I am home now, and still not adjusted to the appropriate time zone.
So when we left off, Cass and I had gone on an impromptu platypus hunting adventure, and returned to the hostel empty-handed. That was Sunday night. On Monday morning, we had decided to take advantage of the hostel's "Free Shuttle Up Mount Wellington!". It left at 9:30am, so we went downstairs at around 9. Thrillingly, the promised dogs were sitting at the bottom of the stairs! Two giant Alaskan Malamutes, Nala and Baloo. I immediately became best friends with these two delightfully fluffy creatures. Cass and I, along with about six other hostel residents, climbed into the slightly sketchy shuttle bus, and off we went. After about a 20 minute drive, the shuttle stopped at a lookout and we all got out and admired the fog for a moment. The bus took us up for another two minutes or so, and then the driver turned around and said "Okay, so who is hiking?". A couple of people got out immediately, but the rest of us were just a bit confused. We were still basically at the bottom of the mountain. Someone else asked what the other option was, and the response was ".... come back to the hostel with me right now." We decided to hike, since we still hadn't really seen anything. We were given a map and pointed in a general direction, and then the shuttle drove away. We took off up the Pinnacle Trail, and quickly realized our fitness levels were slightly lacking. We hiked up for about an hour and a half, until we discovered snow on the trail. Apparently it had been many years since Cass had seen snow, so she was excited. Now, keep in mind, when we had left the hostel we were anticipating a drive up to the top of the mountain, a wander around the top, and then a drive back down. So we were both just wearing running shoes. The hike continued for another hour in the snow up through the Zig Zag Trail. Climbing along rocky switchbacks that were covered in snow was not quite what we had signed up for, but at this point there was no other option. When we finally reached the top, we were wet, tired, and very cold. I had really hoped there would be a little cafe or something at the top, but sadly there was not. There was an enclosed lookout (not heated) that we took refuge in, as once we reached the top the wind was quite aggressive. We sat in the lookout for about half an hour, where we were joined by Joe, another unprepared hiker from our hostel. Cass and I had at least brought snacks and water, so we shared them and looked out at the glorious view. Now, when I say "glorious view", I am being entirely sarcastic. We could not see a thing. The fog had stuck around despite the wind, so the only things we could see were the rocks immediately below us. After hiking for two and a half hours, this was rather disappointing.
It was at this point when it occurred to the three of us that we had no way of getting back down the mountain. The shuttle that had dropped us off at the bottom had driven away, and none of us were particularly inclined to hike all the way back down, and then have to walk back to the hostel. We were all still very cold. There was a bus waiting in the parking lot, so we knocked on the door and had a chat with the driver. We asked if he potentially had three extra seats and could give us a ride to the bottom of the mountain. We would probably be able to find our way back from there. He said he would like to, but it was probably an insurance issue, so he would have to wait until the group got back and ask the person in charge. Thankfully, we did not have to wait very long for the group to return. It turns out, the group he was transporting was a high school class on a field trip. The two teachers said we could absolutely have a ride, which was amazing. So, we hitchhiked down Mount Wellington on a school bus. How's that for a story? And, of course, the fog started to clear as we drove down the mountain. Pretty soon we got to see the view, which was indeed glorious. I took some pictures through the bus window, which actually didn't turn out too badly. The school bus ended up driving us back into town, and dropping us off around the corner from our hostel! Thank you so much, random Tasmanian school class.
The rest of Monday we spent sitting and reading in the common room of the hostel in front of the fireplace. I had a very hot shower, put on many layers of clothing, and had a coffee in an attempt to warm up. At one point, another person who had taken the shuttle bus arrived back. He had in fact hiked back down the mountain and walked through town to get home. We nicknamed him Tarzan, and he had our utmost respect. Eventually, we walked a couple of blocks to find dinner, and returned back to our comfy chairs by the fire. This hostel was very social, and seemed to have a lot of long-term residents who all knew each other. Someone brought out a set of giant Jenga blocks, so we joined in on a game that quickly became very elaborate and competitive. Blocks were being placed on top at very strange angles, making for a precarious tower that was extremely loud when it inevitably came crashing down. It was quite an amusing evening.
On Tuesday, Cass and I went and had an epic brunch in Salamanca Square. Waffles and ice cream! It was delicious. We had checked out of our hostel that morning, and our bus to Launceston didn't leave until 2:30pm, so we just wandered around Hobart for a couple of hours and bought souvenirs before returning to the hostel to pick up our bags and say an emotional goodbye to Nala and Baloo. The bus ride to Launceston took about 3 hours, and was mostly uneventful. The Tasmanian countryside is actually quite beautiful. It reminded me of that old school screensaver of the rolling hills and blue sky. There were several instances where I would have liked to stop and take pictures, especially when the sun started to go down and everything was golden. The other cool thing about the drive was that along the highway, interspersed between the many sheep and cows, were big metal sculptures of animals and people doing different things. They were set up in such a way that it looked like the silhouettes of actual creatures, especially when the sun was low. It was neat, and made the gazing out of the bus window much more interesting.
