I was recently in my hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, where I did a book signing of “Doc Down Under” for the beautiful and historic Concord Public Library. It was a very humbling and personally moving experience, to be joining such a rarefied group of Concord authors, including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’m a proud alumnus of CCHS Class of 1975. Many thanks to, Emily Smith, the Library Director, for her enthusiasm and support. Our second daughter, Cate, was also present for the event, which I will always hold dear.





I recently had a great interview with Ken Stearns, as he was traveling through Cooperstown, New York. He’s a soulful, patient interviewer and the questions from the jar covered a wide range of topics, many of a philosophical/ spiritual nature. We also discussed corporate and post corporate life, career burn-out and trying to live a more balanced, creative and reflective life. I was pleased that we had such an easy rapport, and there were no truly “cringey” moments. Please have a listen on Spotify or Amazon, and drop either of us a note if it was at all helpful or enlightening. Thanks!

This update of the DDU website is in preparation for the publication of my first book, “Doc Down Under“,  now available (in August 2022) on Kindle/ Amazon, in e-book, paperback and hardcover versions. It was a long, and at times challenging, process but I’m very glad to have stuck it out. Please have a look around. Listen to a few o.g. tunes and leave a comment or a review if so moved. Ta, DDU

Oh, and that’s a Blue-Tongued Lizard from tropical Queensland, Australia, which does indeed have a curiously and vividly blue tongue!

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Cradle Mountain over Dove Lake, an iconic Tasmanian vista

Brisbane- a modern airport, all self check-in!

At the risk of becoming redundant, it was back to Tasmania for me; this time to work EM at Launceston General, the second largest ED in the state. As usual, I took a few days beforehand to explore, and headed back up to Cradle Mountain NP, hoping for some good weather for photos and views. The weather cooperated and I had some fantastic hiking in the Tasmanian highlands.

Frequent flier….

North Coast Tassie beaches and headlands

Wheels down for landing

QANTAS link, hop over Bass Strait

The Waratah Heritage B&B

I returned to the Waratah in Launnie for my first night, as it’s a long winding road up to Cradle Mnt.; best done in the daylight. Also, better to stock up on trail food etc in the Big Smoke, as Tassie gets really rural, really fast.

Launceston Park fountain

Launceston, pop 90K, has one of the most intact heritage downtowns in Australia. Settled around 1806, it’s the third oldest city in Australia; begun soon after Sydney and Hobart. It was spared the worst of the 1960-70’s urban renewal blight, unlike so many other cities world-wide. It’s a small, safe, charming city that the locals take great pride in.

Country road heading into the Great Western Tiers

Next morning, it was up early, under favorable skies, heading west into the mountains; only a half hour out of Launnie. The rolling rural landscape looks similar, at a distance, to upstate New York or Vermont; deeply green, well-tended, agricultural; fields sprinkled with black and white mottled Holsteins. Brooding wilderness is never far on the horizon though…

I got a great deal on a room at the Cradle Mountain Hotel, right outside the park, 2 minutes from the visitor’s center. About 400 m off the main road, and surrounded by bushland, it proved to be the perfect base for exploring the park. Being off season, it was pretty quiet, with the weather clearing and crisp; perfect!

Feeling it…

Unlike my trip last month, which was a complete white-out (see my past DDU posting), I arrived at Dove Lake under a light, lifting ceiling; the mountains playing hide and seek with the rapidly shifting cloud cover – very magical…The anticipation was building by the minute…!
And then, suddenly, the summit ridges appeared as in a dream…

Mysterious mountain weather…

The calendar shot!

Nowhere I’d rather be….

The weather forecast called for clearing in the morning. I secretly hoped to attempt to summit Cradle Mountain, but tried to have no ego in the process. Just start out and see how far I was able to travel- one of the benefits of the wisdom that comes with age…I also knew I was pretty out of steep hiking shape. So I took off for a two hour shake down hike that afternoon; starting down the trail I’d need to take tomorrow to head towards the summit.

Dove Lake behind Lake Lilla

Tassie Devil- symbol of the Tassie Park Service

I felt pretty good, but didn’t overdo it, just get my hiking muscle memory fired up. At Cradle Mnt. you need to take a shuttle bus into and out of the park. As it was quiet in mid-winter, I didn’t want to miss the last ride out. After the warm-up hike, I went off looking for wildlife, wombats and local waterfalls. Beyond the iconic Dove Lake and Cradle Mnt. there’s an extensive trail network, numerous other beautiful alpine lakes and waterfalls…There’s much more here than expected. In fact, this park is just the northern tip of the vast series of parks and reserves that make up the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It runs unbroken except for a few roads about 200 km south, all the way to the SW coast of Tassie, and encompasses around 20% of the entire island landmass. I believe it’s the largest temperate rainforest park remaining in the southern hemisphere, and still truly wild.

Wombat selfie redux!!

A very patient subject

Say cheese Mr Wombie….!

Pencil Pine Falls

Wombat dens with foot for scale

Peppers runs a beautiful lodge right at the Park entrance. A lovely spot to have afternoon tea by the open fireplace after a long hike. Or to spend a few nights in wilderness luxury.

That evening, I attended the Devils@ Cradle nighttime feeding session. In season, you’d need to make reservations, but I just showed up. It was fascinating, and highly recommended. The facility is a Tasmanian Devil sanctuary, rescue and breeding program. If you are keen to see a live Devil, this is the best place on the planet to do so. They are highly elusive in the wild.

A rare stationary moment- about the size of a small-medium dog when fully grown

The 90 minute lecture and tour is really informative. They have around 40 devils in large outdoor, natural enclosures. As feeding time approaches, the damp, alpine air is rent by the eerie, evil squabbling of the little Devils. Well named indeed, as they sound horrendous..!
But, it’s all really just a show; a way to establish dominance over the prey. They stand back on haunches, pale mouths agape, and squall and hiss in the darkness…Spine chillling…Kids love the show!

Devils are unique to Tasmania, and also for being strictly carnivorous marsupials, who are true independents. They establish no family groups, defend no territory and are essentially solitary individuals. They only congregate to breed and eat carrion. The squabbling over the spoils is truly epic! Devils @ Cradle is a must do if in this part of the world, and supporting a great conservation effort. The center also rehabs rare Eastern and Spotted Tailed Quolls, other carnivorous marsupials that are very threatened.

Mirror image of an Aussie icon

Up early and on the trail under flawless skies. The morning views of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain were calendar worthy!
It was going to be an epic day…but no promises on summiting…Let’s just start out, one step in front of another…

A stunning start to the hike

This iconic view really does live up to it’s hype. The surrounding wildness, scale and balance of the scene is even more powerful than anticipated. Like the Matterhorn and Grand Tetons in my personal experience, all the pictures you’ve seen just can’t capture the entire essence of the place. I’m drawn to such places, and am happiest to immerse myself and spend time.

Marion’s Lookout above Wombat Pool
Climbing higher, Crater Lake

On Marion’s Lookout. High above Dove Lake, Mt Hanson behind

Your host at Marion’s Lookout, Cradle Mountain ridge behind.

Deciduous Fagus (Beech) leaves, Aussie foliage…!

The weather was perfect. I had all the gear, time and food I needed. It was just a matter of tenacity and desire overcoming age, wear and tear. The round trip is about 14 km and gains over 2000 ft of elevation. And the downhill is always a knee-killer! Steady on, let’s see how we go….

