Meet Astrid

Meet Astrid, our ’98 Chevy Astro Van.  She’s a little beauty.  Alan is a wee bit in love with her.  After we got her we spent a couple of days in Jon & Tam’s driveway in Palo Alto, tricking her out with some storage and a sleeping platform (including our first ikea hack).

We scoured Craigslist for weeks looking for just the right car to go roadtripping in.  I was dreaming of a wood-panel sided station wagon a-la Brady Bunch, but they just weren’t big enough (or reliable enough).  Or a VW Vanagon, but they were a bit pricey.  Or a Subaru Forester, but they seemed too same-same as home.  Or a big campervan, but they have V8 engines and would eat gas.  We’d never heard of a Chevy Astro until we saw one drive by.

When it came down to it we spent three days looking at Astros until we found Astrid.  I mostly picked her because I liked the 4’10” Mexican lady with four kids who’d bought her as her first car when she moved here and driven her for nine years (nearly all the Astros on Craigslist were being sold by Mexicans).  Alan mostly picked her because she looks a bit mean.  And of course she was purdy and had many bells and whistles and (almost) all her parts.

Astrid ticks all the boxes…

American – for authenticity, as in ‘drove my Chevy to the levy’.

Big, but not too big – V6 to get us over the high mountain passes, but not too much of a gas-guzzler.  (Turns out we’re getting almost 20 miles to the gallon, and she’s actually shorter than a people mover although at 7’2” we have to watch it when we park her under cover).

Can sleep inside – very important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the ability to stealth camp when necessary/practical.  She’ll come in handy when we sleep in a Walmart carpark (it’s a thing here and I have a hankering to try it) and in order to bush camp on Bureau of Land Management lands, as well as #vanlife ‘overnight parking’ which is allowed in some states.  Also, many RV parks don’t have tent sites, and we’re finding that those that do can sell out fast.  Astrid lets us camp on a concrete slab if we need to.

Comes with TV and VHS.  I didn’t even realise this was on the list, but it really tickles Alan’s fancy, and I think is the thing he loves most about her.  Even though the TV doesn’t work because it’s too old to get digital reception, and we have no videos to play in it.  In fact, Jon was most enthusiastic about taking out the TV and mounting an iPad in it’s place, but that is a step too far for Alan.  I reckon we’ll get to journey’s end without having used the TV at all!

One might think that the first thing to do after buying a car is to register it?  Maybe service it?  But no!  The first thing to do is kit out the inside for sleeping and camping!  Luckily Jon & Tam’s driveway is wide and vacant.  We spent a day building a platform in the back, pulling out one row of seats and some seatbelts, hacking a support for it from Ikea furniture and rigging a removable sleeping platform.  Lucky we had a lot of practice before we left home, and lucky Home Depot cut wood to size – although there was still a lot of hand sawing to be done.

With this important work completed we turned to bureaucracy.  One of the difficulties with buying a car can be registering it (for which a social security number and an address is needed, tick) and insuring it (many insurance companies won’t insure you on a foreign license).  If I’m moving here for good and should therefore act like I mean it, and since you can only drive legally on a foreign license for up to 3 months, it seemed prudent to get myself a Californian drivers license.

There were three challenges to this.
1. When you come to the USA, any electronic history that could do you any favours ceases to exist.  I’m sure that anything incriminating follows you around, but as far as credit ratings and driver licenses – zap!  It’s like you just turned 18 again.  So, despite having driven for the past 26 years, I found myself having to sit a written road rules test and also doing a behind-the-wheel test.
2. Getting an appointment can be half the battle.  The San Francisco office had waits of 6 weeks, and the Palo Alto office had waits of 3 weeks.  So it became a game of where-are-the-small-town-DMV-offices-that-are-remotely-near-where-we-might-want-to-be?  After a couple of false starts, I ended up with one appointment in San Jose where we registered her and I sat the written test, and then a second (bookable only after you have passed said written test) two days later in a town we had never heard of, called Visalia (chosen purely because it was en route to Bakersfield and had a timeslot).  We ended up seeing more of Visalia than we hoped, but more on that later.
3. One must bring a car that is roadworthy.  Awesome as Astrid is, she is not technically roadworthy due to her very attractive windscreen chip and also a busted side mirror (since fixed).  So we hired another Yaris to do the dirty work.

