Norm’s Tasmanian Trek 2019 – Episode One

Faced with the horrendous cost of overseas travel for singles of any age and, in my case, the even more horrendous cost of travel insurance, my horizons have become a little more limited than in days of yore.

Apart from visits there while I was with Woolies, the only other trip to Tasmania was a self-drive one with Pat in the early to mid-1970s.  So it seemed to me to be high time to revisit it.  But there was another reason.

When Carolyn and Tony originally offered to “take me in”, they had in mind building a “granny flat” on the Berrico property. In the end, neither of us were in a position to fund that, so they generously gave up a bedroom and study and more that I could make my own.

They have long planned to retire to Tasmania and made their first exploratory visit there in September last year.  They had hoped that they might be able to find a property that already had a granny flat but, in the end, being unable to find a home (with or without granny-flat) that suited them, they opted to buy a block of land to build on at Surveyors Bay in the Huon Valley.  As and when they do so, I will either rent nearby or, if lucky, obtain a place in one of the few retirement villages that offer rental accommodation.

So, apart from being my overseas trip for 2019, the opportunity to view their property and suss out the retirement village housing options was reason enough for me to undertake a self-drive trek to and through in Tasmania.

And here’s where I planned to go:

Tasmanian Trek Route Map
2 – 25 March 2019

Saturday 2 March 2019

With surprisingly little traffic the drive down was pleasant and easy. I arrived soon after 3:30 and was able to have a “foots-up” before dinner at MGSM.  I chose to stay here partly because it’s a nostalgic favourite but more because it is so conveniently located near the motorway for both my entry into and exit from Sydney.
I was, as always, welcomed as an old friend – and as I had not stayed there for a while really appreciated that.

Being an early diner I was the only one in the restaurant and was persuaded to try the breast of duck.  It was not the best of choices being somewhat chewy. The accompanying roast pumpkin and grilled asparagus however made up for it, being beautifully cooked.

Sunday 3 March 2019

I was away by 8:00 this morning for my run to Mollymook. The traffic out of the city and as far as the Bulli Pass was again very easy. Perhaps everybody was at church.
But they must have realised that it was a fine sunny day and accordingly the perfect day to go to the south coast. Caravans, boats and camping trailers almost outnumbered cars and 4WDs at least until Kiama.
I stopped at Kiama to have a coffee but the crowd beat me to it, as they did at Berry.
So I settled on coming straight here to the Mollymook Surfbeach Motel & Apartments, arriving at midday.

As the room wasn’t ready it was suggested I might like to stroll down to the Mollymook Golf Club which has a Bistro overlooking the beach.
After a cleansing ale, I partook of a humungous serving of lamb’s fry and bacon which not only went down a treat but will do me for lunch and dinner.
I might manage a glass of red though.
And, this is the view I had to put up with during lunch.

My view from the Bistro, Mollymook Golf Club, South Coast, NSW
3 March 2019

Regrettably, while I did not have a view from the Motel I did have a nice big room with plenty of space to spread myself about – even if it was only to unpack my shorts for the much warmer weather immediately ahead.  And, as always, free Wi-fi is always welcome.

With no sign of any relief in the major bushfires in Southern Victoria, I had been keeping a watchful eye on the road closures. They were unlikely to affect me on my next leg to Gipsy Point, but I may have to make detours for the runs to Sale and then to Port Melbourne if they are still current when I have to go. I’ve been able to download a VicRoads App to the phone into which I can put my routes and which I understand will offer alternative ones if needed.

And, as forewarned, I did restrict myself to just a glass or two of my favourite McGuigan’s Red.

Monday 4 March 2019

A wonderful day.
It is a lovely drive from Mollymook to Gipsy Point. Mostly through State Forest on the Princes Highway which for the most part is in excellent condition. It is a lot hillier than I remember and wigglier too, with some really good corners. There was a deal of traffic from Mollymook to Batemans Bay but after that, I had the road pretty much to myself.

I arrived at Bega a little before twelve and had a wander around the shopping centre where Woolies and BIG W are the anchor tenants. The supermarket is quite new and very spacious, but it seemed to be a bit light on customers. I guess the busy season’s over until next summer!! I didn’t bother with BIG W.

