Wallabies, Wombats and Emus- Oh My!

Itinerary: 

  • Days 1-4: Sydney
  • Days 5-9: Tasmania (Strahan, Launceston, Bicheno)
  • Days 10-15: Sydney to Noosa Road Trip (Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, Port Macquarie)
  • Days 16-18: K’gari Island
  • Days 19-25: Noosa to Ciarns Road Trip (Byron Bay, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach, Townsville)
  • Days 26-29: Cairns and Great Barrier Reef
  • Days 30-33: Melbourne
  • Days 34-41: Alice Springs & Uluru
  • Days 42-43: Back to Sydney then flying home

RTW Trip 2014: Peru→ Chile → Argentina → Antarctica → Argentina → Uruguay → Argentina→  Chile→ England → Morocco → Spain → France → Belgium → Netherlands → Germany → Czech Republic → Austria → Hungary → Croatia → Italy → Thailand → United States → Thailand → Laos → Vietnam → Cambodia → Australia → Taiwan

Dates: October 23-December 3, 2014

Our Odyssey: 

You can pretty much just call us Tasmaniacs. We absolutely fell in love with the little island Australian state south of the mainland. Not only for the wallabies, wombats, and emus- but also for the echidnas, kangaroos, devils, fairy penguins, colorful birds, blue tongue lizards and the fantastic and diverse scenery surrounding them.

We started our Tasmanian road trip with a short hour and a half flight from Sydney to Hobart, the capital city in the state of Tasmania. Our explorations in the city went as far as renting our car (which, by the way, has the steering wheel on the right hand side, since they drive on the left here- yikes!) and finding the grocery store. We’ve heard there is a lot to see and do in the city and around, so this is another of the dozens of reasons we plan to come back in the future.

Once in our car, we drove straight to Mount Field National Park, about an hour or so outside of Hobart. This park is best known for its waterfalls, of which we got to see Russell Falls and Horseshoe Falls, as well as the swamp gum trees, which are the tallest flowering plant in the world. The redwoods, which are the tallest living things on earth, don’t actually flower, so these swamp gums take the prize on that one. And besides, the difference is actually pretty small. The tallest redwood was measured at 111 meters, while the tallest swamp gum measured 98 meters. When trees are that tall, looking up from the bottom, those 13 meters of difference are negligible to our eyes.

After a few hours of casual hiking, we were back on the road, westward bound for the city of Strahan. Along the way we drove through Lake Saint Claire National Park, and many strikingly diverse landscapes. We would be in lush green forests one minute, and not long after, we would find ourselves in an open plain that is suggestive of ones we’ve seen in pictures of Africa. Tim even said at one point, jokingly, that he would not be too surprised if we saw a giraffe sauntering on by.

A few hours later we arrived in Strahan and checked into the little A-frame cabin we had booked for the night. Upon check in, the owner of the property told us that she had spoken to the tour company with whom we had booked a tour for the next night, and that due to bad storms coming in, they had to cancel our tour. The tour was to go see fairy penguins come to shore at dusk to nest for the night (fairy penguins are a species of penguins that is little and cute like the name implies), which we knew would be awesome to see but we were not too upset by the cancellation. We decided we would try again on an island off of Melbourne- we’d heard you could see them there as well.

That evening we drove around the bay to watch the sunset and buy some groceries. We also picked up a bottle of whisky to enjoy back at the campsite. With the storm coming in and temperatures dropping, we kept warm in the common room drinking hot toddys and attempting a jigsaw puzzle. It was a fun and relaxing evening, and the next day, with nothing on the agenda, we were able to sleep in.

That afternoon, the sky was clear and sunny and we figured the storm must have passed while we were sleeping, so we ventured out to a park just a few minutes away from the campsite and hiked to Hogarth Falls. We did our best to look for a platypus or two, but alas we did not see any. The falls were great though and we loved how secluded the hike was even being in the middle of town.

That evening we went to see a local play that another couple recommended to us, called, “The Ship That Never Was”. This pantomime style performance tells the story of how convicts kept on Sara Island, near Strahan, were commissioned to build a ship. Instead of building it for the commissioner like they had done previously, they built this one for themselves and sailed off to freedom in it- all the way to Chile. The story is true, and the play is ridiculous. Apparently that is what pantomime means- many people from the audience were involved in some way or another. Tim played one of the convicts, taking direction from one of the two official actors, and I played the captain of the ship sailing to Chile. It was pretty goofy and hokie, but a lot of fun.

Afterwards we stopped at a local diner for dinner and ordered fried fish fresh from the bay. It came to us wrapped up with french fries in two pieces of paper and was delicious. On the drive home, Tim taught me the basics of driving stick shift in our rental vehicle. He says I did pretty well, but I doubt you’ll see me cruising down the highway driving a manual vehicle anytime soon.

