Saturday, June 30, 2018

Whisky school

Sounds like a pretty good kind of school, right? And it is. The Tasmanian Whisky Academy runs courses and industry education and events. I attended their Foundations of Distilling course this week, together with aspiring distillers from as far afield as Townsville, the Sunshine Coast and the Macleay valley. It was a cracking couple of days packed with information. For whisky and gin lovers, the course is a great insight into the process of producing the beautiful crafted beverages we enjoy. For anyone thinking about starting their own distillery, it provides both loads of inspiration and a healthy reality check. Either way, you'll learn at least a few things you didn't know about the art and business of distilling.

After a morning covering the distilling process and an overview of the business with Sullivans Cove head distiller Patrick Maguire, one of the 'founding fathers' of Tasmania's whisky industry, we took a trip out to local brewery Moo Brew. There we learned from brewer Rowl about the brewing process and how the 'wash' is made, from the supply of quality malted barley, through milling, mashing and fermenting. In the past, Moo Brew has supplied several of Tasmania's best whisky makers with their wash, although at present they are concentrating on other things, such as an exciting whisky barrel aged stout that we were lucky enough to taste.

We spent the afternoon at award winning whisky maker Sullivans Cove for a walk through the distillation process from delivery of the wash to the barrel, where it stays for at least 12 years, and beyond. The sheer amount of whisky knowledge stored in production manager Heather's head really blew me away. At home that evening, David handed me an article from this week's Tasmanian Country newspaper about how a bottle of Sullivans Cove American Oak Single Cask had sold for $11,667 in an auction through Christies of London. And proceeds from the sale will go to charity. Wow. It was one of the last remaining bottles of this year's world's best single cask single malt.

The following morning we were out at Nonesuch Distillery, a boutique Tasmanian distiller of small batch spirits, primarily gin and now whisky. Owner and distiller Rex is truly passionate about his product - and you have to be - as he said, there's no point making gin you don't want to drink. It was great to see a smaller, newer distillery in operation and the solutions Rex has come up with to a wide range of challenges. Everyone I've met in the industry so far (I'm sure there are exceptions) is so supportive of others wanting to follow them. Our group asked lots of questions, and even the cheeky ones (a gin maker's recipe is always a secret) were answered with expertise, experience and good humour. The spirit of coopetition is alive and well in Tasmania's distilling industry. I took home a delicious sloe gin as well as some classic Nonesuch Dry Gin. Now I need to rearrange the 'drinks cabinet' to fit them in - not a bad problem to have.

Saturday, June 9, 2018


On the way down to Port Arthur last week I took a small detour to see the tesselated pavement at Eaglehawk Neck. It's a very beautiful spot and really does look like tiles rather than a natural phenomenon. You can read about how it was formed in this post on the Exploring The Earth blog.


On the way out of Port Arthur I stopped at several other coastal formations: Tasman Arch, Devil's Kitchen, the blowhole and Remarkable Cave. I have to admit I was underwhelmed, but I'm sure that was only because I'd been spoiled by what I'd seen on the Three Capes Track. They would be pretty spectacular in the right sea conditions. Or maybe there's only so much dolerite you can look at in a week.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Three Capes Track - day 4

Retakunna cabin to Fortescue Bay via Cape Hauy
14km, 6-7 hours

Stuffed the sleeping into the backpack for the last time and headed off at 7.45am to ensure plenty of time to enjoy the last day before catching the 3pm bus back to Port Arthur. First up: a heart-starting climb up Mount Fortescue (482m or 860 steps), to enjoy this glorious view back to Cape Pillar where we had walked the previous day. It feels great to be alive when you see all this by 9am!

The track on the other side of the mountain features a beautiful pocket of rainforest, then eucalypt woodlands with occasional lookouts out to more sea cliffs. Before long you reach the turnoff to Cape Hauy, where we could leave our full packs and venture with just a bottle of water out to the end of the track. The entire Three Capes Track is so well made, it really makes for very easy walking, even on steep climbs.

Dolerite cliffs.

More cliffs.

And still more cliffs, rocks and that endless expanse of the Tasman Sea.

Back at the track junction, we sat for lunch before the final leg to Fortescue Bay. I started to feel sad it was coming to an end and overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. On the final carved seat on the track, I sat for a while, soaking in the peace and quiet, little birds hopping around me.

Not far on, a sign and scuplture marked the end of the track, with views out to beautiful Fortescue Bay.

The white sand and bright blue water are a sight for sore feet!

I got so lucky on this walk. There were only seven of us who departed on 27 May, compared to the full contingent of 48 walkers (the maximum allowed) who walked every day between October and May. We each had a room to ourselves and peace and quiet on the track. I feel grateful to have shared it with a terrific group of people whose company I got to enjoy each evening as we shared yarns, wine, custard (!), chocolate and lots of laughs. Thank you Jessica, Dave, Lesley, Kerry, Stephen and Derren, it was a hoot!

Three Capes Track - day 3

Munro cabin - Cape Pillar - Retakunna
17km, 6 hour walk

It was a day of big views, high winds and a little rain, perfect for some of the most dramatic Tassie landscapes. Everyone looks forward to this day on the Three Capes Track. Despite covering the longest distance, you can walk with just a light day pack for most of the day. And there's that sunrise over Munro Bight when you get up in the morning.

On the way out to Cape Pillar, there were more lovely track markers, with accompanying notes in the guide book, like these pretty mosaics.

