Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Golden Bosuns

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 4:58 pm, May 17th, 2024

We scheduled a rest day from diving today, so this morning Audrey finally got to lounge and drink coffee while I roamed around on the rocky shore trying to photograph birds without getting burnt to a crisp in the sun. All of the birds here are photogenic, but the one I’m most hoping to get a good photograph of is what the locals call the “golden bosun”; it’s a golden colored tropic bird that is only found on Christmas Island. It also happens to have an uncanny ability to fly past when I don’t have a camera at the ready, but we’ve got several days remaining and I’m a patient man.

We started the day with a visit to Nadine at the visitor center, who we had previously met at the airport after arriving, and whose helpful directions are probably the only reason we’re not still searching for our rental house. She gave us more advice for our remaining days, including tips on a few trails (her description for one of them: “there won’t be signs and it will look like you’re just climbing on rocks in a river, but trust me that will be the correct way to go”). When we asked where the best place to see the golden bosun was, she told us we were welcome to use the visitor center balcony – “in fact, there’s one now” she said, as one flew by as I stood there with my camera in the car.

After lunch we did a quick snorkel in Flying Fish Cove, and it was surprisingly good with loads of fish, a lionfish, and a moray, and then we headed out to check out some of Nadine’s recommended spots for birding. Enroute we stopped at the old Chinese Cemetery to see boobies and frigate birds, and much as we experienced elsewhere on this island, the minute the car stopped every chicken in the world came running out of the jungle like a scene from a bizarro Night of the Living Dead to see if we had snacks (we did not). We continued our bird search around the northeast tip of the island, eventually running into a detour sign that pointed to a smaller dirt road. Having learned nothing during my time on this island thus far, I followed the sign, and we spent the next fifteen minutes re-enacting scenes from Lost as we traversed a dirt “road” through jungle, past the occasional rusting construction equipment, and next to a radio tower or two.

Tomorrow we’re diving again, and it’s the weekend so all of the locals will be out partying in the evening, including at the outdoor cinema where the chalk board at the roundabout has been advertising Kung Fu Panda 4 as this week’s feature film.

Brown Booby, Christmas Island

Brown Booby, Christmas Island. I pulled this photo up and at first thought I’d processed it in some weird way, but this really was his color against the morning light.

Red-Tailed Tropic Bird, Christmas Island

Red-tailed tropic bird, Christmas Island. These guys are pretty, but the golden white-tailed tropic bird is the one I have my eye on.

On the Third Day of Christmas

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 5:27 am, May 17th, 2024

While taking Audrey on a path through the jungle today, she was walking ahead of me for a portion of the “trail” and accidentally walked through the web of a massive orb weaver. With any other girl I would have been a single man only microseconds after the six inch spider started running across her back, but luckily I picked someone who later described the moment as the highlight of her afternoon. Still, I’m glad I managed to get the arachnid off of her before it ran onto her bare neck; she loves spiders, but that might have been too much even for Audrey.

Our day today consisted of scuba diving in the morning and an ill-fated attempt to photograph birds in the afternoon. The scuba diving was again fun; the other couple who was supposed to dive cancelled, so it was just us and Hama underwater. We again saw a giant moray, a couple of sharks made appearances, and my favorite for the day was a school of about ten giant trevallies, 3-4 foot long tuna-like fish that were hanging out under the boat, apparently hoping we had been fishing and were about to dump some fish parts overboard. At some point hopefully I’ll either get some video up, or else I’ll steal whatever Audrey puts together and post it.

Following an afternoon siesta we set out to a park that had been recommended for birds, and took some flight photos from a clifftop overlook for a bit. While we saw a few of the unique golden tropic-birds, numerous boobies (relax, they’re a species of bird), and a bunch of frigate birds, bats were again a surprisingly common sight and not an animal I ever expected to be photographing in flight. Unfortunately our vantage point was limited, and I could see tons of other birds flying and landing nearby, so I figured we’d hike down to Smith Point, which the nearby trailhead indicated was only a short distance away. This was a poor choice on my part.

