A wildlife surprise in Bicheno

Views looking out over the rocks at dusk in Bicheno

Evening arrives in Bicheno, Tasmania

Because I never went to Bicheno with the intention of seeing anything or anyone other than my friend, and to avoid the storms that were starting to whip the southeast corner of Tasmania.

Having had enough chills for a lifetime, I was keen to search out some sprays of sunshine and gaps in the bursts of wind. This was a holiday, dammit. Don’t give me storms.

If there had been more time to play with I would have headed to the far northeast tip of Tasmania and sailed across to the white sands and warmer weather of Flinders Island, but with ferries only running once weekly, I’d have to save that adventure for another time. The Bay of Fires – another place where I would have loved to have got lost for a week or two – would also have to wait. No time.

The other option?

Bicheno, a place I knew nothing about other than that my friend, Hugo, would be working there on a marine project. Having hinted that the climate was usually more forgiving up that way, he’d got my attention and so D-man and me drove a couple of hours north of Hobart to this ‘jewel of the East Coast’.

Maybe some of you have been to Bicheno and enjoyed kicking back in its limited scattering of cafes, restaurants and bakeries. Maybe you’ve been to paint the fishing boats bobbing about in the bay or the blowhole coughing up metres of pillared mist. Maybe you’ve been kitted up to surf crystal waves or dive into the cold currents of the Tasman Sea.

Or maybe you’ve visited Bicheno with the full intention of seeing what I had no idea I was going to see. Because, it seems, if you actually do some research on the place, there is one main reason to visit Bicheno.

After a campervan cook-up washed down with (yet another) glass of local Pinot Noir, D-man and me layered up. On the way to buy the aforementioned Pinot Noir my friend Hugo had taken us on a cliff and scrubland wander and hinted at the activity that occurred once night-time fell.

And the night-time activity started with squawks; the gathering call of adult fairy penguins coming onshore en masse, and the call of the young awaiting their parents, reminding their parents of where to find them.

A baby penguin waits for its parents to return

Waiting for its parents to return

Walking quietly with a t-shirt covered torch, D-man and me made our way back along the cliff path and found a perch on the rocks overlooking the beach. We didn’t’ have to wait for long before we saw the waddles. Creatures, barely knee high, shuffled over boulders and through undergrowth in search of their young.

Little penguins – AKA fairy penguins – going about their daily routine as if this were the most usual thing in the whole wide world. Which for them, of course, it was. But for us? Not at all. I felt like I was living an Attenborough documentary. Bring on the narration.

Two fairy penguins heading back from a day at sea to return to their young in Bicheno, Tasmania, Australia.

Two fair penguins…

Two fairy penguins heading back from a day at sea to return to their young in Bicheno, Tasmania, Australia.

…heading back from a day at sea…

Two fairy penguins heading back from a day at sea to return to their young in Bicheno, Tasmania, Australia.

…to return to their young.

Once the cold of the night took hold we retreated, giving the continuing dribs and drabs of returning penguins a wide berth when we encountered them on our walk back. Which we did. Over and over. Little waddles, little flaps, and, well, just lots of little.

Catching up with a friend in Bicheno: wonderful. Living a magical bedtime story full of squawks, waddles and fluff: unexpected. Sometimes not reading about a place before you go: priceless.

 

Further reading and watching

 

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Wordless Wednesday #22: Let it blow, Bicheno

Morning at the Bicheno Blowhole overlooking the ocean.

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August 13, 2014 · 7:33 AM

Wordless Wednesday #21: Hiking into the Unknown

Hiking from the Tarn Shelf down across a rocky, ghost gum landscape towards Lake Newdegate in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania.

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June 25, 2014 · 7:51 AM

Could This Be the Most Unexpected Landscape in Australia?

Views over a mountaintop tarn with rising mountains in the background

Mountaintop tarn

Can you imagine the feeling of every cell in your body waking up out of a sleepy state? Of a bubble of awe and appreciation for all around you building in your body, rising up through your feet right to the top of your head with each and every step that you take? Of a great, great sense of peace and contentment?

This was how it started.

With light feet D-man and I descended down and across the tarn shelf and through a green, rocky landscape dotted with clear water mountaintop lakes. It was still early morning and other than another hiker who had taken the turn off for the extended trek to K Col, we hadn’t seen a soul. This world – a place so different to the expected, stereotypical scenes one has come to expect of Australia – was ours for the enjoying. Mount Field National Park was showing itself to be a place full of visual surprises.

The air was crisp and drinkable yet the sun packed some punch, even at this time of the day. We juggled layers, sunhats, woolen hats. Finding the right balance was an impossible act.

Green, rocky landscape at over 1000m altitude

At the Tarn Shelf (over 1,000m altitude)

Rocks and blue sky at the Tarn Shelf in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Hiking across the Tarn Shelf, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Leafless snow gums at Mt Field National Park

The strange sight of snow gums

Spindly leafless ghost gum trees on the Tarn Shelf Circuit walk, Tasmania

Intriguing scenery on the Tarn Shelf Circuit walk

Snow gums with reflection at Lake Newdegate, Mt Field National Park

Double strange at Lake Newdegate

The stretch before Lake Newdegate is scattered with naked snow gums, a scene from a fairytale or a fantasy film, spikes of ghostly pale sticking out at all angles against a green brown scrubland.