The next morning we checked out of our cabin and made our way towards north central Tasmania. Along the way we made a spontaneous stop at the Henty Sand Dunes, which are expansive enough to make you think you are in a desert. Just another crazy feature of the Tasmanian landscape.

We then made our way to Cradle Mountain National Park, where we planned to do some short hikes. Along the way, though, we spotted our first live wallaby! Wallabies are pretty adorable- they are basically like kangaroos, but are smaller and have fluffier fur. Then, once we got in the park, we saw our first wombat! Wombats are like giant, furrier guinea pigs (and by giant, I just mean like the size of a dog). When we started our hike around Dove Lake, with a foggy view of Cradle Mountain behind it, we were lucky enough to see another wombat chewing on some grass just a few meters from the trail.

We hiked first to an old historic boat house and then to a rock they call Glacier Rock, which provides a nice vantage point over the lake and towards the mountains. An hour or so later we made our way out of the park, and saw three more wallabies in a field on the side of the road.

By this time we were totally geeking out over Australian wildlife, and it only got better. Crossing the road was a small porcupine-looking fellow. We pulled over to check him out, and he rolled around the dirt and scratched his belly, as if to show off just how cute he was. We assumed it was a porcupine, but later that day when we stopped at an information center and gift shop, Tim learned what we had actually seen was an echidna. This little guy is related to the anteater and the platypus. Cool!

We also took the opportunity at this gift shop to buy some local honey, since Tim is a honey fanatic (he almost drowned in honey in Santiago- no joke, it was scary). We had tried going to a honey farm earlier that day, but it was closed, and this was the next best option. We bought one called Armony, which had an earthy taste and was made from bees of the leatherwood trees, and one called Prickly Box, which was very sweet.

By this time we were not too far from Launceston, the largest city in the north of the island. We had arranged accomodation about a half hour north of the city on a sheep farm. Our host was very nice and the room was great- and the two pet ducks were pretty cute too.

After checking in, we realized we were staying in the Tamar Valley, a famous wine region in Tasmania (yes, somehow I did not realize this in my initial planning). We made a last-minute decision to try to check out one of the wineries nearby since it was listed as being open.

Unfortunately, it was actually closed, but the drive took us along the beautiful Tamar River where we saw dozens of black swans swimming by the bank. Yet another wildlife surprise!

The next morning we tried again to visit some of the local wineries, and on our fourth stop, we found one that was finally open- Tamar Ridge Winery. Why so many of them were closed when they were listed as being open, I have no idea, so we were really excited that our search finally paid off.

The region specializes in cool climate wines, so we were able to taste some different varities from those we will likely be tasting in the warmer Hunter Valley on the mainland later this week. We also read an article at this winery saying that Lonely Planet had rated Tasmania as the #4 top place to visit in 2015, and that this was the only location in Australia even on the list. I am really glad this little island is getting some love from Lonely Planet, because it really deserves it and has so much to offer. But I am also glad we went there for the first time while it is still quiet and empty of tourists. It will be interesting to see how it changes over the next decade.

After tasting some wines and walking around the grounds overlooking the river, we drove the rest of the way down to Launceston, where we ate some lunch and visited the local brewery, Boag’s Brewery. We tried a flight of three beers (which they apparently call a paddle, since when we asked for a flight I think she was wondering why we were trying to buy airline tickets at a brewery).

Our next stop in Launceston was to a park called the Cataract Gorge. It features beautiful canyon like cliffs above a river which had been used in the mid-1800s until the 1950s to generate electricity via a hydro power station up the river. Tim and I hiked around this area, up to the power station, which is now a small exhibit on how it used to operate. The hike took us past great views of the river, another adorable echidna, and across some wobbly suspension bridges. Fun!

Afterwards we drove unward and east-ward to Bicheno, a small beach-front community just north of Freycinet National Park, where we would be hiking the next day. We rented a cute cottage for two nights, and when we checked in, the owners mother had a fire going for us and made us feel cozy right away! We had the whole cottage to ourselves, and were so happy for the privacy and the space (neither of which we had had much of the previous nights). We stopped by the grocery store to figure out what we wanted to do for dinner, and ended up getting a sampler tray of Tasmanian cheeses- Cheddar, Rubicon Red, Smoked Cheddar, Bush Pepper and – my favorite- Wild Wasabi (which actually tasted like toned-down wasabi).

Looking around the cottage more that evening, we discovered that this beach is actually one which hosts hundreds of fairy penguins coming to shore each evening, and on one of the bookshelves was a flashlight with a note that it could be used for penguin watching!

We weren’t sure what time to go looking for them, but later that evening while watching a movie we heard a noise we had became familiar with after being in Antarctica- penguins! It was a little different from the gentoos we heard so much in Antarctica, but close enough to make us bundle up, grab the light, and go searching around outside. Before too long, we saw a little penguin waddling towards a path. We went down that path and to our amazement heard penguins all around us in the bushes. We definitely heard more than we saw that night, but we saw several, including three that were coming out from under a rock near the shore. We don’t have the best pictures since it was dark, but it was so much fun finding penguins (for free, I should add, since the tour we were going to do in Strahan that got cancelled would have been $160 for both of us).