I want to say that I passed both tests with flying colours.  But I just scraped through the written test due to not studying the section on fines combined with my general confusedness around line markings (yellow, white, dotted, double, eek!)  I did ace the behind-the-wheel test though.  I managed to stop at all the right lines and only lost marks for things that are habits learnt of driving on the left (like checking over my left shoulder too much and my right not enough) and for driving too slow because the speed limit signs blend in to the roadside too much (hello? heard of red paint here?).

Something we discovered is that despite Americans being proud of how well their cars are looked after, generally speaking, this seems to mean they’re washed often, and the oil is changed.  But anything more – forget about it.  Astrid had a very impressive sheaf of papers for her service history – but turns out nothing but oil had been done for 9 years.  We were worried that we were losing coolant, an important consideration when about to drive across desert in 104 degrees, so whilst we were in Visalia and had a hire car for the day we decided to get her checked out.  Turns out the cooling system was cactus.  Leaking gaskets, faulty water pump, busted thermostat, dodgy radiator, the works.  The good news was that everything else was OK.  So we ended up getting a whole cooling system overhaul, spending half again what we paid for her and having three days with the Yaris (luckily Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs were close by) before finally getting her on the road.

And now we’ve roadtripped her through to Moab and we’re snug as a bug inside her while it rains outside.  It’s just a like a lounge room, red wine and all.  She’s running great.  65 miles seems to be her top speed, after that she gets a good shudder going and rocks around quite a lot.  The engine will handle it, but the suspension won’t!  But it’s a fine top speed for us, although it does mean we’re often doing 15 miles less than the rest of the traffic, and also the google maps arrival time estimates never pan out.  She does need a new tire/tyre so we might get an alignment too and see if that helps her out.  A superb side effect of having the engine pulled apart was that the drivers’ side air conditioning, previously cactus, is now working.  Thank goodness, I was dreading the desert without air con.  If only the TV worked…

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Yosemite

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Dirt under my fingernails.  This is the worst thing about not showering for almost a week.  Although, for a week of camping, hiking and swimming in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, I guess it’s worth it!  But let me start over…

Arriving into San Francisco was humbling.  Flying over the suburbs of a new city I’m always struck by how ‘same’ the world is.  Why do I leave Melbourne to come to another big city, filled with more people, all working to pay for their material things?  All these people on the other side of the world, just doing the same thing as the people at home.  I’m reminded that what I am trying to escape, to find, when I travel is myself.  And I’m still with me!

The generosity of friends meant that we had use of an apartment in the Lower Haight – very central, and very cool (thanks J and V).  And thank goodness.  Jetlag and the culture shock of not knowing how anything works always zonks me for about a week.  It was so lovely not to add to that the pressure of expensive accommodation and no internet to our days (I am resigned to the fact that internet is pretty damn important to my way of life now).

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In San Fran we took it pretty easy – hanging out in local cafes (I may be the only Melbournian who actually likes American coffee), lots of walking through the new-and-yet-strangely-familiar streets, catching the Muni up and down (didn’t manage to catch the tram from Melbourne, although we rode on ones from Milan, Lisbon, Philadelphia), realising how big the city is even though it looks kinda small on the map, visiting the Castro (to see the rainbow-coloured crosswalks), Haight-Ashbury’s hippie shops and street festival, Alamo Square (disappointing as the houses weren’t nearly as colourful as in pictures [link to Jannie’s pic]), cycling through the parks and over the Golden Gate Bridge (windy).   The Presidio park is home to a number of Andy Goldsworthy’s sculptures and I was pretty happy to see these in real life.

Traveller, or immigrant?  I feel torn between being a tourist, and the thought that, actually, we might stay here.  I can stay here. How will that work out?  I’m finding it difficult to play both roles.  As well as playing the tourist we have begun to navigate the bureaucracy of living here – bank accounts, a credit record, drivers license, car purchase and registration.  I am not sure whether the bureaucracy here is worse than at home, or whether it’s just that I don’t understand it.  Either way, it is driving me mad.

