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This version is updated on February 18, 2007
This is the report of our 2007 trip to Australia. Main purpose of it is, that we keep alive the many impressions we got.
It is in English as we typed the story in our Nokia mobile phone and this one has only an English speller program.
This story is linked to the pictures which will be uploaded to our homepage www.joopbakker.net
Later satellite pictures of the trip will be added as well
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ If you like to see a picture in full glory, send an email!
After last years trip to Western Australia, with Mariska as a baby, it was obvious we would go again this year as well, but this time to a more cool area of the country.
The planning was a two month trip to the South East, including two weeks the Island of Tasmania, south of Melbourne. In October already there were no seats available for Melbourne in January, so we had to fly to Sydney. We wished to stay there for 2 nights, to get used a little to the 10 hours time difference with Europe and then fly to Hobart, Tasmania. After travelling there in a campervan we would fly to Melbourne and pick up a second camper. We would travel from there for about 6 weeks.
As always Margret from Pacificislandtravel.nl planned the trip. The flights to Australia were with Cathay Pacific. On Schiphol Airport we patiently waited till we could board the Airbus 340 for the 12 hour flight. One short stop in Hong Kong was planned, with only one hour transfer time, so an amazing fast trip: in fact we landed less than 20 hours after take-off from Amsterdam in Sydney. But it did not go without problems. The aircraft left the ramp in Amsterdam on time but while holding for take off, the captain informed we had to return to fix a problem with the flight controls system. This is the most important system of an aircraft. It took an hour to repair and one and a half hour later we took off to Hong Kong. We were lucky, there was a strong tailwind and the flight information system showed that we gained a few minutes every hour of flight. A calculation showed that they even might catch up an hour, so we would be able to catch the connecting flight in Hong Kong to Sydney. That was the good news. The bad news was that the tailwind changed to a headwind over Siberia, so we would not land in time. I went to the purser and asked him to inform the company that quite a lot passengers has a connecting flight to Sydney. Then a second problem showed up: if we would not get the scheduled flight to Sydney, there was no alternative, all next flights fully booked. We saw us already stranded in Hong Kong, with the hotel in Sydney, the connecting flight to Hobart and the campervan already paid. So quite logic the company decided to hold the aircraft in Hong Kong till the passengers from Amsterdam were boarded. We landed in Hong Kong at the scheduled take off time for the flight to Sydney and that meant a strenuous run with luggage and baby over a few kilometres to the gate. But with our running experience that's no problem. The cabin crew closed the door when we entered the plane and left immediately. We asked if the buggy and the luggage were on board, transferred from the plane from Amsterdam, but they doubted that that would be the case. In Sydney the buggy was present, but not the baggage. That is a problem nowadays as in the cabin you cannot take things like a razor or shampoo, so we had to buy those things deep in the night in Sydney. Cathay Pacific would bring the luggage to the hotel next morning and paid an instant compensation of 100$ in cash. Not too bad, as the baggage would be delivered early in the morning. With the taxi we had a smooth ride to the hotel, which turned out to be very comfortable, in downtown Sydney. Even a pool was available, but that is of little interest, if your swimming suit is in the missing baggage. At midnight, we could sleep for the first time in 36 hours. In 3 seconds we fell asleep.
Next morning we made a nice walk in Sydney, after some shopping we spend some time in Hyde Park. It is build around the ANZAC monument, keeping the memory alive of Australians fighting in the first World War in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps against the Nazi's (or better, at least their predecessors). Mariska loved the ibis-like birds. Upon returning to the hotel, to pick up the lost baggage, there was no baggage. After informing at the airport they, confirmed it had arrived but there was so many lost baggage that it was not possible to find it! If we were so friendly to come to the airport to identify our baggage. But we were not so friendly and insisted they would bring it, as we had to leave next morning very early to the airport again for the flight to Tasmania. On the internet we could find that our baggage was indeed in Sydney, so our best bet was just waiting and hoping that Sydney Airport was just doing its job. Indeed our backpacks were delivered in the evening.
We set 3 alarm clocks, to wake up early and not to miss the 08.35 flight to Tasmania. We woke up however very early, due to the jet-lag and shortly after 6 we took the taxi to the airport. The flight with Jet Star Airlines was very comfortable. It is a price fighter airline, you can buy your drinks on board. But all seats however of the modern Airbus 320 are covered with fine leather! The flight went smooth and we landed in a sunny but cool Hobart.
Tasmania is a big island south of Australia, roughly as big (or as small) as the Benelux with only almost half a million inhabitants. It is partly covered with pristine moderate temperature jungles, in winter it snows. Situated in the Roaring Forties belt on the southern hemisphere, it is swiped by strong winds and frequent frontal systems. On the west side on some locations 5 m rainfall is measured yearly, 7 times the average in rainy Holland. The east side is drier. The main economic activity is agriculture, predominantly on the east side. There was, and is, mining of copper, tin, gold, iron ore and coal.
Long ago Tas was part of the mainland but 10.000 years ago Tas was separated from Australia. The story of the low sea level at that time is still widely mentioned in scientific publications, it will still cost some time till generally is understood that the sea level stays constant and the land sinks and rises. Since the separation from the mainland it could maintain its own species and own variations. Some animals and plants survived here, who are now extinct on the continent. Famous is the Tasmanian Devil. The Tasmanian Tiger was chased till extinction only 70 years ago. But there are stories and sightings that they may still exist, somewhere in the forests. This story is cherished by the Tourist information. But it is a nice fairytale.
The island has very old geologic structures, mainly of granite, sand stone dolerite and basalt. Though eroded over the years, the hills and mountains are still steep. The coast is of stunning beauty, but there are so many lovely beaches, fjords, islands and peninsulas, that exploring all is impossible within the 2 weeks we planned travelling in Tas.
The Britz campervan company is conveniently located at the airport. We did not get the old, about to be retired Pioneer camper we expected, but a brand-new Toyota, with a superb running engine and an automatic transmission. After paying the 5000$ bond, as we prefer no insurance, we set off for Hobart for initial shopping.
