Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rediscovering Tasmania - Pieman River

I do not cease to be amazed by the extraordinary beauty of the West Coast of Tasmania. It is rugged, unspoilt and just stunning. I had visited several parts of the west coast, including the Gordon River - a top tourist destination, the Arthur River - more remote and quiet, the several lakes and waterfalls, the mountains etc etc. One needs a lot of days to see it all thoroughly.

One place I had not visited was the Pieman River. It has been on the to-do list for some years, but just did not happen. Well, after Waratah, we drove through the stunning Tarkine Forests to Corinna, which is on the Pieman River and from where one has to cross the Pieman by barge - there is no bridge. It is named 'Fatman' Vehicle Barge and is now the only cable driven vehicular barge in Tasmania. When we arrived at Corinna, the first thing that struck me was, what appeared to me, a film-set, complete with all the appropriate props that one sees in western movies, except for horses and cowboys. Well, that was my first impression.Corinna, once named Royenrine was proclaimed a township in 1894. As a gold mining town in the late 1800s it had two hotels, one of which is still standing. 'The largest nugget of gold ever found in Tasmania weighed 243 ounces (6.89 kilograms) and was found in nearby Rocky River.' (Quote from 'A Wilderness getaway')

Today, the nugget of gold is the Pieman River's outstanding and unspoilt beauty. By the way, it was the explorer, Captain James Kelly who discovered the Pieman River in 1816 and orginally named it the Retreat River. But what a place!

Here we experienced the awesome power of creation in a way that I rarely experienced before. So, let me share just a tiny part of our experience. My personal experience was all the more profound in the context of the emptiness that was part of my life since my 70th birthday in April. It was on the Pieman River that I sensed a release from that emptiness as we traveled this wonderful waterway that included the Savage and Donaldson Rivers, which run into it.

With the regular cruise vessel (MV Arcadia II) out of commission, we were offered a small 8-seater boat and were the only two passengers on a day that was overcast & wet. Being a small boat, we were able to negotiate much further up the smaller Savage & Donaldson Rivers and were ever so grateful that the Arcadia was not operating at the time. Dale, our driver, was a great guy who obviously enjoyed our enthusiasm and our unbridled delight. He was happy to share his own love for the Pieman to the extent that he was late back at Corinna. Instead of 2 hours, we were gone for 2.75 hours. We were just hoping that he would not get into trouble over that. He certainly had two very grateful passengers who were gobsmacked with what he showed us. So perhaps, with these opening words, I should show you some of the magic, but have to warn you that photos do not do full justice nor can capture the absolue beauty we encountered.

But, I should start at the beginning.

The Corinna accommodation is outstanding with beautifully restored miners cottages and the building of new ones with that lovely old 1800s look. I highly recommend it!

The owners did a wonderful job and we enjoyed our 2-bedroom cottage immensely: It was delighfully private with the back verandah facing the bush
and wallaby just hopping around.
We were also on the look out for Tasmanian Devils, but did not see any:
After a long day on the road, remembering that we left King Island that morning and spent time in Waratah as well, it was good to relax, facing the bush and hearing the rustling of the wind in the trees, and enjoying each other's company. It was good enough to down a bottle of Tasmanian red wine!

The following morning was time for our big adventure on the river. We rugged up and were glad we did as it was cold on the water, though once under way, we hardly noticed it. Dale, our driver steered us straight to where Huon Pine trees grew in abundance. Having done the Gordon River on a number of occasions, I just expected to see a bit more of the same - and that was always welcome. However, for me, the Pieman River had more Huon Pine than I have seen in any other place. Whereever we looked, we were surrounded by old trees, hundreds of years old, that are unique to our little Tassie. Nowhere in the world are they to be found. They mature only after hundred of years and can go back a couple of millenia. I love the trees and love the timber, which is popular with craftsmen for wood turning.

Above & below, Huon Pine trees, looking so small, but are hundreds of years old!An indication of the weather. It rained, but made for a special mood!The misty clouds added considerably to the atmosphere!
The whole trip was one magic scene after another. At every corner we anticipated variety with reflections, colourful trees, branches and tree trunks here, there and everywhere. We just took it all in and I kept thinking of that great song
'Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands have made,

I see the stars, I hear hear the mighty thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed;

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee,

How great thou art!'

