Australia (Sydney, Tasmania) and New Zealand - 2003/2004


Cradle Mountain National Park was the next stop. I arrived there early afternoon and I went to walk around Dove Lake. It was sunny, warm and it's an easy walk, since most of the 6 km around the loop is a wooden walkway. So I turned on my MP3 player and started for a quick circle around the lake.

Cradle Mountain National Park Cradle Mountain National Park Cradle Mountain National Park

(What comes next may sound a bit dramatic and I've got a couple of comments along the lines "So what? Nothing happened.", but I was pretty shaken afterwards.)

While I was walking around the lake, listening to music and enjoying the view, I suddenly came upon a view I didn't enjoy at all. Right next to the path was a tiger snake! (The convenient thing about snakes in Tasmania is that you don't have to worry on whether they are venomous or not. There are three species of snakes in Tasmania and they all are venomous.) It's one of the more venomous snakes around. There are various measurements on how dangerous a snake is, either based on the potency of the venom, or the total number of mice a snake could kill (a snake with less potent venom might have more of it) or how many human deaths this kind of snake has caused. In all these lists, tiger snakes are among the top ten. And while some tiger snakes are difficult to recognize as such, since they are often plain brown or black, this one next to the path had the stripes clearly visible.

After freezing up completely for a moment (it's quite interesting how suddenly all rational parts of the brain seem to get moved to the backseat and ancient instincts take over), I followed more modern instincts and took out my camera for a quick picture before considering what to do next.

Tiger Snake, Cradle Mountain National Park

Supposedly you should make some noise and stamp your feet and the snake will pick up the vibration and move away. So I backed up a couple of steps and started jumping up and down on the path. Given that these are wooden planks which vibrate easily and I'm not lightweight, there should be lots of vibrations for the snake to pick up. The snake just lies there and doesn't move at all. After some more jumping while trying to look non-threatening (not an easy thing to do), two people came along the path from the other side. I called to them, telling them that there was a large snake next to the path, which immediately prompted the guy to get out his camera, walk up on the path next to the snake and take a couple of pictures, thanking me for notifying me of this photo opportunity. This sort of got the snake woken up and it looked somewhat lazily in his direction. He moved past the snake and asked his girlfriend to follow him, but she didn't really want to. So we waited a bit until the snake lost interest again and turned towards the bushes, when she walked past the snake and I finally dared to walk part the snake in the other direction.

From that point on I walked a bit slower and without the walkman. Which was probably a good idea, since about 200 meters later there was another snake right on the path. This one was a bit smaller and not as easily identified. It moved away soon, but it crawled right between the cracks in the walkway. So I knew that there was a snake right below the way, but I had no idea where it was and what it was doing. In the end I took a running jump over those bit where the snake has crawled under and hoped for the best, which worked out fine.

Snake, Cradle Mountain National Park

So instead of "there was one snake - probably a rare occasion", this mentally turned into "two snakes only a few hundred meters apart - this place is infested with snakes". For the rest of the way I was very slow, very nervous and jumping at shadows. Any root or odd stick had me jumping out of my skin and since areas that are have the right climate for snakes are also interesting to lizards, there were also a couple of times when some lizard was rushing across the part and giving me a big scare. When I finally made it around the lake (without seeing any more snakes) I was drenched in sweat.

The actual danger was probably fairly small. When in talked to someone at the info center, he remarked that there wasn't any death by snakebite 'here' for the last forty years. (I'm not quite sure whether 'here' was supposed to be Tasmania or the national park.) When someone else mentioned a woman that died after being bitten by a snake earlier this year, this didn't count since she supposedly died from a heart attack, not the poison. So when you're bitten by a snake, stay calm and relaxed. (Yeah, sure. Easier said than done.) And tiger snakes aren't very aggressive, so unless you step on one, it's very unlikely to attack you.

So why was I so spooked about it? Most likely unfamiliarity. I've tried to find an equivalent situation. If I'd walk around in a park in Berlin and some large dog is running around unattended, I'd be slightly careful and make sure that the dog notices me before I walk past it (to avoid the dog suddenly noticing me when I'm right next to it and bite as a reflex), and I'd probably be slightly annoyed about people letting their dogs run free without looking after them, but I wouldn't go away with a feeling of narrowly escaping death. Yes, dogs can bite, maim and kill people and I'm no expert in dog handling, but dogs are a familiar sight and, unless they really start to behave aggressively, nothing to worry about. Snakes and their handling, on the other hand, is something I know next to nothing about (except the bit about "cause lots of vibrations and it will move away, probably before you even see it", which turned out to wrong almost immediately).