One surprise however that in this new model we could not all be seated in the front. That was the plan and that's why we ordered this model. But on the other hand this campervan has lots of nice details and the smell of a new car is definitely better than the smell of countless people already using this van.
Hobart is a well organised town, with many historical buildings. The History of Tasmania started as a convict colony of England and the people here make the best of this heritage. In no way this history is forgotten.
After shopping we went to a caravan park close to Hobart, named Treasure Island , to get organised. After some advice and map study we decided to make the tour anticlockwise over Tasmania. And looking for opportunities for diving. The next day we stopped at Spring Beach. A wonderful scenery, opposite Maria Island and well maintained with a host of flowers. Our TomTom GPS navigation system proved very useful. Before the holiday we have bought the complete Australian maps. Birgitt was sitting in the rear, with Mariska and the maps. She only had to spell the destination. After punching the destination in the TomTom the machine guided us perfectly to the destination.
The first night we slept in the narrow top bunk, with Mariska under us on the main bed. To sneak in the top bunk you had to do manoeuvres designed for Olympic level gymnastics. And to leave the bunk prior experience as a snake was most helpful. Hanging in the air, feet down, you had to find a small ladder, next to the kitchen. There was a big risk you would step on the glass cover of the kitchen range (the sign 'WARNING do not step on the glass' is not exactly helpful if you try to get your feet on the ground in the night). After this bad night we found the solution: We on the main bed and Mariska on the ground on 3 mattresses. In a second we could be with her and the bottom bed had much more room for us.
The trip showed a landscape different from all we have seen. Steep hills, consisting of hard rocks, sandstone, granite, dolerite and basalt, but covered with gum trees. It was on the east side of the island not as green as expected. The trees were not high and the vegetation was not lush. Clearly the dry part of the island. Shielded from the Roaring Forties by the mountains.
The sandstone could easy be spliced and at many locations pillars could be seen, on the picture these stone formations near Buckland.
The road went through a varying landscape. Near Mayfieldbay brilliant white sands could be enjoyed. Locally, in million years, the wind and current has concentrated pure quarts sand, which reflects bright the sunlight.
The landscape after Hobart is partly meadows, with grey sheep on meadows and steep hills covered with gum trees. The sheep just have been relieved from their wool and look very slim.The landscape near the coast is varying. We often make a stroll around to see the details and sniff the atmosphere.
The sea near Swansea is deep blue and clear. Everywhere are nice beaches and the waves break on rock formations with white foam.
The granite is formed deep in the earth as a mixture of minerals, including mica, which glitters. Granite is extremely hard and stable, but lichens on granite are able to very slowly corrode the granite. So even this hard and stable stone eventually, in million years, will disintegrate in gravel, sand and dust.
Wildlife is abundant in Tasmania. However you do not see them move as they are nocturnal animals. You often see them along the roads, as road kills. Most roads have a dead animal, very often just hit, every few hundred meters on or along the road. But sometimes you are lucky and we saw an echidna, a kind of porky pine in the bush not far from Coles Bay. Upon approaching, the animal was hiding under a tree. After removing a few branches, the animal formed a flat object, the spines aggressively showing in a sphere.
After arriving in Coles Bay there was no place on the camping. It was Australia Day, the 26th of January and that marks the end of the holiday period. So all Australians are on the move. There was however one place left, considered almost not accessible. But as we had no choice, so I tried it. It was a place with a narrow steep access road, at the end followed by a sharp turn, along a metal fence. Going up was tricky but going down the same way (so in the reverse) was dangerous in case it rained, as braking was impossible then. So we decided to turn the car and after 50 times moving back and forward, every time gaining a few centimetres, we could reverse the camper. Many people tried to do the same, as the many dents and scratches on the fence (and probably their cars) showed how critical the manoeuvre was. After this adventure we made a stroll over the beach. The weather stayed here wonderful, but on the horizon thunderstorms appeared.
We quickly got used to the cramped space in our campervan and Mariska is to tired of all the new things she encounters, that she sleeps in in seconds
The Freycinet National Park is next to Coles Bay and impressive pink granite cliffs are towering high. It is a very popular area for hiking. We visited the visitor centre where a well documented display was, about the area. We bought a pass for the area and for all other National Parks in Tasmania.
The weather had changed and there was a strong wind, with rough sea. The sun was still shining.
The forest in Freycinet National Park was of course very special, with all kinds of trees, special for this area. We made a short stroll through the forest. Mariska looked very interested
It was time to leave again and we made a detour over the mountains along St Marys. It was stunning, the beauty of this area. Sometimes you see strange flowers, at a certain altitude. Here we saw beautiful pink flowers, resembling orchids, of which the purple brown stems just came out of the ground, only with flowers but without any leaves. It is a very strange plant called potato orchid. The tuber has never leaves, grows under the surface like a potato and gets all the nutrients through symbiotic fungi. It was a treat for Aborigines.
The higher ground catches more water and the trees are here huge. Our car is dwarfed by the huge trunks.
Many efforts are made to prevent bush fires. That has a big risk as well as below the trees will accumulate so much combustible material that if it burn, it burns like hell. And that happened this spring. Enormous areas were burned and many houses totally destroyed. Only a few rusty roof plates and the scorched remains of a chimney were visible, Some house owners were lucky, their house could be seen through a destroyed forest. The heat was so intense that the paint on traffic information boards was completely burned off. But fire is required to rejuvenate the forest. Many species only germinate after a fire, in the open space created by the fire. As soon as it rains, the black scorched soil teamed with new life: ferns and grasses are readily emerging and are a treat for wildlife. The status of the forest is dependant on how long ago it was burned and how intense the fire was. The foresters try to burn the forest in a controlled way with low intensity fires and this is considered a good way in managing forest resources.
The rainforest near the Columba waterfall darkens the sunlight, Only fern trees can survive here.
The moderate temperature rainforest is gone at most places in the world. We saw some at New Zealand. It must be simple. The rainforest needs lots of water and a good soil. That makes it excellent for agriculture as well. So everywhere on the world it was all cut or burned down and used for agriculture.
