The Home Stretch
28-November 2006 to 30-November 2006:
I couldn't tell if I was dreaming or subconsciously hearing the relentless rain from last night. But when we checked out of Queenstown and proceeded to drive further uphill and east out of town, we were excited to see something we didn't expect to see given the unusually dry weather on this trip - a waterfall! Surely I must not have been dreaming last night...
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Day 1: MONTEZUMA AND MORDOR
Since brekkie (i.e. breakfast) came with our night's stay at the Cradle Mountain Lodge, I figured we mind as well stick around before we head out to Rosebery to resume our waterfall hiking.
This gave us time to take our time getting our stuff together before checking out as well as another opportunity to enjoy the premises.
At 7:30am, as we were on our way to the dining area, Julie noticed a kangaroo out in the open grazing amongst the brown grass between some of the cabins. This was a tremendous photo opportunity and already put us in good spirits on this nearly cloudless morning.
This was especially the case since the roo was practically in profile with the sun in the right place. Finally, a non-blurry kangaroo shot, I thought.
The brekkie was basically a buffet so of course the quality is mixed. We were busy stuffing ourselves so we would have enough energy for our excursions on this day without going too hungry after skipping lunch.
When 8:54am came around, Julie and I were done with brekkie and we checked out of the lodge. Then, we headed back to the A10 where we continued south and deeper into Tasmania's Wild West.
The drive was mostly through forest and pretty straight forward.
Just a little past the township of Rosebery, we followed the well-signed turnoff for Montezuma Falls - the main waterfall excursion of the day.
Now the name Montezuma conjures the Aztec God of Central American lore. So what does the Aztecs have to do with Tassie?
It turned out that there was a silver mining company named after the Aztec God Montezuma. I believe that company had American ties, which was how Tassie and Montezuma were connected. Anyhow, it was the causeway created by the mining operations here that made the falls as accessible as they are right now. So this was yet another rare example of how nature-unfriendly activities could actually be beneficial to nature lovers.
Anyhow, the unsealed road leading to the car park for the most part was straight forward. However, near the car park, there were giant potholes that could easily flatten a tire or damage the undercarriage if you're not careful.
But eventually, we got to the large car park at 10:11am in one piece and we got our hiking sticks, camera gear, and hiking boots on in anticipation of this mostly flat 3-hour return hike.
There were already cars here so obviously it was a pretty popular walk.
The hike proceeded to go through a forested area. It wasn't long before we found ourselves hiking on a track with tire tracks on its sides. Apparently, we shared this trail with 4wds as well as bicycles. Talk about a multi-use trail!
Fortunately, there were no 4wds to ruin the naturesque feel of the place. Though there were lots of muddy spots on the track, and we really tried to avoid these spots due to our irrational fear of leeches from my Thanksgiving Day leeching earlier in this trip.
We could hear the river down below the track so I reckoned there was hope in terms of there being some volume in the waterfall.
But eventually, the trail would start to go silent again. Apparently, the falls weren't on the loud watercourse we heard earlier, I thought.
As we merrily walked along the track, there was one moment where I stopped immediately as Julie bumped into me from behind. It was a good thing that I tend to look down when I walk because I saw a black-looking snake.
Before we were able to take photos of it, the snake slithered away from us and didn't really allow us to get a good photo. Anyways, we proceeded on now wary of where we step.
At about 15 minutes from the falls (there was signpost indicating so), we track narrowed further from a 4wd track to a normal walking track. We passed by some mine entrance called A??l. Neither of us really had any interest in going in there so we continued along the track before we reached a suspension bridge.
This bridge was long and narrow. It was also a bit bouncy so I made sure Julie was on the other side before I started walking on it. But right from the middle of the bridge, you could get a direct view of the 104m Montezuma Falls.
If you could keep your wits and your balance, you could take photos while on top of the suspension bridge. And you would see that the falls had quite good volume, especially considering the lack of rainfall and brown plains and hills we had noticed the last few days.