The path started off well enough, with a set of stairs and an informational panel, but at the bottom of the stairs it simply dumped us out into the jungle with zero indication on where to go next. Scanning the jungle, we would occasionally see a post or sign and set off towards it, but whenever we’d reach a point where nothing was visible we’d have to make a best guess of where to go, set off that way, and trace our steps back if we didn’t eventually run into some indication that we weren’t setting ourselves up to become crab food once it got dark. After bushwhacking through crabs and spiders in the heat and humidity for thirty-ish minutes I finally gave up, and we retraced our steps back to the trailhead, with Audrey becoming close personal friends with the giant orb weaver along the way. Tomorrow we’ll give the birds another try, but this time we may check in at the visitor center to get better advice on where exactly we should go before heading out again.

Flying Fox, Christmas Island

While I wasn’t planning on posting daily bat pictures while on Christmas Island, this guy flying around was my favorite above-water photo from today.

Lionfish and Flying Foxes

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 11:52 pm, May 15th, 2024

It snowed while I was in New Zealand, and Audrey was freezing during our time in Tasmania, but we’ve now reached the opposite extreme. Today’s high was 84F, the low was 80F, humidity was around 75,000%, and the sun is pretty obviously focused on this island through a magnifying glass high in the sky. It may take a couple of days to get used to Christmas Island’s weather.

We’re here primarily to scuba dive and see crabs, although ironically not at the same time. Hama and Lynnie took us out on a tiny boat with one other diver first thing this morning, and we hopped into water that was a balmy 82F. The coral was pretty beaten up from a storm a few months ago, but is still far better than most places we’ve ever dived. And since the island is an old volcano, the reef starts right where the cliffs meet the water, and drops into blackness a short distance from shore; it’s a really wild underwater scene. While diving we saw lionfish, a shark, an absolutely massive giant moray, and (most unbelievably) dolphins. My useless super power has always been the fact that the moment I go into the water, any dolphins in the vicinity swim away, but at the end of our first dive a school of dolphins decided to play in the boat’s bow wake while we were in the water waiting to get picked up, so either these dolphins were unaffected by my powers, or else the gods of useless superpowers have smitten me and left me powerless.

After diving I needed a nap – sun and baldness are a bad combo – so it wasn’t until later in the day that we set off in search of giant robber crabs, the largest land crustacean in the world. Lynnie had suggested a spot in the national park that was good for seeing them, so we had to trust that our elderly Rav4 could survive one of the island’s very rough jungle roads, all the while dodging the smaller local red crabs along the route. When we finally arrived at a clearing surrounding an old Buddhist temple, a basketball-sized crab was already out waiting for us, and a flock of chickens, sensing we might have snacks, came running from the opposite side of the clearing. As the sun got lower more of the humungous crabs appeared, and I also noticed some odd black birds flying around. Looking closer, I turned to Audrey and said “I’m pretty sure those are bats”, and sure enough, Christmas Island is home to a sub-species of fruit bats affectionately called flying foxes due to their huge size. After walking a bit we found a durian tree that was apparently the best place in the world for a giant fruit bat, and several dozen of them showed not a bit of concern for us as we photographed from below.

The daily routine will likely be similar for the next week, although at some point soon we’ll hopefully acclimate to the weather, otherwise I fear the only other options are spontaneous combustion or slowly melting like the witch in the Wizard of Oz.

Coconut Crab, Christmas Island

Coconut Crab, Christmas Island. This is zoomed in a bit, but they’re not at all small, and we watched one actually tear apart a coconut.

Flying Fox, Christmas Island

Flying Fox (fruit bat), Christmas Island. These bats are actually active during daylight hours; as far as I’m aware I’ve never seen a bat flying in sunlight before.

The Island of Christmas

Posted from Christmas Island, Australia at 4:31 pm, May 14th, 2024

If you’re like me and have watched a LOT of nature documentaries, you’ve inevitably seen tales of a remote island near Indonesia that is home to red crabs that perform a mass migration each year, covering the ground like locusts as they swarm from one side of the island to the other. This extinct volcanic peak near Indonesia is an Australian territory named Christmas Island, and it is exactly the sort of bizarre, off-the-beaten-path spot that appeals to weirdos like Audrey and me. The red crab migration won’t be ongoing while we’re here, but over the next week we’re still looking forward to being robbed by giant coconut crabs (aka “robber crabs”), attacked by frigate birds, and wowed by colorful underwater creatures.