Feeling pretty good…

On the moorlands, heading for Kitchen Hut

My destination-hopefully, if the old carcass holds up…

A Currawog, an alpine Raven

Over the moorlands

Trail ghost-dude

Kitchen Hut, emergency shelter. The upper shovel is to dig thru snow drifts to enter in winter!

The whole kit bag

The summit is an enormous Dolomite extrusion

The trail higher is marked by snow wands, don’t deviate…!

Unusual multi-colored lichens

Steeper and treacherous

The summit ridge is a really unique jumble of Dolomite shards – not exactly boulders, more like pick-up-sticks. You have to be very careful not to slip between them. A fracture/ disclocated ankle up here would get really complicated quickly. In snow or rain it would be utterly treacherous. Tricky when you’re leg tired and trying to move quickly…careful…with every step…

Hiker’s on the backside of the ridge
The “trail” ahead…gulp…

The sunless, icy backside of the ridge

Digging deep, but feeling pretty good

The cold, slippery backside of the ridge. See the two hikers lower Left?

Summit!  Now I need to turn around and get off this thing…

Barn Bluff in the background

Cradle Mountains jumbled Dolomite summit. Tricky in snow…

I was pretty whipped, the views were stunning and the sense of accomplishment satisfying. But a big front was moving in quickly from Bass Strait in the North. Time to go; I spent maybe 10″ on the summit…

The way home….or to Mordor?

Whiteout front coming in fast…!

Marion’s Lookout and Dove Lake beyond, the way back

Kitchen Hut under different conditions

The moorlands socked-in

Mountain weather changes fast, creeping ground fog, ridge now clearing!

Cardio down climb….

I was going to miss the last bus out from Dove Lake, so I detoured north to the stop at Ronney Creek; longer, but flatter….it was a stunning trail, but most of it passed in a blur as I got into a trail lope and racked up the kms…

Crater Lake outlet with peaks in a mystical ground fog

The less known Crater Lake boathouse

The trail back

Button Grass plain

Looking back on the ridge I’d come down

Tired but satisfied; 14 km and 6+ hours later…a great day hike!
Ronney Creek, the start of the 6 day Overland Track- a bucket list item

Drying gear in the room, same as it ever was…

Cradle Mnt Hotel lounge with fireplace

Thylacine art display- a powerful image of a lost Eden…

The hotel also has an attached art gallery, and a wonderful, permanent display on the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger. The last one known died in a Launceston Zoo in 1937, and there are even primitive movies of it. A totally unique, striped marsupial canine- unlike any other creature in the world. Now considered extinct, but alive in the imaginations of many Tasmanians; lost in hiding under the trackless forests of SW Tasmania. Do you still believe…?

It’s an intriguing idea, and a potent symbol of the lost wilderness heritage of Tasmania; holding a similar mythical status as the Bison to the plains of  North America. There have even been movements advocating cloning the Thylacine back into existence….But, that may be unnecessary in the end…. If such a creature could still exist in the modern world, it would only be in a wilderness such as exists in SW Tasmania.

Related to the Tasmanian Devil, but even more rare

Driving the winding mountain roads back to Launceston, I spotted a large, spotted mammal by the roadside. I hit the brakes and turned around. Sure enough, endangered species roadkill… A Spotted Tailed Quoll; head trauma, fresh, looked like it was curled up asleep. A large, very aggressive and secretive nocturnal predator and now endangered, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to one in the field. Tragic as well, that there’s one less in the world today.

Spotted Tailed Quoll. Boot tip for scale

So after a few wonderful nights at Cradle Mountain, and still sore from the hikes, it was back to Launceston, and the justification for the trip- to locum at the ED in Launceston General Hospital. It’s a bit stressful to show up in an ED full of strangers and basically be in charge. The crew was great and very competent; and at around 50K visits/ year it’s big enough to have double Consultant cover, so I wasn’t ever entirely on my own. As a musician, I liken it to playing with strangers…Everyone can talk whatever game they want. But when playing with strangers, there’s nowhere to hide. Within several minutes, everyone knows exactly your level of play- you can’t fake it…Same in an ED, you can’t fake this game…everyone knows pretty quickly your level of play…..I like to think I held my own…
The hospital puts us up at the Quest downtown. It’s a really nice apartment suite with full kitchen in a re-habbed heritage building. Pretty handy and sweet as…

The Post Office clock tower, a Victorian landmark

Launceston’s compact downtown is chockful of wonderful, intact heritage buildings; Federal, Georgian, Victorian, Art Deco. Many are refitted into restaurants and cafes featuring Tasmania’s local bounty. An easy city to enjoy and explore.

LGH is a modern, regional tertiary hospital with all the services and mod cons expected. Subspecialty care like NICU, Burns, Neuro are sent on south to Hobart, or if really specialized, across Bass Strait to Melbourne. I did three 10 hour shifts, that, while busy and mildly stressful, passed uneventfully. I hope to return in future, as I love to explore Tasmania!

Capacious Ambo bay

The original Customs House on the North Esk River

Incredible workmanship and detail
Bridges over the South Esk, Cataract Gorge behind

North Esk River Levee

James Boag Brewery building

James Boag Brewery museum

Launceston, though 70 kms inland, began in 1806 as an important Van Deiman’s Land (now Tasmania) colony port. It’s sited where the North and South Esk Rivers join to form the Tamar River, one of Australia’s longest navigable rivers. Thus, it’s surrounded by rich, flat agricultural lands that guaranteed it’s success as an important very early settlement. Tasmania, called the Apple Isle, still ships vast amounts of high quality agricultural produce to mainland Australia. It’s a fascinating history of settlers carving a progressive, wealthy, agricultural community out of wilderness by sheer tenacity;
not unlike the settlement of the American West.

Thylacine statue, downtown Launceston

So, I’ll end this Tasmanian trilogy with an image of a group of Thylacines. The symbol of Tasmania; an image of enduring wildness, and a lost, primordial Eden; one that still exists in large measure here in Tasmania. The Apple Isle; a place where colonial English horticulture resides alongside brooding wilderness. A place wild enough where Thylacines could really still exist. Do you still believe…?

 I do….DDU 🙂

G’Day from Cradle Mountain/ Dove Lake Tasmania, with my wild wombat friend

QANTAS link to jump over Bass Strait

I’d just returned from a locum stint in NW Tassie, the subject of my last DDU, when I got a call requesting a return engagement. Good $$, nice folks, functional ED in a beautiful place….easy to say “Yes”; and with a little advanced planning, even an opportunity to see some interesting new sights along the way.

Northern coast of Tasmania
Devonport main terminal…2 gates

Rocky Cape NP, over tulip fields

Clifftop walk at Table Cape

Table Cape heritage lighthouse

The platinum sheen of Bass Strait dominating the horizon

Another round of beautiful, sunny weather, with Bass Strait lying calm and brilliant under the crisp autumn sky. Locals informed me that the Strait’s northern shores, that break onto the south coast of Victoria, are wild and deadly. Here, the high alpine mountains of Tasmania block the prevailing Southwesterlies, leaving the northern coastline in a large and calm lee. Surprisingly, more like a lake here than an infamously treacherous strait.

Wallaby on the edge of a farm field

Table Cape

Another surprise is that NW Tassie grows the largest area of Tulip bulbs in the southern hemisphere, even shipping bulbs to Holland. In October the landscape is awash in multi-hued bands of Tulip flowers. Who knew?