The other thing that made it scary was the unexpectedness of the snakes in this area. You associate snakes with far off, rarely trodden, overgrown paths and not with a well maintained popular wooden walkway in a park that asks you to "enjoy the tranquillity and peace of this ancient landscape" and to "relax, have fun". I wasn't particularly tranquil or relaxed that day.

Ok, enough about my snake encounter (which has been going on to long anyway, even though I'd like to write a bit more about it). After I checked in at the lodge, I walked around the short walk close to the lodge (partly because it's nice, mostly to convince myself that I'm calm, rational and not at all scared off by the earlier events). In the upcoming dawn, there were quite a few of the more cuddly animals in the park.

Cradle Mountain National Park Cradle Mountain National Park Cradle Mountain National Park

After dinner I went on a animal night spotting tour where you are driven with a bus through the park and try to find animals with a big spotlight. After the experience with the penguin rookery I didn't bring a camera and just enjoyed the tour. We didn't spot any Tasmanian Devils, but quite a few wombats, possums, wallabies and pandemelons. Nice trip.

Next day was mostly a driving day. On the way to Strahan I drove through Queenstown, a mining town for more than a hundred years and it shows. Not a beautiful place. But a detour to Lake Burbury brought me to some nicer scenery.

Queenstown, Tasmania Queenstown, Tasmania Queenstown, Tasmania

Upon arriving in Strahan, there was enough time to go for an ATV ride in the afternoon. There is a large dune area (called Henty Dunes) a couple of kilometers away from Strahan and you can drive off-road vehicles there. It's fun to drive those quadbikes when you don't have to worry much about staying on the pay. And going up and down dunes is really easy on those things. There was also a nice bit down a large dune where you were more sliding than driving, which looked scary at first, but was fun to ride down. It was only a fairly short tour (half an hour or so), but it was pure fun, since you could just fool around without worrying much about anything. The tour guide was going at a reasonable speed, but from time to time it was better to just hang back a bit and then drive a bit at full speed to catch up instead of going at a more reasonable speed all the time. (After the tour some other people who had been on the trip chatted with the guide and he said something like "it's more dangerous than it looks and you have sometimes people on the tour who drive a bit too careless and when they are at the end of a tour they want to immediately on the next one and you know that they'll drive really reckless then, so you tell them the next tour is fully booked or something, just to have them go away". Not quite sure whether he meant it that way, but it could have been about me...)

ATV tour near Strahan

The sunset at Strahan that evening was very impressive looking.

Strahan sunset Strahan sunset Strahan sunset Strahan sunset

The main attraction at Strahan is the boat tour along Gordon River. There are two tour operators in Strahan and almost everything in the town seems to be split strictly between those two. All additional activities in Strahan seem to belong (or be associated) with one of them, so the hotel I was staying in had only information about one of the tours and so on. The tours are basically the same. You go with the boat out to Cape Sorell, go a small bit past it out on the Southern Ocean, then head back into Macquarie Harbour, stop at Sarah Island for a short walk and a fun history lesson, then down Gordon River to Heritage Landing, where you have a short circular walk through some ancient forest. (Though less ancient than it used to be. That may sound a bit odd, but the reason for building the walking track at that points was a 2000 year old Huon pine tree. Which has fallen down since. So the main attraction on this walk are now some not "quite as old but still impressive" trees.) I didn't care much about the forest walk, since I had walked through a couple of interesting forests near the waterfalls a couple of days earlier and walking through a forest alone is also more impressive than walking along a short walkway with a couple of dozen other people, but the boat ride along untouched scenery (especially after seeing Queenstown the previous day) was great. And the history of Sarah Island turned out to be much more obscure than expected. While Port Arthur was clearly a 'model prison colony', the one at Sarah Island gave a more 'frontier' impression. And even though it was supposed to be the harshest and most dreaded penal settlement, there are some indications that far away from the centers of administration, rules were fairly flexible and it turned itself into a boat building profit center. It would probably be a good setting for a historic MASH-like series.

Gordon River boat tour Gordon River boat tour Gordon River boat tour Gordon River boat tour
Gordon River boat tour Gordon River boat tour Gordon River boat tour Gordon River boat tour

Coming back to Strahan after the boat trip I got into the car and drove back to Hobart, since I was flying onwards the next morning. So after ten days and 1782 kilometers my Tasmanian vacation was over and I was going to New Zealand.

Onwards to New Zealand

Back to Tasmania, part 2

Back to other travels