The weather had gotten worse by the morning, and our room was freezing cold. I woke up and found the heater off and the window open. What?! I cranked it back on and crawled back into the sleeping bag. Later, we found out the culprit was Steffen, who for whatever insane reason, found it too warm at night. I later learned that Steffen loves to get under the covers, nice and toasty, while it’s frigid outside. It’s a widely-loved feeling, but I prefer to be simply ‘comfortable’ both inside the bed and out. The cramped quarters and lack of suitable ventilation left Jake and I’s clothing still damp too.
The rain poured down as we ate our muesli and decided against the morning walk around the lake. We drove out and stopped at one lookout near an old pumphouse to get some pictures of the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains.
The plan was to head west towards the coast, then swing up and inland again to the northern tip of the Cradle Mountain National Park. We wouold pass through the towns of Queenstown and Strahan (I was saying “STRAY-han”, which is incorrect; say “Str-ah-n”, kinda like “Star Trek II : The Wrath of K-ah-n”).
Between Lake St. Clair and Queenstown, however, was a lookout called Donaghy’s Hill, which gives you spectacular views of the mountain ranges of Franklin-Gordon and Cradle Mountain. There’s also a domed mountain called Frenchman’s Cap which is a can’t-miss attraction of the area, according to Ben’s and my Lonely Planets. The weather had broken slightly and we were treated to some sunlight as we pulled into the car park. The walk was 20 minutes through the rainforest. But, as we emerged from under the canopy, it started raining, and with our increased elevation came increased winds. By the time we made it up the steps to the lookout, it was hailing. Horizontally. It was so bad that we could barely turn around to look at the mountains, but even if we could it wouldn’t have mattered, the fog and clouds hid any ranges we could have anyway seen. After 3 minutes, we all ran back down, into the protection of the dense forest. When we got back to the carpark, the sun was out again. Very funny.
Queenstown was an old mining town with open-pit copper and tin mines. The mines have all but shut down, but many are left open as museums to the town’s past. The mountains that cradle the small village bear the scars of years of abuse. The town itself was quiet, but friendly. If you’re considering living in lively Queenstown, we saw a poster advertising a 3-bedroom house for $95 per week.
After lunch we drove the 40 km to Strahan, crowned by the Chicago Tribune as The Best Little Town in the World. And hey, that was coming from Chicago, not even the Aussies themselves.
Strahan is a small fishing village, with it’s popular boardwalk and tourist destinations station right on the water. Hogarth Falls is a major attraction, as are the local arts and crafts stores.
The walk to the falls was another lovely one, and beside the path was a small creek that had the strangest colored water. They called it “tannin-stained”, but none of us knew what that meant. When the sun passed through it, it was the color of Darjeeling tea in a clear glass. For my own sanity, I’ll avoid describing yet another set of waterfalls.
Between Strahan and the town of Zeehan lay the Henty Dunes, 30 km of active sand dunes along the western coast of Tasmania. We trudged up one dune from the carpark to get a view across, to the ocean. After only about 15 minutes we decided to leave, since none of us had a desire to walk the entire 30 km of sand. We had seen a sign advertising four-wheeler rentals to cruise around the dunes, and if the price was reasonable and we had booked at the Strahan visitors center, we would’ve all done it. Those dunes were perfect for tearing around in an off-road vehicle.
On the way back down to the car, Jake found a large plastic disc that had been bent to almost form a toboggan. He dared Steffen to sled down the steep dune, and Steffen accepted. I used my camera to shoot a movie of the activity, and what followed was too funny not to distribute to the world. Therefore, courtesy of YouTube, I present to you Steffen and Jake vs. The Dune.
In the video, Jake’s first attempt ends up with Steffen no more than three feet down the dune, and Jake face down in the sand. His camera falls out so he runs up and sticks it in my pocket. In the background, Steffen tries to rock his way down the hill himself. Jake tries again, making it seem like he’s choking Steffen from behind. Again, he only ends up in the sand. Then, Jake steals the thrill of sledding by trying to pull the sled down the slope. Unfortunately, because of the weight of the plastic sled, and the weight of The Steffen, neither one made it down the sand.
Further along the road was Hell’s Gates, a ship’s pass out to the sea that’s considered the narrowest gap in the blahblahblah, which was deservedly devoid of other tourists.
Ben had read something about an old train tunnel you could drive through in the town of Zeehan. We stopped by a pub/bottle shop to pick up our nightly slab and also asked for directions. “What kind of car you driving?”, asked the landlord, a middle-aged woman who had no time for 4 smelly backpackers. “The wagon outside.” “Oh yeah, you’ll be fine, just can’t take 4x4s up there.” Apparently, the tunnel itself was quite narrow and larger cars would get stuck inside.
The drive to the tunnel didn’t have any signs, and after some educated guessing, we found our way there. The road itself should’ve been closed to non-offroading vehicles, as it was dotted with some serious potholes. The road is a one-way loop, taking you through the tunnel and spitting you back out near the golf-course that takes you there. We finally made it to the tunnel.
“No way you make it through that,” I tried to warn Steffen. “Naw, it’ll be OK,” he replied, with Ben backing him up. Logic got the better of them, though, as they thought of the car breaking down halfway through it. Steffen was also worried about any potholes inside, since Sheila was quite worse for wear already. All of us nervously looked at each other. There was only inches of clearance on either side for the Toyota. No one was certain enough of our fate to confidently say we should do it. Finally, Steffen backed up and we drove the wrong way down the one-way track back to the main road.
At the visitor’s center in Strahan, we were told of a caravan park in Roseberry, which was also the next major town that would have supermarkets, bottle shops, civilization, traffic lights, etc. Luckily, we arrived there only 3 minutes before the caretakers were going to call it quits for the evening, but 15 minutes after they should’ve already closed for the night. Ben, Steffen and I had planned on booking whatever dorm accomodation they had, but for the sake of saving money, Jake planned on sleeping in the car regardless. The caravan park also had small cabins that could fit about 5 – 6 people, for only 60 dollars. Jake joined us, and we ended up paying on $15 a piece. The cabin was small, but comfortable. There was a three-level bunk bed in one corner, a short couch, dining table, kitchen and a room in the back with a double bed. We even got a TV! Of course, there were only two channels, but a TV nonetheless. Seabiscuit was on, and we huddled around the set, drinking our cans of beer and preparing dinner.
Dinner that night was some diced ham and eggs with toast and tomatoes. Simple, but effective. I, of course, had to have wholmeal (read: wholegrain) bread with only scrambled egg whites. Steffen cooked the meals for Jake, Ben and himself, then left me to my quiet health-compulsiveness.
Steffen sneaked his gear onto the double bed, claiming it without a word. None of minded, as he had been driving the four of us around for more than a week without once complaining. Plus, the very bottom bed in the bunk was on the ground, shielded on two sides by the walls, and one more side by the couch. It was a small, dark cubby hole, and I adored it.
Several cans of beer and the predictable Toby Maguire flick later, we decided to call it an early night.