Zoos: No Longer Something For Me

I can’t recall the last time that I went to a zoo. It’s been a while. I think the last time was a visit to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo. This is an open style zoo: barriers are in place to keep the animals and the humans safe, but they are largely unobtrusive, and give the impression of relative freedom, even if this is on a limited scale.

Spotted tail quoll

Spotted-tail quoll

During a visit to Launceston, I had a wander through the Tasmania Zoo. It is home to many varieties of animals that I wouldn’t expect to see in the middle of a small island, such as camels, lions and tigers. It was a bit of a hike to get there, and I travelled there through the aptly named Meander Valley. As I got out of the car, I could hear sulphur-crested cockatoos swirling above, along with a mixed medley of other bird and animal calls. I paid my entry fee and had a wander about.

Wombat

Wombat

The extensive collection of caged birds began at the entrance. There was the element of novelty initially – how wonderful to see birds that to date I have only seen in books, such as zebra and Gouldian finches. But this novelty soon wore off. Seeing the glorious red-tailed black cockatoos clinging to the chicken wire netting was unsettling. By the time I saw the galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos and long-billed corellas, I’d had enough. Seeing the beautiful Australian king parrots in cages nearly made me cry. They are a gloriously frequent sight in the Blue Mountains and other parts of the mainland: bright, bold and cheeky.

Carnaby's black cockatoo

Carnaby’s black cockatoo

There was a camel, just the one, on site. I passed by the growling, hissing, spitting, fussing and fighting Tasmanian devils, who had just been fed and were busy crunching on something feathered (it really was time for me to leave). A highlight was a pair of wombats, very sweet to look at in their lumbering kind of way. And I detoured to see a short-beaked echidna snuffling with great intent before raising its beak. I was surprised to see a red panda moving about an enclosure. Apparently, they were discovered before the black and white pandas that we usually think of these days.

Tasmanian devil

Tasmanian devil

There were small family groups walking around the park, and I’m sure it’s a great way for kids to learn about animals and birds and the like, but I found the whole experience unsettling.

It may be a reflection of the changes within me more than anything else as the birds and animals were cared for. I feel such pleasure in spotting birds in the wild, watching them in adaptive capacities in areas filled with people, and seeing them go about their own thing. Seeing them caged along with animals was just too much for me on the day.

Red panda

Red panda

Zoos have an important role to play in conservation and education, but I won’t be heading back to one anytime soon.

When was the last time you visited a zoo?

[Photo: short-beaked echidna]

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Dove Lake Circuit, Cradle Mountain

One of the most exhilarating walks I’ve done this year was the Dove Lake Circuit at Cradle Mountain. It is one of several walks available in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in northern Tasmania and is one of the more manageable walks for visitors with limited time in the area. The park is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and is regarded as a place of unique beauty with diverse vegetation in an alpine setting.

Mt Roland topped with clouds on road from Sheffield

Mt Roland topped with clouds on road from Sheffield

Getting to Cradle Mountain takes about two and a half hours from Launceston, about the same from Hobart and slightly less from Devonport. I travelled from Launceston via Sheffield, fortifying myself with a cup of excellent Tasmanian coffee in this tidy town of murals before continuing on. The road to the park spiralled about with many hairpin bends during the ascent. I had picked the day with the best weather outlook, but even so, there were light showers along the way and there were stretches when I was seemingly driving through rainbows. The vegetation changed from rich green fields with cows grazing on stubbled fields to low growing heath with the shift in altitude.

Snow capped peaks around the lake

Snow-capped peaks around the lake

Parking is available at the entrance of the camp, along with a cafe and tourist information centre. I bought a day-pass which included shuttle bus rides to various points of the park, and this took me to the edge of Dove Lake. It is recommended that all walkers register their departure and return at a cabin, so I did this before heading off in a clockwise direction around the lake after taking a moment to soak in the vista of snow-capped mountains.

Fungal growth on branches

Fungal growth on branches

The circuit is mainly crushed stone and gravel interspersed with wooden steps, requiring some tricky manoeuvres around errant tree roots and the like. There are some stretches of boardwalk but the main track is the gravel pathway.

Tea tree blossoms

Tea tree blossoms

There were quite a few people also walking the circuit, and polite greetings were exchanged as we moved past each other. Early on in the walk, I was impressed when a couple ran past me; this impressed me more the further I went on. There are some stretches of the circuit that are steep and stepped in parts, tricky enough to navigate at a measured pace.

