Post 13.. Tasmania part 2!

Pretty early start to beat the heat and catch the wildlife at Narawntapu National Park. Travel tip.. A multi pass for all the parks in Tasmania is $60 for a vehicle and all passengers for 8 weeks! A huge saving on individual tickets. The parks we visited are really well signposted with top quality board walks even in hostile conditions, so we were happy to pay our way. This park used to have a large wombat population, but they have been almost eradicated here due to a type of mange. The good news is that researchers think they have found a solution, so hopefully the wombats will return. We did a long walk and were rewarded with a dozen new birds for our list, Pademelons, wallabies, and close ups with huge Forresters Kangaroos hopping right by! They are huge!

Then we had our first hiccough of the holiday! The engine warning light came on in the hire car and we spent the afternoon being towed to Launceston to be given a replacement car! Every cloud has a silver lining. We got a bigger better car, and had the loveliest tow truck driver ever, who took us on the ‘scenic ‘ route so we didnt miss anything, and gave us loads of great information about local culture and lifestyles!

In the evening we went to Devonport and had a super meal in restaurant Camille!

(We really are in Australia.. you could be forgiven for thinking we are still in SW England with all these place names. The district we are in is Dorset, and we are near Weymouth and Bridport!)

Next day we decided to head west along the North coast to Stanley, a town settled very early on by a land company, and which has a calm, friendly air of yesteryear. Gorgeous early colonial buildings.

We loved it. The highlight is a huge volcanic lump called the Nut.

A very wavy chairlift went to the top… No Thank you! So we walked up the steepest footpaths we have ever seen! A lovely bush walk circuit at the top gave great views and lots of wildlife.

Back in the town we followed the interesting heritage trail, and visited the home of Australia’s first, and much loved Australian prime Minister, Joe Lyons. His wife Enid was a real character, and became an MP herself in 1943. She was an ardent supporter of women’s rights and equality generally, and a lot of her ideas would resonate today.

They also sell the best icecream EVER!

From here, we drove back westwards, stopping at Rocky Cape National Park, with aboriginal caves and great views.

Lastly, an evening riverside walk in Fernglade reserve, where there was an outside chance we might see the elusive platypus. Not today.

Our Air bnb was awesome. A little cabin in the dunes with a path to the beach.

The stars were incredible from here – we could see the Milky Way so clearly in the absence of light pollution. Our host had left bacon and eggs from her ‘chooks’, so we had a great breakfast!

Our final full day. We needed to drive 250 miles, plus we had 2 stops to make. Firstly at the Bonorong Wildlife sanctuary which takes in injured and orphaned native species for medical care and rehabilitation, with the ultimate aim to return them to the wild. To raise money you can book a 10 minute experience with certain creatures. We chose a wombat and a Tawny Frogmouth. It was just the two of us! The tawny frogmouth is a fascinating bird which is nocturnal, and during the day mimics a gum tree branch while it sleeps. We were able to hand feed 2 visually impaired birds who had been in car accidents!

Then, the highlight of the trip for me! 10 minutes with Maria.. a wombat who was orphaned. You cannot pick her up but if she comes to you that’s fine. We were able to feed her. Suddenly she was climbing on my lap. A beautiful glimpse of a lovely animal. Even Chris was smitten!

Did I say lovely? They can run at 40 kilometres per hour. At the base of their spine they have a hard cartilaginous plate. If a predator is chasing them, they run into their burrow and stop, bottom face out. The predator lunges into the burrow and the wombat sharply lifts up her bum and crushes the predators head on the roof of the burrow! How is that for evolution!!

A key role of the sanctuary is helping to save the Tasmanian Devil population, and we got to see some orphans being fed. Ferocious!

Roland the echidna was cute.. he had a foot amputated after a car accident, so lives here now.

A great way to see the native species in an ethical and informative way.

Then back to Hobart for one of life’s coincidences!

When Chris was at Uni in the 1970’s he met Shona, a flatmate of Carols. Shona married Gary and they came to live in Brisbane. They have kept in touch (we stayed with them last time we were in Oz!)

