Text and pictures © 1992-2023 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2021/11/05
"Well could I curse away a winter's night,
Though standing naked on a mountain top,
Where biting cold would never let grass grow,
And think it but a minute spent in sport."
— William Shakespeare, 2 King Henry VI.
I spent a week in Tasmania on my way to Antarctica in '92, and one week on my way back in '94 and a week again in '98. Tasmania is quite a hangout for French polar explorers.
Left: Here we are going day hiking on the Overland Track and are met by a bunch of kangaroos and crows on the parking lot. They operate in team so as to steal our potato chips ! Arno, the frenchman with the béret is not part of the local wildlife.
Right: A young kangaroo hiding in the bush. OK, you all know what a kangaroo is, so I won't beat around the bush... Haha... Tasmanian kangaroos are smaller than those found on the mainland.
Left: A cousin of the kangaroo, the wallaby. The difference between both is subject to much discussion. What I gathered is that the wallaby is generally smaller, has got smaller and rounder ears, walks more than jumps, and tends to go on all fours.
Right: A carnivorous plant, Drosera Arcturi, found on a wetland below the summit of Federation Peak. The flower is large, white and borne singly in the late summer. The growing season is only 3 or 4 months long as the winters are very cold (information provided courtesy of Flytrap).
Left: The Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii, not to be mistaken with the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger), an infamous little carnivorous, mean, nasty, noisy and stinky, but funny to watch. It's a scavenger which has got one of the strongest jaw of all animals. It is the largest carnivorous marsupial in Australia, about the size of a small dog. Its growls, screams and yaps are impressive but it's not too dangerous. It feeds at night on smaller animals, birds and reptiles. Tasmanian devils have been killed in great numbers by farmers who thought they ate livestock although they eat mostly carrion... and sometimes their own youngs !
Right: Couple of brush tail possums nesting in a tree root. In Tasmania they are considered a 'nice furry animal', but in New Zealand they are target practice ! When you are out camping they are attracted by anything remotely edible, from charcoal to your forehead's sweat... Kind of strange feeling to wake up to when your girlfriend is not around !
Left: A rare sight, a Wedge-Tailed Tasmanian eagle. Here in a park, a hurt one that can't fly. I saw several from afar during my bike trip on Brusny Island.
Left: A weird looking bird, the Tawney Frogmouth, making a face because I woke it up (it is related to the owl and is generally nocturnal). I just love the expression on that bird's face !
Right: A cockatoo (Cacatua sanguinea ?), a common sight, and even more commonly heard when walking in the bush.
Left: Some muttonbird feeding on the sea near the shore between Tasmania and Bruny Island. Their real name is short tailed shearwaters. They breed around Tasmania, fly thousands of miles and always come back to the same burrow to breed, bloody amazing. Their numbers are increasing after having been depleted in the early 1900's. They are eaten or used for oil, the chicks taken from the burrows, necks wrung, not a very pleasant way to go. Mostly Aborigines harvest the birds these days, especially up around the Bass Strait Islands. (Thanks to Pete for the info).
Left: 'Warning: Penguins !'. That's what this sign says on the road crossing the middle of Bruny Island, a long and narrow island south of Tasmania.
The beaches of this island house numerous Fairy (aka Little Blue) penguins nests. As for the penguins themselves, you have to be there at the right period. I got there too late, some of the nests had obviously been inhabited recently, judging by the feathers at the entrance, but during the day I could not glimpse a single penguin. As I sat on a rock near an obvious track all evening and then part of the night, I did not see one. Then, when I gave up and stood up I heard something next to me... There'd been a silent penguin one meter away, in my back, just waiting for me to go away so he could pass on the trail...
Right: Fairy penguins (Eudyptula Minor, aka Little Blue Penguins) can be seen at sunset going from the sea to their burrows and at sunrise going to feed at sea. The best time of year to see them is January-February, while they are raising chicks. Here is a late one, seen in March, still changing its feathers hidden under a rock. Measuring about 40cm for 1kg, they are the smallest penguins of all. There is about one million of them spread on the shores of Tasmania and New Zealand. They eat small fish and crustaceans. Dogs kill them.