When we got to the relative safety and piece-of-mind of the other side of the bridge, we were able to see both the falls and the suspension bridge together to provide scale. The track continued beyond this area we were seeing the falls from, but we didn't bother checking out where it went. Anyhow, this waterfall was well worth the effort to get here and it was easily the waterfall-highlight of Tassie.
As we crossed back over the suspension bridge, we realized that we actually hadn't gone to the end of the track. So we turned right at the end of the bridge and continued towards a lookout area right at the base of the main tier of the waterfall (there were more cascades further downstream from here).
So we spent a good deal of time taking photos and just enjoying this moment. Apparently, this waterfall wasn't struggling as I had feared and it offered up renewed hope that some of the remaining waterfalls we have yet to see on this trip might put on a good show.
On the return walk to the car, we had noticed several people going the other way to the falls. So we didn't have the entire trail to ourselves due to the popularity of the site, but we certainly did have the waterfall to ourselves today.
It was 1:28pm when we returned to the car. Now it was time to get to Queenstown where we could check in to our next accommodation, but that wouldn't be for another couple of hours of driving, I reckoned.
As we continued driving the winding forested highway from Rosebery to Queenstown, we couldn't help but notice that my favorite station Triple J wasn't available anymore. So as we scanned the channels, we had heard some very interesting lectures about the world economy from the 70s to today.
It was extremely enlightening and as a result of one of their discussions, I had a whole new respect for the Carter administration and some of the difficult choices (however unpopular) they made to re-establish a more stable US economy. I could see parallels between how they raised interest rates to curb the runaway inflation even if it meant increased borrowing costs and would be highly unpopular with the public (who likes to borrow and spend). If only they could take a clue from the chief financial guy in the Carter Administration in this instance, maybe the dollar wouldn't be so devalued so much.
Anyhow, that was something we couldn't control except for at the polls and I seriously doubt most of America thinks about things this deeply to vote for people who could actually do everyone good.
Moreover, it really got me thinking about how much spin goes on in the media back at home and it sure was refreshing to get info and news from a more unbiased source - in Australia of all places.
When the lecture show started to end (the reception started going away anyways), we saw a distance-indicating sign telling us that Queenstown (along with other sites) was not much further. Upon closer inspection of the sign, someone marked "Mordor" next to Queenstown. This piqued our interest to see what exactly the perpetrating jokester was talking about.
Well it wasn't but a few more minutes when we arrived at the town of Queenstown. And it became immediately clear what the jokester was talking about.
We could see quarries and factories sprung up before these bare mountains that watched over the old, rustic town. Obviously mining was big in these parts, but boy did the look and feel of this place really suffer.
Queenstown was also the latest example of place names I was familiar with in New Zealand that also appeared in Australia. We had seen places such as Hamilton, Murchison, Glenorchy, etc. But in this particular case, in terms of beauty and charm, this Queenstown was nowhere near the Queenstown in New Zealand.
So at 3pm, Julie and I checked in to our accommodation on the eastern outskirts of town. Then we dropped off our heavy luggage and traveled light as we headed west for the 45-minute drive through curvy roads to the coastal town of Strahan.
When we got into that township, we got a taste of the small town charm when we passed by a cop going the other way who actually gave us a friendly wave. How often do you see that?
This charming town was right on the waterfront against Tassie's wild west coast. By now, the clouds have rolled in already and started producing some light sprinkles. Other than that though, the water was calm and no umbrella was required.
We would eventually head past their esplanade and pass through the gates of the People's Park at 4pm. There, we got out of the car and did a short hike on a very popular and well-developed track towards the Hogarth Falls. There were a few downed trees, which made things difficult for those on bikes, but the walk was still easy and relaxing.
The end of the track at the falls was already crowded with about a half dozen people. The falls itself wasn't very tall though it did have a lower tier that you couldn't photograph since the viewing area was above this lower tier.
When all was said and done, we returned to the car at 4:45pm. By then, the rain started to come down. We got out of the park in plenty of time so as to not get locked in and we immediately cruised over to the esplanade for a dinner (knowing we wouldn't want to be eating in Queenstown).
