Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bay of Fires

As far as eateries go, Binalong Bay boasts only one, so the burden of choice was minimal as we drove into the small beachside town right on lunchtime.  The solitary cafe is, as we discovered, excellent, superbly located with a million dollar outlook over the southernmost stretch of the famous Bay of Fires.  As we approached, it looked like there might be a bit of a line-up, hardly surprising in a one cafe town at lunchtime, so we prepared to get behind the couple who were waiting outside the door.  What they were hoping for wasn’t sustenance however, but an elusive network connection.

“No, nothing.  Dead as a dodo,” the middle aged man said gazing despondently at his phone which he’d been waving around in the briny air.  Spotting David’s IPhone, he said, “You’re not on Optus are you mate?”

“Well, yes,” David replied.  “Why?”

“Have you got any bars on yours?”  He wasn’t referring to drinking establishments but those little symbols on the screen that show the strength of your connection to the network.  Which had, as it turned out, entirely disappeared from David’s phone as well.

“See, there you go,” he said, turning to the woman with him, who judging from her expression of resigned forbearance, must have been his wife.  “Pathetic.  We’ve been travelling along the coast for the last five days and can’t get a connection anywhere.  What kind of service is that?”

We commiserated with him, as we were obviously expected to do, even though we hadn’t suffered quite the same degree of inconvenience.  Apart from a few fadeouts, our connection had been reasonably reliable until we arrived at Binalong Bay.  This bloke wasn’t in the mood to be placated however.  He seemed to take it as a personal insult that his carrier of choice was failing to deliver and what’s more no-one had warned him.  He’d been left in the lurch with no means of communication, other than, heaven forbid, a landline.  Almost enough to make you switch over to the big T, and perhaps he was planning to do just that. 

Optus has indeed been a non-presence in many parts of Tasmania, where Telstra has maintained a monopoly for some time.  In the spirit of competition however, about a year ago Optus announced a major investment in expanding their coverage and this, it is hoped will improve the situation.  In the meantime, Optus customers who visit patchily serviced areas like this section of the east coast, have to make do with old world technology, or resort to archaic holiday practices like sending postcards.  Another one of those what did we do before Gladwrap scenarios. 

The last we saw of the disgruntled pair, they were munching their takeaway hamburgers on a bench overlooking what Lonely Planet named the world’s “hottest” travel destination in 2009.  Hopefully they got over their pique about Optus and were able to fully appreciate it.

Lonely Planet’s article painted a vivid picture of “white beaches of hourglass-fine sand, Bombay Sapphire sea, an azure sky – and nobody.”  This is just how it was when we were there.  In the height of the holiday season it may be different, at least along the stretch adjacent to Binalong Bay, where it is closest to civilisation. 

The Bay of Fires stretches from Binalong Bay north to Eddystone Point, a distance of about 56 kilometres, with part of the northern section included in the Mt William national park.  It was named not for the fiery colour of the rocks that border much of the shore, but by an early explorer, Captain Tobias Furneaux, a crony of Captain Cook who sailed along the coast in 1773 and spotted many fires burning along its length.  These were the fires of the local Aborigines who were numerous at the time, as evidenced by the many middens (shell and bone deposits) which can still be found in the sand dunes.  Whether they were roasting kangaroos for dinner or just trying to frighten off the approaching invaders isn’t known.  What is known is that the Aboriginal relationship with fire, like their connection to the land, was an integral part of their culture and mythology. 

There are a number of tour operators that conduct guided walks along the full extent of the bay.  It is about a three day trip, with overnight camping, offering varying levels of communion with nature, from the elemental to the luxurious.  Depending on your budget and willingness to get up close to nature in the raw, you can have a spiritually cleansing experience, forfeiting showers, soft beds and other such comforts, or a relatively civilised one where the encounter is cushioned by such rituals as afternoon tea and scones. 

Time not permitting, we didn’t pursue the full Bay of Fires experience on this trip, although it is definitely something to include on the longer term “to do” list. 

