Tag Archives: wildlife

Wordless Wednesday #24: Beware Australian Wildlife

Sign post showing a kangaroo lifting a car

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November 18, 2015 · 8:54 PM

Wordless Wednesday #23: Social Breakfast

Finola Wennekes eating breakfast with pademelon visiors

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November 11, 2015 · 5:07 PM

Bicheno Beachside Penguin Surprise

Views looking out over the rocks at dusk in Bicheno

Evening arrives in Bicheno, Tasmania

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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Could This Be the Most Unexpected Landscape in Australia? Hiking The Tarn Shelf Circuit in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

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.

Related Reading

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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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Only an Aussie would see a snake in England

Pic from wikipedia.org

Pic from wikipedia.org

With the myth of the venomous daddy longlegs truly busted, the only deadly creature I’m aware that we have in England is the adder, a slithery snake of a thing often seen sporting a brown zigzag overcoat.

‘Just ‘adder’?’ asked D-man, ‘not ‘death adder’?’   

‘Erm,’ I thought quickly, racking my brain for any hidden information that might boost the reputation of our only venomous beast. I found nothing. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s just an adder. But it can kill.’ 

Rewind back from this conversation, maybe ten minutes in time.

Having been in the UK for less than a week, D-man and I had trained west from London and were now enjoying a British springtime walk in the woods overlooking Stroud in Gloucestershire. An early summer sun shone down through spindly branches on which bright green buds unfurled and leaves leftover from last autumn lay crunchy underfoot. D-man suddenly stopped.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘I just saw something. Do you have snakes here?’ He didn’t move.

‘Yep. Where did it go? What did it look like?’

D-man pointed to a heap of dead branches and leaves. I rustled the pile with my feet, but he pulled me back.

‘Careful!’ he said, ‘Get away!’

And there it was: the different attitudes that Aussies and Brits have to snakes. For me, having grown up in England, the sight of a snake is a cause for celebration. On the few occasions that I have seen grass snakes and adders I have sat and watched and followed them when they moved.

D-man, an Australian through-and-through, has grown up with regular sightings of some of the world’s deadliest snakes and has had a healthy fear and respect instilled in him through snake awareness classes in school and real life survival tales of friends of friends.

Would the adder have come for me, had I disturbed it? Possibly. Would I have died, had it bitten me? Probably not. What I didn’t tell D-man was that no one has died from an adder bite in the UK since 1975. Instead I let him run with the idea that I was both curious and courageous in my pursuit of a snake sighting.

Or just completely stupid. And totally, totally un-Aussie.

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Sensing isolation on the fringe of the Australian outback

Queensland Roadtrip Day 9: Charters Towers - Isla Gorge National Park (892km)

Queensland Roadtrip Day 9: Charters Towers – Isla Gorge National Park (892km)

Two hours into our journey the radio cut out. I checked my phone for reception. Nope. I looked out for other vehicles. Nothing.

Vultures drew black circles in a bright blue sky as we drove along straight, wide roads, over bone dry creeks and past dirt tracks that may or may not have led off to tiny villages or hundred acre farm settlements. We were leaving behind the spindly, pitchy trees of the Blackwood National Park, heading towards a hillier backdrop in the far distance.

Nerrell – our 1984 Mazda 323 – had thus far served us well on our Queensland road trip, but as we drove further away from civilisation and on into flat, barren lands and big, big skies, we acknowledged our vulnerability. If we were to break down now, I wondered, how long would our water last? Our food supplies? How long before someone found our shrivelled remains? Before the vultures moved in and made dinner of our weakened bodies?

Up ahead, something loomed on the horizon, visible movements. Someone? Where was their car? Their truck? Why were they on the road? Were they in need? Were we about to play out a scene from a terrifying road trip movie where the person in need pulls a knife and cable ties and wipes his blade clean after leaving us to bleed to death?

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What’s that on the road?

We got closer. The shape didn’t move from the centre of the opposite lane. It was an eagle chomping on road kill, a bulky, black horror film bird who didn’t even acknowledge us spluttering past.

We weren’t to be the victims of this bright, bleak environment, thankfully.

Trees thinned out to expose open planes and squat shrubs, and still the road cut a red line through the green brown fringe of the outback. These were good roads, maintained roads along which only the odd road train thundered by, infinity trucks with bully noses, vehicles that wouldn’t – couldn’t – easily stop.