The logistics of planning a trip to Christmas Island weren’t as extreme as some trips we’ve taken, but they were still a challenge. I’m writing this from the one available flight to the island, and it departs only twice each week from Perth. Once we land we think we’ve rented a car – I got a PDF back from someone saying that there will be a car at the airport waiting for us – and we’re pretty sure we’ve rented a house, although so far we know what road the house is supposed to be on, but not its actual address, and we’re honestly not sure if street numbers are a thing here or not. We contacted both of the dive shops on the island, but one of them was waiting on metal to patch their boat, so we decided to reserve four days of diving with the shop whose boat still floats. The interwebs have conflicting reports as to whether there is an ATM on the island or not, but there does appear to be a bank that will exchange currency, and we’ve got our fingers crossed that credit cards will be accepted in some locations. With a population of only around 1700, it’s a good bet that services will be very limited.

All in all we’re not totally sure what we’ve gotten ourselves into, but we do know that this bit of the trip will be another fun adventure in the midst of the many excellent adventures that have unfolded during our little odyssey down under.

UPDATE: We’ve arrived, and an ancient Toyota Rav4 with only a few missing pieces was waiting for us at the airport. It still has almost half of its original paint, it drives most of the time, you barely notice the bits that have corroded away, and the place where the shocks used to be isn’t as much of an impediment to driving as you might expect. On the flip side, we found our house rental, and it is AWESOME. Our divemaster recommended it, and it’s a Balinese villa with gardens filled with red crabs that make Audrey happier than she’s ever been. And speaking of the divemaster, he stopped by tonight to get us to sign waivers, and he’s also awesome; after we finished signing he drove us back to his shop/house to try on rental gear, then gave us a five minute tour around town. It’s going to be a fun week.

Quokkas

Posted from Fremantle, Western Australia at 3:48 pm, May 13th, 2024

Rottnest Island is located 30 minutes by boat from Fremantle, and since its discovery by the Dutch more than 300 years ago has been famous for the tiny marsupials that live there. The quokkas are adorably cute, unafraid, curious, and look at all times like they’re smiling. Clearly, this was an island we had to visit.

We arrived on the ferry around 10am with not a quokka in sight, but since we had six hours before the return trip we weren’t too concerned. The options for circumnavigating the island are either a three hour bike ride, or a hop-on, hop-off bus, so we opted for the latter. As we were waiting for the bus to depart I noted that the gathering crowd was of the – shall we say, less active? – sort, and I was starting to wonder what we’d gotten ourselves into, especially a few minutes later when an elderly lady on a motorized chair came crashing through the rope barriers and popped a wheelie into a curb before someone finally managed to get her under control. It was an inauspicious beginning, but luckily things improved from there.

The island is undeveloped aside from the settlement on the east side, so once the bus departed it was all sand dunes and sea views as we headed to the west end. While the amount of droppings on the island was evidence of a large (and well fed) quokka population, the nocturnal critters remained elusive, but on our short hike we ran into an osprey, terns, sea lions, king skinks, and (annoyingly) a plague of flies. After an hour of peaceful walking along the beaches we re-boarded the bus and took it to Geordie Bay, a spot where we were told the quokkas would be active during the day.

Geordie Bay had a general store with low, saloon style doors with signs on them indicating that they were meant to keep quokkas out. We took that as a good omen, and a short time later met our first of the gopher-sized little hoppers who wandered up to us, took a few sniffs, then moved on to the next thing that caught his attention. More quokkas soon appeared, and we played the roles of silly tourists as they came up to us, sniffed, posed for photos, and then investigated the next item in their path. After another short hike into the main settlement even more showed up, and while I’m normally not one to get too close to wild animals, given their curiosity and lack of fear, as well as the fact that the visitor center has a poster that says “did you get your quokka selfie?”, we joined Roger Federer, Margot Robbie, and thousands of others who have left the island with selfies with the residents. Audrey laughed uncontrollably for the whole latter part of our visit, and it was two happy visitors who returned to Fremantle at the end of the day.