When we arrived in Launceston, we were in a bit of a hurry. Cass plays for the footy team that Harry coaches, and the team happened to be playing a friendly game against an American team that was touring Australia. It was going to be televised, so once we dropped our bags off at the hotel we went across the street to a sports bar. We got some food and desperately tried to find the game, but it turns out the channel that was showing it does not exist in Tasmania. Cass facetimed one of the girls on the team at halftime, so we got to watch the halftime chat through an iPhone screen. Since we could not watch the game, and got tired of cooking shows pretty quickly, we decided to call it an early night and head back to our hotel.
Now, when Cass and I were planning Tasmania, I chose the hostel in Hobart. Other than the misleading Mt Wellington shuttle, it was really good. It was clean, everyone was friendly, and of course it had dogs. Cass chose the accommodation for Launceston. She said at one point that if we ever end up travelling together again, she is not allowed to make those types of decisions ever again. It was a shocking place. I think there was only one other person in the entire building. There was no wifi. The window in our room did not close, and the heater that was provided made absolutely no difference. The bathroom connected to our room was dirty and the door didn't close properly. And, to top it off, the blankets provided were approximately 3mm thick. We were absolutely freezing. We both wore layers of clothing to bed. At 1:00am, I whispered "I'm cold", as I wasn't sure if Cass was awake or not. She was, and we spent a while laughing and swearing and cursing Launceston. On our brief tour earlier we had seen a laundry room with a stack of blankets, but we hesitated to go and get some because were skeptical about their cleanliness. Eventually, at 2:30am, I was still too cold to sleep, so I went and got some. Cass was asleep by then, so I put one of the blankets around her, which confused her when she woke up in the morning. I was finally able to sleep, but we both woke up pretty early. We had to leave for the airport at about 9:00am, but we did not want to stay in that hotel for longer than was necessary, so at about 8 we went up the street to a cute cafe and tried to be warm. There was a yellow lab outside the cafe that I made friends with, and took a picture of with the caption "the only good thing about Launceston". We went back to the "hotel" to pick up our bags, and had a brief debate over what to do with the sheets. Generally, at budget accommodation you are supposed to put your linens somewhere when you leave. We had not been shown where to do that, so we decided to leave all of it in the room as a small "F you" to the hotel.
We had a friendly cab driver on the way to the airport, which was very small. My flight to Sydney took off at 10:30, and Cass' flight back to Melbourne left at 12:30, so I was out of there first. I had yet another emotional goodbye. I hate goodbyes. Cass - I am so happy I met you. Thank you so much for hanging out with me and accompanying me on strange adventures in Tasmania. I miss you already! Harry, thanks for the introduction.
I had one more night in Sydney before I headed home, so after dropping off my bags at my not-terrible accommodation, I headed to Bondi Beach. I met up with Keely, one of Brendan's friends whom I have known for years and is currently living in Sydney. We had a lovely afternoon walking along the beach and chatting. For my final night in Australia, I went back to Sydney Harbour. The harbour and the Opera House were the first things I went to see upon my arrival, so I thought it was appropriate. I had a couple more souvenirs to collect before I left, and then I decided to have a farewell drink at the bar underneath the Opera House. I sat outside with my drink, looked out at the harbour, and reminisced about the last two months. Before I got on the train to head back to the hostel, I stood by the railing and said goodbye to the harbour, Sydney, and Australia in general. Yes, I said it out loud. Enough people have thought I was crazy over the course of this trip that I didn't really care if I added a couple more to the list.
When I got back to the hostel, I showered and then tackled the monumental task of packing all my possessions and my recently acquired souvenirs. There is a reason I leave souvenir shopping to the very end of my trips... according to the scale at the airport, my bag was 3.5kg heavier for my Sydney-Vancouver flight than it was for the Launceston-Sydney trip. My flight was very long, and I did not sleep, but I did watch some good movies. I arrived in Vancouver at 7:00am, and was very disoriented, as I had left Sydney at 10:30am that same day. Time zones are weird. Mom picked me up from the airport in Victoria at 9:30, and just like that my adventure was over.
The fine print (or lack thereof) I mentioned in the title of this post refers to three things: the shuttle to Mt Wellington, the quality of the accommodation in Launceston, and the concept of international friends. It is very cool that I have friends in Australia, and that I was able to see them and stay with them. However, no one mentioned how much I would miss them when they are on the other side of the world. I missed them after Contiki, but it is so much more now that I have been to their country, and stayed in their houses. Contiki is a little bit of an artificial environment, so I feel like I know the people I saw this trip far better than I did before. And now I have Australian friends that I did not meet in Europe, like Cass and Bec. Thank you all so much for making time to see me. I had so much fun hanging out and exploring with you guys. Is it too soon to say that I miss you? Well I do, so I will say it anyway. You are all invited and highly encouraged to come visit me in Canada, and I think we should all do Contiki round 2 sometime in the future. I love you guys.
Okay, I have described the final events of my trip, and it didn't take me six months. Good work Jenna. There will be one more post coming in the next few days - a final thoughts and statistics summary - so don't say goodbye quite yet. And if you are in the area, come and say hello in person. Talk to you soon.