I also filled up Eksy5’s tank, though despite the distance (over 700 km) since the last fill she only needed 67 litres. She’s really economical on long runs.
I arrived here at about 2:00 and was escorted to the same room that Carol and I had shared 12 years ago. The outlook is as good as I remember it, as is its peacefulness.

A view from my room at Gipsy Point Lodge, East Gippsland, VIC
4 March 2019

The property borders a National Park, so I ventured into it in the hope of getting another view of the Genoa river from further down. A large and very smelly mud puddle across the full width of the path would only have been navigable with wellies, so I went into reverse. I could hear plenty of birds but saw none.
But I did come close to meeting what I have since learned was a Lowland Copperhead. He was sunning himself – all metre and a half of him, or thereabouts – and paid me no notice. So, I followed his good example and gave him as wide a berth as the path would allow.
On my return trip twenty minutes or so later he had gone.

A view of the Lodge’s Jetty on Genoa River, East Gippsland, VIC
4 March 2019

Photos: My “Wanderings” at Gipsy Point Lodge, East Gippsland, VIC – 4th March 2019

Dinner was a quite large Lamb Rack suitably garlicky and beautifully cooked with green beans and enough buttery potato mash to mop up the gravy. Yum, it was.

Tuesday 5 March 2019

This morning I made the short run down to Mallacoota mainly to visit the World War II Bunker that once housed the RAAF Air Navigation and Wireless operations. I had thought it was a radar station, but it was more for the surveillance of all radio traffic in the area transmitted by any ship or plane within listening range. The sources of the signals, decoded when necessary, were then plotted in a Melbourne facility in much the same if more primitive way than the radar ones were plotted during the Battle of Britain.

The museum is in the care of the local Historical Society which, with minimal resources and volunteer staff, have done a remarkably good job. The twenty-minute film on the history of the bunker was very well done and went some way to making up for the relative sparsity of exhibits.
When I arrived at 9:30 there would have been only fifteen or so visitors there. But by the time I left the fifty or so seats were insufficient to accommodate those who wanted to watch the film.
I understood from the lady in the Tourist Information office that despite the Bunker’s popularity, the Society’s inability to recruit volunteers has meant that it now opens only two mornings a week. Not a good omen for its long-term survival unless it can get some grants or sponsors other than the local branch of the Bendigo Bank.

This afternoon I had hopes of joining the Wilderness cruise on the river but there were not enough bookings for the good Captain to justify going out. And, perhaps in support of his decision, the storm clouds rolled in, the thunder thundered, the rain tumbled, so I scurried “home” to my ‘puter.

I had been intrigued by the name Genoa on the road sign to Mallacoota, so after the rain eased I thought I would see if I could find this Genoa and why it justified its name on a road.  I found it with no difficulty at all just across the Princes Highway at the intersection that I had turned off to reach Gipsy Point.  But after the briefest viewing of what seemed an eyesore of a mix of abandoned and in some cases derelict buildings, I “chucked a u-ey” and headed back.  There was a camping ground on the opposite side of the Geroa River so perhaps that’s the attraction nowadays.

Dinner tonight was right up there with last night: Local Eden Mussels in a Laksa style sauce with rice noodles. Quite spicy, but yum.

A couple from Melbourne, Lynn and Fred (I know not whom) invited me to join them for dinner. Both only marginally younger than me, they are also on a self-drive exploration trip albeit somewhat shorter and in the opposite direction from mine.
As Fred has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s I gathered that it may be their last expedition. It was a pleasant and quite extended evening as we shared our interests in travel, genealogy and Sibelius.

Wednesday 6 March 2019

A day of contrasts.

When I left Gipsy Point, it was fine and an acceptable 19° with a top of 24° promised. No sooner had I turned onto the Princes Highway before the heaven’s opened and dumped heavily enough for me to pull over and wait for the storm to pass. The temperature dropped to 16° but the rain cleared enough to move on.

I had originally planned to go to Sale via Lakes Entrance, but with what looked like clearer weather, I was tempted to follow one of the sealed Tourist Drives with a mouthful of a name: Cabbage Tree-Conran Road. By the time I got to the coast about two and a half hours later, the rain had started again, the wind had got up and the temperature had dropped to 12°.
All of which goes part way to explaining why the seaside photo at Cape Conran Coastal Park looks both damp and cold and shot very quickly from Eksy5’s window.