Do yourself a big favour and click on each image to enlarge it and share the full impact of our experience. Some of the detail astounded us (The white spots are as a result of the rain we could not avoid). The following selection of scenes is only a small sample of what we enjoyed:The tour included a visit to Lover's Falls and Dale took us through the rain forest to view and enjoy this fall. We all expected more water at the falls, but what we saw was special enough!

Above: The waterfall finally cascades into the Pieman River, and below, the pattern of the water among the ferns makes for a lovely photo.The isolated Lover's Fall, though not a large waterfall, was spectacular and so ideal in a rain forest setting.
From here, Dale steered the boat up the Donaldson River and once again we were entranced by the beauty and peace of this stretch of water. We were just so impressed with Dale's careful handling of the boat and at the same giving us maximum opportunity to take it all in. He himself was rather surprised how quickly the time went. So, the Donaldson River and you may say, 'More of the same'. Yes, perhaps, but yet so different. So, once again, a small selection of what we took:

Now you have to admit, the above ferns reflecting on the river is great,
and the mood along the river below just quietens the heart!
This tree captured my attention and I love its character and how it is shaped. Fallen gracefully!This is about as far Dale dared to go. The rapids, the soft mist, the trees. It all added to the great morning we experienced!Above & below: We had company and were accompanied by this one cormorant
And finally, a scene on the Savage River where I want to return to in the foreseeable future, hire a kayak, and explore more of the Pieman River, the Savage River and the Donaldson River. Plus, a few bush walks won't go astray either.Anything I post after this blog chapter may be very mundane, but I'll try and give you a feast with a difference. I did get carried away with this one a bit and do not apologise. It was just a great adventure.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rediscovering Tasmania - Waratah

When traveling recently from Devonport to the West Coast, we decided to drop into the small settlement of Waratah. I first visited Waratah back sometime in the 1950s along with a friend of my father's who had worked there during its heyday as a mining town. Subsequently, I revisited the place in 1972 taking with me my own family. At that time I thought there was nothing particularly special about the place, but perhaps that was only because we just went to the Mount Bischoff mine that was closed in 1947.'The Mt Bischoff mine was discovered by farmer and part-time prospector James “Philosopher” Smith in 1871, and for many years was one of the world’s richest tin mines (Groves et al., 1972). After 70 years of continuous production, the Mt Bischoff mine finally closed in 1947.'

As Waratah looked during its mining boom
a photograph of James 'Philosopher Smith.
(love the beard!)

While we did not go to the mine site - which appeared to be working again, it was good to explore a little around the old town. It was splendid, very clean and well maintained. A credit to this small community. At its peak the town, which now has only a few hundred residents, had a population in excess of 5,000. Quite sizable and set in such a wonderful country side:Today, as you enter it, your eyes feast on a lovely little lake and is a great introduction to Waratah:The outstanding feature of the town surely has to be the waterfall and we enjoyed the various views of this:

Our first view from the Waratah hotel.And then getting closer to the fall just towering over our heads. All this at no cost. Wow!
Being a mining town with quite a history meant that there was lots of evidence of how things were in the past. The hotel I am sure was the main social centre hub where the locals both refreshed themselves and caught up with one another. I am quite certain that it was a very supportive community, as you would be when cut off from the outside world. Perhaps shades of our New Guinea experience? While we were there we chatted happily to some of the residents.
But the hotel had other attractions. Just have a look at the next photo,
and click on it to enjoy the read!'Darts, dice, billards, dodges with early closing hours, spruiking new gadgets in the magnificent Commercial room and osmiridium* nugget tendered as currency at the bar have enlivened Bischoff Hotel as a community meeting place.'
I love it! Wrest Point Casino, Hobart eat your heart out! 'New gadgets' defies imagination.

*Osmiridium is a rare alloy once mined in the Waratah district for use in the gold nibs of fountain pens. Now that is a bit of trivia worth noting!

I am sure that the hotel was a more enjoyable place for miners who, I lived in tiny miner's cottage like this:
No doubt, the miner's life at that time was tough. Not only miners, but the whole infrastructure that went with it, including a railway:

From bullock teams steam trains.

