Van Dieman’s Land of Devils

Van Diemen’s land was the original name used by most Europeans for the island of Tasmania (later renamed after dutch explorer Abel Tasman, the first European who landed there in 1642). This infamous place was home to 40% of all convicts sent to Australia via the transportation system, some 75,000 men and women. It has a gory, tragic history (including the most thorough genocide of aboriginals), contrasted with the most gorgeous, dramatic, wild landscapes in all of Australia, home to unique and prolific wildlife.



The Tasman Peninsula

Our first stop after leaving the farm was to the Tasman Peninsula, notorious for the penal colony Port Arthur, home to the worst re-offender convicts, and run by some of the nastiest, most brutal wardens. Driving down through the narrow isthmus Eaglehawk Neck, I vividly recalled the historical importance of this section of land. At only 30m (98ft) wide, it used to be fenced, guarded by soldiers, man traps and half-starved dogs, always on alert for escapees fleeing Port Arthur by foot.

Port Arthur
Port Arthur, one of the few original penal prisons still standing in Australia.

These days, it’s a lovely tourist destination. Since we had our dose of depressing penal history thanks to Robert Hughes’ epic book The Fatal Shore, we skipped the tour, and explored the glorious natural landscapes instead. First, a little sea cave, whose opening is shaped like the island of Tasmania:

Remarkable Cave, Tasman Peninsula
Remarkable Cave, Tasman Peninsula

From there we visited the stunning Tasman National Park, and hiked to Cape Hauy to see the amazing dolerite sea cliffs dropping into the ocean.

Cape Hauy track
Cape Hauy track
Christina enjoying the cliffs
Christina enjoying the cliffs

The next morning, we experienced our first car trouble of the entire trip– but it was only a flat tire. We put on the spare, and thankfully, we were headed back through Hobart anyway, so we quickly got a replacement and continued on our way.


The Little Devils

On the way to Hobart, we stopped at a little animal park called the UnZoo to see the infamous Tasmania Devil. Although we frequently saw road signs for them in the wild, they are increasingly rare since the rise of the horrible contagious facial-cancer in the 1990s. It’s killed off 80% of the population, and put devils on the Endangered Species List in 2009. Thanks to the tiny isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, the disease has not spread to any individuals on the Tasman Peninsula, so the UnZoo Conservation Park is protecting and monitoring the last disease-free population in the world. We had a great time watching the devils and a few other animals as well.

Golden possum eating pumpkin
Golden possum eating pumpkin
Paul watching a possum
Paul watching a possum
Paul and some devils
Three little devils
Christina in the Devil Dome
Christina making friends with Nevil the Devil
Tasmanian devils, sisters.
The notorious Tasmanian Devil, two happy sisters.


The Wild Southwest
As we headed west, we drove through a large hop-growing area, which neither of us had ever seen before. A nice change from vineyards.

Hops, growing on vertical vines

Mt. Field National Park is home to arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Tassie, Russell Falls. The weather turned rainy here (how shocking in a rainforest!), so we couldn’t explore the whole park as intended, but we made it to the falls, and even ran into an echidna along the path.

Russell Falls
Russell Falls, Mt. Field National Park

The Southwest National Park is the most remote and wild part of Tasmania. The vast wilderness is virtually inaccessible, but for a narrow winding road up to Strathgordon, Lake Pedder and the Gordon Dam. It was another stormy day, but definitely worth the long drive to see the gorgeous mountains we’ve been missing after months on a dry, flat continent. The weather cleared for a moment just as we arrived at Lake Pedder.

Lake Pedder, Southwest National Park

As we approached the end of the road in the mountains, we were blasted with hail and rain. We sat in the car wondering if we’d have to brave the elements for a glimpse of the dam, but again, the weather cooperated and gave us just enough time to hop out and walk down to the immense Gordon Dam. It was so surreal walking along this megastructure in the middle of nowhere.

Gordon Dam
The Gordon Dam
Paul walking along the Gordon Dam
Paul walking along the Gordon Dam
Lake Gordon
Lake Gordon, with its submerged forest peeking out.


Across the Lyell Highway

To get to the west coast of Tasmania, we had to drive along the Lyell Highway through more mountains and forests. It’s a beautiful drive, with stunning vistas and our first glimpse of Australian snow! The southern end of Cradle Mountain National Park is Lake St. Clair, where the 6-day Overland Track ends (we hope to come back one day and complete it).  This is Australia’s deepest natural lake, at 200m (656 ft) deep, at an elevation of 738m (2,421 ft). We went on a nice stroll through the forest to the lakeside, where platypus live happily. It had a very different feel from the rainforest, almost like the Sierras at times.

Lake St. Clair
Lake St. Clair, Cradle Mountain National Park
The tannin-rich Hugel and Cuviers Rivers join and feed into Lake St Clair.
Mossy lichens
Moss and  snowflake-like lichen balls cover the forest floor.

On the west coast of Tasmania, we made a special trip out to Hells Gates, the tiny, narrow inlet to another infamous penal colony, Sarah Island, in Macquarie Harbour. Isolated by vast mountainous wilderness, treacherous seas and deathly tidal currents. Despite the location, several convicts managed to escape, most notably Alexander Pearce (who escaped twice, both times cannibalizing his fellow escapees. Yum.)

Hell's Gate
Hells Gates, the only way into Macquarie Harbour.


Cradle Mountain

We finally made it to the one and only Cradle Mountain National Park, by far the most visited and touristy parks in Tassie, complete with foreigner-filled shuttle buses. It was a cloudy, windy day, but we were excited to see this wonderful place…and as luck would have it, the last Australian animal on our list to see: the wombat.

Christina & Wombat
Christina & Wombat. Literally 100m from the trailhead (you can see the cars in the background!), and there were 4 more in the surrounding area.
Wombat munching away. She bulldozed right over my GoPro.
Mossy plain
Mossy, boggy buttongrass looks like a fantasy world
Paul & Christina at Cradle Mountain
Paul & Christina at Cradle Mountain National Park
Dove Lake
Dove Lake, with Weindorfers Tower, Smithies Peak and Cradle Mountain.

That night we setup camp in another lovely rainforest, near the wonderful Liffey Falls.

Liffey Falls
Liffey Falls

Bay of Fires & Freycinet

After driving a loop around the west coast, we headed east to the pretty white beaches and granite cliffs. Beautiful sandy bays make it an ideal swimming area, which I delighted in, even though it was pretty cold (low 60s F). We went on our last long hike of the trip along the Wineglass Bay & Hazards Beach Circuit (11km), and enjoyed every minute of it.

Friendly Beaches
Friendly Beaches
Coles Bay

Freycinet National Park also extends into the ocean as a Marine Reserve, protecting one of the most diverse and unique underwater areas in Tasmania.

Wineglass Bay
Wineglass Bay
Wineglass beach



Our last night in Tasmania was spent in Narawntapu National Park (the first Tassie park to revert to the Aboriginal name). A wildlife haven, we went on an evening hike around the grassy Springlawn where countless pademelons and wallabies grazed, and to the bird hide on the lagoon where we watched black swans, ducks and grebes float idly at sunset. A special end to a special place.

Pademelon, a smaller macropod species
Swan sunset
Black Swan at sunset

After a pleasant trip overnight on the ferry, we made it back to Melbourne just in time for a stunning sunrise.

Sunrise over Melbourne.

Now all that remains is the Great Ocean Road, Canberra and the final leg back to Sydney!