We spent our first few days in “Tassie” along the rugged south coast, a coast that reminds me of Maine. In fact, Tasmania is about the size of Maine; just a bit smaller. Tuesday we headed north and discovered a different Tassie. The fairly straight road carried us across rolling ranch and farmland. Flocks of sheep were enjoying the nice green springtime fields. We were reminded of eastern Montana.
Our first stop was Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, where injured or orphaned birds and marsupials are cared for. We got up close to kangaroos, wombats, koalas and the Tasmanian devil. Operated as a non-profit, it was well worth the stop.
We visited several charming mid-19th century towns—Ross and Oatfield—with their stone main buildings resembling England of that period. Most of the road and bridges, and many of the buildings, were built with convict labor who were put to work on “public” projects to speed their “rehabilitation.”
Near the north coast we turned west and then south, entering a rugged mountainous area before settling in for the evening at the Cradle Mountain Lodge in Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Claire National Park. What a gem! The highlight was an after dark “spotlight” ride with the ranger to visit the parks wandering marsupials, which are nocturnal. We spotted wombats (look like beavers without the big tail), wallabies (look like small kangaroos), and several types of possum (which are much better looking than the USA possum.) All are marsupials, which means, among other things, they carry their young in a pouch like a kangaroo.
After our successful “hunt” we returned to our rustic, but contemporary “cabins” under moonlit skies with the promise of frost in the morning.
Sheep vs Gore
Tuesday, as we drove to the north coast from Hobart it would be easy to conclude there are more sheep than people in Tasmania. The road passes by flock after flock of sheep. But that is changing. With the demand for wool slumping and for Gore-tex products soaring many ranchers are moving from sheep raising to gore raising. This change has many ramifications for the local economy as the sheep and wool related industries supported many jobs in the past. Most gore hides are simply shipped overseas, primarily to China, where they are used to produce Gore-tex jackets and other products, prized by Europeans and Americans.
Further, there are conflicts within the gore ranching community itself over the merits of free range vs ranch raised gore. Proponents of free range gore claim their hides have are more impervious and less harmful to the environment; many of the ranch raised gore spend their lives in feedlots. The ranch raised advocates claim the feedlot approach is not harmful and produces larger, more uniform quality hides.
One thing is certain. The gore phenomena will have a long term impact on sheep production in Tasmania.