What we did see of it lived up to the Lonely Planet hyperbole.  Even on a grey and cloudy day, which it was when we first arrived, it was picture postcard material, with the whitest sand I’ve ever seen, turquoise waters of a limpid blue and the aforementioned orange lichen covered rocks, which lie like gatherings of great sleeping beasts between the shore and the land.  So entranced was David by the first sight of these, he sprang from the car and in no time was leaping from peak to peak like a mountain gazelle.  Not to be outdone, I followed, forgetting I have zero sense of balance and my leaping days are long gone.  I ended up horizontal in a short space of time, but fortunately David was too busy doing his king of the world impression from the top of the highest rock to notice. 

 When we awoke the next day, it was to one of those lustrous mornings when the world looks like a newly minted coin.  Everything gleamed.  The sun shone in a brilliant blue sky.  The sea sparkled, and the long curve of white sand curled away into the far distance.  Our accommodation was, although not five star, spectacularly situated, on a hill looking straight out over the sea.  Far along the beach we could see, from our bedroom, a couple with two Labradors walking along the shore.  To say the dogs were enjoying themselves would be a huge understatement.  Those two were in dog heaven, gambolling about, frolicking in and out of the water, chasing birds, kicking up sand and having one hell of a time.  Not too shabby a place to enjoy a morning walk.  We couldn’t help but think of Lottie and Fergus, cooling their heels in the boarding kennels, no doubt wondering whether they’d been abandoned for life.  It’s a good thing they didn’t know what they were missing.

This is another of the breathtaking places for which Tasmania is so renowned.  Despite it having been publicly rated on a par with the best the world has to offer, the amazing thing about the Bay of Fires, as is the case with many of Tasmania’s attractions, is that it is still so unspoiled and seemingly immune to the depredations of over-commercialisation.  Let us hope it remains that way.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


If you eat snails, frogs’ legs, brains, sheeps’ eyes and other assorted gruesome gunk, you are likely to be a devotee of oysters.  What all these morsels have in common, it seems to me, is a certain quality of slime that should render them unfit for human consumption. 

On the contrary, they are highly sought after delicacies and among them the oyster may well be considered the consummate confection.  This might have something to do with its reputation as an aphrodisiac.  Casanova is alleged to have consumed fifty of the little blighters a day, but to my mind this doesn’t prove anything.  He was clearly just a bloke who never knew when enough was enough.  Scientific theories for the mollusc’s alleged libido boosting powers abound.  Although, as with most scientific theories, there has been no general consensus, it is thought that the abundance of amino acids and high zinc content may stimulate the production of testosterone.  I’m not sure whether any studies have been done.  No doubt there’d be plenty of aspiring Casanovas eager to offer themselves as research subjects.   

Notwithstanding hormonal surges or the lack thereof, the number of ostreaphiles (oyster lovers) in the world is still high.  Indeed, according to some pundits, the slimy morsels are experiencing a resurgence in popularity.  This must come as good news to Tasmania’s oyster farmers, a number of whom operate out of St Helen’s, on Tasmania’s east coast.  St Helen’s lies between Bicheno and Binalong Bay and as well as being known for its oysters, it is promoted as the game fishing capital of Tasmania.  We passed through here on our way to Binalong Bay, and as we approached the town were attracted by a throng of fishing boats of all shapes, sizes and colours tied up at the wharf in George’s Bay.  Even for those, like us, whose closest encounters with fishing have been hanging a line over a jetty once or twice in our youth, there is something fascinating about fishing boats, so of course we had to have a closer look. 

Not far outside the town was a large oyster farm, at which there was little evidence of oysters, but presumably they were growing away beneath the surface. 

Other than the occasional oyster Kilpatrick, I am not an oyster aficionado and certainly not appreciative of their au naturel qualities.  Those who are say gulping one off the shell is like that first zingy plunge into the sea.  To me it feels more like coming up with a mouth full of seaweed.  Size counts too.  They don’t want to be too big, otherwise, as the novelist Thackeray is reported to have said, you may end up feeling like you’ve swallowed a baby.

