March 7, 2016
I'm pretty sure I've wanted to go to Tasmania since I was a little boy, because well, it's called TASMANIA! And what's cooler than Tasmanian Devils and platypuses?! I didn't manage to spot either in my month there, but I've still got some pretty great highlights to share...

PLUMPLOT (Edible Forest Garden)

Most of my time in Tassie was spent on a small permaculture farm. I was working (through HelpX) for room and board, getting a taste of local life (and tree-ripened plums), and saving some money. My hosts, Mike and Amy—and their 3 month-old Oliver, had a pretty good start developing what they call an edible forest garden. It mostly just feeds them, and their helpers, but is also home to goats, chickens, ducks, geese, and rabbits (as well as wild pademelons, bunnies, ducks, white cockatoos, and more), all among dozens of fruit and nut trees and vegetable gardens.
Some of the wonderful animals there were a highlight for me, especially Rusty and Nike (pictured above). However, it was also a source of mixed feelings. Even though the animals had a very high quality of living, by and large, knowing that they would all most likely end up killed and eaten at some point definitely clashes with my vegan sensibilities.

I’m just learning about permaculture, but one thing it does is look at a farm as kind of an ecosystem, which incorporates animals in order to grow the fertility of the soil year-after-year, instead of depleting it with each harvest (and then importing supplements just to break even). There is some obvious wisdom to this, but in my observation there is also a risk of seeing animals on the farm as simply components in a system—inputs or outputs—and overlooking them as individuals. When this happens it makes logical sense to decrease the goose population when they don’t have enough grass to eat (by killing one), and there’s no point giving a chicken health care when they’re going to end up dinner anyway.

Another way to look at it, through a vegan lens, is that you have either wild animals (who come and go as they please, and to whom you owe little responsibility), and you have domestic animals (who you’d look after the same as a pet). The wild animals (bunnies, ducks, geese, pademelons/deer/etc) benefit from the habitat you provide, and your soil benefits from their manure. The domestic animals are your responsibility, because you’d introduce them to the farm, or breed them on site. Therefore you’d take life-long care of them, providing them with the quality of space, health care, food, affection, and social life that you would a dog or cat. That’s how I’d do it anyway—and maybe someday I will! Regardless it was a great opportunity to see people striving to create a more sustainable lifestyle, and a chance to serve the animals there in little ways (day-to-day care, building upgrades to their homes, and lots of bunny cuddles!).
I had nothing but warm feelings, however, about eating the fruits, nuts, and veggies grown on the farm—chestnuts, olives, apples, plums, among much more, or the array of greens shown above: lamb’s quarters, fennel, chard (they call it silver beet), and kale. YUM!
They also have a lot nearby on Bruny Island, where they’ve planted a couple hundred olive trees. I was lucky enough to spend some time there working on small construction projects. As you can see it’s right on a gorgeous bay, where wallabies visit every evening.

BRIGHTSIDE (Farm Animal Sanctuary)

As luck would have it, I happened to be living just over the hill from the Brightside farm animal sanctuary. They rescue and re-home hundreds of animals in need every year. I had the honor of being able to make a visit one day, walking some of their rescued greyhounds, helping clean up a pig pen, and visiting with all the lovely fur balls.

While there was some separation of the animals (newly rescued racing greyhounds couldn’t be with the small animals, as they were trained to chase them, for example), for the most part they all roamed together. Chickens, doves, and guinea pigs together, dogs, pigs, and cats, or in this case, goats, camels (and horses and sheep and cows).
I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say this place was a bit of an animal paradise. It was amazing to be able to walk amongst all the different animals, who were either indifferent, or seeking out affection from me. What a unique opportunity to be able to pet a camel (who is not in a petting zoo)! He was so soft! (Read about his story here.)
This particular goat came running across the field to get some attention from me, and followed me around when I left to get a couple more scratches behind the ear!
This beautiful horse was also happy to socialize with me. I think it speaks to how animals—many of them with traumatic pasts—behave when they’re treated with respect and given everything they need to live happy lives.
A parting shot of a couple of the sanctuary’s pigs and their sprawling home. I hope to visit again one day!

ADVENTURES (Around Southeast Tassie)

One of the great things about staying with locals was all of the local knowledge they shared. Mike in particular was great about setting me up on adventures, coming up with ideas, helping me plan, and even loaning me his gear. Thanks, Mike!!

My first adventure was 4 days and 3 nights on Bruny Island. First, we sailed across to Mike and Amy’s olive grove, worked on the shipping container shelter there, and I slept there and hung out with wallabies that night.

After 3 hours sea kayaking I made it to Little Fancy Bay where I slept the second night. Here you can see my lunch spot, overlooking hundreds of yards of shallow, warm, pristine water.
The next day I hid the kayak in the woods and hiked across the island a few hours to a picturesque beach to set up camp, and then on to a stunning overlook of waves crashing into the cliffs below at Cape Queen Elizabeth.
That night I camped by a secret hut, built from the timbers which had fallen from a shipwreck in the 1930s (insider tip!). The ratio of natural beauty to human population in Tasmania is such that I can be in this incredible place, two hours from the capital city, on a Saturday in the summer no less, and have the entire beach to myself! I slept under some of the best stars I’ve ever seen, with only wild critters to keep me company.

My second trip was a simple over-nigher. I was driven to the top of Mt. Wellington, and cycled down the mountain and all the way home the next day (with a detour to a local waterfall of course).
Another bit of local knowledge was the location of this secret mountain hut. While “Sama Hut,” unmarked and hidden, was a perfect spot to camp out, it wasn’t entirely secret. After a day of perfect solitude, 10 guys showed up for a “buck’s night” (i.e., stag night, bachelor party). It wasn’t what I had in mind, but they offered to share their beer if I shared the hut, and that turned out to be a pretty good deal.
It was a beautiful night, with an unreal sunset, followed by drunken discussions around the campfire about the meaning of marriage.

The Mt. Wellington bike trip warmed me up for an epic last Tassie trek. I took a bus toward the center of the island with a bike, cycled 35 miles (55km) on the gravel roads of the Florentine Valley all the way up to the Styx Vally Big Tree Reserve. Then made my way to the top of Mt. Field National Park, and back to the city the next day. It was a bit rushed, but bus schedules and weather made for some last minute changes.
Once to the top of Mt. Field I ditched my bike and started hiking. Only a few minutes in I could see a sweeping panorama of the “tarn shelf,” where I would be camping, down to Seal Lake, which feeds into the Broad River beyond.
I stopped for lunch half-way through the tarn shelf. These tarns (small mountain pools) were just perched on this plateau overlooking the valley, and it made for an absolutely magical place to hike and to camp.
The evening was incredibly peaceful up there—had the entire place to myself again—and it just so happened to be a full moon! Perfect wombat-spotting conditions, but I still didn’t see any!
On the way down the mountain I finally managed to take a picture of the massive fern trees next to a person (me) to show just how huge they are.
Although I was disappointed not to see a single wombat or platypus, on the last leg of the trip I saw an echidna as I cycled past! They were not scared or bothered by my presence at all—and why would you be with those huge spikes? I was very pleased. And don’t worry, a couple weeks later I finally saw some wombats and their cubic poops! But that’s another story…