Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Roadtrip! (Tasmania Leg)

September 24, 2007

We took a late morning flight to Launceston. As we were flying over the north of the island, I noticed that the crops were grown in circles. That provided a new sight compared to the usual grids seen in Victoria and South Australia. Too bad I was too sleepy to take any shots of the 'round' plantations. We arrived in time to feel hungry for lunch.

In all honesty, I felt that even Launceston Airport was an experience in itself - you actually do have to get out of the building to collect your own luggage from the trailer. It's like those ulu airports in the mountain areas of Sarawak (according to a certain source). We collected our car from Europcar. They gave us a brand new Nissan X-Trail! When I say brand new, I really do mean brand new - it was only at 228km.

So, off we drove off in the brand new white 4WD in search for a signboard that said either "Freeway" or "M1". The area outside Launceston is very much like the rest of Australia - green, green and green. But, there are more sheep on this tiny island. Launceston is a beautiful hilly town but we did not stay for long. We continued on the M1 to head towards our first stop: Cradle Mountain.

Somewhere along the way, Dad decided to turn off the main highway to use the B road instead of the A road. From afar, we saw signboards advertising an award-winning pie shop. Listening to our hungry instincts, we stopped to have lunch. Wah, so yummy...

The drive to Cradle Mountain was not easy due to the windy and narrow roads. It was also slippery and misty as it had been raining. However, the scenery made up for all that.

Listening to all the 5 CDs I brought along helped with my motion-sickness and Mum was on a constant lookout for wild animals.

The forest nearer to the entrance of the national park where the mountain is situated was a sad sight. All that was left were black soot and burnt tree stumps. So sad........ but once in the national park, it was all green. As we were hunting for a place to spend the night, we came across a cute round four-legged friend - a wombat. It was SO CUTE!!!!!

We were getting a little worried that we wouldn't be able to find a room for the night - no luck with anything. In the end, we settled for a family cabin. It wasn't very cheap but it was better than nothing. When we saw the place, our initial reservations disappeared as it was much better than what we'd expected. It had a king-sized bed with cable TV, and 2 double-decker beds in one room. The bathroom was well-equiped as well. After placing our luggages in the room, we headed out to hunt for food. We had dinner at another hotel. The interior of the place was natural with plenty of timber and a snazzy fireplace.

Funnily enough, we ordered seafood. I had extra alcohol to help warm the body up. After dinner, we took a slow drive around the area with the headlights off. So many little friends were out looking for food, as well! We saw more wombats, two Tasmanian Devils, wallabies and pademelons!

September 25, 2007

You seriously have no idea how cold that place is. We had ice covering our windscreen and windows. We had to onion ourselves. There was snow on the mountain. Wah.... super freezing I tell you.... just recalling it feels cold... brrr..... Time was an issue so we did not sign up for walks but we took plenty of pictures of ourselves being all 'brave' in the cold wind. Also, we took shots of the vegetation found only up there, like the round button hedges!

Managed to take a few shots of the 'cradle' and then we started our journey back down the mountain. We were supposed to stop at Mole Creek to have a look at Solomon Caves but we couldn't make the tour times so we scooted off. Too bad we were there during the wrong season - most of the berry farms were empty and more or less dead so no berry-picking of any kind for me... =(

We stopped at a small roadside grocery shop for lunch and after that, headed down the road to visit the honey farm. Why of course, Mum is a honey bee herself. This place houses 50 over varieties of honey and everything to do with honey. They sell honey ice-cream, honey soap, honey candles, honey lotion, honey chocolate spread, bee puppets, bee kitchen towels, bee knobs, and everything else that you can think of! Just amazing! I was writing down a mental note to tell Shaun's mum about this place - she'll love it, too!

We had a small bickering deciding to either head south towards Hobart, or north up to where Mum's precious flowers were. Argh, we just had to detour up north to where I'd imagine it would be colder. I was reluctant to go because I was worried that we would not have enough time to head back down to Hobart. But, well, we were on an adventure so we might as well.

As usual, the smaller roads rewarded us with magnificent sceneries. It was here in Tasmania that I truly experienced serenity amidst Mother Nature.

As we drove on an unknown road, we passed some place colourful on the right - I didn't know what it was as I was driving. Mum went, "WAH! WAH! So pretty!!! STOP THE CAR!!!" I had to quickly turn off the main road onto a dirt road to let Mum admire the rows of colourful tulips.