Fossil Bluff, the lower grey band is half a billion years old…!

These small shells are over 20 million years old!

At Fossil Bluff, in Wynyard, there are three distinct layers of sedimentary and igneous rock that reveal the multiple volcanic epochs that shaped Tasmania. The grey underlayer is over 500 million years old! The sedimentary sandstone containing the fossil shell layer is around 22 m, and the overlying volcanic Basalt/ Dolerite soils that support vegetation are relatively young, at 13m years. Gives you a different perspective on old age I suppose!

Dove Lake outlet stream

After working two busy evening shifts, I had a day off and made the drive to Cradle Mountain and the world famous Dove Lake, only 90 minutes of very rural, forested two-lane away. Unfortunately, it was also the only overcast day of the week. Mountain weather…you just plan and go. It still always a good time. The weather up there was much cooler, with a light mist falling all day. I had hoped to summit Cradle Mnt., but was satisfied with the beautiful 5 km hike around Dove Lake

The world famous view of Cradle Mnt above Dove Lake…just not today!..
Your DDU- always happy in the field

Gum and beach

A type of heath- 20 ft tall Martian invasion!

From the NP setup, you can tell that in summer season this place gets mobbed….shuttle buses and cattle gates etc…On my visit, it was almost empty. Walking in the quiet, cool mist, the effect was magical; like walking through an alien terrarium filled with strange plants you’ve never encountered.

A botanist’s dream landscape- very exotic, with a touch of foliage even

There’s a beautiful boardwalk with overlooks and benches around the entire lake, likely to protect rare plants from being loved to death.

Fagus-or Mountain Beech foliage

Gum detail- a eucalypt, the only hint you are still in Australia

Cloud cover lifting briefly over Dove Lake

While standing glassing the landscape, I heard a soft snuffling sound off in the bush. On investigating, only 10 yards off the trail there was a large Wombat placidly feeding on a Button Grass. My first wild Wombat! He (or she) let me walk right up and get a few close shots- totally ignored me…These impressively large, groundhog-like animals live in underground burrows, and are vegetarian grazers. About the size of a medium pig and similarly stout and muscular.  Surprisingly, they are also marsupials, and thus, related to kangaroos.

The Dove Lake boathouse, scene of 1000 calendar photos
The million dollar shot…half price today…:-)

Another friendly Wombat, out on the Overland Track

Farm fields above Burnie

North West Regional Hospital, Burnie, TAS

After another two challenging evening shifts, with overnight call, I was free to explore. The plan was to drive to Launceston, the island’s second largest city, in north-central Tassie, on the Tamar River; spend the night and following day, then fly back to Brisbane late that evening. Lots to see and do in these parts….let’s roll…

Penguin town foreshore park

Town namesake and mascot- the Fairy Penguin
Heritage church, Penguin, TAS

Surprisingly, northern TAS is becoming a retirement destination for green-minded elders; drawn by the slower pace, lower cost of living and the benign, three season climate. There’s also a robust local food, wine and seafood culture of very high standard. Like a maritime version of Vermont in some ways…

Devonport, TAS

Banksia flower

Devonport Lighthouse, Mersey River

Tamar River valley vineyards

Turning inland, and 90 rolling, rural minutes SE from the NW coast lies the Tamar River valley and Launceston, a compact city of 90K; founded in 1806, very early by Aussie standards. Situated where the North and South Esk Rivers join to form the Tamar, it sits in a verdant, temperate agricultural basin; notable especially for being the perfect climate to produce outstanding cool-climate wines and fruit.

Right outside of the city limits lies the Tamar Islands Wetlands, an internationally significant migratory waterfowl sanctuary for birds traveling between eastern Asia and Antarctica. There’s a beautiful visitor”s center, and extensive boardwalks out to blinds and viewing platforms.

A Lowland Copperhead, large and toxic, but sunning peacefully.

A Black Swan- they really do exist!

Tamar Islands Wetlands Headquarters

Launceston Pedestrian Mall

Launceston is one of the oldest and most intact city centers in Australia, containing a wealth of Colonial, Federal and Victorian heritage buildings. Most have been creatively re-purposed. Launceston has a growing reputation as a gastronomic destination- leveraging the Tamar and wider Tasmanian bounty into a thriving farm to plate food and drinking culture. A Tasmanian whiskey, Sullivan’s Cove, was recently named the world’s best whiskey in an international competition! Who knew?

The Waratah Heritage B&B, c 1860’s. My pad for the night..

I stayed in a heritage-listed house on the hill above the City Gardens; much more intriguing than a standard business hotel, and no more expensive.Well-used and homey, I found it ideal, with all it’s quirky charm. A Waratah is a native shrub with a distinct, large red flower. It’s the state flower of New South Wales.

12 foot ceilings and a genteel, faded glory- perfect…

Evening street scenes, Launnie, TAS

Interesting dedication sign

B&B Tea Party!

And a full-on, British fry-up before hitting the road, with HP Sauce even!

Waratah door detail

Tree ferns and roosting peacocks

Well-fueled and out on the road early, I was headed for Cataract Gorge, an amazing canyon complex, with extensive hiking trails, right outside of downtown.

Tea House, Cataract Gorge

Cataract Gorge is a well-loved park and garden complex dating from the 1860’s and a social center of Launceston. Very beautiful and well-maintained.

Victorian Bandstand in the gorge

You don’t mess with the Ladies of Launceston…

One of several impressive Victorian bridges over the river

Hiker’s shelter c 1925

A newer cantilevered overlook up the Gorge

Another bridge further up the Gorge

Duck Reach heritage power station

 The weather was perfect for a hike; cool, crisp, sunny autumn day- like an apple ripening…
2.5 km up the gorge is a most unexpected find. In what I thought was an active power station, I found a museum to the first municipal hydro-power station in the southern hemisphere! It’s a really engaging story of very early large scale electric generation.

Original blue stone bridge pylon c 1886

Interior of the museum

 As you walk into this remote building, the lights come on automatically and a movie starts on a concrete retaining wall telling the story. Between 1915 and 1922, Launceston, then a city of some 20K, was the most extensively electrified city in Australasia!  Who knew?  The engineering was accomplished at a time when a debate actually occurred as to whether this new “electricity” might be a public health hazard. But English engineering and science prevailed and led the way for major advances in the wide-spread adoption of urban electrification world- wide, over the next several decades. All originating in this small, remote, provincial town; one that just happened to have the perfect natural setting for hydro-electric power generation. A really fascinating hike, for sure!

An original turbine

Original Power Plant crew; natty dressers all…

 Given it’s riverside location, the plant was destroyed several times over the years during catastrophic flooding, but repaired and used until it was finally supplanted in the 1950’s by an upstream dam; but it’s original innovation remains a point of Tasmanian pride. Modern power is generated by Tasmania’s extensive network of  hydroelectic reservoirs, all modeled after the original project at Duck Reach over 100 years ago.