As I am not only an ostreaphobe but a fishophobe as well, the marine harvesting activities of St Helen’s were a bit lost on me.  However it is good to see how areas of Tasmania such as St Helen’s are really capitalizing on their pristine and unspoiled environment to produce some of the highest quality foods and wines in the nation, oysters being just one of these.  This is giving a much needed boost to the tourism industry, with the island now being strongly (and deservedly) marketed as a foodie paradise.  So, despite eschewing the fruits of the sea, I was able to indulge in plenty of other gastronomic treats, about which more later.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beach Dreaming at Bicheno

At Bicheno, our next stop after Ross, we spent two nights in Sandpiper Cottage, just a few steps away from a gorgeous beach populated by the cottage’s namesake birds.  Bicheno is a popular seaside resort on the east coast of Tasmania, attracting many tourists in the summer.  This being late autumn, tourists were thankfully noticeable by their absence.  There is something about the beach out of season.  It’s a world apart from its hot, sandy, noisy and crowded summer counterpart and for that reason vastly more appealing to me. 

 When I was a teenager, going to the beach was what you did unless you wanted to be thought of as weird.  In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I was weird but just too cowardly to advertise it to my peers.  So, although I knew from bitter experience that spending a day basting myself on the sand in the blazing heat of summer would be an agony of embarrassment and discomfort, I went along meekly for the ride.  The bane of my life back then was my fair, freckled and sunburn prone skin, most of which I still have, apart from a few chunks sliced off by dermatologists over the years.  Ignorance about the effects of sun damage was our excuse of course.  Even if we’d known however, I suspect that in the spirit of the times, we wouldn’t have cared.  Not only had the word melanoma not entered the lexicon, the precautionary principle was as foreign a concept to us as safe sex.  Back then, being brown was not only fashionable it was mandatory.  Cocoa was the shade of preference. Toffee, coffee, honey and gold were okay options as well.  You could possibly scrape by with an orange fake tan if it wasn’t too streaky or smelly.  Failing all else, shades of lobster or tomato would do.  What you could never be was white.  Forget sun bathing, you had to fry.  Covering up was not an option, unless it was with oil.  Oily and tanned is an okay look I suppose.  Oily, white and skinny is not, unless you’re an oven ready chicken.  In my case, after an hour or so of baking, liberally anointed, the chicken turned to frazzled bacon. 

 In quest of the body bronze or as near to it as you could get, the routine was to hit the sand along with the rosy fingers of dawn and stay there immobile until the golden rays dissolved into dusk, along with your fried brains.  Apart from anything else, it was boring, sweaty and gritty and left me with a lasting loathing of the beach in summer.

 The beach we discovered outside our back door at Bicheno was nothing like that.  It was an enchanted vista of silvery water, brooding sky, softly shadowed sand, and blessed isolation.  No people, no pressure to be black, brown or brindle and thank goodness no oil.  The only sounds were those of the waves, the birds, and the breeze rustling the sea grass. 

 Apart from a few trails of footsteps and paw prints, there was nothing to show anyone but the birds frequented this lovely place.  Each time we walked along it we didn’t encounter another soul.  That is unless sandpipers have souls, and there’s no reason to suppose they don’t.  It was funny to watch these little fuss budget birds, a constant whirl of motion, as they fossicked busily, pecking, probing and darting from one spot to the next.  So quickly did they scamper along the tide line, their little legs twinkling, they seemed to skim like miniature skaters across the surface. 

You can see forever on a beach like this, as far as you want to look, ahead, behind, above, down at your sand covered feet, or away to the far-off point where the distant hills fold away into the sky.  There’s scope here in the vast tranquil space, to just be, to let go what's gone and surrender yourself to what's to come.  There seems for a brief while at least nothing else to want or need.  For us, Sandpiper Cottage at Bicheno was a special place - one of the highlights of our trip.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ross, Tasmania

Our second stop on our Tasmanian holiday/honeymoon (following Launceston, site of The Wedding) was the town of Ross. Although a spot worth visiting for its charm and historic sites alone, our visit was also prompted by my desire to wallow in a bit of nostalgia.  The last time I had dropped in there was some thirty seven years ago.

 Not much has changed, almost it seems since the 19th Century, let alone since I was there.  Even so, it took a while for me to re-orient myself.  At first although I’d lived in it for a time, I didn’t recognise the handsome house in the photo above, not remembering it as white and also thinking it was at the other end of the street.  It had been a while.  However there it still was, “The Scotch Thistle Inn”, originally a Georgian coaching inn, later a restaurant and now a private residence. 

