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

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.


Posted from Freycinet National Park, Tasmania at 1:26 pm, May 2nd, 2024

After last night’s devil adventure, today’s activity was a five-hour boat ride around Freycinet National Park. I waited to book until we confirmed the seas would be reasonably calm, but even with the good forecast there were a number of folks liquidating their assets on the ride back. While we sat on the first deck in the cheap seats, we’re guessing that many of the passengers who paid extra to sit on the upper deck with unlimited wine and oysters may have greatly regretted their choice.

Freycinet was Tasmania’s first national park, and is famous for its rugged and colorful seacliffs, made up of pink granite and covered in orange lichens. As we motored around the Freycinet Peninsula (or “peninshula” as the Australian crew pronounced it) we passed from the protected side out to the Tasman Sea, where the waves got larger and the geography more extreme, with caves and massive rockslides making for a very dramatic journey. Our final destination was Wineglass Bay, home to one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, where we anchored and ate lunch. After that brief bit of quiet we pulled anchor and headed back home, at which point either the seas had gotten angrier or the currents had changed, and we got a much more exciting trip back that resulted in several passengers developing grave misgivings about their recent dietary decisions.

After the boat trip Audrey was frozen solid from the cold and wind and retired to a hot bath, while I needed some exercise and did an hour-long hike up to the Wineglass Bay Overlook. Tomorrow we’re heading north to the Bay of Fires, then cutting west to spend the night at Beauty Point. When I first booked our lodging there I assumed the town must have been named due to its scenic beauty, but questionable rumors suggest that the town was originally named Ilfracombe and was renamed in 1903 to honor a beloved cow named “Beauty” after she drowned in the river; the same rumors suggest it’s one of only two towns in Australia named after a bovine, the other being (and I am not making this up) Banana in Queensland.

Treescape, Freycinet National Park

This weird and colorful forest was surrounded by really impressive seacliffs and a beautiful beach, but you’ll have to visit yourself to experience them since I picked the tree picture for today’s journal entry.

Wallaby, Freycinet National Park

We’ve had our eyes peeled on trails and while driving for any sight of wallabies, so of course the best recent sighting came in the parking lot at the trailhead.

Devils in the Dark

Posted from Freycinet National Park, Tasmania at 3:23 pm, May 1st, 2024

Audrey and I just got back from watching five Tasmanian devils eat a dead pademelon while we sipped on wine and had cheese & crackers. Suffice it to say this trip has had a few moments that we aren’t likely to ever repeat.

We started the day taking in some of the weird geologic features of the Tasman Peninsula. First we visited the Tessellated Pavement, which is an area of ancient silt that has been cracked by natural forces over time so that it looks like someone carved checkerboard patterns into it. I’ll admit that when I first read about it I wasn’t terribly interested, but it turned out to be really weird and unique. From there we headed down to the coastal seacliffs, including the absolutely massive Tasman Arch, which had to be several hundred feet tall and might have been the most impressive sea arch I’ve ever seen. After a short hike that included Audrey’s first wallaby we headed north towards Freycinet National Park. The route Google picked for us went from sealed roads to dirt roads until eventually there was a sign warning that four wheel drive was necessary for the next several kilometers. Since Hertz somehow decided that my reservation for an “economy SUV” meant “Toyota Camry”, and since we continually see Australians driving large pickups with snorkel attachments, I decided that our three inches of ground clearance was probably a bad match for whatever lay ahead, so we backtracked twenty minutes to a better road.

Our activity for the evening was the day’s big event. The odds of seeing Tasmanian devils in the wild are close to nil, so we instead booked tickets for Devils in the Dark, an after hours experience at East Coast Natureworld where they put out a dead wallaby or pademelon in their 35 acre devil enclosure and you watch the feast from an adjacent wildlife hide while drinking wine. When we booked it Audrey was excited but noted “this is so f’d up”, and it was an apt prediction about what we were about to see. We got to the hide with only three other people in the group, heard the sounds of devils roaming behind the drawn curtains, the guide left to stake out a dead pademelon, the noises got crazier, then the curtains were drawn and we were ten feet away from five angry devils screaming at each other, fighting over food, crunching bones, and generally acting like tiny little terror bears for the next hour. They’re an incredibly weird animal, with terrible eyesight, lopsided gaits, and awful tempers, but they were amazing to watch. In the space of an hour the five of them almost completely consumed the pademelon, bones and all, and never once quit fighting with one another and screaming their displeasure at having to share. As the guide noted, the devils got their name from their vocalizations, and back when Tasmania was a penal colony, some convicts would escape, hear the sounds of screaming animals in the pitch black, and return to the jail having decided that the prison was a better place to be than outdoors with whatever beasts were making such awful noises.

We drove home having had another amazing experience, and given that it was dark out we also got to see a few wombats, possums, and wallabies on the drive back as I carefully navigated the wildlife pathways roads of Tasmania under the stars.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian devil at Devils in the Dark. We sipped wine and ate cheese and crackers while they devoured a dead pademelon.

Tasmanian Devils

The Tripadvisor reviews for this experience are surprisingly high, I would have assumed there would be more than a few people who signed up for a wine and cheese event and later realized they had made a horrible mistake.

Table for Two

Posted from Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania at 12:28 pm, April 30th, 2024

At noon today the lovely and talented Ms. Audrey Wiechman arrived in Tasmania, so I’ll no longer be the awkward bald guy asking for a table for one, and instead will be the awkward bald guy standing next to the pretty girl and asking for a table for two. I’m looking forward to having someone to share the adventures with over the next six weeks.

I had some time before Audrey’s arrival this morning, so I roamed the Inala Nature Reserve in the rain to see what might be out and about, and shared a moment with a few of the birds that were willing to put up with me taking photos. I had planned my day with the thought of getting to the airport with about an hour to spare, but after taking the ferry back from the island, a construction crew that was repaving the lone highway had other thoughts, and I ended up getting to the airport with just a couple of minutes to spare before Audrey finished her journey across the Pacific.

The weather today was somewhat disagreeable, so we drove to our cabin for the night and then did a loop into Tasman National Park to introduce Audrey to the critters in Tasmania, but aside from that the activities were limited. The weather is supposed to be less disagreeable tomorrow, and should become borderline-pleasant starting on Thursday, so we’re expecting many adventures in the days ahead.

Tasmanian Native Hen, Bruny Island

Tasmanian Native Hen, Bruny Island. From the side they are mostly grey and brown, and it was only after taking this photo that I realized they have a blue chest. Australia has an inordinate number of colorful birds.

White Wallabies

Posted from Bruny Island, Tasmania at 1:19 pm, April 29th, 2024

Lots of adventures today. I woke up at 5:30am, then played “dodge the wallaby” as they continually darted in front of my car on the drive over to the Bruny Island Lighthouse. Their survival instincts aren’t good for surviving – I was driving between 20-30kph to avoid hitting anyone, but the wallabies and pademelons were consistently waiting next to the road where they were safe, and then darting in front of my car at the last second. One repeated this feat three times, getting across the road safely, darting back to the other side, and then re-crossing the road yet again. Thankfully the island seems to mostly empty out each night as everyone heads back on the ferry, and I assume the locals must all have developed cat-like reflexes when driving in the dark.

I got to the cape way before anyone else, and braved strong winds and light rain up to the lighthouse. Enroute I saw what I later learned was a group of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, so add that to the list of birds I had no idea existed in Australia. From there it was off to the derelict, bread-filled freezers of the Bruny Baker, and I happened to get there as he was dropping off his bread for the day. I took a fresh-out-of-the-oven loaf with me, and I gotta say, the man makes a damn good loaf of bread.

After leaving the “bakery” I was in search of white wallabies, and I’d heard they hung out near Adventure Bay. When I arrived there wasn’t a wallaby in sight (I later found out that they pretty much disappear during the day), so I did my first proper Australian hike up to the Fluted Cape, covering 6 kilometers and climbing 270 meters to dramatic views from from the top of completely vertical sea cliffs. It was not a spot for anyone with a fear of heights, but for a middle-aged bald man without much common sense it was a great spot to sit and dangle your legs.