Back down Cataract Gorge

Hydrangeas and Fern Trees

 The fine day was getting on…I had one final stop on my itinerary; lunch at the acclaimed Josef Chromy vineyards in Relbia, 10 km south of Launnie, right out near the airport, conveniently enough! Considered one of Tasmania’s marquee food and wine destinations, it’s a bucket-list type of place. The proprietor came to Australia as a refugee from the communist take-over of Czechoslovakia, as a penniless 19 yo, in 1950.  Through hard work and perseverance as a butcher, he made his fortune and invested in Tasmania’s then fledgling wine industry. He was involved in the start-up of many of Tassie’s most renowned vineyards; finally starting the self-named Josef Chromy in 1993 at the age of 76. Everything about this operation speaks to impeccable standards of quality.

The actual dining room and cellar door are compact, elegant and quite low-key. They are famous for their 4 course lunch with matching wines; but I wasn’t famished after the morning’s hike, and was late for lunch to boot. Arriving at the nearly empty restaurant, Sarina, the Kiwi manager and Michelle, her seasoned waitress, had plenty of time to chat with a stranger all the way from Boston, Mass, USA. When I ordered the oysters and cheese platter, a light lunch, they laughed and said that’s what they both would’ve ordered!  What followed was a leisurely, memorable lunch and wine-tasting that comes with my highest recommendation.

Sarina, manager and a real pro
A light lunch…wow!

Moulting Bay Tassie oysters- beautiful

The scenery out the restaurant windows
Beautiful food and wines

Halfway done and on to the Pinot Noir

To my taste, the cool climate wines were justifiably well-regarded, esp the Pinot and the Sav. Blanc. The Reisling, tart and a bit green, and the Merlot…errr, no…needs more heat…or something…
Go with the excellent Pinot as a sure thing…I will definitely return for the full-on lunch or the occasional themed dinner. Stay tuned to this station…:-)…Pictures to follow…
And thanks to Sarina and her wonderful staff for the lively chat and fortifying lunch…top notch!

Outdoor lounging spaces

Wedding central in season

Late harvest Botrytis dessert wine grapes,  unpicked as yet

Thus fortified for the trip home, I made my way to Launceston airport for the evening flight home to Brisbane.

Launceston Airport, modern but compact

Not something you see in many airports

Two tickets to paradise

The ride home

Tamar River estuary

Low Head and the mouth of the Tamar onto Bass Strait

Cataract Gorge Garden foliage

So, flying north towards Brisbane in the gathering dusk, it was time to reflect on another successful trip. Lots of rural Emergency Medicine and a chance to further explore the wild, cultured, down to earth yet sophisticated island State of Tasmania. I believe this place is a real sleeper, and I think Tassie’s remoteness works in it’s favor going into the future; it’s so pristine! And with so much packed into such a compact island, it’s a wonderful place to adventure. In fact, I’m already scheduled to locum at Launceston General Hospital ED in early June. Please stay tuned and accompany me as we explore more of the wild and sophisticated sides of Tasmania! All the best, DDU, wandering ED doc for hire…:-)!!

TASSIE- Australia’s island state
Commuter flight across the Bass Strait, Melbourne to Devonport

I had the opportunity do do a six day locums stint at an ED in rural NW Tasmania over Easter. They were desperate for coverage, and I needed an adventure, so why not?! It was about work, and kind of stressful to start and end a new job over less than a week, but was a great adventure indeed! I managed to get out and about some between shifts as well.

Entrance to Port Phillip Bay and the Mornington Peninsula

Fertile, well-tended fields of Tasmania

Tassie is Australia’s Island state. It has a dark history as the repository of the worst of the recidivists during the British penal colony years, 1803-1853, when around 75 K convicts were transported here. It also has a very complex topography with jagged, glaciated peaks over 5000 ft, numerous rivers, and some of the largest and wildest temperate rainforest remaining in the Southern Hemisphere. I hadn’t been since around 2013, and was keen to see the rural NW part of the state.

Nice house and car provided

Sunset over Burnie and Table Cape

Concrete penguin nesting boxes.

Burnie,  a town of 30K, is transitioning from a paper mill and industrial past into an arts and ecotourist center for the NW. They are famous for being a rookery for little Tasmanian penguins, which nest nightly right in town.

Moulting Little Penquin

April (Fall here) is moulting season, and the numbers aren’t as high as in mid-summer. But I did manage to catch a glimpse of some as they troop ashore at dusk, after a day of feeding out at sea. Very cute little creatures, about seagull-sized.

An unfortunate close-up, he’s dead…

Tassie, called The Apple Isle, has been vigorously marketing itself as an adventure and eco-tourist destination world-wide. It also has a very deep and pristine local food and wine culture; being esp. highly-regarded for cool climate whites, pinot noir and champagne. Being an island in the middle of nowhere, the seafood is abundant, fresh and world class. Lying in the direct path of the southern “Roaring 40’s”, it was also in the direct path for sailing ships on the way to Sydney and the Australian East coast from Europe. Thus, it was one of the earliest settled parts of Australia, beginning in 1803. Hobart, the capital on the southern coast, is actually the second oldest Aussie city, after Sydney; and the state as a whole boasts the largest collection of intact heritage buildings in Australia. It’s really an island that’s full of surprises, and well worth a visit; even if it is pretty out of the way!

A live one, about to nest for the night

North West Regional Hospital

NWRH is the third largest hospital in Tassie, covering the entire NW quadrant of the state, as well as King (and other) islands in Bass Strait. It’s a vital resource in this wild and sparsely populated region. Given it’s isolation, it has a surprisingly robust sub-specialty base, and is new and modern.

What am I doing in Burnie, TAS??!

Burnie, overlooking Bass Strait


 One afternoon I was able to visit Guide Falls, about 10 km inland from the coast. It gets rural and then wild, very quickly out there! Not a huge falls, but a very charming one. A unique feature is the extensive crenelated stone, actually Dolerite, that are ancient extrusions of lava magma.

Water-worn Dolerite

Per Wikipedia, Tasmania has the world’s largest deposits of Dolerite- so you heard it here first… It’s like walking on neatly arranged pavers. Pretty cool really, for a bunch of old rocks….!

Guide Falls, around 30 ft high, ends in a blind Dolerite canyon
Dolerite wall of octagonal shafts all fused together

Even the trees feel wild and wind-twisted
Tassie landscapes, well-tended yet also wild

Burnie Port- a large wood chip producer

I had most of a day off between finishing at 1500 and having to be back for the evening shift at 1400 the following day. The weather was perfect for a drive. My destination, the heritage village of Stanley and “The Nut” a local coastal landmark, 70 km west.

The Nut, a curious coastal mesa on Bass Strait

Heritage Building, Stanley

A Citroen rally, below The Nut
You can ride…

or hike…short and steep…I hiked…

The Nut is really unique and a major draw in these parts. A sheer, flat-topped, stone mesa sitting out at the end of a large, flat, crescentic spit of land. The views on a day like I had are 360 degrees and stunning. The tiny Heritage hamlet of Stanley sits right at it’s base. The cemetery dates from 1824- pretty ancient by Aussie standards. What was once an isolated fishing village has been beautifully restored with nice shops and cafes. Quite a lively little place on the day I visited.

“Highfield”, a heritage country estate at world’s end….

Windblown summit of the Nut, it’s a 2 km walk around the perimeter

DDU feeling on top o’ the world…

Tiny chairlift at summit

Still warm enough for palms!

Heritage graveyard of the early settlers

For reference, Tassie is about twice the size of Switzerland (pop 8 million) and has about 500k residents; so 1/16 as populated as Switzerland!
Approx. 65% of the residents can trace direct lineage to the original 10K settlers, the “founding families”. Until pretty recently, it was an isolated existence at the bottom of the world.
Around 45% of the entire island is protected parkland, including the vast World Heritage designated SW mountains and forests.

