Must See Tasmanian Wildlife

The breathtaking splendour of wild animals, and the joy of close-up encounters with them, draws people to isolated places all over the world.

Here in Australia we’re blessed with a suite of animals that are found nowhere else. Sadly, a number of these special animals have disappeared from mainland Australia – including Tasmanian devils and several quoll species. The good news is that these mainland-missing animals are still easily seen in Tasmania.

There are several places around Tasmania where you’re guaranteed to see special animals and birds, but arguably none better than Maria Island National Park.

My island home

Here’s the thing about islands.

If a landmass is sufficiently separate from other landmasses its plants and animals get to go their own way, biologically speaking.

Over time, a nudge here from natural selection and a prod there from human – or some other – intervention and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself an island with a whole lot of interesting critters.

And islands are of course surrounded by water, which can, depending on the location, increase one’s chance of seeing marine creatures.

What’s really special about Maria is that it’s an island off another island (Tasmania) off another island (mainland Australia). And a chain of events led to it being declared a wildlife reserve nearly 50 years ago.

Ark Maria

In 1962, the Tasmanian Animals and Birds Protection Board – forerunner of today’s Parks and Wildlife Service – recommended setting Maria aside as a reserve for endangered animals.

There’d been concerns for some years about the effects on native animals of population spread and land clearing for agriculture. The remarkable Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, hadn’t been seen in the wild for decades, and was feared extinct. By the later 1960s, hydro-electric developments helped focus these concerns into an organised conservation movement, and ultimately the world’s first green political party – the United Tasmania Group.

Throughout the 1960s, Maria Island’s agricultural properties were acquired and livestock removed. Starting in 1969, endangered species were introduced. The mammals included forester kangaroos, Bennett’s wallabies, wombats and brush-tailed possums. Birds included Cape Barren geese and Tasmanian native hens.

In 1971 Maria island was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary and it was proclaimed a national park in 1972. The associated Maria Island Marine Reserve, off the island’s north-east coast, was declared in 1991.

With a few exceptions, the island’s introduced birds and animals and its protected marine species have thrived.

Devilish times

In 2012, Maria’s ‘rock star’ introduced species arrived: a small, healthy population of endangered Tasmanian devils.

At times so widespread and prevalent in Tasmania that they were commonly seen as roadkill, devils had been in decline since 1996, when the transmissible cancer known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) was first identified. There are now two known strains of DFTD; they account for a third of all known transmissible cancers.

Maria’s devils were intended to breed and provide healthy, wild-born individuals for re-introduction to mainland Tasmania. At this, they’ve been outrageously successful.

In just a few years the devils bred up to a population of around 100. Scores of Maria-bred devils have been trapped and removed from the island to keep population numbers in check.

Where to see animals on Maria

In short: everywhere, and that’s the joy of the place. Even on the most-used island walk, between Darlington ferry wharf and the historic precinct, people see Cape Barren geese, native hens and wombats – the latter in broad daylight.

Here’s a brief list of the animals you’ll encounter on Maria, and the most likely places to see them.

Forester kangaroos

Foresters – known as grey kangaroos in mainland Australia – are commonly seen on the grasslands surrounding the landing strip and, often in the evening, just north of Darlington, near Bernacchis Creek.

Foresters were once common in agricultural areas of Tasmania but by the 1950s and ‘60s their former population had been reduced by more than 80%. Today they’re seen mainly at Mt William, Narawntapu and Maria Island national parks.

Wombats

Maria’s wombat population numbers in the thousands and they’re seen everywhere, including in the middle of the Darlington quadrangle, around the camping ground, and on the hillside around Ruby Hunt’s cottage. Wombats are mostly nocturnal but they’re always seen in daylight hours on Maria. Sometimes so many of them graze in the same area they almost appear to be a herd of small cows.

Recent research has confirmed that the common wombats introduced to Maria in the early 1970s are the subspecies Vombatus ursinus ursinus, which was once found throughout the Bass Strait islands but is now found only on Flinders Island. The subspecies Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis is found on mainland Tasmania. Both are distinct from the Australian mainland common wombat, Vombatus ursinus hirsutus.

Tasmanian devils

Maria Island’s devil population boomed after the marsupials were introduced and, given that they’re opportunistic carrion-eaters, it’s not unusual to see them lurking around the Darlington precinct, especially near the barbecues in the camping area. A female named Nutella, released on the island in 2013, famously raised her young in a den under the Darlington Penitentiary verandah. They’ve also been seen in other parts of the island, and sometimes during the day

Maria’s devils are among the best studied in Australia and the distinctive carnivore traps used by researchers – a wide-diameter PVC pipe with trapdoor lid – can sometimes be seen in scrub just off tracks near Darlington, and in other locations.

Cape Barren geese

These large, handsome birds are a common sight on the lawns around Darlington and the nearby airstrip grasslands. Their distinctive grumpy honking is one of the island’s more common sounds.

