Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tasmania - Cradle Mountain and Launceston

Because Australia Day fell on a Wednesday this year, we grabbed the opportunity to take two days off and treat ourselves to a long weekend in Tassie prior to the Australian Open in Melbourne. We had visited (and loved) Hobart and were keen to explore the Cradle Mountain area near Launceston.

Our friends Dan and Estee gamely agreed to accompany us and tolerated our choice of accommodation. The first stop enroute to the Cradle Mountain Lodge was Christmas Hill Raspberry Farm, an overpriced but delightful spot with a cafe serving raspberry-infused everything (even tea). It was indeed a lovely drive through picturesque farmland and tiny towns that, despite their size, each had a claim to fame. There was Railton - Town of Topiary and Sheffield - Town of Murals not too far from each other. Mickey asked if I wanted to pull over for photos, but I sufficiently enjoyed the topiaries and murals from the comfort of the passenger seat.

Cradle Mountain was beautiful and especially easy to enjoy in the good weather that we were lucky enough to experience. We took some leisurely bushwalks around the lake and national park and were treated to a poem about wombat droppings by an overqualified ranger. The dude almost fell off a cliff taking this photo:

Wombats and other native Australian creatures are a highlight of any trip to Tassie. Because most are nocturnal, we took a night spotlight tour with Cradle Mountain Lodge. I was thrilled to see an eastern spotted quoll, a sight which the driver/tour guide indicated was rare, but a bit disappointed that we didn't see any Tassie devils in the wild.

Fortunately, our penguin tour on our last night in Tassie made up for any previous disappointments. We were told to meet the tour company, which operates out of a tiny beach shack, at 9pm (twilight at that time of year). Three guides broke us into three groups of ten or so people and led us down to the beach to tell us more about fairy penguins. Our guide couldn't have been more than 17 years old, but he did a fantastic job. As the sky darkened we started to notice tiny penguins emerge from the ocean and waddle up the beach in small groups. Pairs were headed back to their nests to feed their young.

I helped the guides lug around a large battery-operated red/orange light that we could shine on the penguins without hurting their eyes. To say that they were cute is a profound understatement. The babies, though not much smaller than their parents but fluffier, were even more adorable. Hunger drew them out of their protected nests and caused them to holler for their mamas and papas. We took about a zillion pictures and painstakingly culled them down to a manageable number.

I've enjoyed all of my visits to Tasmania and hope I can take my own kids there one day.

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