24 December 2019 to 12 January 2020
Dog sitting in Burnie gave us the perfect base to explore the less visited north west coast of Tasmania known as the Cradle Coast and an area where wild wilderness is never far away.
We had been tempted from Burnie by views of the Table Cape, the distinctive land mass that stretches out into the Bass Strait so our first outing further afield started there with a walk to the lighthouse.
The Cape is full of the familiar farmland of Tasmania. Peas and potatoes are popular crops but in Spring the fields of Table Cape are full of tulips. We could only imagine the vivid display they would create.
But there was another flower crop that intrigued us. We had driven through field after field full of poppies. Back in Burnie we had been catching up on opium dealing exploits of Shelby family in the latest series of Peaky Blinders and I joked that Tasmania must have a bit of an opioid issue. Doing some research it turned out that isn’t too far from the truth. Tasmania produces 50% of the world’s licit opium poppies so chances are next time you pop a codeine its ingredients came from the island.
We passed through Table Cape’s main town, Wynyard, a couple of times stopping on one occasion to wander through the Sunday market, along the beach and up the (very low) river to the war memorial.
At the town’s RSL we found some beautiful photo montage representing those who served in the Australian’s armed services.
Further west, and as far west as we were going to get, we found our way to the volcanic plug known as The Nut. Surrounded by beautiful beaches the town of Stanley sits nestled under the the Nut’s cliffs and was the humble birthplace of Australia’s 8th Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce. Stanley wasn’t named after that Stanley, however. Rather Lord Stanley, British Secretary of State for the Colonies in the 1840s got that honour.
Driving back from Stanley we got a taste of how quickly the weather can change in this part of the world. From a bright sunny day suddenly thick fog rolled in from the sea. It made the poppy fields look as though they had a sprinkling of snow in them.
Just a short drive from Burnie into the hinterland, through the vast forests that ultimately end up on the woodpile at the port, we found Guide Falls. With a bit of recent rain the falls were pleasingly flowing. With a lot more rain we wouldn’t have been able to stand at the bottom and look up at them.
The enormous black rocks down stream appeared to have been thrown in it by some giant in an attempt to stop its flow. One standing rock was wearing a rather fetching green toupee!
Further inland we visited the valley at Gunns Plains. Just a few farms along the winding Leven River it has a population of 171 but one very interesting cave.
Discovered by a local possum hunter in 1906 when he followed a possum down a hole in the ground, this limestone cave is full of impressive stalagmites and stalactites. The creek that runs through the cave is home to the Tasmanian Giant Freshwater Crayfish and platypus – nope, no sightings here either!
We had our own personal tour of the cave with the wonderfully entertaining Geoff. He managed to thread a great deal of cheeky cricket references into his commentary along side his descriptions of the rock formations as various types of food. This flowstone he described as bacon. Deep inside the cave Geoff decided we should experience the cave as it would have been when it first opened. First plunging us into complete darkness and then lighting a single candle, he insisted he and I sing a full rendition of Happy Birthday to Stefan in early celebration of his coming birthday. It was certainly a unique moment!
One place we knew we didn’t want to miss whilst in Tasmania was its iconic Cradle Mountain. At 1545m Cradle Mountain is only the fifth highest mountain on the island but somehow its jagged peaks have become its most famous. It is very remote, surrounded by glacial lakes and complete wilderness.
We were very lucky to see it on a dry clear day. Independently, three national park staff told us so. Apparently it can rain 365 days a year in this area. The only way into the park is by shuttle bus and so we took the full bus to Dove Lake. These photos suggest we found peace and quiet in this remote and beautiful spot
but the truth was something more like Disneyland. The paths were very crowded on our walk to the boat shed on the lake. We did not find quiet contemplation so made a hasty retreat on the bus.
Now, we were pretty sure we were unlikely to spot a Tasmanian Devil in the wild. We had seen a couple of dead ones on the roads but spotting a live one is becoming more and more difficult so we decided to visit the Devils at Cradle Sanctuary for a guaranteed sighting.
Tasmanian Devils used to be found on the Australian mainland but the dingo saw them off and they are now only found in Tasmania. A form of contagious facial cancer that has spread through the species as well the risks of the roads has put the devil on the endangered list. The Sanctuary is at the centre of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, breeding and re-introducing them into the wild to keep them from extinction. The ones we saw seemed very chilled out about their future!
Equally relaxed were the quolls! We had never heard of a quoll before although we had seen a baby one dead on the road at Lake Leake and wondered what it was. A bit like a spotty, fat ferret, incredibly, these carnivorous marsupials prey on animals as big as pademelons, wallabies and wombats. These fearsome creatures are also vulnerable to decline in numbers from habitat removal, the roads and farmers who go after them with guns, traps and poison in return for going after their chickens.
Luckily this baby wombat was kept at a safe distance from the quolls!
I think that we have probably ticked off about as many of Australia’s wildlife as we are going to see on this trip, unless we find a dingo who has strayed through the fence.
Our time in Tasmania was coming to an end but after leaving Burnie we had time for just one more adventure to the east coast and it turned out we were on course for an unexpected reunion…