The Pondering Frog

Tasmania is the smallest state in Australia, tiny in fact, only about the size of Portugal or Hungary and by Australian standards, that’s pretty small. How the little palace selling ice cream by the side of a modest country road in the middle of winter came to be called ‘The Pondering Frog’ is a mystery I never solved, but there were a lot of them. Frogs I mean.
Never did find out which one was the ‘Ponderer’ and what he was pondering. Perhaps it was why he was so bloody cold, that’s if he wasn’t a she and she was pondering, but I suspect that if it was indeed, she, she would have been pondering the same deep and meaningful question. I know I was.
One nomenclature possibility, I suspect is that someone likes frogs for the same reason that I like frogs. Any creature that joins a large group in a warm moist place to sing about sex has to be a likable creature.

The Last Bridge in Australia

The last bridge in Australia. There is a road.
It begins in the tropics at Cape York, the northern tip of Australia, the pointy bit that directs our attention to the equator just over the horizon. The road wanders south for 5,400 kilometres through open woodlands, jungles, cane farms, towns and cities, cattle properties and four State Capitals (five if you count Townsville the ‘capital’ of North Queensland) .

After crossing Bass Strait, it ends just beyond Cockle Creek, over the last bridge in Australia, in the sub-temperate wilds of southern Tasmania, as a sandy track, to a beach belonging to the Great Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica.

I want to walk over that bridge.

the road

Having already decided that Hobart is really just a friendly neighbourhood masquerading as a capital city, we took a morning drive to the eastern side of ‘The River Derwent’ where hundreds, maybe thousands of regular homes have water views to rival those of the old money / nouveau riche in Point Piper and Vaucluse (rich Sydney suburbs).

It reinforces the observations we made not long after our arrival. We had just spent five weeks in the beautiful village of Derby and Tassie really is a place we could live. Around every bend on this clear sunny morning, we ‘discovered’ the modest suburbs of Lindisfarne and Rose Bay, Rosny and Bellerive, facing the estuary, boasting intimate parks between yachts and small enterprises, mixed into the village feel while yummy mummies pushed their prams and their children played.

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A Day To Live

Do you have a memory that stirs when someone mentions ‘going for a drive’?

It wasn’t a perfectly sunny day most of the time, it wasn’t the warmest weather and it was not taken in an incredible supercar, it was just… well, beautiful… and it ended back in Kingston, where we began.

Our house-sitting hosts John and Julie had kindly allowed us the use of their second car to not only to take the dish licking Winnie for a gambol on the beach in the morning but to make a few day trips too, something that was really appreciated as our humble aged camper van is not designed for nipping along the winding roads of Tasmania.

van trailer brown

Sandy Bay, our home for a month or so, is an upmarket area just four kilometres south of the city centre and overlooking the beach, the full expanse of the Derwent estuary and the soaring Tasman bridge. There is an endless procession of ships, fishing vessels and yachts silently going about their business to keep the day dreamers, myself included, occupied as long as hunger and other interruptions allow.

Immediately south, another eight kilometres or so, sits the seaside town of Kingston which is close enough to be considered part of the Hobart metropolitan area and home to a fair percentage of city workers, but it has suffered a great misfortune.

It was first settled by a bloke called Tom Lucas who set up camp with his family there about 150 years ago. Unfortunately for him, the area had already been paid a visit a few years earlier by a famous botanist, Robert Brown and the area and the river were named after Mr Brown and not the settlers.

Of course the town of Kingston should be called Lucas but worse was to follow …shock horror… the river which had been known quite correctly as Brown’s River had some heartless soul steal its apostrophe and has since been known by the emasculated term, Browns River.

Twelve thousand residents live with this abomination of misspelling of their beautiful little river, which I can only attribute to their fortitude, apathy or undernourished education. The reason it’s called Kingston is an amazing story in its own right, I’m sure and if you ever find out what it is, please let Wikipedia know so they can update their records.

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The Tasmania Problem

The Tasmania problem. In a way, I have a problem with Tasmania which emerges every time we get into a car. No matter which way one turns, there is nearly always an urge to take a photo in what is without doubt, the most varied, interesting and beautiful state in Australia. This day it was … Read moreThe Tasmania Problem

One Drive For The Bucket List

An unlisted ‘bucket list’ drive. Wed 8th April 2015. I’m happy now I’ve seen the mysterious, invisible lake on the edge of the Derby village, having climbed the hill and gazed into the jaws of death (a minor exaggeration, but the cliff edge was a bit scary).

Our Travel Australia adventure has already produced some amazing experiences as you may have read in previous articles and now we were looking at something entirely different.

We have agreed to consider looking after a roadside ice-cream cafe, 11 kilometres south of Bicheno on the Tasman Highway in June after we complete our Hobart mission at the end of May.Derby to Bicheno map

During the winter the business is essentially closed but still needs a ‘presence’ and today was the day to meet up for a coffee.

A bucket list drive. Wow.

It was overcast this morning, a few light showers had passed through but that means not a lot with weather gods so fickle. By the idyllic unhurried standards to which we have become accustomed this was an early start. By 9.15am we were on the road heading uphill to St Helens, a 70 kilometre run to the south east.

