Sunday, October 2nd, 2011: Hobart, Australia
Though it seemed so far away when we first boarded the Dawn Princess, we have arrived at the final port of our 28 day circumnavigation of Australia cruise. It has been an amazing introduction to the country (and continent) of Australia and even before we close out the first of these cruise itineraries, we can highly recommend it to anyone that would like visit Australia at any point in the near future.
Hobart is the capital of Tasmania and is the only 2 day port on this cruise, so with our arrival at 12noon on Sunday, the 2nd, we will remain in port until 4pm on Monday, the 3rd. With two days to explore the area, we elected to rent a car and to complete two separate touring itineraries of this area. The first covers Sunday afternoon and early evening as we travel north to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary and to Mt. Field National Park. On Monday morning and early afternoon, we travel east and south to Port Arthur and the Tasman coast.
We were pleasantly surprised to arrive into Hobart a bit early with passengers permitted to exit the ship at 11:30am! We with extra half hour, we began the short walk into downtown to reach our Hertz Rental Car location and got to see Parliament House and St. David’s Park along the way. Once we got to our destination, Kim and the team had our extremely low mileage Nissan Tiida ready for drive off the lot and we began heading north towards Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in the town of Brighton.
On first arrival, the first thing that struck us was just how much the waterways of this region impact the ability to get from point A to point B. One of the immediate benefits of all of this water though is green everywhere! Unfortunately, though it means that you basically have to cross a bridge or two or six to reach most destinations. This was certainly not a problem as it afforded us a number of great views of the bays, harbors, and peninsulas in this area. As we rounded a corner or reached the crest of a hill it seemed as if we were simply turning the pages of a picture book, moving from one beautiful scene to another as we made our way to our destination.
Our first stop for the day was to the Tasmanian animal sanctuary of Bonorong. Make no mistake — these are not zoos. Zoos contain within them a number of animals and species that are not native to the area, are usually animals that have been sent in from other countries, and though important to help with education and understanding of animals, generally do not represent the local animal populations as well as sanctuaries do.
Upon arrival at Bonorong, a huge expanse of land high on a hillside in Brighton overlooking a huge valley below, we were treated to large open pens where cages are only there to protect animals (and mainly to keep humans from making stupid moves like sticking fingers in places they should not be). On this property, there are more than 15 Tasmanian devils, dozens of kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and other native species that came to the sanctuary because of injury, impact by humans, or loss of animal parents.
As we walked along the paths in the park, we got the chance to talk to one of the Tasmanian devil keepers. She “adopted” a female Tasmanian devil early on in its life as it lost its mother in an accident. Working in a cooperative manner with the sancutary’s practices, the devil has successfully been raised and was mated to produce three young imps (baby devils) that are now thriving in the park. The irony — if she enters the pen, the mama and the babies will approach, cuddle up to her just like a puppy to a young child. Anyone else enters the pen, and the mama devil becomes hugely agitated, snarling, and immediately protective.
As we spoke with the keeper, she was discussing how the devils unfortunately at this time, cannot be released into the wild due to a disease that is killing them off, a contagious tumor disease with a mortality rate of nearly 90%. At this rate, devils will be extinct within 15 years. The sanctuary hopes to educate visitors on the best way to control the spread of the disease and how to properly care for devils that might be injured by vehicles on roadways.
As we continued into the kangaroo pen, we got to hand fed a number of kangaroos, much like the opportunity we had in Brisbane, only this time, the later date of our visit has allowed us to participate in viewing of not only a number of kangaroos, but also their joeys! At least 6 of them were in this pen alone, hanging out in mama’s pouch (literally) — some pop their heads out to feed when mama is feeding, while others are just not interested in the visitors and leave only a foot or a tail hanging out of the pouch. They still have some development to go before they will be able to head out and do things on their own, but the ability to be up close and directly engaged with these animals is an experience that will not soon be forgotten.