Quokka, Rottnest Island

When they hold the cutest animal in the world competition, quokkas will be strong challengers for the title.

Quokka Selfie, Rottnest Island

With quokkas coming right up to you, it’s shockingly easy to grab a photo like this one that will make me smile every time I look at it.

Going to Prison

Posted from Fremantle, Western Australia at 3:04 pm, May 12th, 2024

Australia is much bigger than we initially realized, so while planning the trip the logistics of getting from A to B were daunting. There are several places in Western Australia that we wanted to see, but after looking at flight schedules and driving options we had to cut a few of them out. As a result, Perth became a place where we’re spending a few extra days in order to facilitate visits elsewhere, but since I’m loathe to let time pass without activities we’ll keep those days filled with adventures.

Today’s main adventure was going to prison with a lovely man named Nigel. Since the early days as a penal colony were so pivotal to Australia’s development we wanted to see at least one of the old gaols, and Fremantle Prison is a UNESCO listed site that is huge and still fully intact. Nigel met us (and 19 others) at the gates and then led a shockingly good tour through the massive prison for the next 75 minutes. With cells that were originally only 4 feet by 7 feet, no toilets (Nigel made sure to tread lightly when telling us about prisoner’s buckets), and no heating or cooling, it was clearly not a pleasant place to have been incarcerated, and despite increasing the cell sizes in the early 1900s, the lack of heating, cooling or plumbing persisted until the prison eventually closed in 1991. The tour also included a visit to the gallows, which was a macabre place; as we entered Nigel gingerly stated “Welcome to the gallows. Or maybe welcome isn’t the right word, but I’m never quite sure how to start this part of the tour.”

After telling us many horrifying stories about prison life, the tour ended and Nigel bid us a cheery good day. Our other main stop was the eclectic Fremantle Markets, a series of indoor stalls with everything from produce to Tibetan food to palm readings to jigsaw puzzles – if you needed dragon fruit, soothing oils, banh mi, and a nice skirt, this was your ideal one-stop destination. Audrey was excited by the opportunity to do some shopping, while I felt exactly the opposite, so we went our separate ways during the afternoon, and she had some retail therapy while I visited the shipwreck museum and learned everything there is to learn about how to sink a boat in Western Australia.

Tomorrow we’re off to Rottnest Island to hang out with quokkas, a sentence that will hopefully make more sense in 24 hours if/when we post some photos.

Kangaroni, Fremantle Markets

For anyone who ever wanted pepperoni that tastes like kangaroo, the Fremantle Markets has what you’re looking for.

Perf

Posted from Fremantle, Western Australia at 4:08 pm, May 11th, 2024

Today was sadly the end of our time on Kangaroo Island, but I made one last early morning visit to Duck Lagoon to say goodbye to the koalas. For an animal that sleeps for 20 hours, poops up to 200 times per day, and has one of the smallest brains for its body size of any mammal, they are oddly endearing and I’ll miss them. A handful of kangaroos and wallabies were out and about as well, so it was a proper sendoff from a special place.

From our awesome Airbnb it was an hour drive to the ferry, with our weird Chinese rental car constantly beeping and warning “Hey don’t stray” any time I looked away from the road to scan the horizon for animals; we finally ended up just covering the driver side camera with a hat to get it to shut up. Loading the car onto the fairy in reverse was again humbling – I had to keep telling them that if it was my own car I could back up competently, really I could. Once we were off of the ferry in Cape Jervis it was another couple of hours to the Adelaide airport where we boarded our 3.5 hour flight to Perth. Our lodging for the next three nights is in a hotel built in the 175 year old prison guard’s cottages, so it should be a unique stay in the city.

Since I didn’t get a chance to take many photos today, below are a few pictures from the last couple of days of the non-kangaroo and non-koala animals that we saw on Kangaroo Island.