Cape Barren geese are found right along the southern coast of Australia and the population is considered secure and stable. But in the 1950s their numbers were so low that biologists feared for the species’ survival.

Marine mammals

Common and bottle-nosed dolphins are regularly seen, sometimes in large pods, in the Mercury Passage, which separates Maria from mainland Tasmania. Long-finned pilot whales are also common in these waters, and unfortunately the whale most likely to strand on Maria’s beaches. Humpback whales can be seen in the Passage during early winter, on their northwards migration, and in late spring, when they’re on their way back to Antarctica.

There’s a large Australian fur seal haul-out at Ile des Phoques, about 20 km north of Maria Island, and seals are a common sight in waters along the Fossil Cliffs and in Fossil Bay, and from time to time in Darlington Bay.

Help from the guides

Experienced trekking guides, such as the Maria Island Walk’s, are an invaluable asset for wildlife- and bird spotting, especially when it comes to the more obscure species. Because they’re constantly sharing information with their fellow guides they’ll usually know where the forty-spotted pardalotes have been seen, and they’ll have you recognizing the difference between kelp and Pacific gulls in no time.

And bear in mind that you won’t need the help of guides to see many of Maria’s animals – in some parts of the island you’ll virtually be tripping over them!

 

Camping vs Glamping – What’s right for you?

Everyone knows what camping looks like, right? It’s a rustic pastime involving tents, campfires, badly cooked food and, usually, an absence of showers.

As is the case with so many things, this impression of camping is neither entirely true, nor completely false.

It is the reason why a lot of people would rather walk barefoot in a broken-glass desert than consider a camping holiday.

But what if they could go glamping, instead?

What’s the difference between camping and glamping? Glad you asked.

 

More than just names?

 

You’d think that changing a couple consonants at the start of a word can’t do much, and broadly that’s true. The ‘g’ and ‘l’ in glamping are derived from glamourous – so, glamourous camping.

Add glamour to camping and you make a new word, but not one that necessarily describes a new activity. Centuries ago European royals and Ottoman grandees were bedding down outside their palaces in, well, palatial style. And a fancy-camping African safari was quite the done thing in the 1920s for well-to-do Brits and Americans.

The word ‘glamping’ first appeared in media travel stories in the early 2000s. The Oxford English Dictionary included it from 2016. The debate among outdoorsy types as to whether it’s a good thing or not will continue forever, and is really by the by.

Like camping, glamping’s here to stay.

 

It’s all about nature

Let’s take a look – somewhat counter-intuitively – at what camping and glamping have in common.

As this fast-paced, crazy world gets ever faster and crazier, it’s widely acknowledged that we humans – especially those of us in developed Western nations – are losing our connection to the natural world.

What we’re gaining is anything but good: depression, anxiety, substance addictions, loneliness, destructive consumption and spinal problems from too much sitting around indoors, to name but a few.

Nature is the ultimate restorative, and conveniently it’s just outside.

 

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life,” wrote Rachel Carson, marine biologist and acclaimed author of Silent Spring.

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people,” wrote poet Sylvia Plath. “I thought, this is what it is to be happy.”

Forget spa treatments and vitamin supplements. You just have to work out a way to get into the wild.

 

 

 

A certain quality

 

And thus you say: that’s all very well, but there’s no way I’m ever going to buy a tent, a rucksack and a camping stove. Even if I did I wouldn’t know how to use them, and by the way, do tents have USB outlets?

Okay. At a first reading it seems that you’re more likely to get into nature if you consider glamping. That’s cool – there’s no absolute right and wrong here.

Most dictionaries define glamour as an exciting or attractive quality, one that makes things – people, places or activities – seem more appealing.

All you have to do is determine what appeals to you.

 

For and against

 

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that your nature-based experience is going to include walking. (Strictly, this would make our comparison hiking vs gliking, but we’re sure you’ll allow us some latitude).

 

Camping

  • Cohort: can be done alone or with friends
  • Support: little or none; expect to be fully independent. You choose where to go, what you’ll do and how long you’ll stay
  • Preparation: will require you to do your own planning, booking, shopping and packing
  • Load: medium to high range (minimum typically 12–14kg; can be a lot more for a long walk). Will include a sleeping bag, tent, camping mattress, stove, fuel, all food, and all personal gear
  • Sleeping quarters: tent. Additional shelter: natural features such as vegetation and rock formations, or a lightweight tarp if you choose to carry it
  • Food: cooked yourself, fresh or preserved, depending on how much you wish to carry; alcoholic beverages served only if you carry them yourself
  • Bathing: creeks, rivers, waterfalls and oceans
  • Toilets: possibly at some camp sites, otherwise you’re, er, observing wild toileting protocols
  • Heating: none, or possibly a fire, if you’re in an area and walking at a time when fires are permitted
  • Price: low to medium range, depending on factors including travel distance from home and transport and any additional accommodation required
  • Additional notes: if you learn to navigate, you’ll have the opportunity to visit and experience trackless wilderness