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Despite being told to keep my social security card safe at home, that I would only be required to quote the number (both the USCIS and Janet told me this), the bank wanted to see it in order to open a resident’s account.  Not because they need to see it, but because it’s so new, and has not much activity.  And the DMV want to see it in order that I get my California driver’s license.  Since my card was stored so safely (!) at J&V’s place that I could not find it, I opened a non-resident alien bank account for now but the delights of sitting my drivers’ license written test, and taking an actual driving test on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD still await.  The good news is that I did find a company who will insure our yet-to-be-purchased car without me having a local license.  Yippee!  Alan is giving Craigslist a workout as I type.  I am dreaming of this.

The June gloom meant that the days were cool and foggy, not quite the summer we had been expecting.  That changed pretty soon though.  We hired a car (like this) for 10 days and headed out of San Francisco and straight to the hills.  The big, beautiful, granite ‘hills’ of Yosemite National Park.  It was sunny and warm and perfect.  And the hills were 9000 feet high with snow on them.  And it was still sunny and warm and perfect.

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20150620111725Being summer, it was ridiculously busy.  The campsite reservations book out months in advance, as do a lot of the backcountry walk permits and the gold Wonka tickets themselves – permits to climb Half Dome (only 300 of these are available per day and they go fast).  But, there is a quota reserved for ‘walk ups’, on a first-come first-served basis.  Get into camp before lunchtime and you should be able to score a site, queue for 2 hours the day before your hike and you might be able to score a backcountry permit.  This caused us great angst on our trip in – would we or wouldn’t we have somewhere to sleep, were we prepared to queue despite our anathaema about queuing for anything, what was our back up plan?  In spite, or perhaps because, of our worrying we easily got a campsite – we’re not quite in peak season yet.  And, when we went to the Wilderness Office about 4pm we discovered that there were still permits available for our chosen hike starting the next day (no queuing necessary), and, something I hadn’t even entertained, we could add on a permit to climb half dome.  Plus we were entitled to cheap camping the night before and after our hike.  Score!

So w20150619154734e walked for three sublime days (OK, two and a half as we spent the afternoon of the first day lazing around a perfect alpine lake and being eaten by mosquitos) from Tuolomne Meadows, at a height of 8000 feet, up over Clouds Rest and Half Dome at nearly 10,000 feet, down to the valley floor at 4000 feet.  Yes, I am glad we walked down rather than up, but that descending was hell on the thigh muscles!  We were struck by the lack of snow.  At this time of year there should still be quite a lot about, but California is into it’s fourth year of drought (the news here is filled with reports of water-saving initiatives – oh so familiar) and the snowpack is scanty – the iconic Bridal Veil Falls was reduced to a slight mist of water that had almost blown away before it reached the end of it’s long drop and a stream without water meant we had to make a three hour backtrack for water – the longest water run either of us have undertaken.

20150621084935The water run was needed so that we could camp high up on the north east shoulder of half dome in order that we might get onto the cables to the summit before the crowds of day hikers arrived and the climb becomes something of a slow upwards shuffle.  Our ploy worked and after a glorious night camped on our own (!) overlooking an amazing granite-filled valley 4000 feet below us we were climbing by 8am.  The climb to the summit is quite something.  45 degrees most of the way up, the granite is slick from so many feet and despite best intentions we found ourselves hauling our weight up the cables using our arms (climbing tip 101: legs have more power and tire less easily).  Exhausting, especially in the thin mountain air.  The trip down, by contrast, was dead easy.  In Europe this would be a ‘via ferrata’ route that requires wearing a safety harness and clipping to a cable for safety, but here there is only my strength and balance preventing a long slide down the mountain.  And yet there are many less fit than I on this route.  In fact, they are also almost all younger than I, and almost all dressed in the same outfit of brightly coloured, running clothes.  It’s kinda like being in a gym.

20150622130602In other news, we saw a bear!

I have been quite concerned about bears, and to Alan’s eternal amusement most diligent with bear-proofing our food each night.  We had to carry a bear canister whilst hiking (all food goes in it and it goes 50ft away from the tent) and use food lockers in campsites.  I imagined the bear fronting up to us for food and ripping into our bags and tent (which can and does happen).  But this cub was minding it’s own business and foraging happily in the bushes near the backpacker campsite.  So cute and cuddly-looking.

