the Oyster business was closed on the way out so I missed out on my highly anticipated feast of fresh seafood. Made it back to base camp by 8pm after a long day and realised that I’d miscalculated our days and we should be packing up tomorrow and heading to Port Arthur instead of staying another night! To appease the girls, we didn’t leave the farm until the afternoon the following day after a morning drive up to Mt Wellington and then a swim at seven mile beach where the water was so warm even I swam! Miss 9 was looking increasingly confident in the water on her borrowed boogie board – I might have to take the kids to the beach more often!

Convict tales and ancient trees

From Cradle Mountain we headed to the little town of Strahan and parked at the Golf Club for $10 per night.

We’d booked a Gordon River cruise with World Heritage Cruises for the afternoon/evening and after checking out the oldest working saw mill, boarded the bright red boat ready for 5.5 hours of cruising.

Our captain was very knowledgeable and provided running commentary throughout most of the cruise as we made our way first to ‘Hells Gates’ – named by convicts who when sailing into the bay through this narrow section, believed they were on their way to hell on earth – Sarah Island.

From Hells Gates we went via a salmon and trout farm to hear about the local industry before landing on Sarah island for our own little insight into hell. We were guided around the island ruins by Judith, a member of the local theatre company, who gave us not only an insightful but humorous account of the incredibly tough conditions and tales of lashings, ship building and contraband. The island was also the basis of the classic novel ‘For the term of his natural life’.

We then made our way up the Gordon River into the beautiful wilderness off the West coast of Tasmania and heard all about the pining industry of old. ‘Piners’ as they were known, would row up the Gordon river in small boats to fell the giant Huon Pine trees and send them floating down the river to be used to build ships and for their unique oil. The oil in the timber is so unique that even now, old logs that are reclaimed from felling decades ago, can be used and look as fresh today as when they were felled – they’ve even found old logs underground that are tens of thousands of years old and suitable to use.

They no longer fell the Huon Pine as they can’t be planted commercially as they only grow 1mm per year on average. Our cruise included a heritage landing board walk through a Huon Pine forest where we saw the difference between an 80yr old tree and one that was around 3,000 years old including the tiniest of pine cones that the trees grow to reproduce.

We enjoyed a yummy buffet dinner including some Tasmanian salmon before docking at the end of the glorious summer evening and headed back to camp for a lovely quiet nights sleep.

The Overland Track

Overland Track: 4 January – 10 January 2019

Many people have asked what our motivation for doing the Overland Track was. I don’t think there was any one motivating factor – it certainly hadn’t been on our bucket list for hiking for any time. We knew we wanted to spend a month in Tassie and when we started looking at what there was to do, the Overland came up and we recalled this from watching a DVD series before our lap around Oz. When we looked on the website for the track we were promised over 65kms of hiking through the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and world heritage area for Australia’s premier alpine walk.

While it had been just over 2 years since our multiple class 5 hikes throughout gorges and ranges in WA and SA when we did our lap, we felt confident that our resilience and love of the outdoors would get us through the hike, even if our fitness had dropped off a bit since coming back. I also realised that with my back injury and quirky feet, that there were limited years left for me to do something like this with the kids.

There was months of planning to be done and a lot of shopping at Anaconda for all of the gear we needed to get through the hike (the staff at Anaconda know me by name now!). Slowly but surely, piece by piece and sale by sale, we had everything we needed (possibly a few additional things that we didn’t thanks to a camping and hiking sale at Aldi).

Though we had plans to prepare well beforehand with multiple overnight hikes and other practice runs to get us ‘match fit’ for the Overland – none of these eventuated. Our one attempt at an overnight hike in the Mount Buangor State forest was an epic failure but taught us a lot about what we didn’t need to pack and the value of walking poles!

With our packs ready and weighed, a few additional snacks and meals taken out (there’s a cafe at Lake St Clair end so I removed breakfast and lunch for our final day and packed the credit card instead!), we got settled into our first night in a hotel for our last night’s sleep in a real bed with access to hot showers and electricity for a week!