The next day we slept in a bit and then made our way to the national park. As soon as we parked, we saw several wallabies hanging out in the parking lot. One even had a little baby in her pouch. These were street wallabies though, begging for food from tourists. As a note, you should generally never feed animals in the wild- it could make them sick and discourages them from finding their own food and teaching their young how to get their own food as well. That said, they are still beautiful animals to see, even when they are being naughty.

We elected to do an 11km hike, estimated to take about 5 hours, that took us by a lookout over Wineglass Bay (one of Tasmania’s iconic views), then down to the bay itself, and lastly by Hazards Beach and many small secluded beach coves. It was an amazing hike. Wineglass Bay was certainly gorgeous- it is a perfectly rounded beach that looks like its name, but it was the clear torquoise waters of Hazards Beach and the many subsequent coves that wowed us. Never before in my life had I been at a beach so beautiful and tropical-looking without tons of other tourists and tall hotels all around. These beaches, since they are in a national park, are completely undeveloped, and for most of our stops we didn’t even see other hikers around.

We also ran into several wallabies along the way- one time almost literally. We each startled one another so badly that I yelped and she went hopping away down the path and into the woods.

That night after dinner we set out for penguin watching, this time earlier in the evening to try to see them before they get burrowed into their nests. Our strategy worked, and just walking along the path we had found the night before, we saw dozens of penguins waddling about. It was such a perfect way to cap off this amazing day (which, by the way, was Halloween and my favorite holiday of the year- I feel pretty good about how we spent it this year even if I didn’t get to make a costume).

The next day we had to check out of the adorable cottage and start heading back down to Hobart for our afternoon flight. Before heading to the airport, however, we stopped at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. This place is great. They are not a zoo- they take in injured or orphaned animals and their goal is to rehabilitate them when possible so they can be released back into the wild. If they can’t be released, they are given a great life in an environment that does its best to approximate their wild habitats. At this sanctuary, they also give you the opportunity to feed kangaroos. I’ve fed kangaroos once before at Busch Gardens Tampa, but it was a very controlled setting and there was still a fence between me and the animal. Not here. You are sent straight into a pen with dozens of kangaroos, who immediately start sniffing at you and jumping on you trying to get at the food. It is half cute and half overwhelming. Some of these kangaroos were very rude- cutting in front of others to get a nibble. When you feed them, they grab your hand in theirs and bring it to their mouth. They don’t bite you at all, but they do pinch with those claws of theirs! They also enjoy a good chest scratching. They respond just like a cat- eyes closed, head towards the sky, rubbing against your hand and getting in your way when you try to leave. It’s the best.

After feeding the kangaroos we joined the guided tour of the sanctuary. We first met a baby wallaby named Tina and also an adult one. We also got to learn more about the elusive Tasmanian devil. The devil is an endangered animal, in part because of a contagious facial cancer that has been spreading around, and also in part because they often get hit by cars. Why this happens is interesting. Previously in Tasmania, there was an animal called the Tasmanian tiger. The people living there found them pesky, however, so a bounty was offered for tiger heads and eventually they were entirely killed off. This impacts the devils today, because they eat leftover dead carcasses. They don’t hunt, they scavange. In the past, they would eat the tiger’s leftovers, but now that there is no Tasmanian tiger, the only leftovers they find are roadkill. This brings them onto the roadways and causes them to also get hit. It is a sad cycle.

After learning more about the Tasmanian devil and watching him eat on the leg of a wallaby, we then went to see a koala bear. They aren’t native to Tasmania, but the land has everything they need to live happy and healthily. These animals only eat eucaplyptus leaves, so they don’t consume many calories each day. This means they sleep 20 hours a day, and hardly move around the other 4. They just sit in the tree, leaning into the branches for support, and look like cute grumpy old men with hair growing out of their ears. It’s adorable.

After the tour we walked around the sanctuary a little bit more to see the variety of lizards and exotic birds- one cockatoo even said “Goodbye!” as we walked away- and then made our way to the airport. It is a bit funny, because when we told people, mostly Australians, that we were going to spend a week in Tasmania, a lot of them scoffed at us, saying, “There’s nothing there, you’re going to be so bored!” The next time someone says that to me, I am going to have to roll my eyes at how wrong they are. If there weren’t other things we wanted to see in our five weeks remaining in Australia, we could have easily stayed in Tasmania another week or more. Tim and I agreed that sometime in the future, we would love to come back.

Til next time, Tassie!

One thought on “Wallabies, Wombats and Emus- Oh My!

Leave a Reply