Forum Index > Trip Reports > Australia - up and down its east coast (July 2022)
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GaliWalker
Have camera will use



Joined: 10 Dec 2007
Posts: 4635 | TRs | Pics
Location: Pittsburgh
GaliWalker
Have camera will use
PostFri Aug 05, 2022 6:43 pm 
I usually do one solo hiking/photography trip each year. My Big Trip™ this year was a bit different, since I would be sharing it with my wife, to jointly celebrate 25yrs of wedded bliss and our newly acquired empty nester status. My wife isn't an avid hiker, so we settled on a mix of hiking, wildlife watching, and more touristy activities. We would touch upon locations all along the east coast of Australia, from Tasmania in the south to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef in the north. It was one of those lifetime trips. What follows is an account of this extravaganza, so please excuse this less hiking-centric report.

South of Melbourne - Wilson's Promontory National Park (July 14)

We flew into Melbourne and spent the first few days settling our son in at the University of Melbourne. The fun and frolic portion of the trip Down Under was kicked off with a visit to Wilson's Promontory National Park, which is the southern-most tip of the Australian mainland.

After picking up our rental car at 8am, all three of us drove 3hrs down to Wilson's Promontory. (This would be the only destination where our son would also be with us.) While I don't have too much of a problem adjusting to driving on the left side of the road - my method is to not try to "drive on the left", but to position the passenger side towards the edge of the road - I quickly understood that, in Australia, one does not go even a little bit over the speed limit. We also learned that distances in Australia are huge and take much longer to cover than one would expect just by looking at the map, even if you know this in the abstract. That opening drive was something else! The flora was so different to anything I'd seen before. I'd seen eucalyptus trees, but never in such perfusion. The rolling hills and green/golden grasses - it was the death of winter in Australia, even if temperatures were in the 40-50s (Fahrenheit) - were a bit reminiscent of northern California, but still quite alien looking. And sheep…everywhere!

We began our daytrip to Wilson's Promontory by doing the short 1.5mi hike along the Prom Wildlife Walk. Almost immediately, my hopes of seeing Australian wildlife were realized. There was an Emu grazing in a field near the start of the walk. The Emu is the world's second tallest bird, behind the ostrich, and Australia's tallest. Soon after starting, we came upon a family of kangaroos, and then upon a wombat. All in the span of 1.5mi!

1- Emu
1- Emu
2- Kangaroo
2- Kangaroo
3- Wombat
3- Wombat
4- Magpie
4- Magpie
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Next, we headed over to see the sand dunes at The Big Drift (2.5+mi roundtrip). Due to the shorter winter days, and driving times being longer than I'd planned for, I didn't linger at the dunes and split off from my wife and son, leaving them there to explore the vast area, and raced (via car and legs) to try and catch the famed sunset at Mount Oberon (4.2mi, 1,110ft gain). I barely made it. It was also my first sight of the ocean. I think it was the Indian Ocean and not the Pacific; it was difficult to tell, given that the dividing line goes through Wilson's Promontory, Bass Strait and Tasmania. Surprisingly, I had the place to myself, possibly because of the lateness of the hour and because it had begun to rain.

6- Bass Strait
6- Bass Strait
7- Norman Beach
7- Norman Beach
8- Norman Point
8- Norman Point
9- Sunset from Mount Oberon
9- Sunset from Mount Oberon
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After Mount Oberon, I hurried back to pick up my wife and son from the Big Drift, being careful to keep to the speed limit, despite my anxiety of not having them wait long in the gathering dark. On the drive back I almost ran over a wombat, who was just standing in the middle of the road, doing its best impression of a suitcase with legs. The surprising thing was that, unlike wildlife in the US, the eyes did not flare back at me in the headlights, so there was no warning whatsoever. From then on, I was even more on my guard when driving in the wee hours.

South of Melbourne - Great Ocean Road (July 16-18)

The Great Ocean Road drive takes one westwards along the southern coast of Australia. Beginning at Torquay, a 1.5hr drive from Melbourne, and ending 240km away at Allansford, it features numerous spectacular vistas. The highlight of the drive is the complex of sea stacks called The Twelve Apostles (of which only eight remain), which I'd wanted to photograph for more than 20yrs. Except for the first day, we dodged rain and high winds for the next two, getting soaked more than once. Photography was extremely difficult, but the seafood that we sought out, was incredible everywhere.