Day 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley (10.7km, 27 degrees forecast)

We decided on a hearty brekki to prepare us so Master 17 and I opted for scrambled eggs while Miss 9 had cereal and pancakes (breakfast of champions?!). Bushfires had broken out just south of the national park and the weather was predicted to hit 27 degrees for what is supposed to be the toughest day of the hike so I was a tad nervous and beginning to question this crazy idea! While the kids heartily ate, I struggled to get anything down before we jumped in the car and headed to the visitor information centre to grab the first shuttle bus to Ronny Creek.

At Ronnie Creek, I registered our party and we headed off along the flat duckboard start to the track after a quick selfie and Facebook post advising friends of our expected completion date should anything go wrong!

While we were likely the first public hikers to get started for the day, we soon found others joining, and passing us, along the walk as we made our way to Crater Lake. Despite the relatively early start (8.45am start), it was already pretty warm so we took off our boots and socks and enjoyed the cool refreshing water at the lake before heading off to face the steep ascent to Marions Lookout. By now the day had gotten pretty windy so we took 10 steps up the steep hill at a time to break up the steep climb ahead of us. Once at the top, we stopped for lunch trying to shelter from the extreme winds behind a rock. We took this opportunity to take off the shoes and socks and elevate them a little to avoid any swelling of feet in the heat. We reapplied sunscreen, cleaned up our lunch stuff, put our boots back on and left the day-hikers to enjoy the stunning views and shorter walk back to the car park.

We began walking along the long and exposed rocky alpine plains grateful for the wind in the heat to help cool us a little while we enjoyed great views of Cradle Mountain. Stopping at Kitchen Hut for some respite from the sun and to enjoy some of the unique history of the hut. Miss 9 was fascinated by the idea that in winter the snow can get so bad that the second story window of the hut was in fact a door and that the shovel hanging from high on the wall is used to help shovel your way out of the hut – a stark contrast to the sweltering day we were having!

We eventually got to enjoy some bush land hiking and some shaded parts of the track though we were still hot and tired and could see smoke off in the distance so when the rescue helicopter flew over, it was tempting to flag it down! Instead, I started looking for potential spots to pitch the tent as it was getting later in the afternoon and we were still a way off our first hut.

We hit the emergency ‘hut’ at nearly 5pm (though it looked more like some futuristic rounded shelter designed in the 70’s) and a sign advising that we only had an hour to go (which was lucky as we’d run out of water by that time). My feedback to Tasmania Parks and Wildlife is that they should have some indication of the kms you’ve travelled on their path markers along the way to help you to know how far you’ve come (or how far you’ve still got to go).

After 15 minutes, we hit another sign advising that we only had 30 minutes to go. The kids and I were ecstatic to know that we were nearly there! I’m not sure who timed that final 30 minutes but my guess is either their watch was broken, they had no pack on their back and ran the whole way there, or they were a sadistic soul preying on the tired hikers attempting day 1 of the Overland! Well over an hour later, and with what I could feel was the onset of a blister, we finally made it to Waterfall Valley Hut (noting that there were in fact no waterfalls to be seen). We were greeted by the friendly face of Judy the volunteer ranger who advised that despite being some of the last hikers to arrive, there were still plenty of beds available in the hut. She also advised that it got to at least 32 degrees today – no wonder we were bloody hot!

We met some other lovely Overlanders while cooking our spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and were tucked up in bed by 9pm on our wooden bunks. The hut has windows but no power so despite it still being light outside, it gets fairly dark inside and the sun rising at around 5.30am makes it fairly light by morning.

Despite it taking us 9.5 hours from start to finish (with multiple 10-30 minute breaks along the way), I was so proud of the kids for their efforts and making it through a pretty tough start to a week of more of the same.

Day 2: Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere (7.8kms, 22 degrees forecast)

Sunrise at 5.30am after not too much sleep for me (kids seemed to have slept well even with Miss 9 sleep talking a few times). I dozed heavily between snoring from fellow campers and some late night arrivals and early morning departures.

