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HindustanTimes Sat,23 Aug 2014
Under Down Under
Nikhil Hemrajani, Hindustan Times
November 17, 2012
First Published: 15:27 IST(17/11/2012)
Last Updated: 15:36 IST(17/11/2012)

Please stay seated, it’s not safe to leave the aircraft. We’re experiencing a bit of lightning on the runway,” says the captain casually as our plane arrives at Hobart. I half expect the aircraft to be struck by lightning and try to recollect whether we’ll all get electrocuted or not. But soon, we’re briefed that it’s safe to deplane. As I walk towards the entrance gate, I manage a quick look around. It’s 4pm, cold, highly overcast and very windy with a wee bit of drizzle. This is not the Australian summer I was promised.

As it turns out, very little of this Tasmanian capital, or any part of Tasmania is anything like the Australia I had imagined. Hobart’s weather is as temperamental as its landscape. Warm Pacific currents are suddenly ousted by the colder waters of the Southern Ocean. A sunny day will harbour a thunderstorm just as soon. It’s the same with the countryside. Craggy cliffs find their way to the ocean in precarious manners. Vast midlands detour into temperate rain forests where tree ferns have barely changed in 500 million years. Chris Putnam, my pal from Melbourne who’s gone trekking in Tasmania many times, bursts my bubble when he says, “You’ll need at least a month to ‘splore Tassie, mate.”

All is well

My bus doesn’t share the road with any other vehicle, so I get to see views of the countryside, but also reach sooner than intended. My host, Stefan Kowalik, figures that that he won’t be able to pick me up from the bus station on time and suggests I take the short walk to Mures, a pub down by the docks. Mures, which does great fish-n-chips and tap beer (especially Indian Pale Ale) is the sort of welcome I’m looking for. As I soak in the warmth from the electric heaters, I’m introduced to Stefan’s Argentine girlfriend Paulina, their Irish roommate Sean, their German friend Marius who teaches capoeira for a living, and his visiting Canadian guest, Cherami.

Stefan, Paulina and Sean’s house is perched atop a hill at Liverpool Crescent and has spectacular views. It’s the equivalent of the Governor’s bungalow in Mumbai, but more personal and desolate with prettier scenery. Stefan is also a prolific brewer. His homebrews range from wheat beers to spicy Mexican ales to dark chocolaty malts to summer lagers. No doubt, he’s a bit stocky but explains unapologetically as he pats his tummy, “Someone’s gotta drink it, mate.” Later, several Indian eateries that specialise in biryanis and beef masalas catch my eye. Out of curiosity, I interrogate the chefs on what brings them so far from home. Most of them are from Malaysia and have stuck around. “Life’s good, there’s no reason to suffer the daily grind elsewhere,” says store manager, Dharam.

Float my boat: You’ll find fish trawlers, speedboats and yachts at Hobart’s docks.
Coast to coast

With the main city district that doesn’t extend past 10 km, it’s easy to get about on a cycle, which can be hired for free from the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). The museum is rated the best in the Southern Hemisphere. Among its exhibits is a ‘poop machine’ that emulates the action of the human stomach and intestines and artificially converts food into excrement. Apparently, not many visitors can take this assault on their senses.

A street in Launceston
Acknowledging that my week-long excursion will have me miss many national parks and hiking trails – especially Cradle Mountain, one of the highest points in the state that features unusual vegetation like mosses and lichens amidst evergreen flora – I decide to drive up the east coast close to the northernmost point of the island, evocatively titled Bay of Fires. From there, it’s an inland route back to Hobart through the centre via Launceston, Tasmania’s second largest city. The total distance is about 700km, split up with a few nights on the road. Stefan also adds a bit of information that gets my attention. “The Ironhouse microbrewery has the best ales in Tassie!”

Next morning, in a rented Suzuki Swift, I leave for Maria Island National Park, a protected reserve only accessible by boat from Triabunna, an hour and a half’s drive from Hobart. While the island has seen Aboriginal canoe crossings since millennia, it’s more famous for being an Alcatraz of sorts during the 1800s. The authorities are extremely stern on protecting the island’s natural diversity and won’t allow you to take fruits or vegetables lest you introduce harmful microbes into the environment.

The paint job: The Painted Cliffs at Maria Island have been sculpted by air, water and time.

Maria Island is home to many species endemic to Australia, including the famous Forester kangaroos that reach over six feet, Bennetts and Rufous wallabies and the extremely odd-looking wombats – wild marsupials that are so nonchalant towards humans, they won’t acknowledge your presence even if you’re right in their face. From the main pier, you can cycle to the Fossil Cliffs – limestone formations featuring ancient shellfish and coral etched in time. Another natural wonder, the Painted Cliffs, offer striking colours and patterns in sandstone deposits. The island also has camping facilities if you’re interested in spending a night in the outback.

Get beached

Wineglass Bay’s aquamarine beaches can transfix even the most blasé. Comprising two distinct regions – Freycinet National Park and Coles Bay – the area gets its name from its goblet-like shape when seen on a map. Sitting on the sands of Honeymoon Beach, I soak in the surroundings – rocky cliffs enclose the waters into a private cove, hence its name.

A short drive ahead, Gravelly Beach is more unusual. The sand is pea-sized pieces of granite that’s slowly being mined by the sea from adjoining granite deposits. Seaweed and bull kelp in the water make it unsuitable for swimming, so I find a cosy spot on the surprisingly cool gravel to take a nap. In front of me, Mount Amos, a monolith of pink granite looms over the waters, and enduring the climb to its 450m summit promises 360-degree views of Wineglass Bay. I take the route more travelled instead and visit the Wineglass Lookout Point. I hope to see a school of dolphins but find the area swamped by Japanese tourists.

The Bay of Fires
Drink and be merry

En route to St Helens, I pull over at the Ironhouse microbrewery, which is offering six types of beers, all for 5 AUD (R285) an imperial pint (568ml). I hear a kookaburra laugh in the distance. And then it happens. Ten or 20 kookaburras partake in this intimidation tactic – a warning call to outsiders entering their territory. They fill the area with an unnerving sound.

Later, I’m at the Bay of Fires, a name given by early English seafarers in the late 1700s when they saw aboriginal fires on the shore. Bright orange lichens on the granite rocks give the area an unmistakable look. The ocean here is a rich azure and the beaches spectacularly untouched. My final destination is the boutique Josef Chromy winery. After a tasting session of over 20 wines, I settle for the Pinot Gris and pack two bottles of the Pepik Sparkling Rosé. Its taste of fresh berries is simply too delicious to resist.

As I wait for my flight, I realise that Tasmania’s enchantment is hard to dispel. I will have to return soon to complete what I started.

Getting there

Visa: Visit www.vfs-au-in.com
There are no direct flights from India, but Hobart, being a major Australian city, is accessible by flights from many cities like Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. You can also travel in the luxurious Spirit Of Tasmania ocean liner that plies from Melbourne to Devonport. Log on to www.spiritoftasmania.com.au

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2012/11/kangaroo.jpgFlights: Head to www.iwantthatflight.com.au.
Jetstar, owned by Qantas, is a popular local airline. Other options include Tiger Airways and Virgin Australia.

Weather: Tasmania, in the Southern hemisphere, has its seasons reversed. Summers  are between Dec-Feb, with a maximum temperature of 20°C. In winter, June-Aug, there’s considerable snowfall and temperatures don’t go beyond 10°C.

Travel info

Travel tips: Plan your trip to Tasmania in their summer to explore their wine and music festivals.

Summer can still be cold, so carry adequate warm clothes. Rainfall is erratic too, so carry a mackintosh and umbrella.

The best way to travel is by car. An Indian Driver’s Licence is accepted as long as it is printed in English. If it isn’t, you’ll need to arrange for an International Driving Permit from your local RTO.

Don’t underestimate Aussie portions, no matter how hungry you are, as the average meal is designed to satiate one burly Australian. 

(Photos: Thinkstock, Nikhil Hemrajani)

From HT Brunch, November 18

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