Postcard from Tasmania: Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary

Our travels around Tasmania helped both Thomas and Samuel develop a deep fascination with Tasmanian Devils. I’d always thought of them as vicious, disgusting animals but, the more we learned about them, the more interesting they became. By the time we reached Hobart I was on a mission to find somewhere for us to see the little creatures up close and in person. Thankfully, Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary offered exactly the sort of experience we were looking for.

Much like the Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria, Bonorong provides a home for animals who might not survive in the wild due to injury or abandonment. They also house Tasmanian Devils in a quarantine-like environment to help with repopulation. Devils have been afflicted by a mysterious facial cancer that has threatened their population and the Sanctuary is on a mission to maintain a disease-free group of animals to ensure the species’ survival.

On the 30 minute drive to the Sanctuary, Samuel gave me instructions to “take way too many photos of Tasmanian Devils” and, while I won’t share them all here, I didn’t disappoint.

We listened to a Ranger talk about the Tasmanian Devils and I can’t help feeling that they’re a little misunderstood. Sure, they’re smelly and sound like angry little monsters, but they act as nature’s cleaners. I assumed they were vicious predators but, in fact, they only feed on animals that are already dead. So I guess they’re doing us all a favor. Unfortunately this does make them extremely vulnerable as a lot of their food can be found on roads and they are often hit by cars.

After the tragedy of losing the Tasmanian Tiger to extinction, I appreciate everything that the Tasmanian Government and places like the Bonorong Sanctuary are doing to help ensure the Tassie Devil survives for generations to come.

But, as “cute” as these little guys were, this fat little guy was more my style.

Wombats are adorable little battering rams. I have memories of coming across them when we used to camp at Wilson’s Promontory. We’d never get too close because we were warned that they’re not a fan of strangers and, while they look harmless, wombats are incredibly strong. After giving us a lesson in all thing’s wombat, the Ranger passed him around so we could knock on his thick rump bone(he couldn’t feel it). Fun fact: wombat pouches face backwards so they don’t fill with dirt when a mother wombat is digging a burrow. This means that a baby in the pouch will look backwards and you may sometimes experience what looks like a two-headed wombat.

We also had the opportunity to pet this guy…

… and catch up with some native birds, like the kookaburra…

…and the Tawny Frogmouth – one of the most interesting creatures I’ve ever seen.

Finally, a trip to a Wildlife Sanctuary is not complete without the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most famous residents. We set out with a supply of kangaroo food and strict instructions to only pet them on the chest to avoid an unwanted encounter with some powerful legs.

As a special treat, we were able to see some joeys still in the pouch. Can you spot this one? I think I’d be telling him he’s big enough to leave home if I was that mama.

The Sanctuary provides a safe area for Kangaroos and Wallabies who have had enough of human interaction and just want a quiet space to hang out.

I took this next photo just to show how big this kangaroo was next to the toddler. In fact he was bigger than Samuel. He was also pretty pushy about getting to the food so we chose to walk away and find some calmer friends to hang out with.

 

I’m so glad we had the opportunity to visit the Bonorong Sanctuary. If you look back through my posts recapping our trips to Australia then you’ll see that I try to ensure at least one interaction with Australian wildlife on every trip. I’m hoping that by feeling close to these animals, it will help my children connect more closely with their Aussie side and understand just how special this place is.

Like no other place on earth.

Postcard from Tasmania: Salamanca Market, Hobart

After an epic road trip, we finally made it to Hobart where we gratefully settled into our rental home for a few nights and prepared to explore a little bit of the city. First stop – The Salamanca Market.

I’d heard that the Salamanca Market was a must-see if we ever made our way to Hobart and I’m glad we were there on a weekend so we could see what all the fuss was about.

As with most popular markets, I’m sure Salamanca has been corrupted by its popularity, but it was still fun to wander through the stalls and admire everything from beautiful hand-made jewelry to tacky Aussie souvenirs. I managed to spend just a few dollars on a tea towel (I know – exciting stuff), while the boys picked up a stuffed Tasmanian Tiger to add to their massive collection of stuffies back home.

We made the most of some kids activities on offer, including a tent where the boys could make their own fruit kebabs. Brilliant idea.

Such a fun place to visit, despite the crowds. We stopped by the Salamanca area one last time just before we left Hobart and I was able to grab a quick shot without the tents and the shoppers. There was so much that was hidden by the market that I’m glad we were afforded one last glimpse.

