Since I first heard about the Tasmanian devil many years back I wanted to go there to find those cute marsupials. In general I’m fascinated by Australia’s marsupials, maybe just because they cannot be found anywhere else or because they are all so very very cute.
We were in the middle of high season and therefore we could not find any cheap options to get to Tasmania. We took the ferry which cost AUS 1200 as a round-trip for two people and a campervan. Even though there are cheap flights to the island we would have had to rent a car and pay for expensive accommodation, so at least we had our “home” with us. And the visit was definitely worth it.
The ferry left at 9 pm but the check-in started at 6 pm. We arrived at 6 pm thinking we could get on the boat quicker when early – no we didn’t. There was a long queue and before being allowed on the ferry all the cars were checked for fruit, vegetable and other items which are not allowed to be brought to Tasmania. We ended up in the 2nd row which was, as usual, the slowest – somehow they didn’t let as many cars through from our row or is that just me? Then second time, 1st row, 3rd row, 4th row, 5th row. Hello? Finally, two hours after getting to the ferry we could finally board. The “Spirit of Tasmania II” was the biggest boat I had been on so far. It was a bit like a cruise ship and we could go for a walk around to see what restaurants and stuff they have. However, it was less interesting than I thought and I was very tired so we went off to bed early. At 5.30 am an announcement woke us up, we should get to our cars at 6 am. We ended up – wanna guess – in the slowest row and it took us quite a while again to get off the ferry. Quite an exhausting trip to be honest which I thought would be more fun.
Finally on the road we first got coffee and breakfast before starting the drive to Launceston. During the two hours` drive I saw all the wildlife Tasmania has to offer, including Tasmanian devil, wallabies, kangaroos, possums, platypus and echidna. As an Australian friend once said – they were “sleeping next to the road”. He told us a story that his wife wanted to stop and see if she could help the animals next to the road or if they were really dead. After a while he started to say that they are fine and just sleeping. We did start to say the same, it sounded much nicer than road kill. When I was reading about Tasmania I found a page saying that it would be the easiest to see the Tasmanian wildlife on a bus with a glass bottom. Unfortunately this appears to be true….
After walking through Launceston and looking at some old buildings we continued to the Freycinet National Park with its famous Wineglass Bay. The short hike brought us to a viewing platform for a stunning view over the bay. Originally the bay was called red wine bay; the whalers arrived here and afterwards the bay was coloured red from the blood. Good it is called “wineglass” now. We kept on walking down to the beach but unfortunately the weather was changing and we made our way back to the van.
The next stop was Bichero where we would do a penguin tour in the evening. This is one of the few places where it is possible to see the little blue fairy penguins. The adults are about 30 cm (1 ft) “tall”. These little fellows are hunting in the sea during the day and come back to their nests after dark to feed their offspring. That’s where we can see them. After meeting in groups at the beach they start to waddle up the beach to the bushy area where the hungry young are waiting. They are so little and so cute, while the baby penguins are even smaller and cuter 😉 We saw them from very close and even feeding the offspring. We were not allowed to take pictures and had to be very quiet so as not to disturb the penguins. The tour is well organized and even though many groups visit the beach it does not feel too crowded (Bicheno Penguin Tours)
The next afternoon after a long drive we arrived at the old prison area of Port Arthur. The prison was built in 1830 to accommodate persistent offenders from other colonies in Australia or prisoners with high sentences from England. At this prison a new type of punishment was tested. The punishment and disciplining was psychological rather than physiological. The prisoners were not allowed to speak and if they did they were put into solitary confinement. It was thought that the people would get back to the “right way” if treated like that. The work and living conditions in general were poor. In total 12’000 prisoners were held at Port Arthur and 2000 of them died during their time in the colony. Port Arthur was the biggest and safest prison in Australia of this time. Almost no prisoners were able to break out due to the location far from the next town on a peninsula.
The last prisoners arrived in 1853 and only the old or sick prisoners stayed there and the prison was only fully closed in 1877. Port Arthur did get more attention in 1996 when an assassin killed 35 visitors of the site. This tragedy forced Australia to release a new gun law, one of the most strict ones generally. It is said that the ruins are haunted and it is also possible to book ghost tours at night 😉
Next we visited the historical Hobart. Founded in 1803 as a convict colony it is the second oldest town in Australia (after Sydney). However, for Europeans all the “old” buildings don’t seem to be so old as we are used to seeing old towns with way older buildings. The history of Hobart is still very interesting and it is a very pretty place.
One and a half hours’ drive from Hobart we stayed the night at the Mount Fields national park. I’d read that it was likely to see wildlife at night around the camp ground. In the afternoon we did one of the many possible hikes around the area – if we would only have more time to be able to do many more of the recommended hikes! The one we did was really pretty and took us through rainforest to three waterfalls as well as huge trees (Lady Barron Falls circuit and Tall Trees Walk). After dark we began to look for the “promised” wildlife and saw many wallabies and possums, one even carrying offspring around. There is as well one area where it is possible to see fire flies 🙂 I did hope to see a Tasmanian devil or even a quoll. After not finding a place to see those and some online research I have had to accept that it is very difficult to find these in the wild.
The day after we took a boat trip from Strahan on a tour bringing us to the Hells Gates, a shallow and dangerous channel entrance to the harbour of Macquarie Harbour. It got its name as it was the entrance to the “hell” they found on the penal station on Sarah Island. We also visited the island where the worst convicts as well as those who escaped from other prisons were held. The currents around the island made it impossible to reach land for the escapers so most who tried died in the attempt.
It was the prison with the hardest conditions. It is said that the prisoners misbehaved in order to be hanged as this seemed to be the only way to escape this place. The prison was closed in 1833 at a time when most of the inmates were transferred to Port Arthur.
As it seemed to be impossible to ever find a Tasmanian devil in the wild we visited a sanctuary (devils@cradle) to see them. Due to a form of cancer which is transferred through contact between the animals and always ends in death the population has decreased massively. The sanctuaries breed the devils to make sure to keep a healthy genetic pool. It is planned to start returning them to the wild within the next couple of years.
The sanctuary also has some of the smaller quolls which are the next predator in Tasmania. However, these cuties are endangered as well due to smaller habitat. A lot of the island is used for agriculture and the areas for the wildlife get less. In my naïve imagination I thought Tasmania would be a little paradise with wildlife everywhere 😉 It still is in some areas as Tasmania is a pretty big island, bigger than Switzerland!
After visiting beautiful Stanley which lies on a peninsula and the Edge of the World (biggest distance with nothing but sea till Argentina) we spent our last night at the Narawntapu national park. We read that this is also called the “Serengeti” of Tasmania so we had high expectations which would not be disappointed. We saw several Wombats, Wallabies and Kangaroos.
I loved Tasmania and one week was just enough to catch a glimpse of the highlights. I could have easily spent 3 weeks there. This island is my favourite place in Australia with its big variety of wildlife, stunning landscapes and history. A must-do for nature lovers! I think I will be back one day 🙂
Did you have the chance to visit Tasmania – for the wildlife, the landscapes or the history?