We shared our lunch space with another solo walker. He perched himself outside the hut while D-man and I sat of the boardwalk at the edge of the lake, looking out over the water and those spikes of ghostly pale, and observing wisps of low hanging mist.

Lake Newdegate with some low hanging morning mist in the background

Lunch on the shores of Lake Newdegate

Scrubland and water views over Twisted Tarn in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

The Twisted Tarn

Looking through trees and bushes at Twisted Tarn in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia.

Twisted Tarn: straight out of a movie set?

Old skis and fireplace at Twilight Tarn in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Inside the 1920s ski hut at Twilight Tarn

By the time we arrived at our next stop of the Twilight Tarn hut, we had made our way from a somewhat mystical landscape, past the Twisted Tarn and on into the eerie. Preserved in a state of sepia were old battered boots and wooden skis, creaky floorboards and ageing photos. Onwards.

A small black snake stopped me in my tracks – my first encounter since I arrived in Australia nearly two years ago. Dragonflies danced in front of our faces before landing on the edge of puddles and pools of crystal clear water that glistened in the sunshine. We, humans, felt the indelicacy and invasiveness of our increasingly heavy footfall. There was still some way to go.

Mating dragonflies at Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Dragonflies at Mt Field National Park

And the way to go was downhill over a loosely defined path of rocks, heavy on the knees and demanding of concentration. Surrounded by spindly trees and moving away from the higher alpine wonder of the tarn shelf and surrounding areas, my focus shifted to the finish line.

Barely glancing Lake Webster through the trees, we pushed on along boardwalks and a straighter pathway, across marshy spots and into dryer, enclosed bush land through which a good slither of blue sky could still be seen.

Spindly trees in a woodland walk at the end of the Tarn Shelf Circuit trek in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Heading towards the finishing line along a steadier stretch

Soft, hairy green foliage hanging off tree twigs

One last bit of tree magic before the trek finishes

Sign post for various treks around Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Back to the near beginning

Views down towards Lake Dobson carpark in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania.

The end – and the camper van – in sight

As we drove back down to the main entrance and visitor centre of Mt Field National Park some six hours after we first strapped into our walking shoes that morning, I observed how the imagined cliffs of last night’s drive up were in fact fairly, well, imagined. Mind at rest and body tired from a thorough trek, tonight’s sleep, I realised, could only match that of the night before. Bring it on.

The Tarn Shelf Circuit walk via Lake Newdegate/Twilight Tarn and Lake Webster is approximately 12km of mixed terrain. In places it is very exposed and at times it can be challenging. It took us 6 hours to complete the circuit, which factored in three stops plus regular pauses to take photographs.

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Wordless Wednesday #20: A Moment in Time at a Mountaintop Tarn

A tarn on top of the Tarn Shelf in Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

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June 11, 2014 · 6:50 AM

Discovering the Most Stunning Scenery on the Tarn Shelf Circuit

I must have slept well. Having completed a drive up to Lake Dobson long after sunset that had me gripping the passenger seat with fear of what appeared to be precarious cliff drops off narrow dirt tracks, the relief of arriving must have taken hold, and – together with recent memories of glow worm magic – my body and mind shut down the moment that my head hit the pillow.

Because now I was wide awake, the sun was burning through the last of the dawn haze and I was ready to stretch my legs. It had been too long since my last proper trek. Surely it wasn’t way back in in 2012 during a stint travelling in South America? I love trekking. What happened?

Map showing detail of the Tarn Shelf Circuit hike in Tasmania

Planned and ready for the Tarn Shelf Circuit hike in Tasmania

Laced up in hiking shoes and carrying a backpack stuffed full of water and snacks, D-man and me stepped out into a brisk day full of early morning light and signed in at the check hut at the southern side of Lake Dobson before skirting clockwise around the water and onwards along an easy path through a forest full of pandanis.

Lake Dobson with reflection (Mt Field National Park)

Let’s get this started! Lake Dobson early morning.

Walk through the forest and pandani by Lake Dobson, Mt Field National Park, Tasmania

Forest walk by Lake Dobson

And then started the upward hike. ‘Best to get this climb out of the way at the start of the day,’ I said, but by the time we reached the huts and sagging lifts of the Mt Field ski village we had to stop for the first break of the day, legs burning. I took off a layer, one of many. Be prepared for all weather eventualities on these hikes, I’d been told.

Constant uphill makes for a good way to get the legs working

Constant uphill makes for a good way to get the legs working

Views back down over Lake Dobson

Views back down over Lake Dobson

Ski huts and lifts in less glourious times

Ski huts and lifts in less glourious times

The next stretch was easier; flats and gentle inclines along solidly built boardwalks. This was a place to make up some time and to take in views down over a craggy landscape, Lake Seal and the Tarn Shelf.