The Columba waterfall is at 90m high the highest waterfall in Tasmania and delivers 40 tons water per minute. It can swell to 200 tons and has never been dry. Now the output was relatively low, as there was a long dry period this year.
Sometimes you see something rare. Here a sassefras tree lives like an epiphyte on fern. They both seem to thrive. Sassafras has leaves which has a nice scent if you rub them in your hands You can use it in fragrance, tea or toothpaste.
Lots of trees, covered with moss around the Columba falls. Especially the giant tree ferns are unforgettable.
Mariska had a good time in the rainforest. Though it was time for her to have a afternoon nap she enjoyed the walk
On many trees epiphytes live on the host. Both benefit from it, it is a wonderful co-operation between the the plants.
The picture of the highland of Pyengana looks like Switzerland. However, every tree and even the grass is different from anything else in Europe.
We make a short stop at the cheese factory. You expect it to be cheaper than in the shop but the opposite is true. 25$ for a kilo cheese is really too much.
We are surprised again about the extremely high prices. Some things, like yoghurt are almost 10 times as high as in Holland. While it is late summer and abundant produce should be available, the price of e.g. tomatoes is many times the price of tomatoes in Holland. Only the fuel and beef are cheaper.
The tree ferns always stay a fascinating plant. It may grow up to 20 meters high.
At Derby we visit the museum of an abandoned tin mine. The tin ore casseritite (Stannium oxide), is washed from the weathered granite and transported by water currents. It is forms deposits in bends of the river, as it is very heavy. The mine has a history of accidents and flooding and ceased operations recently after mining 10.000 tons of tin. There is still enough left, The only reason for termination was the low tin price. Not too much of a problem as mining destroys the nature to a high extend, Tin is now often replaced by plastic products and aluminium. And tin soldiers are out of fashion!
Ferns are fascinating plants. They do very well here and all kind of ferns can be seen here. We went further west to the Cradle Mountains, one of the few World Heritage area's. The Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Barrier Reef are other World Heritage area's.
The advantage of a campervan is that any time you can stop for a coffee break or to play with Mariska.
During the trip we had a great
view on the mountains of Tassie. The mountains are not very high, till 1600m, but real high alpine area's.
We were lucky to spot another echidna. It has a duck bill, looks like a porky pine with thick and sharp needles but is a really a very strange animal. It lays one egg a year but still is a mammal with a pouch, like a kangaroo. And the young gets milk from the mother. This animal has as a relative the Platypus (an amphibious animal with a bill) The platypus is in Dutch is named Vogelbekdier.
Ever wondered why the forest here is called rainforest? Well, it rains 7 out of 10 days here. And after leaving the warm and sunny east part of the country, in the mountains it started to drizzle and later replaced by rain. So we still have to check out he national park, but it will keep raining today. Later during our trip we can have a view from the south.
It is cold here. We went first to Tassie to get used to the summer prior we proceed to the hot Outback. But we did not expect night temperatures just above zero. Our heater worked at full power to keep us comfortable during the night. Still Mariska woke up with ice cold hands, but she slept well.
But when raining the mountains can be mystical. And they were! We made a tour early in the morning and Lake Dove was shrouded in low clouds and rain. The sight changed continuously. Many plants showed in full glory.
Like the Pandani palm. It looks somehow like a yucca but is a totally different plant, growing meters high with a crown of feather like leaves. The Pandani only grows in Tas. Never seen a plant like this before.
In open spaces between the eucalyptus trees the soil was covered with low shrubs
Beautiful was the trigger plant Stilidium Grammifolium. It emerged from a fine, grey green rosette.
Button grass is abundant. It forms, after flowering button type seeds. Of course we will try these at home. The plant grows till one meter big spheres, giving shelter to all kinds of animals.
Impressive are the kerosene bush Richea Scorparia. It grows nowhere else in the world, so is endemic in Tassie.
The weather turned so bad that we left Cradle Mountain to the north and very soon the weather improved. At the coast the sun was shining again, so nice to visit
Table Cape. These are the remains of a huge, 12 million years old volcano, close to the coast and connected to the coast. A gale was blowing at the top. The water of the Bass Street, the sea between Australia and Tasmania, was around the volcano crystal clear.
The sides of the cliffs were almost vertical walls.
It is an old volcanic region and the fertile soil makes the land very suitable for agriculture. So few rainforest was saved here from the early settlers. They killed the Aborigines as well, who have lived there 12000 years in isolation from Australia. They were resettled and no one survived. The diseases imported from Europe killed them all.
On the map was another interesting volcano visible, so we went there. Late afternoon we arrived in Stanley, scenic situated at the basis of a volcano named the Nut. Lots of tourist attractions were available.
On arriving at Stanley we had a nice view of the volcano.
In the morning a climb was made to the top of the volcano. A chair lift was available as well, but that is for old, lazy people. The view from the top was stunning, all around On the top was excellent for running. The soft brown decomposed granite powder and volcanic ash covered by low grass was the perfect track for running. The sides of the volcano are almost vertical. This must have been a giant volcano, as this is only the core.
An amazing bird lives on the top of the volcano in burrows: the shorttail shearwater. In April the bird flies to Arctic, one month later followed by their chick. Incredible how they find their burrow again after a flight of 15.000 km! They will collect lots of Air Miles!
On the horizon a jetty can be seen, a 1600m long pier into the sea. Iron ore from the Savage River mines is here transformed in pellets and shipped. From the top Stanley was visible
On the way back I saw other people trying to climb the steep path. An elderly man was sitting against the fence apparently totally exhausted, his face all colours of the rainbow, other people taking care of him. He better took the cable chair. Our campervan is visible exactly in the centre of the picture.
Hopefully he survived this endeavour.
Part of the daily program is playing with Mariska on the playground of the caravanpark.. She likes to dicover all the possibilities of the toys. Stanley is a small fishing port, famous for lobster, or crayfish as they call it here. It was a good opportunity to buy a fresh lobster. Of course not a living lobster which is killed and cooked on the spot on order, but a nice red cooked one. So he did not die in vain but contributed to the food chain.
