The Tasmanian Wildlife Park You’ve Never Heard Of

26 September 2017

Golden grasslands, breathtaking sunsets and an abundance of Australia’s own native marsupials. Tasmania offers up another must-do experience for the nature-loving traveller.

Forester kangaroos on the Rubicon River floodplains. Forester kangaroos on the Rubicon River floodplains. Image: Mark Daffey

John Bowden holds court outside a ranger’s information hut near the Springlawn Visitor Centre, in Narawntapu National Park. The Discovery Parks Ranger is busy briefing a crowd of onlookers, ahead of guiding them on a Sunset Stroll across the Rubicon River floodplains, just south of where it flows into Bass Strait.

The reason they’ve all come to this park in northern Tasmania is because of the ease of spotting native wildlife. The late naturalist Harry Butler once described it as the ‘Serengeti of Tasmania’, and yet very few people outside the immediate region know anything about it.

A juvenile pademelon, Tasmania A juvenile pademelon. Image: Mark Daffey

I soon discover it’s an apt metaphor. Where countless wildebeest and zebras might roam the savannah plains inside the Tanzanian game park, here they’re replaced by hundreds upon hundreds of marsupials. Look around and you can immediately see why this was once a favourite hunting ground for aborigines who lived in the area – and one they still refer to by the name of “Panatana”. The floodplains are natural marsupial grazing lands. And boy, do they ever gather here to feast!

Come to this park and you’ll see pademelons and Bennett’s wallabies in abundance, to the point where you can barely walk around the Springlawn campground without tripping over one or the other. And you might even spot albino varieties without having to look too hard.

Forester kangaroos Forester kangaroos Image: Mark Daffey

Echidnas also share these grasslands. And there are native hens that Bowden calls ‘turbo chooks’ because of their manic nature when scurrying out of the way.

When Europeans colonised this part of Tasmania in the early 19th century, they went close to eradicating the native wildlife around here so they could plant potato crops, using convict labour. Once the area was designated as a national park in 1976, however, the repopulation of the area’s natural wildlife inhabitants began in earnest.

Endemic forester kangaroos, a sub-species of the Eastern grey kangaroos found on the mainland, were relocated here from Mt William National Park on the state’s east coast. They’re now thriving. And Tasmanian devils were moved here in 2015, partly to escape the scourge of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease that’s slowly wiping them out elsewhere on the island.

A healthy young wombat exploring Narawntapu National Park, Tasmania A healthy young wombat exploring Narawntapu National Park. Image: Getty

Nearby bushfires caused by lightning strikes have been burning for a week before my visit, and the smoke-filled haze lingering in the air accentuates the sun as it dips towards the horizon like a giant orange orb. Bowden is like a Pied Piper as he leads our group across the plains. Children cling to his hands and hang on every word, peppering him with questions that he answers patiently. He confesses later that the unbridled joy and curiosity of children and adults alike is what makes him come back to the place he calls ‘Pu Park’ year after year.

Someone picks up a shedded snakeskin. Because of its length – it measures no more than 50 centimetres – Bowden believes might have belonged to a white lip, the smallest of the three snake varieties found in Tasmania. And we spot wombats, though not as many as there once were, according to Bowden.

“You used to see dozens of them around the campground,” he says, before explaining that at least half the park’s wombat population have been infected with mange – a deadly disease caused by mites that burrow under the animal’s skin.

Still, it’s nice to see wombats at all, for I can honestly say that I can’t think of anywhere else where I’ve seen more of our native wildlife species than here in Narawntapu. And to think that before I came to Tasmania, I’d never heard of it. Perhaps it’s time to spread the word.


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Mark Daffey

Mark Daffey is a widely published travel writer and photographer and a member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers, where he was a finalist in the 2015 Photographer of the Year Award category. When it comes to dancing he likes to think of himself as a black man trapped inside a white man’s body, despite the preliminary working title of his memoirs being Two Left Feet. You can follow his travels on Instagram @markdaffey