PORT CAMPBELL, Victoria -- I read an article in the in-flight magazine the other day that claimed Australians spend more time on the internet than anyone else in the world. I can tell you they're not doing it in hotels.
I pulled into the Loch Ord Motor Inn here just as the rain was starting -- it's now coming down in a downpour like I haven't seen for quite a while -- lured in part by signs about in-room wi-fi. One of these days, I need to learn to ask what the catch is. Here, it's about $8 an hour.
So, with the clock ticking, I may not put up as many photos as might otherwise be the case. But here's a catch-up on the last few days.
SATURDAY -- My good-weather luck ran out.
After three gorgeous days in Tasmania, Saturday in Burnie dawned wet and drizzly. The forecast was for sun farther to the south, so I headed toward Cradle Mountain -- the other side, as it were, of the national park I'd visited the day before at Lake St. Clair -- hoping to get in another short hike or two, and perhaps to see the platypuses (platypi?) that eluded me the day before at Platypus Bay at Lake St. Clair.
Well, the closer I got to Cradle Mountain, the worse the weather became. By the time I reached the park itself, it was pouring rain, probably not much above freezing, and the only people who were out were the kind of hikers who had insulated rainsuits.
Not only didn't I go for a hike, I didn't even get out of the car.
Instead, I pulled off to the side and plotted a meandering path to Launceston -- via Mole Creek, as much because you've got to visit a town called Mole Creek if you're near by as because it was a sensible route.
Well, this pretty much salvaged the day. It remained cold and gray, with some drizzle and the occasional rain, but I more or less blundered across the kind of scenery that would be famous elsewhere, but in Tasmania is almost incidental to other places.
Take, for example, the dramatic panorama of the Mersey Valley, which I can identify thanks to this helpful sign.
Because of the gray weather, the view doesn't look quite as good in photos as it did in person. Trust me, it was pretty spectacular.
Oh, and I mentioned Mole Creek. Here it is, in all its splendor.
But I'm glad I went that way, because I saw a sign for a state park featuring the Alum Cliffs Gorge (also known, apparently, as Tulmapanga) and went a couple of kilometers off the main road for a look. It proved to be a 30-minute round-trip hike, and well worth it.
Even with the detours, I still made it to Launceston by early afternoon, and rather than get a room, right away, I looked at the map and decided to continue on toward the coast, along the Tamar Valley. By now, the weather was better, and this proved to be another good decision, for a couple of reasons. First, it meant I found Brady's Lookout, a great scenic location.
Also, it took me to Beauty Point, which was fortunate so much because of the beauty, but because of a fascinating little tourist attraction, the Platypus House. (It's adjacent to another well-regarded spot, Seahorse World, but I was more interested in the Platypuses.)
Platypus House is a small operation, but it's not some cheesy tourist trap. It's actually trying to find a cure for a disease threatening Tasmania's platypus population, so it not at all exploitative of the animals (it only had five, but that was enough to be able to see them in action) and quite informative. The platypi were almost impossible to photograph, at least with my little point-and-click camera; the results aren't really worth posting here.
But as a bonus, Platypus House also has three echidnas, and they're a little easier to shoot. They're very fun to watch wandering around in their little room, and the tour guide fed them for me, so I got to watch their long tongues come out and clean up this ant-paste mixture.
Oh, and they're quite curious. They all came up and sniffed my shoes during the course of my visit. Of course, that was made easy by the fact that I was the only person taking the 2:30 p.m. tour. There really is nothing more off than the off-season in Tasmania.
If you're ever in the neighborhood -- OK, if you ever decide to come halfway around the world to Tasmania -- I recommend Platypus World.
But then, I recommend just about everything about Tasmania.