Near Stanley is a historic site, the first settlement of the Van Diemen Land company, producing wool. The buildings dating from 1851 are partly still there.
After leaving the settlement we had a nice view over the 152m high Nut volcano core. it must have been indeed risen to an enormous altitude long ago.
In the morning we went to the Sir Arthur Forest. It is a stunning example of the ever lasting struggle for survival in a temperate rain forest, with one player: forest fires. In the background huge eucalyptus trees are visible. They are resistant to fire and indicate an area where other species have been killed by fire. If no fire occurs, the eucalyptus can be replaced by a rainforest, mainly consisting of myrtle and sassefras trees. Then the eucalyptus are locally gone.
In the dark rain forest live a wealth of plants situated to the conditions there.
Enormous eucalyptus trees are towering high. The may grow in Tassie up to more than 90m high,
From the Dempster lookout we had an interesting view over the high plains. He as well are flowers who are only found here. Remarkable are the small leaves.
The Rapid river is brown like tea. But the water is very pure, only coloured brown by the decomposing leaves.
A bridge was constructed in the Rapid River in the following way. Two mighty trees were placed in the river, perpendicular over these trees were two other trees positioned and over those trees spars. Over these the car could drive.
The forest here is dark and incredible complex. Al living creatures here live in competition but they need each other as well for survival. < BR>Mariska ventures an expedition on her own, but if she's too far from Mama she quickly runs back.
In the evening we passed along the caravan part at the Crayfish Creek so nice to spend the night here and have a crayfish meal. Unfortunately Birgitt and Mariska did not like the crayfish so I had to eat him all. Not exactly a big problem!
The caravan park was beautiful situated in a bush and tree landscape along the Crayfish Creek..
Mariska has a great time playing and jumping on the trampoline. Of course her parents had a good excuse now to jump as well, to show it for the baby.
Mariska is fascinated by the drive seat. She is delighted when she is allowed to sit there, and playing with the steering wheel, the car keys and all switches.
Next morning, after again playing with Mariska on the trampoline, we set off to the South. First a short visit to Rocky Cape and then further en route. The weather was fine: sunny and just more than 20 degrees.
The route to the south was initially through agricultural areas and later through magnificent forests. It is here almost an unpopulated area. There are a few mining villages, and I even saw a sign of Zinifex, a mining company in which I recently invested (with variable results until now). If I get the chance I have to find out how the business goes. Further it is a dark rainforest which is almost not accessible: you have to axe yourself a path through it. In the afternoon we paid a visit to a lake, formed by a dam. The water was again coloured like tea.
Nearby could be seen how a forest survives after a forest fire. Some eucalyptus trees survived and lots of young greens were showing on the earth. The juicy grass will attract lots of animals.
We ended the trip in Zeehan, a mining village with a rather run down caravan park, but at least with a comfortable bath for Mariska.
In the evening we both make a run and the we can see from a close distance the interesting plants we saw passing all day during the trip. Some seeds were collated to try out in the garden this summer.
We get accustomed to our life in our little campervan. Birgitt takes care for Mariska, I drive the van and cook the dinner and then Birgitt does the dish washing while I play with Mariska.
The weather is fine but the heater still does a great job. Next week, all will be different on the continent, where the severest draught ever is recorded. The El Niño current in the Pacific Ocean is now slowly losing power, so in a few weeks rain is expected.
¨In Zeehan was a unexpected treasure, the West Coast Pioneer Museum. It highlighted the History of mining, displayed the geology and history of the area. There are major deposits, one e.g. producing half the tin of the world. It is fascinating, the discovery and exploiting of tin, gold, copper. It is not only the mining, but the transportation refining and processing as well. All dictated by world market prices. Sometimes a mining concession is started but unsuccessful, so discontinued but later started again, with other management and newer technology. Interesting stories like these. A prospector discovered gold and started a mine, and retrieved indeed gold. Investors from Melbourne spend weeks to evaluate the mine and then they bought the concession. They were however not interested in the gold, but in the copper ore that the mountain contained. And the miner thought he had sold a gold mine! ¨In the beginning the gold diggers here had problems to pan the gold as the heavy gold was usually contaminated with a heavy grey material. Only smart handling the gold pan could separate the gold. The buyers fined if the gold contained the grey stuff. The grey stuff was discarded. Later was discovered that the grey stuff was platinum ore, much more expensive than gold!
The rich deposits were formed 600 million years ago when the area was volcanic and under sea level. Under extremely high temperatures and pressure the metal oxides were dissolved from the volcanic layers and locally concentrated in faults, Later these were moved and form the present gigantic pockets of minerals. When these were lifted and moved by tectonic forces, they became even part of mountains.
The process is still going on in volcanic regions on the bottom of the deep sea where 'smokers' produce enormous quantities of minerals.
In the museum were world class display of minerals. The most special is crocoite, a red coloured lead-chromium mineral, growing in fantastic needles and only found on 5 places in the world.
Outside was a display of all kinds of equipment for the mining industry, including steam locomotives, which had been in use for 80 years, and made more than 2 million kilometres! ¨The Pioneer Museum highlighted, in the garden exposition as well, the hardships of the early mineral industry at the end of the 19th century. One lesson to be learned from the gold rush: most of the gold diggers leave as poor as they came. Only he man selling shovels and jeans was the real money-maker!
Every where on the roadside you see these brilliant coloured orange lilies.
Zeehan peaked long ago at a population of 4000. Now it is a sleepy village but with lots of mining still going on. Recently a new nickel mine was starting operations.
Another recent development was iron ore mining at the Savage river. The ore was transported from here to Port Latta, the pier which we have seen from the Stanley Nut.
The next trip was to Strahan, a touristic area. The trip was beautiful indeed, but more of the same. Further to the west was the nice winding road to Queenstown. Again more of the same. The last part of the trip was interesting, it offered a view on Queenstown and surroundings. A landscape like a waste storage.
