THE TASMAN PENNINSULA
1 1/2 - 2 HOURS' DRIVE EAST FROM HOBART
I love the smell of coffee and chocolate in the morning.
It is the Breakfast of Champions, and for my money, certainly beats that other breakfast of champions and artistic types all over the world: coffee and a cigarette.
Ahhhh chocolate.... food for the soul...
O, chocolate, how do I love thee, let me count the ways...
THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY:
As we drove around the neighborhood last night looking for someplace to park the campervan, I kept spotting purple roadsigns reading "CADBURY" in that delicious cursive font that graces their chocolate bars. It was only because of the better judgement of my navigator that we did not camp out in the parking lot of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, just 4km up the road from the caravan park.
"TREASURE ISLAND" CARAVAN PARK
I walk along the dark waters in the cold morning to stretch sleep-twisted muscles, backlit clouds roll in overhead, while a wispy white cloudbank sweeps over a craggy rock face looming in the distance behind me.
This morning's mission is simple: get to the Chocolate Factory for a chocolatey morning meal with the fabled Oompa-Loompas, excuse me, "Little People" as they preferred to be called in this part of the world. There are no Little People to be seen anywhere on the premises and I use my Sherlock Holmes skills to deduce that they must be nocturnal, like so many other species of unique Aussie fauna.
The "tour" turns out to be a 30-minute audio/video presentation about the history and processes of the factory [who knew that chocolate is not fattening when consumed on a Thursday!?], Willy Wonka was not there [in fact I was nearly thrown out at the mention of his name; he owns the other chocolate company that begins with "N" and ends in "E"], and apparently rivers of chocolate dow not run through fields of candy at this chocolate factory. I thought it best not to ask if we could see the Great Glass Elevator.
Insiders' tip: the coffee in the cafe is forgettable, but the hot chocolate is amazing!! Check out the vintage posterboard advertisement that reads CHOCOLATE SAVES LIVES ...and stop by the gift shop to buy $50 worth of non-fattening-on-thursdays chocolate for like twenty bucks...
THE ROAD TO PORT ARTHUR:
Next stop: Port Arthur. Once the most feared penal colony in Australia, in high school I read a novel titled "Come Danger, Come Darkness" about a teen who is sent there from England for stealing a loaf of bread and escapes. The novel captured the harsh conditions endured by the convicts, and the stark contrast of this brutal human place set in the swirling mists of the Tasman Wilderness. I've been curious to visit ever since.
It takes about an hour to get to the first distraction - a turnoff to Pirate Bay, Devil's Kitchen, and the Blowhole. The photo on the roadsign sells me in 3 seconds to take the next turnoff, and shortly thereafter we crest a turn and hear angel choirs singing as the view reveals itself. Unlike fast food menu pics, roadsign photos and postcards never capture the majesty of being enveloped by a sweeping vista in nature.
The road winds down to the water's edge, and we are greeted with a different roadsign: "WELCOME TO DOO-TOWN". Twenty or so endearingly quaint cottages in various stages of ramshackle are clustered around the small harbor at the end of the Bay, with names like "MUCH ADOO ABOUT NOTHING", "DOO ANYTHING", and "DOO F#&K ALL" [sic]. Sheer awesomeness. There are absolutely no people in and around the town.
The Blowhole is suitably impressive, a tunnel about 80 feet long, with an almost perfectly flat roof carved out of the sandstone leading from the ocean to a small pool which surges with the waves rolling through the tunnel. From the right angle, it looks like a very miniature ocean that has simply appeared in a rocky outcrop in the bushlands behind the beach, complete with tidal wave action and all. The oceans are calm today, so now and then the Blowhole half-heartedly spits up a lazy tendril of oceanspray.
Five minutes up the road from Doo-Town is the Devil's Kitchen, which is what I am excited aboot [sorry, The Canadian's accent is rubbing off on me...]. Lucifer is out today, or sleeping deep in the narrow cave we can see far below, while the ocean feature he has sculpted through his kitchen sends a wave or two at a time rolling through the massive canyon sounding like a giant sheet of paper slowly tearing.
The tallest trees you see at the top of the photo at right are 2-3 stories high...a natural sink and kitchen bench can be made out from our vantage point, and there is a rock shelf that makes up the floor which extends out 60-80 feet past the base of the cliffs, where Peter later tells us that they drop straight down as deep as they are high.
We hit the road and cross the narrow isthmus [seriously, how often do you get to use the word "isthmus" in a sentence??] of Eaglehawk Nest, where a pack of monster bulldogs on shackles just long enough to touch each other once guarded the crossing so that escaped convicts could not get through. That's what the statue of a massively rabid bulldog said, and that's the story I am sticking with. It is said to be true.
As I coax the campervan through the twisting roads towards Port Arthur, I can't help but think that were I an escaped convict, I would like nothing more than to carve out a patch of bushland here and live off the land... The waterways touch both sides of the road in places, the eucalyptus grows thickly to the water's edge, and the afternoon sunlight streams through the gathering mists.
When the roadsigns finally announce Port Arthur, we drive past 3 empty parking lots before pulling up in front of the vistor center entrance. The tours range from half-day walks to 3-day experiences, complete with breakfast & dinner packages. It costs $2 for a brochure and there are pricetags on everything else in the place. This is not the experience I came to Tassie for, so I quickly decide to leave before they charge us for breathing in the historic air.
Besides which, there was a Tasmanian Devil Reserve that we passed on the way in that looked like a whole lot of fun.
Three words to capture the essence of the infamous Tassie Devils.
Ferocious. Precocious. Capricocious. ...nope. Let's try again...
Lost. Dazed. Confused. ...yeah, that's it:
I am told that they are indeed quite feral and ferocious when feeding, but the Tassie Devils we meet this afternoon may have gotten into the Koalas' stash of the good green stuff that makes them so rasta-mellow... These guys lope around their enclosure amicably with silly gaping grins and vapid eyes, pausing often to remember what they were doing again, then doing little circles before loping away, thrilled to be coming around the corner to meet us again. Hours of entertainment for the whole family!
We meet three Locals at the Dunnaly Pub that evening, which I again cleverly deduce to be the original watering hole for convicts who managed to escape and avoid the rabid hounds of Eaglehawk Nest.
"Have a beer mate, you deserve it..." and again I imagine myself as that escaped convict, this time sitting at the bar top relishing my newfound freedom and wondering, Tasmanian-Devil-like, what my next move is going to be.
Anyways, I ask these three guys where we can go to get a good feed around here before 6 o'clock, and I don't miss the glint in their eyes as they glance at each other before answering: "Awwww yearh, nuh ...the foodssh roooly good he-yahh....youse should staaay it'd be well worth itt.... we come he-yah ev'ry Thursdeee noight!!". They are pissed as farts [American translation = "quite drunk"], enamored with The Canadian's blonde hair and blue eyes, and very entertaining, so we decide to stay and have a couple beers with them.
The Locals promptly decide to celebrate by stoking the fire to keep us warm, and proceed to fall over each other stuffing the fireplace so full of oversized logs that it may qualify for a bushfire instead of a glowing hearth of embers. In Tasmania, they don't use a fire poker to move the logs, they simply kick the fire around with their boots. And plumbers' crack is never attractive, but quite hilarious in the right context.
Oh, and they make a really great drop of port in this part of the world:
# # #