Thursday, October 31st, 2019 – The Old Colony Inn, New Norfolk, TAS

Distance travelled 338 km

Distance walked about 18 km

Daytime temperature 34 ° C, under cloud.

Probability of rain 90% – actual rain 0%

We travel quite a lot and have slept in any number of places that, overall, probably encompass the full spectrum of accommodation possibilities. Even on that long list, The Old Colony Inn has a special place of its own.

I feel that I need to include here, Lucie’s description of her first impressions and the check in procedure at the inn and, also, a bit about New Norfolk.

When we got here yesterday, straight from the airport, we stopped in front of the Old Colony Inn. I climbed out as usual and went to check it out first. From the outside you could see only a really old house and a riot of shrubs and flowers. There was a sign on the gate in a white wooden fence to push. So I pushed, but nothing. Then I understood that it was necessary to push on a metal pin, which is right next to the sign and the gate miraculously opened.

I entered the garden of a country house, seemingly from the time of Jane Austen. There were gazebos and tables, a well, fireplaces and winding stone paths through the flowers. In front of me, on the railing, was another sign and, strangely, a twentieth-century bell with the instruction “Ring twice.” So I rang, twice.

While I was waiting, I noticed that there was a large “Reception” sign on the far side of the garden and a large “Ring Loudly” sign. I was about to do that when a door creaked open somewhere above me and a small hunched old woman with a cane began to shuffle down the stairs. She looked at me, quite sharply and said, “You’re Lucie.” I confirmed that I was and she said she would show the room to me and began walking across the garden to the building with the word “Reception”. In a somewhat fatalistic tone, she added, “We’ve been waiting for you !” It seemed a bit like the beginning of a horror movie. We entered the main building and the first room was dark, with countless portraits of long dead people hanging from the walls. A set of narrow stairs led up from it. Various rag dolls lay around on obviously antique, but worn, furniture, as if a child had just put them away and the shelves were crammed with objects from times long past. The old woman shuffled in front of me to another room, which was full of tables. The tables were full of porcelain and glass lined up a bit like in a museum. It was almost as if they had taken out everything they had and were now considering how best to arrange it. I felt almost as if I might have entered another time dimension. I was a little sorry to have left David in the car because I had the impression that I might not ever get back out of that time loop. Through an open door, the next room looked like a functional dining room. A few tables were set, but no one was sitting there. Eventually we went into a study, where sheets of artfully made forms with italic writing lay on the desk. I was asked to fill one of them in. I was almost surprised, they were not made of handmade paper and I did not have to use a quill and an inkwell. I was also relieved not to be asked to sign with my own blood.

There followed what was actually quite a nice conversation. Despite her slightly fierce aspect the lady was quite friendly. Finally we retraced some of our steps and went up the stairs in the room of portraits to our room. The old woman’s cane was tapping in front of me as she slowly climbed and I was a little nervous that it might be her last trip. Our room completely encapsulated the style of the whole house. The metal framed bed was made up so high that I doubted that under the bedspreads, pillows, dolls and a straw hat we would ever find some bottom layer suitable for sleeping. The bathroom was surprisingly completely contemporary but an ornate washing jug and bowl sat on a table. Just in case, I supposed. There was a fridge containing water, milk, butter and yoghurts for breakfast and a toaster, with bread on the top. A good selection of teas and coffees was by the kettle and the “Olde Worlde” air was topped of by a pair of crystal decanters containing port and sherry and small, matching, crystal glasses. Instead of a wardrobe, a hanging rail with hangers, each with its own crocheted or fabric cover stood in the corner.

At one point, a bit later, I hung one of David’s Harley-Davidson T-shirts on one hanger in the style of a crocheted curtain. I was pleased with the nice contrasting effect that resulted.

David was a little startled by the decor when I finally located the car and freed him from it. We took our few remaining plums into the room and ate them sitting on the bed while he looked around in wonder. After a day he seemingly got used to it.