More pictures of Antarctic penguins.
Left: A wombat, another kind of marsupial. It looks like a big fat rat that can weight up to 40kg. It comes out at night to eat mostly grass and roots. They have their marsupium (the pouch for the baby) oriented towards the bottom; this way it doesn't fill with dirt when the adult is digging ! They live in groups, in burrows, digging tunnels of tens of meters.
Left: Going to Mt Rufus on the Overland Track. Walking on some strange carpet moss. Green and hard with little flowers embedded. Cute. Eucalyptus everywhere in various shapes, from bushes to very tall trees.
Right: Bivvy on the way to Federation Peak
I met Peter in Hobart, a couple hours before my flight to NZ, while looking at pictures of mountains in a store. I was looking at Federation Peak when he said in my back: "I'm going there tomorrow". I answered: "Can I come ?". He said yes and I postponed my flight. In the morning his friends never showed up so we ended up going just the two of us. It took us 3 days to reach the summit after an exhausting walk. Problem with Eucalyptus trees is that they don't rot: when they are dead they fall on top of each other and pile up. So walking in the bush can be more like climbing on slippery trees. Funny for the first 5 minutes, but then... Also you can hear water running underneath them but can't get to it; on the second day we did not drink a single drop of water. In the evening we found some deep footsteps with mud in them. We passed the mud through a T-shirt and made tomato soup with it. Dark-brown tomato soup.
In the morning, 10 minutes away from our camp, we found a small drip, and then clear water on the plateau bellow the mountain itself.
Left: Peter Hawkins during the ascent of Federation Peak. After the approach, getting out of the forest for the climb is pleasurable, even if you have to climb on dry mud.
Right: From the summit you see hundreds of square km of green forest. The southwest of Tasmania is as wild as it can be, no houses, no roads, hardly any flights above. And that's oh so rare nowadays...
Left: This scary sign in front of the southernmost pub of Australia: 'No pubs next 500km' is not right, the next pub is in Antarctica, 3000km away... Seen on Bruny Island while biking to Labillardière peninsulla. I rented a bike in Hobart and spent 4 days going around Bruny Island by bike and foot.
Right: map of bruny island, as generated by expedia. The crossing is done by taking a shuttle in Kettering. I biked from Hobart, crossed the bay and then biked south along nice beaches full of birds and oyster parks. Too bad the restaurants in Tasmania feel the need to rinse off the oysters they serve with water, they end up being completely tasteless...
Left: Another part of Bruny Island, Fluted Cape, is a short hike from the road. Seen from the sea this basaltic flutes are an impressive sight for the seafarer. I'm usually very grateful when I see them from the Astrolabe, it means I survived the trip back from Antarctica.
Left: Sunset above the Eaglehawk neck of the Tasman Peninsula.
Right: A hole in a dead tree on the trail of the Freycinet Peninsula.
After I got back from my 2000 summer campaign in Dome C on the Astrolabe, I met Jenny in Hobart and we spent a couple days in Tasmania. We went hiking in the Tasman Peninsula and the Freycinet Peninsula further up north. On the left is a quite colorfull sunset above the bay at the Eaglehawk neck of the Tasman peninsula.
We started hiking from Coles bay around the peninsula, through majestic granite domes, dense eucalyptus forests, dream-like white beaches covered with shells, kangaroo occupied trails... We hiked up the two main hills of the peninsula where you get a nice view of Schouten Island and the coast of Tasmania across the bay if the sky is clear.
Left: Mess of dead trees on the trail of the Freycinet Peninsula.
The trail is very easy, even 'boarded' in some places with muddy or soft ground. Lots of mosquitoes for poor travelers wanting to sleep outside to enjoy the stars... This is quite a beautiful national park.