Living in a Marsupial World
 
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The first Mexican in Australia conquers the columnar basalts of Mount Wellington!
On March 15th, our friend Matt flew all the way from Vancouver to spend just one week gallivanting around Tasmania with the two of us. Needless to say, he is a champion and a gentleman scholar. The trip was a very last minute decision, feasible only due to some logistical magic happening for Matt’s work schedule, but we couldn’t have been more excited to share some Aussie adventuring with one of our best friends. Though we hadn’t sold the car at this point, we determined that the best and simplest way to spend our week in Tassie would be to rent a campervan. The ease of being able to just park and sleep or wake up and drive away, and avoiding the hassles of tent camping, just made too much sense for the time we had. 
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So, on the 15th we rocked up to Devil Campers who had cut us a deal on a three-person van, and made for the Hobart airport for our rendezvous with Señor Rosales. We hadn’t seen this kid for over a year and the reunion was awesome. After a long series of hugs we piled into the camper and went straight into Hobart for a drink at James Squire, a Victorian brewery, in the Salamanca Market area. After catching up and agreeing that there was indeed some decent beer in Australia, we picked up some lamb snags (read sausages) and drove to a campsite on one of the southern peninsulas next to the channel. 


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Fishing the D'Entrecasteaux Channel
By sunrise the guys were up and out with their fly rods in tow, challenging the Aussie bait fisherman along the channel waters. After a few hours of fishing and photography, we decided it was high time for a spot of caffeine. Not far up the road was Grandvewe Sheep Cheesery – Tasmania’s only all-sheep cheese farm! After a free cheese tasting, we sat down for a coffee on their sundeck. While the cheese and coffee were delightful, the bathroom turned out to be a highlight of Grandvewe. The bathroom walls were covered in sheep-related jokes, some of which were actually pretty funny. i.e. Why do Scotsman shepherds wear kilts? So the sheep don’t hear the zipper! Ha.


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Nothing puts hair on your chest like espresso and cheese!
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Isn't it bromantic?
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Climbing Mt Wellington with Hobart below
We ended up packing a ton into that first full day. After the cheesery we summited Mount Wellington, the imposing rock mound that hovers behind the city of Hobart. Much like Mt Washington in the White Mountains, Mt Wellington’s weather (and the general weather in Tassie) is incredibly changeable, and many tourists visiting the mountain disappointingly find themselves socked in a cloud at the top. We completely lucked out with an absolutely gorgeous day and had nonstop views of Hobart and the Tasman Peninsula below. The hike itself was short but steep - a great workout - and Matt, like a kid on Christmas, had his first taste of the wonder that is Tasmanian geology, pointing out the awesome columnar basalts on the way up. 


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Their bromance is everlasting
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To celebrate our successful ascent, we decided to drop by the famous MONA/Moorilla compound that we had heard so much about. The Moorilla property is located just north of Hobart and is a privately owned enchanted wonderland for arts and culture. It contains a winery, brewery, restaurant, accommodation, concert lawn complete with large bean bags, and the (free!) Museum of Old and New Art – the owner’s private collection (http://mona.net.au/). We arrived late in the afternoon and only had about an hour to tour the museum before closing. Immediately we realized this wasn’t nearly enough time to tour what has to be the coolest, most engaging and entertaining art museum ever imagined. 


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Upon entry we were each handed an iPhone and a headset, and were debriefed as to how to tackle the jungle of art below. Each iPhone had been programmed to track your location in the museum and provided you with a listing of each work of art nearby. When you selected a work of art, you received a series of descriptive articles, critical reviews, and even audio tracks available for browsing, to get a better understanding of the piece. We descended several stories underground to reach the galleries, and ended up immersed in an echoing and mysterious new dimension. 


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In the MONA
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The lower levels of the gallery were cut out of the bedrock, at least 50 ft down. Several of the walls were just enormous swaths of bare rock. The sounds of various mechanical and video works reverberated in an eerie way throughout the chambers, and around every corner were hidden hallways and dark, mysterious passages filled with art. The great thing about the curation was that the old and new art was intermingled – you would walk up to a bizarre contemporary piece and right beside it would be a 4,000-year-old sarcophagus. It put everything into a new perspective and kept every room dynamic and fascinating, a welcome change to the usual museum tradition of chronological curation. 