We had washing that needed to be done. While a bemused David settled into our room (took a nap !) I set off in search of the advertised washing machine. After negotiating the labyrinth of rooms, I met the son, or possibly the partner, of the lady in the yard. His age could not be easily determined and, in contrast to her formality, he was more of a smiling hippie with a different shoe and sock on each foot. He showed me to the “Laundry” which was a wooden hut behind the backyard. It was clean, but looked a bit like a former pigsty and located next to the original dry toilet. As an instruction to using the washing machine, the hippie told me to simply press the ON button and then the START button. I studied the instructions to set the temperature and type of laundry and to find a suitable program. It was either some terribly clever, industrial washing machine, or a very, very simple one. There seemed to be no programs at all. In the end I admitted that the hippie was probably right and I just threw in the laundry, added powder and pressed ON and START. Sometimes it is better to do things simply.

New Norfolk was once a penal colony and was where unenthusiastic convicts were transported to, both as convicts and reluctant settlers, from Norfolk Island, hence the name. Norfolk Island, which lies between New Zealand and New Caledonia had a subtropical climate but agriculture there was not very successful and all the crops were eaten by rats and parrots. The relocation of convicts and settlers from that subtropical paradise to a climate of harsh winters and rains led to the rapid extinction of at least half of them. Things did, presumably improve and New Norfolk is still there.

The place where I enjoyed my scallops was the Bush Inn, which claims to be the longest running inn in Australia. As we sat down to dinner, in a fairly modern restaurant, in a fairly historic town, I noticed in the corner a “branded” Coca Cola refrigerator. This was obviously very old, but original and polished like new. An Australian maxim seems to be “if it ain’t broke, there is no need to replace it”. We often felt that we were fifty, a hundred or maybe even two hundred years in the past. Even the music they play there in the restaurants and bars seems to be mainly from the 1970s or 1980s. It is like time does not really pass. The Bush Inn first opened in 1815 and, allegedly, a ghost resides in room number six. Below the inn, in the cellars, is an underground tunnel. This was used in the olden days to transport mentally ill people from the river Derwent (which we could see from the terrace) to the local asylum for the sick so that they could not be seen. In 1888, ten years after the invention of the telephone, the first telephone call ever made to London from somewhere in the British Commonwealth, was made from the inn. Until the 1970s, the inn had the Tasmanian telephone number 1.

Back to the story.

We rose early, as we always did, but in the same way that dusk had come early the night before, dawn was a little tardy in making its appearance.

We roused ourselves from our surprisingly comfortable bed and availed ourselves of the breakfast facilities in our room as it slowly got light.

After having been denied the most southerly point of Australia, our aim for the day was to go as far south in Tasmania as was humanly possible. Again this would require a hike, but only about 16 kilometres in total.

We left quite early, so as to be able to cross Hobart before the traffic built up. In a quiet bay on the Derwent, close to the pontoon bridge we saw some of Tasmania’s fabled Black Swans.

We navigated the city without a problem, but we did not need to brave the bottleneck crossing of the River Derwent. South of Hobart, our route hugged the Derwent estuary for quite a while before cutting inland and then back down to banks of the Huon River before arriving at the coast proper.

At the Huon River the views of the placid water and the dramatic surrounding countryside were quite spectacular.

We made good, steady progress, but it still took us two and a half hours to reach the Bolton’s Green campsite, just south of Cockle Creek. For many kilometres before that, the “road” had been a loose shale track, through a thick, seemingly impassable, forest where the 4×4 was practically a necessity.

Now, as we approached the very southernmost tip of the island, the landscape flattened and the forest gave way, every so often, to a sweep around the fringe of a bay of crystal blue water.

Bolton’s Green was the southernmost point where the road led and it really was the end. Not even a 4×4 could go any further. A sign indicated that, not only were we in Australia’s southernmost street, but that we had reached the end of the road.

Finally, we had reached the southernmost tip of Tasmania.

A large information board at the beginning of the trek, stated that the South East Cape, the actual southernmost tip of Tasmania, lay in Aboriginal tribal lands and was not accessible to the general public. Thwarted again ! What was offered was a hike, stated to be of about 4 hours and 16 kilometres in duration, to a place called South Cape Bay, from where the point of the South East Cape was visible. That would have to do. In the end, even though we are experienced hikers, this proved a very optimistic timescale, but it was well, well, worth it.