One More Thought on Port Arthur

It’s hard for me to visit Port Arthur without thinking about one more tragic part of it’s history that is only briefly mentioned on the tour. In 1996, when I was living in Melbourne, a man walked into the cafe at Port Arthur with a semi automatic rifle, killing 35 people and wounding 23. It made a huge impression on me back in 1996, mainly because things that just didn’t happen in Australia and especially not in Tasmania. Walking the same grounds with my family this year, that other families walked 19 years ago, really brought home the devastation caused by one man with a gun.

Now, I find myself living in a country where tragedies like this occur far too frequently and it breaks my heart every single time. Thankfully, a man-made tragedy of this scale has not occurred in Australia since the events of Port Arthur and it’s for one simple reason – they took immediate action to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. I only wish my adopted country would take the same steps out of respect for the people who have lost their lives to senseless gun violence – and to protect those of us who are still around.

This clip from The Daily Show is one of my favorites. I think it sums up the insanity of what we’re experiencing right now with the gun lobby.

I’m proud to come from a country where 35 people’s lives actually meant something and did not just become another forgotten statistic.

Rant over… for now.

Postcard from Tasmania: Exploring Port Arthur

I have vague recollections of visiting Port Arthur when I was a child of about 8 or 9 years old and I’ve always wanted to go back. It’s such a unique remnant of Australian history that I was excited to bring the boys along and teach them all about their convict ancestors – even if we failed to find any direct relatives in our search of the electronic records. I remain convinced, however, that we must have at least one or two criminals in our family history. It makes for a good Aussie origin story.

We were lucky that our visit was timed just days after they pulled scaffolding down from the ruins of the main prison. Apparently the facade was in danger of toppling over so they spent the past couple of years reinforcing the walls and they were kind enough to finish the work just before we arrived.

The first thing we did on arrival was to take a tour of the site with a Port Arthur guide. He gave us the lay of the land and talked about some of the history. It was nice beginning to the day and set us up well for many, many hours of walking around…

…But not before we took a short boat tour which gave us a chance to look back at the site…

…and circle the Isle of the Dead where they buried many of the colony’s inhabitants.

Soon it was time to return to dry land and explore all that Port Arthur has to offer – and that’s a LOT. We walked around for about 6 hours and I still feel as though we may have missed a building or two.

It was so interesting to walk into these old houses and try to imagine what life was like 150 years ago. They apparently canned a lot of jam.

After lunch we were treated to a little pantomime about a boy who was transported to Australia and sent to Port Arthur for stealing.

Very entertaining.

The most interesting building, in my opinion, was the separate prison. This is where they sent prisoners to solitary confinement. The entry had speakers playing sound effects of keys in locks and men walking around. It really set the mood.

The cells were cozy (although not in a good way). I found it interesting that they slept on hammock-like structures instead of regular beds.

By the time we reached the separate prison, Port Arthur had started to get a little more crowded. Good thing Thomas was wearing an orange and yellow version of his Were’s Waldo outfit. It made him easy to find in the crowd.

The separate prison also offered the opportunity to step inside the solitary cell. After the door is closed there is nothing but black silence. Needless to say, no one wanted to stay in there long.

We did spend a lot of time in the chapel, however.

Samuel gave me a demonstration of exactly how he was able to see over the pulpit. I love it when they work as a team.

Each prisoner was locked inside a box that was blocked on each side. It was designed for them to be able to see the priest but not each other. Needless to say, plenty of photo opportunities.

Just a few of the prisoners who spent time within these walls.

We escaped the separate prison (see what I did there?) and continued to walk around the grounds. I continued to take pictures so I apologize for this very photo-heavy post.

Love this photo of my Mum.

Some of the gardens were gorgeous and the perfect weather just made the experience all that much more enjoyable. I can’t imagine coming here in the winter.

I dream about a garden like this – and the 50 gardeners it would take to keep it weed-free.

What a wonderful experience and a must-see if you ever find yourself in the southern part of Tasmania. We managed to squeeze everything into a one-day visit but only because we arrived a couple of hours before they closed the day before. I think Port Arthur is a two-day attraction at the very least.

I also highly recommend the Port Arthur Holiday Park for accommodation. We stayed in a Waterview Cabin which slept 6 people and was, I think, about $120 a night. It was clean and modern and came with water views.

