Another very early morning, because this was to be the biggest day yet. We packed up our well-appointed apartment with some reluctance. It’s not everywhere you get to spend the night under damasked quilt-covers in a brass bed. But there was much still to do and time was getting away so off we drove.
Claremont is a small town on the Derwent just north of the main city of Hobart and it was here that John Cadbury chose to set up his Antipodean operation. The original factory premises is still used, although the equipment has been upgraded somewhat since the pre-war years! The tour was fascinating – I eat an awful lot of these products and it was somewhat heartening to see how open the company is about its processes. It would be hard to imagine McDonald’s running similar tours. The conclusion of the tour includes free samples and an opportunity to buy heavily discounted chocolate at the factory’s shop – which was the best part of the tour to my mind! Thus fortified, we hit the road for a marathon drive.
From Claremont to Derwent Bridge took us about two hours of steady driving, through mostly farmland and bleak, bare hills into the wilder area below the Franklin river. We stopped at Lake St Clair for lunch and decided to take the opportunity to have a brief walk. A brief walk turned into a two hour loop as we explored the forest by the lake and wandered its shores. Although the elusive platypus was not to be seen, we did make friends with a local echidna, who was snuffling for ants that scurried across a low rock wall.
The forest is thick and beautiful, with dappled light rippling across the track. It was two very well-spent hours, but it did mean that we were fighting the clock and couldn’t afford the time to stop for any of the other short walks we had considered taking. A brief comfort stop at Tarreleah (one of Tasmania’s many hydro-electric plants) was all we had time for. Through the Franklin World Heritage Area, over the mighty Franklin river and into the mining country around Queenstown, where I decided I’d had enough and told Denis to drive the rest of the way. I can’t remember what used to be mined at Queenstown but the landscape has certainly suffered for it. Stark, bare hills with great gouges ripped out of them. The colours in the earth were quite extraordinary but the scene still was slightly reminiscent of the face of the moon. Bare, rocky and uninhabited. Then it was another long drive up to Roseberry, across into the Cradle Mountain area and finally up 8km of scrabbly dirt road to our destination – Lemonthyme Lodge Wilderness Retreat.
I’d found the place on the internet, like all the places we’d booked for this trip. It had struck me as quite expensive but it is in the vicinity of Cradle Mountain and had a vacant cabin for the two nights we wanted so in sheer desperation I’d booked it. And I am so very glad I did. It is like a tiny blob of warmth, light and comfort in the middle of the wilderness – nothing in the middle of nowhere. The cabins sit among tall old trees; set off the ground to allow the maximum enjoyment of the view from the hill. The Lodge itself is made of ponderosa pine logs that have been fashioned with a chainsaw and set one on top of the other, sealed with tarred caulk and rope. It is apparently the biggest log cabin in the southern hemisphere – although I hadn’t known that when I booked; all I knew was that it was in the area we wanted and was available. Serendipity comes to our aid once again. As Denis remarked, there was only one thing wrong with it, and that was that we were leaving after only two nights.
After booking in and admiring the beautiful little cabin (with spa bath, gas fire and balcony) we ventured into the Lodge for dinner. As we ate (off white linen cloths with silver cutlery, just in case anyone thought there was no such thing as civilisation in the bush) a curious and slightly confused pademelon hopped in the door, obviously thinking this restaurant was for him. The staff quickly shooed him back outside but not before some American tourists at a nearby table had nearly exploded with excitement.
We had covered over 350km, most of it on quite poor roads, so after dinner we wandered back to our cabin. The stars overhead shone with a brilliance I had never seen before, reminding me of the line in Clancy of the Overflow – ‘And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars’. In the trees were all the quiet whispered night-time rustlings of birds and mammals finding themselves a bed. Not too much later, we also fell asleep.
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