5 Days With Dutchie

I booked a highly recommended 5-day Tasmanian Eco Tour from the Under Down Under group for my stay in Tasmania. I have to honestly say that in comparison to the Adventure Tour I took before this one fell short. Adventure Tour Australia has a similar Tasmanian tour, but as this was so noted I decided to try it. Nothing was all that bad, and this guide (Maurice Dutch or Dutchie) was as good (but different) as Carl at Adventure Tour Australia. But overall I believe (from my previous experience) Adventure Tour as a company has their act much more together.

To start when I was collected from my motel on the first day I was the last to join the bus, and Dutchie informed me that the office had told him I would pay cash and that he needed that cash as his bank to fund the gas and meals of the trip. Well No one had told me, and I had to go to several ATMs to gather up the tour cash. It was annoying, reduced my site seeing time, added to my expense (ATM fees) and not necessary.

I was not going to let that (or anything) deter me from having fun, so I went with the flow, and solved Dutchie’s problem for him as noted above. Our first stop was a tiny hamlet with a famous bridge, called Ross. This place was so tiny that it had only 1 ATM, and I had to use that three times to get enough cash from it. The matron of the place eyed me with suspicion the whole time.  Ross has a still-in-use several hundred-year-old bridge, which was built by convicts who cleverly carved hidden political cartoons into some of the stones.

From Ross we headed to the Freycinet peninsula for lunch along a three hour return hike over the to Wineglass Bay.  The hike was very nice, the bay was wave tossed, and the lunch was too mean, but all in all life was good.

We then made our way to Bicheno, where we enjoyed the wildlife park, arranged dinner and prepared for an after dark tour of the Bicheno Penguin Sanctuary.  The wildlife park has a very good Tasmanian Devil Program as well as many other noted conservations efforts. The penguin program is very well done and they so far have built the once million strong population back up to several thousand. They have a long way to go.

We were back late and had a cold (it is cold in Tasmania) night sleep, before our next journey early on day two along the north east of the Island. We enjoyed unusually story seas and had fun taking pictures of blowholes and the normally calm bay of fires with 3-meter breakers.  Our lunch was wraps eaten by a rain forest and waterfall walk. From there we headed inland to a wine tour and into Launceston for the evening.  We also learned some critical intelligence about our guide; Dutchie…tomorrow was to be his 56th Birthday.

Up early the bus was adorned with balloons and a birthday banner and we sang Dutchie a hearty Happy birthday.  Off we went towards one of Tasmania’s most noted areas Cradle Mountain. Again with the unusual weather Cradle Mountain was swathed in fog and rain, but some of us needed to go anyway. I nearly froze my ass off, but I checked, and it is still there. 

I am traveling on this tour with an assortment of Koreans, Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongese, Germans, Dutch, South Africans, and an insane Brazilian named Daniel. Daniel is a pretty tough guy and has managed to run on every trail so far so that he has the opportunity to do more trails. He also ran up Cradle Mountain and then ran around the lake as well. He is clearly insane, and I am a bit jealous of his fitness level.

We spent our night at a nice camp in the mountain park, and had something of a party, with a combined meal, and significant amounts of beer and wine. The noise was unreasonable with people shouting in both their own language and in broke English, late into the night…it kept the wolves away anyway.

On our fourth day we headed into Tasmania’s wild west where we were treated to more walks, water falls, rainforests, and a wonderful evening trip to an inland dune, where I performed an homage to John Belushi while one of the Dutch girls hurt her arm trying to best me.  After a quick visit to a doctor to make sure nothing was permanently damaged, we headed to camp for the night, where I made another nice simple but warming dish: Asparagus, Leek, and Blue Cheese Risotto.

On our fifth and last day, we spent quite a bit of time driving in the very cramped van, but also took in the sites of several more rainforests, falls and the giant gums of Tasmania that are the largest flowering trees in the world and nearly as large as the California Redwoods (which do not flower but use cones). Into Hobart we met for an after tour dinner at a nearby restaurant, and an emotional farewell.