To bring home to us just how remote a place we were in, it was required, before we even set out, to sign a book. Those who were on a longer hike and not intending to return, had to say so. Those who were coming back had to say so too. If (and when) we got back there, we would need to sign again to say we had returned safely. It seemed a bit melodramatic. However, after having completed the hike we could easily understand why it was considered necessary. Despite the remoteness of the countryside, the signature book indicated there was already some people somewhere ahead of us.

We also had to clean and disinfect our shoes on a special mechanical machine. This was so that we would not carry anything, that was not already there, into the wilderness. No one was checking that this was done – but it was not the kind of place that gets frequented by the non-caring idiots you meet in more domestic locations.

The forest began immediately we started climbing the first rocky slope. A forest can be a gentle and benign place, but make no mistake, there was nothing remotely gentle or benign about the tangled mass of roots, trunks and branches that flanked the path. It looked thick and strong enough to stop a bull-dozer in its tracks and it stretched as far as the eye could see. It was already very warm. The calls of small birds and the hum of insects could be heard in the impenetrable undergrowth and the alarm cries of flocks of parrots were heard above us as we disturbed them into flight.

There was something very primeval about the whole area. The forest was interspersed with open areas of tall grass broken here and there with small thickets of thorny bushes and the odd, stubby tree. The more open areas were frequently low-lying and marshy and to navigate these, wooden walkways had been laid. The work and effort required to construct these walkways must have been enormous. A bright sun was blazing overhead and the temperature was rapidly heading towards 30 ° C so it was a sticky and sweaty process just to hike.

It was like being in Jurassic World. I do not think the sight of a herd of grazing herbivorous dinosaurs would really have surprised us, but animal wildlife seemed absent. We did notice a little pile of fairly hefty droppings, but knew from our research that, as the Tasmanian Tiger was extinct, the largest possible thing we could encounter would be a kangaroo.

The final stretch of thick woodland was a roller coaster of ups and downs and little wooden bridges over rocky ravines. At this point we met the other people who had signed the visitors book, now on their way back. They assured us we were “nearly” there, which only served to prove how different peoples’ interpretation of what “nearly” means can vary.

But finally, we did reach the coast, which had been audible long before it was visible. Our reward was an incredible panoramic view across a spectacular and wild bay. The sea was a perfect blue. This belied the obvious power of the huge rolling waves that crashed against the rocks and slowly dissipated their power on a long strand of flawless golden sand. To our right was a small, craggy island, known as Lion Rock and, to our left, the South East Cape.

We had included the tripod in our backpack. It finally justified its whole existence by allowing us to take a “classic” photo of Lucie and myself sitting together, with the cape behind us, on a rocky cliff top at the end of the world. The picture is now the “wallpaper” on Lucie’s MacBook.

The only problem we then faced was that, despite our experience, the outward trip had tired us and we now had to reverse our steps. If anything, it was hotter than ever and the hike became quite an arduous trek. The only plus point was that, unusually, the scenery looked different from the other direction. It was not, it could not be, but the changed aspect of the sun may have helped. Finally, we got back to our car. I have seldom been quite so pleased to finish a hike.

On the way back to New Norfolk, we had to stop again in Geeveston, to buy water. We had bought a big bottle there on our way down and every drop was gone. We called Geeveston, “Gee, vest on!“, but it is probably pronounced “Gíveston“. As we gurgled our water, we noticed that, since the morning, a sign had been posted on the notice board stating that there was a total ban on lighting fires until the following Saturday. We supposed that was because it was Hallowe’en.

While we were buying our water, a gaggle of middle-aged ladies who were parked next to us in a large people carrier must have opened the door a little too enthusiastically. They had disappeared when we returned, but our door would require the loving attention of a skilled panel beater if the large dent they had left in it was to do the same. Not all witches ride broomsticks ! Thank goodness I had paid the “all risks” insurance, I usually do not.

Later that night, as we lay in bed, we could hear helicopters patrolling for fires. The fear of fires in that part of the world was intense. It was even greater than what was an obvious and freely expressed fear of growing Chinese encroachment. The following antipodean Summer was to see some of the most extensive bushfires ever seen, particularly on the Australian mainland. Tasmania’s moister climate does slightly limit the effect of fires there, but they do happen as we were to see later. We did not see so much as a single wisp of smoke during our whole trip. It was terrible to see, day after day on the news only a month later, the devastation wrought by bushfires on so many of the places we had so recently visited.