Not a sign you see everyday!

Taking some local advice, I detoured down a side road and ended up on Boat Harbor Beach- said to be one of the finest beaches in Tasmania. It really was stunning, with the clear Caribbean blue waters backed up by treeless grassy hills reminiscent of central coast/ Big Sur California. I was told it was also some of the coldest water you will ever swim in, but didn’t test that theory out….!

So after two more late ED shifts that included some pretty serious rural-style trauma (involving Quad bikes, table saws and farm machinery…) It was time to wing it back home to Brisbane. The trip was great, the staff at NWRH skilled and really fun to work with. Thanks to them for making me fell welcome.
Say, this itinerant doc life seems to work out for me…Maybe I’ll make a career out of it…!

Devonport airport, where the cows watch you taxi…seriously!
North coast of Tassie, and  Devonport

Mainland Australia, Victoria coastline

Melbourne CBD in the rain

Gold Coast, Queensland in evening light

Wellington Point, Queensland, right near home…
Brisbane International, home!

So, a new sort of adventure…Locums ED doc. I really enjoyed the experience, and might be scheduling some more soon. I’ve always liked my Emergency Med a bit on the wild and raw side…And there’s plenty of that Down Under. Stay tuned as we explore the scruffy corners of this amazing continent together!  Best, DDU

The newest Aussies- The Nolan Gang!

Mother’s Day breakfast on the veranda

 It’s now April 2017, I’ve got a block of time off and I’m trying to catch up on some past news. The biggest by far is that way back in June 2016 we crossed a major milestone by becoming dual citizens of the USA and Australia. This is the end result of along road that ended in an outcome I had never expected or anticipated in my life. How did THAT happen?!

 It’s a long story full of surprising twists and turns. None more surprised at the outcome than me….except maybe Stephanie!
Basically, we came to Australia for a few year’s sabbatical in 2012 on a 457 long stay (4 year) work visa; offered due to my advanced training in Emergency Medicine. After a year or so, the hospital came to me and surprised me by offering to sponsor us for Permanent Residency (PR) in exchange for 2 more year’s commitment to them. I was happy to say yes, as I didn’t want to move on yet anyway. PR turned out to be quite the hassle to obtain, including health checks with Xrays and lab work for all seven of us, fingerprinting and FBI background checks from back in the States for me and Stephanie, and around $3000 in fees.

“Peter Pan”  school play, Luke and Claire as the Lost Boys

True Blue Aussie, mates…
 What I didn’t realize is that #1 Permanent Residency isn’t really permanent (long story…)and #2 PR completes the really hard yakka towards Citizenship, so…..

Anticipation on becoming a little Aussie

Once you have PR, stay in Australia two more years and keep a clean record and you are eligible to apply for Citizenship, at nominal cost- though a lot of paperwork ensues. Adults then need to sit for a written 50 question exam, and on passing, be scheduled for a swearing-in ceremony. They’re always held on Australia Day in 26 January, and then various other times and locations depending on demand. You generally attend in your home electorate, the Redland Shire in our case. In June, as our big day approached, excitement mixed with mild apprehension. It’s a major commitment to swear allegiance to another country; many people have to surrender their native birthright to attain Aussie Citizenship. Luckily both Australia and the USA allow for dual citizenship, but there are some voting, tax and residency complications that might arise. That said, Australia is a wonderful, clean, progressive country with a bright future. Citizenship confers full rights to us and all the kids for life, without limitation. Also, a trans-Tasman agreement allows Aussies and Kiwis the right to live, work and retire in either country; thereby opening up opportunities to live and work in New Zealand with little limit as well. All in all, a no-brainer to say yes to.

Citizenship turns out to being a major, if unexpected, corollary benefit of our spending some years down under and simply growing to love the lifestyle and opportunities available in Australia. Stephanie had more misgivings, and even a touch of melancholy to be honest, but as I said to her, “We’re not losing our American heritage, just gaining some Australian. All additive, nothing taken away…”
The Big Night…

At least that’s how I felt. I’m sure it’s a bit different for everyone, depending on life circumstances. Around 24% of the Australian population of 24 million people was born in a foreign country, which is higher than the USA. And historically, until very recently with the advent of cheap jet travel,, a move to Australia was invariably one way and permanent.

The ceremony itself was really touching and classy. 128 new residents with families and supportive friends almost filling the performance center auditorium. Dignitary speeches, a few local choirs, patriotic singalongs; it was a full evening, an event even… Very moving to become a full part of the dynamic historical flow that is the Australian nation. It’s remarkable to consider what this country has been able to achieve; going from impoverished prisoners scratching out a wilderness living from crude bark huts in Botany Bay to the modern skyscrapers of Sydney Harbor in just over 200 years. A federated Commonwealth only since 1901. Truly incredible, and a lasting testament to the British genius for engineering and governance. I hope that the Nolan family can make some small contribution to the ongoing success of this venture!

The Nolan Clan- Australia’s gain!!

Australian, Queensland, Aboriginal and Torres Island flags

Proud new citizens of Australia, with the Mayor

In turn, we all got up to receive the handshake and official parchment document from the Redland Shire mayor, and also each got a potted palm to plant as a welcome to our new country. Very nice touch. We then went into town for a giant Chinese food banquet at the kid’s request- The Happy Garden…indeed….

New citizens, and very lucky kids…
Cate getting giddy…

The official document-suitable for framing

Proud Aussie-American. True (red, white and) Blue!

So, it was a night to remember. A defining moment in our adventure down under. Who knows how this trip, these paths taken, will impact and reverberate in our lives and the lives of our kids and grandkids for generations to come. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but like many things- the final repercussions and outcomes are simply unknowable. Good? Bad? It’s uncertain, and I’m comfortable with that. For right now, we are dual, and that’s very cool. So, be careful when taking your next step- you never know where you’ll end up; but may your ride be interesting indeed!

Best to you all from our other home in the Southern Hemisphere.

DDU and the Nolan clan 🙂

Aidan and DDU above Harris Lake- Routeburn Track, South Island New Zealand

Brisbane International Terminal

I’d scheduled to attend the annual Australasian Emergency Medicine conference in Queenstown, NZ. Stephanie couldn’t make it for logistical reasons, so Aidan, our 14 yo Huck Finn, happily played hooky from school to spend 10 days road-tripping with Dad in SINZ. Experiential learning…It turned out to be a fantastic father-son bonding experience.

Christmas koalas
Aidan in-country, Auckland, NZ

Charming NZ weather

Past  readers will remember how excellent I thought hiking the Milford Track (in January 2014) with Ultimate Hikes was.This was the perfect opportunity to schedule the Routeburn for three days prior to the conference. At 35 km over three days, including the entire second day above timberline, it’s considered one of the finest of the nine Great Walks in NZ, and is said to be ” 2/3 as long and twice as hard” as the Milford. We shall see dear readers…

Aidan, downtown Queenstown, on Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu evening

Hike morning, 0530, from the hostel

We got into QT late in the evening and missed the hike orientation. Up at 0500 to make the bus down to Te Anau, a 2 1/2 hour ride. It was a bit early, pre-prime season in mid-November, the trails open only for a few weeks. Less crowded, but the risk being less settled weather. It was looking a bit iffy, with reports of snow and rain showers, especially in the big mountains to the south…right where we were heading…!