My crush on Yosemite began 20 years ago – it was love at first sight when I saw an Ansel Adams picture on a friend’s wall.   It’s a little bittersweet to realise that if I had come here 10 years ago I would have been climbing the rock faces rather than hiking the trails.  There’s a sense of regret that I never made it during that stage of my life, but who knows what comes next?  I might just have to get my rack out of storage for next time!  But first, I’m off to have a shower to get that dirt out.

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Kiandra to Kosciuszko

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A wintry-looking start.  This was the only day that wasn’t blazing sunshine!


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Dead snowgums make for spectacular photographs.

 

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Troublesome creek-crossing!

 

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Early start from Bulls Peak campsite.

 

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Shadow folk.

 

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DIY stitches removal.

 

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Creek crossings down to a fine art now.


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Our goal in site.

 

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100km later, Mount Kosciuszko.

 

 

 

Whitsundays Ahoy

Unlike most trips, this one has been uncharacteristically lazy. It’s also been a little unsatisfactory – a lesson that I shall keep in mind for future trips. I am just not the lying around type.

We got off to an inauspicious start, when a fog delay on the flight out of Melbourne meant that we missed our connection through to Proserpine. Instead we were re-routed, after a lengthy stay at Brisbane airport, through to Mackay. Unfortunately my bag wasn’t re-routed with us. Like the last time I was parted from my luggage, in Africa, I found the experience strangely liberating. There isn’t much that you really need when it comes down to it. And the less you have, the less you are weighed down.

All up it took us 12 hours after leaving Melbourne, to finally arrive in Airlie Beach. This threw our schedule off a little. Instead of just picking up the boat and taking off on Sunday, we had to shop for supplies and then wait for my bag (there were some things in it that I wanted) to arrive on the afternoon flight. So we ended up spending our first night anchored just off the marina without having gone anywhere.

Better weather would have meant a less lazy trip. The days have been mostly cloudy, with a couple of sunny afternoons early on. The lack of sun means that swimming, snorkelling and kayaking activities have had less appeal than usual. And although it hasn’t been too cold, there’s been a strong 25-30 knot wind for most of the week. Being out in the wind too long drives me nuts!

Of course though, a holiday is about getting away from the general hum drum of life, and in this regard it’s been working for me. It wasn’t until I started talking to Michelle about work last night that I realised I’d not once thought about the deadlines and stresses that usually are so much a part of my days. How’s the software development coming along? Hiring? Content preparation? Who knows or cares? I’m always amazed how easy it is to switch my mind off work, if only I just get out of town.

Instead, I’ve been sleeping, reading (onto the fourth book now), lying on deck (rugged up against the wind of course) listening to music and musing on life, all interspersed with the excitement of wildlife-spotting. It’s humpback whale season up here, and we’ve been lucky to spot a few of them spouting and breaching as we’ve cruised by. We’ve also had dolphins swim alongside us a few times, green sea turtles surface regularly beside us and we spent a fantastic half hour watching a giant (at least 2m across) manta ray lazily glide up and down next to the boat.

My best wildlife day was definitely at Hill Inlet. From the lookout I spotted what I thought was a dolphin slowly making its way along the channel toward the sea, however it was a soon apparent that he was behaving in a most un-dolphin-like manner and had a suspiciously snub nose. It was a dugong! Later, as I waded in the shallows of the inlet, watching carefully so as not to step on one of the myriad sting-rays that lie around, I found myself walking alongside pretty, sand-coloured reef sharks. Awesome!

Another highlight was snorkelling and kayaking in Butterfly Bay. It was third time lucky getting to Butterfly Bay, right at the top of Hook Island. I’ve tried to come twice before – on a charter sail and also on our sea-kayaking trip – and been thwarted by weather both times. It was worth the effort though as the coral here is easily the best I’ve seen in Australia. It was here also that I spent a pleasant hour or so paddling around the rocky shores, peering into caves and exploring inlets. If I come to the Whitsundays yet again, it must be on another kayaking and camping trip.

