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When you are deep into a vicious game of A_sehole, up against the devious El Presidente, you never, ever want to be forced into picking up a fistful of cards. The whole point of the game is to whittle your hand down to none as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I had no choice. An ace had just been played and I had no “two” or “ten” to beat it. El Presidente’s eyes gleamed in the night. Damn!

It was raining softly, the last night of our kayak expedition down the Freycinet Peninsula. The six of us were huddled under a tarp playing one of the most perverse card games ever invented, the rules of which changed continuously as the evening progressed.

It is a little-known fact that river and kayak guides spend much of their spare time inventing such games in order to drive their clients to bed so the trip leaders can have some peace and quiet after a long day. It is an unknown fact that opossums, the pests of campgrounds in this part of the planet, hang around simply to sit in on such games. They are, in fact, avid card players, but we ignore them or even drive them away, assuming they are after dessert.

This adventure began on a sunny day a month earlier when we stumbled into the office of Freycinet Adventures in the town of Coles Bay. It was our reconnaissance trip to Tasmania. We had worked our way slowly across the top half of the island, sampling Cradle Mountain and the wines of the Tamar Valley before dropping down the East coast to check out the spectacular scenery and do a little paddling.

It was after we had arranged to rent a kayak for half a day that Nikki said, “You really should come back and take advantage of our four day Easter paddle.” To set bait for two people who love to get out on the water you don’t need much more temptation than that. We were hooked.

Down in the southern hemisphere, Easter is the last gasp of summer. Everyone here heads for the great outdoors. Fortunately, with a bit of head start, we were able to book two nights at a wonderful B&B in Coles Bay called Sheoaks. That was our anchor. After that, I cast the net for a place to stay in Hobart, for flights and a car.

With only one night and a morning in Australia’s second oldest city, we were not able to see a great deal. It was Good Friday, after all. Many of the shops and restaurants and all the museums were closed. Fortunately, we were staying at Colville Cottage in the old port area known as Battery Point within walking distance of Salamanca Place. The City seemed sleepy, but not half as sleepy as it would be in winter, when it appears to function mainly as a jumping off point for scientists on their way to Antarctica.

The first European to visit the Freycinet peninsula was the ubiquitous Abel Tasman, for whom Tasmania itself is named. He named Schouten Island (our home for two nights) but mistook the peninsula for an island. A French expedition in 1802 provided the area with most of its current place names. A whaling station was established in 1824, followed by quarrying and mining operations until it became one of Tasmania’s very first national parks in 1916.

The high pink granite outcrops that plunge down into the sea at Freycinet are part of the same geologic formation as Wilson’s Promontory, three hours south of Melbourne. With sufficient planning, preparation and stamina, it is possible to kayak Bass Strait, separating Tasmania from Australia, thanks to a handful of small islands bridging the gap.

Our jaunt would be a paddle in the park by comparison. We gathered on the beach on Saturday morning for the first time. Our companions were a congenial brother and sister team from Newcastle. Our guides, Tim and Matt, took turns going through the safety procedures, then helped us cram our personal gear into the hatches.

Soon we were on the water. There is something magical about being self-propelled on the ocean. Everything falls away. It is just you, the waves and the glint of the sun. We made our way slowly along the shoreline down to the bottom of Hazards beach.

It was just enough paddling to feel the weight of the boat, the heat of the sun. We set up camp and had lunch, then our four companions headed off on foot for Wineglass Bay. We had hiked there on our previous visit, so we took advantage of the lazy afternoon and had a nap.

It may be possible to actually lose weight on a Freycinet Adventures trip, but I can’t picture it. When our two guides broke out the wine and the chocolate fondue on the very first evening, I knew it was all over. We were in for a gourmet indulgence. Fortunately, we had some hard paddling booked for Easter Sunday- fourteen or fifteen kilometers to Schouten Island. Once there, we could set up camp for good and enjoy ourselves.

