Two Floridians win Tasmania leg of travel contest

Two American girls from Florida are about to find themselves pretty far from home. Dara Simkin and Catherine Fleming won the Tasmania leg of the Van-Tastic Adventure. This is the first time an American team has won the Australia contest. On December 19, 2009, they’ll fire up the engine and start to drive through Tasmania for six weeks. On January 30, 2010, they’ll arrive in Melbourne, having completed the fourth of seven legs. The seven-part journey begins in Queensland and consists of 10,000 miles of driving in a van named Geoff.

During their journey, Dara and Catherine will report on their experiences kayaking on the Freycinet Peninsula, mountain biking Mt. Wellington and walking through Cradle Moutain. You can keep track of their progress on YouTube or on the Van-Tastic Adventures website.

But, watching might not be enough for some people … there are still three legs open, so you may want to put your application video together.

Classic Trek: The Overland Track, Australia

Australia is a country with plenty of remote backcountry and an abundance of good hiking trails as well. It is an adventure travelers paradise, with opportunities to backpack your way through unique environments that include deserts, mountains, rain forests, and more. Perhaps the most famous of all of the Aussie trails is the Overland Track, located in the southern most state of Tasmania.

The 40 mile long Overland Track runs from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair, and is well known for its pristine beauty. Generally speaking, it takes roughly five to six days to complete the trek, which is mostly over moderately difficult terrain that can vary greatly in nature. In addition to the usual path, there are a number of extensions for those looking for a longer experience, including a loop around the lake and another that runs to the summit of Cradle Mountain.

While the Track can be hiked in either direction, most choose to go North to South, as it allows hikers to pass through the region with the most volatile weather first, and make no mistake, the weather can be volatile on the Overland. Because of its southerly location, backpackers will have to deal with consistently high winds, as well as regular, and often heavy rainfall. Winter hikers will have to face the potential for heavy snow as well.
But those that brave the weather are treated to amazing scenery that was carved by retreating glaciers during the last ice age. The results are sharply contoured mountains, rock gorges, and plenty of thick rain forest surrounding the trail. This mixture of alpine and jungle trekking helps to give the Overland Track a unique feel, although it is regularly compared to the Milford Track in New Zealand, which is also a well known trek.

Aside from the scenery, there is plenty of very unique wildlife to be spotted along the way too. Trekkers often spot large lizards, wallabies, wombats, Tasmanian devils, and even platypus along the way.

A series of trekking huts can be found at regular intervals along the route, offering those hiking the trail a place to sleep and escape the elements. The huts are unattended, and visitors can stay in them free of charge, although they are open on a first-come, first-served basis. They do tend to fill up quickly and because of this, trekkers are encouraged to bring tents with them just in case there is no room at the inn when they arrive.

The best time to walk the Overland is from December to May, as the weather is a bit more mild and consistent. Roughly 8000-9000 visitors hike its length each year, which means that it is mostly uncrowded, even during the high season. No matter when you come however, be sure to bring plenty of gear for all weather conditonis, as it can change quickly and can even be potentially dangerous.

As if you needed one more reason to visit Australia, add the Overland Track to your list of great treks of the world and then take the adventure for yourself. You’ll be rewarded with an experience that you won’t soon forget.

Update: It has been brought to our attention that there is a new system in place that requires anyone hiking the Overland Track between November 1 and April 30 to book their trek in advance and pay a facility fee before they set out on the trail. For more information on these requirements and the Overland in general, click here.

Gadlinks for Monday 8.17.09

Another week of summer has come and gone, and we’re just hanging on to those last few certain days of warmth before fall kicks in! Last week we had some great travel reads, and this week will likely be no different. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to catch our normal Gadlinks, for today’s links are in keeping with the “scenic” theme we have going here on Gadling today. Check these out for some scenic inspiration:

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE.

Tasmania: Roadkill capital of the world

Several weeks ago I was exploring Tasmania with my best friend, Sarah. We had a loose itinerary consisting of hikes at Cradle Mountain, exploring Freycinet National Park and a look at the prison in Port Arthur. Before we departed Sydney for Hobart, everyone warned us about two things that we’d encounter in Tasmania: dismal weather and more roadkill than we’d ever seen. Now, the weather prognostications didn’t shock me. Tasmania is known to be damp and significantly colder than mainland Australia. But roadkill? That seemed like an odd thing to mention. Little did we know that we would soon learn all too well that Tasmania truly is the roadkill capital of the world.

We arrived in Hobart and rented a car to head north to Cradle Mountain. It wasn’t long before we noticed that the roads were littered with dead rabbits, possums, and perhaps saddest of all, wallabies. Not 50 yards would go by without seeing the corpse of another animal who was just a bit too bold or a step too slow. At first, it didn’t register in our minds just how many dead animals we were seeing. In a few days time, however, we’d understand more clearly than we’d like.
Literally every road, highway and path in Tasmania has the remnants of the indigenous marsupials that are active between dusk and dawn. Their lifestyle is their downfall. These animals are active at night and the roads in Tasmania are curvy, hilly and not well lit. As such, every night becomes a bloodbath in the smallest Australian state. According to Roadkill in Tasmania, approximately 293,000 animals become roadkill in Tasmania annually. The roadkill is so dense that a dead animal on the road can be seen every three kilometers.

