Thursday 6th April 2017
The Bass Strait was like a millpond and was no trouble at all, and we docked on time this morning in Hobart in gloriously sunny weather.
We were last in Hobart at the end of our New Zealand cruise and thought it was a lovely place, even though we only saw parts of it as our excursion coach headed for Port Arthur. On the way we stopped at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, where animals that have been injured or orphaned in the wild are nursed back to health for eventual release. We enjoyed it so much last time that we really wanted to go there again, but not at Oceania's prices! So, a couple of days ago Gill found a local tour company that would take us there and also to a couple of other places that we hadn't seen before.
We left the ship, met our guide, Theresa, and were on our way before 8.30am. She and her husband run 'Personalised Tasmanian Tours', with her driving a hybrid saloon and her husband a 12/13 seater coach.
The sanctuary doesn't open until 9am, so on the way she took us to a vantage point where we could look down the Coal River towards Hobart.
Bonorong was wonderful, again. The sanctuary is set on a hillside, lightly shaded by Eucalyptus trees scrub and with 4' high wooden fences to contain the smaller animals. The kangaroos roam pretty much across the whole site, and there must be at least a hundred of them. When you buy your ticket you're given a small brown bag of dry food to feed the kangaroos. Before I ever saw one 'up close and personal' three years ago I imagined them to be skittish and potentially dangerous, but this simply isn't so – they're amongst the gentlest, most tender creatures you'll ever meet. They gently nuzzle the food in your hand, and sometimes, if your hand is too high, they'll grasp it with their paws as they eat.
We were luck to see a lot of a Tasmanian Devil today. They are notoriously cantankerous and will fly into a furious rage when threatened by a predator, fighting for a mate or defending a meal. Its name comes from early European settlers who witnessed their teeth-baring, lunging, and spine-chilling guttural growls. They are carniverous marsupials with sharp teeth and strong muscular jaws and eat a range of small animal such as snakes, birds and fish, but their real value to the environment is that they feast on carrion, thus keeping the land tidy. Their bite is so powerful that they can crush bones, which is pretty impressive for an animal that weighs 12 kilos or less.
In the past twenty years the Devil population has been stricken with a rare contagious cancer that forms around the animal's mouth and eventually causes it to starve to death. Healthy Devils are now being kept separately, some even being sent to an isolation island to preserve their population until the disease eventually dies out.
There are also a few koalas here (by the way, they're NOT bears!), and they were all asleep, but we'd seen a lifetime's-worth of them at the start of the cruise! But we'd seen very few wombats anywhere else but here. There's a devoted but slightly obsessive volunteer at Bonorong, who we'd seen last time as well, and who seems to treat them almost like her children. The good thing about this is that she'll pick them up for visitors to see at close quarters. Interestingly, until about eighteen months old they're sweet, cuddly little things and then they'll 'turn' and become irritable and vicious - 'just like teenagers' the volunteer said. At this point the sanctuary carefully releases them back into the wild, ideally near to where they were found, because they're very territorial. Most rescue wombats are babies found in their mother's pouch after she's been hit by a car and that are then reared in the sanctuary. It's a lovely place, and it was wonderful to see it again.
Eventually, we tore ourselves away and Theresa took us to Richmond, a town fifteen miles north of Hobart that's described as 'quaint and alluring'. There are quite a few Georgian buildings, showing that it had been an important place in the early days of the settlement of Tasmania. It's now known as 'foodie' place, with fine dining and locally grown wines.
Then it was off again to 'The Wicked Cheese Company', a small creamery with a shop where you can taste before buying, so we tasted and bought ;o) It was the same again at the 'Puddleduck Vineyard, where we tasted half a dozen of their wines. It's a small, family-run business, and all of their production is sold from their on-site shop. They had a lovely sparking, dry white wine that can't for obvious reasons, be called 'champagne', but that I far preferred to the fizzy 'real thing' that we have here on board. We relieved them of a bottle of their 2016 Pinot Noir Rosé, and hope that we still have enough room in our luggage!
Theresa dropped us off at Salamanca Place, a waterside location lined with old, sandstone warehouse buildings that have been converted into boutiques, restaurants, bars, art galleries and posh shops, from where we ambled back to the ship with very pleasant memories of our sunshine-soaked day here!
It's another sea day tomorrow before our last port of call on Saturday in Eden.
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