A Winter Trip to Tasmania's Best Wildlife Watching Spot

Written by Simon Mustoe



"Mountain Valley" ... it's a peculiar name but fitting tribute to this private nature sanctuary situated in the heart of the Leven River valley, with Black Bluff rising in the background.

Our first learning experience was chance to explain to the kids what an 'oxymoron' is. The rest of the long weekend was spent absorbing the knowledge and experiences given to us by the people and animals that make this wilderness their home. 

Cashing in on a cheap travel deal we arrived in Devonport and picked up the hire car before heading to a supermarket in nearby Ulverstone.

The weather was dank and cool. Snow was forecast on the mountain-tops but the air was fresh and we were excited to be outdoors.

Our first stop was Marakoopa near Sheffield. We'd heard about Marakoopa Cafe and music venue near the infamous caves. Owner Sarah was preparing muffins for lunch as we arrived and called ahead so we could join the 'cathedral' tour. It was about to start and we snuck in with a dozen other guests.

This entire limestone region is honeycombed with caves. Every property seems to have its own entrance to the underworld (even Sarah's)... it's a wonder to think how many caves there are, hidden underground, and what lives in them.

Not far into the entrance at Marakoopa Caves our guide revealed glow worms, a cave spider and blind cave crickets. Apparently Platypus occasionally venture upriver into these caves too, to feed on troglodytic arthropods.  

The system inside is magnificent. We turned our lights off and with hearing senses heightened, the ‘plop plop’ of water dripping off stalactites (‘tites come down’) became amplified. Voices echoed in the darkness and one of the guests baby’s luminous dummy faintly glowed in the dark. 

As we returned to the entrance, our night-vision now magnificently honed, the glow-worms reappeared but this time brighter and in greater numbers to our eyes.

We dropped in for soup, bread, tea and muffins at Marakoopa Cafe on the way out, then took the windy mountain road west towards Mountain Valley. We passed waterfalls, hundreds of metres high, cascading out of underground rivers, emerging from fog-clad mountainsides, powering into the valleys below.    

Mountain Valley is world famous. Rave Trip Advisor reviews and a constant stream of international travellers are testament. 

Our next-door neighbours were from Harvard University. He was a lecturer in education science and had set up expeditions in Costa Rica for children with special needs to interact with their environment and learn. They’d sought a place in Tasmania where they could have a real wild experience. 

“When we told people at the Great Ocean Road that we were going to see wild platypus and Tasmanian Devils, they didn’t believe us”, they said. 

It didn’t take long to prove them wrong. 

They saw two devils outside their hut the very first night and by the following evening, we were all standing watching a Platypus foraging in ankle-deep water (that is, the Platypus’s ankles). At one point it practically waddled up to our kids’ feet. 

The first rays of morning revealed Black Bluff capped with snow. Tasmanian Pademelons were tapping the sunlight, grazing in dappled light. Wedge-tailed Eagles soared above the most statuesque gum trees, emerging from the surrounding forest canopy. Fiery male Scarlet Robins flitted in the undergrowth, shadowed by their less flamboyant female counterparts.     

Mid-morning we drove to the Leven Gorge, a deep, precipitous canyon containing one of Tasmania’s last wild rivers. There’s a short loop walk via metal walkways with two vertiginous viewpoints. The sun was out and there was a slight haze, as though the breath of every tree had condensed in the crisp morning air. 

Beneath us the Leven River roared through the canyon. There’s a steep walk to a bridge that crosses upstream at a spot where this mighty river is channelled through a gap little more than a metre or two wide: where the limestone gives way and the river winds and twists, yielding to stronger rocks, exposed by millions of years or erosion.

Mountain Valley is little more than an hour and a half from Devonport. It’s a hop and a skip from Melbourne … a unique wilderness with wildlife that attracts people from all over the world. No TV, no internet or phone access is one of the things that most appeals. Basic essentials, a log cabin, warm open fire and a whole world to explore … that’s what it offers. 

It’s the simplicity of the experience that is so appealing and it is why we keep going back time and time again.    

Wildiaries •