Monday, March 8, 2010

850 km later...

Well, I'm back.

I took a number of side roads on the way down to Hobart on Saturday afternoon, stayed with friends (with whom I had some nice fish and chips down at Mure's on the waterfront), slept in on Sunday morning, heard Mass, and then headed off for points further south.

I drove down as far as Dover (not quite the end of the road - it's sealed as far as Southport, another 20 km on, and then on a dirt road one can reach Cockle Creek, almost the southernmost point of Tasmania) before turning back for my overnight accommodation at Castle Forbes Bay.  

It's been years and years since I've been down the Huon, in fact I don't recall driving south of Geeveston (where we went for a trip to the Tahune Airwalk) since 1994.  That was the time that, as a novice driver, I lost control of my new car on the road near Lune River, and wrote it off - narrowly avoiding being killed.  I mused on the fact that my story nearly ended then and there - would I have been saved?  God knows.

I booked in at the bed & breakfast, then retraced my path back to Huonville, even touring out to Judbury and back.  Of all things, I ended up eating a butter chicken pizza for dinner at Franklin - very nice, if rather eclectic (Italian base, Indian topping, cooked by a Scotsman).  Back to my lodgings, and some DVD's and reading before bed...

The weather, even in the far south of Tasmania, continues unpleasantly hot and humid, making sleep difficult.  At least to-day dawned rainy, and I had a good breakfast before heading off into the pleasant drizzle, with low clouds curling around the patchwork of farmed and forested hills that mark the Huon and the Channel.

At Huonville, I turned south-east, for Cygnet: at first winding along the left bank of the Huon River, then over high hills and down again to that town.  Instead of crossing the peninsula, I kept to the coastline and traced out the whole of the Channel region, stopping briefly at the D'Entrecasteaux memorial to admire the view.

This whole area of eastern Tasmania south of Hobart to land's end was first explored and named after two French navigators, who surveyed the coastline in the early 1790's, about a decade before British colonization: Admiral Bruny D'Entrecasteaux, and his second-in-command Captain Huon Kermadec, in the Esperance and Recherche.  Hence the long island lying offshore between the mouth of the Derwent (Hobart's river) and Southport – a straight-line distance of at least 50 km – is Bruny Island; the sheltered strait between it and the mainland is the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, from which the Channel region, the promontory in the north-east of this area, takes its name; the great river debouching into this Channel is the Huon (hence the name of the remainder of these parts) and athwart which stands the regional capital of Huonville (as though the French, not the English, had settled here); toward the south end of the Channel, one finds Port Esperance and the Esperance River; while at the very south (beyond my weekend travels) lies Recherche Bay, where once the French came ashore.

Until the 1970's, the great industry of the Channel and the Huon was apple and pear-growing: but Mother England double-crossed us when she gave up Empire Preference to join the wretched Common Market (getting into bed with the Frogs, Eye-ties and Jerries), and overnight the whole market collapsed - the Government had to pay the bankrupt farmers to rip up their profitless orchards, and while still apples and pears can be found for sale in the area, the once-great harbours of Port Huon and others, where of late the merchant vessels loaded for London, are only for small craft now.

To conclude: I pushed on along the foreshore as far as Margate, then cut up through Sandfly (appalling name for a nice spot!) and Longley that I might take the mountain road through to Fern Tree, in the foothills of cloud-shrouded Mount Wellington, before descending to Hobart.

(In passing, I suppose if matters had fallen out differently, the mountain would have been Pic Napoléon, and the city below, Talleyrand, on the Rivière du Nord.)

Having thoroughly slaked even my thirst for driving here, there and everywhere (I'd covered 650 km already in two days, as far as from Melbourne to Sydney), I sped north on the Midlands Highway, and did the 200km back to Launceston in a very respectable 2 hours 20 minutes, despite traffic.

In passing, I note that the State election is due on Saturday the 20th of March: the Liberals are promising to finally build a four-lane highway between Launceston in the North and Hobart in the South, and they have my vote for this reason alone, so frustrating the current narrow travelway is.

(Then again, in 1949 my Dad got a lift from an old fellow in a Model T Ford along the old, unsealed road dating from convict times: it took 12 hours to do the 120 miles.)

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