Monday, February 10, 2014

Tasmanian Devils

Loooong time no blog! I've definitely gotten into the swing of things here in Manly, which unfortunately includes a lot more work time than it does free time! Still, Ben and I managed to fit in a quick trip to Tasmania this week, a place we'd both been longing to visit. 

Often confused as being a different country, Tasmania (which, in true Australian form, is commonly shortened to Tassie) is in fact part of Australia and is special for several reasons: it's Australia's only island state, the air there is said to be as clean (or cleaner) than Antarctica's and it's the only place in the world where you can see Tasmanian Devils (yep, they're real!) in the wild.

We only had four days but we'd heard so many good things about Tasmania that we were determined to cover as much of the island as we could. After arriving in the capital of Hobart and picking up our campervan, we immediately headed northwest. Western Tasmania is known for being rugged, wild and sparsely inhabited, which it absolutely was. The majority of the time we spent driving in the West there was nothing but trees or wide open spaces as far as the eye could see. The 'towns' we passed through every so often were, and I mean this in the kindest way possible, almost comically small.

We visited two National Parks in Tassie's 'Wild West'. The first was Mt. Field National Park, where we took a nice walk out to iconic Russell Falls.

We also visited Lake Dobson, a glass-like glacial lake. Although 'skiing' and 'Australia' aren't two things that usually go together, people can actually ski around Lake Dobson in the winter, although nothing about the area suggested skiing was possible (apart from a sign that said 'snow plough turning area' and a few verrrry rustic looking cabins.)

As we made our way further northwest we could've probably counted the number of other cars we saw on one hand. It was just us, the road and endless wide-open spaces.

After a heck of a lot of driving we reached Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. We did a pretty rigorous four hour hike to Cradle Mountain and were rewarded with stunning views of Dove Lake, the surrounding mountains and absolutely no sign of civilization in sight. Uh-mazing.

From there we drove East to Wineglass Bay, which is not only one of Australia's most renown sights but also considered to be one of the best beaches in the world. Accessible only by foot (about an hours walk from the nearest carpark) Wineglass Bay was beautiful, all-natural and wonderfully unspoilt.

The water was mighty chilly but the Canadian in me/the Brit in Ben couldn't resist going for a swim in the crystal clear water, much to the amusement of the handful of other beach-goers.

Now Ben and I had our hearts set on seeing a Tasmanian Devil in the wild but as our trip came to an end we still hadn't seen one. On our last day, we decided that if we were going to see a devil it would have to be at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. Although it was a last minute decision, visiting the Sanctuary turned out to be a highlight of the trip. We got to see a ridiculously cute, orphaned baby wombat named Max...

Get up close and personal with some kangaroos...

And see devils! Which, you may be surprised to find out, don't look anything like this:

They're actually pretty adorable little guys and not as vicious as their name (or the cartoon) suggests - except for when they eat, apparently that can get pretty gruesome! Although it's a behavior that they can't help, it's unfortunately what is causing their demise: We learned the reason you don't see many devils in the wild is that 85% of the population has been killed, primarily from a contagious cancer that devils transmit to each other through saliva and blood when they fight over food. The cancer gives the poor little devils horrible facial tumors and has a 100% mortality rate. Fortunately, they are breeding disease-free devils on a small island off of Tasmania to try and save these guys from going extinct forever.

See?! They're cute!

Visiting the Sanctuary was so worth it but unfortunately it meant missing out on spending an afternoon in Hobart. We had a quick look around before we had to return the camper and as far as I could tell it seemed like quaint, pleasant city with lots of colonial architecture. I would really have liked to spend more time there but, as I've realized time and time again while traveling, you just can't do everything.

When thinking of highlights to visit in this country, Tasmania isn't usually what comes to mind. I think that's what makes it so special; the fact that it's so far removed and untouched is exactly what I found remarkable about it. It has so much of nothing yet so much of everything, and its range of natural beauty, from mountain glaciers to white sand beaches, is outstanding. While it's a place I'm almost sure I'll never revisit due to its remote location, I'm incredibly glad we had the chance to explore this unique region.