11- Cockatoo
11- Cockatoo
12- Sleepy Koala
12- Sleepy Koala
13- Pondering the meaning of life
13- Pondering the meaning of life
14- Magpie
14- Magpie
15- Loch Ard Gorge
15- Loch Ard Gorge
16- The Razorback
16- The Razorback
17- The Twelve Apostles
17- The Twelve Apostles
18- Thunder Cave inlet
18- Thunder Cave inlet
19- London Bridge
19- London Bridge
20- Rain clouds over London Bridge
20- Rain clouds over London Bridge
21- The Grotto
21- The Grotto
22- Erskine Falls
22- Erskine Falls
23- Erskine Falls
23- Erskine Falls

Tasmania - Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary and Cradle Mountain (July 19)

We'd originally wanted to set up a trip to Uluru, the largest rock monolith on the planet. Unfortunately, the red tape and popularity of the place means that one needs to start booking accommodation a year in advance. Plan-B was Tasmania, which ended up being my favorite part of the entire trip (although I'm not sure about my wife). If you like mountains, alpine lakes, and coastline, Tasmania's the place for you. It's like a mini-New Zealand. Three quarters of the island is National Park land.

I'd swung one day for myself in which to do a solo hike to the summit of Cradle Mountain. The more I planned my route, there more I got excited about it. On paper, the intended hike would have made it into my top-10. We'd booked accommodation close to the trailhead, but on our arrival in Tasmania, we found that the road to Cradle Mountain - Lake St. Clair National Park and our hotel was closed due to icy conditions. Even though the temperature was barely below freezing, there seems to be no de-icing infrastructure there, like we have in the US (or at least on the colder east coast). We adjusted and booked an extra night at the same hotel in Launceston where we would be staying on our second day in Tasmania. I said goodbye to my Cradle Mountain hike, and we began to look for alternatives. We both wanted to see wildlife, especially a Tasmanian Devil (locally called a Tassie Devil) if possible, so we settled on the Trowunna Wildlife Santuary as our first stop the next morning.

A while ago a Tasmanian Devil got an infectious face tumor. This creature got into one of its frequent fights with other Devils and infected them too. When the dust settled 90% of the Tasmanian Devil population had been wiped out, and the species entered protection status. The 40yr old Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the sites tasked with running a breeding program for rehabilitation of Tasmanian Devils (with oversight by the Tasmanian powers-that-be), as well offering a place in which to rehabilitate other orphaned and rescued animals, before releasing them back into the wild (if possible).

On a cold and frosty morning, we rolled up at the Sanctuary and bought our tickets for one of their animal tours. Initially, we were the first visitors, but slowly other trickled in. Since our tour was still an hour later, we wandered the grounds of the place. We were given a feed bag to feed the animals if we so chose. Because of that, the kangaroos frisked around us like puppies. The tour was quite interesting: a wombat, and a variety of quolls were brought out. The tour ended with a Tasmanian Devil 'feeding': The tour guide walked into one of the various Tasmanian Devil pens with a dead wallaby and dropped it in there. The six or seven Devils proceeded to tear into the wallaby's stomach. Eventually, they ripped it open, and blood and guts began to fly everywhere. My wife refused to look. I stayed for the whole thing, taking pictures, but am not sure if I can show those photos without an adequate trigger warning.

24- Kangaroos
24- Kangaroos
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28- Aren't you too old for this?
28- Aren't you too old for this?
29- Black Swan
29- Black Swan
30- Black Swan cygnets
30- Black Swan cygnets
31- Mountain Duck
31- Mountain Duck
32- Cape Barren Goose
32- Cape Barren Goose
33- Tasmanian Devil
33- Tasmanian Devil
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38- Wombat
38- Wombat
39- Check out those claws!
39- Check out those claws!
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41- Eastern Quoll
41- Eastern Quoll
42- Cutie
42- Cutie

While at the Sanctuary, we asked about road conditions in the high country, and got encouraging news, so we decided to chance a drive to Cradle Mountain - Lake St. Clair National Park. Surprisingly, we were able to make it to the Interpretive Center, after which the road was closed due to snow and ice; still 4mi short of the Ronny Creek trailhead which would have been the starting point for my originally planned hike. We decided that while my wife would do some shorter hikes around the Interpretive Center, I would hike up to Dove Lake (1.2mi beyond the Ronny Creek trailhead) and its great view of Cradle Mountain, in the hopes of salvaging something from my busted plans.

