Bicheno came after Port Arthur on our road trip up Tasmania’s east coast. It was already near dark when we arrived and significantly chillier, so our only plans were dinner on the water and some wine. Bicheno has a little penguin colony, and we chatted with our waitress about whether or not it was worth seeing. Brendan and I had both been to the one on Phillip Island outside Melbourne, and while it was fantastic, I didn’t necessarily feel the need to do it again. So we decided to pass. It was a good decision, as we got a free show on our walk home along the road buffering the beach.
In front of a new home under construction, something in the darkness caught Brendan’s eye. He honed in on a pile of boards, the kind with the slats in between them. Brendan snapped a photo of it, and sure enough, a pair of eyes shone red in the light. It was a Little penguin apparently camping out in the construction materials.
We walked a head a bit and stood quietly to try to coax the penguin out of its shelter. Our little man wasn’t alone, it turned out – he had a lady friend hiding in the boards with them. They wobbled about like the toy Weebles from my childhood, then joined together front to back. “What are they doing?” I hissed in the dark. But I already knew. They were going to, em, do it.
I felt one part 14-year-old boy and one-part David Attenborough as I watched this penguin porno unfold. It was both intriguing and disturbing. Penguins are so cute. Actually seeing them cavorting in the flesh was a little much – and Brendan didn’t help by blurting out, “He’s flapping!” while the act was going on. There was only one thing to do once we got home – have more wine.
More surprises came our way when we made the drive to Wineglass Bay, another touted sight on Tassie’s east coast. It turns out we hadn’t done our proper research – the lookout, the one that let you actually see the wineglass shape of the beach, was closed for repair until the next day. The only other option was to make a three-hour return hike down to the bay.
Not necessarily dressed for the trek on this overcast day, we decided to be wilderness warriors, forgetting that “hike” in Australia often equals “moderately intense workout.” Even being in decent shape, the steep uphill climbs through the woods and rocks burned my calves and worked up a sweat. We even thought we could do the hike there in less than 1.5 hours – no chance.
We got a nice greeting when we reached the beach all sweaty and endorphin-fueled: a mama wallaby and her joey hopping about the bush feeding. We stopped to snap a few shots, then made our way to the chilly beach with its light blue-green water and short hills in the background. Another wallaby was trying to pilfer a toddler’s lunch as she sat on her dad’s lap.
Brendan discovered some funky star fish nestled in a rock pool to the left of the beach. Stubby and slimy, they were a change from the slim, sand-colored image I’ve always associated with the life form. Red, blue, green, black, they were tiny rainbows of color very much alive despite their dead stillness.
The mother wallaby was guarding the start of the path as we started the hike back, wriggling her nose at us as we passed by.
First image courtesy F. Brendan Haslam