Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Where > Planet Earth > Australasia > Australia > Tasmania

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Nature Travel Guide

Location 1: Tasmania (Australia)

"An island with better-preserved native wildlife than on the Australian mainland."

I recommend the Tasmanian Birds (premium link) activity.

When I visited in summer 2017 my favourite sites in Tasmania were Cradle Mountain (premium link) for mammals and Freycinet (premium link) for birds. Maria Island and Bruny Island are described by others as excellent for birdwatching.

The rainforest in the centre of Tasmania expanded after the last ice age (approximately 15,000 years ago). Historians believe that Aborigines moved away from inland areas at this time because hunting and foraging can be more difficult in rainforest. Their main remaining contact with these inland areas is thought to have been through seasonal foraging parties. These foraging parties cleared parts of the rainforest with fire, thought to be either for the creation of footpaths or as part of a hunting strategy.

Buttongrass has deep roots that can survive fires. So, Buttongrass grows in the cleared areas providing food for wombats, Broad-toothed Mouse and other grazing animals. In the forests I have seen a wide variety of mammals and birds.

  • The forest, beach and mountain habitats of Freycinet (site 1) (premium link) are popular with birdwatchers. (GPS coords 42.1459S 148.2894E)
  • Little/Fairy Penguins nest in burrows along the beach at Bicheno (site 2), as they do all around the coast of Tasmania. There is a Crested Tern colony on the Governor Island Marine Reserve at The Nuggets, a small rocky island just 50m offshore, that can be easily viewed from the beach walk. Underwater views at the reserve can be enjoyed from a clear-bottomed boat trip or by scuba diving. A dusk walk along the beach can give you views of Little Penguin, wallaby and possum. Bicheno is part of the East Coast Whale Trail. (The GPS coords for The Nuggets viewpoint are 41.8734S 148.3111E.)
  • Maria Island (site 3) is an island off the east coast accessible by a short ferry trip. It is just large enough for a 2 or 3 day hike using the campsites or you can stay at the Penitentiary accommodation and do day walks. The forest is popular with birdwatchers.
  • Hobart (site 4) is a good base for birdwatchers who lack their own transport. Mount Wellington is good for forest birdwatching with a local bus to Fern Tree at the base of the mountain (or private shuttle bus options that can take you to the top). Peter Murrell Conservation Area, to the south of Hobart, is a famous place to see Forty-spotted Pardalote bird and other wildlife including wetland species.
  • Lake St Clair (site 5) (premium link) has forest walks with birds and mammals. (GPS coords 42.1169S 146.1725E)
  • Burnie (site 6) is a good choice for a day's stay, particularly if you are reliant on public transport. Little/Fairy Penguins can be seen at dusk (and also dawn) from the public path on the seafront. Forest birds can be seen on the Fern Glade river walk to the east: it can be reached by taking the Metro bus to Wivenhoe Main Road and then walking back towards Burnie for about 500m. Fern Glade is a popular place to see Platypus, although in fact this mammal is relatively common throughout Tasmania. (The GPS coords for the Little Penguins are 41.0468S 145.9013E.)
  • Cradle Mountain (site 7) (premium link) is a fantastic place to see mammals including wombats, wallabies and pademelons. It is known as one of the better places to look for Tasmanian Devil. (GPS coords 41.5814S 145.9373E)
  • Population surveys report that the Moulting Lagoon (site 8) is home to 8,000 Black Swans and other waterbirds. They are spread out over this very large lake so it is not necessarily as spectacular as it might sound. If you have your own vehicle you could stop as you drive past to look out over this RAMSAR (internationally-recognised wetland) site; in winter you could also look for waders (known as shorebirds in American English).
  • The scenic Leven Canyon (site 9) has native forest that is popular with birdwatchers.
  • The Asbestos Ranges (site 10) are also known as Narawntapu National park. In 2017 I found it difficult to reach by public transport. The large areas of grassland are good for grazing mammals such as wombat, Forester Kangaroos, Bennett's Wallabies and pademelons.
  • Bruny Island (site 11) is a popular hiking destination that I also found difficult to reach by public transport in 2017. Hitchhiking or using a coach tour as a shuttle bus (perhaps getting off early and not using your whole ticket) are options. Along with the Freycinet Peninsula and Maria Island this is a popular destination for birdwatchers who are looking for endemic Tasmanian bird species.

Suggested Itinerary by Public Transport

When I visited in 2017, most of the other people I met either had their own vehicle or were on an organised tour. Compared to other parts of the world not many people were using public transport. However, after visiting, I believe that Tassielink buses http://www.tassielink.com.au/ make it easy to construct a good itinerary that only uses public transport:

I think this is an excellent itinerary. Every place on this list has a variety of places to stay including backpacker accommodation and, in most cases, campsites. You could skip Burnie and go directly from Queenstown/Strahan to Lake St Clair on Tassielink.

Wildlife of Tasmania

I found the book "Tasmanian Mammals a Field Guide", by Dave Watts, to be very useful and interesting while I was exploring Tasmania. The most common mammals I saw during my month-long visit in 2017 were Bennett's Wallaby. I mainly saw wombats from 4pm onwards in areas of Buttongrass (particularly at Cradle Mountain). In Tasmania the only species of wombat is the Common Wombat. I saw echidna at all times of the day and I heard from other people who had had the same experience. Pademelon (similar-looking to a wallaby) seemed to be shy and I mainly saw them in early morning or late evening. When I went for a walk at night with a torch pademelon were much more common than the other mammals. I was very confused by pademelon for a while until I realised that the females were much smaller than the males and can look like a different species.

Platypus are common throughout Tasmania with popular hotspots to see them in most towns. Sightings of Platypus from others I spoke to did not seem to follow much of a pattern, although they seemed less visible in the middle of the day and looking for them at dawn was a popular strategy.

Echidna dig into the ground and use their soft beaks to feel for food.

Wombats graze on grass and other plants.

Approximately 150 species of bird are possible in Tasmania (not including rare and difficult to see species). During 2 weeks birdwatching I saw 54 species (including some seabirds on the ferry from Melbourne).

I initially found the Yellow Wattlebird and Little Wattlebird difficult to identify until I got used to the smaller size of the Little Wattlebird. I also found it useful to look for the white at the end of the long tail to immediately tell me it was a wattlebird.

The Brown Thornbill and Tasmanian Thornbill looked very similar in my identification guide (I really like Birds of Australia by Ken Simpson and Nicholas Day and chose to take it with me). After seeing them a few times I decided that Tasmanian Thornbill was much more brown all over: this then made identification easy.

On the ferry from Melbourne https://www.spiritoftasmania.com.au I saw shearwaters, gulls and other waterbirds: (Many birds also went unidentified including 2 more albatrosses and a prion.)

On a half day walk in Devonport I saw the following birds: (These are typical of what I was seeing away from the main wildlife-conservation areas.)

This adult Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike is feeding a juvenile.

This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on October 19th 2018.

Larger-scale information relating to this page include the Planet Earth, Australasia and Australia articles.

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