Finally, we visited the shed where the community set up restored machinery that stamped or crushed tin ore. We turned the machinery on for a couple of minutes, which is all we could stand. It was a terrifying noise and I am certain that the workers who operated this machinery must have suffered occupational deafness bigtime!

And below, this beautifully kept community hall:
Our visit to Waratah was a 'find' and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Great to rediscover a Tasmanian town like Waratah. And the town's name? I have no idea why it was named Waratah, but it is certainly a gorgeous name that of course belongs to that wonderful Tasmanian flower bearing the same name:
But, it was time to move on through the delightful ranges to the Pieman River.
A great vista indeed!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rediscovering Tasmania - King Island ship wrecks

One of my interests in King Island relates to the number of ship that have come to grief on the island's coastline. There is no land mass between the West Coast of King Island and South America with the inevitable consequence that the seas that cross the oceans finally hit both the Tasmanian and King Island coastlines with some ferocity. As a consequence, King Island has the dubious distinction of having more ships wrecked than anywhere else in the world on the basis of kilometers of coastline. The following map of King Island shows the position of twelve major ship wrecks - note the red dots:I am indebted to the information gleaned from the web and the tourist brochures. The history blurbs tell me that 'the treacherous waters of Bass Strait have claimed hundreds of ships and more than a thousand lives.'

King Island lays claim to Australia's worst peacetime ship calamity with the loss of 400 lives in 1845 when the 802 ton ship Cataraqui hit the coast south of Currie as per the following report:
'Australia's worst civil disaster was that of the barque Cataraqui,
wrecked on the West Coast of King Island on
4 August 1845 with the loss of 400 lives, including
5 babies that were born on the voyage from Liverpool.'

"Wreck of the emigrant ship Cataraqui in 1845"

The following link gives a lot more info:

The first ship that hit King Island was the barque Neva and is recorded as Tasmania's second worst shipwreck with the loss of 224 lives. Another tragic story. The Neva carried 150 female convicts with 33 children, nine free women (probably wives of convicts) with 22 children and was enroute to Sydney from Ireland.

It came to grief on the northern tip of the island, now known as Cape Wickham. Just 15 souls survived, including the captain who apparently commandeered the first life boat and abandoned ship. The following tells its own horrific story:
"....the women on board the doomed ship,
seeing themselves thus abandoned, set up a great despairing wail."

CHRIS HALLS Australia's Worst Shipwrecks

Once again, there is more information on the following website:

We visited the place where the Neva was wrecked at Cape Wickham and also found the story of the almost new iron clipper Loch Leven, which foundered near the same spot as the Neva in 1871. The happy ending of that maritime incident was that no lives were lost.

The Clipper Loch Leven in full sail. What a splendid sight!

Cape Wickham boasts Australia's tallest lighthouse that stands at 48 meters and is also the tallest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere. The things you find out about what we may have thought was an insignificant island.

The rugged coastline that became the trap for as many as 14 ships with the loss of some hundreds of lives. Some of those were at Cape Wickham, despite there being a lighthouse to guide ship captains past the danger.
The above coastline was near the site of where the steamer 'City of Melbourne' found its grave in 1853.
The tallest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere, beautifully situated at Cape Wickham on the north tip of King Island.Below, the view the lighthouse keeper would have enjoyed after climbing all those stairs. Retired keeper Col Potter said this about it:
'People seem to have a romantic notion about lighthouse keepers, but I've found nothing romantic about it - it's a long way up that light at 2 am!'
For Jan and I the above sunset was a fitting end to what was a wonderful and full day, well-deserving of a glass (or several) of red wine!

This chapter can continue talking about ship wrecks on the island including British Admiral, Netherby, Blencathra etc. Each have their own dramatic story to tell and if you have interest in those, visit King Island and search the net to satisfy your curiosity.

For Jan & I, our time on King was coming to an end. We arose on our final morning and were greeted by the following sunrise at Grassy, taken from the house where we stayed.
What a great beginning to a new day and fitting conclusion to a wonderful visit.

A final look at King Island from the air on a lovely sunny morning. The above, Currie in the distance set with a foreground of lush green pastures.
(better seen when you click on the image) Grassy Harbour and the township.

As we flew across Bass Strait, our moods perhaps were as reflective as the following photo taken on that trip: