Wednesday 25 November 2015

Marvellous Maria 2: Devils Below, Heaven's Above

It’s tempting to say that that night on Maria Island was a black one; all black even. But that would only be true in a metaphorical sense given that the stars were out in abundance. No, it was my early morning check of the score in the Rugby World Cup final that turned the night “All Black”.

Lynne and I had been in New Zealand during the early parts of that tournament, and we’d even joined locals watching a live broadcast of the game between New Zealand’s “All Blacks” and the lowly-ranked Georgian team. Yet despite my huge soft-spot for our neighbouring country, now that we were playing them for rugby’s ultimate prize, I couldn’t help but want Australia’s “Wallabies” to pull off an unexpected win.

[A young Tasmanian devil near the Penitentiary]
It wasn’t to be. So I was slinking back to my bunk when I suddenly heard a noise that uncannily matched my fierce disappointment. It was devils growling! Some young imps, as baby Tasmanian devils are called, had incurred their mother’s wrath. She was growling and screeching in the fearsome manner that gave these carnivorous marsupials their European name in the first place.

One of the park rangers had told us that a devil family had taken up residence directly beneath our room. They are part of a concerted government effort to re-settle disease-free devils on Maria Island. On mainland Tasmania, the devil facial tumour disease has reduced their population by over 80%. But here on Maria, there’s a chance for healthy devils to live and breed naturally without the threat of the horrible and contagious cancer.

There’s much more information, including ways to get involved, on this site Tasmanian Devils

In response to the mother devil’s screeching, I could hear the panicked imps scuttering along the wooden verandah outside our dorm. Whether they were obediently rejoining their mother in the den or running for dear life, I’ll never know. This rugby tragic had some serious sulking to get on with.

In the morning I masked my sporting disappointment with the busy-ness of preparing for our walk to the island’s highest mountain, Mount Maria (709m). I’d somehow never been there, and the fine warm morning looked ideal for the long trip there and back. With luck we might get some of the renowned views over the isthmus and down to South Maria.

["Not again?" Stefan hits the cloud near Mt Maria's summit]
One of the fascinations of Maria is the wide variety of its landscapes. Over a relatively short distance we had walked through dry pasture, open woodland, tall forest and out onto boulder screes. It had all been uphill, and we were very glad to stop and fill up our water bottles in a small stream in a wetter patch of forest.

Mike and I had kept a running commentary on which birds we were hearing. They too were changing as we ascended: skylarks and cuckoos of the lower country gave way to honey-eaters and pardalotes as we rose, and finally ravens, cockatoos and currawongs nearer the top. By the time we’d reached the scree we were disappointed to see cloud lowering over the summit block. Given the cloud-forest style vegetation near the summit, we shouldn’t have been surprised.

[Group shot with cloud: Mt Maria]
We clambered on regardless, eventually topping out on the blocky summit in thickening cloud and strong wind. We took the obligatory summit shot, grabbed a quick lunch in the semi-shelter of some rocks, then turned around for the scramble down.

That all may sound disappointing, especially for Tim and Stefan, who had suffered claggy summits two days in a row. But it was a delightful walk, and an almost literal example of the journey outshining the destination.

[At least we knew our altitude]
Still, it was a long walk back, and we’d been on the go for nearly 7 hours by the time we staggered back into the Penitentiary’s quadrangle. And there we found our neighbours had become a virtual paparazzi on the lawn outside our dorm. Their target? The mother devil and her little imps were showing themselves off, relaxing in the late afternoon sun near our verandah.

[Butter wouldn't melt: Devil imp and mother on Maria Is.] 
The imps looked rather more relaxed than they had very early this morning. As they gave butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth looks, their bad behaviour seemed just a fading dream. And now that I had walked off my rugby disappointment, I was ready to wake up to this amazing situation. How many other places can you share a quiet moment with such stunning wild animals?

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