Gallah, Flinders Chase National Park

Gallah, or pink and grey cockatoos for those of us who like easy to remember names.

Goanna, Kangaroo Island

“There’s a goanna in the road” did not immediately get Audrey excited. “It’s a big lizard” evoked the reaction I was expecting.

Invisible Platypuses

Posted from Kangaroo Island, South Australia at 2:12 pm, May 10th, 2024

Last night when we went back to Duck Lagoon to look for koalas, there was an Italian couple camping who had been on Kangaroo Island for five days. I asked them what their favorite thing had been, and with zero hesitation the girl said “Hanson Bay”. They had apparently seen fourteen koalas during a two hour guided walk and had some impressive video, so suddenly we had a destination for today.

Hanson Bay is located on the opposite corner of the island from us, and we took a roundabout route across the northern part of the island to get there, during which we finally figured out where the kangaroos have been hiding. They’re most active from dusk until dawn, but we saw dozens of them lazing about next to the road under the trees, in pastures, and along the hills during our drive. Audrey was also excited by a goanna traversing the road – they are a decent-sized monitor lizard that according to Crocodile Dundee are best eaten medium or well done.

Before visiting Hanson Bay we planned a return visit to Flinders Chase National Park for a short hike. As we entered the park a koala started crossing the road, and for the next several minutes we were the happiest humans on the planet as we photographed him slowly getting to the other side and ascending what was obviously a far superior tree to whatever one he’d been asleep in previously. By the end of the day we had seen about a dozen koalas, but I’m confident that even if that scenario repeated itself for a year we wouldn’t get tired of them.

Once in the park we skipped the ranger station to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s perplexing encounter, and traveled up a dirt road to see the Platypus Pools. While the platypus in the area were of the invisible variety today, we nevertheless had a nice hike before heading to Hanson Bay for our two hour guided walk (it’s a private reserve, so you can only visit with a guide). No one else signed up, so we roamed the reserve on our own private tour with the resident guide who already knew where a bunch of the cute little buggers were resting, so as she told us about the animals and the 2020 fires we got to visit with one koala after another. Audrey and Kira (the guide) bonded over a shared desire to hug every animal we saw, and after a very memorable walk through koala heaven we finished our trip with a few more kangaroos before starting the drive home.

Koala, Flinders Chase National Park

Koalas sleep twenty hours each day, but this guy woke up and decided it was very important to cross the road to a tree on the other side, making two Americans who happened to be driving by very, very happy in the process.

Western Grey Kangaroo, Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

Western Grey Kangaroo in Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The kangaroos are BIG, and is it just me, or do they always look like they’re flexing?

Koalas for the Win

Posted from Kangaroo Island, South Australia at 2:59 pm, May 9th, 2024

We saw more koalas today than kangaroos, but we’re both OK with that.

Kangaroo Island is compared to the Galapagos Islands in some reviews for its plentiful and fearless wildlife, but the island was decimated by fires in 2020 and is still recovering, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. So far we’re not running into hordes of unafraid animals, but we’re still seeing a lot of neat things. We’ve had wallabies bouncing by the window of our Airbnb, there are colorful cockatoos and parrots all over, and we’ve gotten the opportunity to see some of Australia’s other star species.

Our first stop this morning was to a nearby lagoon that offers a good chance of spotting koalas. We didn’t know how best to find them, so made a circuit under all of the tall eucalyptus trees. For the first hour we saw plenty of neat birds, but no koalas. As we were returning to the car we finally found one, twenty feet off the ground in the crook of a tree, dead asleep. We hung out a bit with him to see if he’d stir, but he had apparently had a big night and was totally conked out. When we were nearly back to the car I saw something odd looking in another tree, and (of course) it turned out that a second koala had been sleeping just 100 feet from where we parked. She was a bit lower to the ground and we had a better view, so it wasn’t until many more photos of a sleeping koala had been stored to memory cards that we finally departed.