Even without the sun, I’ve still swum at least once every day, sometimes up to four times. One of the best things about being on a yacht is the ability to get up and just jump straight into the sea. No getting dressed and heading down to the beach or the pool, just togs on and straight over the side. Of course, for me a swim is more about diving in, getting wet and splashing around, climbing out and diving straight back in again, rather than actually swimming any distance. But this morning, anchored off the divine Whitehaven Beach, I couldn’t resist the urge to swim to the shore. Not unexpectedly, it was further than it looked. But I was happy to prove that I could still manage the 300m to shore without too much effort.

Today, the last day on the yacht, is raining and cloudy and the islands look beautiful looming out of the clouds.

A day of food and wine

We were up at dawn, literally, to ride around Mt William NP. It’s only a small park but it (like lots of Tassie) has a large wildlife population. We rode the 20km loop through the park alongside mobs of Forester kangaroos and Bennetts wallabies (do wallabies live in mobs?). There was a real danger of having them hop right into us! Apparently the park is also good for spotting wombats, echidnas and even Tasmanian devils – but we only saw the hoppies.

I set a new record for earliest lunch by returning to camp starving! By 9am I’d eaten lunch! My previous earliest lunch was on the Tour d’Afrique when the lunch truck appeared at 10.30am, albeit after 70-odd km of riding. I think it’s my cold making me eat as I was famished yesterday too.

The plan for today was shaped by the fact I’m still sick – we decided a leisurely drive and winery touring was in order! Again, we were driving over almost identical terrain to our cycling trip – in fact most of today was re-tracing the day from hell, which Leonie and I still don’t talk about. Of course it was much easier in the car! And we took the opportunity to visit two places we were too exhausted to bother with sat time.

Legerwood is a tiny town (no shops) that is home to wood carvings. Many people had told us to visit these, but wood carvings don’t generally float my boat. However Guy was driving. Turns out to have been the right thing to do on an Anzac Day! Legerwood used to have an avenue of honour – about 9 or 10 trees, one planted for each man from the area who didn’t return from war. In about 2004 the trees had gotten so huge and old that they needed to be cut down before they fell down. So now, each old stump bears a chainsaw carving of the person and some depiction of his life. It’s the stories that make these trees special, not the carvings themselves.

Pretty soon I was hungry for second lunch so a stop in Scottsdale was in order. Scottsdale was another place on the day from hell that we didn’t stop at. Turns out is quite pretty. We had a tasty snack for (second) lunch and, now we were properly back in phone range, concocted a plan for the afternoon.

A quick check of the LP and we were booked in for dinner at Stillwater, a restaurant in Launceston that I’ve been keen to try for a while, we had a bed booked at cheaper than advertised rates, and a plan for wineries to visit in the afternoon.

We had a beautiful drive through the Tamar Valley to Delamere, Bay of Fires and Josef Chromy wineries. Bay of Fires was truly outstanding. But they had sold out of their (award-winning) pinot noir so it was all up to me to do the tasting and choosing. We lashed out on a couple of bottles of Arras sparkling – a wine they’re famous for and the best Australian champagne I’ve tasted – as well as some Riesling and Pinot Gris. Guy was already a fan of Josef Chromy from last trip, so it was kind of a pilgrimage for him. Another dozen bottles into the car. Josef Chromy was also the setting for third lunch. Since dinner wasn’t until 8.30 we required an afternoon snack of Tasmanian cheeses on their deck.

Somehow, we hadn’t eaten too much to order the tasting menu at Stillwater. And thank goodness. This ranks as the best meal I’ve eaten – knocking off Vue de Monde from top spot! Six tasting serves of rabbit, yellowish sashimi, carpaccio of beef, spring bay scallops, trout, venison, plus dessert. Yum!

Notable food & wine moments: Bruny Island cheeses – The Saint and 1792, Arras sparkling, Milton Pinot Gris, Moore Hill Riesling, Josef Chromy Zdar Pinot Noir, Apsley Gorge Pinot Noir. Plus the Stillwater menu of course!

