Tasmania, Brisbane, and meeting up with a travel buddy

The last week has been very full! On Sunday I flew from Melbourne to Hobart, Tasmania for a three-day tour of the Tassie (Tasmanian) wild west coast. I think before I went I only knew that the Tasmanian devil was from there, but it’s an island not far off the southeast coast of Mainland Australia. It’s part of Australia, but its own state (like Victoria where Melbourne is and New South Wales where Sydney is, etc.)

The evening I arrived, I spent a couple hours walking around the town, which was a peaceful change of pace from the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Hobart is only about 500,000 people compared to Melbourne’s 3 million and Sydney’s 4 million, and it was very quiet on a Sunday evening – almost everything but a few restaurants were closed. I did some searching online for somewhere that looked good and decided to go to a popular pizza place on the west side. To get there, I ended up walking up an incredibly steep hill that definitely rivals San Francisco’s famed steep streets, but after huffing and puffing my way up, I encountered really beautiful views overlooking the city and seaside at twilight. Worth it! The veggie pizza I got was really delicious, too.

 

The next morning, I met up with my tour group (called Jump! tours, I recommend them). We traveled around in a 21-passenger van that held 17 people and our guide, Max. He is a young, super laid back, friendly, often-joking local guy from Hobart. When I first met him, his first question was, “Where are you from?” (The US.) His second was, “What do you think of Donald Trump?” I tried my best to convince him that many of us are nicer, non-racist, open-minded people, but he has met a few Trump fans on his tours and he’s not a fan of the culture of the US (or at least his impression of it). Ugh! But it was interesting to hear his perspective. I also chatted with several other people on the tour, which were mostly women and almost everyone was in their 20s. Max’s theory on this is that women tend to travel alone more than men at least in Tasmania, because group of guys will just rent a car and drive around themselves, whereas people travelling alone are more likely to join a tour. Just like me!

The first day, we did a lot of driving, but my favorite stop was Lake St. Clair. So incredibly calm, clear, and beautiful! I took dozens of pictures from every angle as we walked along it. That evening, we arrived at our accommodation for the next two nights, which was a hostel-style cabin with enough rooms to hold us in bunk beds, next to a very tiny town. The west coast is very sparsely populated compared to the east coast, which I found tranquil and perfect. That night, we went down to the nearby lake and watched the beautiful sunset. Some people got in and swam for a bit, but I found it too cold outside to swim in the cool lake. The next night was much warmer, so I jumped in and swam then, and it was amazing! There were several surprisingly warm patches, it was refreshing, the sun was setting over it, and I’ve never swam in a lake so calm and quiet. We also had a delicious (and affordable, with groceries split between everyone) barbecue dinner both nights we were there at the cabin (I had lentil burgers that were really yummy). And we would talk throughout the evening around a campfire. The first night, we played Werewolves, a version of Mafia, which was both fun and a great way to learn most people’s names. On the second night, we got ingredients for the closest thing to s’more’s I could find, and I called them Tassie S’mores, because most Europeans had never heard of s’mores and wanted to try them once I mentioned them. The recipe: marshmallows (we could only find orange and strawberry flavored smaller ones), Cadbury milk chocolate, and McVitie’s digestive biscuits! Though not quite the same, they tasted pretty great and were pretty popular.

 

One thing I loved about Tasmania is that it’s cooler down there right now, so for the first time since arriving in Australia, I wore my long pants, long sleeves, and jacket the whole week. So when we were hiking around, I wasn’t dying from the heat like I was in the Blue Mountains! On the second morning, we did a 3-hour, 10k hike to the tall Montezuma Falls and crossed a pretty scary suspension bridge that only held 2 people at a time. I liked it because although it was long and without a lot of views other than the waterfall, it was through a temperate rainforest – well shaded and with tons of tree ferns. That afternoon, we visited these beautiful white sand dunes with breathtaking views, but I didn’t take my camera to prevent the possibility of it getting ruined or lost in the sand. And instead of relatively dangerous sandboarding, we played a casual game of soccer in the sand. It was very hot, but really fun. Max encouraged playing dirty to be silly, and I actually was helpful in defense several times.

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The top of Montezuma Falls

On the third and last day, we hiked up Cradle Mountain, which was just truly beautiful. I ended up doing a longer hike than necessary because I turned around at one point and got slightly lost, but it was all good – I got almost to the summit, which was an incredibly hard and steep hike up a lot of rocks at points (I could have easily gone to the very top as I’d gotten past the hardest bit, I later learned). In the afternoon, we did honey tasting, and I had some delicious leatherwood honey ice cream, leatherwood honey being made only in Tasmania. A few of us (the 3-day tour people) then separated from the rest of the group, who were continuing onto 5 or 7 day tours. I saw the part of Tassie that I think would be my favorite, though, so I was happy, because the east coast is much more like the coast of mainland Australia, which I’m traveling quite a bit of. So I went back to Hobart for a night, then flew up to Brisbane on Thursday to meet my friend Steph, which is where I am now!