I also figured that Tasmanians have plenty of time on their hands - so much so that they have to be creative even with their letter boxes. Wah..........

Have you heard of the alpaca? No? Well, what about the Llama? They are the same kind of animals. I think they even look the same. They were so friendly towards Mum as she walked up towards them to take a photo with them. But when I wanted to take one, they walked away. Hmph, so unfair. Then I asked Mum, "What is your sweater made of? Is it alpaca wool?" Her answer was affirmative and haha, that figured.

It was so hard to figure out where we were since we didn't know where we drove off to in the first place. Well, as long as we were driving in the direction of Burnie, it was fine. Haha... we were not all that lost as we managed to arrive at Burnie safe and sound. Burnie is an industrial town with cranes and huge containers and truckloads of coal or some mineral of some sort. Oh, and please, if you are planning to stay anywhere near Burnie, book a place in advance, or at least have some food with you. It more or less is DEAD at night. Just driving out to buy my can of gin and tonic took ages. Oh, but Mum was very lucky at the penguin observatory. She managed to catch a glimpse of three little fellows returning from sea. We very nearly abandoned the idea of going to the observatory as it looked deserted. It also shared a car park with the local community hall where, at the time when we were there, the local bagpipe troupe was rehearsing. My goodness! I was seriously wondering if ANY penguins would appear at such a location!

September 26, 2007

In the morning, we drove towards Wynyard crossing our fingers that there will be tulips to see. Haha, we have to be thankful as there were more tulips to take pictures with up the top of the cliff! Mum was ecstatic!

Okay, enough of the north. We happily drove back onto the Midland Highway in the direction of Hobart. Along the way, we made two stops - one at Campbell Town and one at Ross. Campbell Town had bricks laid on the ground summarising the 'stories' of the convicts that were sent there. They would read something like: Alice Smith, 17 years old, 7 years in prison stealing a handkerchief. Most of them would result in me gasping, thinking, "Oh, my gawd!"

Ross is where the oldest bridge in Australia is situated. It is still in use and it just goes to show how well-built structures can be. See, civil engineers from the olden days are also capable of good things. Just think the Egyptian pyramids and the Forbidden Temple in Beijing.

By the time we arrived in Port Arthur, it was dusk. Not a very good time to tour the place as it was supposedly haunted. So spooky... eee.... Not a big fan of such things so we were happy just browing the souvenir shop. Yes, lousy la. I know la. We drove into Hobart in time for dinner, which we had at a Vietnamese diners down at Salamanca Arts Centre. After dinner, since there was nothing to do, we experimented with the new camera Dad got from KL.

Okay la, not too bad la....

September 27, 2007

We began our day with a continental breakfast with the view of Mount Wellington. Then, it was off to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory! Yeay! If I recall correctly, this chocolate factory is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. We were not allowed to take photographs so the entire experience had to be recorded into my memory. The most memorable part of the tour had to be the strong aroma of cocoa. Mmm..... just scrumptious..... just thinking of it know is making my mouth water.....

Then we headed back to Salamanca Arts Centre to have a walk-see. The market itself is an arts market, selling all sorts of paintings, handicraft and what not. It was a conservation project under the local council to save the old building structure of what used to be I think a warehouse. Feels very much like The Rocks. Some of the shops there are very interesting, like the Faerie House selling all sorts of things related to fairies. They also had a story-telling corner set up in an 'enchanted forest' setting.

Lunch was had across the road, where Yona recommended the 'floating' restaurants. I mean, come on, you come all the way to Tassie and not have seafood? You've got to be kiddin' me. So yup, fish and chips for lunch. While waiting for Mum to collect her order from a different shop, this conversation took place:

Dad: Girl, look at that.
Me: What?
Dad: That la.
Me: That what la? Where?
Dad: There. The baskets la.
Me: The baskets? What's wrong with the baskets?
Dad: Look harder.
Me: ............. OOOHHHHH................ (let's out a laugh) The fish comes from Sydney!!!!


Our last stop was the Tasmania Royal Botanical Gardens. I enjoyed the place, surprisingly. The tulips here were more impressive than those we saw in Canberra, maybe due to the colder climate. The blooms were bigger and the colours more striking.

