I think it is fairly obvious that thus far in my exchange with the University of Sydney I have spectacularly failed in my capacity as a blogger. Not only did it take me ridiculously long to write my first post but I’ve then neglected to update it, and for this I can only apologise. I am currently in the process of writing an extensive post to fill you in on all that has passed between then and now, but because it is so extensive (it’s been AGES – again, my apologies) I haven’t had time to write it yet. So I decided to start afresh from the present and try to keep you up to date on my whereabouts and various doings, whilst working on the filler in the meantime to be posted at some unknown date in the future. It shall be one of my many New Year’s Resolutions to be better at this.
Not to brag, but right now I am writing to you from seat 18C on a flight to Auckland, New Zealand having spent the past ten days travelling around the unbelievably beautiful Tasmania. It’s been a pretty amazing couple of weeks to be honest. My combined birthday and Christmas present for the next decade was to come home for a few weeks over Christmas and I got to see most of my friends and family, which was really lovely. A year away from home is such a long time and it was nice to be able to break it up a bit. Despite being quite homesick over the last semester (it comes in waves), I was actually slightly worried about coming home. Saying goodbye last summer was so difficult for me and I was dreading having to go through that again, especially as I was aware of the very real possibility that seeing everybody might exacerbate, rather than relieve, my homesickness. I needn’t have worried. It was so much easier this time – no tears at the airport or anything! I think it was a combination of knowing that I was now half way through, that what was left was what I had already been through and so knew what to expect, and also knowing that I was flying out to a month and half of incredible travel and adventure in Tasmania and New Zealand. The positives far outweigh the negatives methinks.
As with last time, I flew to Melbourne and was met by my friend Sarah and spent a couple of days staying with her and seeing a little bit more of what Melbourne has to offer (including my oldest friend who is out there on a worker-traveller visa). It’s a great city. In particular it has a really good arts scene and the whole city seems to give off a creative vibe. It also does really good food – the Queen Victoria Night Market is well worth a visit for anybody craving exotic foods as it seemed the entire world’s cuisine was on offer (the paella was incredible). It’s quite hard to describe the feel of the city – I guess I’d say that Sydney is Australia’s London, whereas Melbourne is more like Manchester. I like it a lot. I only got a few days there though before Sarah, a couple of her friends and I flew to Launceston to begin our Tasmanian adventure.
The real purpose of heading to Tassie (as it is affectionally known) was to go to the Mona Foma festival in Hobart, which is a festival of music and performing arts hosted by the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). We decided to go a few days early though so as to be able to travel around the island a bit and see what Tassie had to offer, We hired a car and drove all over the east coast, from Launceston to Weldborough to Saint Helen’s, Bicheno and Cape Coles and finally to the tiny village of Hamilton before heading into Hobart for the festival. It was stunning! Tasmania has no motorways and their major highways are no bigger than a dual carriageway back home. There were also relatively few cars on the roads, which made driving a lot of fun (if somewhat expensive as hiring a car under the age of 25 requires ridiculously high insurance premiums) and also made taking sneaky peeks at the incredible scenery possible. They have mountains, rainforests, huge grassland prairies, picturesque patchwork farms, vineyards, eucalypt forests, beaches, subalpine terrain etc. Everything you could want from a view can be achieved in Tasmania, and the amazing thing was that these landscapes are not very far from each other. One minute you’ll be driving through scenery reminiscent of Switzerland, the next the rainforest becomes so thick you could be in the Amazon basin, the next you could be in Somerset, the next any tropical paradise. It felt like a new vista awaited us at every turn of the road (of which there were many – windy country lanes are the norm).
Whilst it was lovely to drive through the scenery, we also got to experience it first-hand by going for walks whenever we could. Tasmania has many national parks, each of which has worked out routes of various lengths to cater to the needs of all. Our walks varied from 15 minutes along a circular track through the rainforest (complete with educational signs narrated by the terrifying fictional characters of Grandmother and Grandfather Myrtle lamenting the deforestation of their kin), to 5 hours around the beautiful Wine Glass Bay and to the Hazards Beach front in Freycinet National Park. We went swimming as much as possible too. The day we did the 5 hour walk was one of the hottest that we experienced and so it was with delight that we ran into the turquoise waters of the first beach we encountered (Tassie doesn’t suffer from the killer wildlife that haunts all other Australian beaches). This we did to our peril because the water was absolutely freezing! I have never been so cold and I spent my childhood summers being forced to swim in Scottish lochs. Even after we’d been in for a good few minutes, unwilling to admit defeat in front of so many bemused onlookers, we failed to go numb and each wave was like being slapped by a seal. Basically one cannot swim in the ocean around Australia. If the crocs, sharks and jelly-fish don’t get you then the cold will! And you can’t trust the locals to warn you about the latter. They simply assume that you won’t be stupid enough to plunge headfirst into the sea without dipping a toe in first.