I began with trying to hike the road, but it became too icy to walk on, so about 2mi in, I switched to the snowy Cradle Valley Boardwalk trail that paralleled the road. Australia must have a lot more money for their National Parks than the US does, because that immaculate boardwalk spanned the entire 4mi+ distance between the Interpretive Center and the Ronny Creek parking lot. From Ronny Creek, I walked the road that led to the shores of Dove Lake. The view of the rocky face of Cradle Mountain from the shores was stunning, and tantalizing. Hopefully, some day I can make a return trip there and take care of unfinished business.

43- Cradle Valley Boardwalk trail
43- Cradle Valley Boardwalk trail
44- Cradle Mountain, reflected in Dove Lake
44- Cradle Mountain, reflected in Dove Lake
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I really booked it on the return. I wanted to get back before it got dark, and the temperature decreased enough that they might re-close the road.

Tasmania - Freycinet National Park (July 20)

The next day, we made a leisurely drive southeast, towards the coast and Freycinet National Park. We hiked up to the Wineglass Bay Lookout and then down to the bay. The sunset was great!

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51- On the beach
51- On the beach
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Tasmania - Port Arthur (July 21)

One of the must-see places on my wife's list was Port Arthur. This was the historic site of a 19th century penal settlement. Our tour included a cruise in Carnarvon Bay, around the Isle of the Dead, which was a cemetery for the convicts who died in the prison. The prison included solitary confinement cells (called "separate prison" cells), the idea for which had been imported from Quakers, where prisoners were broken down psychologically. One major part of the prison was religious reform, for which a Convict Church was built by the prisoners. Amidst all the brutish prison parts, we were further horrified to learn the Port Arthur was also the site of the 1996 mass shooting, the worst in Australia's history, which led to a total reform of Australia's gun laws. 35 people were killed, many of whom were museum staff.

57- Isle of the dead
57- Isle of the dead
58- Convict Church
58- Convict Church
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60- Memorial reflection pool
60- Memorial reflection pool
61- Masked Lapwing
61- Masked Lapwing
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63- Black-faced cormorant
63- Black-faced cormorant

Cairns - Dinden National Park (July 23)

From Tasmania, the coldest and southernmost part of Australia, we flew north to Cairns, Queensland, all the way into the tropics. A word about the cheap Jetstar flights we were taking in Australia: they allowed 7kg of carry-on luggage, to be spread over 1-2 pieces. They made sure you met this limit by walking around with scales at the boarding gate. If you didn't, you had to pay excess baggage. We saw numerous dismayed faces.

For our first day in Cairns, I visited nearby Crystal Cascades and Fairy Falls (2.2mi round-trip), in Dinden National Park. My wife wasn't that interested, so I left really early in the morning, and was back at the hotel before 10am. Crystal Cascades was nice, but the smaller Fairy Falls was spectacular. I'd never seen a waterfall of its type before. The topmost tier of the two-tier falls was around 30ft tall. When looking up at it from atop the slippery dividing ledge, it felt as if the waterfall emerged from a tropical rainforest sky.

64- Crystal Cascades
64- Crystal Cascades
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67- Fairy Falls
67- Fairy Falls
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During the day, we explored Cairns a bit, particularly the harbor. Somewhat north of Cairns, Captain Cook's ship the Endeavor ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef and almost sank. The ship had to be abandoned and half its weight offloaded before it was freed. Also, somewhat north of Cairns, Steve Irwin (aka 'The Crocodile Hunter') was killed in a freak encounter with a Stingray, when its barb pierced his chest.

We finished the day by driving into the mountains of the Great Dividing Range, to Lake Morris, which was the reservoir for Cairns.

69- Lake Morris
69- Lake Morris
70- Believe it or not, this was a (deconstructed) Thai Curry. Superb dish! (iPhone pic)
70- Believe it or not, this was a (deconstructed) Thai Curry. Superb dish! (iPhone pic)
71- Sticky Date Pudding (iPhone pic)
71- Sticky Date Pudding (iPhone pic)

Cairns - Great Barrier Reef (July 24)

July 24th would be the climax of the trip, especially for my wife. Ever since we heard in 2018 that the Great Barrier Reef was on a catastrophic path to extinction due to climate change, my wife had wanted to see it before the damage became irreversible. We'd booked our tour to see the Reef well in advance of our trip.

We arrived at Cairns harbor for our cruise nice and early. We were going with Sunlover Reef Cruises, but there were quite a few other companies that were also departing around the same time, each heading to different points on the Reef. Upon starting from Cairns, we headed east towards the Reef in a swanky catamaran (essentially a large double-keeled yacht). Both of us did not trust our sea-legs, so we downed sea-sickness tablets (1 each), which were available on board our catamaran, about an hour before departure. You have to take them prior, else it's too late. We were glad we did because the water was quite choppy. The tablets worked like a charm, and I would highly recommend them. We would see plenty of tough guys/gals with green faces who didn't think they needed them.