Mum was on a high and even more so when she went into the greenhouse. Even Dad and I were impressed with the composition of colours and hues.

We also went to see the Sub-Antarctic plants because they supposedly are the only place with such plants. Mum also took the chance to pose with apple trees (that were not in bloom and showed no sign whatsoever that they are photogenic), as well as, cherry blossom trees. There was also the Japanese Maple tree over at the Japanese Garden.

There was a water feature that was made of tree trunks. Very creative I thought, so I took a picture:

And that was the end of my roadtrip. Ah... so contented that I managed to cover quite a bit of Australia. Next trip: Audrey Lian, are we really going up north or not???

Monday, December 03, 2007

Roadtrip! (Melbourne Leg 2)

September 22, 2007

We left Wodonga right after breakfast. We grabbed the opportunity to fill the car with a full tank of petrol for we did not know where the next gas station was! It is very scary to drive in Australia because the map can be very deceiving. Several times it showed a town on a map but we did not even realise that we drove through it. Dangerous! And sometimes, when there WAS a town, it was either deserted or did not have a gas station. Grr....

Again, we took the less travelled road. Hills of gold caught our eyesight. We drove nearer to take a better look and they were actually yellow flowers carpetting the fields! Wow! And they were everywhere! So we had endless green yesterday and today, endless gold!

But it was not all bright and cheery. There were traces of bushfires and there were plenty of them. Driving past the trees, you'd think that they were dead but no, they actually weren't. Those trees are super hardy just like the island continent! You could see that on some trees were young green shoots. But imagining the number of animals and their habitat destroyed was just heart-wrenching. I could just picture rescuers crying while collecting burnt carcasses of koalas and other animals.

We managed to make it to Melbourne in time for dinner. We got lost finding the way to bro's place but it was all good. He took us to Lygon for some Italian. Before leaving his house, he adviced Dad not to wear his All Blacks sweater in case it offended anyone. Well, the World Cup was still on so.. haha.. yea.. just to be safe. Then we walked down the banks of the Yarra River. Dad and bro took the chance to play with their cameras and with the fireworks from the carnival (the Royal Show or something like that), all the better...

September 23, 2007

A day to recuperate from all the driving, I chose to laze around in the house yet again! My parents decided to tag along with bro to the city because the Botanical Gardens is a must for Mum. After that, they headed up the Dandenongs to see, yes, more flowers! Oh, and also to have tea at the infamous teahouse halfway up the mountains.

When they returned, we headed off to Box Hill for a family dinner with Pei Shin, Pei Yiun (cousins from Dad's side) and Meng Cheng (cousin from Mum's side). It was in conjunction with Mooncake Festival and also served as a small reunion for family. I finally got to meet Cheng Cheng Jie Jie's boyfriend! Friendly and well-mannered guy from China, he.

For dessert, we went to have cold rock. Yes, it's the bomb! Then we had to catch up with sleep because our flight was early next morning.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Roadtrip! (Canberra Leg)

September 20, 2007

We started our journey to Canberra late in the afternoon due to my renal function test over at the Royal North Shore Hospital. They took 7 full tubes of blood from me and they collected a reasonable amount of my urine.

Like previous Canberra trips, I directed Dad onto the Hume Highway and off we drove down south. After turning off left onto the Bass Highway, I pointed out an enormous lake to Dad called Lake George.

"There, this entire place is Lake George!"
"Huh? Where? It's all grass leh..."

Haha.. trying to convince both he and Mum that the 'field' was once a lake was so hilarious. But it saddened us as well because it showed how dry Australia has been all these years. And to think that Sydney welcomed the month of December with rain (it's still raining now even).

By the time we arrived in Canberra, it was nightfall. For your information, Canberra is like Putrajaya, or should I say it's the other way around. You keep driving in circles and end up feeling very frustrated because every single precinct looks the same! Bah! When we finally found a place with shops OPEN, we had to fork up a hefty sum for only a passable meal of Thai cuisine. Premonition of things to come: no good at all. Speak about cari makan. Cari tempat tidur also susah. Gosh! All the places we saw along the way were fully booked! Last resort was a caravan park and thankfully, they still had a family unit. Throughout the entire trip, this was the cheapest place we stayed in. Did I mention that it was the dirtiest as well? It wasn't filthy or anything but because I was comparing it with the other places we'd been, it was not up to par. Oh well, as long as it had hot water and GIN AND TONIC! Wahaha, love that conconction - makes me sleep like a log.