 

Brisbane is actually on the east coast of Australia north of Sydney, so I’m skipping around a bit, and it means that it’s really hot again up here! But that’s okay, because I will be going to a lot of beaches and this is definitely beach weather. And it could be hotter, because it’s autumn – the hottest temperatures tend to be during the Aussie summer, in December. Of course, this year’s summer has been longer than usual this year, but oh well, I shall do my best to adapt!

My friend Steph and I have known each other for about 8 years now – we met on a month-long organized student trip to New Zealand, with people all around the world. She’s originally from Northern Ireland but has been living in London for a few years now. We talked some back in New Zealand and were casual friends, but didn’t really connect after that until I moved to London and spent a year there a couple of years ago. We ended up doing a lot of day outings around London together, seeing West End shows, eating out, and did a few trips around the UK like Cornwall and Glasgow. She visited me last year in Indiana, and I took her on a weekend trip to Chicago. We’ve found that we’re pretty compatible in what we like to do travel-wise, so when I told her I was going to Australia and she was thinking about doing a trip here for her birthday, we knew we had to meet up. Plans ended up changing when I decided not to live in Melbourne, so I am now up here doing about 10 days or so of the east coast with her!

I’ve really enjoyed these last couple of days in Brisbane, which I think is probably Oz’s most underrated city. It’s one of the largest and there’s a lot to see, but there don’t seem to be nearly as many tourists here as a lot of other places. Thursday evening we walked around the South Bank Parklands (which includes a free public man-made beach and pool!), took the FREE ferry down the river (beautiful especially at night and less hot and crowded), and enjoyed the views on the Wheel of Brisbane. And did a lot of catching up, of course.

 

Yesterday, we did a hop on hop off bus tour around the main sights of the city, stopping at a few, including Mount Coot-tha, which really fantastic views of the city, without having to hike up the mountain), City Hall, the City Botanical Gardens (the smaller of the two, because of course Brisbane has two big free botanical gardens and a ton of other parks), and the State Parliament House.

 

City Hall was amazing for several reasons: 1) It’s a beautiful, grand, historic building, 2) There was a museum about the history of the city and a free tour inside the old clock tower, and 3) There was a debate going on for the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, and so naturally we just walked in and watched it. I didn’t expect the debate to be interesting, but it really was! By the applause, you could clearly tell that the seasoned politician in the middle, the current Lord Mayor, was going to win re-election, but we liked several of the other candidates. There was the guy in a t-shirt and khakis (while the others were in suits and ties), and another guy who instead of answering a question about public transport, read a statement about the benefits of medical marijuana. The most impressive thing to me was that the city’s current biggest issue is public transportation. The debate only centered around how it could be improved or added to, not weather it was even worth putting more money into or anything like that (like many US cities). Brisbane does seem like a great place to live. Other than the heat.

After that, we took a tour of the Queensland State Parliament building. This was amazing as well because there were literally NO other tourists in sight, despite it being completely free and a worthwhile stop. There were free tours as well, so we got a private tour! We got to sit in the grand, gold-and-crystal covered, quiet, empty rooms. Our favorites were the big voting room with the Waterford Crystal chandeliers and the beautiful old library with comfy seats and a view of the gardens. So overall a great day, which we ended with tasty Thai curry in Chinatown.

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At the bottom of the grand staircase in the Parliament Building

Today, while Steph went to the Australia Zoo (I’ve just been to so many zoos, including 2 in Australia!), I had a more low-key day, which I’ve found I need to do about once a week to catch up and decompress from all the travel and excitement. I did some walking around and checked out the free Contemporary Art museum, including watching most of a free art film. And then this evening when Steph came back to the hostel, the travel agent here helped us with our itinerary for the next 10 days. Normally I don’t use travel people like that, but it was really helpful instead of spending hours poring through reviews, checking if tours were free, trying to match up bus schedules, etc. It turns out that one of the tours we wanted to do (the Whitsunday Islands) need to generally be booked far ahead, so I’m very glad we got all that sorted, and now we can just enjoy our upcoming busy week! Tomorrow, we are off to the lovely beach town of Noosa, followed by a tour of the nearby Fraser Island!

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