Shona saw my facebook posts and messaged me. She and Gary are on holiday in Tasmania! We managed to make our paths cross for a few ours in Hobart.. and headed for the pub! Great to catch up… so far from both of our homes!

We then headed south to the Huon River valley, south of Hobart for our final night. Oh my… so beautiful. So glad we came to see it.

Our last Air bnb was a room in Amanda’s beautiful house with a 180 degree deck and stunning views across the bay. We want to stay longer!!

Our final morning was spent walking from the house, along the beach, with rockpools and great rock formations.

Then, off to the airport, stopping on route at a community run wooden boat building school, which was fascinating, and apparently thriving.

Very sad to leave Tassie. Exceptionally friendly and beautiful place.

Now off to Sydney!

Post 12 Tasmania – a land of contrasts!

After a short flight from Melbourne across the notoriously choppy Bass Straight, hire car is collected and we’re off! Tasmania is 226 miles long and 198 wide – about half the area of England, but with a population of just 520,000, so even the capital Hobart is small and uncrowded.

There is stunning coastal scenery, beautiful rugged mountain scenery, huge forests, bushland, farming areas and tiny villages and towns. Much of it reminded us more of driving through rural England than being in Australia… until this hops by!!!

Our first day was spent on the lovely Tasman Peninsula, exploring beautiful coves and fascinating geology.. the tesselated pavement at Eaglehawk neck was my favourite. Millions of years ago, the siltstone rock cracked along natural joints, creating the shapes we see today. Subsequently, the action of sand, water and salt has eroded them… but differently. Those furthest from the sea are left for hours with salt water drying on the surface, so the flat part has eroded more than the edges, creating pans. Nearer the sea they are underwater longer, so the joints have eroded more, leaving domed ‘loaves’!

Short walks along the cliffs took us to an array of natural features – the blow hole, Tasman arch, Devils Kitchen – a collapsed arch, and the Remarkable cave.

The Tasman peninsula is beautiful and sad in equal measure, as it was the location of the infamous Port Arthur penal colony, the first to be established.

The peninsula is linked to the mainland at Eagle Hawk neck, a narrow, 30 metre strip, so this was the site of the feared dog line. No convict would escape by land.

On a warm sunny day, the honeyed sandstone ruins of the penal colony made it harder to imagine the awful conditions and punishments here.

It started well, aiming to give prisoners trades for their future lives, but eventually sank into a harsh, punitive regime, using solitary isolation as a misguided method of reform. The worlds first boys colony was here too, on a separate island.

Onto our great air bnb in the riverside Hobart suburb of Bellerive. Day 2 dawned bright so er drove to the top of Mount Wellington. Astounding views and a nice walk to view the dolerite columns that make up much of the top.

After a great lunch at fish restaurant Blue fin… (delicious oysters!)

, we explored Hobart, including the quay, Mawson’s Hut – a replica Antarctic explorer hut, and the lovely botanic gardens. It’s summer here!!

Then back to BnB, carefully selected as just 3 minutes walk from the Hobart Cricket ground.. and we had tickets for England vs Australia T20 game. I had no idea where seats were.. turned out they were right next to Australian players tunnel! Luckily, they were a fairly kind crowd, so we survived! Sadly, after a great start, England weren’t quite good enough, and we ended up cheering with the Aussies when Maxwell won the match for them, getting his century with a 6 on the final shot of the match. Lucky really, because our BnB host might have locked us out if England had won!

The next 6 days are spent touring the island. We stayed in 5 Air BnBs ranging from a modern luxury annexe to a mobile home cabin by the beach! All were great, and about 60% of the price of a hotel, with far more amenities.

Here is a summary of our tour!

Up the east coast visiting Buckland church with 14th century stained glass windows from Battle Abbey, brought over by ship in the mid 1800’s. Then magnificent Freycinet National park whete we hiked up a very big hill for a view of beautiful wineglass bay.

Favourite walk was to Sleepy Bay. Great pink granite rocks, and paddling in the chilly southern Ocean.

On to Bichenu. Great blowhole, and cute nightime fairy penguin watching.