 When I lived there, the ground floor was the restaurant where I slaved over a hot stove nightly as the chef.  Upstairs were the living quarters, where I cohabited with the owner of the establishment.  Not so much a case of mixing business with pleasure, as a relocation of a relationship already begun in Adelaide.  He had bought the place on impulse while we were on holiday in Tasmania and gallantly invited me to move over and help him run it.  Holiday impulse buys for most people usually consist of scarves, stuffed wombats and the like, but not this chap.  He bought a lifestyle and a livelihood in one. 

Despite flying by the seat of my pants I somehow managed to satisfactorily feed whoever wandered in.  On busy days this could be as many as fifty people, on slow days as few as one or two.  Life being what it is, you could be sure the multitudes would descend on just those days when I least cared to welcome them, but in the hospitality game you just keep smiling.  Challenging though the cooking was, it was nothing compared to scraping grease off the monster of a coal fired grill at midnight, cleaning the toilets on a freezing cold Tasmanian morning, or retrieving our slightly mad red setter from his wild rampages through the local handicraft shops. 

Still, it was, as they say an experience and no doubt character building.  On our recent visit, David and I stayed in a very quaint but cramped cottage, the best features of which were the very efficient combustion heater and the port.  With the demise of the Scotch Thistle Inn as an eating place, there are not many alternatives for diners these days.  We ended up at what seemed to be the only place, apart from a takeaway food joint, which was the Man O’ Ross Hotel, a worthy establishment which has graced the town since it was first built.  The dining area was big on local colour in the form of corpulent blokes in Hi Vis attire devouring mountains of chips, but lacking in historic quaintness and charm, which was a shame.  Despite its venerable history and gracious exterior, inside it is just your basic no frills Aussie pub.  Room for some entrepreneurialism there.

We visited the famous convict built bridge of course which is beautiful, and the wool centre, where thankfully the proprietors have changed since the mad dog and I were last there.  The streets were mellow and glowing with autumnal colours and old sandstone wherever you looked.  We sampled the bakery’s wares and were most impressed, and in my case splattered with sauce when my plastic cube of Heinz malfunctioned.  God I hate those things.  Then we went on our way, leaving behind us a delightful little place that time seems to have forgotten, but not I, having now some newer memories to enrich the older ones. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

In the immortal words of Charlotte Bronte ...

"Reader, I married him.  A quiet wedding we had:  he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present.  When we got back from church, I went into the kitchen of the manor-house where Mary was cooking the dinner and John cleaning the knives, and I said - "Mary I have been married to Mr Rochester this morning"

Not Mr Rochester, in my case, but Mr Green.  And like Jane and Mr R, a quiet wedding we had, far from the madding crowd in the peaceful gardens of Cataract Gorge in Launceston.  The parson was unable to make it, nor was the clerk, however we had a most pleasant lady celebrant and two witnesses she had arranged.  No objections were raised to this man taking his wife and indeed the only other observer, a local peacock, not only held his peace, but looked entirely satisfied with the proceedings.

Following the formalities, we repaired not to the kitchen of the manor-house but to the Cataract Gorge Restaurant for a delightful lunch and some welcome libations in good old Aussie fashion. 
Later in the day we went on our way, driving to Ross - to begin our two week Tasmanian sojourn.  And a wonderful holiday it was, which I will write more about later. 

In taking this step, we were hoping our friends and family would understand and not feel they were being excluded because we didn't want them to share our happiness.  Having both been married before, we decided that this time, rather than making a public statement through a traditional wedding ceremony, with all the complicated logistical arrangements that accompany such things, we preferred to make it a private and personal commitment between the two most important people in this marriage - ourselves.  That didn't mean that we didn't think of our dear friends and family members on this very special day; they were very much in our thoughts, especially our children - David's son Ryan and daughter Sarah and my son, Simon.  We made mention of them in our ceremony, as well as our parents - David's wonderful mother Edna, now an amazing 95 and still with us and David's father and my parents, who sadly are not.  I was not fantasising too much I don't think in having the distinct feeling they were looking down approvingly at their once wayward daughter, considerably relieved that she'd at last found herself a good man.

And good man he most definitely is.  Wonderful man in fact and I count my blessings every day that after many meanderings, a number of dead-ends and more detours than I care to think about, I have found David, my "Mr Right".  Here he is below - looking handsome on our wedding day, as he always does. 

More pictures will follow in coming weeks ... of us and Tasmania stay tuned!