Monday, March 19, 2018

7 March 2018 - Day 4 - Melbourne-Launceston-Hobart

Since geographical restrictions forced a change in the itinerary – car rental companies do not permit vehicles to be taken across by the Tasman ferry – I had to book a flight to Launceston from Melbourne. Jet Star offers affordable flights all over Australia and I booked one with only carryon baggage of 7 kgs. Rentalcars website got me a reasonable offer from East Coast rentals of a Toyota Corolla for AUD 100 for two days. George had told me last evening that T4 terminal at Melbourne airport is a large facility and that I must factor in extra time for check-in and security. But, first I had to find a place to park the car cheaply and safely. On the net I located the Pacific Parking, which offered covered parking at AUD 30 for two days. I booked a space online. To facilitate the car parking and longer time for check-in at the airport I left the hostel by 4.30 am, even though my flight was only at 7 am. Traffic was light on the road but in a couple of places, I am afraid, I may have violated traffic regulations because of checking Google maps and concentrating on keeping to speed restrictions. Despite all this, I reached the Pacific Parking complex slightly ahead of their opening time of 5 am. After taking out the baggage I needed for the Tasmanian trip I handed over my keys to the counter clerk, paid the fee and I was taken to the airport in a van. All this happened in less than 5 minutes. It was beyond belief for me. It was so easy to do business in this country.
The van dropped me at Terminal 2. The walk to T4 – an exclusive terminal for Jet Star - was quite long and George was right. I used a self-printing kiosk to check-in and get the boarding passes for both the flights. The security check was non-intrusive, but they wanted my bag opened to check for explosive devices! I recognised that they do such checks randomly. The terminal was crowded as flights to various parts of Australia were scheduled in the morning hours. Gates would be announced just 45 minutes before the scheduled flight time. I had some time to kill and hence, decided to try the Oporto breakfast. Oporto is the Australian McDonalds, the story of a Portuguese immigrant building a brand on the flame grilled chicken burger and a self-developed chilli sauce. The breakfast of eggs, buns, bacon and fires was indeed very filling.
The flight was on time and by 8 am I touched down in Launceston, which has scenic mountains as its backdrop. I called the toll free number and was transferred to the East Coast rental desk in Launceston. In a half hour John, from the rental company, came in his van to pick me up. The office was just about a km from the airport. John is an example of the multi-tasking executive. He was the manager of the store, the insurance agent and the driver. He explained the various insurance alternatives. I plumbed for one that restricted my excess to AUD 358 in the event of an accident or theft. The paperwork was done swiftly. He told me that the car I had booked – Toyota Corolla – was unavailable and hence, he was upgrading me to the next level, a Toyota Camry. I was not disappointed, to say the least! He took me to check the car and noted down the dents and other apparent defects on the car. he handed over the key of the car to me after I signed on the inspection sheet and he was on his way to pick up his next customer from the airport. He had not closed the office; there was no one else in the office either.
Since I had been embarrassed at not knowing how to open the fuel tank of the Outlander I specifically asked John how to do that in the Camry. Once I sat in the car and put it in forward gear the car refused to move an inch. That’s when I realized that the car had handbrakes on. But, I could not see any handbrake in the car which I could release. After inspecting the car – there was no manual inside the car – I almost gave up and decided to await John's return. Then, suddenly I recalled his mentioning releasing something with the foot. Yes, voila, the handbrake had to be released with the foot. I did that and I was out on the road to Hobart.
I took the A1 from Launceston to Hobart, which was about 185 km. A1 in Tasmania stretches from Burnie and Devonport to Hobart. I decided to cover the Burnie-Devonport-Launceston bit tomorrow while returning from Hobart. The beautiful road that meanders through Tasman highlands can be covered in less than 150 mts. I could barely stop in a couple of places to take in the beauty of the naturally manicured countryside spiked with water bodies that gave off a unique cobalt blue colour. It was interesting to note small hamlets along the way named Bagdad and Mangalore! When I reached The Waratah Hotel, in the centre of the picture postcard perfect city, the accommodation was confirmed and so was the car park. However, I was told, the room would be ready only by 3 pm. A walk to Salamanca Market was suggested by the young man attending to me. Instead, I decided to drive to Port Arthur, which was recommended by Rajan at the St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne.

The Tasman Bridge is an awesome sight as one leaves Hobart CBD for Port Arthur.  The five lane bridge is part of the Tasman highway and spans 1.4 km in length. I felt extremely sleepy all along the drive to Port Arthur. After paying the AUD 39 entrance fee I was told that I would be taking the boat tour at 2.20 pm and walking tour at 3.30 pm., which would last nearly an hour. That would be late for me. So I decided to skip the walking tour and return after the boat ride. Before that I had the famous Fish & Chips of Tasmania. The portion of chips was so large that I barely managed to finish the three large pieces of fish.

At the ticket counter one is given a playing card. The card identifies you as one of the prisoners of the erstwhile convict settlement. I had drawn 5 of Diamonds and in the Museum that card belonged to James Jones, who had been convicted of thieving a loaf of bread! A tour of the museum showcased the use of convict settlements by erstwhile colonial powers and the use of convict labor for building infrastructure. The Port Arthur settlement was active for over two centuries and even now 11 well preserved sites are testimony to its development into a township over the years. I missed the scheduled boat ride as I got a bit engrossed in the museum. However, I took the 3 pm ride with a witty commentator at it non-stop. Port Arthur, sadly, was also the scene of a ghastly crime – a lone shooter took the lives of 35 people and injured many more in 1996. While the perpetrator had been jailed for many lives – capital punishment is not one of the options in this country – the shooting sparked a nationwide debate on gun control. As an aftermath of the debate a ban was imposed on carrying guns. And, to this day, the country has not witnessed any such incident, big or small. That’s an example of great governance. Personal liberties are alright to the extent that they do not harm or can cause harm to another human. What we see in the USA is crass, an example of how big money rules over humanism.

On the way back from Port Arthur I stopped halfway through and napped. The next stop was near the Tasman Bridge. To take a few pictures of the magnificent structure that was refurbished after an accident I took liberties with parking regulations. I do not know if a traffic violation ticket will follow! In Hobart, after parking the car and securing luggage in the appointed room I went for a walk to the Salamanca market and the piers of Hobart. The city seemed to have gone to sleep. Most shops close by 5 pm. however, all action was at the pier-side. There are numerous cafes, pubs and eating joints all along. One of the large rooms in the Elizabeth pier was playing host to a massive celebration of some kind with young girls of all shapes and sizes dolled up to impress and have fun.  Asian food seemed very popular with a couple of restaurants serving that fare almost full. I walked into a pub cum restaurant called Fish Frenzy. James Boags Draught is a local Tasman beer; good stuff. I got through it doing a portion of the blog. I did not have stomach for a meal after the fish and chips in Port Arthur. I spied an icebox full of local ice-cream. I asked one of the girls for the local favourite and she asked me to try the boysenberry cone. The boysenberry is a cross of four berries, two from Europe (raspberry and blackberry). The berry derives its name from Rudolph Boysen, who is credited with development of the plant. One of the ladies seated at the next table, possibly noticing the relish with which I was consuming the ice-cream, asked me if she should order one. I told her that she would not be disappointed!

The streets were deserted and the air was a bit nippy. The leisurely walk was invigorating too. The hostel room had en suite facilities. The rest of the room members were not in sight when I climbed to the top bunk of one of the two sets in the room and instantly slept.

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