And so we did. We paddled the choppy waters of the open ocean, hiked to the top of Bear Hill , swam a bit (keeping a wary eye out for the stingrays), walked the beach, watched the billowing sails of boats in the distance, wined and dined, told stories and played cards.

The game is insane, of course. It is called A_sehole. Just so you know, the trick is– keep your tens.


Take a look at a globe, if you’ve got one handy. Or launch Google Earth and point it toward Australia. Due south of Melbourne is an island about the size of Ireland. Originally called Van Diemen’s Land, it is now known as Tasmania. To mainland Australians, it is affectionately called “Tassie.”

As we slipped away from Melbourne the morning of February 8th aboard the “Spirit of Tasmania” I got a plaintive text message from my daughter–“please take the chocolate with you.” My penchant for Cadbury’s dark chocolate with almonds has not made this blog to date, but there it is. She needn’t have worried that I would leave it behind.

Since our only packing restriction was the size of the Subaru, we were equipped for an expedition to the Antarctic. Even in summer, Tasmania can require everything from ponchos to mittens. We had camping gear, hiking clothes, paddling gear, city clothes etc. The only significant item item of clothing for which I felt no need was my tux.

I saw our first vacation to Tasmania as an exploratory visit. We had bookings for the first three nights only. The accommodation our first night got blown away when circumstances required us to let our departure slip back one day. By that point, every place in the arrival port of Devenport was booked.

Not to worry. We still had our booking at a cottage near Cradle Mountain. It would mean driving up there as the light was fading. though, and I didn’t realize what that meant.

If you’ve seen a video game where creatures are constantly popping up in front of you while you are trying to negotiate your way up a narrow, winding road, you can imagine the drive. Most of Tasmania’s critters are nocturnal, and they seemed to like nothing better than testing my night vision and reflexes. But the next two days made up for it.

Cradle Mountain is one of the most spectacular areas of Tassie, and the island is blessed with beautiful scenery. There are only about thirty days of sunshine per year and we got two of them. We circled Dove Lake, scrambled up to Marions Lookout, met a curious wallaby and a couple from Newfoundland.

I had a rough idea of what we might be able to see during the following ten days but we didn’t come close. It is a matter of topography. Tasmania is an island like Sardinia where practically nothing is flat. We did a lot of driving and seemed to get not very far.
The most spectacular place we came across was a spur of the moment choice, thirteen kilometers up a gravel logging road. It was a stunning, precipitous look off called Devils Gullet, not too far (as the crow flies) from Cradle Mountain. I’m afraid my photos do not do it justice. The vertiginous view from a scary metal perch over the edge of a sheer drop rivals that of the Grand Canyon.

From Devils Gullet, we dropped down to a little patch of paradise in the Tamar Valley, the Pearwalk Cottages. It was another fortuitous find. We had been referred to it by the owner of a Bed and Breakfast nearby that was fully booked. It was so lovely that we went back the night before we left.

Mostly, we stayed in what the Australians call “cottages,” self-sufficient units with bath and kitchen. Two of them were in popular destinations. They were modern and classy with prices to match. One place we stayed was a dump. We stayed in a bed and breakfast that had been been built by convicts and housed the workers under lock and key in the basement. One night we camped out and listened to the gulls.

During our too brief stay we tasted some fine Pinot Noir at several lovely wineries in the Tamar Valley; we strolled for hours on a white sand beach in the Bay of Fires; we hiked up and over boulders to see Wineglass Bay; we paddled among dolphins in Freycinet National Park; we visited two historic bridges, two lighthouses, one mansion and the National Rose Garden.

But there is so much more. We haven’t seen Hobart or the Tasman Peninsula or Bruny Island or the West coast or Lake St. Clair. We’ll be back. Tassie’s alluring, addicting, just like chocolate. Did I mention the Cadbury Factory? Next time, I can leave my stash behind and live off the land. Fine wine, bread and chocolate. What more can you ask for?

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