Finally, photographic proof that I was there before we hit the road to Hobart.

Postcard from Tasmania: Ghost Stories of Port Arthur

We arrived at Port Arthur late in the afternoon and took just enough time to check into our cute (and very clean) cabin at the Port Arthur Holiday Park before heading to the historic site. We had just enough time to tour the visitor center and learn a little about the prison’s former inhabitants before we ate dinner at Felon’s Bistro. Kei and I opted for the dinner and ghost tour deal, wisely choosing to have the boys accompany my parents back to the cabin after dinner.

I am fascinated by ghost stories – the spookier the better – so the opportunity to tour the grounds of Port Arthur after dark was just too great to pass up. The only drawback was that our early tour started a little before it was completely dark so the spooks may have had less of an impact than they would have by lantern light, at least at the beginning of the tour. I think Kei was secretly relieved (don’t tell him I told you that).

Our ghost tour guide came dressed in a Dryzabone coat and Akubra hat and I immediately had flashbacks to the first time I watched The Man from Snowy River. It seriously doesn’t get much more Aussie than that.

We headed out on our tour as the sun began to slip below the horizon. Our first stop was in front of the ruins of the Government Cottage that you can see in the photo above. Our tour guide walked us through a brief history of the penal colony, explaining that Port Arthur was the place where only the worst criminals were sent, often those with second or third convictions who had run out of second chances. That sort of history makes for some great ghost story fodder.

The chapel provided the setting for our first real ghost story. It was a tale about a group on a tour (just like us) who walked up the steps of one of the turrets and heard footsteps behind them but, of course, no one was there.

But the really spooky stuff began at the Parsonage, reportedly one of the most haunted buildings in the world.

It was almost completely dark inside the house while we listened to a story about the Parson, his wife and ten children. After the Parson’s death, his wife and children were left destitute and there are stories that the children still haunt the house. There was a particularly terrifying story about construction workers who stayed in the house overnight when one of them was attacked by an unseen spirit. We heard all of these stories by lantern light and it was hard not to imagine a ghost or two standing in our midst.

The day after our tour, Kei and I decided to share some of these stories with the boys as we walked around the site in the light of day. As we toured the Parsonage, my mum said she felt something touch her when she was alone in a room. We asked the boys if they did and they both swore they were nowhere near their Nan at the time of the incident. It was spooky… until Thomas confessed to the trick about 4 hours later.

We also discovered that sharing ghost stories with the overactive minds of two young boys was probably not a good idea. Of course we didn’t realize how bad it was until we found ourselves trying to calm down a terrified six year old at bedtime. Rookie parent move.

Next stop on the tour was the basement of the Surgeon’s residence where our tour guide managed to give a few people a heart attack by banging very loudly on a piece of wood at a particularly critical moment in a story. I can’t remember why the sheep skull was significant but it certainly added to the atmosphere.

Finally, we headed to the Separate Prison where prisoners were forced to live in solitary confinement. We heard more stories of disembodied footsteps and people who found themselves in situations so terrifying that they vowed never to return.

The best part about the tour, though, was the opportunity to walk the grounds of this incredible place after dark and feel like we were the only people around. Port Arthur at night feels very different to Port Arthur during the day and I’m glad we took the opportunity to have this unique experience.

And besides, who doesn’t enjoy a good ghost story every now and again?

Postcard from Tasmania: The Road to Port Arthur (Aka: Just what is a tesselated pavement?)

After our amazing visit to Freycinet National Park, the Griswolds hit the road again for the next part of our journey to the southern part of the island. Our destination this time was the Port Arthur Historical Site but, as with most journeys, getting there was half the fun.

We left Swansea as the sun glittered on the surface of the Great Oyster Bay and waved goodbye to the Freycinet Peninsula on the other side.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a memorial to the Resolution, a ship that wrecked in 1850, taking the lives of 6 children. It’s a sad story and a reminder of how treacherous life was for those early settlers. A search on Wikipedia brings up a very long list of shipping tragedies in Tasmania’s short history.

A few kilometers further down the road, we stopped again to take a look at Spikey Bridge. It was built by convicts in 1843 and no one knows exactly why they opted for the spikey design. Was it to stop Cattle falling over the edge? Or just some creative license? All I know is that we spent a long time looking at a bridge, so well done to the convicts for building something that can capture the imagine of two young boys more than 150 years after it was built.