From there we headed onwards to Flinders Chase National Park, which covers most of the western portion of the island but was hit the hardest by the fires; all of the buildings were burned, boardwalks and bridges on the trails were destroyed, roads were damaged, etc. Our plan was to hike a trail that has been rebuilt and is supposedly a good place to spot platypus, but after arriving we had a rather odd interaction with the ranger who was checking our park pass.

Her: “It will be dark in a few hours, so you’ve got time to see the lighthouse and the Remarkable Rocks.”

Us: “We were hoping to do the trail to see the platypus. We’ve still got more than two hours before sunset and we read that the trail shouldn’t take more than two hours.”

Her: “You won’t have time to do the trail and the Remarkables.”

Us: “How about just the trail?”

Her: “You need to be back before dark, and after visiting the Remarkables and the lighthouse there won’t be enough time.”

Us: “Ummm…”

In the end she mentioned something about no one having seen platypus lately on our planned walk, so we took a different, shorter trail with views over the ocean. We’ll likely return to the park again tomorrow, but we may skip the ranger station checkin if we do.

After leaving the park and driving the hour back to our part of the island we figured we’d give the koalas another try, and found them immediately in the same trees as this morning, still sleeping soundly. Overall not a bad way to spend a day.

Koala, Kangaroo Island

Our first koala of the trip! This photo was taken during our return visit in the evening when he was starting to wake up, but before he’d had his coffee.

Planes, Boats and Automobiles

Posted from Kangaroo Island, South Australia at 2:15 pm, May 8th, 2024

This journal entry is being written from the ferry traveling to Kangaroo Island. When they were loading the ferry they made everyone back their vehicle onto the boat, which is a humbling experience when you’ve just rented a medium-sized Chinese SUV with a funky backup camera that’s stuck in wide angle mode and shows the oddly-translated warning “please watch out your surrounding” whenever you reverse. Luckily the lady guiding everyone onto the boat took pity on me and talked me into my spot as if I was a less-than-gifted teenager learning to parallel park for the first time.

Today was spent traveling, with an early departure from Tasmania, a flight through Melbourne to Adelaide, and then a drive from Adelaide to Cape Jervis where we caught the ferry. We made a stop along the way in the German town of Hahndorf, because why not celebrate German culture when in Australia? We’ve got another 45 minutes of driving after the ferry lands, so it’s going to be a late night for me considering that bed time has lately been around 8:30.

We’ll be on Kangaroo Island for the next few days, and I won’t spoil the surprise and reveal what animal it’s famous for, but we’re excited. This is also our first chance for koalas, and one of the rare places that we might see a platypus in the wild, so it should be a fun visit.

Tasmania Itinerary

Our approximate route around Tasmania over the past eleven days.

Fun Guys

Posted from Hobart, Tasmania at 1:19 pm, May 7th, 2024

Today we woke up at an alpaca farm and then trudged off into the forest to look for fungus. That is a sentence I am certain I never uttered before, but it made for a really good start to the day. Apparently May and June are the best months for finding colorful mushrooms and fungus in Mt Fields National Park, and we took full advantage, finding progressively weirder things growing as we traversed the woods.

After the morning’s mushroom hunt we made our return to Hobart where Audrey relaxed in our historic B&B, while I took the car up to the top of Mount Wellington to take in the expansive views of the city, harbor, and surrounding area. Hobart sits in a pretty bay with numerous islands offshore and medium-sized mountains inland, making an extraordinarily scenic spot to put a city. If for some reason I ever decide to leave the United States, I think Tasmania has jumped to the top of the list of places I would want to relocate to.

We finished the day with a nice seafood dinner next to the water. It’s been a great visit to Australia’s smallest state, and with any luck we’ll return again someday.

Mushrooms, Mt. Field National Park

Mushrooms, Mt. Field National Park. I like how the one in the back right looks like he’s watching the ones in the foreground.

Fungi, Mt. Field National Park

This carrot-like fungus was one of the stranger finds today.

Low Clearance

Posted from Mt Field National Park, Tasmania at 1:44 pm, May 6th, 2024

We’re staying at an alpaca farm tonight, because when someone asks you if you want to wake up to alpacas, you say yes.

