Tasmania – Fossil Bluff, and Heading Home Again

2014 March 19

And then, it was time to go home. The airport in Wynyard turns out to be just a few miles from another interesting beach, so we left a bit early so we could visit Fossil Bluff. This is a rocky beach, with a big cliff exposed to the waves.

These cliffs are almost entirely a massive agglomeration of shells. Shells, shells, shells. From the looks of things, at one point this beach was a quiet, protected shore where shells could accumulate the way they do today at 7-mile beach.

Not anymore, though. Now it is fully exposed to the wave action, and is being torn down by the ocean, with massive blocks of fossil-bearing siltstone and limestone falling to the beach.

The shell-bearing strata sit on top of a layer of black shale, and below that appears to be limestone.

None of the shells would look terribly out-of-place on a modern beach, although these cone shells look like they were pretty common at the time, but at least at 7-mile beach they are currently quite scarce.

Of course, the things that currently live on this beach look quite different from the ones in the fossils, because the environment has changed radically. When the fossils were laid down, it was apparently a quiet, probably shallow area where all manner of things could accumulate. Nowdays, it is pretty heavily beaten up by the waves, and only animals that can hang on tight can survive. Like these snails,

And these small mussels and barnacles that have anchored themselves down.

(incidentally, the barnacles are actually arthropods. Really! They are a type of crustacean)

The other sort of thing that survives for at least a little while on this beach are springy organisms, like this sponge.

After we were done at Fossil Bluff, we still had some time, so we ended up driving to the top of Table Cape (another ancient volcano core, similar to the Nut, except that people have farms up on top of it). There is a viewing platform at the end of the road, over quite a serious dropoff.

And then, just as a bit of oddness, there was this little memorial up there too:

I had never heard of Frederick Matthias Alexander, before, but at least he’s famous enough to have a Wikipedia page.

[1] Our plan was to fly from Tasmania into Melbourne in the afternoon, stay the night, and then catch a morning flight to the US. The flight in was OK, we had a good nights sleep, and then the next morning we returned to the airport and got all checked in. So there we were in the departure lounge, waiting for our flight to the US, with the plane sitting right there, when suddenly – they announced that the flight was cancelled! Not delayed, but outright cancelled! They said that a critical member of the aircrew had fallen ill. But, it turns out a Virgin Australia flight had gotten delayed by 13 hours, and a lot of their original passengers bailed, so they had seating available for many of us lost souls from the United flight. So we ended up hanging around the Melbourne airport for a whole freaking day, and finally got underway a bit after midnight.

The Virgin Australia plane was a Boeing 777, and was actually pretty nice. The video system worked and everything. It was even a “Video On Demand” system, so Sam got to watch the kids’ shows that she liked, at whatever time she wanted. All seemed to be going OK, until . . . we landed in LA, trundled up to the gate, and they found that the jetway didn’t work! Jetways evidently have engines in them for independent power, and they couldn’t get the fool engine started because it had a dead battery. After leaving us stuck on the plane for another half-hour, they finally got an old-style staircase wheeled up to the plane, let us off, and herded us into a bus that drove for what seemed like at least a mile before dumping us at an entrance. We then had to walk what seemed like another half-mile to go through customs, get to the luggage carousels to pick up our checked bag, and then found out that we had to dash all the way from somewhere in the interminable maze that is the International Terminal to Terminal 7 to re-check our bags, get our boarding passes, and then run like crazy rabbits to our plane, which we reached with only about 5 minutes to spare. And in all the confusion, Sam was tired and had mislaid her bag of souvenirs that she’d picked up in Melbourne, so she was pretty unhappy about that.

So finally, we got onto our plane, got into Chicago on a red-eye flight, and had to spend nine hours there. Luckily, O’Haire has a play-area just off of Terminal C, and Sam got to spend her time playing with other kids that she met there. So that actually worked out OK, and went a long way towards cheering her back up. And then, we finally, finally got to fly back home.

So, what did we learn from all this?

First of all, United appears to chronically overschedule their flight crews, and they end up with an altogether excessive rate of flight delays/cancellations because of it. Out of 6 flights we had on United, three of them (Half!) were delayed or cancelled because United evidently doesn’t believe in back-up pilots or allowing their crew to have a break between flights. The first couple of times I flew to Australia, it was on Qantas, who never gave me a lick of trouble. Unless their service has gone to pot in the meanwhile, I recommend flying to Australia on Qantas (or, at least, avoiding United).

Second, for international travel, it is a good idea to plan on spending a night at the city where you switch from domestic to international. If we’d planned on spending the night in LA to start with, then we wouldn’t have ended up stuck there for two days going out, or nearly missing our connecting flight to Chicago on our way back. The lady in the seat next to us on our way to LA, who was going to Japan, had done that, and it was working out OK for her.

Third, the LA airport is a horrible place to be if you are unfamiliar with it, and in a hurry. The place is huge and sprawling, the layout is awful, the signs saying where you are and where you need to go are practically nonexistent, you evidently have to walk out in the crowded loading/unloading zones to go between terminals, and it makes O’Haire in Chicago look like a miracle of sensible design, convenience, and clear labeling. The LA airport is bad enough that I would consider going through San Francisco, Seattle, or even Dallas/Fort Worth to avoid dealing with it again.

Fourth, the Melbourne airport is terrible in its own way: there is no significant automation of check-in, the counters are understaffed, and you end up standing in line for hours (we stood in line in Melbourne for a cumulative total of 4 hours. I timed it. And that’s not including the nearly 20 hours that we hung around the airport because our flight was cancelled). And then, when you head off for your gate, you have to go through this interminable maze of duty-free shops with no clearly marked corridors, so you don’t know where you are going most of the time.

Fifth, the airline meal vouchers that you get when the airline strands you are a big hassle, because you have to stand in line for an hour or more to get them, and pretty much anywhere you try to spend them the staff can’t seem to make heads or tails about what to do with them.

And sixth, while in-flight entertainment is nice, you can’t count on any given plane actually having it, so be sure to bring your own along.

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