Closer it showed like a disaster area. Later we saw it was even worse.
We found a caravan park in Queenstown. The city looked partly shabby wit run down houses, urgently in need for maintenance.
It was possible to have a tour in the working mine. Usually, if there is any tour, it is free and organised by the PR agency of the mine. But then you see the mine from a distance. Here we could enter the mine while it was working, but it cost you 70$ each.
Almost a century ago this mine was first exploited. It is a vertical ore body about 350 m wide and unknown how deep it is, probably 2000 m. Every year 2.8 million ton ore is mined, the copper concentration is about 1.25%, so good for 45.000 ton copper, and some silver and gold. The mine was bought 4 years ago by Indians, who try to increase the production to 3 million ton. Four shifts are operating. 5 days 12 hours on and off, then 5 days off. 365 days a year. Long ago it was open pit mining, later it was changed in open cave mining. That means a disc of 25 m thick is removed from the ore body and when the pillars are removed, the ceiling collapses and 1000m layer of rubble fills the cavity. Then the operation is repeated. It started high in the mountain, now they are many hundreds meters below sea level. The ore is extremely hard stone, it is shattered by precisely placed explosives, 3,4 m deep in the wall. The mine engineers know exactly what the result is: ore chunks with specific dimensions. These are transported by giant trucks through tunnels and dumped on a coarse steel grid, overhead the crusher. This is gigantic machine which crushes the boulders till they are about football size. This causes a incredible noise. The ore is transported on a band to a automatic elevator. Every 80 seconds a load of 12 tons is lifted to the surface.
From here the ore will be concentrated. It is reduced to powder and mixed with water and certain chemicals. Then air is blown in the slush and the bubbles contain the concentrate and are separated. The concentrate is dried and the powder, containing 24% copper and other metals including gold and silver is shipped to the Indian smelter. Then the last and difficult part starts: how to make top quality copper from it.
Sometimes we hear about the Chinese and Indian appetite for raw materials to support their fast growing economy: well here you see this 'at work'. Indians and Chines buy everything. And they pay good for it.
As a bonus for the Indians the gold and silver and traces of other precious metals are still in it. Mining is hard and dangerous work, full of risks and uncertainties about world market prices. Next time when you have a piece of copper wire in your hand, think about it.
The trip started with a lengthy explication about safety. This is a working mine in full operation and there are some strict rules which must be obeyed, if not you are directly removed. We got our miners equipment, including hard hat light and emergency oxygen supply, and started the tour.
We entered the cave in a four wheel drive in a long and muddy pitch-dark road, descending around the ore body On a certain point we were below sea level and it kept going down.
At last some bright lights showed and we approached the working area. Every few minutes a gigantic ore loaded truck approached with a deep roaring sound and we had to stand against the wall as he emerged from the dark.
It was all messy and muddy, regularly the tracks were sprayed by a sprinkler to prevent dust.
We came along enormous boggers, which fill the trucks. ¨The major works, like the crusher, and the lifts are built in the volcanic structures around the ore core, some as enormous caves. The tunnels as well, outside the ore body.
As we approached the crusher the deep thundering noise was felt all over your body and ear plugs were required. The crushed ore fell on a long rubber transport band and was transported to the containers feeding the automatic lifts .
Then we left this area an through lots of tunnels we approached the upper side of the crusher and could see how the big machine swallowed the big chunks of ore and in seconds made them smaller than football size. That happened between two vertical mounted big steel slabs, oscillating just a bit, but with enormous power, to each other. Every movement cracked the ore, until it had the required size to fall through the machine on the transport band.
A complete factory was built inside the mountain, including workshops where the drills, used to drill holes for the explosives, were sharpened.
On our walking tour to the next location our cap lights on in the dark, suddenly I realised that the ore is locally gold bearing as well. On a pile of rubble, ready to be crushed, I noticed some gold coloured reflections. in one part of the heap lots of stones had that nice golden specks. One boulder had a lot. I asked if it was allowed to take some pieces ore as a souvenir and that was OK, the mine is a copper mine after all. I stuffed my pockets full of the stones with the nice golden glitter. Next time I better come with a truck, then I never have to work again (but that changes nothing as you may know).When I showed them later to Birgitt, she was delighted but realised we had a weight problem on our flight to Melbourne, as we had too much nappies for Mariska. So I left them on the last day in Tasmania in the caravanpark in Cambridge, for a lucky chap, and took only this shiny one one as souvenir.
The lift in the mine was giant as well and built for future use, as the shaft was still another one hundred meters deeper. The lift was automatically filled and was launched with thundering noise and propelled with high speed to the surface. Every 80 seconds a new lift arrived. Of course no personnel was transported with the lift, as the crew went by car.
60 men worked in the mine, any time. Many of the processes were computer controlled and it was important that every part of the operation continued smoothly, day and night, all year around. If one part of the process stopped, the mining had to stop as well, costing a fortune.
If a too big chunk of ore was mined, it was chopped into pieces by a hydraulic machine.
Only ore was mined here out of the ore body, so no refuse was transported.
Only the powder that remained after making the copper ore concentrate, remained.
The trucks are custom made in Tasmania, to fit in the tunnels for this mine. Of course they have big wheels.
After this interesting experience in the mine we left to the east, to the pristine national forest. But first we had to pass the wasteland around Queenstown. At first it looked like a giant dump hill of mine waste, but it was not. The reason of this ecological disaster was different. In the initial years of mining they simply cut every tree around and abundant rainfall washed away the fertile top layer. And quickly the rich rainforest was transformed in a moon landscape. It looks like the damage cannot repaired by nature in a few hundred years, it will cost more time and rehabilitation by humans.
Now the nice little steam locomotives at Zeehan museum showed another face: they burned each thousands tons of wood per year...
The mining industry think they are not responsible for the damage done 100 years ago as they have to comply now to complex environmental rules and regulation.
One thing is good to realise: the environmental damage is only local. A mountain further nature can be pristine.