Today was a long drive south, so we took our time before getting on the road, and made a few short rest stops on the way down. The roads here are given route names that start with “A”, “B” or “C”. “A” routes seem to always be paved, although they may be little more than narrow country roads. “C” routes seem to be a roll of the dice – some are paved, some are dirt, and at least one has been a four-wheel drive only route, so we’ve learned to double check whatever directions Google Maps sends us before setting out. Until yesterday we assumed that “B” routes were always paved, too, but after twenty miles of dirt road in a Toyota Camry with about two millimeters of ground clearance we now know that’s not the case. We’re pretty confident that we will have the road situation all figured out just in time to catch our flight out from Hobart in two days.

Our eventual destination for today was Mount Field National Park, the second oldest national park in Tasmania and home to some famous waterfalls. The waterfalls were running low due to a lack of recent rain, but the rainforest was still lush and we spent a while photographing mushrooms along the trail. Tomorrow we’ll probably get a bit more practice at fungal photography before heading back to Hobart for our last day in Tasmania.

Mushrooms, Mt. Field National Park

Tiny mushrooms, Mt. Field National Park.

Wombats, Devils and Quolls

Posted from Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania at 2:32 pm, May 5th, 2024

Cradle Mountain National Park is one of the places on this trip where I was really, REALLY hoping for good weather. Apparently they don’t get many cloud-free days here, but the karma gods gave us blue skies and a perfect forecast, and we took full advantage.

The park operates a shuttle system for entry, so we waited until 8:45am to jump on the first bus to Dove Lake. From there we hiked the circuit around the lake, with Cradle Mountain above us and the colors of the fagus, Australia’s only native deciduous tree, lighting up the cliffsides. After the two hour hike Audrey let me head off on my own to mountain goat it up the Marion’s Lookout trail, which got progressively steeper until eventually I was pulling myself up cliffs using chains that they had drilled into the rock. I’m always a fan of trails that eschew safety for stunning views, and the views from the top of this trail were one hundred percent worth sacrificing whatever cartilage still remains in my knees.

I tumbled back down the trail and Audrey met me at the Ronny’s Creek shuttle stop, which we had been told was the place in the park to see wombats. It took approximately 0.3 seconds to find our first wombat munching grass next to the boardwalk, where the pig-sized ball of fur and fat showed absolutely no concern whatsoever for the hikers who were standing a couple of feet away; my 500mm lens was definitely overkill for this particular location. During our visit at least a dozen of the rotund marsupials were out and about, and Audrey managed to capture some fairly amazing video by holding her phone out as one of them ignored her from two feet away.

Since I refuse to let a minute of any day go to waste, I booked us a night tour at the Devils@Cradle Wildlife Park, a non-profit breeding program for Tasmanian devils as well as quolls, Tasmania’s other carnivorous marsupial. We entered to find numerous large devil habitats, with some very fired-up Tasmanian devils patrolling the grasses and trees. Devil populations in the wild are crashing due to a transmissible cancer that was first documented in 1996, so the government and non-profits have set up a number of breeding programs to ensure that the species survives until they can find a vaccine or other solution. Tonight’s experience at this park may have been even better than our Devils in the Dark evening four nights ago, with more time to spend with the devils as they growled, sniffed, screamed, and otherwise lived out their very unique lives.

Sadly we’ve got only a couple of nights remaining on this awesome little island, but we have a few fun plans still in the works before we move on to other parts of Australia.

Crater Lake, Cradle Mountain National Park

Crater Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park. The hike up and down from this point was a knee-breaker, but knees are overrated, right?

Wombat, Cradle Mountain National Park

The wombats in Cradle Mountain National Park literally could not care less about the people on the trails next to them.

Tasmanian Devil, Devils@Cradle Wildlife Park

Tasmanian Devil in the Devils@Cradle Wildlife Park. The dental program at this park appears to be excellent.