September 21, 2007

Rays of bright sunshine seeped through the lace curtain. It felt as thought it was crying to be drawn to allow the overflowing radiance into the room. Yes, we were going to have beautiful weather at the Floriade and so we wasted no time.

The Floriade is an annual tulip festival held in Canberra during spring. It also showcases other types of flowers but they mainly use a variety of tulips. While we attended the Floriade a tad too late last year (the flowers were all withering), we were too early this year as many of the bulbs had yet to bloom! Mum was delighted to see the array of colours. Dad, on the other hand, thought it was nothing like the Chelsea Flower Show. But of course it wouldn't be, the Floriade is like 300 times smaller!

Personally, I thought the colours and combination of plants this year wasn't as attractive as last year's. Maybe it was the theme they used. Last year it was according to countries. This year, they went by an Australian theme. I don't recall what it was exactly but it was probably something to do with Australian landscape. To illustrate, here are the pictures:

Have you seen the inside of a tulip? Let me show you:

There was a pair of goslings with their mum (or dad?):

And I was fascinated by the pinecones still attached to the tree:

Having soaked up the sun and when Mum was satisfied with her tulip-watching, we looked up the map to follow the highway that heads up the mountains. Along the way, we stopped by a small 'town' comprising 8 houses to have lunch. An elderly couple ran the place and served us pies, pumpkin soup and coffee. They had a fat cat that was just adorable (look in the picture hard enough and you'd be able to spot the fuzzball)!

Kept wanting a piece of my pie! Surprise of all surprises, they were happy to learn that we were from Malaysia as the old bloke himself spent some time in Butterworth as a soldier during the Vietnam War.

Oh, I should really share pictures of what we see while we drive:

After passing by that tranquil cottage, it was bye-bye Monaro Highway at Cooma and hello Alpine Highway! Yes, we were driving across the Great Dividing Range into the Kosciuszko National Park. We stopped at Jindabyne to have a look at Lake Jindabyne. Funny how I've never been skiing and have always wondered what Jindabyne looked like. Now, I know.

Next stop was Perisher Blue. Well, it wasn't much of a stop. We could see the mountain and the snow from the Skitube. And there were kangaroos hopping about so Mum made us stop at the side to take some pics.

So I've ticked Perisher Blue's box. Next box to tick was Thredbo. As Thredbo is in the park, we had to pay a stopping fee because we were going to stop the car to take pictures. If we decided to just drive through, we wouldn't need to pay the $25. And you know what? There was PLENTY OF SNOW! This year, Australia had a bumper harvest of snow. Normally, the ski resorts would be closed by August but hey, it's September and there was still plenty of it! That was the first time I saw real snow! I did not feel cold. It was like a nice spring day but when you TOUCHED it, whoa, freezing!

Dad just couldn't resist the temptation to stop at a lookout to take pictures of the snowcaps. Breathtaking. Oh, and not to mention freezing. It was so hard to keep myself from shivering when Dad took his own sweet time adjusting the lighting and what not. So funny watching Mum take hers - she could hardly smile!

Before the sun went down, we managed to take pictures of the pastures we'd been driving past. Rolling green hills... aah... endless sea of green...

Then Dad spoilt it by mentioning one lecture he had lightyears ago in Oxford. Every beautiful scenery comes with a price. Just imagine the amount of trees fell to create this picturesque scenery. And they want us to keep our rainforests for them. Wah, so unfair - they get to make money by slaughtering cattle while we get zero for keeping our trees.

We then drove off into the sunset in search of our next slumber chamber. We drove and drove and drove until we felt a slight tinge of hunger. We managed to catch a glimpse of the enormous Lake Hume (it took us close to 45 minutes just to drive around it!) in the moonlight. We decided to stop in Wodonga where there was a twin room with Golden Chain. Mum prefers Golden Chain over Best Western because they are cheaper and greener.

And what's with motel owners? When he found out that we were Malaysian, he quickly praised our cuisine. He enjoyed his stay at Penang because of the food! The young English chap then recommended a Thai restaurant in town.