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On and on and on. Just us, it would seem.

On and on and on until finally the rising banks of a coal mine and the first turn off in nearly 400km. Don’t take it. Wrong turn would head us back up north somewhat, back to the coast, back to Mackay. Nope, we were heading south by the inland route.

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Back to industrialisation: Clermont coal mines

The midday sun beat down on the car but now the fuel tank was full and our water supplies replenished. We’d be okay. Breathe. Absorb this isolation, suck in hot air. Breathe. We chased mirages on new, unpainted stretches of tarmac before eventually arriving at the mown grain fields surrounding Emerald. We didn’t stop. Call us small minded, but tractors and trailers held little appeal, so on we pushed, back to empty landscapes.

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Late afternoon skyscapes

It was only after Rolleston that the scenery started to change significantly, shift from open expanses to windy up and down roads hugged by woodland lushness and grassy verges dotted with little purple flowers; leaves, petals and blades colour saturated in the late afternoon sun.

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Set up camp before sundown?

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Nope. Definitely not.

We pulled into Isla Gorge National Park campground some hours after nightfall. Once again, we were alone. This would be the last evening with my road trip crew, finishing as we started, just the three of us sitting around a camp fire, eating instant noodles, chatting the journey, sitting quietly looking up at the sparkling night sky through a gap in the tree canopy.

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One last wild camp

Still no phone reception, though. Ah, who cares? We were alright, just the three of us.  Out of the outback yet still covered by the same star blanket. Tired, safe, content.

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Two dogs and a snake stick

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Morning has broken

‘Here,’ she said, ‘take my snake stick. I’ve got a few. Be careful and beat the ground like this…’ She lifted the stick and brought its stout tip to the ground –thud thud – then rustled the grasses of her camp set up.

A little earlier I’d zipped back the tent doors to reveal a rolling hill clearing in the forest, three other tents dotted in undefined camp spots, some sleepy souls emerging into the gentle morning sunlight.

Read on! (+more pics)

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Even sharks can’t spoil my bliss

Watching the sun set... just before...

Watching the sun set… just before…

On my last night on the island of Moorea I sat on the beach barely 30 metres from my shack, dug my toes into fine sand and watched the sun set the sky alight.

I sat for a while and thought about all sorts, and I felt calm and content. The power of nature.

The globe disappeared and I got up to leave, but something stopped me, maybe a greedy goblin who wanted more of that blissed out contentment. So I took another seat on a bench – a higher viewing platform – and gazed out at the horizon flooded with pink, yellow and red.

And then I spotted them: two fins close in the shallows, separated from the shore only by a little strip of water and a slither of rocks. I looked around me. Two English girls sat chatting at the picnic table a few metres away whilst a Swiss mum showered sand off her two-year old son. No one said a thing. Had I imagined it?

I kept watching and sure enough, they surfaced again. ‘Sharks? Are they sharks?’ I asked no-one and everyone. The girls ran down to the water edge, fancy cameras to the ready. The Swiss woman shouted for her husband.

Well spotted’, said one of the girls as they bounced back up to the campsite. I was glad I’d said something, but, if I dare admit, the selfish part of me was secretly smug for having had a few uninterrupted moments to just take it in.

A little sharky send-off.

Moorea, je t’aime. Sharks ‘n’ all.

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Dolphin delight

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South Pacific companions

It was Day 9 of my sail across the South Pacific and finally, – finally! – I saw some dolphins.

I ran from a conversation, grabbed my camera and raced to the bow of the boat, sitting myself down and hugging the guard rails as I watched a private wildlife show close-up.

The rest of the crew soon tired of the dolphin dance but other than a single, bigger dolphin that I’d seen briefly on a boat ride over from Santa Cruz to Isabella in the Galapagos Islands, these were the first dolphins I’d seen out here.

I don’t know what it is, but there is something about these beautiful, majestic and intelligent creatures… Something gentle yet strong, graceful yet powerful. And social all the way.

For ten minutes or so I observed these slippery grey beauties lead the boat; dancing in and out of the water as a group, dashing ahead, falling a bit behind, but dancing, dancing all the way.

And as suddenly as they arrived, dolphins started to leave the party. For a few precious moments a pair stayed and danced close to my dangling feet and I felt my gaze get lost in the royal blue playground of the sea.

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And… just about had enough

And finally they too turned around. Off they swam, leaving us to sail unaccompanied once again.

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