Wallaby World

A wallaby is a kangaroo that’s about my size. An adult male wallaby stands 1.5 meters tall. The female has a pouch and four teats for the benefit of the baby, known as a joey. There’s a fatter version of a wallaby called a pademelon. We’ve come to Bruny Island in Tasmania to find these macropods and a whole lot more.

At the Sheepwash

There’s a pleasant little hiking path that starts not far from our house in Alonnah. It winds its way along the western coast of Bruny Island, offering stunning views of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel that separates this island from the Tasmanian mainland. We decide to follow it on our first day on Bruny Island.

The track ends at Sheepwash Bay where, you guessed it, folks used to bring their sheep to wash in preparation for the shearing. Wool used to be big business in Tasmania. When we arrive at Sheepwash Bay, there are no sheep to be seen (or heard or smelled).

Instead I catch my first sight of a “kangaroo” bounding through the bush, propelled by its powerful hind legs and big feet. It’s too fast for my camera and I have to go home with nothing but blurry pictures of what, in fact, is a Bennetts wallaby with its characteristic black nose and paws.

Ginger pills

Captain Cook once laid anchor in Adventure Bay. This natural harbor on Bruny Island has also housed timber mills and whaling stations. Now the wildly popular Pennicott Wilderness Journeys ferries tourists like me along the Bruny Island coast into the Southern Ocean.

I’m not a good sailor. When we went looking for whales off the coast of Kaikoura, I spent most of our tour upchucking my breakfast. Luckily, the Pennicott people are used to visitors like me. Anyone who looks green around the gills has to sit in the back of the boat where, they promise, the boat will bounce less. Everyone on board gets a handful of ginger pills, just in case. We all suit up in red mackintoshes for the splashing ahead.

Australian fur seal
Australian fur seals off Bruny Island. Photo credit: Frans Verhagen

The ginger pills work. I see cormorants, Australian fur seals, pods of little dolphins and some dusky dolphins, too. We cruise through a kelp forest and watch the cliffs breathe. The seals seem to enjoy our company as they wave their fins at us.

We’ve come at the wrong time of the year for the whales. May to November is when the southern right whales migrate past Bruny Island to their northern breeding grounds. If we had come 300 years earlier, we could have seen whales off the coast of Hobart.

Cuddly creatures

From 1842-181850, Maria Island served as a probation station for the English penal colony. Its distance from the mainland and the frigidity of its waters made Maria Island an ideal spot for an open-air prison. Today, those same qualities allow Maria Island to call itself the Noah’s ark of Tasmania.

Since the 1970s, various endangered species have been introduced to Maria Island. Those animals include the Tasmanian devil, Cape Barren geese and, of course, the wallaby.

Wombat on Maria Island. Photo credit: Karen Kao

On Maria Island, I meet the wombat, a marsupial whose closest relative is the koala. Like the wallaby, the wombat carries its young in a pouch. The wombat is a burrowing animal so its pouch faces backwards. That way, the young are shielded from the flying dirt.

The rump of the wombat is covered by a very tough, thick skin. If threatened, a wombat will dive into a nearby burrow or hollow log, using its rump as protection from the teeth and claws of its attacker.

Common Wombat | Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Tasmania [accessed 09 Aug 2021

This time, I manage to capture a wallaby drinking from a creek. My husband makes good use of his telephoto lens while I have to make do without. Meanwhile a woman joins us to snap pictures. She whispers to me, is that a Tasmanian devil?

Wombat and wallaby are not too bright. Rather than get out of the way of an oncoming car, these animals spring toward the speeding vehicle. Every morning, trucks ply the roads of Tasmania to scrape up the road kill.

Where’s wallaby?

At our little cottage by the sea in Swansea, we have an unobstructed view of Freycinet National Park. Every time the light changes, the view becomes ever more stunning. One night we go out to try to capture the full moon on camera. Something loud and round thunders past our feet. It can’t be a wallaby. Maybe an echidna, a ball-shaped porcupine?

Wallaby at Freycinet National Park. Photo credit: Karen Kao

The day comes when we visit Freycinet. The park is even more breathtaking seen up close. Wineglass Bay is picture perfect when you see it from the lookout. It’s all sturm und drang once you get to the shoreline. The Isthmus Track takes you past an inland lagoon throbbing with frogs. The Hazards Beach Track hugs the coast.

In a corner of the park still ashen from a recent fire, I find my wallaby. The colors blend perfectly in this eucalyptus grove. But if I look hard, I can see her black nose and paws. Is that a little joey peeking out of her pouch? Wallaby and child pose for their portrait.