Hobart, Tasmania (Australia)
After a day at sea Rick was much revived by the time we reached Hobart on the morning of February 13. There was some rough weather during the sea day but it was bright & sunny when we left the ship in Hobart.
We spent the day walking around the center city outside the port. Founded in 1804 mostly as a penal colony, Hobart is the second oldest city in Australia after Sydney. Its population is just over 220,000. It is a gateway to Antarctica and closer to the Antarctic coast than to Perth, Australia. It had a thriving whaling industry for many years. Aboriginal people had lived in Tasmania for at least 35,000 years before the coming of the British, but no pure Aboriginal people are left here after many years of violence & diseases brought by the settlers.
We walked out along Hunter Street, a row of very old warehouses now converted partly to shops.
Our first stop was the Tasmanian Museum, where we spent some time learning about the local fauna & the history of the settlers’ relations with them (not good until recently). There were a lot of stuffed specimens. Notably a wombat standing on its hind legs is a copy of one sent to England in the 19th century. It seems that the taxidermist had never seen a wombat & decided that the very hard & thick skin on its rump came from rearing back on its hind legs. In fact, wombats move on four feet and never rear up on two feet; the extra hard skin in that area is a defense mechanism, which they turn toward the opening in their ground holes when predators are near. Similarly the ferocious appearance of a Tasmanian Devil with its mouth open was long thought to be an aggressive gesture, but it is actually more like a huge yawn.
We walked past the Maritime Museum, housed in what used to be the Tasmanian Public Library. Built in 1904, a plaque outside says it was contributed by Andrew Carnegie. We hadn’t known before that Carnegie built libraries outside of North America.
We walked up to find the Hobart Synagogue. Built in 1845, it is the oldest synagogue in Australia. In the back are hard benches where the Jewish convicts were marched in for services. It is one of only a handful of synagogues in the world built in the Egyptian Revival style, with lotus topped columns & trapezoidal windows. It is quite small but pretty interesting.
The current library isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the old one was. It is a steel & glass box, looking like something from the 1970’s or 80’s. The inside is all modern as well.
We also stopped by St David’s Cathedral. We think it is Anglican.
We visited Salamanca Square, an area of old dockside warehouses that has been transformed into trendy restaurants & shops. We walked across the Parliament Gardens outside the Tasmanian Parliament building and on to the Post Office, where we bought stamps & mailed some postcards. We passed a pub where we didn’t eat lunch but enjoyed the signs.
Well, that was enough for one day so we headed back to the harbor for a late lunch. We had delicious fish & chips in a place called Mures, a restaurant on the waterfront owned by a family that catches, processes & prepares the fish itself. As we walked back to the ship we passed some waterside sculptures of penguins, a seal & a sea lion.
We were originally scheduled to leave Hobart in the wee hours of the morning for a short jaunt to Port Arthur, our next scheduled port. But the day before we arrived the Captain announced that a nasty storm was heading for the west coast of Tasmania, so to avoid it we would all have to be aboard by 8:00 for a 9 PM departure back up the east coast, skipping Port Arthur. This was a disappointment since we were looking forward to seeing the remains of the famous convict prison at Port Arthur, but safety first. In the late afternoon, however, it was beautiful in Hobart and hard to believe such bad weather was imminent as we gazed around the sunny harbor.
We were scheduled on an after-sundown excursion to Bonorong Wildlife Park that wasn’t due back until 10:00. It was to be a nocturnal visit after the park was closed that would enable us to see these mostly nocturnal animals up and about, rather than asleep as they usually are during the day. We were notified that the trip would still be run, but moved up an hour so that we could be back by 9:00 when the Captain wanted to sail. This was good news, but it meant that we would be leaving the park around sundown, so the visit wouldn’t actually be nocturnal. As it turned out, that really didn’t matter.