We eventually settled on this waterfront cafe where we got grilled local fish and some fresh Tassie oysters for entree (i.e. appetizers). The food was good and quite satisfying considering we hadn't eaten since brekkie at Cradle Mountain Lodge.
At 5:45pm, we left Strahan and took the curvy 45-minute road back to Queenstown. Once there, we just cleaned up and went to bed. But even as we went to bed, we could tell that it was raining outside. This was good news for the waterfalls we would be seeing tomorrow, I reckoned...
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Day 2: WET AND WILD IN THE WEST
Julie and I wasted no time in getting packed and ready to leave. Obviously the oppressive Mordor-like atmosphere of the place provided all the motivation we needed to get back out into nature as soon as possible. And by 6:50am, we had already checked out the Chancellor Inn Queenstown.
As I was driving up the curvaceous mountain road leaving Queenstown, I couldn't tell if I was dreaming or subconsciously hearing the relentless rain from last night. But as we had nearly gone completely up the hill and east of town, we were excited to see something we didn't expect to see given the unusually dry weather on this trip - a waterfall! And this waterfall was of the tall, seasonal variety.
Surely I must not have been dreaming last night.
So we utilized the limited pullout on the opposite side of the road and took photos of the impressive waterfall. Since we were looking against the sun on this chilly morning, photography was tricky. But since the storm was still clearing, usually it was the clouds that were the saving grace in letting us take photos of this falls.
It also looked like there was trail leading closer to the bottom of the falls, but I reckoned we got a good view of the falls and didn't need to do anything more.
Continuing towards the east, the road descended down the hill and eventually passed between some large lakes. And by 7:27am, we had reached the well-signed car park for Nelson Falls.
It remained very cold (almost numbingly so) and as a result, Julie and I stayed close together as we walked the well-developed track along the Nelson River.
Clearly it had rained quite a bit last night as we could still see wet drops hanging from the leaves of the trees shading the walk. The Nelson River was also making lots of noise which was a good sign for the waterflow over the falls we were about to see.
And within minutes, Julie and I were excited by the 30m upside-down wine-glass-shaped wall of water before us. It was a bit misty down here which added to the already cold temperatures.
But we had a field day taking photos with the tripod while trying to keep the camera lens dry from the mist.
What a great start to this day!
Anyways, we returned to the car at 8:12am. Next up was a very long drive through Tasmania's undeveloped wilderness. There were no accommodations, no petrol, and only a few trail signs in the area. The scenery was very pretty as a result.
You could tell nature held sway over here and it probably would've been a great place to spend some time in its serenity.
As we headed further east past the turnoff for the other side of Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park, we slowly started to see more developed areas appear. Eventually, we would pass by farms as well as large hydroelectric plants with monster diversion tubes.
Julie and I took a little detour to see what Victoria Valley Falls would look like considering the initial success of Nelson Falls. And at 10:44am, we found the rather obscure trailhead for the falls.
But as we spent some time walking its rather primitive track, a misleading sign indicated an overlook as 10 minutes away. Yet as we scrambled deeper and deeper towards the base of the falls after the track disappeared, it was apparent that there wasn't an overlook that we had envisioned (you know, viewing platforms, et. al).
So the Victoria Valley Falls was a real disappointment as it had pretty disappointing flow in its wishbone shape and it was difficult to get a good view of it through the foliage. It kind of killed the momentum gained from our Nelson Falls experience this morning.
At 11:16am, we were back in the car and now bound for the famous Russell Falls - home of Tassie's first national park.
After passing through several railroad crossings, we would eventually reach the busy Russell Falls Visitor Center at 12:38pm. Here, we had to pay and display the pass on our windshield.
Then, we walked along the well-paved path towards the viewing platform at the base of the lovely two-tiered wall of water known as Russell Falls.
It was too bad the sun was too bright and the clearing clouds kept passing by the sun. So photographic opportunities were limited this time of day.
