Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.
Ask most Americans what they know about Tasmania, and I’m guessing the Tasmanian devil will top the list of probable replies. Inquire further as to where it’s located, and a correct answer will surely be less likely. Besides the fact that I could identify it on a map, I knew relatively little of “Tassie” other than it was English speaking and it was predominantly Christian. This was important because we wanted to make sure that wherever we spent Christmas, there’d be some semblance of the holiday spirit for the kids.
Once the reservations for Tasmania were booked, I started to hear nothing but good things about where we were committed to be at the end of December. ‘A lot like England’, ‘stunningly beautiful,’ and ‘well-kept secret’ were among the descriptions thrown my way. Since it’s not too far from New Zealand and falls along the same path of the ‘roaring 40′s’ westerly winds, I anticipated seeing more rugged landscapes and gorgeous scenery. As we would learn, untamed wilderness and bountiful wildlife are not the only treasures of this once isolated island off the southern shores of mainland Australia. Gourmet food, up-and-coming wines and a thriving urban scene are also part of the mix that I had not expected.
We did expect that this would be the place to see more of Australia’s native animals in their natural habitat. After all, the roads were lined with warning signs for kangaroo, wallabies, wombats, and of course, Tasmanian devils. We did see plenty of these critters, but unfortunately, they weren’t alive. Road kill was everywhere, with no sign of the living and breathing animals to be found. Granted, it’s hard to spot koalas cruising at 100 km an hour, and most of the intriguing animals are nocturnal, but still, we figured to at least see something out there. We did manage to spot an echidna crossing the road (hopefully, it made it to the other side in one piece), which looks a lot like a porcupine, so we didn’t get shut out entirely. But to get our complete fill, we stopped by the East Coast Natureworld outside of Bicheno. At first glance, it looked pretty small and inconsequential, so I wasn’t sure if we should even bother. After having been to the Australia Zoo the week before, it seemed that this might be a letdown. But with no other plans for the afternoon, we went for it anyway and were treated to a terrific interactive experience with Australian wildlife that I would never have expected.
This animal park was actually a natural ecological center and had everything you’d ever want to see in Australia, and in large quantities. There must have been about two dozen Tasmanian devils running around, some of which had been raised in captivity, others rescued after being injured or hit by cars. The keepers who care for them gave us plenty of one-on-one attention and were very informative about their behavior and unique characteristics. The boys also had a chance to feed the ‘roos, and where particularly excited when one of them revealed a newborn peeking out of its pouch. There were also several spacious enclosures, housing things called quolls, narkies, bettongs, pademelons, sugar gliders, and redrumps. The snake pits tucked away in the far corner of the park were particularly intriguing. They featured the highly venomous tiger snake, one animal we’re glad we didn’t see in the wild!
This is not the first time that a seemingly obscure and out-of-the-way animal park has out-delivered what larger, big-name zoos usually offer. There seemed to be a lot more animals to look at, and taking nothing away from the outstanding facilities and conservation efforts of the Australia Zoo, the experience we had at East Coast Natureworld was more intimate, interactive, and ultimately enjoyable. It’s too bad we didn’t arrive there until after lunchtime. We could have stayed well after the 5 p.m. close.
The small town of Bicheno itself, about two hours north of Hobart along the highly popular east coast of the island, turned out to be a great place to spend Christmas. We were delighted to have an actual house to reside in during our stay (complete with a fireplace, small Christmas tree, and a view of a beach that would rival any in the Hamptons) and didn’t make any plans other than to relax, focus on the holidays and explore the nearby Freycinet National Park. To do so, we signed up for a guided twilight paddle of Cole’s Bay, which was ideal for the family given the double kayaks they offered us. It was a treat to get out on the surprisingly clear waters of the bay and see the scenery from water level, but the best views of the region are reached by foot. Wineglass Bay, whose photo you’re likely to see in most Tasmanian travel brochures, has a great observation peak an hour’s hike up a well-traveled trail not far from the park’s visitors center. The trek down to the beach itself would take a lot longer and was more treacherous, so we took our photos and hauled it back to our house to explore the beach right out our back yard, which we seemed to have all to ourselves.
The other organized plans we’d made were to watch blue Fairy penguins come ashore after a full day of collecting food from the Tasman Sea.
We decided on Christmas Eve for this outing because it seemed an appropriate activity for such an occasion. Santa resides at the North Pole, but since we were relatively close to the South Pole this year, watching penguins was somehow fitting. To do so, we had to sign up with Bicheno Penguin Tours to get us to the location. Even though it was a ‘holiday
evening, there were no shortage of other interested tourists. We managed to reserve the last four spots, and it was well worth the time and investment. This was not the first time we would observe penguins wobbling out of rugged surf on this trip, but it was easily the most interesting. We got to within a few feet of them and there numbers were literally in the hundreds! So I guess Tasmania was the place to get more up-close and personal with the animals after all!
Photos: Rainer Jenss