It was a fairly long drive to Bonorong. This looks a lot like a zoo, with different animals in their own fenced off areas. But in fact it is a sanctuary, where injured or endangered animals are brought for help. For example, it is not unusual for a kangaroo to be hit by a car and sometimes a joey will be discovered in the dead kangaroo’s pouch. The joey can be brought here to be nurtured in safety. Their goal is to nurture the animals to a point where they can be released in the wild, although some will never reach that point. The animals are not sold to zoos.
As noted, it was after hours so only our group was there (2 buses worth) & we were shown around by very knowledgeable park attendants who are very committed to their mission. We started with the kangaroos, which were in a fairly large open area that allowed them to run (jump) around. We were each given a bag of kangaroo food to use to introduce ourselves to the friendly kangaroos. As we left the kangaroos we were told to dump the remaining food on the ground, where the kangaroos continued their repast.
We saw several kinds of birds. The most colorful were the small Rainbow Lorikeets. Others included the Laughing Kookaburra and the Frogmouth.
We were shown a Spotted-Tailed Quoll, a rarely seen species. It is an aggressive creature, darting up its cage to grab the food offered to it.
There were a few Koala’s (they are not bears). Koalas only eat Eucalyptus leaves, which are not all that nutritious. Therefore they are not energetic & spend almost all their time sleeping. Our guide woke one up. He looked very bored, like a guy who has just been told to go back to work. But he was a trouper, tolerating everyone petting his shoulder while he stared resignedly off into space.
An Echidna is a marsupial that looks kind of like a porcupine. It has a long nose with a longer tongue & eats ants. For defense it rolls up in a ball with all of its spines sticking out. The Echidna here can never be released into the wild because it has only three legs, which prevents it from effectively rolling into a ball. When he finished the food he was given he toddled over to the attendant and looked up expectantly, indicating that he knew there was more where that came from.
The Tasmanian Bettong is a furry little creature that is now extinct on the mainland, largely due to foxes, dogs & cats. It is nocturnal, very small and thus not often seen.
Fred is a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, named for the yellow crest on its head. Fred is (really!) 103 years old. He was inherited by Bonorong from Fred’s original owner. He is very loud & talkative. If you say “Hello, Fred” he will say it back. When Rick walked by without talking to him Fred said “What’s your name, mate?” For an old guy he can put up quite a squawk. We saw a few other birds around the park unenclosed, particularly a free Sulphur Crested Cockatoo sitting high in a dead tree on the edge of the park.
Wombats are furry creatures. They are raised at Bonorong for about 3 years before being set free. The small ones enjoy & need a lot of cuddling & care, but at that age they turn, sometimes suddenly, and can attack their handlers. They are nocturnal & normally you will only see their behinds, covered with especially thick & hard skin, sticking out of their holes.
The Tasmanian Devil is the quintessential animal of Tasmania. It looks nothing like the one in the Warner Brothers cartoons, but it does have a reputation for being extremely aggressive & nasty. If you see several of them digging into a carcass, baring their teeth & screaming at each other, you might think that reputation deserved. But mostly they are not like that. They are an endangered species today, mostly because of a virulent strain of facial tumors that is very contagious. Bonorong is one of several places in Tasmania & on the mainland that are trying to protect the species by keeping some of them isolated from others of their kind. They are marsupials. The mother gives birth to about 25 babies at a time, each about the size of a grain of rice. But she only has 4 teats in her pouch so the first four to latch on will be the only ones that survive. She eats the rest (yuk). Their normal life span is only about 6 years.
We made it back to the ship just at 9:00, in time to have dessert with our tablemates. The ship sailed down the Derwent River, then turned north to sail back up the east coast of Tasmania. The plan was to turn west after we reached the north end of the island, then sail west along the Australian coast to our next stop, Kangaroo Island. The weather was supposed to be less severe north of Tasmania than if we had taken our scheduled route northwest from the southern tip of Tasmania. As the Captain commented later the next day, however, it would be nice if the weather forecasters were aboard to experience just how wrong they can be.