We proceeded to continue up the walk towards the Horseshoe Falls. Along the way on the approach towards the top of Russell Falls, Julie noticed a trail that branched off the official one. We kept this in mind as we would head back down after checking out Horseshoe Falls later.
Once we got to the Horseshoe Falls, we were able to photograph the tiny falls. It wasn't as crowded as the Russell Falls platform, but when I was done taking photos, I turned around and noticed about a half dozen people waiting to get a closer look at the falls.
Since the Lady Barron Falls connecting trail was closed from here, we headed back down and took that little trail that Julie found earlier.
When we got towards the end of the faint trail (slippery in spots with signs of hill erosion), we were on top of the lower tier but we got a gorgeous view of the upper tier of the waterfall.
The sight of the falls from here instantly brought back the memories of how I had seen the falls while trip researching.
Ah, so this is where they took the good photos of the falls.
So Julie and I returned to the car at 2:26pm. The intent now was to drive up the unsealed road towards the car park where the Tall Trees Walk was. That would allow us to continue the walk leading to the Lady Barron Falls.
And so we parked the car at 2:35pm and then started walking up the unsealed road looking for the trail to the falls. But apparently, we somehow missed that trail and kept on walking up the road. When we reckoned this was way farther than what we expected, we backtracked.
Eventually, we found the track. Both of us shook our heads at how we could've missed it.
Anyhow, we walked along the undulating but shaded track as it went over some five bridges. Eventually, we would see a funny little go-cart on the track and we met up with a trail worker. Apparently, they had just finished improving the lookout platform right before the Lady Barron Falls.
So we took the obligatory photos of the small cascade and headed back to the car. I reckoned by now, we had killed enough time that the lighting would improve when we would return to Russell Falls.
A little after 4pm, we were back at the car park for the Russell Falls Visitor Center. Julie didn't want to redo the walk so she stayed in the car. So I took my tripod and camera and immediately walked along the track to the Russell Falls.
And when I arrived at the falls, my hunches were correct. The falls were pretty much in shadow at this time. So now I could take my long-awaited long exposure photographs to show the curtainous beauty of this two-tiered waterfall.
After doing that, I climbed back up to that unofficial track leading to the unobstructed view of the upper tier of the waterfall. This time, I walked right into the middle of the mini-plateau and took additional long exposure shots - some of which were self portraits.
Having had enough of the waterfall, I headed back down and towards the car park. But on the way back, I startled a wallaby and its young. Almost immediately, the young climbed into its mother's pouch and the mother cautiously hopped a few paces away from me.
I tried to take a few photos of this wallaby, but the lighting was low so I knew most of them would come out blurry. Anyways, it was quite cool to actually witness a marsupial utilizing its pouch.
Finally at 5:07pm, I regained the car. Julie wondered what took me so long, but in the end, she would appreciate the photos I managed to take after waiting out the entire afternoon for this waterfall. Now, it was time to drive back to Hobart on the home stretch of our circle-island tour of Tassie.
It was 6:28pm when we returned to the Leisure Inn Hobart/Port Macquarie. There were more parking spaces in the really tight garage they had underground this time. But after Julie checked in and got the keys to our room, we realized that the room was nowhere near as spacious as the last time we were here.
In fact, the sink was not in the bathroom. Instead, it sat where a closet was supposed to be.
"What's up the downgrades every time we return to the same motel?" we pondered aloud.
After dropping off our heavy luggage, we took a stroll back into Hobart's waterfront area - near the Salamanca Square. There, we hung out on its pier area looking for a place to have dinner.
There were heaps of fish and chip places as well as expensive cafes, but we would eventually settle on this burger place that sold skyscraper burgers.
Next, we walked towards the Salamanca Square, which was a bit dead this time of day. The place would be bustling on the weekends, but we wouldn't be around for that on this trip.
Then, we went up some named stairs (the name escapes me) towards the Arthur Circus in the center of Battery Point. It was something that Julie had read about in Lonely Planet and for some reason wanted to check it out. It turned out to be nothing more than a little park in the middle of the circle of a roundabout surrounded by some old-styled residences. There were a couple of swings and we both used them just on a whim.