Walking the paths across the scrubland of Mt Field National Park

Walking the paths across the scrubland of Mt Field National Park

Views down to Lake Seal, Mt Field National Park

Views down to Lake Seal

Three linked mini lakes at The Tarn Shelf

That’s where we’re heading next: The Tarn Shelf

We reached some signposts and the first decision of our day: the option to branch off to K Col and the Mt Field West area, a highly recommended extra 6km scramble. It tempted me momentarily, but we stuck to the plan. Months (and months) without a decent full day hike might not put us in the best state of fitness for a 18km walk. No, stick to the plan.

It was possibly the best decision we made that day.

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Wordless Wednesday #19: A Calm and Reflective Way to Start the Day

Lake Dobson, Mount Field National Park. Tasmania, Australia. Image © Finola Wennekes 2014

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June 4, 2014 · 7:50 AM

Glow Worms and More at Mount Field National Park

Glow worm threads at Mount Field National Park

© Paul Flood via Parks & Wildlife Services, Tasmania

Two things happened after dark at Mount Field National Park, and both weren’t even the main sight, scenery or tourist attraction.

Firstly, Tasmanian pademelons appeared at the fringe of the forest. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw more and more of these marsupials, hopping and bouncing and nibbling on grass. I tried to get close enough to take a picture but my photography skills weren’t up to the job. Faffing around with f-stops gave them enough time to shy away from me and the other nocturnal visitors.

Because the second thing that happened at nightfall was that tourists with torches were appearing too, crossing over paths and patches of grass behind the now dark visitor centre, and making their way towards Russell Falls and the promise of some magic.

Night time view of entering the woodlands at Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

Entering the woodlands at Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

The same promise of magic had lured me away from a the coziness of our now clean van where D-man and I had pulled on beanies and warm coats and set of purposefully to see the pre-gnats glow.

I first saw glow worms in New Zealand during – somewhat appropriately – the 2012 Festival of Lights in Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. Their combined luminance was hardly believable. It felt to be real life magic, humbling and incredible.

Now, two years later, I walked with D-man to the area where we hoped to spot some more of these dreamlike creatures, this time in amongst Tasmanian soil and foliage.

Entrance sign to the glow worm grotto in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

Entrance to the glow woe grotto

Glow in the dark sign at entrance to the glow worm grotto in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania. Sign reads 'Glow worms need complete darkness to catch their food'.

Same sign, no light

Stepping softly and reducing our whispers to silence, we turned off our dampened torches and let our eyes adjust. In my peripheral I saw a light start to burn, followed by more blue white dots in amongst the rainforest darkness.

Blue light of a glow worm at Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

Just about able to spot it (and photograph it)

And although it wasn’t an experience of the same density or intensity to what I’d seen previously in New Zealand, still the scattering of glows added threads of wonder to my bedtime story.

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Wordless Wednesday #18: The Tallest Hardwood Trees in the World

Finola Wennekes standing beneath a swamp gum, a type of tree that can reach up to 90 metres in height.

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Does It Really Get Cold in Australia?

View from plane window on descent into Hobart. Grey skies and rain streaking across the window.

Welcome to Tasmania

I had been warned: it will be cold. Wanting to keep my luggage to a minimum I partially ignored the warnings. February in Australia, the end of summer, would surely still feel like summer, at least a little bit, right?

But this wasn’t just anywhere in Australia, this was Tasmania, located over 2,000km south of my departing airport in the Gold Coast and 42° south of the equator (only a 9° difference in distance that my home country, England, sits north of the equator).  Surely, then, I could expect some chills?

I wasn’t totally naïve. Tasmania is rumored to be a little unpredictable and so I had dug out some woolens, base layers and trek socks and shoved them into a little carry-on suitcase. Wearing closed shoes and jeans for the first time in months, I felt well enough equipped. What more would I need?

D-man and I arrived into Tasmania with a bumpy landing and rainy downpour. Our weeklong holiday looked threatened by grey cover and a pessimistic weather forecast but we were undeterred, filled with excitement for wilderness treks and time together.

Except it wasn’t looking good, at all. ‘You’ve arrived to the worst weather in a long time,’ said my friend Becky as we looked at the incoming storm on the charts, predicted to hang around for most of our time in Tasmania.

Becky’s partner, Hugo, mapped out options for our week that might match the weather movements. A trip to Bruny Island didn’t look like the go as the storm was heading straight for that section of coastline, and the near on plague of mosquitos on the south coast ruled that out as an option. Cradle Mountain was predicted to be swathed in a layer of clouds with the additional threat of hail storms, and the west coast looked as though it wouldn’t be any better weatherwise than the east coast, often cited as a safe option when all else was rained out.

Really, though, Hugo’s advice was simple: follow the weather. Head wherever makes sense on any given day. Over planning? Bleurgh. Unrealistic.

Realising we were ill equipped, he proceeded to dig out everything we might possibly need for a week camping out and about in Tasmania: stoves and five season sleeping bags, head torches and fishing gear and surfboards, double layered hats and down filled jackets. Oh, those last editions were the most welcome of the lot.

And so we left Hugo and Becky behind in Hobart and headed inland for Mt Field National Park to get our first taste of the highlands, fresh air and vastly fluctuating temperatures of Tasmania.

And believe me, Australia really does get cold. Oh yeah.

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