Water and mountains

Clear lake water with mountains in the background

Clouds were apparently drawn to the top of the peaks, but it was still something out of this world to marvel at the mountains curved around the lake. As a contrast to the sheer magnitude of all that rock, I found delight in spotting different flora along the walk. There were pink mountain berries, tea trees, hakea shrubs and little bell flowers. The lichen also caught my eye – so many different colours, and there were parts of the walk where it was like walking through a bright green world. I was also fascinated by the warm tiger tones of one of the gums, luminous against the green. This walk would offer different delights in every season.

Tiger stripped trees along the boardwalk

Tiger stripped trees along the boardwalk

Along the way, there were some places to stop, rest and take in the surroundings. Some places were covered in snowy ice, but the sun kept peeping through the clouds to offer warmth between the cooler moments.

Trees with unusual shapes throughout the ballroom forest

Trees with unusual shapes throughout the Ballroom Forest

Towards the end of the circuit, there is the beautiful Ballroom Forest. It is a cool temperate rainforest with myrtle-beech trees in a moss-covered world, with wonderfully clear water crossing underneath the boardwalk in parts. The final stretch, reached after a steep climb, winds its way around the boathouse which was built in 1940 by the first ranger at Cradle Mountain. From there it was a short walk back to the carpark and a return to reality.

Boathouse on Dove Lake

Boathouse on Dove Lake

The circuit is about six kilometres and takes about two hours to walk, longer if you take your time to take in the beautiful surroundings. It was an amazing experience and is one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.

[Photo: cloud-topped view of Cradle Mountain from Dove Lake]

Impressions of Launceston, Tasmania

A couple of months ago, I headed off to Launceston for a few days. There is something almost comforting about the compactness of Tasmania; even in a few short days it is possible to see a lot of places if the mood takes you, or you can simply enjoy just being and really exploring a place if that is your preference. The year before I had a similar break in Hobart which was invigorating and relaxing. I was curious to see what the largest city in the north of the island had to offer.

Launceston streetscape, Cameron Street

Launceston streetscape – Cameron Street

Launceston is located in a natural basin at the head of the Tamar River, where it joins the North and South Esk. Mere minutes from the centre of the city, the South Esk plunges into Cataract Gorge, a steep basalt chasm. This is a popular tourist destination with paths along the cliff face and boasts the world’s longest single chairlift span.

Statue of Dr Pugh with Chalmer's Church in background

Dr Pugh and Chalmer’s Church, Prince’s Square

It is home to many nineteenth-century buildings, and there are many architectural delights to discover. Many of the fine heritage buildings have discrete but informative plaques outlying their history and previous uses, as appropriate. There are several suggested walks around the city which follow heritage buildings, stories of trade, public offices and places of worship. One of the first buildings that caught my eye was Chalmer’s Church. It opened for worship in 1860 and is an example of the Free Church of Scotland in Tasmania. It overlooks Prince’s Square, which has been many things including a parade ground. The statue that can be glimpsed in the bottom middle of the photo is of Dr William Russ Pugh who in the 1840s was the first person to operate with general aesthetic in the Southern Hemisphere.

Val d'Osne Fountain in Prince's Square

Val d’Osne Fountain in Prince’s Square

City Park was a lovely place for a wander. The land was originally used to house Launceston’s Government House and by 1841 the area was being used as a People’s Park, with a small admission fee. The gardens were gifted to the people of Launceston as a public park in 1863. In 1897 the Children’s Jubilee Fountain was installed to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. There is also a large colony of Japanese Macaques in the park, a mark of the sister city relationship with Ikeda City in Japan.

Jubilee Fountain and John Hart Conservatory in City Park

Jubilee Fountain and John Hart Conservatory

Across the river, the former Launceston Railway Workshops are now home to the Queen Victoria Museum. At one time there were over 270 railway stations in Tasmania. The passenger railway service was closed in 1978 but there are quite a few heritage railways in operation around the island and bulk freight still uses part of the rail network.

North Esk River views including brewery

North Esk River view with breweries along the riverbank

For a city of over 80,000 with lots of interesting buildings and places to visit, a handful of days wasn’t really enough to do it justice. I kept being drawn back to the river with its links to the commercial history of the town, its development, and the consequences of flooding – there have been 36 significant floods recorded to date. It was while strolling along the riverbank, taking in views of the Boag brewery and old Custom House, that I first saw Tasmanian Native Hens.

Tasmanian Native Hens

Tasmanian Native Hens

Launceston is a central base for further exploration, with Devonport relatively close by along with historic towns including the nearby Evandale, Ross and the mural town of Sheffield all within an easy drive. Hobart is about 200 kilometres away – not far in mainland terms but there was enough to keep my attention within Launceston, and it is a place that I’m sure I’ll return to again.

{Photo: gargoyle from church in Launceston}