Pacific gull: Native to the coasts of Australia, it has become scarce in some parts of the mainland south-east. Pacific gulls are usually seen alone or in pairs, loafing around the shoreline, steadily patrolling high above the edge of the water or zooming high on the breeze to drop a shellfish or sea urchin onto rocks.
When thinking of a trip to Tasmania, you might think that it is just another part of Australia.
We had an interesting conversation with an Aussie during a layover in Sydney where he described the mainland: “Australia is a great place to visit. Except for the man-eating crocs and poisonous snakes. Oh, and the marsupials that kick and bite. The outback has wild bulls too, and it gets VERY hot there. And venomous sea snakes on the great barrier reef, did we mention those? Actually, I guess you take your life in your hands as soon as you get off the plane”
Tasmania is much more user friendly as we shall see. It is a unique state within the Commonwealth of Australia.
Tasmania is an island, about the size of Indiana, across the Bass Strait off the southeastern coast of mainland Australia. It’s the 26th largest island in the world, around 35,000 square miles. It has a population of just over one half million (compared to Indiana’s 6.5 million). Two thirds of the population are in 3 population centers, Hobart being the largest with well over 210,000, followed by Launceston and Devonport.
In the winter season central Australia can get really hot with average temps in the high 90s and can reach the low 100’s. Along the coast, 80s are common but 90s possible. Tasmania, which is located about as far south of the equator as Colorado is north, is very mild. High Temperatures range from mid-to-upper 70s in Nov-Feb to mid-50s in Apr-Sept. Lows rarely drop below freezing except in the mountains. The west part is very rugged and dry with about .1 inch of rain per year.
• Tasmania was never physically part of Australia. The island had an interesting “birth” dating back a few hundred million years. The original super continent Pangea drifted apart around 250-300 million years ago. The southern portion was called Gondwanaland, and this is where we first see Tasmania as a land mass attached to eastern Antarctica. As we see the continents today, Tasmania has moved away from Antarctica and drifted close to Australia. Tasmania has a varied geological history, with one of the world's biggest exposures of volcanic rock.
• Oldest rocks on the island date back about 1.3 billion years.
• Rocks from the Neoproterozoic (1bya to 541 mya), Paleozoic (541 mya to 252 mya) and Mesozoic (252 mya to 66 mya) time periods can be seen.
• It is one of the few southern hemisphere areas glaciated during the Pleistocene (2.5 mya to ~8000 BCE) with glacial landforms in the higher terrain.
Today both Australia and Tasmania are well west of the geologically active edge of the Pacific plate, so (knock on wood) earthquake and volcanic activity are not in the cards.
Aboriginal history dates back about 42,000 years. Migration of hunter gatherer people from the mainland was via a land bridge. Successive waves of migrants crossed the land bridge. The archaeological evidence is limited so the culture, mythology, language, and so forth, is a bit of conjecture. The Furneaux Group of islands, off the northeastern corner, are remnants of this bridge, which had flooded by 6000 BCE. It is estimated that when Europeans first arrived, the aboriginal population was around 4000.
The island was first “discovered” by the Dutch in 1642. It was named for Anthony van Diemen, governor general of the Dutch East Indies, by Abel J. Tasman, a famous navigator under van Diemen’s command. In 1772 French explorers went ashore at Marion Bay on the east coast but apparently no French activity of significance happened as a result. The British established a penal colony in 1803 (more about that when we discuss Port Arthur). In 1825 the colony separated from the mainland colony of New South Wales and became a separate colony of van Diemen’s Land. The island became self-governing in 1855 and the name was changed to Tasmania. This name change was driven by the brutal convict treatment and ethnic conflict associated with van Diemen’s Land. In 1901 Tasmania became a state of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Traveling to Tasmania
To reach Tasmania from the United States typically takes four flight segments. We left from Colorado and travelled to Los Angeles. From LA we flew to Sydney (a 15-hour flight). After a layover we flew to Melbourne and then on to Hobart, Tasmania. Total airtime is about 20 hours plus layovers. Tasmania is west of the International Date Line and 16 hours ahead of Denver.
We’ve categorized photo opportunities into several categories. We’ll first look at an historic site, then on to fauna, flora and scenery, and then a look at Tasmanian economy from a photographer’s viewpoint. We will finish up with information on travel logistics and resources.