Our glamping experience

  • Cohort: small group (maximum 10)
  • Support: high. Departures run on a fixed itinerary and all are led by two guides
  • Preparation: choose a departure date and make a booking; a gear list will be supplied and on departure day your guides will offer packing advice and assistance
  • Load: low range (6–8kg) unless you take heavier additional personal items, such as camera equipment. Includes lunch and personal gear. Portered – pack-free – walks for an additional fee available on some departures
  • Sleeping quarters: huts with beds at bush camps on nights one and two; fully appointed rooms in historic Bernacchi House on night three. Additional shelter at camps: communal dining tent
  • Food: Specially curated menu using gourmet Tasmanian produce cooked by guides. All fresh ingredients carried by guides. Wine served with meals included in trip fee
  • Bathing: outdoor showers and a ‘bathing cabin’ at bush camps; guides heat water for a quick clean/rinse. Modern bathrooms with hot water at Bernacchi House
  • Heating: gas heaters in the dining tents at bush camps; two wood-burning stoves at Bernacchi House
  • Price: medium to high range, in addition to factors including travel distance from home and any additional accommodation required
  • Additional notes: Complimentary pick-up at Hobart accommodation and drop-off either at Hobart airport or accommodation. Trip fee includes all road and maritime transport to and from the walk

For more information about The Maria Island Walk please visit https://www.mariaislandwalk.com.au/the-walk/the-accommodation/

 

What do the experts say?

 

Ian Johnstone is something of a paradox: he’s a lifetime independent camper/hiker who decided to start a glamping trip: The Maria Island Walk.

“I kept meeting people who said they’d love to go camping or hiking but didn’t know how to, and I also thought that Maria Island was one of the most beautiful and remarkable places I’d ever seen,” Ian says. “I knew that people would feel fabulous and rejuvenated if they had a holiday in such a place.”

It took a lot of work with Parks and Wildlife Tasmania to get all environmental safeguards and permissions in place, but the result was exactly what Ian had hoped: an achievable adventure and reconnection with nature for people who’d otherwise miss out.

“I’m not sure the word ‘glamping’ is my favourite, but it’s true that The Maria Island Walk is much more comfortable than camping,” Ian says. “I just love hearing from our guests about how much they enjoyed the island, and the walk, and how fab their guides were. That’s what we’re all about.”

 

Family Friendly Maria Island Walk

An outdoor family adventure walking the length of beautiful Maria Island National Park is a great experience to share quality time as a family.

Re-connecting with nature, spotting a variety of incredible wildlife, swimming in pristine beaches and hiking to the top of magnificent mountains will create memories to last a lifetime.

In January 2019 we had three wonderful families join us on a ‘Family Friendly Portered Walk’.

“The guides were fabulous with all our kids’. The walk was a wonderful balance of nature, ruggedness and gourmet” Bennett’s family

“Fantastic guides – absolutely made the experience and did a great job with our kids. Kept them involved and interested. We went on the Milford Track in NZ a few years ago and would say this is a better experience – guides, food, accommodation and all the thoughtful planning around the walk were all better. ” Crossley family

“We were so lucky with our trip. Having a bunch of young girls of similar ages to my daughter really made the trip for her.” Hays family

Best time to book a family friendly walk

During the Christmas and New Year break or during other school holiday periods year-round. We offer our 4 day walk between October to April and a 3 day Winter Escape between June to August.

Age

Minimum age is 8 years old on a family friendly walk. Please contact us if your children are younger.

Price

$2,550 per person twin-share all-inclusive.

Inclusions

Includes 3 nights’ accommodation – two nights spent in our beautiful wilderness camps and one night in our beautifully restored heritage listed house. Transfers between Hobart and Maria Island.

All meals and wine (breakfasts, lunches and 3 course dinners). Two guides and park entry fees. Backpacks, 50L Gore-Tex jackets, head torches, sleeping bag liners and pillow cases are provided at the office.

If you’re searching for extraordinary family holiday, please enquire with one of our friendly staff on 03 6234 2999 or bookings@mariaislandwalk.com.au

 

White Kunzea at Haunted Bay

White Kunzea at Haunted Bay on Maria Island

During spring and summer, the Australian native plant Kunzea ambigua (also known as white kunzea, tick bush or sweet scented kunzea) can be found in coastal areas of Tasmania and eastern Australia.

The white kunzea shrub can grow up to 5 m high and it bears small white flowers which fill the air with a sweet honey scent.

Some of the uses of White Kunzea:

  • It can be made into an antiseptic oil for cuts and abrasions
  • The leaves and flowers can be used in cooking. The unique herb can be used on meats/roasts, fried in butter, in bread or added to a cocktail
  • Native animals are often found sleeping under Kunzea plants, where they seek relief from ticks and other parasites – hence it’s popular name of “tick bush”

Enjoy the scent of this beautiful native plant.

More information about the White Kunzea plant:

https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp8/kunz-amb.html