Tuesday 19 March 2019
An earlier start to the day than usual because I needed to check-in at Gordon River Cruises when they opened at 7:30 am and find out also what the parking arrangements were. Bushman’s doesn’t offer breakfast, so I restricted myself to my usual on-the-run one of maple syrup oat bars and, here, Moccona instant coffee.
The 6-hour cruise was scheduled to depart at 8:30 am – and the return by 3:00 pm left me with me ample time for the two-hour run to Cradle Mountain. Boarding was from 8:00 am.
As it turned out I beat even my own time target but, while waiting for Gordon River Cruises’ doors to open I was able to view the “Spirit of the Wild”. It is a big catamaran but with its dark battleship grey exterior not particularly attractive. It has two passenger decks and an open viewing deck as its third.
I checked in, got my boarding pass and a voucher for the “Council Pay and Display” car park around the corner 100 metres away. Soon after I got back from parking Eksy5 it was time to board.
It may have looked warship-like from the outside, but the interior is all swish comfort with on the premier upper deck angled leather reclining seats beside floor to ceiling windows. I have the window seat from which this photo was taken looking toward the bow.
As we were being shown to our seats we got to choose from a selection of Danish pastries and juices, which proved to be the first of a number of food offerings well-spaced throughout the cruise. This is a copy of the menu beside each seat:
The seat itself was beautifully comfortable and had an airline-like fold out table for dining. We sailed on the dot of 8:00 am and once out into Macquarie Harbour we were soon speeding our way to Hells Gates the 120-metre-wide entrance to the harbour. When I say speeding, she really was, at about 22 knots. Only launched in June last year the very powerful diesel engines with which she was fitted enable her to do so, as do the electric motors fitted for her quiet running mode on the Gordon River.
The impression that you are on an international flight is reinforced by large “follow your flight” type screens like this:
The passage to Hells Gates was as scenic as one could wish for – as this shot shows:
Hells Gates is apparently one of the more hazardous entrances on the Australian coastline and boasts two lighthouses one of which, the “Entrance” is shown here:
We ventured briefly into the Tasman Sea and were informed that if we kept going the next landfall would be in South America. Although warned about the possibility that the boat might roll a little, she scarcely did so in the very calm seas.
From there it was a non-stop and speedy passage of the Harbour to the mouth of the river. We did slow briefly as we passed the very extensive group of fish farms and a brief explanation of their importance to the Tasmanian economy and of the farming process itself. A less appealing aspect of this was the revelation, at least to me, that the fish feed contains Astaxanthin – a chemical that mimics the pigment salmon would normally attain from crustaceans in the wild. It appears that different markets around the world prefer their salmon a particular colour and to decide how much Astaxanthin should be added to the feed, there is such a thing as a “salmofan”, which looks like a paint chart. It shows a scale of different “degrees” of the salmon colour preferred from grey to dark pink. There was a copy of it on the boat.
During this passage we were served our mid-morning canapes – both were very good but the baby cup of potato and leek soup with parmesan crumbs was the standout.
On our entry to the Gordon River, the engines were switched to quiet mode – and they were. Our slower speed also made it possible to make good use of the expansive upper deck – and most of the passengers on what must have been a full boat seemed able to do so without crowding.
It is a magnificent waterway and on such a fine, almost cloudless and windless day it could not have looked better. I along with so many others just took it all in in almost church-like silence.
We stopped and dismounted for a half-hour “Heritage Landing Nature Walk” with two guides from the boat pointing out the different tree, fern, and fungi varieties. It was interesting but not enthralling, or at least that’s how I found it.
On our return to the boat, lunch was ready and the buffet looked as inviting as the menu suggested. In an unusual fit of self-restraint, I limited myself to double portions of the ocean trout and the smoked salmon with a crusty bread roll. A gourmet feast deserving of a nice chardonnay but as the designated driver I limited myself to a Boags Premium Light. We kept being asked if we had had sufficient to eat but like most others near me at least, we had done very well.
After the briefest of open-eyed siestas, we were landing at Sarah Island for the second of our guided tours. This hour-long one was led by guides from the Round Earth Company. A penal settlement in the early 1820s it was another “hell hole” like Port Arthur – only worse.