This meant a night time drive up a twisty pass to our accommodation – dodging wallabies and possums on the road.

Next day, off to Cradle mountain National park. Lovely long hike around Dove Lake at the foot of Cradle Mountain. Saw echidna and snakes!

Staying at pretty Port Sorrell on N coast, we stumbled upon Moroccan night at George and Dave’s cafe. Walking back at dusk with Wallabys on the pavement, and a possum jumped down from a tree making us really jump! Slept with door open as it was so hot. The sounds of the wildlife were amazing, including possums raiding dustbins!

Part 2 to follow!

Post 11 The land Down Under… Melbourne area.

We made it to Australia… yippee! Anne’s second favourite place in the world… after Tresco! (At the airport in Singapore there were hundreds of people of all ages wearing these scarves. They looked like unlikely football fans! I asked them.. and they said they were all muslims on pilgrimage to Medina and Mecca!

Having never spent time in the Melbourne area, we wanted to put that right… and allocated 3 days! We hit the ground running, collecting our hire car and heading east to visit the Dandenong range and Yarra Valley. Beautiful scenery… wooded hills, vineyards and farms. Our first stop was the wonderful William Ricketts Sanctuary. He was a sculptor who had great affiliation and respect for both the indigenous population of Australia, and nature. He wove the two together with incredible wood carvings, which are set in the natural landscape around his home. A real place of contemplation.

We then drove to a town called Warburton.. my maiden name! A laid back, lovely place with it’s origins in the gold rush times, it has a pretty river and some amazing mosaic steps, created by the townspeople themselves, and containing the beautiful hidden message:

‘ Flow through life with gratitude, ease and grace, allowing beauty to nurture, inspire and embrace your soul.’ Your thought for the day!

A drive high into the hills above the town took us to a walk high in the natural tree canopy to admire huge ancient Eucalyptus trees, tree ferns and waterfalls. Gorgeous.

Then a 2 hour drive to Philip island to our beach cottage Air BnB.

Fabulous spot by Woolami peninsula so at sunset we were on the beach watching one of nature’s great spectacles.. although one that is hard to photograph as it is dark! This is home to the world’s largest colony of short tailed shearwater..or mutton birds. Over 1 million migrate here from Alaska(!) to breed each summer. After sunset, out to sea, the sky is filled in every direction with whirling, diving birds.. all waiting. As darkness begins to fall they start their dash for the beach .. zooming in to find their burrows in the dunes. Too dark to see, you are just aware of their presence as they whizz overhead guided by the call of their single chick. Fantastic.

Next day we explored Philip Island. We visited 5 different locations on a birding map I had found. Each one very different habitat. Estuary, mangrove swamp, coast, Freshwater Lake and Bushwalk! We did a walk at each one. Saw virtually no-one but did see an amazing variety of birds and wildlife within a few metres. The echidna was a great spot!

This is what travelling is all about for me.. experiencing things that are different!

Philip Island is famous for it’s Penguin Parade which is undoubtedly a spectacle but has been turned into a huge commercial operation that caters for 2000 visitors a night! We avoided that and walked the boardwalks at the Noddies… and saw….

A great day on a beautiful island.

An early morning dash to return the hire car, then a day in Melbourne city – a young and vibrant place with a big arts scene. The Old gaol was a fascinating insight into the history, and punishment systems of Old Melbourne.

Ned Kelly, their most famous outlaw turned cult hero, was hung here in 1880. His alleged last words ‘Such is Life’ have become a much used phrase here in Australia.

I, sadly, will now be forced to continue this trip alone.

We then took a great walking tour which introduced us to the historical sights in the city as well as the street art and ‘lanes’ culture. Some gorgeous shopping arcades dating from Boom time in the gold rush. Then a great view of the city from across the Yarra River.

A super dinner in a modern chinese fusion restaurant ended our stay here.

Tomorrow Tasmania!!

Post 9 Kerala – ‘God’s Own Country’ in South India!

