Steffen and I spent a freezing night out in the tents, and by morning rain clouds had gathered above. Before we left, a light rain started to fall. We headed into the Hartz Mountains National Park to see something called The Big Tree. If you can’t figure out what it is, you’re not trying hard enough. It was near an attraction called the Tahune Forst Air Walk, which is a large network of catwalks constructed through the canopy of the forest. To walk on it was rather expensive, so we chose to just walk around an area of the park devoted to some of the oldest trees in the world, some reaching as old as 2,500 years.
From there we headed back towards Hobart to see a little bit more of the city. We walked to the wharf, St. David’s Park, Salamanca Square and Battery Point. Salamanca Square is the site of a nice outdoor market, one of the top attractions of the city. Battery Point is an older part of the city, now a small but nice village with wonderful architecture. At the Elizabeth Street Mall, Jake and Ben walked into the Salvation Army (Salvo’s — Australians abbreviate everything) to find cheap blankets. Jake splurged on a thick wool blanket for $12.50, but Ben only penny-pinched a blanket for $2.50, which looked more like a lady’s shawl than something that could keep you warm.
Jake and I went to an internet cafe to check flights heading back to Melbourne. We wanted to get a cheap flight out, so he and I decided to book early. Jake also wanted to get back to Melbourne, meet up with his travel mate John and head to Perth to find work. We used IWantThatFlight.com.au, which Jake turned me onto, and could only find flights for $99. Frustrated, I kept looking around playing with the dates and airports. Five minutes later, I decided to try the Launceston – Melbourne fare again, but this time it was $39! I yelled across the cafe to Jake and soon after we walked out with confirmations for Wednesday Jan 31 at 4:55 from Launceston.
The plan was to head towards Mt. Field National Park, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and Strathgordon to do some serious hiking. We reached New Norfolk and what we thought was a free campsite, only to be told the cost was $8. When we asked the caretaker if he knew of any free campsites in the area, he quickly said no, that the one we passed in Hobart 20 minutes earlier was the only one. Screw him, we thought, and drove on. Before we left Hobart, I had suggested to Steffen that we stop at a bottle shop to pick up a slab for the night. Like always, he confidently said, “Oh, there’s always a bottle shop open somewhere, we’ll be fine.” As we drove through small towns with one gas station, 3 houses and no supermarkets, I wagged my finger at Steffen and told him that I new his over-confidence would eventually cost us.
Finally, we reached National Park, and hotel/pub/bottle shop that was actually open. Steffen looked at me and smiled, “Told you!” The woman behind the bar charged us about $10 more for the slab than anywhere else, but we were just glad to see something open this far in the country. We asked her about free campsites in the area, and she told us about some guy who was camping off the side of the road near a river under a bridge. There was also an area near the border of Mt. Field National Park that’s used for camping. The guy under the bridge was nowhere to be found, and though the area did offer some mediocre camping areas, we decided to explore our options. The area near the park was perfect. It was near a small stream, and offered us unobstructed views of the sky, which was shaping up to be a good one for star gazing. The temperature plummeted and we were finally allowed to light a campfire, since there weren’t any of the usual warning signs around.
The fire was great, but the sky was indescribable. I’ve never seen that many stars in the sky, it looked like paint splatter on a dark canvas. We even got to see a comet streaking across the sky, leaving behind a wide trail. One cluster of stars was so dense it looked like it was a cloud in the sky, but no, the sky was perfect that night. Pictures and paintings hardly prepare you for something like that. It was one of the things I had looked forward to the most before I left the US, and I had traveled far and waited a long time for it. The four of us would just look at the sky and not say a word.
Stay tuned for hiking around Mt. Field National Park, and miserable day driving that ends on an almost magical note.