Showtime doc!

Private bus, nice ride…

Clearing skies…?

Being early season, we only had 24 hikers along, making the trip pretty relaxed and open feeling. In high season, the 40 hiker limit is filled daily, months in advance. Ultimate Hikes was as remembered; friendly, encouraging and very smooth in all respects. I’ll admit to being a bit apprehensive, contemplating hiking over 25 rugged miles with a light pack in cold wet weather…a bit too much to be considered “fun” ? I’m sure everyone was silently thinking the same thoughts as we headed south into the mountains…

Wild and isolated Lake Te Anau

Above Lake Te Anau, under a light ceiling

Starting out in the rain

Suddenly, the bus pulls into the trail head; in a blur of activity you become energized by the wet, cool breeze, and you enter the primeval forest…the hike begins.

Ancient New Zealand beeches

The sound of water is everywhere in this green, captivating world. Water music surrounds you and other concerns recede…You focus only on the trail ahead…Three days of separation from the outside world…. How perfect…. Parts of the Southwest New Zealand ( Fiordland) World Heritage area get over 7 meters of rainfall a year, more than the Amazon basin. It’s very wet….plan for that and you’re good to go.

Guide Sam, morning tea, Lake Howden shelter

Hear the water music…

Earland Falls, very cold and very wet

Earland Falls, thunderous and bracingly cold in full flood, at 250 feet, is a highlight of the first day’s gradual ascent above Lake Howden. By now, we are warming up and finding the rhythm of the trail.

Regenerating Ribbonwood Trees in an avalanche zone, aka “The Orchard”

Aidan nearing timberline

After a steep down section we arrive at Lake MacKenzie Lodge, our stop for the night. The ceiling is lifting, holding out hope for clear summits tomorrow, but it’s been 12 km, 5-6 hours in the cold and wet. Call me a wimp if you must, but a hot shower and a bunk will be much appreciated tonight!

NZ eye filet with au jus, roast potatoes and asparagus…yes, please…

Lord of the Rings forest

Lake MacKenzie evening

After a somewhat restless sleep we awake to a steady drizzle. This will be the hardest, most exposed day. Through hikers coming over the ridge are saying they walked through three days of clouds, and saw no peaks…beautiful, spiritual, but not ideal perhaps…

Lake MacKenzie morning

The boys, feeling pretty good

Guide Izzy, leading off the morning

Exposed trail climbing out of Lake MacKenzie

The lodge far below

American newlyweds Ian and Joanne at Ocean Peak Corner

When we get over the ridge at Ocean Peak Corner, a stinging westerly wind, 20-30 km/hr, is spitting sleet into our eyes and burning exposed skin…It’s a bit of a shock that abates once we tuck down onto the slightly more sheltered Hollyford Face. This is a long, exposed section above timberline that offers wild, stunning vistas as the ceiling lifts higher. Exciting and enlivening…!

Guide Kate, rugged up and loving the elements

And then a rainbow suddenly materializes far below us, arching over the Hollyford River valley…!

Glaciated peaks across the Hollyford Valley….mystical stuff…

The Hollyford Face
The trail ahead to Harris Saddle

Aidan and Guide Brydie, a great team

Aidan and Dadude, on the Hollyford Face

Mount Cook Lily

Harris Saddle shelters

Mount Xinicus
Feeling confident and psyched, Harris Saddle shelter

Moving out, weather moving in…

The trail above Lake Harris

A great bonding experience with my buddy Aidan

Lake Harris under rapidly changeable weather

Lifetime memories…

The way down, into the Routeburn Valley

The second day was a wild, challenging hike with sharp winds, rain, sleet and snow flurries. The rapidly changing weather, with sudden sun shafts illuminating the ragged peaks overhead added an unpredictable, exciting edge to the adventure. Much more dynamic and energizing than placid, clear blue skies. It was Aidan’s first long hike above timberline- he was amazed by the austere environment and the high energy among the group…The start of a lifelong love affair with the high country I hope…Truly an ultimate hike!

High country, sub-alpine bowl

Nothing I’d rather be doing…

The origin of the Routeburn

Hiking down into the Routeburn Valley

Our bunk for the night- sure beats a wet tent!

Night two was spent at the stunning Routeburn Falls Lodge, situated right below the falls, at timberline, and overlooking the famed Routeburn Valley. After a wild 12 km, 6 hour hike across the raw, high open ridges, it was a pleasure to contemplate a hot shower, warm bed…and, oh yes, NZ rack of lamb…with a central Otago Pinot Noir of course…

Looking down valley from the lodge

Warm kale soup

NZ rack of lamb…yes, please…!

Orange creamy torte-thingy…yup…

Izzy and Aidan experiencing calorie-loading bliss…

And even a hot water bottle for the sheets…really…!

Because the trip wasn’t chock-full, Ultimate Hikes was kind enough to give Aidan and me a private room. That really helps if you’re stuck with a snoring stranger… makes for a horrendous night, trust me…!  Another reason to love Ultimate Hikes folks, they are simply the best…!

Cowboys on Everest, Dan Pryor…wherever you are…
The whole kit-bag

The Routeburn Valley

After 40 years of backcountry adventures, of varying levels of danger/ excitement, you might think I’d feel guilty about “selling out” on such a posh hike. Well, perhaps aging knees and wisdom have banished the purist in me- not in the least! Besides the aforementioned hot shower, bunk and tasty prepared meals and libations, the primary benefit of such an arrangement is the need to carry only 10-15 lbs of kit, allowing one to turn a potentially grueling ordeal into a mere skip down the lane…and after all, you still have to trek the miles, all by yourself…Highly, highly recommended…worth every penny…value for money…etc etc etc..:-)

Swing bridge!

A real sense of accomplishment, Routeburn flats, day three

Izzy and Aidan in the Beech forests

The Routeburn

The old guy still got it, well, sort of….!

The final swing bridge
Mission accomplished

To make a special day even more memorable, Ultimate Hikes then takes the whole team to the famous Glenorchy tavern on the end of Lake Wakatipu for a summing up, certificate ceremony and a final farewell. It’s been an amazing three day journey together. Challenges met and overcome, large and small; lifetime memories made.

Catherine, Jeremy, Ric, Geoff and Rob- Cheers mates, well done..!

Our fantastic guides: Kate, Brydie, Sam and Izzy

Cheers mate, good on ya…!

Keepin’ it local, folks…

Downtown Glenorchy

Lake Wakatipu from the bus

Back to reality, and cellphones, Queenstown

So, three days of tech-free, primordial bliss in the forests and on the ridges of Fiordland NP, South Island NZ. I had a few doubts about creaky knees and a gimpy L hip, that felt better after the hike than before! Aidan had never been on a multi-day hike, and was blown away; but may have to lower his culinary standards for the next several decades of road-trips with friends. For those readers contemplating a trip to SINZ, just  “yes…”  Please do yourself a favor and go, though plan to get a bit damp. For those with a limber step, a stout heart and a few extra coins in pocket; seriously consider enlisting Ultimate Hikes to assist in logistics, permitting and meal planning. It truly is a most excellent group of people, and a smooth operator. Both of my trips with UH has easily surpassed my expectations, and made what could have been a daunting trip to organize a mere skip down the lane. I have no financial interest in giving them DDU’s highest recommendation as an adventure traveler’s best friend and resource on South Island New Zealand.