SUNDAY -- I woke up earlier than I needed to in Launceston, laid in bed for a while, finally got up, turned on the TV -- and was mad I hadn't given in and turned the TV on earlier. Live on Fox Sports 2 was the Fox Saturday afternoon game of the week (which, of course, occurs on Sunday morning here) -- the Phillies and Cubs, in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Who knew? I watched the Cubs finish off a 5-2 loss, and then went about my day.
Which was pretty full.
I flew to Melbourne, picked up my checked bag and rental car (a Toyota Corolla hatchback they don't sell in the U.S., which I like except for the fact the storage space behind the back seat barely contains my big duffel bag, and doesn't leave enough room for everything else. This means I'll be leaving some valuables visible when I'm taking hikes along the Ocean Road (weather permitting).
Fortunately, getting my bag and car took very little time, because I had a definite goal in mind: I was, as they say here, going to see the footy.
Sunday was the last day of the Australian Rules Football regular season, and as it happened, my arrival in Melbourne was just in time to let me get to the last game of the last day: Essendon Bombers vs. St. Kilda Saints at Telstra Dome, which was scheduled for 4 p.m.
I arrived at the dome at 3:15 p.m., parked ($23 in a garage under the stadium, from which it was surprisingly difficult to get into the stadium unless you already had a ticket), found my way to the ticket window and was told there were no seats available. Standing room, though was $19. I bought a ticket and went in.
Inside Telstra Dome.
Somewhat to my surprise -- and, given how I was dressed, dismay -- I found Telstra Dome may be covered, but it's not enclosed. Or, as near as I can tell, heated. There's just chain-link fencing at the gate, so the wind blows right in. Since there was quite a cold wind blowing the standees eventually clustered six or seven rows deep in the sections protected from the wind, while there was just one row of standees in areas exposed to the wind.
I have to admit I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as, say, the Serie A game I saw in Rome. I think the standing had something to do with it. I opted for the no-wind area, so I was packed in place pretty tightly. So did the fact I'm not all that well versed in Australian Rules. Mostly, though, I think it was that I couldn't really figure out a rooting interest.
In Rome, it was easy to figure out that I should root for Roma, partly because I love the city, and partly because I wanted to get out alive. But this game, while officially an Essendon home game, matched two Melbourne teams that both call Telstra Dome home.
So I watched rather dispassionately, which really is no way to go to a game as a spectator.
A St. Kilda player lines up a kick as an Essendon player watches.
One other thing didn't help in terms of enjoyment: It was, frankly, a terrible game, with St. Kilda routing the Bombers. There was one tiny bit of drama at the end. St. Kilda needed to win by an unlikely 100 points to climb into fourth place in the final standings, which provides a hugely advantageous position for the playoffs (or as they call them here, finals).
Well, in the closing minutes, the Saints picked up the goals they needed and won 21-21--147 to 5-9--39, a record margin of victory and just enough to carry them to fourth. By then, I have to admit, I was already in my car (knowing it would have taken forever to get out of that stadium parking garage if I'd waited until the end) and on my way to Geelong, my destination for the night.
I actually ended up in the Geelong suburb (or perhaps district is the more appropriate term) of Belmont, and it looked like I was going to have to settle for McDonald's or Hungry Jack's (the Australian name for Burger King). Instead, I found a place that claimed to be a "California Style" Mexican take-away restaurant -- and did, in fact, have a burrito that would not have been out of place at Sharky's or Baja Fresh. Of course, it was $11.50, but by local standards, that's probably equal to those places pricewise, as well.
Capping the night, about the time I really settled into my room for the night, I started channel-surfing and found a soccer game featuring a team in red shirts and white shorts. Could it be? Yes, it was: An English Premier League game from earlier in the day between Arensal, the official Premiership side of George Contreras, and Newcastle United from the Emirates Stadium . Funny to have to go all the way to Australia for my first look at the Premier League season but then the season began while I was in China. And while I'm sure George is already aware of this, I can report the Gunners dispatched Newcastle 3-0.
That was followed by a live broadcast of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but I didn't make it all the way through that one.