After the first day, we were promised easier days following so we took advantage of a shorter second day by sleeping in a little to rest and recuperate. A hearty brekki of porridge with some chia seeds, cinnamon and milk powder (so yummy we might start making it like that when we get home) and we eventually set off at 12noon. (Not before Miss 9 managed to squeeze in a few games with some dice that Judy our friendly volunteer ranger had taught her – she even loaned Miss 9 the bag of die to take to the next hut for entertainment).

My feet were still pretty sore from the last part of day one so day two, while a lot shorter and flatter in terms of terrain, was still quite difficult. We stopped at Lake Will for a 30 minute lunch break but decided not to do the additional side walk to the lake itself.

Today was much colder than yesterday and we even got our gloves and hats and an extra layer on for parts of the day. With my feet being quite sore, we made an additional two stops along the way to take off our shoes and packs which the kids were grateful for too. Miss 9 was still pretty tired after a big first day.

If it weren’t for the logistical nightmare of trying to find transport from the end of the hike at Lake St Clair to our car back at Cradle Mountain (I’ve got more suggestions for Tasmanian PWS on some much-needed updates to the information on their website), I might’ve taken today as a rest day to allow the kids (and my feet) some rest time before attempting the rest of the track.

We made some additional adjustments to the packs along the way to get them right and my pack actually felt quite comfortable on my back (despite it being so heavy at 21kgs that I needed Master 17 to help lift it onto my back each day). Miss 9’s pack was slightly big for her (they don’t make hiking packs for children) so she liked to have fairly frequent breaks to take the weight off and lean forward on her hiking poles.

After 4.5 hours (including the 30 minute lunch break) through buttongrass plains, heathlands, alpine lakes and tarns (small mountain lakes), we made it to Windermere Hut and set up again inside the hut. I noted with some disappointment that our loudest snorer from the night before was also in the hut while others had opted for their tents.

We gratefully took off our hiking boots and walked down to the lake for a quick dip (this would have been the best hut to make it to on the previous day to enjoy a swim in the lake on such a hot day). While other hikers took a full swim, Master 17 went in up to his waist and I went in as far as my knees (the water was actually very mild as it is fairly shallow and warmed easily by the sun).

With some yummy cottage pie and mash potato for dinner we were off to bed as early as we could to get an early start for the longest day on the track.

Day 3: Lake Windermere to Pelion (16.8kms, 20 degrees forecast)

We were off by 9am ahead of a few of the other hikers, knowing that they would eventually catch up.

It was a cold and drizzly morning so we started the day in our raincoats, wet weather pants, and warmer clothes with Miss 9 setting a cracking pace in the light rain and wind. We traversed up over some beautiful areas, stopping briefly for a quick selfie with another hiker who was amazed that a 9 year old was doing the track (it was to inspire his own children, who were older, to do the track with him next time) before making it to the Forth Valley Lookout side track. Here we stopped for lunch while enjoying the views before getting back to the track for the last 13kms of the day.

Coming down through some of the rocky and windy areas was torture on my feet (not only had I developed blisters but my less than attractive crooked toes were very painful and I was starting to understand why others with similar conditions, had their toenails removed or toes broken to straighten!). Miss 9 flew down these areas though and I had to frequently yell out to her to check that she was still within ear shot and on the track. She’s actually very good at following a track and spotting hard to find wayfinding markers so veering off track wasn’t really a concern.

At Pelion Creek we decided that the cold weather was behind us now and removed all of our cold weather gear and took the opportunity to give our feet and backs a rest for a bit. As we entered the myrtle-beech rainforest on the eastern flanks of Mt Pelion West, we sang ‘99 bottles of beer on the wall’ to help distract us from the lengthy and windy descent under the canopy of trees into Frog Flats.

At one stage, we had thought that we surely weren’t far from the hut (it was around 5pm and we’d been walking since 9am with breaks in between) as we stopped for a final rest and contemplated a bush wee or holding out until the hut. I’m glad we opted for the bush wee as it turned out to be another 2 hours before we made it to the hut!