DDU and Aidan high above Queenstown, NZ

Celebrating a great accomplishment…

Until my next post from the vast southern hemisphere….

Happy trails, Doc Down Under and Aidan Nolan, Brisbane, Australia

Paradise found…? Well, it’s pretty darn close…

Pre-trip photo

 Well, it was never even supposed to happen. Claire wanted to go somewhere exotic to celebrate her “Sweet 16th”. Turns out there was a great Emergency Medicine conference in Fiji right on the big day, and I already had vacation scheduled. BINGO! Suddenly, we were on our way to Fiji, just over 3 hours East from Brisbane, Australia. Our first trip into the South Pacific, this was a “girl’s trip”, meaning deluxe with lots of food and lounging about. The boys stayed home in Brisbane with friends, another miracle of sorts…

First trip on our new Aussie passports

Three hours east and you are in a different world

Girl’s trip!!

A rice-stuffed pineapple….yum!

 The conference was held at Denarau Island, a multi-resort area just south of Nadi. Purists may sniff; it is after all, not the “real” Fiji. But as a quick getaway, it provides a very relaxing and even magical tropical escape. You first notice the warmth and relaxed attitude of the all-Fijiian staff. “Bula” means welcome…

Radisson Blu lobby, all open air

 You wake up to soft warm breezes and gently lapping waves, definitely full tropical. Over breakfast, Fijiian musicians serenade with their distinctly high, lulling harmonies accompanied by acoustic guitars and ukuleles. A great way to greet the morning…!

Setting the mood…play on brothers…..

Moses, the skipper

 Right off, we were booked for an all day snorkel and cat cruise with Coral Cats. They were #1 on Trip Advisor, so we booked ahead, anticipating a great day…. Stephanie stayed ashore to avoid severe sun exposure and perhaps a touch of sea-sickness. Perfect weather and we headed out to the Mamanucca Islands a few hours sail West of Nadi…

Chillin’ and grillin’

Fresh local fruit platter
After the first snorkel

 The water was warm and calm, with good visibility-50-60 feet. Decent coral with little bleaching, lots of colorful fish, though nothing big…no sharks, rays etc…Beautiful experience…Then it was into Musket Cove for a Fiji BBQ lunch, a nice break and stretch.

Frangipani blossoms

 The multiple smaller islands and shallow, turquoise waters felt somewhat Caribbean, but with a distinct Polynesian/ Melanesian flavor….the South Pacific indeed!

Musket Cove resort

Cate, now 11 yo

Claire, 16 yo tomorrow…

Island mind

Our ride for the day…

Tropical lunch

Loving Fiji!!

Dave with his incredible palm creations

Setting the troll for the run home


 After lunch, the second snorkel was even better. A long sloping coral bank, covered with soft coral forests, and some Staghorns, Shelves etc. Clouds of fishes of all sizes and descriptions, including larger Parrot and Triggerfish in the deeper reaches where the corals dropped out of site. Superb snorkeling experience…

The run home to Port Denarau

 The entire day was just so well-paced and handled. The crew, company, food, scenery, snorkeling and overall vibe was just one of gentle relaxation, exotic land and seascapes, with a bit of adventure to top it all off. Coral Cats, #1 for good reason and even better than hoped. Highly recommended if in Nadi/ DI.

All great days must come to an end…

Back ashore for an evening dip…

Linking up with Stephanie for sunset
Fiji Bitter sunset, it really doesn’t get any better folks….:-)…!

Traditional Fijiian dance and song under the stars

 The resorts each have free nightly activities and are focused on traditional Fijiian culture. You can witness multiple performances, including full dress traditional “Meke” ceremonies that are only seen in more remote villages on special occasions. Cynics may feel it’s staged, not “authentic”. Whatever…I found it added a lot to a specific sense of place and enriched each evening.

No doubt, given more time and planning, much of the “real” Fiji can be found in the hinterlands, and especially on multi-day sails into the over 330 islands that make up the country. Perhaps the subject of a future DDU: a 14 day sail and snorkel/ dive trip through the Yasawa group? Sigh….one can always dream….

Relaxation, a vital component of any Fiji trip…

Wedding Chapel

South Seas dreamscape

 A unique feature of DI is that six high-end resorts are contiguous and share a mile or so of uninterrupted beachfront facing West and North. You can walk freely among all the beautiful gardens, pools and water features and use any restaurants etc that strike your fancy. There are no roads, cars or distractions between the lawns and the shore. At night the entire beachfront is subtly lit by gas tiki torches under swaying coconut palms and tropical flowers. Restaurants are open air, with some tables out on the sand…The overall  experience is one of soft, green escape. A fantasy perhaps, but a pleasantly persuasive one.

I’m in….

Claire’s Sweet 16 Birthday party guests

A beautiful young lady on her big night
Proud Papa Nolan

 Then it was time for Claire’s sweet 16 birthday party. It all fell together like it was fated. We managed, with a little intrigue,  to score a special birthday cake and have it delivered tableside, complete with Fijiian singing! A sudden tropical squall added to the excitement and soon gave way to a warm, humid evening under southern stars…

Celebrating Stephanie’s big accomplishment too…!

Aussie’s best Mom!

Sister’s birthday mocktails

Happy Sweet 16, sweetheart Claire

The miracle cake

Lifetime memories with our wonderful young ladies

Another gorgeous day draws to a close…
Cate gone troppo

A traditional Meke ceremony

Girls dancing like a local…

Another day in paradise

 Oh, and the EM conference was great too! High level discussions, good content, nice snacks and afternoons off. Perfect balance!

A ginger flower

Port Denarau

A (very) friendly local…

Returning to port

An acquired taste love….

Last Fijiian evening, at least for a while…

Final family sunset in Fiji

 Suddenly, like all dreams, it was over…the sun rose on our last morning in Fiji. Up at 0500, a quick final look, a few snaps and into the waiting cab for Nadi airport and a return to reality… But it was a wonderful dream, one we hope to revisit someday…

Hotel lobby goodbye

Nadi Airport, small but modern

So, that’s the story of our adventures in the South Seas thus far. While paradise might not truly exist in this life, a reasonable approximation would be Fiji. As an entree, Denarau Island was perfect, hopefully whetting the appetite for future adventures further off the beaten track, in true Doc Down Under fashion. Thanks for joining again on the journey. I hope it was marginally educational as well as entertaining.

Until who knows when, I remain your faithful DDU. Still manning his duty station, now some years later, somewhere out in the South Pacific. Your kind comments and support always appreciated!

Vanaka, DDU

Nolan clan, Christchurch, NZ airport, January 2016

Koala Christmas bears, Brisbane

Everyone wanted to see New Zealand for a Christmas present. So, we planned an 18 night road trip covering both islands for January 2016. Trouble is, that’s high summer season down here; camper vans, cabins etc all sold out almost everywhere, six months in advance. A tip for anyone planning this trip: you can almost always get a spot if all you’re looking for is an unpowered tent space; you also have tons of flexibility, even at the last minute. So, we decided to do it old school; 7 people, two mountain tents, one Hiace Toyota van….New Zealand….. It was epic, and wonderful, if a bit cramped….!

An exciting day!