We landed at 10pm, were met by a representative and our new driver. As we drove to our hotel in Cochin they explained that Kerala is very different from Delhi. Less crowded, cleaner, and a 95% literacy rate compared to 65% in Delhi. Interestingly, it has been governed by a communist local government for years. However, they do have a lot of strikes, and one was scheduled for the next day affecting all tourist transport, protesting against a hike in fuel costs. Petrol is 69p per litre! We may not be able to leave!

Next morning our walking tour of Cochin is delayed to 11.00. A charming local guide, Peter James showed us the huge Chinese fishing nets, working on a cantilever system. Fresh fish abounds and is a key part of Keralan cooking.

He explained that Cochin was a key port on the Spice trading routes, first settled by Chinese, then Portuguese, then Dutch, then British. The Portuguese brought Catholicism, the Dutch were Protestant, and the British Anglican. In the state of Kerala they are 25% Christian, 25% Muslim, 40% Hindi 5% Buddhist, 5% the rest. It is a state where they live pretty harmoniously, and where women’s rights and respect are taken much more seriously than in other parts of India.

So on our tour we saw the oldest Christian church in India, plus the oldest synagogue in India!

Cochin is also where the 2nd BBC Marigold Hotel Documentary was made. One shop is taking full advantage!

The Cochin palace museum contained some amazingly rich painting from the 16th Century. We couldn’t photograph the best bits!

A lot of men here wear a skirt like garment called a Mundu. It can be pulled up short, dropped long, or flapped to aerate the nether regions!

Cochin is a charming, delightful place, and indeed a big contrast to the chaos of Delhi. But then we were given permission to leave for our 4 hour drive up into the mountains! Twisty and turny but remakably quiet due to the strike! We reached tea country and the Thekkady hills. Our best hotel of the trip so far, the Cardomom County, awaited. Amazing buffets … we tried so many delicious new Indian dishes.

Next day, a bird/animal safari in the Perygar reserve. The posters all show tigers… but chances are almost zero. And so they proved. (We were secretly a bit relieved…the tour was a combination of a tiny, completely open jeep, plus a brilliant guided walk! Neither ideal for meeting a tiger! We did see loads of new birds, monkeys galore leaping through the trees, and my favourite… Mongoose. Plus these gorgeous flowers frequented by humming birds and sunbirds.

Then, back in town a superb demonstration of Keralan martial arts – Kalaripayattu. Look closely at the fire picture.

Another great dinner buffet.. then next day a fascinating tour of a farm for Kerala’s king products…Spices. Did you know that peppercorn plants have no flowers… they have reproductive leaves which need to be washed by rain. Then back to the coast for a lovely 24 hour trip on a houseboat through the Alleppy backwaters. Chris has found a good way to get a cheap haircut!

We didn’t realise we had a whole houseboat.. with driver and house boy… just for us! He was a great cook…. included in the price was lunch…. afternoon tea with hot banana fritters! Dinner… and a huge breakfast! We feel guilty eating it, but it offends the cook if you leave it!

We travelled 40 kms through the backwaters seeing massive of birdlife and a way of life that has gone on for centuries. We tied up for the night by a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. Many houses like this one have no road access at all. No running water. The river is used for everything! We even saw people cleaning chicken and vegetables prior to cooking. Teeth cleaning, washing of self, clothes and dishes.

The small boats were for fishermen, and also they dived to the bottom and collected the mud for making pottery.

(Paul, Pam, Sue,Alan – I even chilled very happily! I reckon I could do a canal boat ….. for a weekend… with lots to look at…. and some nice stops!)

Finally, our last day in India was at the Marari Sands hotel at an unspoilt beach facing west across the Indian Ocean to Africa!

More great food… who were all those people who said we would lose weight in India… we have put it on!

We were anxious about coming to India.. health, security, poverty. We are so glad we came. We loved everything about it.

India is an amazing, vibrant, colourful place. It has its problems, but there is great optimism.

We would come back in an instant.

Tomorrow a new adventure beckons. 😀 xxx

Post 8 The pinnacle of our trip to the Golden Triangle.