The last 1.5 hours were relentless – while the terrain was fairly flat and picturesque – fatigue had set in and my feet were in a great deal of pain. By this stage Miss 9 was so exhausted and I, unable to help reduce her burden, told her she could cry if she needed. So she did. For the entire final 90 minutes of our walk and it was heart breaking (and exhausting as I tried not to do the same). While the kids were asking ‘are we there yet?’ and ‘can you see that side track that’s near the hut?’ every so often, I was muttering expletives under my breath about how ‘F’ing’ far away the damn hut was. The later it got, the more I was resigned to setting up the tent when we got to camp.

Our feet were aching and we were exhausted but we kept encouraging each other and eventually, at 7pm, we stumbled into the hut where I’m sure that Veronica and Andrew (a lovely couple we’d met on the track from Sydney), had saved us the last two bunks in the entire hut. Miss 9 and I shared a top bunk while Master 17 had the other top bunk and slept alongside some of our belongings to save some space.

My feet were so sore I nearly burst into tears when I saw Veronica waiting to show us our bunks on arrival. Miss 9 recovered so quickly after dropping her pack on the bunk and couldn’t understand why mummy just needed to put her feet up before heading outside to look at the pademelons and other wildlife outside the hut.

The hut was bigger than the first two nights but was packed with a lot of additional hikers who had ventured in from other tracks to base themselves at Pelion and climb the likes of Mt Oakley and Mt Ossa.

We ate just as it was getting rather dark and then went to bed as did most other campers. There was a loud group of hikers playing cards in the common area until rather late and I was almost at the stage of getting out of bed and going out with my mum voice to tell them to pipe down, when they too, decided to head to bed.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so grateful to lay down on a wooden bed and close my eyes as I was that night.

Day 4: Pelion to Kia Ora (8.6kms, 22 degrees forecast)

By now, we had met quite a few of the other track hikers as we all started on the same day and finished at the same hut each night (there were the odd extras along the way that doubled up doing multiple days in one – my definition of madness!). While we only saw a few of them out on the track each day (usually overtaking us at some point), we saw many of them in the huts as we cooked dinner or refilled water at the tanks.

One of the other groups included a dad in his 60’s hiking with his three adult daughters (Jen, Kim and Fiona). They had noticed how bad my feet were so Kim gave me some soft lambs wool to wrap around my toes to help with my blisters and quirky toes. The ranger also had a big roll of tape that I grabbed to secure my new toe rescue and I soon had very comfy feet. Until I put them into my boots and realised that they wouldn’t fit! I had to remove a lot of the padding and just put up with sore feet (with the help of some ibuprofen, airing of my feet enroute and the odd expletive when the kids were out of earshot).

Being a shorter day than the one before, we didn’t head off until 11am after a rigorous routine of stretching led largely by Miss 9 drawing on her dance class experience to prepare us for the day.

Today was a bright and sunny day and we headed off with some tired sooky hikers who got into the rhythm of the day soon enough with a stop to take off the boots and rest the feet before continuing on to Pelion Gap. We even saw two of the yellow tailed black cockatoos along the way. After about 3.5 hours we thought we’d be very close to Pelion Gap (the halfway mark and resting spot for those doing the Mt Ossa or Mt Pelion East climbs) when we stopped for a rest in the shade and met Steven from Sydney who was hiking on his own and had started the day with a hike to Mt Oakley and was now about to lap us on his way to climb Mt Ossa! He told us that he thought he’d be at Pelion Gap within an hour which was heartbreaking for us as we thought we only had about 20 minutes until we were there (if it took him an hour, it would no doubt take us 2!). Soon after he left us, we saw him walking back towards us to advise that he was actually very wrong and that the gap was just ahead but that we should take a moment in the shade to reapply sunscreen as the next part of the track was very exposed. After all of us got sunburnt on day 1, we were most grateful for this advice!

After stopping for lunch at the Gap (where we found some shade a little way up the hill) and taking the opportunity to take our shoes off for half an hour or so, we were ready to continue on our walk wishing Steven all the best for his ascent to Mt Ossa. The currawongs are very clever on the track and renowned for opening zips and stealing food. We noticed a bag of nuts opened and spread on the boards and realised that it belonged to Veronica and Andrew so we packed them up and secured them back in their packs and rezipped their bags and laid them so the birds couldn’t get to their food again (they were off climbing Mt Ossa and had left their packs like so many others at the Gap).