Down but not out

I woke up this morning with cold. Truth be known I was awake a good portion of the night with it too. I blame a combination of cold windy day yesterday with wet feet, low immunity after recent bout of flu and Guy, just because.

First order of the day became a trip back down to St Helens to get some cold and flu meds. With that sorted I felt better, but not well enough for any more mountain bike excitement. (The other mtb delights of Weldborough will have to wait for another trip). Instead, we drove into the dramatic St Columba Falls and took the 20min walk to the base (viewing platform closed due to flood washout). Afterwards we couldn’t not stop at Pyengana Dairy for lunch since it was right there! Their Ploughmans Lunch was just what the doctor ordered.

After lunch our attempt to visit the Anchor Stampers (old tin mining stampers) was foiled by more washouts, this time of the whole track in. So we ended up just meandering our way north to Mt William NP. This is almost as far north as you can get on mainland Tasmania. We’re camped at a lovely site under she-oaks. There’s a breeze, but we have a campfire going, Guy is cooling wine in a wet sock, and we’ve got the makings of golden syrup dumplings for dessert. The only way life could be better is if I didn’t have a cold (and it was warmer, and I had 3G, and we brought chairs.) LOL, we don’t need those things since we do have wine glasses!

Notable food and wine moments: Ploghmans Lunch at Pyengana, golden syrup dumplings, Louis Riesling Schoenburger.

The Blue Tier Descent

Our mountain biking morning turned into a mountain biking day! We had an epic ride from Weldborough Pass up to the Blue Tier and back down into Weldborough.

The owner of the hotel, Marty, kindly ran us up to the pass to avoid the initial climb out of Weldborough. It had been windy at the hotel, but up at the pass it was blowing an absolute gale. Luckily it was coming from behind for the first ten kms up to the Blue Tier itself. It was a fantastic ride up a dirt road, currently closed to cars due to the heavy rain. The road was shrouded by ferns, with snatches of stunning view out over the ranges towards St Helens.

We rode through Lottah, an old tin mining town, and on to Poimena, another old tin town that is now the start point for walks and rides in the Blue Tier State Forest. There used to be a town of a few hundred people here back in the tin mining hey day, but now all that’s left is a clearing and an information board showing the old street plan. I’m always astounded by how quickly and comprehensively nature can reclaim abandoned towns. It was blowing a gale up here too so we didn’t hang around too long.

The ride back down, The Blue Tier Descent, was sodden! For those who’ve walked in Tassie, think of those muddy bogholes that you find on walking tracks. Now imagine carrying or pushing a bike through them! It wasn’t long until our feet were soaked (cycling shoes have holes in the bottom where the cleats attach meaning wet socks as soon as water touches the sole). We felt guilty for being here, even though it’s a designated mountain bike trail, as we could see what damage we were doing to the environment. Our consolation was that there probably aren’t enough riders to be a problem – you couldn’t have a trail like this in Victoria as the crowds of visitors would destroy it.

In case you haven’t guessed already, Tassie, like the rest of Australia, has had a stack of rain recently. So as well as the mudholes, the tracks have suffered enormously from erosion. This made parts of the downhill totally unrideable since the track had practically become a creek! It was extremely tough going and many sections were unrideable (not to mention the sections that were unrideable for me because I’m only your casual mountain biker)! All this mud and erosion, not to mention creek crossings and trees across the track, made for extremely slow going and our expected 3 hour ride to be back in time for lunch turned into a 6 hour back in time for dinner outing. Boy were we glad when we finally popped out of the forest and into the pastures of Weldborough, muddy and hungry!

We spent the rest of the day in front of the fire in the hotel talking with a couple of Swiss mountain bikers that we’d met riding up the impossible downhill, and waiting until 6pm when we could order dinner! By 7.30 we were well and truly tuckered out. Not even the lure of talking to two cycle tourers who’d just slogged up the hill from Bridport could keep us up. By 8pm we were tucked up in the tent and asleep!

Notable food and wine moments: Few and far between today, although a piece of homemade brownie after the ride is definitely worth mentioning.

4 days in 3 hours

That’s how quickly we covered 4 days of cycling effort today! It was a bit of an aimless day that turned out to contain a few gems. A sleep in and a late start set the tone for the day that ended up mostly being a leisurely drive in gorgeous sunny (if brisk) weather.