As we traveled further south, we passed one historical building after another and, sometimes to the dismay of my children, found ourselves stopping for a quick photograph or the chance to explore a part of history.

This tiny little community church had gravestones that were more 150 years old.

After a quick stop for lunch in Bicheno (meat pies, yum!), we hit the road again, passing through some areas that were devastated by bushfires a few years ago – a very good reminder that, despite it’s beauty, the Aussie landscape can be incredibly harsh.

Dad told us that our next stop would be the Tesselated Pavement at Eaglehawk Neck. Um, what? A pavement? Really? As much as he tried to explain it, we didn’t understand how a pavement could be interesting. But, as we drove up, we discovered that it was interesting enough to be designated as a State Reserve.

And here’s why…

The “paving” carved out in the rock in near-perfectly symmetrical squares was all created by nature. It truly is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

We walked down to explore more closely and discovered rock pools filled with ocean creatures of all shapes, sizes and colors.

While I think we could have easily spent many more hours investigating the tide pools, it was important that we made it to our Port Arthur before it got too late. So, we said a fond farewell to this wonder of nature and drove toward our final destination for the day.

On the walk back up to the car, I took a few photographs of the gum trees against the brilliant blue sky because, when I think of Australia, that’s often the image that comes to mind and it was the perfect opportunity to capture it forever.

Next up: looking for the ghosts of Port Arthur.

Postcard from Tasmania: Freycinet National Park

Well, May is over, and it was busy and crazy but in the very best way possible. I have stories to share about adventures with Grandparents, trips to the coast with friends and meeting brand new nephews but those will have to wait until I have time to catch my breath and edit the photos. In the meantime, I’m still working through the posts from our trip to Tasmania almost 6 months ago. Never a dull moment.

Freycinet National Park is located on the east coast of Tasmania and was the primary reason we decided to stop for a couple of days in the neighboring town of Swansea. While I would have loved a few more days to explore the entire National Park, the hike to Wineglass Bay was well worth the day trip and one of the highlights of our holiday. It’s not an easy hike, but the 4 hour round trip provided some amazing views and the opportunity to step onto a gorgeous isolated beach. In fact, the only way to reach Wineglass Bay is by foot – or obnoxious Catamaran if you want to be lazy and shell out some money. OK, I admit that I was a tad bit envious of the Catamaran travelers after our 2 hour hike, half of it uphill, but I bet they didn’t finish the trip with the same sense of achievement… or the same number of mosquito bites.

The first half of the hike was an uphill walk through some unmistakably-Australian bush.

Every now and then we were provided with a glimpse of the Tasman Sea to our east.

And a comfortable place to stop and take in the views.

And, after about 60 uphill minutes, we reached the lookout over Wineglass Bay which took our breath away.

After taking in the view, Mum decided to head back to the car (and her Kindle), while the rest of us walked a couple more miles down to the beach alongside a shockingly large number of young men wearing thongs (flip flops, not the other kind, thank goodness). In fact a lot of people looked like they were woefully unprepared for a hike that the park calls “medium intensity”, including a car full of young female Chinese tourists wearing mini skirts and platform heels that we saw as we exited the parking lot. I felt bad that I’d forgotten the sunscreen.

As expected, the beach was gorgeous, even if the water temperature felt like it came from Antarctica (which it probably did).

The kids wasted no time getting wet and taking advantage of the crystal blue waters to work on their water bending.

We stayed at the beach for about an hour before we decided to brave the steep hike back to the parking lot. Thankfully the warm weather meant that the boys dried off fairly quickly while we walked.

We returned tired, but happy, after about 4 hours which included our hour at the beach. And then our amazing experience continued when we ran into this little guy in the parking lot.

Samuel and Thomas fed him some leaves from the tree that he was already eating from.

After a few minutes, we said a quick farewell to our new friend and started the drive out of the park, which included that obligatory stop at the gift shop, of course.

And, while I don’t have photos, you can take my word for it that the oysters we ate at Freycinet Marine Farm on the way out of the park were to die for. So good! Seafood doesn’t get much fresher than a 1km trip straight from the ocean to the table.

So, go to Freycinet National Park. That’s my travel tip for today. Sure, it’s a trek, but I can guarantee you won’t experience any other place on earth quite like this one.