Living in a Marsupial World
 
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Cradle Mt - Lake St Clair National Park
There are some beautiful places in this world that seem so picturesque as to seem surreal, as if you were looking at a postcard or National Geographic magazine. Then there are those beautiful places that immediately feel like home. Tasmania is this latter type of place – a warm blanket of undulating hills, mountains, greenery, poppy fields, rivers, streams, and colorful skies.  


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At 7:30 AM on December 22nd, the four of us hopped the Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Melbourne to Devonport. We’d been told by some local friends that although the ferry would take us nine hours (as opposed to the hour flight direct to Hobart) that it was worth the experience. It certainly was an experience, nine long hours riddled with nausea and a mediocre Sandra Bullock film, but an experience nonetheless – sorry again Charlie (who thought I’d told him it was a six hour boat ride). 


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The northern Tasmanian coastline
A wave of relief and excitement swept over us as we arrived in Devonport and shook off our inadequate sea legs. We picked up our little rental car and gave Charlie a few minutes to adjust to driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road – “Left to Live, Left to Live!” – and headed south toward our little cabin along the St. Paul River. The drive took us a couple hours, but during that time the scenery could not have been more picturesque. 


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The best we could do from a moving car
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Moon Rise in Avoca, Tasmania
If Western Australia has the best sunsets, Tasmania certainly has the best scenery at sunset. Every night since we’ve been in Tassie, save for rainy nights, the sky turns soft, seductive pastel colors of peach and lavender, and the orange light warms the lush greens and golds of the hills and fields. As mushy as it all sounds, I’d be lying if I said it was anything but an eyeful of happiness and a full-body sensation of complete content. As we drove down the final road to our cabin – which, according to the owner, was riddled with giant, four-foot wombats – a full moon rose, bright and monstrous, from behind a hill. We couldn’t have asked for a more brilliant or magical introduction to the island of Tasmania. 


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View from the back porch of our cabin - the St. Paul River
The cabin we had rented for the Xmas holiday was located in an open valley right alongside the St. Paul River, a hot spot for local trout fishing much to Ben’s delight. We were fairly isolated, which made for a relaxed, back-to-nature atmosphere, but it also meant some long car rides to other locations. We used the cabin as a base camp for daily national park excursions around the island, and settled in at night with some good ol’ fashioned home cooked meals with local wine and food.


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Attempting to drink out of Wine Glass Bay - more like a wino trying to suck spilled wine off the floor
Our first full day, we ventured out to Freycinet National Park on the island’s east coast. Most people visit this area to see the famous Wine Glass Bay – they hike about 1.2 km up to the lookout, take the classic postcard picture, and head home. As seasoned explorers, we were itching for a bit more than that and decided to make the half-day trek through Wine Glass and around Hazards Bay. Although tourist-riddled, Wine Glass was quite stunning from both up above and from the beach below. While on the beach, Charlie took the opportunity to show off his machismo and take on the near-Antarctic waters of the Tasman Sea. We were all very impressed by his manliness. 


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Back on the sand we became good mates with a little female wallaby who had been hand-fed one too many times. Ben, by far, had the most intimate encounter while crouching low to get a good shot, feeling the brush of wallaby whiskers on his cheek. Bold move wallaby, bold move. Perhaps Ben’s own whiskers had her mesmerized or maybe confused… I should probably be disturbed that his hairiness has begun to enchant the local marsupial population.


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Continuing our circuit we found ourselves on Hazards Beach, blissfully alone and away from the tourist frenzy. The beach was covered in oyster shells, proof of the natural abundance of this famous Tasmanian delicacy. Being less sheltered than Wine Glass, the surf here was larger, giving the bay a much more rugged feel. We paused here to take what will inevitably be next year’s Xmas card.


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On Christmas Eve Day we visited the town of Launceston and its biggest attraction, Cataract Gorge – a long gorge cut by a river, bordered with walking paths and spanned by several bridges. It ended up being a lovely little walk along the water, and we enjoyed watching the rock climbers along the cliffs, wishing we had brought our shoes along for the day. Where the gorge is widest, at the old dam, the town established a park and a couple tea gardens, complete with peacocks ready to devour any unattended food. We sat down for a spot of Devonshire Tea, my mom’s new favorite afternoon ritual, and then hiked upstream for quite a ways, spotting lizards (including a large blue tongue) and wildflowers.