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The Invisible Lake

The invisible lake. Derby, Tasmania 28th March 2015. After meeting the three toed, clipped-nail Bridge Platypus yesterday and engaging in Friday night’s pub conversations that brought forth a strong desire to see Briseis Hole, for that is indeed the unfortunate name given the mysterious and so far unseen lake in the heart of Derby, we did something else instead.

What we really need to do before I fall off any cliffs and bring myself and our house-sitting career to an abrupt end is have a look around the area. After the resurrection of our now very drivable Nissan Urvan camper, this sunny Saturday morning was perfect for filling the thermos by two (can you say thermoses?) with brewed coffee, pack a few sandwiches (not platypus) and hit the road.

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The Platypus

The platypus. Saturday was drizzly weather, this second week of the Tasmanian Travel Australia, perfect for working inside, in this case putting together some business cards. Friday night at the pub and illuminating conversations reminded me that I need something to give people so they can find the Diary of the Universe website and tell them how to contact us directly.

But, I can’t postpone it any longer, tomorrow, weather permitting I am going to start on the expensive and for me, herculean task of bringing the van up to a reasonable standard again. I’ll start by at least removing the tail-shaft and replacing the dodgy rear universal joint, but first I need some quick pointers from You Tube about the process.

Fair enough, I’m doing the easier one first and it was obviously not technically difficult but I would have to improvise on facilities. To create a work environment, I slung a tarp between the trailer and the lean-to that served as a wood shed.

gderby 01

As it happened, Sunday was fine and the whole tail shaft process was completed without too much trouble. Next morning, with the encouraging success of the uni joint behind me, I almost reluctantly removed the front passenger side wheel and got to work on the ball joints.

For those joining me on this adventure without the joy of intimate knowledge of the front end of a motor vehicle, these are the swivels that allow your front wheels to point towards where you want to go. Rather important elements, I think I don’t need to say. That’s a crude apophasis for the word collectors out there.

They come as a pair (not the word collectors)  basically a big C shape chunk of metal with a ball in the top and the bottom. So far, so good.

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The Derby Dinner Dance

Today, Monday, we are beginning our next Travel Australia house-sitting assignment and our first in Tasmania. By lunchtime Neil and Liz have introduced us to our three hairy canine house mates for the next 35 days, save for Mika the cat who doesn’t do introductions.

We are actually living in what used to be the residence for the general store, shortly to be restored to its former role. Upon their return, the hard work in ‘restoring the store’ Anzac Day 2015 will see the birth of a new enterprise, coffee shop, takeaway and store combination.

derby 08

There are plans too for the small property next door which is home to some petrol bowsers and a small garage and this is where our elderly Nissan Urvan and trailer will live for the next month or so.

derby 01

We have an early dinner with our hosts and they head off to Launceston to be ready for an early flight in the morning. An overseas holiday beckons and they are keen to hit the road.

We are here, at last.

Tuesday morning dawned on Derby and upon us, clear as crystal, the sun pouring in through the old double sash windows. The air is crisp, very much like late autumn in more northern climes, the sun is warm and we seized the chance to sit on the verandah with a freshly brewed coffee and absorb our surroundings.

We are right on the main road, so traffic can be heavy, in peak sometimes up to 1 vehicle passes per minute.

This is Tasmania, only a quarter the size of our otherwise smallest state of Victoria and for us, the fulfillment of an unrequited desideratum for 20 years since our first fleeing visit when we could afford the time and cost of travel. A bantam sample of Europe in the southern hemisphere, more in common with the South Island of New Zealand than mainland Australia, this is like visiting another country and the strict regime of quarantine does nothing to dispel the notion.

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Crossing To Tasmania. At Last.

It’s overcast this March morning, on our Travel Australia, leaving the Lang Lang Caravan Park. We’ve packed up our little Nissan Urvan campervan and with trailer firmly attached, we’re heading for Port Melbourne where the ship taking us to Tasmania is waiting. The weather system that had brought the wind sweeping across the plains has passed and blue skies are predicted for this afternoon.

It’s normal for the drive from the eastern end of Victoria towards Melbourne to be buffered by headwinds. Weather systems originating around the continent of Antarctica move eastwards, highs, lows and capricious cold fronts, they move across the plains of Victoria and the 300 kilometres of this flat country offer little resistance.

We minimized our exposure by finding protected areas to camp and staying put twice, for two days spending the time reading, writing and simply listening to the sounds of the wind rushing through the trees and whistling around buildings. This diapause was no burden, no inconvenience, this was an opportunity to cease movement to revel in the experience, the joy of holing up, snug and safe, warm and comfortable while all around was in turmoil. These are memorable times.

We’ve developed a renewed interest in the weather, given the notoriety of Bass Strait and the hazards of negotiating its relatively shallow waters. Strong storms can blow up fairly quickly and there is nothing much between Antarctica and Tasmania. We’ve heard stories of crossings one would prefer to avoid. (If it got too bad, Julie suggested, I should buy a Viagra so I won’t roll off the bunk.) To keep costs to the minimum we opted for sharing all-male, all-female 4-berth cabins, so I figure I’ll give her advice a miss, assuming they put me in an all-male cabin.

Read moreCrossing To Tasmania. At Last.