After leaving Queenstown we could see however that the damage continued. We took a detour that see the mine that had been sold as a gold mine but was exploited as a copper mine, the Iron Blow. Here could be seen how the ore body must have been situated: a deep pit, a few hundred meters wide, ending in a deep turquoise lake, caused by traces of copper, was cut out of the mountain. The copper content was very high: 12%, plus almost an ounce gold and much more silver per ton. This mine has yielded 5 million ton ore, so half a million ton copper. It is not unlikely that somewhere around, but deeper, similar ore bodies are hidden. Every where around could be seen traces of iron ore or copper ore . Even nice quartzite could be found here. That often contains gold here.
The road to the west was amazing. A miracle of nature, as soon as we entered the national parks. A stunning landscape sometimes a dense, dark rainforest, sometimes swamps. Specially lighted today in bright sunlight under a deep blue sky.
Very special was one area in the shade of a mountain, full of pandani palms, only found in Tasmania.
We passed along plains with button grass and mountains as décor. Between the grass countless white lilies, looking like orchids.
¨Eventually we arrived at Lake St Clair. The water was clear indeed and it is the deepest lake in Australia, 167m deep churned out by a glacier during one of the ice ages. A stunning site, in the background some mountains. It is a hiking paradise and many people spend weeks crossing the area on foot. We made a short discovery trip near the lake, it was the first time we had a non-powered site. We were curious if the refrigerator would hang on to the battery, but it was no problem. Only cooking this time on gas and not with the microwave was the main difference. And no heating, we noted next morning, waking up in a cold campervan. Mariska sleeps as she never has done before, though her little hand are ice cold. All the impressions make her tired, so she sleeps in minutes. Every day brings something new with her development. Today she insists to push the buggy and indeed, after a short time she has full control of it, be it that she cannot look over it where she goes, so we have to look out that she does not bump into other people.
As always we have the feeling we are running out of time during this trip, to see all the things we like to see and do all the things we like to do. Diving is still on the program, as here are the unique giant kelp forests, thriving on cold water straight from the South Pole. And the famous sea dragons, a kind of seahorse with strange coloured fins
Still 3 full days in Tassie before we fly to Melbourne and now we have to plan where to go and what still we want to do. To start with, we cancel a planned long trip to the end of the world, the Gordon Dam, in favour of the Mount Field national Park.
The trip to Mount Field is initially of a extraordinary beauty We come along the Tarraleah power station, were the Derwent river unleashes its energy. In total 8 times the energy is extracted from the water till it is used as drinking water in Hobart. A comprehensive system of lakes, dams, canals channel the water that is fed through power stations The excess of power is transferred by cable to Victoria. The construction started 70 years ago and the system works still perfect.
This time only a few hours easy driving to Mt Field, the oldest National Park and special is, here are the tallest flowering trees in the world. OK, there is a taller tree, the Californian Redwood of 111m (been there, seen it), but these giants are impressive as well. All are of one kind, the swamp gum Eucalyptus Regens and the trees are beautiful and slender. We passed along an enormous dead tree. He was hollow. The lower part of the swamp gum has a dark bark, that protects them against fire, but the upper half is silvery shining. Looking upward under such a giant it dwarfs anything else. There is a fierce competition in the dark rain forest for survival. The fastest grower, the highest one will suppress the competition. And so there is a selection of the highest. Under the dark shade on the forest floor live many plants and animals in their own niche in this forest. Usually they live on decaying plants and animals. The swamp gums live only a few hundred years. In the forest are beautiful waterfalls. . The light plays its own game here
Unlike the on Tas everywhere present Huon pine, we saw one 2300 years old. Huon pinewood is a hard, fine and solid pinewood, excellent for woodcarving. The colour is light yellow.
The camping is on the edge of the forest and in the evening the marsipuals take control of the area. I make a run uphill to the Tall Trees area. In the forest you hear all cracking branches and movement of animals.
When Mariska tries to sneak upon a small kangaroo, he jumps away.
This day, we are now 15 days en route, is an easy trip past Hobart again. Initially the trip was very nice but soon we entered agricultural landscape, not very interesting if you just visited a World Heritage area. Destination was Eagle Hawk Neck on a touristic peninsula, famous for the convict settlements, Australia is famous for. There is a very interesting exhibition and shows, ghost tour and so on. But we are not interested and left again to go for the the magic of nature. We visit the Tasman Bridge, a gigantic natural bridge at the coast, The Devils Kitchen, a natural bridge which had collapsed and the Blowholes. It blowed indeed but not with the untamed energy we expected. Our camping tonight is at the dive shop and our evening meal mainly consisted of leftover vegetables, but of course again a fresh juicy Y-bone steak, so big that it hanged over both sides of the plate. Only meat is reasonably priced here and a good excuse to try all the kind of steaks. Tomorrow we planned a dive in the cold Antarctic water and you get a special mini course to use the thick suits, 7mm and and a short one over it makes 14 mm neoprene. In the tropics 3 mm is more than enough.
The weather does not look nice, but still we book for 2 dives. That has limitations as the next day we have to fly and preferably 24 hour should be between diving and flying. But fortunately my own dive computer will show if problems can be expected. I spent the evening studying the manual of my dive computer. Diving is a technical sport, you completely rely on your equipment to survive
Next morning a group of 5 went out for diving. The weather was sunny but windy, that does not spell good for the visibility under. We got our equipment and as I carefully checked it I noted a leak at the first stage regulator. A little embarrassed a lady of the staff of the dive school gave me another regulator. That looked nice (at least here) and the air cylinder had lots of pressure, that means lots of diving time (usually). But something was wrong. A dive instructor noticed to his embarrassment that 2 of the 4 connections were reversed. The instructor took it with him to mount the items at the correct location. The air and regulator are of course the most important for diving. So far for the quality of the equipment of the Eaglehawkneck dive school.
The trip to the divespot was spectacular. The Tasman Arch and Devils Kitchen, we visited before, were only a few of the many impressive rock structures. Here I could see them all, from the sea side. Now wonder that many operators here have day trips along the coast. The plan was made: first dive in the Cathedral cave, listed as one of Austfralia's best dives. A kind of natural half cathedral towering over the water. Under the water many interesting caves with lots of strange creatures living in it..