On leaving we immediately began to pass closed wineries. Being Good Friday we expected quite a lot of this. Milton (the excellent wine from last night) – closed, Coombend – closed. But suddenly joy! A flurry of wine tasting resulted in two bottles of riesling in the bag and a near miss on an $80 pinot noir!

We took a detour up to Douglas Apsley NP. We’d skipped this last trip as the thought of an extra 15k on an already long day had been too much. Boy were we wrong! A lovely route up a very gently sloping valley to a hidden waterhole would have been just the ticket on a hot day! Today was too cold too swim (actually, anyone who knows me well will know that it’s never too cold for a swim for me, it was just that we hadn’t done anything to work up a sweat) but I did assemble the mtb for a quick 7km back down the valley. Glorious.

Lunch today was a disappointment. We went to Ironhouse Brewery, another missed opportunity last time, but it turned out to have only average food and to be full of families. Not our scene.

We really enjoyed driving up the long climb to the Weldborough Pass. That was a long ride last time that I have no urge to repeat. Since we were here there’s been some more big rains and we passed a number of sections of road that had been washed out.

The Weldborough Hotel was as welcome a sight as last time. It’s such a lovely setting. This time it’s teeming with people here for the walking, mountain biking, motorcycling. We’ve got a good tip on where to ride tomorrow and are spending the evening drinking local Tassie brews.

Notable food and wine moments: Bulmers Cider.

A sense of de ja vu

Awoke this morning with a sense of de ja vu as we stayed last night in the Swansea Backpackers. Yes, Swansea. We ended up driving Devonport to Hobart to Swansea yesterday, which is kind of a three quarter loop of the state in a day! But we ticked off two must-dos for the trip in the first day – MONA and The Banc restaurant.

We didn’t take the main highway down to Hobart as there is a much more lovely route over the Central Plateau. This route skirts along the edge of the Great Lake and touches the edge of the Wilderness World Heritage Area before descending through farming valleys into the northern outskirts of Hobart. It’s a truly gorgeous drive. Yesterday the first part of it was shrouded in cloud, but that only made it more atmospheric (and instilled a plan to pop back to it on our last day to ride some of it).

After a little bushwalking expedition (during which Guy teased me about being dressed for the gallery instead of the bush) we arrived at MONA (for which I was perfectly attired) just in time for lunch. MONA didn’t disappoint. It is a great mix of art and was very enjoyable. We spent about three hours poking around everything. To my surprise my favourite piece was an audio visual of people singing Madonna songs a cappella. Guy’s favourite is too hard to describe well – a giant metal head on it’s side with strobing action inside it. Neither of us liked the gastrointestinal machine though!

It was poring rain as we left MONA. And since we’d discovered that most of the Coal River Valley wineries (and indeed most of Tasmania I think) were going to be closed on Good Friday we made a last minute change of plan. Two quick phone calls and we were set. We could go all the way to Swansea in time for dinner at The Banc.

This meant that we retraced three full days of our cycling trip in just two hours! Slightly depressing. But it also meant that we’d be a day ahead of ourselves (hopefully time to revisit the Great Lake at the end now).

The Banc was as good as we’d anticipated. And we’d been anticipating since last trip when we’d come through Swansea on a Tuesday night – the only night that The Banc is closed.

Today we’re planning to end up at Weldborough Hotel to spend a couple of days exploring the Blue Tier and mountain biking. And I’m sure we’ll find a couple of adventures to have today. No reception up there so will be out of touch for a few days.

Notable food and wine moments: Milton Pinot Noir, Milton Riesling, Kelvedon Estate Sav Blanc (repeat performance from last trip), Yellowfin Tuna with seaweed, ginger, coriander and soy sauce, Anvers walnut praline chocolates.

Devonport 6.31am

Waiting to disembark.

Can’t complain about the service on the Spirit of Tasmania. Absolutely everyone we interacted with was fantastic – from checkout chicks to tourist office lady to cleaners. The food however, was abysmal. Will definitely plan a repeat of last trip’s gourmet Tassie picnic for the return journey!