After our break we put the boots back on (reluctantly) to head along the gradual descent from Pelion Gap to Kia Ora hut through the beautiful Pinestone Valley with views of the Cathedral Mountain. While this part of the track is apparently a favourite for many, my feet and blisters were awful on the way down and I found myself muttering ‘left, left, left, right, left’ just to be sure my feet kept moving!

Kim, Fiona and Jen (with their dad already ahead earlier in the day) went past us and Miss 9 suddenly gained more energy and latched onto them and flew ahead of Master 17 and I. While I wasn’t too worried about Miss 9 losing her way, I wasn’t exactly sure that she’d stuck with the girls so when she didn’t respond to Master 17 and I calling out to her, suddenly the pain in my feet was (not entirely) forgotten, and I walked as fast as I could just to ensure she was safely within eye or earshot.

We soon caught up with them all (largely due to Jen, also a mother, thinking that they should stop and allow me to catch up in case I was worried about my daughter) as they were stopped to admire an echidna next to the track.

When we arrived at the hut at 5.30pm another family that we’d met along the way with a mum plus four grown boys and teenage daughter, gave us some leftover Chilli Concarne as a ‘snack’ before we headed to Kia Ora creek and the little waterfall for a dip to cool off in the glacial waters! While I had every intention of diving into the icy waters, I only managed to get in up to my knees to help with the pain and swelling in knees, feet and ankles. Master 17 dove right in. And then jumped straight back out again – confirmation for me that it was far too cold for me to swim.

Back in the hut we met the loud group from the night before who had started the Overland the day before us and who were also the group that Judy had told us about that had one hiker with a 35kg pack (which included a 5kg keg that they drank on the first night!). Matt and Kara were very friendly and one of their party was running out of food so we gave them some of ours as we couldn’t fit in all that I’d packed for dinner that night after our rather substantial ‘snack’ prior to our swim.

We also left our second gas canister in the hut for other walkers as we had completely overestimated just how much fuel we would need to cook each day (especially since we didn’t need to boil our water, filtration tablets were enough to treat the water from the tanks each day and even then, we’d only started treating the water after day 3). We’ll start day 5 1/2 kg lighter!

Day 5: Kia Ora to Windy Ridge (Burt Nichols Hut), (9.6kms, 20 degrees forecast)

We were the last to leave the hut in the morning at around 10am to start the day with my feet already sore. We made it to the Du Cane Hut (aka Windsor Castle as it was once nicknamed – built in 1910 by Paddy Hartnett, a snarer, miner and bushman) where Miss 9 left a message in the visitor book while we enjoyed a short break.

Today we did our first ‘side hike’ – only 1km down to D’Alton Falls. We left our bags at the main track and I swapped my hiking boots and socks for my crocs (yes, I bought crocs for this hike and walking down to the falls in them was absolute bliss!). We took our lunch to the waterfall where we sat and enjoyed the view of a rainbow crossing the falls as we ate.

I was tempted to keep the crocs on for the remainder of the track (in hindsight I probably could’ve). We were enjoying the gradual climb to Du Cane Gap, using the A-Z game to keep us distracted and entertained throughout the day helped (we each had to think of something starting with each letter of the alphabet – we went through movies, animals, songs and musicians, adjectives, celebrities etc. throughout the day and I was pretty impressed with some of the songs and musicians the kids came up with).

Starting the deep descent into the bowl-like cirque of the Du Cane Range, sculpted by glaciers thousands of years ago, was tiring and painful on my feet (some glacial ice at about this time would’ve been a welcome relief). Miss 9 however, got her second wind and was off like a rocket again. Just as I was telling her that we should have no more than about half an hour to go, we spotted our first tent a short walk before reaching the Burt Nicholls Hut – a 5 star hut compared to the rest we’d stayed in! Managed to get a large top bunk space to ourselves where we set up beds, got changed and headed to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

Jen (one of the daughters) was a doctor so Master 17 asked her about popping my blisters. She happily advised that yes I should given they were all intact and giving me so much grief. She sterilised a needle for me but I was happy for her to do the popping for me (she was a paediatrician which was a lot closer to podiatrist than I was going to get!).