Australia was used by the British as a penal colony for convicts from England since 1788 when the infamous Botany Bay site was opened. Port Arthur (a World Heritage Site since 2010) is the site of the penal colony established by the British in 1830 in Tasmania. It was initially a timber processing enterprise that evolved. The location for both a lumber station and a prison was ideal as this portion of the island is a rugged, isolated peninsula with abundant forest. Port Arthur was a failed experiment in rehabilitation as well as punishment for both adults and boys as young as 9 or 10. Convict labor expanded to ship building, shoe making, metal smithing and brick making to help pay for the facility. At its peak in 1846 there were 1200 inmates It was closed in 1877 primarily for economic reasons. Port Arthur has been referred to as “a landmark to human insensitivity.”
Families that trace their lineage back to the late 1700s/early 1800s are descendants of either prisoners, prison staff or the people who supported the prison industry.
Adult male starting his evening patrol low in the water.
Devils use blood vessels in their ears for temperature regulation. This allows them to be active during the day.
Forester kangaroos known on the mainland as grey kangaroos. They prefer grasslands and open woodlands. They are the largest marsupial in Tasmania and the second largest in the world. Adult males can reach over 60 kg and stand 2 meters tall. (Kangaroo is a term from an aboriginal wordlist compiled by Joseph Banks, chief botanist on Captain James Cook’s first voyage.) They are recovering from the effects of habitat loss on Tasmania. Forester kangaroos are only in three national parks (Mt William, Maria Island and Narawntapu) as well as some conservation parks. We photographed these at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park.
Tasmanian devils are in the wild but very difficult to find. They are primarily nocturnal.
Look for rehabilitators such as: Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary – Brighton, Trowunna Wildlife Park – Mole Creek, East Coast Nature World – Bicheno, Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary - Cradle Mountain, Tasmanian Devil Unzoo – Taranna, Tasman Peninsula (also known as the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park) near Port Arthur.
We were able to photograph three of the five species of marsupials in the Macropod (large foot) Family found in Tasmania.
Sulphur crested cockatoo: There are eight species of cockatoos on Tasmania. Cockatoos are a distinctive lineage of parrots, notable for their crests and lack of color in their plumage. They’re generally large and noisy. It’s possible to see many species of cockatoo in the wooded areas, flying between trees but this makes photography challenging. This is a captive bird.
The devil stores body fat in its tail, and healthy devils have fat tails. The teeth and jaws of Tasmanian devils resemble those of hyenas, an example of convergent evolution.
Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle: They are a subspecies of the Wedge-tailed eagles. They are currently endangered under the Australian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. The total adult population has been estimated as less than 1000 birds in the wild. These are the largest bird of prey on the island. Females can reach 12 pounds. Males are about 15% smaller. Wedge tailed eagles hunt or scavenge on animals including reptiles, birds and mammals, across a wide range of habitats, from the coast to highland areas. These captive birds were at a Conservation Park for educational purposes.
Freycinet National Park
Freycinet National Park is located on the east coast of Tasmania on a peninsula jutting out into the Tasman Sea. It is about a 2-hour drive from Hobart. The main feature of Freycinet National Park is Wineglass Bay, best viewed from a lookout. This perch is accessible via a 3.5 km (roundtrip) trail with about 160-meter elevation gain.
This park also has a very comfortable lodge and restaurant.
Rocky Cape National Park
This day-use park is on the far northwest part of the island. It features rugged coast, sea caves, rock pools and secluded beaches. The park begins about 20 miles east from Stanley.
Typical farm pond where they are found.
The Silver gull is Australia's most common gull. It has adapted well to urban environments and thrives around shopping centers and garbage dumps. Their successful adaption to urban habitats have seen their population increase in areas of human activity, with the availability of nesting grounds the only limiting factor on population growth.
Wineglass Bay from the lookout.
Black currawong: This species is a true Tasmanian native. It is a subspecies of the grey currawong. The Black currawong is omnivorous, feeding on young birds, carrion, insects, and berries. It forages in the trees or on the ground. It’s VERY GOOD at theft in picnic areas!
White marks on the chest are common but around 16% of wild devils have no markings.
