South for the Winter Part 2

The following is an excerpt from the second chapter in my Tasmanian travelogue. I hope you enjoy it.

The morning begins in fits and starts, much like the way the traffic exits the boats: sudden chugs of motion with elongated periods of stasis.

Sleep, for one thing, is fitful at best. The beds are comfortable enough but the pillows are so thin and insubstantial as to make their existence almost pointless. By about 4:15, the time at which my incoherent room-mate decides to get up and start his day (what does he say to our other room-mate, who he meets coming out of the toilet just as he is getting up? Is it, “It’s 4:15, not too early”, or have I misheard him altogether, my ears gathering what my brain can only compute as nonsense?), I finally work out the best way of folding up my pillow to maximise support and comfort and then manage to sleep for almost two hours with little interruption.

Just before 6am I wake up from a dream in which my other travelling companion and I agree that sleeping until now is still better than getting up at 4:15; my mind is already prepared for the swift process of getting ready to disembark at 6:30. I wash my face, clean my teeth and pack my bags while my remaining room-mate maximises the time he can sleep. The intercom system sporadically reports fun facts to us as a thinly veiled reminder that we should be up and about; Wendy in the Tourism Centre is available until 6:30; We will be disembarking at 6:30; Speak to Wendy now if you want tips on your time in Tasmania; Please wait until your garage deck is called. By the time I get to the general gathering area around reception and the Lavender Café, most people are packed and either buying coffee to help ease the earliness of the hour or are just waiting, bags at the ready, prepared to board cars when the intercom finally tells us we can. I make a brief visit to Wendy at the Tourism Centre. She seems a little confused by my wish to drive down along the east coast; do I realise, she asks, that there are no freeways in Tasmania? Do I realise that I cannot drive on the coast all the way? It is only afterwards that I wish I had played dumb and acted as if I had personally wanted to drive my car on the beach all the way to Hobart. Instead, I take what local knowledge she can give me, not wanting, in my flippancy, to become another Burke or Wills, and, armed with a map that cost me $5.50, I am now, more or less, prepared for the drive.

And soon enough we are off – though that cannot really be said without qualification: there is a long wait in cars before we can go anywhere and when we do “go” it is with moments of sudden movement punctuated by long waits, occasionally being motioned in a particular direction by someone with a fluorescent stick to light the way to the appropriate lane. At the final point – quarantine to stop us from bringing anything unsafe into the state – a man checks my boot to ensure I am not smuggling fruit, firearms or live animals, and I am, at last, on my way.

The land as I drive off into it is bathed in morning mist and the ground thick with frost, but all of this adds to the beauty of the place. As I head south-east on the Bass Highway the mist slowly clears and my windows with it; the sun rises until it stars almost directly into my eyes but the frost remains. Cows nibble at it from time to time in an attempt to get at the grass beneath. The road winds now southward, now east, and the green hills wind and unfold before me.

I make a chilly stop in Deloraine, a minor detour from the highway, in the hope that I might find somewhere to eat breakfast. I do not, but I find a park where I can take a chilly walk and photograph a lake and the trees and frost around it. There have already been many places along the way that I wish I could have captured as I drove – a band of crimson where the sun rises; a layer of mist rising from a lake; a ribbon of purple across a canopy of trees – but there has not been a convenient place to stop and so words will have to do to record them. In Deloraine, however, I am able to capture some of the beauty in a handful of photographs before, frozen, I return to my car and drive on.

I make it to Launceston by about 8:30. Approaching the town from above (it sits as a neat, circular package of houses and buildings within its own valley), I feel myself lowering into the fog which sits above it, giving the town, for that brief moment, an almost magical quality which is, admittedly, ruined later when I learn that what I have taken for mist is actually natural pollution from the wood-fires, kept through the vagaries of meteorology and pressure systems as a protective layer over the city. Much of the town seems still asleep as I drive into it and the sun, peering halfway up the horizon atop buildings and street signs, makes it glow in a sleepy manner while I try to navigate through the morning haze and glare.

Soon enough I find a park and, covered in just enough layers to keep me warm, set off in search of food. Not much is open yet but I follow the stream of early risers with takeaway coffees in hand to find a spot for breakfast and a much-needed wake-me-up. Eventually I find my way to Banjo’s, which appears to be a chain of bakery cafés boasting Tasmanian produce and which is, most importantly, open. My egg and bacon pita is warm and fills me and I have the chance to collect my thoughts and prepare for the drive ahead of me so I do not complain. A family at a nearby table, evidently also not from Tasmania, share fun facts which they seem to have gleaned since arriving; did you know Tasmania is the twenty-sixth biggest island? What is the largest? Is it Australia or Iceland? Is Australia an island? From the café windows I watch shops turn on their lights as women with beanies and prams stroll the streets.  A man at a table outside, his back to me, blows clouds of smoke into the morning air – maybe from his breath, maybe the steam of his coffee, maybe from a cigarette; all look the same from this angle and all are equally possible on a morning this cold. Then, finished with my breakfast, I head next door to Gloria Jeans for what I presume will be a reliable cup of coffee; at least I know what the standard will be, I reason. I seem to be the only person there that morning who is not a regular customer; the girl at the counter actually needs to take my order, instead of being able to deduce it from past experience. She calls everyone else by name, whether they wear biking lycra, casual clothes or the uniforms of their trade; all are known and all have their regular orders. I, the stranger, take my coffee and head on my way, stopping briefly at a music store to buy some tunes for the drive. I nearly spill my coffee over the counter; as it is, I only spill it on my hand. Coffee nestled dangerously into my lap, I navigate the one-way streets of Launceston and rejoin the highway heading for the east coast.

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