In addition to the devils and the kangaroos in the parks, we could also see a number of Australian birds, wallabies, possums, lizards, and other animals that ended up at the park. A 24 hour telephone hotline is available to anyone needing advice on how to treat injured native Tasmanian animals and they on average receive more than 100 calls a month. In fact, the expanding growth footprint of humans in Tasmania contributes (as we learned) to a roadkill death of an animal on every 3 kms of road in the state. That’s why between dusk and dawn on a number of rural roads, the speed limit is now set at 45kph (less than 30mph), in the hopes of just letting the animals cross the road and survive.
At 2pm, we were met up by another of the park’s keepers to have a guided tour and here we had a chance to see a number of the animals up close, including two wombats (2 years old and a 4 month old baby) and a koala. In addition, our keeper also did a Tasmanian devil feeding which was an eye-opening event. As we came to learn, the devils have some of the strongest jaws of any animal on earth and with that powerful chomping tool at its disposal, it will eat any food that comes its way as it was found — bones, feathers, skin, hair, and all. As the keeper tossed wallaby into the cage, the devil zeroed in on the food with its keen sense of smell (its eyesight is quite bad, actually) and began to devour it, crunching on the bones and cartilage far better (and with more sound effects) than any garbage disposal could ever deliver for a similar task. An event not to be missed, but one that leaves an impression somewhat similar to nails on a chalkboard, if you don’t have to hear it again, that would be just fine.
As the tour ended, we headed back to complete one final feeding in the kangroo pen and got to see the kangaroos and joeys one last time before we headed out. From here, we got back in the car and made our way further north and west to arrive a short time later at Mt. Field National Park.
Mt. Field National Park has a number of available activities, bushwalks, and campgrounds, however, given our limited time available in the park before sunset, we decided to see two of the most visited attractions, Russell Falls and Horseshoe Falls, about an hour’s walk round trip from the visitors center. The walk to the falls was on an asphalt trail that pushed further and further into the forest of mrytle trees. As the light continued to decline in the ground cover below these thick, immense trees, huge swaths of mosses and lichens covered the ground. Bright green, they almost glowed against the browns and grays of the trees, bark, and ground they covered and it added to the walk as the sun was going lower into the sky casting large amounts of sunlight diagonally onto the path.
After a short time, we arrived at the first of the falls, Russell Falls. We were fortunate to only run into a few other people there and essentially had the entire falls to ourselves. The massive, multi-tiered falls cascaded down at least 4 separate levels to finally hit a large plunge pool, giving off massive amounts of water spray that floated towards us, leaving everything covered in a thin layer of water droplets. Neither a problem nor a nuisance, we just enjoyed the place as the rushing water drowned out all of the other sounds around us.
From here, there is another path that led to a series of staircases, and as we walked up and up and up some more, there was a bit of a question as to whether this was the smartest of choices, as it seemed just as we reached the top of one staircase, another 2-3 came into view. Soon, it became clear that we were actually climbing to the top of the Russell Falls crest! We got a vantage point from the very top of the falls and then continued down the path another minute or two and we arrived at the second of the waterfalls, Horseshoe Falls. This waterfall, though smaller than Russell was much darker and the first and seemed to have much more water running through it. Because of this we were able to take some fantastic time lapse photography here and capture the water in the exposure, making for some pretty fun pictures.
After some time here, we were fortunate to be able to walk down all of the stairs we had just climbed up, and as we slowly made our way back out to the carpark (about 20 minutes away) we enjoyed a rushing stream as our path ran parallel to it along our route back to the visitors center. As we arrived back at the car, we had just about an hour or so to return back to the city before dark and this would put us back into downtown and to our ship just after 6:30pm.
The drive back was just as the sun was setting and it lit up all of the hillsides with brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds as the sun began to set over the hills. Lighting up homes, farms, trees, and the waterways as we traced our route back to Hobart, it was very enjoyable as we just has the local radio station playing music as we took our time returning to the city.
Upon arrival, we located a car park just a few blocks from Macquarie Wharf, where our ship was docked, and could park the car overnight for just $3. We found our space on the 3rd floor of the garage, and headed back to the ship for dinner and to rest up. Tomorrow, we are headed out to Port Arthur, a former convict settlement to see what prison life was like in Tasmania.