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Four Moo Brews (not suitable for bogans), Four Moorilla Wines!
After an hour of bewildered wandering, we felt we had barely scratched the surface and were eager for more. Right then and there we decided that we would return to the MONA for another round before the week was up. With the museum closed for the day we sat down for a sunset drink and sampled four Moorilla wines and four Moo Brews. All were decent, but the beers in particular (which are quite new to the market) need a little more complexity to be competitive in the microbrew scene. They were perfect, however, for unwinding after an exhausting but truly incredible day. 


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The mustache officiates the tasting
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After climbing Mt Wellington, nothing felt better than some wine, beer, and bean bags.
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The early morning colors of Tasmania
That night we drove northwest out of the Hobart area toward Mount Field National Park. We found a free campsite along the way that happened to have coin-operated hot showers – jackpot – and settled in for a night of grime-free luxury. While asking fellow campers if they could change some two-dollar coins, a group of German backpackers asked if we wanted some chocolate. After being momentarily sketched out, and then quickly realizing that the “strangers with candy” scenario applies less with people your own age, they explained that they had just been to the Cadbury factory and had 10 kilos of chocolate from an end-of-tour deal. They apparently were already sick of it, so we gladly took about a kilo of lemon-filled deliciousness off their hands.


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The most indiscreet of ninjas at Mt Field NP
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The geologist investigates a new world.
In the morning we drove into Mt Field National Park and paused for a breakfast on the barbie. We had originally intended to climb Mt Field itself, but after speaking to one of the park rangers we determined that a 16km loop around a series of glacial tarns along the ridgeline would give us a longer, more interesting hike. The way the ranger described it, the Mt Field hike was good for viewing Australian plants, while the tarn shelf hike was good for Tasmanian vegetation. We had no idea why he differentiated it this way until we started hiking. Very early along the trail we found ourselves in some bizarre ancient forest. We had never seen such a crazy collection of flora before, even after touring around Tassie for the past two months! Fantastic.


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A local plant - experts welcome to identify
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Putting our heads together to brave the cold and conquer the trail!
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Climbing high into the Snow Gums
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The weather, on the other hand, was a bit bleak, but it made for some pretty epic hiking. The clouds rolled in and out, and even when the wind wasn't gusting, it was ridiculously cold. Before we set off we all suited up in most of our clothing, though in the first mile we de-layered a bit with the 1,000-foot climb. As soon as we reached the top of the shelf, we were treated to some spectacular vistas. The terrain was superb as well, constantly changing and always beautiful. We scrambled over boulders and around gnarly Snow Gums, walked between alpine mosses and across an enormous fault line. Each glacial lake we encountered was unique – scattered along the shelf line like oddly shaped mirrors. 


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The tarn shelf!
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Yes, tarns are this awesome.
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Matt in the Misty Mountains
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Oh I, could tell you why, the ocean's near the shore
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Ben got the birdman and sucked up his required push-ups
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Here it is folks, visual proof of cubic wombat poo. And it's always perched on a rock, they love that.
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After such a long, beastly, and gorgeous hike, we slept well that night as we camped by a lake. The next morning we decided to take it easy, but stuck to the plan to check out Lake St Clair. Lake St Clair is Australia’s deepest lake and serves as the southerly endpoint of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park (where we had climbed Cradle Mountain over the holidays). While the park has some incredible hikes, including the Overland Track, Lake St Clair is also a pretty good spot for fishing, so the guys made a day of it. Though it was a beautiful day and trout were spotted, it ended up being a rather frustrating event for Ben. The local bushes and trees seemed hell-bent on eating most of Ben’s flies, particularly the ones he had just purchased at the local fishing shop that morning. Matt got a strike on a fish but alas, the sucker got away. All in all though it was a beautiful day. 


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Lake St Clair Lagoon
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Once the boys had their fill and I had fulfilled my fishing photojournalism duties, we had a bit of a wander on some of the mellower local trails. We moseyed along an Aboriginal Cultural walk, which provided sobering information on the lives and annihilation of the indigenous people of Tasmania, as well as some info on the remarkable native plants. 