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Cataract Gorge
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In addition to hiking/bushwalking, Tasmania is celebrated for its food and wine culture, and its laid-back residents take pride in eating and drinking fresh, gourmet, local products such as oysters, mussels, salmon, mushrooms, cheese, chocolate, beer and wine. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate a down under Xmas in a little mountain valley cabin than a Christmas Eve feast prepared with local food. We did a bit of Tamar Valley wine tasting to find a good drink for the evening and then roamed the Launceston seafood and produce shops for dinner ingredients. We ended up with a colorful spread of Tasmania’s offerings: Tasmanian salmon (with orange glaze and grilled by Ben), blue mussels (simmered in a garlic-wine cream sauce), sweet and white potatoes (caramelized with onion and raisins), buttery crescent rolls (homemade by mum), and a Tasmanian Chardonnay (grown and crafted locally by a nice old Aussie dude we met). It’s hard not to start drooling thinking back on this incredible evening. 


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Having a warmish, summertime Christmas was a bit bizarre, but to be honest it was the first Christmas where I actually felt refreshed and unburdened. It was the first time I’ve celebrated any holiday (especially Xmas) where it felt we were celebrating the right things. No tree, no decorations, no presents, no stores or shopping malls; just the four of us in a little cabin in the middle of the wilderness in Tasmania, eating good food with good company, toasting the friends and family members we wished were there to celebrate with us. And that, Charlie Brown, is what the holiday season is all about. 


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On Xmas Day, we continued the celebration in the best way we know how: by climbing a mountain. Cradle Mountain, though not the highest in Tasmania, is the state’s most iconic peak and is situated at the northern end of the Overland Track, a 5-6 day backpacking trek through Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. As soon as we got out on the trail in the chilly, alpine air, we found ourselves in the heart of Tasmania and felt energized, despite the blanket of grey overhead.

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The trail up to Cradle ambled along through fields of spinifex and wildflowers, pockets of temperate rainforest, and past ancient glacial lakes. Around each bend and over each crest, the scenery just seemed to get more spectacular. When we reached the top of the ridge just before the final climb to the summit, Cradle Mountain in all its craggy glory came into view. As we stood there soaking in what appeared to be a volcano with teeth, we’ll admit that we all had a few pangs of doubt regarding the task before us. Those thoughts quickly vanished however when we noticed the wild-haired dude in flannel, cut-offs, and flip-flops (yes, flip-flops) steadily gaining on us. [His wife informed us that he had also climbed in Patagonia and the Himalaya’s in only flip-flops. Holy. Hell.] As we made for the final ascent, the sun emerged as if to cue Eye of the Tiger, and we began the long, steep boulder climb to the top.


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Behold: Flip-flop Dude
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After an exhilarating near-vertical scramble, we reached the summit! The view was extraordinary; it almost felt like you could see all of Tasmania in 360 degrees. Flip-flop bushman made it too, though he seemed a bit peeved that every hiker had to make exclamations about his feet. Come on man, you’re wearing plastic flip-flops to climb a freaking mountain – admit that it’s totally awesome, but completely insane. We salute you.


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Ben and Mar on the point - courtesy of Charlie
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Why hellooo....getting the skink eye
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Nancy shows us her Doctor J impression
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Backpacker hut for the Overland Track
After what seemed like the longest and most arthritic descent ever past the beautiful Dove Lake, we left the park, but not before having two more Aussie animal firsts: we spotted our first wombats, which were adorably lumbering through the brush in search of their evening breakfast, and our first echidna, who had barely waddled across the road when we zoomed past. Thankful we hadn’t run this spiny little fellow over, we stopped and wandered over for a close encounter. He was a bit skittish, but didn’t seem to mind that we were curiously sneaking closer. The only thing that really startled him was Ben’s camera shutter, which makes a horribly loud “cha-chink” noise, and made the poor guy spasm into a partial ball of fur and spines. Other than that though, he seemed to be having a lovely stroll through the grass, and we were happy to share it with him. 