Dr Jen burst my blister for me (it covered the entire base of my pinky toe on the right foot) in the hopes that our final day hike might be less painful. In hindsight, I should’ve got her to burst my other one too but the pain getting the bandages off was excruciating & brought more expletives and even tears to my eyes (even after soaking in the collapsible sink we’d brought for 20 minutes).

Many of our Overland companions were leaving very early the next morning to walk to Narcissus and get straight on the ferry the next day so most were in bed very early. We were walking to Narcisuss to camp for the night as our transport wasn’t booked until the following day so we got to enjoy a bit of extra sleep and avoid the busy morning rush in the common areas.

Day 6: Windy Ridge (Burt Nicholls) to Narcissus (9kms, 15 degrees & snow forecast)

Our early morning hikers set off in the rain and it was still lightly raining by the time we set off at noon.

The final day’s hike for us as we were getting the ferry from Narcissus Hut rather than walking the final 17.5kms to Cynthia Bay. Today has no more uphill walking, just a gentle walk down the glacier’s path to the hut situated beside Lake St Clair.

The weather was a little varied today – one minute we needed the raincoats on and the next we were sweating in the sun. We bumped into our first Park Ranger – Melody – as we walked along the track (the others we had all met at each of the huts). She mentioned that the weather changing and blowing in and out like it was, was perfect for the snow on the mountain predicted for today. They do say to prepare for all kinds of weather on the Overland – starting in heatwave and bushfire conditions and finishing with snow with a bit of everything else in between is certainly ‘all kinds of weather’!

Miss 9 happily told Melody of the fresh Tasmanian Devil poo and all the wombat poo we’d been seeing along the track as well as the echidna, wombat and yellow tailed black cockatoo – all logged in her junior Overland Track guidebook.

We finally made it to the Narcissus River where Miss 9 finally got to cross the only suspension bridge on the Overland Track. It was a single person at a time cross and we were all reminded of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – which Master 17 enthusiastically recreated using his hiking poles as sword as he crossed.

Arriving at Narcissus Hut Master 17 and I were keen to pitch the tent for our final night (I was tempted to pitch it at Windy Ridge but got outvoted). I had carried nearly 3kgs of tent the entire track and was keen for that burden not to have been for nothing. Miss 9 was not keen on the tent however, so we slept in the hut where we met a lovely family with two young girls. Miss 9 was so excited to see other children (there were no others doing the Overland) that she happily played and chatted to them until bedtime.

Day 7: Narcissus Hut to Lake St Clair

Leaving the next morning on the ferry, we exchanged phone numbers with the family who live just outside of Hobart on a small farm and were happy to have us camp there for a few nights when we got to Hobart for some exploring. We always seem to meet the most lovely people in the most remote areas!

We got off the ferry and took our final celebratory photo at the end of the Overland Track marker before signing us out of the registration book as home safe where we happily saw the names of a few of our other fellow hikers (many others were doing the additional hikes to Pine Valley and continuing on foot to Cynthia Bay).

Breakfast at the cafe and returning our EPIRB to the visitor centre and boarding the Overland Track mini bus with 7 others who were about to start the track for the 3.5 hour bus ride back to Cradle Mountain. We stopped off at Queenstown for a yummy lunch and enjoyed some breathtaking views as we drove – including those that we had seen up close and personal during our hike.

We gratefully checked into our upgrade deluxe spa room at the hotel and ordered room service dinner after some nice hot showers. Feeling refreshed we drove to Dove Lake to watch the sunset and reflect on the remarkable achievement we had just made. I am so incredibly proud of the kids and the resilience, compassion, humour and grace they displayed throughout our latest adventure!

Swamp tales

While our big adventure in 2016 was as much a trip of a lifetime with my kids as it was a time of healing for me, I’m thinking that this latest adventure might be a journey of self discovery.

We spent the first day of the New Year on a day trip to the North West of Tasmania to Tarkine and the dismal swamp. Not sure what I thought I’d discover in a swamp about myself but I was reminded just how much the mozzies love me!