Next day a 4 hour drive to Agra, punctuated by a stop at Fatehpur Sikri, a vast sandstone city and palace, built in 1571 by the Mughal Emporer Akbar. It was abandoned just 15 years later when the capital moved back to Agra. All of the exotic jewelled wall coverings were stripped away but the architecture is still remarkable, as were the insights into a way of life thankfully not practised any more… don’t get any ideas boys!Read on for more information!!!

This was the ministerial meeting house, and the pillars were carved from single blocks of Sandstone, with marble galleried bridges to each corner. Emporer Akbar had several wives… and 500 concubines!! They each had an apartment in this palace! See the rooms all around the courtyard.

Each of his wives had their own palace, and could reach the Kings bedchamber via a seperate route! He had what can only be described as an Emporer sized bed… try buying sheets for this!!

He then had a Dream Palace in a seperate building where he would meet with today’s favourite concubine! The downside was.. he had to buy them all lavish presents and jewels!

We then headed to Agra and the main event… the Taj Mahal. So much hype… so many opinions.. would it be an anticlimax? No Way! This should be on anyone’s must see list if you like to travel. It marks the end of a love story! The Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan saw a beautiful girl shopping in the Agra Palace bazaar. She was arguing with a shopkeeper and looked very beautiful. She was the prime ministers daughter! He went to the shop and asked which item the girl had wanted. The crafty shopkeeper said…” many things!”. So the Emporer bought the whole shop and presented it to the girl. After a 2 year courtship they married. He adored her. In 1632 , while giving birth to their 14th child, she died in his arms. Her last wishes were that he build her a mausoleum so he would never forget her, look after their children and never marry again. He kept all 3 promises. He commissioned the mausoleum in 1632. 20,000 workers and craftsmen built it of the finest white marble. At today’s prices.. £650 million! All of the craftsmen were paid an annuity to swear never to work on another building again! It is set on ebony posts in water. Firstly because ebony becomes stronger in water, and secondly because the wood would absorb shock from earthquakes. Similarly they built the minarets leaning slightly outwards so that in the event of a quake they would fall away from the mausoleum. Pretty amazing planning for 1632! Words truly cannot describe it. All I will say is that it exceeded all our expectations, was much bigger than I expected… (look at the tiny dots of people on the far away photos.. they give you an idea of scale), and gleamed in the sunlight. The inlay work is black onyx, lapis lazuli, Topaz and Cornelian. Even in the crowds… (7 million visitors a year! ), you could find a space and feel the magic of this place.

Breathtaking.

Then out for dinner with our guide to an Indian indoor BBQ restaurant.

It was awesome food!

Our hotel was a bit posh… with bathrooms a bit too modern for us! The blind came down a bit sharpish! Our last day in North India started with a visit to the vast Agra fort, built by Mughal Emporer Akbar in 1565, and continued by his son Shah Jahan, who built the Taj. Akbar..of the 3 wives and 500 concubines.. had rooms built here for them all. Some pictures below show the beautiful carving and inlay work. The ramp was so they could roll giant stones down on their attackers.. Indiana Jones style! This was the christening present of one of the princes. It is a huge stone bathtub, with steps in and out, and was presented filled with silver and treasures! A nice practical gift! Then, the drive back to Delhi, through thunderstorms and massive traffic jams due to rehearsals for Republic Day parades on Friday. Then our lovely driver insisted on taking us to lunch at his house. It would put us all to shame. He, his wife and 4 children (aged 11 – 20) were all charming. They cooked chicken biryani for us. Their son had cycled 4 miles to get the chicken! They got out the best tablecloth for us. In comparison with our lifestyles it was a very humble, small dwelling. A moving experience. The bed with their nephew! Lastly to the airport for a late flight south to Cochin in Kerala. 2 Veg curries on the plane..yummy! Met by our new driver who says there is a strike tomorrow!Hot and humid here. Up went the mosquito dome and we slept like logs. New adventures start tomorrow!

Post 7 Just when we thought it couldn’t get better….. Jaipur!

Jaipur is another ancient city. It is where the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is set, and the first BBC spin off series. Local people were very positive about the impact these have had on people’s interest and enthusiasm for India.

Off to the Amer fort at Jaipur. Built after 1592, high on a hill, it is surrounded by 12km of walls which undulate along the tops of the surrounding hills. Were the walls built to keep out attacking armies? No! Tigers and panthers we were told!