Two Stars

Posted from Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania at 1:24 pm, May 4th, 2024

We returned to Narawntapu National Park early this morning, and the grasslands that last night were full of wallabies, pademelons and kangaroos were comparatively empty; dusk is apparently the magic time in Australia, and I can now understand why some of the online reviews from people who visited at other times of day weren’t wildly enthusiastic. It was still pretty awesome, with plenty of kangaroos out on the grass, and the wallabies and pademelons had simply retired to the nearby forest, so there was no shortage of unscared wildlife to enjoy during the two hours we visited today, even if it wasn’t quite the spectacle we encountered yesterday.

Audrey was bummed to have missed out on the glowworms in Waitomo, so following Narawntapu we booked a visit to Mole Creek Cave to see what Tasmania’s caves had on offer. The underground formations were impressive, and at the end the guide shut off the lights, revealing dots of light on the roof. New Zealand wins the award for best glowworms hands down, but since they are only found in New Zealand and Eastern Australia it was good to give Audrey a chance to see them, and neat for me to see them lighting up the darkness one more time.

We’re spending the next two nights in Cradle Mountain National Park, home to dramatic scenery and an abundance of wombats. The scenery is great because I’m ready to be out hiking again, and the wombats are great because they look like cute pig-sized stuffed animals and are the only creature with cube-shaped poo. The weather forecast calls for sun, so odds are high that tomorrow will be another good day.

Kangaroos, Narawntapu National Park

Kangaroos in Narawntapu National Park.

The Australian Serengeti

Posted from Beauty Point, Tasmania at 1:26 pm, May 3rd, 2024

Despite having to cover a lot of ground to get from Freycinet to Beauty Point, today we still managed to visit the Bay of Fires, Beauty Point’s Platypus (and Echidna) House, and the vastly underrated Narawntapu National Park. I’m very much enjoying having jet-lagged Audrey waking up at 5:30am with me each day.

Even the Australians make fun of their country for its unoriginal naming – we’ve passed “Freshwater Creek”, “Gravel Beach”, and a myriad of other places with horribly uncreative names. The Bay of Fires seems like it would be an exception, with bright orange lichens on the rocks evoking fires, but it turns out that it’s another example of terrible naming, having been named for the many fires burning in aboriginal settlements when it was first discovered. We paid a short visit, roaming around on the giant, brightly-colored boulders and enjoying the turquoise blue waters. As an added bonus, there was a controlled burn going on, so it was actually on fire while we were there.

From there it was off on curvy mountain roads through rainforest and past pretty farms to Beauty Point, where we had a 3pm tour scheduled at the Platypus House. While we could theoretically see platypus in the wild, they’re hard to find, so we cheated by visiting an educational center to see the weird little beasties. Platypus are one of two creatures in the monotreme family, and they also had the other family member roaming about in a free-range area. Echidnas are a bit like porcupines with long, thin noses, and the three they had were incredibly fired up when we arrived. We entered their living area, were instructed not to touch, and then had three skunk-sized balls of quills charging up to everyone to repeatedly give them a sniff. It was a very fun and unique experience.

Our last stop of the day was at Narawntapu National Park. The road to get there was another sketchy Tasmanian dirt road – at one point as we rattled up a steep hill Audrey asked if there was an Australian equivalent to AAA, but I don’t think we had cell service to be able to call for help at that point anyhow. I had read that our destination was the “Serengeti of Australia”, but having been to the actual Serengeti, and based on the fact that you almost never see this park mentioned when reading about highlights of Tasmania, I didn’t have very high expectations. We arrived at dusk at the park border, didn’t see any animals, but continued on to their visitor center, which was located in the midst of a huge grassy area.

There were literally hundreds of pademelons, wallabies and kangaroos grazing. It was beyond amazing.

We got out of the car, and a nearby wallaby barely even bothered to glance at us. Audrey was taking photos of some animals from ten feet away, and probably could have been closer without disturbing them. Wildlife was everywhere we went, and animals could be seen all the way to the horizon. How this place isn’t on more “best of” Tasmania lists I don’t know, but it really was like the Serengeti, and we’re going to go back in the morning to see all of the macropods one more time and hopefully get photos in better light to do the experience justice.

Pademelon, Narawntapu National Park

Pademelon, Narawntapu National Park. He was totally ignoring us, so I actually had to wait a while to get him to look up at me.