Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tassie Foodie Heaven

Tasmania is foodie heaven.  Seriously.  It’s also wine snob heaven and beer lover heaven.  Basically, if you enjoy eating or drinking then you’ll enjoy Tasmania.  However many calories Tasmanians burn with all their hiking and outdoorsiness, they make up for with the incredible food and drink produced on the island.

Wine wine wine!  Tassie has a few great small wine regions.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to check out any wineries, but we made up for it with beer.  Beer beer beer!  We visited the Cascade Brewery – Australia’s oldest brewery – for a tour of the facilities followed by a tasting.  I have been to many microbreweries in the Seattle and Vancouver areas, but I had never toured a big commercial brewery like this.  It was pretty cool to see all of the beer being bottled so quickly:

Tasting time!  Pinkies up, boys…

We didn’t get a chance to visit Tasmania’s other big brewery – Boag’s in Launceston – but we did make sure to drink some while we were in its home state:

The Iron House Brewery was a small microbrewery in the middle of nowhere on Tasmania’s east coast.  While the brewery is new and small, it has a big restaurant area and great views over the water.

Cascade wasn’t the only big name factory we went to.  Cadbury’s produces the bulk of their Australian chocolate in Tassie, and while factory tours aren’t available, they have a visitor centre with a brief presentation on chocolate and a big ass chocolate shop with discount prices.  I got to pose with the Freddo Frog and Caramello Koala:

And Michael took his turn on the chocolate catwalk, sporting the purple bag of chocolates which is sure to be in season this fall.

The Salamanca Markets were another great place to get sweets.  We started the day off right with a jam doughnut and coffee:

The markets also featured fresh produce.  Tassie is famous for its apples, and more varieties exist here than on the mainland.  Living in Washington state for so long, I was spoiled by the apple selection.  In Tassie, I was pleasantly surprised to find my favourite Honeycrisp apples for purchase, and I quickly devoured one.  But for the full fruit experience, we went to Eureka Farm.  We got there too late to pick our own fruit, but we definitely partook in the eating of it.  Cade got himself a fancy, fruity, decadent dessert:

While Vince and I opted for the award-winning apricot ice cream.

And no, it wasn’t sorbet.  It was legit ice cream!

The apricot ice cream wasn’t the only ice cream we had on the trip.  We popped into the Melita Honey Farm to taste their honey ice cream.  We each got a little cup and devoured them quickly.  Delicioso!

Inside, there were walls of honey – dozens of varieties – and we tasted as many as we could (and purchased quite a few too).

For the option of sweet or savoury, we had lunch at the famous Mt Elephant Pancakes.  I obviously choose sweet!

And even the local cafes and restaurants had their own sweet concoctions, like this lime pop rocks cheesecake that I had on our night in Strahan.

Now, I’ve been focusing on the sweet treats here, but it wasn’t all sugary and delicious.  For every honey farmer and fruit grower, there was as small family-owned cheese maker or artisan bread baker to add to the Tassie foodie mix.  We cleaned up well on day one with our spread of breads, cheeses, relishes, and garnishes from the stands at the Salamanca Markets:

And while we couldn’t get all the way to the remote yet popular King Island Dairy, we made sure to purchase some of their product in the store for a little pre-dinner snack.

And for our main meal, you ask?  The boys were determined to eat some fried goodness from one of Hobart’s many fish and chips shops.  A cornucopia of fish each, coming right up!

And me?  I don’t eat fish.  But I had something else in mind.  When I think foodie heaven, there is one critical element which the boys successfully avoided when we passed by it in Hobart on our first night in town, but I was determined.  I made them go back to fulfill my wishes with some taco-flavoured kisses on night two.

Despite the strange carrot and purple cabbage garnish, the Mexican food is Tassie wasn’t half bad.

Taco, taco.

Burrito, burrito.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cutest Little Devil

One of the first things we were told to do in Tasmania was to get off the road before dusk.  Tasmania has an abundance of wildlife and an abundance of road kill.  We saw our fair share of recently departed animals along the side of the road all across the island.  Lucky for us, we weren’t responsible for any of it.  Seeing so much road kill made me super determined to see more live specimens than dead ones.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see all that much in the wild since most marsupials are nocturnal.  The only exceptions were the handful of wallabies that we saw in various places, like this little cutie eating an apple core on the beach at Wineglass Bay:

We made up for our lack of animals in the wild with a stop at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.  The sanctuary had mostly every animal I had wanted to see in Tasmania with the sad exception of the monotremes (egg-laying mammals).  The park had neither platypuses nor echidnas.  Platypuses are hard to find in the wild, but we did manage to catch a glimpse of a live echidna wandering along the roadside somewhere between Cradle Mountain and Strahan.

Bonorong takes in injured and orphaned animals from Tasmania and the mainland.  Many of the animals come with sad stories, but the sanctuary recuperates them to be released back into the wild or cares for them if they are unfit to be returned to nature.  The park was dominated by kangaroos. 