To get into the ‘swamp’ (aka the largest draining sinkhole in the Southern Hemisphere) you get to don a helmet and hair net, lay down on a mat and slide down a 110 metre slide in just 15 seconds! The ride did advise that those with neck or back injuries shouldn’t go down the slide but I loathe the idea that the action of one aggressive drunk have left me with a lifelong injury and chronic pain so I ignored this and followed the kids down the slide (it was just a slide after all – what could be the harm?). Needless to say, I paid the price (and I’m not just talking about the rather exorbitant entry fee to walk around 1.2km of swamp pathways).

After some cursing, deep breathing and stretching, the kids and I meandered around a series of pathways learning ore about the sinkhole, and now state forest, and meeting the very cute pademelon – a small wallaby-looking native.

Being stuck in a sinkhole and surviving ‘off the land’ might not be so bad though – there were a lot of crayfish holes dotted all throughout the forest – I could think of worse to have to dine on to survive.

After a bite to eat we headed back via Stanley – a picturesque seaside town. As we approached we could see a giant sized lego looking block looming large in the distance. This turned out to be the ‘Nut’ (owing to a one time attempt to drill through the ancient volcano core only to find it was a ‘hard nut to crack’).

We drove to the base of the Nut and took a chairlift to the top to take in some of the 360 degrees views from the top. I think Melbourne might have some competition for the title of ‘four seasons in one day’ – we went from freezing winds that made your eyes water, to balmy breezes and then blazing hot sun as we walked the 2km track taking in multiple viewing platforms.

Other than the breathtaking views of the town, Bass Strait and surrounding national park, the Nut seemed to have a very large and very friendly population of beautiful butterflies and the odd unique tree for hiding under or climbing along the way.

Back to camp for a swim in the pool after dinner – not a bad first day of the year.

To help prepare us for our pending Overland Track hike, I’d booked Master 17 and I into massages the next day to help loosen any tight muscles.

We took advantage of these appointments to grab a few things from the shops and check out the Information Centre and Makers Workshops where we got to try our hand at making some denim paper with subtle Tasmanian icon animals embossed into the paper.

Fish Frenzy was recommended for lunch so we headed there for a yummy lunch overlooking the foreshore before the kids enjoyed a swim in the ocean and I got my calves wet – despite it being a pretty hot 25 degree day, it felt more like a 35 degree day in Melbourne).

After a few hours we headed back to camp for some chill time and dinner. After dinner, we headed back to the Makers Workshop car park to join some lovely volunteers for a talk on little penguins (formerly fairy penguins) and some penguin spotting after dark. The fluffy babies looked very cute until mum or dad arrive back from a day at sea eating and they pounced on their parents for dinner. It was pretty amazing to see a colony of penguins so close to the CBD – something I thought only Melbourne/St Kilda had to offer.

Off to bed for our final night in Burnie drifting off to the sounds of the ocean.

Mermaids in Burnie

Despite some noisy ‘C’mon kids we need to have an early night cos I’ve got lots of driving to do tomorrow’ camp neighbours kicking on late into the night, we all got a good night sleep and woke to the melodic tunes of neighbouring roosters harmonising with the local kookaburras (at 5am!).

It was a sunny 22 degrees in Burnie so we walked from the caravan park across the road to the beach for some lunch and afternoon in the sun (after a morning hitting the shops for some essential – and not so essential – items, including an inflatable mermaid tail).

The water seemed freezing to me but Miss 9 and Master 17 were happy splashing around while I got on with the job of blowing up the mermaid tail. I quickly grew disinterested in using my yoga breath for inflation purposes so Master 17 volunteered to walk back to the van to blow it up with the air compressor while Miss 9 and I played in the sand.

We soon heard Master 17 returning (from the distinct tooting of passing cars) before seeing him emerge from the Bass Hwy draped in a giant teal coloured inflatable mermaid tail. The kids were quickly in the water leaving me with the novel I’d planned on finishing on the sail over from Melbourne. The kids eventually retreated to the sand where they got stuck into their favourite beach pastime of burying Master 17 in the sand and digging holes, building moats and sand castles and eventually burying Miss 9 all the way up to her neck (my little girl is growing up?!). After hours at the beach, we all had a little bit too much sun (I could never imagine going to a beach in Melbourne if the weather was only 22 degrees – being closer to the hole in the ozone sure makes for some different heat).