Tasmania has helped spur Australia’s growing wine industry. Located at a more southerly latitude than the rest of Australian wine growers, Tasmania’s cooler climate makes for distinctly different wines. The primary varietals are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Cabernet Sauvignon are also produced there but in smaller quantity.
Masked lapwing: Masked lapwings are shy and harmless in summer and autumn but are best known for their bold nesting habits, being quite prepared to make a nest on almost any stretch of open ground, including suburban parks and gardens, schoolyards, and even supermarket parking lots and flat rooftops. They are ground feeders – insects and worms. They are typically found near wetlands, beaches, or coastlines.
There are a number of reptiles, primarily skinks and three species of snakes. Whereas the mainland has 170 species of snakes, 100 of which are venomous, Tasmania has only three snake species; unfortunately, all are venomous. The snake species include Tiger snakes, Lowland Copperhead and White-lipped whip snakes. The first two can reach five feet in length while the Whip snake rarely reaches 18 inches. Snake bites are rare. The normal precautions when in the field should keep you safe. We never saw any reptiles on our trip.
Birds, marsupials and other unique animals make up the majority of Tasmanian wildlife that are more readily photographed.
Tasmania has about 380 species of birds, twelve being endemic. Beaches and forests are the best locations for observing and photographing birds. Like anyplace, bird photography can be time consuming. Unless you go specifically for birds, we recommend what we did, photograph birds opportunistically.
Tasmania’s other egg-laying mammal is the short-beaked echidna, the Australian answer to our porcupine. It is not a rodent or marsupial. The spines are really individual hairs anchored in muscle in the skin. Echidnas make their living eating ants and termites with the occasional grub. They are usually found in forest areas. You may see them on hikes or while driving on some of the forest roads. They are shy and will most likely ball up when approached.
Typical of central, south and southeast Tasmania
A pleasant 6km hike around Dove Lake. Vegetation varied from scrub to forest to tundra.
Approaching the park
Flora and Scenery
Tasmania is home to almost 1900 native plant species; 527 of which are endemic to Tasmania.
Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Clair National Park
Cradle Mountain National Park is located in the northwestern part of Tasmania. The park is in the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Site. The terrain ranges from snow-covered peaks (in winter – May to August) to moss-covered forest. The park is about 2.5 hours driving time from Launceston or about 4 hours from Hobart. It has a very comfortable lodge and a restaurant.
Tasmania is known for its wild abalone and crayfish. The crayfish in the local waters are one of the largest species of rock lobsters in the world.
Tasmania is home to two egg-laying mammals:
Platypus: Modern platypus have been around about one hundred thousand years. The fossil record shows ancestors dating back much further than that, possibly back to the age of dinosaurs. Over 90% of farm ponds, essentially any freshwater pond, have platypus in them. When they first come out of their den at dusk, they float low in the water then roll and scratch to preen and apply oil then will float higher. Adult males are about 45 and 60 cm in length, females are 5 to 10% smaller. Tasmanian animals tend to be larger than ones found on the mainland. Males have a poisonous spike at the base of the tail; are territorial and can kill with the spike. They have harems and tend to patrol their territory. They can travel on land or through water at 3 kilometers/hour.
Females lay soft eggs about 4 weeks after mating then incubate them. Hatchlings are about 1 cm long. Babies suckle milk from subcutaneous mammary glands. Milk secretes through the skin; they suck on the fur. They quickly grow to 15 cm and are driven out to a new territory.
Their conservation status is “common” now but there is concern that human activity, habitat degradation and climate change may negatively impact them in the future. The Tasmanian wildlife agency asks that all sightings be reported to assist in their management. Platypus can be tough to photograph in the wild. They are solitary, come out around dusk to feed and return to burrows around dawn. We went out on an evening trip with a guide to various farm ponds (accessible on private land) near Stanley in the northwest part of the island.
Cape Barren Goose: These images are of captive birds at a conservation center. About 14,000+ remain in and around Tasmania and their population is considered stable by the Tasmanian Wildlife Agency. The call of the Cape Barren goose sounds like the grunt of a pig. They have the ability to drink salt or brackish water.
Rufous-bellied pademelon (or padymelon) are widely distributed but shy. They tend to live in wet forest habitat where they are typically nocturnal and solitary.