It was hot and with the thick wetsuits and heavy equipment we could not wait to jump in the cold water.
We descended as group and explored the caves. I was surprised that a few rather inexperienced divers were participating in the cave tour, as cave diving has its risks. Basically you are learned to stay out of caves and out of shipwrecks.
I took some pictures and got a little behind the group to get a picture of a hiding crayfish there. It did cost lots of energy to catch up with the others, as there was a strong current locally. The fins hurt and I used my hands to swim and that consumes lots of energy and that means air. But I had enough on the air pressure gauge, but I used more air than the others.
The dive was further not too interesting: no sharks and no sea-dragons. When we left the caves I looked again and much to my surprise the pressure was suddenly much lower, so I decided to return to surface again. No wonder, I saw on a picture a stream of leaking air from my equipment. You must inform the others, as if one is missing, he must be found, if not, all have to surface to rejoin and that spoils the dive adventure.
After informing the divemaster I easily went up from 20 meters. That should be done slowly to avoid the potential fatal decompression sickness. And you have to make a 3 minutes safety stop at 5 meters to wash out the nitrogen out the blood, a standard procedure. My gauge indicated lots of air to make a safe ascent. Then a nice dive turned instantly into sheer terror. I ran out of air, 20m deep and 20 m deep equals the height of a 8 storey flat building. My buddies were already too far out to swim to them and get their air from the extra regulator every diver has, and I was puzzled because I had an indication enough air. Without air you have no time to think long about such things, as if you are not at the surface within the time you can hold your breath, you are dead. I realised I had no second to lose and decided to go up. I simply would die down here within 30 seconds, but I could also die from a rapid ascend. And of a lung over expansion, if I would hold my breath, without releasing air during ascend. The computer showed that I was still, 27 minutes down, not in the decompression phase of the dive, but that is for a normal ascent. Would it be valid for an emergency ascent?
With all the power I had, I tried to suck the last air out the bottle. Then held my breath with empty lungs and was struggling myself to the surface. The divemaster saw me going up, fighting with arms and legs, but could not follow, as he had the same risk of decompression sickness.
An other danger during an emergency ascent is that, if you try to hold breath and do not release the expanding air, the increasing air pressure will then tear open your lungs, usually with fatal results. Realising this, these were the worst seconds of my life: I was already a minute out of air and still deep under, rapidly losing oxygen in my body by struggling up, I had the feeling I was dying. Luckily I thought I was close to the surface as it became lighter. But looking up, no surface came and I looked better and saw the waves some 5 meters higher and was completely exhausted. I had consumed too much energy sucking out the last bit of air out of the bottle, it hurt terribly in my lungs. I had an extremely strong impulses to take a deep breath, but that is instant death under water. Fainting away has the same result. I kept fighting with the ultimate torture of empty lungs and the unbearable urge to breath while under water and on the moment I was loosing conciousness and felt it was definitely over, I reached the surface and took the most precious deep breath in my life. I was really happy that I made it, but without feeling too much sorry for the guys in Heaven who had to blow off the welcome party (again, as some may know). The taste of blood made me worry, as it came out of the lungs. A sure sign of lung overexpansion, but how serious, maybe only the beginning? If serious, I was slowly dying now. Lung overexpansion usually causes within 10 minutes a stroke, caused by air bubbles blocking the blood in the brain, and in other vital organs. A few minutes later the divemaster came up and we descended immediately again to 5 meters, on his air, to complete the decompression safety stop.
In the boat again, my dive computer showed the warnings of a too fast ascent, but no warning of a imminent decompression trouble. Only 3 hours no flying was showing. That was OK as next day we would leave. That gave confidence that there probably were no troubles to expected. But the dive instructor said he does not trust these computers.
Now waiting for the things to come. Lung overexpansion is a major cause for deaths at diving.
He told me that, when he saw my emergency ascent, he feared that he would see me again floating, arms spread, face down. 'In all those years I've lost only one diver' he said 'but he used his own equipment'.
It was really a 'close shave', even more, it is a miracle I'm still alive. As fighter pilot I know exactly the high G-force induced symptoms just prior losing consciousness: the the world around you gets a brownish colour, tunnel vision by losing the periferic vision, then the grey out, I saw them al. Then in a second this is followed by the blackout, just before you lose consciousness. If that happens in a jet-fighter, you automatically release the force on the stick and quickly the blood flow resumes in your brain, and you proceed on your mission. It's almost routine in high G-fighters like the F-16 and you are trained for that. In diving there is not such an easy solution, you just die.
Of course I cancelled the next dive.
The dive master checked my regulator and he found out that the gauge still indicated that there was still enough air in my bottle. However the bottle was completely empty.
The gauge was faulty and may have been sticking earlier, indicating more air than actually was available. And an indicator should be absolutely reliable and accurate when the pressure is approaching zero. Air is a matter of life or death in diving.
How did I survive? Probably while I regularly train in swimming pools to swim 25 meters under water, just for curiosity how long I can do this. And knowing how to fight against lack of oxygen, that was the final bit to survive.
When I was paying at the counter of the Dives shop 156 dollar for this sensational near dead experience, I said to the person who gave me that defunct regulator that she should check the equipment better. The bitch responded that I should better check the equipment, you signed for that, she said. Good that the owner did not hear that, he would have fired this misfit on the spot! Definitely not fit for this job and probably not fit for any job.
Well, I will send the story to the PADI, the divers organisation, with some recommendations.
¨We left the afternoon to a caravan park close to Hobart Airfield, to pack the luggage and do the last cleaning of the campervan. On the way we took a detour to see another geologic miracle, , an area with natural bricks, looking like man made.
