It seemed like a visit to Australia wouldn’t be complete without journeying to the unique island of Tasmania. Nearly half of Tasmania’s 26,000 square miles is currently situated within some kind of protected reserve or park, ensuring the protection of its natural beauty and, hopefully, the survival of its endemic species.
We boarded the Spirit of Tasmania for an overnight ferry trip to cross the Bass Strait. Like the Cook Strait between New Zealand’s North and South Islands, the Bass Strait is part of the roaring forties, known for some rough seas and unpredictable weather. Fortunately, our crossing was relatively smooth and without incident, but sleeping was fitful thanks to both the rolling of the boat and the chainsaw-like noises emanating from some of our fellow passengers.
When we arrived at Tasmania around 6 a.m., bleary-eyed from little sleep, I pointed the car in the direction of Latrobe. The self-proclaimed “platypus capital of the world,” this sleepy little town is chock-full of platypus sculptures, signs and businesses named after the semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammals. The platypus is an odd animal: it’s one of five remaining monotremes, the only living member of its family, and one of only a handful of venomous mammals. The platypus also hunts partly by electroreception – they are sensitive to the electric fields generated by the movement of other animals.
We made our way to the Warrawee Forest Reserve and I eventually stumbled into one of the men who built the reserve, out checking on the grounds – apparently the only other person in the park that morning. He proudly told me that he and a handful of others were singularly responsible for constructing the reserve, populating the platypus and turning Latrobe into a destination for platypus viewing. After chatting for a few minutes, he brought me over to a small pond and gave me tips on how to spot the shy creatures. Two were in the pond, fishing for their last meal before turning in for the day, and Jenn and I were enthralled as we watched them slip through the still morning waters, leaving trails of bubbles behind as they dove to catch their prey. As it turns out, Warrawee Forest Reserve is quite a nice place for birding and other wildlife watching as well – the woods were alive with birds, and a Tasmanian pademelon (a type of wallaby) stopped its breakfast to regard us with curiosity.
Our next stop on the trip was the city of Hobart. Tasmania’s most populous city, we planned on using it as a jumping-off point to see Mt. Field National Park and to climb Mt. Wellington. The weather didn’t seem to want to cooperate, so while our hike in Mt. Field went as planned, we decided to forego the hiking on Mt. Wellington, opting instead to drive the winding road to the top to take in the views of the city. At the top, the viciously cold winds, low clouds, and occasional spitting rain made us glad we did not spend the day on the trail, but the mountain provided some nice panoramic views of the city and the surrounding countryside.
The number of people who told us to visit Freycinet National Park could not be ignored, so that was our destination after leaving Hobart. The most famous sight in Freycinet is the elegantly-curved Wineglass Bay, a very beautiful beach whose bowed shoreline resembles a whiskey snifter. Or something. Clouds still encroached on our trip so, after a short walk to the lookout point, we were not quite treated to the full effect of the blue-green waters at the edge of the sand. It is, however, an undeniably picturesque bay. We also visited the Friendly Beaches in Freycinet, which are home to a lovely saltwater lagoon, where the green ocean waters have found an inlet between the white sand dunes. Cormorants, ducks, plovers and swans all call the lagoon home, and it is considered an important conservation area for the vulnerable hooded plover.
On our way to Cradle Mountain National Park, I had looked up a local restaurant called the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm Café that has a twist to their food: everything is served with freshly-grown raspberries. From syrups to jams, hollandaise to mayonnaise, relishes, reductions and garnishes – and that’s not even discussing the desserts – there are raspberries everywhere. For some ridiculous reason, we refrained from diving straight into the desserts when we arrived but after a delicious lunch there were raspberry chocolate cakes, sorbets, ice creams (made with milk from the small dairy farm across the street), and sauces on the table in short order.
After our hike at Cradle Mountain, we were running out of time on Tasmania. Our last stop was a town called Penguin, known for their swarms of blue penguins that come in off the beach at night. Like Latrobe, they take their mascot seriously and there are sculptures, photos, murals and even decorated trash cans paying homage to their namesake. From Penguin, we took a scenic, winding drive along the coast back to Devonport before boarding another overnight ferry and bidding farewell to Tasmania.