When Him and I were in Nadi, Fiji, a remarkably witty hostel employee named Rico innocently instructed members of his kava circle to tell the group their favorite animal. Strumming on his guitar, Rico then began a sing-along in which each participant took a turn filling in the gaps of the song with two noises their animal normally makes followed by a noise that animal makes when he/she is horny.

I admit this sounds pretty silly now, but it was quite amusing to us all at the time. Like everyone else, I selected my animal (dog) without anticipating what this information would be used for. If I was to repeat this exercise now, I believe I would pick “wombat.” Not only are wombats adorably cute, but they don’t seem to make much noise. I imagine sitting in thoughtful silence would have been less embarrassing than howling enthusiastically in front of a bunch of strangers.


Wombat, Cradle Mountain National Park

Him and I met our first wombat in Tasmania, and I was in such a frenzy to snap a photo of the koala-like creature that I leapt from our rental car — and promptly dropped my digital SLR on the parking lot blacktop.  Thankfully, the camera escaped relatively unscathed, I apologized to it profusely. But the point is that I didn’t need to hurry: In addition to exuding an air of thoughtful silence, wombats don’t really move all that quickly. This one looked up briefly and, seemingly unimpressed by his human visitors, went back to munching grass under the King Billy Pines of Waldheim in Cradle Mountain Park. I followed him around the parking lot at a distance of about five feet, snapping his profile from various angles. I could have reached out and poked his furry butt if I had been so inclined.

From the goofy marsupials to the endless, uninhabited pastoral scenery, I love Tasmania. Look at any map of this island state, and you’ll find a good deal of the terrain is colored green. That’s because more than a third of Tasmania is part of a reserve or a national park (one-fifth of the state is listed as “World Heritage”). Only 500,000 people live here, with a full half of the population in Hobart, the capital.

As flying from Sydney to Hobart cost about $100 more than flying into Launceston, the second-largest city, Launceston it was! We arrived on Friday, Nov. 30, in the late morning with absolutely no idea what we were going to do with the three days ahead of us. Rafting on the Franklin River sounded promising, but we were not entirely sure which town offered day-long tours. So we rented a car, a little blue Hyundai, at the airport, headed west and hoped for the best.

Piloting the Hyundai through Tasmania was actually Him and I’s first attempt at driving on the left side of the road. Naturally, I decided to sit back and let Him try it first. We were both incredibly nervous, but it turns out that aside from the narrow lanes and a handful of one-lane, two-way country roads (boy are those fun!), Tasmania is a pretty good place for an American to try their hand at the left side. That’s primarily because there’s very little traffic. The only section of road we encountered that might classify as a highway back home was a stretch located just outside of Launceston. After that, it was mostly just two-lane roads and a whole lot of sheep.

Hugging the left shoulder, we proceeded down the B13 through Railton and then meandered over toward Sheffield, a picturesque town of cafes, radiant rose gardens and “Marble World,” an odd little shop that specializes in those antiquated colored glass balls — not fancy flooring. Sheffield is widely known for its array of colorful building murals, a bid to draw more tourists to its quiet streets. We happened upon a cafe with a sizable collection of Tasmania coffee table books and flipped through a couple while munching on sandwiches. The photographs of Cradle Mountain Park made that area look promising, so we veered southwest toward the park and our future wombat encounter.

Despite the reliance of a narrow, one-lane, two-way road, Cradle Mountain Park is an unequivocal treasure. I have never seen a landscape quite like it: stark bare tree trunks scattered across shrubby ochre fields of buttongrass tufts and yellow heather. Damp rainforest paths meandering past pencil pines shrouded in soft, emerald moss. As daylight fades, wombats and wallabies emerge from the forest to nibble at grasses along the park road.

Cradle Mountain National Park

Cradle Mountain National Park

We saw and photographed countless wombats, wallabies and wild parrots during our four days in Tasmania, but despite my best sleuthing, the famous Tasmanian Devil was undetectable. Contrary to what Warner Brothers may have taught you, the Tasmanian Devil is really a cat-sized, ferret-shaped creature that walks on all fours. Sadly, the species has been devastated by a prevalence of facial tumors, and there are several sanctuary breeding programs underway to safeguard and increase the population. One such facility is located across the road from Cradle Mountain Park, but our tight schedule meant we had just one night in the area. We were able to complete the peaceful, two-hour Dove Lake Circuit hike Saturday morning before we had to finish our loop around the massive Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park and return to Launceston.

I had briefly (and expertly, I might add) tackled driving on the left side Friday en route to our first Cradle Mountain park hike, but my first — and only — extended period behind the wheel took place Saturday morning on the first leg of the Launceston drive. As a background note, I will note that I rarely share driving duties on vacation — mostly because I tend to nod off when traversing long distances (I trace this back to my infancy, when my mom induced sleep by shoving a bottle into my chubby fist and completing circuits of our neighborhood until I passed out. To this day, my head droops within minutes of taking to the road after a large meal). So this was my chance to show Him I was up for the challenge — that I could stay awake long enough to safely navigate along the scenic C132 and beyond.

I will freely admit the Hyundai’s left tire occasionally drifted into the gravel under my watch but no more so than when Him was driving — despite what He may tell you. Him was just more vocal about announcing the error. It took awhile, but I was eventually able to drive past traffic in the other lane without veering into a rock face. It helped when I noticed I could be sure to remain in my own lane by monitoring the divider through the car’s right-side mirror. I zipped down the Zeehan Highway, hugged the rocky cliffs outside dreary Queenstown and successfully navigated enough sharp turns to make Him mildly car sick. By the time the lyrics from Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” drifted across the airwaves and through our car radio, I was feeling pretty good.

“I said, ‘Do you speak my lan-guage.’ He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich!” we both belted at the top of our lungs.