A hurried view of a damp beach at Cape Conran Coastal Park, East Gippsland, VIC
6 March 2019

The next one was from a stopping bay overlooking a section of the Snowy River (a different one I suspect from the Hydro-powering one) from the Marlo Coastal Reserve.

A view of a section of the Snowy River from the Marlo Coastal Reserve, East Gippsland, VIC 
6 March 2019.

I then headed for Lakes Entrance, but it was so wet and windy I gave it no more than a passing glance on the way through.

On the stretch between there and Bairnsdale, the rain was replaced by dust. The countryside on either side of the Highway is bone dry and what soil was left was being picked up to form huge “smoke-screen” like clouds and blown across the road in gusts strong enough to wobble Eksy5.
Both unpleasant to view and drive through.

I was not at all unhappy to arrive in Sale and brew myself a well-earned Lavazza Capsule coffee.  It was a fringe benefit that I had not expected in a traditional “country” hotel as the Criterion Hotel markets itself.  But while all “olde worlde” outside it is very modern inside.
Having missed lunch, I’m looking forward to seeing what the Bistro has on offer.

And, the Gippsland Rib Eye with “Fondant Potato, Local Beans, Heirloom Carrots, Red Wine Jus”, though at $44.00 pricey by my standards, was as big and as good a steak as I’ve had anywhere.

Thursday 7 March 2019

For whatever reason, no breakfast of any sort is available at the Criterion Hotel. They did, however, recommend the “Red Caff” around the corner – a corner I only found on my second circumnavigation of adjacent blocks.
It was worth finding as I demolished one of the biggest breakfasts imaginable featuring six rashers of bacon, two poached eggs on toasted sourdough AND, sliced chorizo and grilled field mushrooms.  And to add to my satisfaction economic rather than culinary, all that cost a mere $17.00
I didn’t try their coffee as the capsule one at the hotel was just fine – and free.

Although the Princes Highway was clear and would have been the shortest route to Melbourne, I opted for the semi-coastal route via Port Albert. If I was ever in any doubt of how dry the country is, the run down to Port Albert proved it. Dry dusty fields, few if any livestock and more than a few properties that looked abandoned.
Port Albert was a very neat and tidy little place where a lot of the early buildings have been well-preserved. Once a very busy port shipping livestock and later gold, it is now more a holiday destination for fisherfolk and surfers. While I understand a few commercial fishermen operate from it still, the boats I saw would grace a marina anywhere.
I found a welcome seat in the sun on the well-kept foreshore welcoming the warmth after the 12° start in Sale. There’s even a photo of “my” seat in the sun:

My seat in the sun at Port Albert, Gippsland, VIC
7 March 2019

From there it was a less interesting run than I had hoped for being further inland than I’d imagined but would have known, had I checked the map more closely. But I don’t doubt that it was a whole lot better than The Princes Highway, open or not.

I made a comfort stop at Leongatha and lunched on two perfectly firm bananas from Woolies washed down with a bottle of water.  Not for economic reasons so much as to balance the magnitude of my “Red Caff” feast.

My diesel replenishment stop was at the oddly named Woolies petrol canopy at Koo Wee Rup, standing on its lonesome next to the highway kilometres away from the township and the associated Woolies supermarket.

From there it was almost all motorway and horrendously busy and a more than a little daunting. But I made it to the dock by 3:00 pm and was able to get a park near the check-in gate. There were two cruise ships in at the same dock, so the area was almost wall-to-wall people, taxis and shore excursion coaches. Being so close I thought I’d be one of the first to be loaded and so it proved, even if it meant next morning that I was with my other early-bird colleagues, last off.

The cabin is small and more sparsely furnished than I’ve experienced anywhere. Being a twin-bedded one there were, apart from the sheets and light doonas, just two pillows and two towels but that was it. No bath mat, no hand towels or face washers.

So confident was I of the Bass Strait forecast that I gave in to the temptation of a Roast Pork Dinner with new potatoes, broccoli, crisp crackling and gravy followed by two tiny pavlovas. Having read that the food was not good it was a very pleasant and enjoyable surprise.
But the bed was comfortable and the inter-cabin noise was minimal and having taken my Stemetil tablet at 4:00 pm as recommended, sleep was not a problem.