I thought I knew a reasonable amount about Tasmania's three varieties of snake. But thanks to the track notes to go with this track marker, I learned that Tasmania's snakes (and most other reptiles) give birth to live young instead of laying eggs like most snakes in Australia, an adaptation to the cold climate. So there you go.

Soon after, the expansive views of dolerite columns appeared one after the other.

Here comes a Tasman Island Cruise, admiring the towering cliffs from below.

By far the best sight of the day has to be Tasman Island. Apart from being so striking, you can clearly see the lighthouse and other historic buildings and really understand just how difficult it must have been to get on and off the island.  Much easier in modern times with helicopters, though still a challenge with that wind!

In some of the photos, it looks like we are looking down on the island.

From The Blade at the end of Cape Pillar, you really are looking down on it.

A little 360 video.

If you look closely you can see my walking buddies Jessica and Derren from Jakarta on their way up The Blade.

After a short 45 minute side trip to the end of Cape Pillar, it's back on the return journey. It's hard not to stop and take more photos of exactly the same things on the way back... well, I did in some spots. Back at Munro hut, I collected my (large) pack from the shed, charged up my near-dead mobile phone for a bit and visited the facilities (the next group of walkers had already arrived) before setting off to Retakunna Hut. It was only an hour or so down the track.

We all arrived before a rather chilly but glorious sunset. Our briefing that evening from Parks ranger Glen, a former professional fisherman, was a fascinating education in the nearby oceans. I learned that a 2 degree Celsius rise in water temperature in just a few years has led to the arrival of fish species never before seen this far south, and the death of the giant kelp forests, home and breeding ground for several important species not seen in the area since. He also told us about people who'd been lifted off their feet and deposited some metres off the track in the high winds on Cape Pillar! Having experienced a little of that wind, I totally believe it. Here I am with fellow walker Dave from Queensland, clasping on to a tiny tree on top of The Blade.

It was a chilly night, and we all needed to depart earlier than normal the next morning. After a short stretching or yoga session in front of the fire and eating our last evening meal together, I think we all slept well.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Three Capes Track - day 2

Surveyors to Munro
11km, 4-5 hours

With a short day of walking ahead, there's no rush to leave the hut. I was first to head off at around 9.30am.

One of the nicest things about this walk is that there are no interpretation signs. Instead, there are beautifully designed markers or 'story seats' along the way, with the accompanying information in a printed guide book. It's really well-written and entertaining. This was one of my favourite track markers, called 'who was here'. Wombat cubes!

The first real climb is to the top of Arthurs Peak, with views back to Crescent Bay and Mt Brown.

Then down into the low scrub in the windswept Ellarwey Valley.

All along the track were pockets of silver banksia. I was surprised to see so many. The dry coastal forests are so different to the rainforest at home.

Just as I started thinking about the Vegemite roll in my backpack, a nice lunch spot appeared. Coffee, apple, cake and I was on my way again. Only a short while down the track was this beautiful 'story seat' called 'Love in the Woods'.

I quite fancied having a little lie down, so I did. What a luxury to have nothing to do, nowhere to be. The dappled sunshine and gentle breeze under the trees... ahhhh.

From there it was only around an hour to Munro hut. The hut's terrace (and toilet block!) looked out over Munro Bight, where the fading light created beautiful pinks and blues.

But it must be said, one of the highlights of the day was the outdoor shower at the end of it! It features a pulley system and canvas bag that you fill up with hot water in a bucket, then run under it for about 10 minutes of glorious hot water in the sunshine with bush views.

Three Capes Track - day 1

Port Arthur to Surveyors
Boat cruise + 4km, 1.5-2 hour walk

If I describe what I saw on the Three Capes Track walk last week, I will quickly run out of superlatives. Spectacular, amazing, awesome, beautiful, exhilarating... you get the idea. Instead, I'll use few words to go with just some of the many photos I took - all iPhone snaps - and you'll have to go see for yourself if you haven't been already.

After a short bus ride from the Port Arthur Historic Site, the adventure begins with a Pennicott Wilderness Journeys cruise with views back to the famous penitentiary. I loved the colour of these cliffs on Point Puer. Can you spot the seal flipper sticking out of the water?

Our skipper pointed out a white-bellied sea eagle's nest in a large tree. Birds not present at the time, but we did see a juvenile eagle fly over a short while later.

It got pretty windy out past the heads, but the sea swell was mild compared to other days, and we enjoyed the views north, as the skipper pointed out where we would be walking the next few days.

The boat dropped us off on the sands of Denmans Cove. The trick is to wait until the wave recedes before disembarking.

Packs on, we headed across the beach, past the lagoon to the start of the Three Capes Track.

All the way along the headland, there are views back to the Port Arthur Historic Site, here just a sandstone speck in the distance.

Natural beauty - and a little man made too.

From there, it was an uphill climb to the ridge above and the weight of the pack started to make itself known, especially in my right shoulder. I stopped for a handful of trail mix and readjusted the straps, and felt renewed after that. In the heath on the ridge, I stumbled across a pretty Bennetts Wallaby, and she hung around long enough for me to take a few pictures.

I was keeping an eye out for a nice spot to stop for lunch, when I rounded a corner and Surveyors Hut, our accommodation for the night, came into view. I figured that the lovely deck with views out to Cape Raoul was a good a spot as any.

Our day ended with a briefing from super-informative Parks & Wildlife Service ranger Ken, and our first evening meal together. My vacuum-sealed steak was still mostly frozen! It went down a treat with some zucchini on the BBQ and a bread roll from my stash.

I had a four person room all to myself - a benefit of going in the "off season". Actually, I think it was the perfect time to go.