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Drinking from the pure, mountain spring water of Tassie!
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Falling into the pure, mountain spring water of Tassie.
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Cradle Mountain's Christmas Reindeer
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Our first echidna friend
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South Coast Track, Southwest National Park
For the second half of our Tasmania holiday adventure, we moved our base camp to a little town called Geeveston, just southwest of Hobart. From here we ventured into Southwest National Park, which, paired with Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, comprises the entire southwest quarter of the island. To see much of this wilderness area you often have to be dropped off by plane or helicopter, but lucky for us we were close to the eastern end of a major backpacking route and decided to take a day hike along the South Coast Track. 


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Most of the hike was fairly flat, alternating between large open fields of grasses and tight, Fangorn-esque bits of forest. Overall the hike wasn’t too exciting, that is until the trees parted and we suddenly found ourselves on what seemed like the edge of the world. After several hours of hiking, we had finally arrived at the coastal section of the South Coast Track, which put us out onto volcanic-looking black cliffs and a stone beach with rough surf. The wind was howling, and brought with it the sharp Antarctic air. Realizing that we were merely a puddle-jump away from the coldest place on earth, not to mention the sultry voice of Morgan Freeman, was exhilarating.


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More monotreme points - a platypus we spotted in Geeveston!
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Tessellated Pavement - the pans and loaves of geology
The following day we went exploring on the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania’s premiere convict tourism region! Most of you are probably aware of Australia’s penal past (ha), and maybe also of Tasmania’s specific use as an island prison colony. What you may not know is that the Tasman Peninsula was the most notorious penal settlement, a severely isolated place of banishment, with Port Arthur as the flagship prison. Today, the Australian tourism industry offers the Tasman Peninsula up as a place for “family friendly” convict tours. As wonderfully depressing as the convict history is, we actually bypassed most of it in order to focus on the much more uplifting natural history of the area. We visited the beautiful Pirate’s Bay, Tessellated Pavement, Devil’s Kitchen, Tasman Arch, and Remarkable Cave, soaking in the amazing limestone cliffs and ocean wildlife that so define Tasmania’s coastline.


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Sea anemone in the tidal pools!
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Inverted starfish stomach - with lunch, yum.
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I only have tube feet for you...
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Peninsula coastline - the two lumps way out in the distance are called 'The Lanterns' and the little speck in the water is a kayak for some scale
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Sweet outcrop near Remarkable Cave
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Next to Remarkable Cave
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Tasting some sweet chili Tasmanian mussels
Our time in Tasmania just so happened to overlap with the state’s annual Taste of Tasmania, a celebration/exhibition of the local food and wine (and beer) that make Hobart a foodie destination. The event itself was free admission, but for $7 you were given a festival wine glass and unlimited access to the myriad Tasmanian wineries offering tastings. We may have hit the booze a little fast, mainly because it was free and we all were so indecisive about what food to try. But overall the evening was a blast - we sampled some delicious dishes and drank ourselves French on superb wine and beer. Huzzah!


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NC drinking a beer?! And with such stylish elegance too.
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Mustaches make everything more enjoyable.
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Regret making that face, but loved the classy boozing with mum.
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The Sydney to Hobart and Melbourne to Hobart yacht races just so happened to be finishing that day
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Some Melbourne to Hobart victors!
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For our final full day together in Tassie, we took the ferry to Bruny Island – a skinny 45km strip of land separated by the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Storm Bay. The island only has about 600 residents, but many people visit daily to camp in the national parks, spot penguins and the illusive albino wallabies, and to sample locally produced food and drink. We did visit the Bruny Island Cheese Co., tasting some wonderfully fresh cheese and brick oven-baked sourdough bread, but most of our time was spent hiking on the Fluted Cape track. The trail took us on a steep, cliffside hike to a magnificent lookout across Adventure Bay. Our wildlife karma continued to rock, as we saw a large tiger snake (the most venomous in Tasmania) and another echidna, with whom we had a long and heartfelt rendezvous. My mom captured a bunch of quality video footage on her iPhone, so we took the liberty of making a tribute montage of our little friend. We can definitively say that we heart monotremes.


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peek-a-boo
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what what, echidna butt?
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More sea stars! And potentially several octopi attached to Ben's head.
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On top of Fluted Cape
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Lookout above the Penguin Rookery and the 'neck' connecting North Bruny to South Bruny

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