Giving the Devil His Due

Friday, September 12, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 10:  Hobart

We awoke to another rather chilly morning with overcast skies and the temperature hovering at 45°.  But with a three-hour outdoor activity planned for the afternoon, we were dressed for the occasion, or so we thought.  Our first stop of the day took us to the pinnacle of Mount Wellington, a 4,170-ft mountain that is one of Hobart's biggest tourist attractions.

As early as the 19th century, the mountain had become a popular day trip destination for Hobart residents.  In the 1930s, Pinnacle Road, a 4.5-mile ribbon of asphalt leading to the summit, was constructed as a relief project to provide work for unemployed locals, making the trip much easier today than it was for the earliest visitors.  When we reached the top this morning, snow was scattered about and the wind was steady at 30 miles an hour, frequently gusting to 45.  Air temperature at the peak was 33°, but the wind drove the chill factor down to 11° constantly blowing against your exposed skin.  This we were not dressed for, a combination of conditions that made your uncovered face ache after a few minutes of exposure.  But the views of Hobart, built on the foothills of this mountain, were spectacular, well worth enduring a bit of icy chill.

The photo doesn't do justice to the view.
On the way back down the mountain, we stopped at 1,000 meters to plant a letterbox near the trailhead for the Organ Pipes Track.  Then we continued down and, with a couple of hours to spare before our afternoon appointment, drove to the historic town of Richmond (pop. 880), also popular with tourists, not the least because of the many shops and cafes along its quaint streets.  What first put Richmond on the tourism map was its historic bridge.  Constructed with convict labor, the bridge was begun in 1823 and completed two years later.  It is recognized as the oldest bridge in Australia still in use.

Richmond Bridge
From Richmond, we drove just ten miles west to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, where we saw a variety of animals.  (Pictured at head of article, clockwise from top left:  tawny frogmouths, Tasmanian devil, albino possum, wombat.)  Established in 1981 as an animal exhibition center, Bonorong, whose name comes from the Aboriginal word meaning 'native companion' was visited in its early days by a seven-year-old child named Greg.  A passion was ignited, and Greg determined then and there that he would someday own Bonorong.  By age 25, he did.  And he has completely transformed Bonorong from a zoo to a sanctuary where indigenous animals are rehabilitated and released or sheltered because they are no longer able to survive in the wild.

We had booked a "Feeding Frenzy" tour, which would offer opportunities for close encounters and personal tutoring about the native animals sheltered at Bonorong.  Greg Irons' father-in-law, Bob, happened to be our guide.  Extremely knowledgeable and an obvious animal lover himself, Bob was also equipped with a natural teaching ability that made him ideally suited to this task.  He explained to us that Bonorong has expanded its rescue mission to all of Tasmania by organizing a network of volunteers to help save the few survivors of the more than 300,000 animals hit by cars in Tasmania each year.  Often the survivors are babies hidden in the pouch of a mother animal who was killed.

This wombat, Max, was one of those orphans when he came to Bonorong.  Though he looks like a cute little mammal in this photo, he already weighs more than 45 pounds and will reach 90 pounds or more in adulthood.  Wombats adapt well to human care as infants, but when they reach adolescence, they begin to 'turn' back to their natural instincts, making them excellent candidates for rehab and release.

Bonorong has three koalas in residence, two dating back to the time when the facility was operated as a zoo.  Not native to Tasmania, koalas do not fit in the current mission of the sanctuary, so they will not be replaced when these have lived out their lives.  That day will come a bit later than once thought.  Several years ago, a storm blew down a tree at Bonorong, compromising the partition between the habitat of the last male and the last female koala.  A few weeks later, the sanctuary had three koalas. Koalas sleep more than 20 hours a day, and we woke this little guy to say hello to him.  He was back asleep in the blink of an eye.

With Bob, we entered the large field which the sanctuary's 70+ Forester kangaroos call home.  The Forester is the largest marsupial in Tasmania and second largest in the world.  Adult males can reach more than 130 pounds and, on their tiptoes, more than six feet tall.  This mob is left over from Bonorong's zoo days and not candidates for successful release into the wild, though they do nurture injured and orphaned 'roos who are introduced into their midst and later released.

Quite desensitized to human interaction, the kangaroos eagerly greeted us when they realized we had food pellets for them and happily ate what we proffered on open palms.  Since they give birth throughout the year, joeys of all sizes could be seen peeking from their mother's pouches.

An animal who definitely was not humanized, and we did not enter his enclosure, was one we had been eager to see since arriving on Tasmania—the Tasmanian Devil.  Like all the mammals at Bonorong, the devil is also a marsupial.  With carrion as their main food source, Tasmanian Devils are often attracted to the smorgasbord of roadkill on state roads.  This penchant and their lack of speed result in 3,000 deaths per year in a dwindling population.  Devil facial tumor disease, a contagious form of cancer unique to the species, is also decimating their ranks.  Without human intervention, experts fear that the disease may wipe out the species within ten years.  Bonorong is leading the efforts to prevent extinction with a breeding program of healthy animals.  Some have already been released on an isolated island where they cannot be infected with the fatal disease.

After three hours with Bob, we had seen and interacted with too many animals to mention here.  We thoroughly enjoyed the visit to this sanctuary, the most Tasmanian of all the places we visited on the island.

Tomorrow we'll fly back to the mainland for a few days in Melbourne.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Hobart, ended in Hobart
  • Mileage -  76       (Trip total: 10,885)
  • Weather - 45° to 57°, overcast with occasional sun
  • Tourists from South Carolina at Bonorong today - 2
This glassed-in observation deck was a welcome shelter from the wind.
Loved these chain restroom "doors" at Bonorong
Baby on board (L)  |  Koala visitor (R)