Tasmania isn’t an easy place to travel by public transport so I joined a seven day tour of the island with Under Down Under Tours.
For readers unfamiliar with the size of Tasmania, it’s about the size of Ireland and I wanted to see as much as possible.
This promised to be a packed day.
First stop, on the edge of Launceston itself was Cataract Gorge which, for 200 years, was the key holiday spot for locals.
The Alexandra Suspension Bridge, spanning the gorge, was built in 1904, though I would argue that it isn’t actually the Alexandra Bridge anymore. Floods have twice swept away the bridge in 1929 and 1949.
It’s a beautiful spot and as a holiday or leisure a garden, introducing international species of trees was also added.
Today, peacocks strut around the grazing Bennett wallabies and pademelons – the latter I thought to be a made up species when I first heard the name: paddy melon.
Was I looking for a fruit or an animal?
From Launceston we headed to the East coast of Tasmania travelling through dry, arid countryside.
This part of the island does not get a lot of rainfall – it being intercepted by mountain ranges to the West – and Phil, our driver told us that this situation has been worsening over the last few years.
The message today: respect the water.
Passing through the Fingal Valley, we passed a small reservoir that was only a quarter full. This area relies on rainfall and the area has not received it.
Farming is prevalent here, supported by giant irrigation systems. We passed flocks of sheep , fields of potatoes, wheat and poppies… which are grown for the pharmaceutical industry – opioids.
The dry weather is affecting their yield. It’s not only food production, but painkillers affected by climate change.
Behind a ridge, smoke from a bushfire rose into the sky.
The valley had been awash with smoke from the burning ranges the week before. The Fingal fires were thought to have been deliberately lit – the man in question now detained.
As we progressed through the valley, there were more smouldering fires in the bush on either side of the flat valley floor and we could see the damage already done to the ranges.
The road climbed out of the valley through bush and twisted its way to the sea, passing more agricultural land.
The bus started to head down the coast of Breaker Bay with the sapphire sea on the right. This was Breaker Bay, so called because the sunrise breaks the horizon here.
A brief stop at St Helens to grab a picnic and we headed down to the Bay of Fires… named because the first European explorers saw fires in the bay.
It was land management by the Indigenous People. It was a key method for stimulating plant growth which also attracted animals, because of the tasty new shoots, for hunting.
Phil our tour guide highlighted that the problems facing Australia today are caused by a combination of climate change, drought and poor land management.
The issue of land management is a thorny issue here.
Because fire management isn’t practiced as often there is greater low lying shrub and dead wood lying on the ground when the fires do start.
We were heading down to Cosy Corner, a secluded beach within the Bay of Fires.
After a walk in the water or a swim if the cold water didn’t deter you, we drove South down the East coast for a date with the devil…
Tasmanian Devils to be precise.
When we weren’t following the sea road, our journey took us through an arid, though forested and farmed landscape.
We passed towns where signs notified us that water restrictions would be in place until the end of March. A once wide river was now dry.
The Tasmanian Devils at East Coast Nature World were hungry and the keeper tempted them put of their burrows with pieces of fresh wallaby – fur and all.
The Sanctuary is a rescue facility – caring for wounded animals, not only Devils, many of them found injured by the side of the road.
The Devils are endangered as a result of two factors.
Firstly, a facial tumour disease which is spread by a disease animal biting a healthy one. The tumours grow until the animal cannot eat.
The second factor is the issue of previous hunting. 80-90% of animals were killed and the recovering increase of the population is a result of inbreeding.
The animals have no immunity to the tumour disease.
Efforts are being made to fight the disease and a vaccine is being trialled which is showing significant success – the only downside is that it requires six doses over six months… try catching a wild Devil for regular boosters.
The Sanctuary has many types of animals including kangaroos which are enthusiastic about being fed…
…as well as wallabies and wombats.
Many of these are brought in as joey’s, rescued after their mother was killed on the roadside – they survive in their mother’s pouch.
The keeper made a plea.
Anyone can help protect Tasmania’s wildlife… while the speed limit is 190km/h there are yellow signs requesting motorists drive at 45km/h – making it easier to spot and avoid an animal.
Like Moonlit Sanctuary and Philip Island, this Sanctuary, is entirely funded by donations and people paying the entry fees.
A fascinating and informative visit.
If you’re not on a tour and travelling independently, call in to Nature World.
This was the last stop of the day before Bicheno where fish n chips by the sea seemed to be a likely option.