We learned this lesson with a close call during our first night on the island. We were leaving our backpackers site to get dinner down the road. The sun was rapidly setting and dusk was upon us. I slowly drove down the gravel road, not because I was wary of animals but because I wasn’t sure that our cheap rental could survive a gravel road. We hadn’t traveled more than 20 yards before the wallabies made themselves known. There were three foraging right alongside of the road. We crawled past them safely and laughed about how amazing it was that we had such a close encounter with a unique animal.

The days flew by in Tasmania as we hiked around Dove Lake and explored Wineglass Bay. All the while we began to become cognizant of the amount of roadkill that we had witnessed. But our personal understanding was still to come.

We left the Tasman Peninsula on our third day on the island and headed back towards the east coast to make our way to Bicheno. Having no agenda, we meandered our way there, stopping to see platypus, echidna and seahorses at various wildlife parks. Eventually, day turned into night and my friend Sarah found herself on one of the curviest stretches of the Tasman Highway. It was time for us to understand Tasmanian roadkill firsthand.

We were the only car in sight around 8:00PM on that early March evening. It was pitch black outside with the exception of our car’s high beams. Seemingly out of nowhere, a rabbit darted into the road in front of us. Remarkably, Sarah was able to avoid the tiny critter without incident. We joked about the near miss and quickly turned our attention back to finding any radio station that would work in this random part of Tasmania. Not two minutes later, it happened. Sarah gasped, there was a blur in front of us and then a thud that echoed both in feel and sound. The possum never had a chance.

To say that it ran into the road a mere foot in front of the car would be an understatement. If the it had been any closer to us, it would have ran into the side of the car. Sarah couldn’t have avoided it. A possum was dead and we had added to the public cemetery of animals on Tasmania. Not surprisingly, Sarah was startled and shaken. She slowed the car down to about 30 km/h and focused all of her attention straight ahead. About three minutes later, no more than ten feet ahead of us, was a wallaby. It was standing in the road. Staring at us. Was it suicidal? Hitchhiking? We didn’t know why it was standing in the most dangerous place possible, but Sarah slowed down even more and safely navigated around it.

We avoided night driving over the next two days. We had one encounter with a pademelon who ran in front of our car on a dirt road but he literally kept running ahead of us while we slowly traversed the uneven surface. Otherwise, we drove cautiously, without incident and by the light of the sun. During the day, the creatures of Tasmania are safely tucked away in trees and burrows.

We returned to Sydney with plenty of stories of Tasmania. The weather, remarkably, had been gorgeous. So, in that respect, our friends’ warnings were incorrect. But the tales of roadkill were all too true. However, there was one thing that no one had warned us about. You can’t exactly describe it as roadkill, but it still involves some of Tasmania’s smallest creatures. You see, there are a lot of bugs in Tasmania. And they, too, are active at night. And they don’t fair well against cars either.

Bring mom to flowers for Mother’s Day

Several botanical gardens are having Mother’s Day events this Sunday. One of the advantages of going to a botanical garden, I’ve found, is that they usually have wonderful gift shops that are perfect places for picking up that last minute present.

If you’ve forgotten to buy your mother a gift, when she’s not looking, perhaps, when she’s basking in the fragrance of a floral paradise, slip into the shop to buy her a little something. Since the wedding season is upon us, pick up a wedding gift as well. Here are the first 10 botanical gardens I came across that listed a Mother’s Day happening. Nine are in the U.S. and one is not.

(This photo is from a tribute to redbuds and mothers at the Children’s Garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. My mom taught me to love redbuds too, so I thought this fitting.)

  1. Botanical Conservatory, Ft. Wayne, Indiana: Free admission and enjoy the butterflies besides.
  2. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay, Maine: Free admission to moms and there’s a special brunch. While your mom is eating, slip out to buy that gift.
  3. Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Cleveland, Ohio: Like the Web site says, the redbuds are in bloom and they’re gorgeous
  4. Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, Belmont, North Carolina: Moms get in free with a paid admission and the first 250 moms get a potted plant.
  5. Denver Botanical Gardens, Denver, Colorado: The Mother’s Day brunch is sold out but you can bring your own picnic.
  6. Fernwood Botanical Gardens, Niles, Michigan: Enjoy music, food and a plant sale.
  7. Huntsville Botanical Gardens, Huntsville, Alabama: Moms can get a hydrangea, as long as they are available. There’s a dinosaur theme going on, but this has nothing to do with your mother.
  8. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Virginia: Free family photo for moms while supplies last and free plants to the first 500 moms who come.
  9. Tuscon Botanical Gardens, Tuscon, Arizona: Mom might like to learn about the dinosaurs here as well.
  10. And one not in the United States: Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. If you took your mother to Australia for brunch, would she be impressed.

If you take your mother somewhere else on Sunday–or if you are a mom–ask for a discount. I got into a museum for free in Lugang, Taiwan once on Mother’s Day because I could claim motherhood. The museum gave me a rose as well. The one catch is, I think you probably need to have your child with you.