When we landed in Tasmania, the driver immediately whisked us off down the road to the Bonorong Wildlife Park for our first authentic taste of the isolated Aussie state. As Tasmania is first and foremost known for its wildlife—and wildlife often not found anywhere else in the world—it was cool to see a glimpse of the animals who once ruled the island in droves. And ones I only knew from pop culture, too, like the kookaburra (“…sits in the old gum tree…” who else was a fan of the Wee Sing series as a kid?).
The park was established 20 years ago as a sanctuary to care for injured and orphaned wild, so naturally the animals we “met” were a bit more domesticated than the ones you’d find out in the bush.
There were your typical Aussie animals like koalas, who I refrained from petting this time due to the last incident in Queensland that left me with smelly eucalyptus all over my hands.
There were some hilarious creatures that I didn’t even know existed, such as the echidna.
A relative of the duckbill platypus, also a species native to Tasmania, the echidna are the only survivors of their order and also the only ones to lay eggs. They reminded me much more of a porcupine, particularly given their waddle, though, than a playtpus, wouldn’t you say? According to Wiki, superficially, they resemble the anteater or hedgehog.
This little fella Humphrey, the juvenile wombat, was by far my favorite of the cuddlebugs. We got to pet him, too, though once they’re grown up, the wombats turn aggressive and you can no longer get too close.
Then there’s the famous Tassie devils. These critters were not only a little frightening, but lightning fast and hard to catch on camera. Other than the horrible screeching sound they make, I don’t really see a striking similarity to the cartoon character of the same name.
Don’t worry, though: I’m pretty sure their bark is worse than their bite. Actually, one thing I did learn—and heard many times during my week on Tas—was that the devils are highly endangered creatures, thanks to a facial tumor that has been claiming the fate of many of them. Right now, conservation efforts are being made to reintroduce devils from the west coast (where the cancer isn’t prevalent) to the east (where it’s running rampant). Let’s hope that works. They’re also extremely shy and elusive, so your chances at spotting them in the wild are mighty slim.
(Note: If you’re squeamish, stop the video at 0:45. Just trust me on that.)
Then, of course, there were the ‘roos by the numbers. I’ve never pet a kangaroo; heck, I’ve never even seen one other than in a zoo. But as we entered the open pasture at the back of the park, the ground started rumbling and they began to surround us.
At first, I just thought there were a couple here and there, as they blended in with the earth-toned bush. But as I peered closer at the fence, I could see there were hundreds of them! Other members of my group—I won’t name names (ahem, Kirsten! ahem, Jennie!)—weren’t as fond of the ‘roos as I was. But how can you not love a face like this?
The truth is when you feed them, they turn into greedy little suckers. I held my hand down with some kangaroo chow, and the greediest of the bunch kept grabbing my hand with their claws to get a piece of the action.
I know that Aussies view them like pests, much as we do the disgusting opossum or raccoon, but I just love these guys so much, I’d keep one as a pet if my apartment were big enough.
Where to Stay: We stayed along the waterfront in the capital of Hobart at the Henry Jones Art Hotel, which I’ll go into detail about in a later post. It’s no doubt the poshest accommodation in town and will run you about $200 a night (though you can find deals for less if you go during off-peak times).
How to Get There: You can fly to Hobart, where the only main airport on Tasmania is found, from Sydney (an hour and change) or Melbourne (45 minutes). Both Qantas and JetStar run several daily flights between the two islands.
What it Costs: Flights will cost you between $150 and $250 round trip from mainland Australia. Entrance to Bonorong is $18 for an adult, $9 for a child or $50 for a family (and worth every penny, as the money goes to a good cause—saving animals!). Hotel rooms in Hobart will run you between $100 and $200 a night, though there are a number of hostels, as well, that seem to average around $20 per person per night. Meals in Tassie are around the same price point as they would be in Sydney or in a big city like San Francisco—particularly now that the Aussie and U.S. dollar have pretty much evened out. Expect to pay $20 or so for a main at any decent establishment.