This is the huge, many stepped well, built over 400 years ago. The villagers could all get water at once, whatever the water level.

The fort is huge, with 4 huge courtyards, each with a different role. Each was more beautiful than it’s predecessor. The painted decoration was exquisite. A lime mix containing gum arabic was plastered on the walls. The colours were created by crushing semi precious stones like lapis lazuli, cornelian etc. These were painted onto the wet plaster which ‘fixed’ them.

The private chambers were breathtaking. Photos cannot do them justice. They were set with hundreds of pieces of shaped convex mirror glass brought from Belgium.

This is where the Maharajah’s wives would wait, and sprinkle rose petals down on him as he passed through the gate underneath, to welcome him home! Don’t get ideas Chris…although apparently, the nicer the petals, the better the presents!

Then we drove into Jaipur to visit the city Palace. Traffic jam!

The amazing ‘Floating’ gardens at the palace.

In Jaipur we first visited the astronomical museum. It was NOT what we were expecting. A vast outdoor space where, in the 16th century, the Maharajah brought together all the current astronomical and astrological knowledge and built huge instruments for measuring time, position of planets and constellations etc. They are magnificent. And accurate. The huge sundial is accurate to 2 seconds!

Then to the City Palace. More beautiful architecture from 17th century, plus a gallery of miniature art. Incredibly detailed paintings, created using a single hair on a tiny paintbrush.

A remarkable exhibit was a pair of solid silver flasks for carrying water. Read the notes… especially the weight! And then where they travelled to! He chartered an entire ship from Thomas cook for his family and 100 strong entourage!

Next, the huge palace of the Winds…which isn’t a palace at all. Simply a beautiful facade with corridors running behind the sculpted, vented windows. All of the Maharajah’s wives and other ladies would stand here, hidden, to watch parades pass by.

Finally, a walk around the markets, and a few photos that caught my eye during the day. We were shattered but elated by the end. What a place!

Heading to a christening!

Turban seller!

Family transport!

Post 5 Last days in Sri Lanka…chilling!

Our last few days in Sri Lanka were spent in 2 contrasting places. We treated ourselves to one night of relaxation at the Turtle Bay Hotel at Kalametiya. Situated on an unspoilt beach, it was very peaceful, topped off by a delicious dinner by candlelight around a twinkling pool! Of course, we can’t sit still for too long, so at dawn we were taken for a punt on a small local boat around the bird reserve. It was stunning. So peaceful. Just us, a multitude of birds, water buffalo and some monkeys!

Then it was off to Galle. A delightful town inside 17th century dutch fortifications. Our hotel, Fort Bliss, was a charming 4 room old colonial house inside the walls. We did the 3km walk around the ramparts with Tissa explaining the Portuguese/Dutch/British history. We were also retracing the steps of Chris’ father, who visited here on his way to his posting on the Cocos Islands in WW2. It is still partly used as a military base, and at 6.30 am a large group of army guys came running past, shouting motivational slogans, Platoon style.

The town is charming, with museums, historic buildings and cafes. We had an excellent meal at Chambers – a Lebanese / Asian fusion of delicious mezze for about £10 pp.

It looked so delicious we ate half of it before we remembered the photo!

4 poster bed Sri Lankan style!

We were intrigued to see Morris minor cars dotted around, in apparently jolly good condition. Turns out the Morris minor repair shop is down the road, making spare parts for them… and sending them to the UK too!

Then to the airport. A sad farewell to Tissa – he has been amazing. We can tell he disapproves of us going to India! He is a Sri Lankan Buddist, so the Indians have always been the Invaders!

We won’t say anything. He is kindly looking after a suitcase for us while we are in India so we can ‘travel light’. We come back to Colombo for a night before Australia… and it turns out that in a complete coincidence, we have booked an air bnb with a good friend of his!

We absolutely loved Sri Lanka, and I really hope we can return.

A few other things we loved… the children in their school uniforms, Post boxes from the British era, and the FOOD!

Breakfast!

Lunch

Dinner