Fairy penguins are the only species of penguin on Tasmania, although some occasional sightings of other species on the south coast have been recorded. Adults during nesting season feed in the ocean by day and return after dark to their (noisy, demanding, fluff ball) young. Breeding and nesting season varies widely. We photographed these adults as they returned to feed their chicks in late December. They are difficult to photograph as only dim red light is allowed, no flash! Rookeries are restricted and accessible with a guide. Fairy penguins were once slaughtered for oil and food but now are protected and very much a tourist and ornithologist draw. The biggest threat today is from domestic and feral cats.
Seeing fields of lavender in full bloom is a matter of timing (or blind luck). We happened upon this lavender farm a day before harvest. The time between flowering and harvest is short.
"The Nut” A volcanic formation towering over Stanley
Adult Silver gulls with attitude
Adult Silver gull Juvenile Silver gull
Three agricultural products we found most interesting were poppies, lavender, and wine grapes. We were surprised by the large poppy fields we saw. Opium poppies! Dried poppy straw is used to extract codeine. Tasmania has 50% of the world’s (legal) market. About 400 farmers make up Tasmania's poppy industry (down from nearly 900). They have slashed their growth from about 32,000 acres down to around 10,000 acres. Mainland Australia is adding some production. Court cases involving drug companies surrounding the opioid crisis will have a dramatic impact on the future of the industry.
Bennetts wallaby is known as the red-necked wallaby on mainland Australia. They can be distinguished from the pademelon and kangaroo by their black nose and paws, and white stripe on the upper lip. They are abundant and can be viewed and photographed in most national parks.
The babies are cute but still can deliver a nasty bite.
Tasmanian Christmas bells
Eastern Rosella are colorful parrots that live in and along the edges of gum forests, woodlands and parklands. Native to southeast Australia and to Tasmania, the species is found in lightly wooded country, open forests, woodlands, gardens, bushlands, and parks. It is one of eleven species of old-world parrots in Tasmania. These images are of captive birds at a conservation park.
Poppy fields were located back from the roads, with ominous warning signs
Behind our cabin in Cradle Mountain National Park
Mammals: Tasmania is a great location for photographing unique mammals whether in conservation establishments or in the wild.
Marsupials are the most common mammal on Tasmania.
The Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial once widespread in Australia (they have been extinct on the mainland for a couple millennia). They are currently only found in Tasmania, with rehab populations on several islands. In 1996 they started to succumb to a contagious cancerous facial tumor (called devil facial tumor disease). DFTD is still a major threat to the survival of the species. Research on vaccines and gene therapy is ongoing with some positive results. In 2020, thirty disease free animals were reintroduced to a wildlife preserve in New South Wales, mainland Australia.
There was a lovely place for a tea break. A currawong even got (stole) a cookie despite our best efforts to keep it.
Gum trees - know in the U.S. as eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus trees were introduced to the U.S. in the 1850s via seeds from Australia being planted in California. Eucalyptus is actually an invasive species here, but not a really nasty one.
Images of Nature - Instruction - Workshops
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Other opportunities to consider:
Tasmania’s top 10 economic contributors are (in order) processed metals, tourism, manufactured goods, wood and paper, minerals (copper, zinc, and lead ore), seafood, meat (beef and lamb), dairy products, fruit, vegetables, beer and wine, and information/communication technology. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the photographic opportunities of seafood and agricultural products. There are also many opportunities to document the wood products, mining in the far west and manufacturing areas.
This company helped us locate and book several places during the busy period between Christmas and New Year’s.
This government website is all things Tasmanian wildlife, from basic descriptions through conservation status.
Recommended Camera Gear:
DSLR body (APS-C) at a minimum (second spare full frame DSLR recommended)
28-105 mm Zoom
100-400 mm Zoom
Optional 17-40 mm Zoom
Tripod not really needed with IS/VR lenses
External flash is +/-
Smartphone or small point and shoot camera.
Small backpack or large fanny pack
The usual stuff (memory cards, extra batteries, lens cleaning supplies, laptop and external hard drive)
We highly recommend Tasmania for anyone, even it’s your first trip “down under.”
Views of Nature Photography
Scenic photo ops abound as you travel the island.