Walking was also the best way to see some of Tasmania’s best-known celebrities, namely the White Knights of Fingal and the Swamp Gums of Mount Fields National Park. These are trees as tall as cathedrals, reaching into the sky for well over 90 metres. The bases of the trunks were ridiculously wide and it was almost impossible to see the tops of the trees. Apparently they were only identified as eucalypts by firing a shotgun into their crown and collecting the resultant debris. Nobody has ever climbed them and so far they have managed to be protected from Tasmania’s logging industry. Tasmania is an interesting state because its economy is largely comprised of primary industries such as farming, logging and mining, but it is also the birth-place of the political green movement in Australia. Half the island argues that they can’t survive if the trees are cut down and the other half argues that they can’t if they’re not. It’s a bit of a sticky situation to say the least.
It’s also possible to travel around Tasmania pretty cheaply (car hire and petrol aside) if you’re willing to camp. There are lots of places available, some for free and some for a minimal fee (the most we paid was $5 each for the night) and most will have facilities such as a toilet/shower block and a barbeque. There were public barbeques everywhere. They’re electric powered and large enough to cook a decent meal on. It’s like having access to a giant frying pan. One of our group was vegetarian so we did a lot of stir-frys with falafel or eggs and veg that we bought at markets or roadside stalls and farms. We stopped everywhere that had a sign – the best experiences we had were with cherries and raspberries and some delicious, award-winning cheddar cheese courtesy of the Pyengana Dairy Co. who were handing out free-samples. Be aware, however, that some of these signs are out of date – one of our crew was devastated when we finally tracked down some apricots to find there were none. It’s not worth the loss!
So having spent five days hiking, camping, swimming, reading and eating gloriously well we finally headed into Hobart for the final part of our Tassie adventure. MoFo is great fun! Imagine the Tate Modern back home hosted a music festival and you’d be close. The line-up included all sorts including Ansgar Wallenhorst (amazing German organist who specialises in improvisation), the Sun Ra Arkestra (intergalactic jazz – sort of sci-fi crossed with Egyptology), Astronautalis (alternative hip-hop artist who stayed in our hostel and gave us a shout-out on stage as his “Hostel Buddies”), the Bombay Royale (who cross jazz with 1960s Bollywood music and are the most-fun live band I’ve seen in a long time), the Julie Ruin (post-feminist punk that’s actually quite good – the lead singer was mates with Kurt Cobain), Colin Stetson (insane saxophonist), 1980s wannabes Client Liason … I could go on and on. If you have time check out the artists above – they were my favourites. There were lots of things going on aside from the acts – experimental soundscapes, wine-tasting demonstrations, a sound smith weaving a track of blacksmiths working as they worked, the creation of a sugar garden. And then there was the actual gallery itself which is full of weird and wonderful pieces – some of which are rubbish (a lump of clay is not art just because it’s a potential statue – it’s a lump of clay!) and some of which are actually quite good. Despite being the Museum of Old and New Art, it’s mostly new art so is worth a visit if you’re into that kind of thing and to be avoided at all costs if not as it’s a bit pricey.
The festival was only on in the evenings (and late into the night if you were willing to pay an extra $20 to go to a club-night sort of thing) so the days were spent in and around Hobart, climbing Mount Wellington and regularly checking out the Salamanca market (I cannot exaggerate just how well we ate on this trip – artisan bread, olives, great cheeses, fantastic fruit and all fairly cheap because it was split between at least 7 of us by this point). There were also loads of really good second-hand book shops that I had to avoid so as to not add weight to my already stupidly full suitcase.
Wow … this post was a lot longer than I intended it to be. Sorry about that! I wanted to share absolutely everything. Long story short, go to Tasmania. It’s awesome. I had better go – an air hostess is glaring at me because they announced that all electronic items must be switched off and stowed away for landing about five minutes ago, an instruction that I conveniently failed to take notice of. Better not piss off any Kiwis before I’m through customs – I’ll let you know about New Zealand as soon as I can in my soon to be regular blog (perhaps). Bye!