The kangaroos at Bonorong were quite docile and domesticated.  They came close to us with no issue.  Even from up close though, I had no idea how this mother fit this very large joey in her pouch.

The best part was getting to feed and pet the kangaroos!  Kangaroos can’t reach the area under their necks, so we were told to give them a good rub there.  Vince followed orders:

My hand went out full of kangaroo food and came back full of kangaroo slobber:

Michael’s milkshake brings all the kangaroos to the yard.  (milkshake = kangaroo food pellets)

We got a little bit closer and…

Looks like this kangaroo wanted something a little more than what Vince was offering.  Oh my.  Let’s move on to the birds!  The kookaburra, with its crazy laugh, is probably the most famous of all Australian birds:

But it’s certainly not the prettiest.  Colourful parrots, lorikeets, cockatoos, and the like abound in Australia and Tasmania.  One example is the galah.  The sign said that this one’s name is Bob.  I’m not even joking.

The little row of five tawny frogmouths were all blind in one eye and won’t be released back into the wild.  It’s a sad story, but you have to admit:  these little guys all in a row are quite possibly the most adorable thing ever.

Cape Barren Geese wandered freely around the park.  Cade decided to give them a little nibble as well:

The park also had emus, but they aren’t native to Tasmania so I won’t post them.  Another species not found in Tassie is the koala.  The park had several imported koalas as well, and I was super excited to get to pet one!  The photo of me petting the koala, however, was photobombed by Michael with a big ass grin in the background.  He knew what he was doing.  I will say one thing:  after petting a koala, my hand reeked of eucalyptus, which smells surprisingly like marijuana.  Who knew?

While the koala isn’t found in Tassie, its closest relative is.  Meet the wombat!

This wombat was nothing short of fucking adorable.  Seriously adorable.  Random facts for you:  wombat’s poop is cubic and they stack the cubes to mark their territory.  Also, the wombat has a big ass plate of cartilage in its backside.  When being chased by a predator, it runs into its narrow burrow and then lets the hunter put its head between its rump and the top of its burrow.  It then uses massive force to smash the intruder’s skull between its big butt bone and the ceiling.  Awesome!  So, moral of the story:  never put your hand in a wombat burrow.

Also, we saw various types of quolls, but they were all asleep.

Now, of all species in Tasmania, none are more characteristic than the ones that are named after Tassie:  the Tasmanian tiger and the Tasmanian devil.  The Tasmanian tiger, more formally called the thylacine, was Tasmania’s answer to the tiger:  a carnivore that sits on the top of the food chain.  A marsupial, it wasn’t at all related to an actual tiger.  Tasmanian tiger memorabilia, signs, exhibits, and more abound all across the state despite the thylacine being extinct since 1936.  It still remains on Tasmania’s official emblem:

Early European settlers named the other species the Tasmanian devil because of the devilish growling sound that it makes.  Like the thylacine, the devil is a carnivore – not common in marsupials – and survives on a combination of hunting and scavenging.  Fortunately, the Tassie devil is still around.  Early settlers believed that the devil was a threat to livestock and hunted it.  How could anything this cute be a threat??? Come on!!!

The devil earned protected status in the 1940’s, and its reputation was fixed after researches announced that it was really never a threat to livestock.  It then became an iconic symbol of Tasmania.  Then, in 1996, scientists discovered devil facial tumour disease, a type of cancer that is being passed from devil to devil around the island.  It has caused massive population declines and led to the devil being placed on the endangered species list in 2008.  Efforts to protect the devil are underway, and a breeding program is working to increase the size of the healthy captive population in case the species goes extinct in the wild.

Awwww!  Look at him!  With the little wallaby tail in his mouth… who wants lunch?

So, if you want to see a devil in person, you’ll need to come to Australia.  The only devils outside of Australia are at a zoo in Copenhagen (a gift from the Tasmanian government after the Prince of Denmark’s wife, a Tasmanian woman, gave birth to their first son), but it’s best to see them here – in their native habitat – in Tasmania – just in case they aren’t around too much longer.  Until you get to see one in person, here is a video of one wandering around in an adorable fashion.

It scratches itself like a dog!  How cute!!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bay of Fires Photo Shoot

A visit to the Bay of Fires was one of the things that I was most excited for in Tasmania.  Ok, so I was super excited for pretty much everything, but I was uber excited for Bay of Fires.  In 2009, Lonely Planet rated Bay of Fires as the top place to visit.  The top place to visit in Tasmania?  No.

The top place to visit in Australia?  No.

The top place to visit in the world?  Yes.

A hidden gem with sparse population nearby and even fewer tourists, the 29 kilometre long coastline along the Bay of Fires features beautiful beaches with powder white sand – and peace and quiet.  Great for swimming and trekking, this place is one of the world’s best kept secrets (at least until Lonely Planet went and spilled the beans about it!)

The Bay of Fires is said to have received its name from Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773.  As he sailed along the coast aboard his ship, he saw numerous Aboriginal fires on shore – hence the name.  Another theory is that the Captain didn’t see fire at all, but rather the red rocks that make Bay of Fires so stunning:

The colour on the rocks is formed by a lichen which produces an orange-red hue.  When the sun is out, the blue water and the red rocks collide to produce some magnificent photos.  Unfortunately for us, the sun didn’t want to cooperate, but we still had time for a photo shoot.  Vince and I swapped cameras and went to town:

And look closely in the background – Cade and Michael are having their own photo shoot!

It wasn’t until after we arrived back in Sydney and did a big photo swap that I realized what Cade and Michael had done.  They got all artsy – and didn’t give the tip to me or Vince.  How rude!  But how incredible are these photos?  They aren’t mine but I just have to share (with Cade’s prior permission, of course!)

And they just keep getting better!

Why didn’t I think of this???  Ugh.  Woe is me.  I need to go back.

When they finished up with their photo shoot for Vogue or Details or GQ or whatever, they at least had the decency to inconspicuously snap a shot of me and Vince.  Look at us staring out into the water.  We’re deeply thinking about something very important – like Einstein’s theory of relativity or the meaning of life.  Or maybe we’re just quietly plotting your demise.

Probably the latter.  And yes – I mean you.

Actually, we were most likely thinking about pancakes as lunch was our next stop.  But before that, we stopped by another portion of the beach on the way out.  I had wanted to go for a swim, but with the weather, I thought it just best to put my feet in only.

But then I thought again.  I was at the Bay of Fires – the top place to visit in the entire world – and I was going to let some clouds stop me from diving into this amazing beach?  Hell no!  And off I went!

And it was freezing.  Seriously freezing.

My mother ain’t getting grandchildren out of me anytime soon after that.

Not that she was anyway.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

More of Tassie Outdoors

Tasmania’s natural beauty isn’t solely confined to its top notch national parks.  It seems we were impressed nearly everywhere we went.  Nowhere else I’ve been has there been so much scenery that is just so pleasing to the eye.

I had heard that there was a tree top walk in Tasmania.  As I’ve done the tree top walks in Western Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, I thought it only appropriate to check this one off the list as well.  The Tahune AirWalk was absolutely delightful.  Not only was there a large tree top walk:

But there were also extensive walking trails along the Huon and Picton Rivers, with several bridges crossing over them as well.

Tahune AirWalk also had a cable glide.  The price was a little steep, but we decided that we might as well give it a go.  It wasn’t nearly as long as it could have been, but it was fun to be dragged up into the tree tops and then released, soaring over the river below and back to ground level.

When we weren’t deep in the forests of southern Tasmania, we were on a beach on the Tasman Peninsula.  Night 3’s lodging was a cute cottage right on White Beach.

The sand was beautiful.  The water was beautiful.  Perfect place to mark my territory.


Natural beauty abounded in the strangest places.  Hogarth Falls was located in a park right in the little town of Strahan.

And while it doesn’t seem too outrageous to have a peaceful short trail and waterfall right in a quaint little town, it was truly shocking when we arrived at the Cataract Gorge in Launceston.

Launceston is Tassie’s second largest city having a population of over 100,000 people.  By Tasmania standards, Launceston is a bustling metropolis, which is why it was so unexpected to find the Cataract Gorge right in the middle of the city.  It was less than a 5 minute drive from the city centre, and the parking lot was right at the end of a residential street.  The gorge was deep and long, and the end that we walked to also opened out into a residential area.  On a different scale, it would be like having the Grand Canyon run through downtown Phoenix.

Sort of.

The area has been declared a reserve and also doubles as a city park.  We took a chairlift down over the gorge from the top into the bottom.  Look out below for the beautifully manicured lawns and inviting public swimming pool.

Heading out of the city, we stayed that night at a quiet cottage near the town of Mole Creek.  The grounds around the cottage were so calm and serene – fantastic!

Our accommodation even came with goats – one for each of us!

Down the road the next day, we stopped for lunch at a little cafĂ© in the middle of nowhere.  The view from our table was this:

Not bad, eh?

We drove west and stopped at a little scenic viewpoint on the side of the road.  The rugged west coast of Tassie is virtually uninhabited – only one main tourist town and a smattering of other villages.  Most of it isn’t accessible by road.  In this view you can see patches of white along the coast:

The Henty Dunes!  My mate Marcus told me about these and advised that they were a must see.  Standing up to 40 metres (130 feet) high, the dunes run for 30 kilometres along the coast and several kilometres deep inland.

We wanted to wander out to the beach, but realizing it would be several kilometres and probably take hours, we opted to try again next time.

Instead, we drove down the coast to the village of Strahan and the southern end of Ocean Beach – Tasmania’s longest beach which stretches the length of the Henty Dunes, down past Strahan, all the way to the opening of Macquarie Harbour.  We were hoping to see shearwaters flying in from feeding at sea all day, but they never came.  Instead, we peered out toward a far off lighthouse while we watched the sun sink low like a fireball.

See.  Everything in this place is just so darn pretty!