We headed to the foreshore for some food and New Year’s Eve festivities. Miss 9 carefully chose her face painter based solely on their ability to paint an animal face and left happy with her new tiger looks. The two thrill seekers then boarded the Lethal Weapon ride on full stomachs before we headed to the beach.

On the beach was a giant bonfire with some mega logs giving off great flames and heat – enough to be the envy of any campfire loving traveller!

Young circus performers played with fire as they juggled, swung hoola hoops and jumped skipping ropes to the beat of a live drum performance. Soon after a spectacular fireworks display went off while we stood on the beach watching.

Despite the great weather, music, bonfire, some wild glowing hair and front row seats among a growing crowd, team kickarse were anything but, and retreated back to camp around 11pm to see in the rest of the New Year from the camper.

Heads eventually drifted off at midnight to the sounds of the pops and bursts from the final fireworks display. And so 2019 and the next chapter in our adventures begin…

Sail away

After a massive year in 2018 (including parenting largely on my own with the patience and help of Master 17 and Miss 9) I was exhausted and feeling a lot older than I actually recall being!

I decided to chop all of my hair off and soon realised that I was my mum! My mum is an incredibly resilient and youthful woman but it was a shock to see her reflection in the mirror – especially since we’re so vastly different in so many other ways. I really want my own identity – seperate to my mum and to my role as mum (though that is a role I cherish and find incredibly important, rewarding and challenging).

I’ve been looking forward to the end of the year and the start of four weeks leave to get on the road and into nature again with the kids to discover a bit of Tasmania and rediscover myself and my family.

After a fairly solid day of packing and getting the final preparations underway, we were up at 5.30am (at least I was) to head off to Port Melbourne to board the Spirit of Tasmania for a day of sailing. We woke to some fairly dismal weather after a preceding week of heatwave but grabbed some hot drinks on the way and boarded the ship by 8am. I had booked us some recliners for the trip so that the kids could chill and rest if they needed so after dropping some stuff at our chairs, we went for a walk.

The ship has a cinema so I booked us three of the final six tickets to see ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at 4pm and was looking forward to seeing with my Queen loving kids.

After a brief walk around the boat, we headed to our chairs to settle and I decided to take a natural ginger travacalm tablet (just in case) and settle back for a quick nap before getting stuck into my novel, taking Miss 9 to get her face painted, walking the deck, enjoying lunch in the cafe and then our movie.

I dozed for about an hour before receiving a surprise phone call (the teens seated next to us were providing running commentary throughout the trip on the availability of the 4G network!) and then grabbed some snacks to keep us going until lunchtime (it seems in my packing regime and attempts to empty the food in the fridge at home before we left, I neglected to pack any snacks for our sail!).

And that’s about where my plans took a sharp detour. I quickly went from feeling old and tired and ready for a relaxing read, to feeling 21 and hungover as hell! Reclining at the tail end (boat lingo is clearly not my thing) of the boat sailing the Bass Strait was a queezy ride indeed! Our daytime cruise consisted of me dozing between regular ginger tablets and deep yoga breathing (a handy skill learned while pregnant 18 years ago and etched in memory), I tried to join the kids for lunch and the movie but couldn’t manage it and Master 17 ended up watching the movie solo while Miss 9 kept me company until we reached Davenport.

Down on the car deck, Miss 9 was most pleased that all of the dogs were being reunited with their owners (she’d burst into tears when we parked and could hear some of them barking all alone). We were off the ship fairly quickly and on our way to Burnie to make camp for a few days.

Thank goodness for daylight savings – we arrived at camp at 8pm and quickly set up before heading into town to grab some food to rustle up dinner, Turns out 8.30pm on a Sunday isn’t ideal for food service so we ended up at a drive through before heading back to camp for a good nights sleep in the trusty Dove and the first night of our next instalment of 2 kids a camper and a kick arse mum adventures.