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Beautiful AND close to the Cadbury factory!

Beautiful AND close to the Cadbury factory!

Mainland Aussies have one of two answers when you ask them if they’ve been to Tasmania…..”Oh, yes, it’s absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!” or, alternatively: “What, why would you want to go there?”…  Let’s just say, there is a bit of a stigma associated with the state.  It’s ‘common knowledge’ that Tassies are inbred and tend to spout two heads.  Now, I’m no expert, but the Tasmanians that I met were perfectly lovely and very friendly, no extra appendages to be seen – and the state itself WAS absolutely beautiful.

We arrived in Hobart and after picking up our deluxe camper van, and made our way into the city for some food.  Research (reading the in-flight magazine on the way over) had lead us to seek out Chodra, a beautiful little tea house owned by the former basest of the Violent Femmes.  What a beautiful introduction to the least-visited-state in Australia (only 2% of visitors to the country make it over). 

We found a beautiful spot to camp and the next day the only thing that inspired us to get up was the fact that we were mere minutes from the Cadbury chocolate factory!  YUM!!  We drank hot chocolate, watched a movie and then spent $50 on chocolate….but only paid $20!!!  Wow, I LOVE Tasmania!

Cliffs at Devil's Kitchen

Cliffs at Devil's Kitchen

They look smarter when they're stuffed!

They look smarter when they're stuffed!

Although our eventual destination was the far north of the island, we decided to head south and check out Port Arthur.  The drive was awe-inspiring with valleys, and hills dotted with sheep and the odd cow (the cows weren’t all that odd, just their frequency, but, again, I’m no expert).  Port Arthur looked very interesting, but we saw it only from the parking lot.  It was cold and wet and late in the day…and a little pricy to boot.  Instead we went to check out the infamous Tassie devils.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing these funny little creatures, I would seriously suggest checking them out (Youtube has a couple of good clips).  They run around in a happy daze and it’s as though they forget what they’re doing every minute or so…”oh, sh!t, what was I gonna do…mmmhhh?  Maybe I’ll go this way – yeah, that’s good – oh wait…er where was I going?”  I didn’t get to see them eat, supposedly quite the site: they start spinning and get exceedingly aggressive, but I like my first impression of them:  funny and dumb; the big toothy grins complete the picture.

The next day we made the trek north.  The gently sloping hills through the heart of rural Tasmania are reminiscent of Ireland, although due to a fairly dry season they weren’t quite as emerald green.  Launceston, the second biggest city in the state, was charming and offered free internet at the library (the city takes a two-star jump when one can find access to the web…it’s a gift).  A long-time friend from Scotland was in town and we had a nice catch-up over a quick lunch.  The sun shone brightly as we continued North West and the light from the sunset gave off that flattering orange glow that makes everything clear as day but better.  We would be driving through the bush in the dark.

The colour palette of the trip: green and blue

The colour palette of the trip: green and blue

After a little detour 16km past the house, on a dirt road, we finally made it to our destination.  Luckily those extra kilometers had allowed us the chance to see possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils and a great, stoic bird called the tawny frogmouth.  Did I mention: I love Tasmania? 

Anyway, we eventually made our way to our host’s and he greeted us with a glass of wine and a smile.  We stayed up until 5am getting to know each other.  What a fascinating man – we were in for an unbelievable next few days! …

 

Theme Songs of the Day:

Putting on the Ritz – Taco, from the album After Eight

True Affection – The Blow, from the album Paper Television

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Follow the Rusty Red Road

Follow the Rusty Red Road

So I had one full day left in Mt. Isa and I think it was extraordinarily well spent: we trekked out into the bush!  It was exactly the kind of thing I had pictured when envisioning the arid outback: we were going to look for rocks! It was a guaranteed dusty and dry process and I was very excited, indeed.

Termite moundsNow it’s not too hard to get to the middle of nowhere from Mt. Isa.  One can accomplish this by driving in any given direction for any more than ten minutes.  This allows you time to pass through the city.  Within minutes all that surrounds you are  red hills lined with spinifex and some low-lying trees dispersed intermittently around termite mounds (interestingly, I mistook these mounds for rocks when I first saw them – supposedly a common mistake…I wondered why people had bothered to stand hundreds of red rocks on their sides – monolithic art…obelisks du nature?).

The Treasure!

The Treasure!

So we had a great plan.  We were invited to go looking for Maltese crosses (MCs).  These are rock-like crystal formations made of a mineral called staurolite. They form in geometrical diamond-shaped patterns.  Every so often the diamond shapes line up and when they form in just the right way an extraordinary cross is born.  This symbol is commonly associated with good luck and protection.

There are only a few places in the world these small phenomena are found.  We were on our way to find treasure!!  (Finally, a way to fund my trip!)

So we loaded up the 4×4 with food and equipment and five of us headed out.  We were quite a team.  Roy – the Maltese cross expert extraordinaire – was the one who was kind enough to invite us out.  He has the knowledge and the equipment to guarantee us finding a least a few of these elusive gems.  When he’s not digging in the dirt, he frequents the café where Stacey is employed.  He happened to mention this interesting hobby of his to Stacey, earlier in the week.  Stacey showed keen interest and knew I would be totally up for it.  Her co-worker Lisa happened to have the day off as well.  Roy invited a friend of his, Laura, and so we made up a mad team of gung-ho Maltese cross discoverers.

That's as far up as he went!

That's as far up as he went!

After about a half hour down the highway we took a discreet turn-off and started on what would be many hours of very bumpy 4X4ing.  The novelty of being jostled around wore off after about ten minutes, but we were easily distracted from the incessant rigmarole by the abundance of wildlife we encountered.  Roy had this amazing knack for seeing critters from afar and stopping the vehicle at just the right time to get up-close and personal (note the picture of the lizard running up his leg?).  We saw a variety of lizards and so many birds – bugs, cows, insects…it was a desert cornucopia.  It’s amazing how barren and dry everything looks, but there is this whole ecosystem just waiting to be discovered (especially with the very wet wet-season that had just recently ended).  We realized quickly that we had, in Roy, not just a navigator, but a tour-guide as well.

We arrived at Roy’s secret site and each had our turn sifting through the dirt for Maltese Crosses.  Beginners’ luck being on my side, I managed to spot an interesting looking rock in the first batch.  I found one!  I’m told it’s worth at least $10-20!  Now that won’t even get me a nice dinner…I had better keep looking.

Sifting RocksAfter a few hours we all managed to find one, although none as big or as square as the first beauty (the more angled type are considered St. Andrew’s Crosses).  We celebrated by heading back up the track and indulging in a picnic and a swim. I provided entertainment by stepping in the biggest cow-patty I’ve ever seen…or felt (squishing around my sneakers) for that matter, …I only did it for laughs – one of my gifts…really…

The way back was, I swear, bumpier than the trip in.  Roy picked up speed and we all sang along, loudly, to Billy Joel…  Piano Man will be forever etched in those little lizards’ little brains, and for that I apologize – but what fun!  I would, without question, back Roy in a guided-tour-adventure company if he ever thought to start one up – Outstanding Outback Adventures, or some such title.  I would pay good money to be slung through the outback, made to inhale dust, find treasure, and bounced straight into cow patties.  Honestly, it was an absolutely awesome way to spend the day.

What an amazing way to cap off my first trip into the inner-heart of the continent.   And my, oh my, what a big and beautiful heart it turned out to be!

Theme Songs of the Day:

Why Worry – Dire Straits, from the album Walk of Life – (This song is specially dedicated to you, dad).

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