As I said at the beginning, Dutchie was great, and I believe that any tour can be significantly altered by the quality and enthusiasm of the guide. With the company’s faults (payment, small bus, small food) If I had had a lesser guide, I would have been much more hard pressed to keep my own mood up.

Tasmania seen, I fly very early tomorrow to meet Henry in Sydney…has it only been 5 weeks? Seems like more. We will travel together from Sydney to Auckland where we will camp up and down both the north and south islands of New Zealand for the next few weeks. I miss him very much, and look forward to our reunion, like a kid at Christmas, which is close enough on both counts.

Kakadu, The Vivid Monsoon Rainforest

Just a 3-hour drive along the Arnhem Highway almost due east of Darwin is one of the world’s largest natural parks, and certainly as a monsoon wetland, a very different outback from the more usual desert landscape that the term calls to mind.  Actually, Kakadu was home to several integral “outback” scenes of the famous Paul Hogan Films Crocodile Dundee. IN any event, it is a fierce and beautiful land.

The tour group I chose was AAT King tours, and overall I have no major complaint about the two-day tour to Kakadu. As for small complaints, the usual: too many stops to spend money at souvenir shops, not enough time spent at the free National Park attractions (like hikes and scenic lookouts), but that’s touring for you.

On the first day we visited a small outcrop called Nourlangie, home of a short hike to several aboriginal stone paintings and a gorgeous backdrop of sandstone escarpment called lightning dreaming. I was introduced to what I think might be one of the most sensible of supernatural deities: Nabulwinjbulwinj, a dangerous spirit who eats women after striking them with…a yam. It is hot and humid in the tropical north and when we returned from our walk our guide told us it had reached 42° Centigrade with a humidity of about 85%.

After a salad bar luncheon, we enjoyed a guided cruise along the Yellow Billabong. A Billabong is a relatively permanent area of water in the ever-changing wetlands. At this time in the end of the dry season, this rather large Billabong was still connected to the South Alligator River. It was simply teaming with wildlife. There were crocodiles and birds galore. We had two very special events; first a 2-meter Croc swam along side our boat for a spell. Next we witnessed a Kite hunt out (and almost get bested by) a long neck turtle. IN the end the Croc went on his way, disappearing below the surface, and the Kite flew off to the tree line, to enjoy a hearty meal.

I had a nice evenings stay in The Aurora Kakadu Resort. A clean and friendly, motel with a welcome cool water swimming pool and a very nice grilled Barramundi for dinner, though not much else in terms of service or facility. Calling it a resort seems a bit of a stretch, but who am I to quibble.

The second day was another exciting and more demanding hike, up to the top of the rocky escarpments of Ubirr. This is one of the sites of the movie filming mentioned, and is also a very recent aboriginal dwelling area with many paintings and even some remaining signs of the life style.

After the hike we had another cruise. This one on the East Alligator which is the boundary to Arnhem Land, part of the Aboriginal nation and a place where few outsiders are allowed to tread. Our tour was guided by an aboriginal lady who showed us a lot of the uses of the river, plants and such, as well as took us for a 15-minute walk into Arnhem Land from the bank of the river. This was very interesting and informative, and I even learned enough to hunt up some bush tucker, the bush passion fruit, a small gooseberry looking thing. I was the only one in my group with enough savvy and gusto to make the attempt, and being a chef I brought back enough for everyone to try.

IN the afternoon we visited The Ranger Mine, one of the several mines licensed by the indigenous people, and in this case an open pit Uranium mine, which was also very interesting. I learned that the way they determine what is ore and what is slag is by having each dump truck pass under a giant Geiger counter, if the load has enough rads off to processing, too little and to the slag pile.

I am of mixed feelings about the tour. I think I could have hit all the same sites and more on my own, but It would certainly have been more dangerous, and perhaps less informative. If I had a travel partner, someone to back me up, the choice would be go-it-alone. But as an individual, and with people concerned for my wellbeing far away, I guess the tour option is better.