I returned to my home base at the Inala Nature Reserve not yet ready to give up on my lifelong day-old dream of seeing a white wallaby, so after hanging out with the pademelons at the reserve I set off for a dusk ride up the coast to see if one might appear out the forest like the terrestrial version of Ahab’s whale. Finally, after twenty minutes and more than a few false positives, I spotted him, silently munching grass on the far side of a field. Our eyes met, soft music played from the heavens, I clicked a couple of photos, and thus ended another good day in Tasmania.

Pademelon, Bruny Island

Pademelon, Bruny Island. I’m still working on my animal identification, but I think the rule is that if it’s between knee high and waist high, it’s a pademelon. If it’s waist high to chest high it’s a wallaby. And if it’s chest high or taller, I haven’t see it yet but it’s probably a kangaroo.

White Wallaby, Bruny Island

White Wallaby, Bruny Island. Mission accomplished.

The Birds of Bruny

Posted from Bruny Island, Tasmania at 1:07 pm, April 28th, 2024

Phase two of the trip is now underway, and so far I really, really like Tasmania. Hobart was a fun old city to roam around in. It struck that balance of being not too large, artsy without being impractical, and historical but still functional. I roamed around last night, then again this morning starting before sunrise. From there it was a short and scenic drive down the coast to the Bruny Island ferry, and I’ve been exploring this island since. It’s big – it takes at least an hour to drive from one end to the other – and it’s got a really unique rural character. To cite one example that gives a sense of the place, I passed two derelict freezers sitting by the road (obviously unpowered) with a big sign in front of them that said “Bread”, and this is apparently the island’s bakery. Both were empty when I got there, but there was a big note inside indicating that loaves of sourdough were baked fresh each morning, placed inside, and cost $10 AUD each, and obviously sales were all on the honor system.

One highlight today was the food. When I booked lodging I was advised to bring supplies since there aren’t any grocery stores on the island, and very few restaurants. Instead, they told me that food is mostly sold by the people who grow, harvest, and make it, so my options would probably be limited to wine, chocolate and oysters. After enjoying an amazing lunch of oysters from Get Shucked, I think I’m OK with those limited options.

The lodging for the evening is at Inala Nature Reserve where I’ve rented a cottage for two nights. After checking in I was planning on going out to find the island’s white wallabies, but instead I spent the rest of the day wandering around the 1500 acre reserve, photographing pademelons (think mini kangaroos), falcons, parrots, and other birds. New Zealand was amazing, but it had no native mammals and only a tiny number of bird species, so being in a place with tons of birds and mammals literally at my doorstep feels particularly good. And the white wallabies will hopefully still be out there tomorrow.

Flame Robin, Bruny Island

Flame Robin, Bruny Island.

Welcome to Tasmania

Posted from Hobart, Tasmania at 12:48 pm, April 27th, 2024

Today started at 4:30am in New Zealand (2:30am Tasmania) and involved saying a last goodbye to New Zealand before flying from Auckland to Sydney to Canberra to Hobart. The guy at the Qantas desk spent a while looking at my ticket, and when I asked if something was wrong he said “there’s got to be a more direct way to get you there, but I’m not finding it”. I told him that long ago when the ticket was booked it was less circuitous, but flights had been cancelled and thus my route to Tasmania had become a bit roundabout.

From what I’ve seen flying into Tasmania, driving into Hobart, and walking around the city center, I might need to convince Audrey to move here permanently. It has a strong New Zealand vibe, but also wallabies (I haven’t seen them yet, but tomorrow’s adventure is finding Bruny Island’s white wallabies). My hotel for the night is a refurbished 1831 building with thick stone walls and heavy wooden beams, located a block from the water. Life has clearly treated me much better than I deserve.

North Island Itinerary

The approximate route I took around the North Island of New Zealand over the past three weeks.

Self-Portrait, Hobart

A happy man at the wharves in Hobart, Tasmania.