We stood on a sidewalk in Hobart snapping a photo of a historic building when a gentleman stepped up to us and apologized for the weather. He said he had never seen such a cold, wet summer as this one. So apparently summer weather that looks a lot like March in Western Washington is not normal for here. Days have been around 17 Celsius (62 Fahrenheit) with nights around 12 C (53 F). From Antarctica, only a couple thousand kilometers south, a cold south wind blows across the Southern Ocean with nothing to stop it. Just our luck!
But of course, we still see the sights and enjoy ourselves, regardless. From Zeehan we traveled south and east over spectacular mountain scenery. We saw numerous hydro-electric dams, penstocks, and power stations producing much of Tasmania’s electric power, and we passed through Queenstown where copper, silver, and lead mining has scoured the mountainsides. Both of these sights reminded us of the fragile balance nations try to maintain between exploiting vast natural resources while preserving bountiful natural beauty and habitat. Tasmania seems to have a great abundance of both the resources and the beauty in a very compact area; it must be a very difficult balancing act, indeed.
We paused briefly in Derwent Bridge to see “The Wall.” This art project was begun by Greg Duncan in 2005 and continues to be a work in progress in an enormous studio. It is a wood carving that will be longer than a football field (100 meters, about 328 feet long) when completed. It tells much of the history of this region and is incredibly detailed. Because the project is funded and copyrighted by Mr. Duncan, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the studio, but we did purchase some postcards to help us remember our visit there.
We stopped in Claremont at the Cadbury Chocolate Factory Visitor Centre for a brief tour. Of course, we were not actually allowed into the factory itself; as in the US, every food processor we have encountered here is too nervous about health and safety (and business security) to allow actual factory tours any more. However, the presentation by a 41-year veteran of the factory was interesting and fun, and of course, we got a couple samples and plenty of time to browse through the factory store.
Our time in Hobart, which is Tasmania’s capital city, was spent learning about the history and seeing the historic buildings remaining from its early years. Founded in 1804, it is now a city of about 218,000 people, and its harbor at the mouth of the River Derwent forms the second deepest port in the world. We always like to tour state capital buildings (coming from a state capital ourselves), so we appreciated seeing the Parliament House. The building was originally the Customs House and sat right on the shore of the harbor; much more land has since been reclaimed in front of Parliament House to form Hobart’s waterfront. The Customs House was built by convict labor from 1834-1840 in Georgian colonial style. The Legislative Council began meeting in 1841 in the “Long Room” upstairs. When the House of Assembly was added to the Parliament system in 1856, that house met in the Long Room, and the Legislative Council moved to its own chambers, which is where it still meets and which maintains its Victorian style presided over by an enormous portrait of Queen Victoria. The House of Assembly now has its own chambers, built in 1940. It has been remodeled repeatedly through the years and now presents a rather cold, businesslike demeanor.
We wandered the streets of Hobart on a self-guided Walking Tour of Hobart’s Historic Places. Highlights included the Theatre Royal, which was built in 1837 and is Australia’s oldest functioning theatre. A nice woman in the box office took us into the ornate auditorium and told us a bit about the facility. It required extensive restoration after a serious fire gutted the stage in 1983. That was a blessing in disguise because it got them modern lighting and scenery equipment that might not have been possible without the destruction of the original stage. The shell, built of convict-hued stone, was not damaged, and the auditorium received only smoke and water damage, so the building is very authentic.
The caravan park where we stayed on the outskirts of Hobart, Treasure Island Caravan Park, overlooks the River Derwent and has a good population of semi-wild birds. They sell “healthy duck food” in the office, so many families of ducks with adorable ducklings have been trained to come running every time someone sets foot outside. We also saw our first Tasmanian Native-Hen family there. These flightless birds only exist on Tasmania and run fast or swim away to avoid trouble.