In country, Aotearoa

Summer in NZ, “It’s a bit chilly…”

 We started out east of Auckland on the Coromandel peninsula, a beautiful area with forested mountain ranges above wild beaches and bluffs. Not heavily touristed; it’s more of a Kiwi family escape. Well worth checking out.

Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove is the most famous landmark on this coastline, and pretty impressive, but there are many other fascinating features in this part of the world.

Pohutukawa tree, flowering at Christmas-time, a Kiwi icon

New Zealand rainforest on hike to Cathedral Cove

Coromandel coastline

Camp duty Cate…

 We stayed a few nights at Tiarua/ Pauanui. Beautiful small towns on a complex marine estuary. A small volcanic spire affords fantastic views of the surrounding landscapes.


Owen, our baby boy…

Coromandel landscape

Beautiful, but not a ‘stralian beach, mate…

Lake Rotorua, a flooded volcano crater
Our entire setup…keeping it simple folks

Rotorua is famous for hot springs, geysers, mineral springs and all things geothermal. Hopefully you will camp well upwind…

Tongariro National Park

Daughters with Mt Doom

We then headed up to the high and wild Tongariro plateau. We initially planned to hike the stunning Tongariro alpine crossing; an 18 km trail up between two of the three volcanoes here. Brisk winds gusting to 50 km/ hr forced us to choose a lower, less exposed 14 km hike to some isolated lakes, and a perfect waterfall.

On the trail to Mt Doom with Stephanie! I carry the ring of power…

Lower Tama Lake

Mt Doom, aka Ngauruhoe, LOTR was filmed here

It’s hard to capture the vast, wind-swept austerity of this place on film. In my 40 years of serious hiking, I have to say, it’s an entirely unique and
intriguing environment. Well worth a detour and several days of exploring.

Claire and Mt. Ruapehu

Daddy, Daughtie and Doom…

Kiwi Love

A frigid shower after a long hike

Taranaki Falls

Feel the spray!

Mt Ruapehu, active as recently as 1995

And now, a brief digression…due to a glitch with a camera SD card, I lost several hundred photos; from Tongariro twilight, thru Wellington (cool, arty place), the epic crossing of Cook Strait to the South Island by ferry under blue skies and calm seas (lucky, as they cancel the ferries when seas are running over 8 meters (24 ft)! Also Marlborough wine country (bucolic…) and hiking in the sublime Abel Tasman National Park. Further losses, Westport, Pancake Rocks and the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers… the entire west coast of SI NZ; stormy, moody and mystical. No place to live perhaps , but certainly a wonderful area to explore…Alas, locked in the confines of my memory with no photos to share….For those planning on that well-worn trip; yes, just plan on crap weather and head out…you’ll be well rewarded….. The photos pick back up climbing Haast Pass heading east and inland towards hip little Wanaka and Queenstown beyond.

Aidan fishing NZ
Ditto Dad, I lost a nice trout right here…

Over Haast Pass, heading for Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

A well earned hot tub, Wanaka

Alpenglow, Lake Wanaka

Wanaka morning

My #1 son and good buddy, Luke

Next morning , up early, around the lake for a 50 km drive to the end of the gravel road in Mt Aspiring NP. The landscape here on the Central Otago plateau is the polar opposite of the wet, wild and windy west coast, only 30 miles away….much higher, drier and ranchy. Very reminiscent of western Montana-love it!!

Swing Bridge start, a NZ icon

Our goal, hiking the Rob Roy Valley Track, a stunning, varied 12 km trek that’s considered one of the best day hikes in NZ, and that’s saying a lot! We headed out under perfect blue skies, and the hike did not disappoint…in fact, better than advertised.

Gonna be a great day

After crossing the impressive swing bridge, the trail heads steadily up the valley through beech and fern-clad forest…Hobbit land comes to life…! Occasional openings in the forest canopy reveal massive glaciated peaks, shimmering in the intense sunlight, high above. Building plenty of anticipation to encourage you to keep moving ever higher…

The trail ends above stunted timberline in a huge glacial cirque. Plenty of open space to stretch out and have lunch with friends while being serenaded by the music of a hundred waterfalls, rivulets and rills. Truly a magical experience.

Hiking the NZ lowlands generally means sheep as companions

The road back to Wanaka

A SINZ Rainbow…

Bogan Aussie party people….stop….!

Ma and Pa atop Mt Iron. Right over downtown Wanaka

Central Otago from Mt Iron

Lake Wanaka

My excellent young men, Luke and Aidan

Cardrona Pass, the high road to Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu foreshore, Queenstown

That feels…weird…!

Right outside of Queenstown is the birthplace of bungy jumping, since 1988, at Kawarau Bridge. The adrenaline pumping visitor’s center is a mandatory stop. Though on this particular day, our teens deferred from making their leap of faith. Maybe next time…?

Uncertainty reigns….

Kawarau Gorge

“I don’t think so Dad…”

The next victim…

Relieved to be back on the road…!

The Church of the Good Shepard, c 1935, Tekapo

The sheepdog monument, Tekapo

Moving further north, the Central Otago plateau gives way to a vast inland grazing area known as the Mackenzie country. This region was settled by settlers from Scotland and is comprised of large, remote sheep stations.

Claire and Luke with Mt John behind

Next morning dawned bright and dry. We hiked up Mt John for panoramic views of the surrounding Mackenzie country and to check out the telescopes operated by the University of Canterbury, due to the purity of the night skies in this region.

Best way to spend a day…

Lake Tekapo, ice cold, even in summer…!

Two hours north brings you to Christchurch and our destination. The city is recovering nicely from the devastating earthquakes of 2011. What were depressing vacant lots in the CBD, during my visit in January 2014, are now filled with foundations and rebar forms. Signs of life everywhere, but still a long way to go. Someone mentioned that the rebuilding of the Christchurch CBD was now the largest construction project in the southern hemisphere…I believe it!

Avon River boathouse

Ongoing restoration of a heritage building

The Botanic Garden sustained little damage, and is magnificent in full summer bloom in January down here.

A Christmas display

Maori Greenstone (Pounamu) implements

Equally impressive, and miraculously undamaged is the superb Canterbury Museum, on the Botanical Gardens grounds. One of the world’s best regional museums, and free; it has extensive collections of Maori artifacts, Antarctic exploration and New Zealand bird life dioramas. Really exotic and highly recommended.

Antarctic exploration diorama, I believe they ate the dogs…


So, finally, it was time for the end-of trip celebration. We saw and learned an amazing amount traveling rough together over 18-20 days. New Zealand is very different than Australia in almost every way, and we all took home memories that will last a lifetime.

Last bedtime in NZ!

Packing it up for the airport

Stephanie, the one who pulled it all together!

Even after five months, the memories or our NZ trip are very fresh. So many common experiences shared; we all want to go back again soon. In fact, I just booked a hike on the Routeburn Track with Aidan for November 2016…Long story, but an epic DDU in waiting…If you are ever planning on traveling this way down under, I tell everyone that Australia and New Zealand, though neighbors joined by common heritage and language, are otherwise entirely different places. My advice is not to miss either, but to plan on spending adequate time, 2-3 weeks in each country, as a minimum….you could easily spend a lifetime.
Thanks again for traveling along with us; family, friends and fans of DDU wherever you are. Sorry for the drought…just busy, busy, busy living life down under with five kids…. Wishing you the best in your adventures, still reporting from my duty post in Brisbane.
Fondly, Doc Down Under.

Back in Brisbane…it’s so hot here…!