Afterwards, we continued walking on Hampden Rd, where we saw an interesting mix of houses and businesses. It was kind of strange to see businesses (i.e. restaurants, hair salons, even a convenience store) in places that could've easily passed as someone's condo or apartment.
Then, after making a booking at this place called Kelley's - the so-called "best seafood in Tasmania" - we walked back to our accommodation at the Leisure Inn Hobart/Port Macquarie up the Sandy Bay Road.
Once there, we relaxed and unwound after having completed the home stretch of our Tassie waterfall tour. Tomorrow, we would go to the Tasman Peninsula for some coastal scenery as well as a visit to the Port Arthur Convict Site.
Even though our flight wouldn't be for another half day plus this night, we could already sense the month-long odyssey in drought-ridden Australia coming to an end.
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Day 3: DOO-ING THINGS IN TASSIE
Having packed in preparation for travel later on today, we loaded up the car, checked out, and we left Hobart at 7:32am.
As usual with the early morning starts, we found a meat pie stop at this place called Sorell. And soon after getting the goodies at 7:52am, we then continued out towards the Tasman Peninsula.
Eventually, we'd pass through this town called Doo Town, and the first thing I noticed while driving through here was how the signs all had the word "doo" in it in place of the word "do".
So we saw signs like "Doo have a great time!" or "DOO NOT FEED WILDLIFE" or other things of that nature. So I'm sure we were going to make sure that we "doo" spend our last full day in Tassie (or in Australia for that matter) to the best of our abilities.
It was about 8:50am when we parked the car at a well-established car park where the main features we were looking for were all within walking distance.
So we spent some time looking at the impressive Tasman Arch, which was a large sea arch that we had to look down through it. I wondered how much time would it take before that arch would collapse seeing how the London Bridge in the Great Ocean Road seen earlier on in this trip collapsed a few years ago.
Nearby this attraction was also the so-called Devil's Kitchen, which looked to be a jumble of cliff formations scoured by the turbulent Southern Ocean.
We returned to the car at 9:28am. We opted not to extend our stay and walk all the way to Paterson's Arch (1 hour return) or Waterfall Bay (2 hours return). I wondered if I would regret this decision, but I guess we weren't that optimistic of seeing the waterfalls given the mostly dry conditions we had seen for most of this trip.
At 9:32am, we parked the car at a different car park and checked out the blowhole.
This blowhole actually looked more like a long natural tunnel (or sea arch, if you will), but inside that tunnel, we could see water get shot out sideways across the tunnel whenever swells would come into the cave and cause pressure in there.
The sideways jets actually blew across the tunnel in at least two spots inside the sea tunnel so perhaps there were multiple blowholes in there!
At 9:52am, we got back in the car. Next, we drove over to Port Arthur.
At 10:19am, we arrived at the busy car park for Port Arthur. Apparently, this very popular spot was well known for history though it was also infamous for a shooting massacre that took place here a few years ago. Apparently, gun control laws were enacted resulting from that incident. As I learned about this, I couldn't help but wonder how multiple massacres in the US concerning guns could occur, but nothing would happen.
Our visit to Port Arthur pretty much consisted of walking amongst the preserved ruins of the former prison colony. I guess this kind of reinforced that butt of a Kiwi joke how they'd take jabs at Aussies saying they're a bunch of convicts.
So Julie and I pretty much self-toured the place for a couple of hours. But eventually, we decided it was time to return to Hobart, and we ultimately got back in the car at 12:27pm.
By about 1:57pm, we were back in Hobart. We had a late afternoon flight to get from Hobart to Melbourne. Then, we would have to take the long haul flight from Melbourne back to LAX as a long red-eye flight.
So as we returned the rental car back at Hobart, there were mixed feelings of anticipation (homesickness had set in especially given the negative impacts of the drought on the nature sightseeing) as well as sadness (I didn't want to get back to life and back to reality). But in either case, all good things must come to an end...
Have a waterfall travel story you'd like to share?
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