As we moved around the ruins, for that’s all that’s left, our guide related the story of the island and some of those, military, administrative or convict, involving members of the group as some of the characters. In so doing he wove a fascinating if horrifying tale of the settlement.
I had been tempted to stay on the boat and extend my siesta. I’m glad I resisted the temptation.
On our return, we were welcomed with our desserts which, again, were “tops”. With no persuasion at all I chose the blue cheese, crackers and pear paste – twice!
It was a first-rate cruise in every way, and I could not recommend Gordon River Cruises more highly.
It was with some reluctance that I re-joined Eksy5 for the home run to Cradle Mountain. The quality of the road was excellent, though we gave our climbing, descending and wheel-turning a real work-out on the stretch between Zeehan and Rosebery.
On arrival at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, I was told my accommodation had been upgraded to a spa cabin which was much bigger than the standard one I had booked. I’m not sure whether they thought I needed the exercise because it is quite a distance from the Lodge and although I walked to and from it last night for dinner if it rains tomorrow as forecast, I’ll drive there. The cabin has everything I need and although not as fully equipped is cosier and warmer than Lake St Clair.
I was unable to get a booking at the restaurant which was no bad thing, given my extended cruise lunch, so I had a quite good Caesar Salad in the Tavern bistro. Lots of bacon but despite getting a mention in the menu, not an anchovy to be seen.
It was not a peaceful experience as that’s where families camping here eat – and last night they were out in marauding and noisy force. I’ll try and get into the restaurant for tomorrow night.
And after my climb back up the boardwalk to my cabin I had no difficulty in that most important of in-activities, sleep.
Wednesday 20 March 2019
A foggy then drizzly then showery morning providing the only excuse I needed to drive down for my included breakfast. A more than adequate hot and cold buffet from which I chose sufficient to get me through until banana time which, of course, it did.
The first really un-touristy type weather I have experienced was well-timed because I was able to complete yesterday’s update and do some washing, drying and ironing to see me through until I get home.
I had last night booked a one-and-a-half-hour tour of the nearest parts of the National Park. It was scheduled to leave at 1:30 pm by which time there was a hint of the sun of which I had high hopes would continue.
When Steve, our driver/guide picked me and one other passenger up from the Lodge it started to shower again and got heavier as we proceeded.
A long-time guide for Peppers, he was informative about the geology, flora and fauna and we were happy to join him at selected stops where he had examples of one or other to show us.
Cradle Mountain itself was almost completely shrouded in cloud and Lake Dove was looking dismally drearier than I remember it.
The lead-up to the highlight of our short tour was, however, our visit to Waldheim Chalet built in the early 1900s by Gustav and Kate Weindorfer, early proponents of the establishment of a National Park. The Chalet was built both as their home and a guest house but after their deaths fell into ruin and was demolished.
In 1976, the National Parks and Wildlife Service contracted a local builder to reconstruct it as it had been at the time of Gustav’s death in 1932 using the same materials. We walked through it and although the rooms had brief explanatory descriptions, it appears to be in need of a refurbishment and improved signage.
Steve then led us through the garden and across the creek up into as good a living example of rainforest I’ve ever visited. That it was now raining heavily and all three of us were soaked, dampened our spirits not at all. It was a short walk but one I won’t forget.
By some good fortune the cabin has a wood-burning heater already laid with kindling and plenty of wood. So even before my warming shower I had it lit and as many of my wet clothes as I could find something on which to hang them out to dry. It looked like the original Chinese Laundry – and still does.
With the heater seriously stoked up, they can continue to dry while I venture down to the Lounge so that I can get yesterday’s update away before dinner.
With continued good luck and the likelihood that the fire will last the night, everything will be dry enough for me to pack for the next leg of the trek.
At this stage, I have planned my route to Devonport and the ferry via Preston Falls and whatever else on the North Coast I have time for.
Dinner was a bit hit and miss – the entrée of scallops sitting on a slice of black pudding would have been better if the scallops were not so small – which may again have been the result of overcooking.
The main course described only as steamed “white fish” (which the waitress could not identify nor made any attempt to find out), was only orright!
How steamed fish fillets could end up tough is beyond me. The bok choy and buttered Dutch carrots were however delicious.
EOM – End of moaning!