I did not sleep well. Was the cramp in my feet and the headache a symptom of decompression sickness? In that case I had to go for a few days in the decompression chamber in Hobart, where just by coincidence Australia's best experts are practising. But slowly these symptoms disappeared. Only the smell of blood during breathing stayed for a while, indicating the beginning of a lung overexpansion.. That I felt better saved us lots of troubles rescheduling booked flights and camper hire.
The drop off of the camper was without problems. The campervan was as nice again as the brand-new camper we got. The 5000 dollar bond was transferred to Melbourne, so we did not have to pay twice.
In the departure hall of Hobart Airport we had to wait for one and a half hour. Mariska played with a few other children, much to the amusement of waiting passengers. An other toddler was trying to impress Mariska, and she reacted on that by chasing him.
The last test about the decompression was the flight to Melbourne, as during flying the decompressing sickness may pop up. In fact it is recommended not to dive 24 hour before flying. But it was no problem and the flight was uneventful.
We arrived in Melbourne, that just had cooled down to 22 degrees. We got a friendly Greek taxi driver, but I had the TomTom GPS navigator on, verifying if he took the right route. He did not, and when I asked if he was sure he took the right route. Well, he said, I take a short cut. But I told him the short cut was 3 km longer! Then he admitted he made a mistake and apparently he was worried I would report it. He stopped, showed the map his plan and stopped the taxi-meter. On a certain point I said to him that we were on the same distance to destination as when he lost track. He was flabbergasted and later started the taximeter again. On paying, he settled with a bargain. The TomTom did pay off, again!
The man at the Britz desk was half Hungarian, so that was good for a nice conversation. But when the car was handed over it was a surprise, but a nasty one. A run down camper not even in the Britz colours. We saw the main bed and mentioned that it was only suitable for a pygmy. And sleeping in the top bunk was no solution either. Birgitt said smart 'this is not the car we booked on internet'. And the man start to show doubts. So we wanted a better car. The man said: give me a minute. Then he came back with a big smile: I arranged something. We have got a brand-new car, but the licensing is only ready in 2 days. Come back Friday at 9 and you can exchange this one for a brand-new, bigger one.
Birgitt was happy and and she decided to rent a bungalow for 2 nights, and place the camper in front of it, as she did not like to spend a single night in this run down budget camper.
We spend the afternoon doing shopping for the next trip. Lucky enough there was a ALDI shop next to the camper company, so we could get some products for European prices.
Next morning Birgitt went to a doctor for a check of a suspicious spot on the skin, but it was not dangerous and could be removed by freezing with liquid nitrogen. The doctor warned again: any growing dark spot on the skin should be checked without delay. If it is a melanoma, before it hurts it spreads already and will kill you soon.
We make a relaxed day of it, doing some shopping for the next days, enjoying the comfort of the bungalow.
Friday the new campervan was indeed available. Everything brand-new: even the kitchen utensils. The car had made only 6 km. The fridge however made a noise like a bomber and we had it exchanged. Then we set course to Ballarat, in the goldfields. Once one of the richest towns in the world. The trip was along the Western Freeway, rather uninteresting. In Ballarat we selected an excellent BIG4 caravan park, with lots of facilities. Mariska enjoyed the pool. It was here around 30 degrees.
Next day, Saturday we travelled from Ballarat to Bendigo. In this area were the richest alluvial gold fields in the world. The buildings in the town show the incredible richness in the 19th century. Bendigo was the richest town in the world and is still a thriving town The trip lead along open eucalyptus forests showed many souvenirs of the gold rush and was nice.
In an exhibition the other part of the gold rush story. A few man became rich, most stayed poor and became sick The working conditions were terrible, crime and violence was a problem. Almost all men had eye inflammations due to the dust and contagious diseased spread like wildfire. The blacksmith was the man making fortune as he supplied and repaired the tools. The production of gold was so high, that shortly after the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851, 7 tons of gold were shipped to London, triggering a gold rush. After the rich and easily exploitable alluvial gold fields were depleted, the work changed to gold bearing quartz. That means mining deep the hard mineral, crushing it to free the gold it contained. This required industrial mining, and the gold rush boom towns were deserted quickly again. the temperature today is a nice 28 degrees, cooled by a breeze.
The Sunday we stay in Bendigo. The weather was nice and showers were imminent. The prayers of the population were heard. We looked forward to get soaked by lukewarm rain, packed the camera in a waterproof bag and left for a walk in the botanical garden. We got hardly any shower, but upon returning the ink black clouds promised at least some people would get a most welcome shower. Mariska love pushing the buggy. In the botanical garden most varieties growing in Australia were present. We especially liked one gumtree with a beautiful metal like bark, shining in the sun.
Grass was hardly existing any more and even trees were having difficulty to survive the drought. In shops money was collected to support the farmers, struck by the drought. I had the feeling we subsidised them daily by buying products at Australian prices.
Australian weather has a few known cycles. A 20 year cycle in which a period of plenty rain is followed by drought and a 5 year cycle caused by El Niño. The latter cycle seems to be interrupted by the climate change and the situation is now worse than ever. About now the drought should be over, but there is still no relief and the country is covered with signs: water restrictions in force. Australia will suffer quite a lot from the expected climate changes and it is a hot item on Australian TV programs. Australia is a big exporter of coal and nuclear energy, replacing coal fired powerstations, threatens jobs of trade union members, so still no plans to build nuclear powerstations. And no plans to sign the Kyoto protocol, but the political agenda changes rapidly.
But all problems have more aspects. Australia is bigger than Europe and less than 20 million people living here. In Europe live 20 times as much. So per square kilometre the pollution is minimal, but per head of the population rather high in Australia.
Mariska sleeps like a baby here. When she is tired of all the impressions, she sleeps anywhere After this relaxing day we plan to go further North, to the Murray river. The river start in the Snowy Mountains and ends in Adelaide, after 2700 km. Indeed one of the biggest rivers in the world. In the Snowy Mountains we have seen a few years ago how the water was diverted to the Murray river and now we have the opportunity to see how they use it. It must be a very productive agriculture area, producing vintage wines. Interesting but not very relevant for people drinking no wine. But hopefully they are good in other delicious fruits vegetables as well.
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