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  • Kaia Colestock

Day 30-31: Tarra-Bulga & Wilson’s Promontory National Park

Updated: Jan 6

Headed west again along the Victorian coast toward Melbourne, we moved inland a tad to catch a stretch of countryside different from anything else we’ve seen so far. Tarra-Bulga National Park is an cool, temperate rainforest comprising 5,000 acres in the Strzelecki Range. “Tarra” is named for the indigenous man who guided a Polish explorer through the area safely in 1840. “Bulga” is “mountain” in the native Gunai language. It is one of the last undisturbed native tracts of mountain ash forests and tree ferns in the region.

We dipped into Fern Gully, which descends into a lush ravine and meanders along a shallow creek. Tree ferns rise above our heads. Once again, we are back in the Cretaceous Period, only you don’t sweat profusely standing still like you do in Queensland. The rainforest is cool, damp, and downright chilly, more reminiscent of Olympic Peninsula in Washington. We crossed a suspended bridge and stopped to peer up at old, native mountain ash trees that escaped disturbance in the 19th century. The tallest ash tops out at 330 feet in Tasmania (by comparison, the tallest coast redwood is 380 feet) and it is the tallest of all flowering plants. The ash have domain over the highest canopy and most light, followed by blackwood and tree ferns in the understory.

Fauna hiding in the area include possums, bats, owls, lyrebirds, wombats, gliders, swamp wallabies, and duck-billed platypuses.

After a walk in temperate rainforest, we headed back toward the coast. The inland coastal belt is farm after farm of lush grassland and bordering trees with sinuous streams, almost something out of a storybook. We learned that a rural local government calls itself a “shire.” Evidently a shire is synonymous with “regional” or “county” in the States and the UK. It’s not just a term J.R.R. Tolkien coined solely to describe Middle-Earth. In fact, it’s an old English word meaning a “district under governor care.” While it doesn’t quite carry the same meaning today, shires are often indistinguishable from towns or municipalities and often include significant wilderness or semi-rural areas.

As we approached Wilson’s Promontory National Park, the habitat once again began to shift toward heathland and scrub on sandy substrate. The promontory is a massive peninsula that makes up the southernmost part of the Australian mainland. It features granite mountains, intertidal mudflats, and sheltered beaches interrupted by precipitous cliffs. Chocolate-colored swamp wallabies lined the road. Wombats reside in the area, and although we saw one, it was just a glimpse. We were imagining something the size of a possum or maybe a chubby raccoon. Nope. Wombats are the size of a small bear cub. I kid you not. Clearly, it’s time to research more mammals and fewer birds.

The heathland abounded with superb fairywrens. These little balls of attitude will never, never, never get old.

Emus were one of the top targets of this trip. We observed this family (below) in the heathland in late afternoon. The juveniles (left) foraged alongside the adults and learned the ways of emu life.

Pillar Point track boasted some epic views. The trail follows the southeast edge of a miniature peninsula that abuts the Tidal River. The river is the main artery of Wilsons Promontory. It remains a rusty color due to an abundance of tea trees in the area that stain the water with tannins. We found a broad-back weevil (Leptopius duponti) in the park and had to get a close-up shot (see below).

Looking north from the Pillar Point track.

View looking back on the mainland from the end of the peninsula.

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