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Slackjaw Supreme
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Queenstown! We Made It!
Our goal for the following day was to reach the west coast; fairly ambitious due to how isolated the west coast is from the center of the island. We tried to take care of a major portion of the drive that night, but as the sun was setting and our gas gauge began to read empty, we found ourselves navigating some intense mountain roads still kilometers away from the nearest town. We were just outside Queenstown, a remote mining town and the only place we’d be able to buy petrol if we didn’t hit empty first. To reach Queenstown, we needed to drive over a mountain pass through a moonscape of once richly forested mountains, now barren from years of mining. Though the site was sad to witness, there was a beauty about it as well, as the sunset cast everything in pink and purple giving everything a surreal alien quality. We reached the crest of the pass and saw twinkling Queenstown sprawled out in the valley far below. After a frighteningly steep and curvy descent, we made it in to town and reached a petrol station just in time! 

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Relieved and not wanting to stay the night, we exited town stage left and pressed on to the next free campsite. At this point the sun had set and the green light was on for all the furry things of Tasmania to try and wreak havoc on our van. As Ben drove, Matt and I did our best to alert him of the dangers popping out on all sides: “Right - wallaby!” “Left - possum.” “RIGHT WALLABY, WALLABY RIGHT!” “Possum. Possum. Wallaby. Possum. Left. Right. Left. Left.” It felt like we were in an interactive video game, and we managed to come away with minimal marsupial carnage. We managed to see (and not maim or kill) a rare spotted quoll too! 


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After making it through the twists and turns and hoards of suicidal animals, we parked our little bunkhouse at Hellyer Gorge and woke up the following morning surrounded by a beautiful temperate rainforest. Just below our campsite along a bushwalking track was the Hellyer River, and the guys of course wasted no time to get out there for a fish. 


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Where the Arthur River meets the Ocean on Tassie's West Coast
Finally, after what seemed like an endless, but picturesque drive, we reached the western coast of Tasmania. It was a spectacular site and we decided to have lunch where the Arthur River meets the Indian Ocean. Fishing, of course, ensued as well. Had we more time, we would have been all over that west coast like a bad smell. Alas, we had to continue our journey, but as we made our way eastward we became more excited to see the famous Bay of Fires. 


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Making new friends.
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Evening at Rocky Cape NP on the North Coast
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Moonrise at Rocky Cape
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Sunrise at Binalong Bay, Bay of Fires
On our way eastward across the state the next day, we managed to break up the drive by pausing in the Tamar Valley wine region near Launceston. Stopping at the Josef Chromy winery, we snuck in for a quick tasting right before they closed. We ended up buying a bottle of their tawny port, which we sampled that night at our beachfront campsite at Binalong Bay in Bay of Fires Conservation Area. We unfortunately arrived at Bay of Fires after the sun had set, so there wasn't much to see. But by sunrise we had a better idea about how the area got its name. 


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The guys fishing out on the point at Bay of Fires
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Roo Steaks!
After the guys got in their morning ocean fish, we all sat down to an awesome brunch, consisting of roo steak and eggs, sauteed veggies and yes, port. Breakfast of Aussie champions! 

We had one last run around on the beach, then headed south again to take in one last tour of the MONA before Matt's return to Vancouver the next morning. 

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Ben make fire.
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Friends don't let friends squat alone.
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We opted to stay in a caravan park called Treasure Island, located right next door to the Moorilla property, so we could wander over and wander back at our leisure. We had another mind-blowing tour of the MONA's incredible collection, and then made for camp for our final night of Matt-filled celebration in Tassie. For the occasion we picked up some cleanskin* wines for only $4 a pop, which ended up being incredibly delicious. The evening turned into a plethora of curry noodles, sparkling zibbibo, the A-Team, and giggles. All-in-all a fantastic end to a great, but far too short, week with Matt. Three cheers for Matt! See you in North America soon dear friend!

*Australia has a huge number of great wineries, and can only sell a certain amount of wine under their official label. The rest of their surplus then goes out under an anonymous, generic label known as a "cleanskin" and is sold at a much lower price. This means when you buy a cleanskin, you could be getting a really nice bottle of wine for super cheap! 

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Stephanie Condon
20/5/2011

I think a trip to Tassie is on the cards!

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Simon
20/5/2011

Dang we got to do that loop walk..maybe in 7 months time when there is no danger of dying of exposure. Glad to see you did lots of fishing . I don't see any pictures of the fish though ;-)

cheers Simon

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Aimee
22/5/2011

Love! These are such great stories.

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Norie
27/5/2011

Holy amazingness. So glad I finally checked out this entry. STUNNING photos. You capture such JOY in all the relationships you photograph - be it the relationship of sun to sea, wine to stache, or amigo to amigo. I must go to MONA someday. Also -- this young Matt fellow is *quite* adorable!

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