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After about 1.5hrs we did a stop-over at Fitzroy Island to transfer some passengers, and then proceeded towards more open water for about another hour. Our home for the next 5hrs was a football field sized pontoon platform, beside which we docked. The activities on offer were snorkeling, scuba diving (extra charge), deep-sea diving (extra charge), getting up close and personal with the reef via a glass-bottomed boat and a semi-submersible (you're sitting in a glass enclosure below the level of the water). All my reef photos were taken from the semi-submersible.

75- Fitzroy Island
75- Fitzroy Island
76- Reef fish
76- Reef fish
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86- Our catamaran and the pontoon
86- Our catamaran and the pontoon
87- Pontoon
87- Pontoon
88- Sweet chili whole fish. Another amazing dish: somehow, all the bones had been removed!
88- Sweet chili whole fish. Another amazing dish: somehow, all the bones had been removed!

One final word about the Great Barrier Reef. It seems that after two near disastrous years in 2017 and 2018, the Reef has rebounded spectacularly: 3/4th of the reef is back to normal. While the recovery remains a work in progress, since the threat remains, there is hope.

Cairns - Daintree Rainforest (July 25)

Cairns is an amazing spot, since it is the gateway to not only the Great Barrier Reef, but also to Daintree Rainforest, the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest in the world, and the largest contiguous tropical rainforest in Australia. We'd booked an all-day tour of it, which was amazing! The tour started with a visit to Mossman Gorge National Park (a National Park within another National Park!), where we did a short walk through the rainforest, beside the Mossman River.

89- Mossman River
89- Mossman River
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92- In Mossman Gorge (selfie)
92- In Mossman Gorge (selfie)

Next up was a visit to a secluded eatery, in the heart of the rainforest (right beside a spa that Nicole Kidman was supposed to frequent). The lunch was initially weird: A plate piled with whatever savory item we'd signed up for, plus a dizzying array of fruit. As we began eating the fruit, a distinguished gentleman arrived and proceeded to give us a highly interesting lecture on the fruit we were eating! All of it had been sourced locally from the Daintree Forest.

93- Exotic fruit (my wife's photo)
93- Exotic fruit (my wife's photo)

After lunch we did a cruise down the Daintree River. The river was infested with bull sharks, crocodiles, and a huge variety of birds (we saw two type of egrets, two types of kingfishers, a heron, and a Brahmani kite). The boatman had a beautiful dog on board who would stand on the prow of the boat. However, whenever we would come upon a crocodile, he would run back to his master.

94- Azure kingfisher
94- Azure kingfisher
95- Snacktime
95- Snacktime
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97- "Scarface": 4.5m long and ~500kg. Despite his remaining three teeth, this was one fearsome animal and the king of Daintree Forest
97- "Scarface": 4.5m long and ~500kg. Despite his remaining three teeth, this was one fearsome animal and the king of Daintree Forest
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102- Nankeen Night Heron
102- Nankeen Night Heron
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From the river we proceeded northwards along the coast, until our turnaround spot at a beach where the Daintree Forest came right down to the coast. The most thrilling part of this drive was spotting a southern cassowary, once on the way out, and once on the way back. The cassowary is the second largest bird in the world, behind the ostrich, and third tallest, behind the ostrich and emu. It has an ancient lineage and is a keystone species: It is the only animal that can eat and digest the fruit of numerous trees in Daintree Rainforest, that are poisonous to others. Without it, a large swath of Daintree Forest would die. It is also the most dangerous bird on the planet. With legs that can deliver a powerful kick, and 4in claws that can rip a man open, this otherwise non-aggressive bird must not be provoked. I was careful to keep trees in-between myself and the bird as I took photos, and to keep my distance. When the bird moved out more into the open, we got out of there.

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105- Southern cassowary
105- Southern cassowary
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Sydney (July 27)

Some photos from Sydney. Just think of the Opera House and the CBD buildings (CBD = central business district, aka downtown) as mountains with alpenglow.

109- Sydney Opera House, pre-dawn
109- Sydney Opera House, pre-dawn
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111- 3/4 the size of Seahawks Stadium
111- 3/4 the size of Seahawks Stadium
112- Sydney skyline
112- Sydney skyline
113- Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge
113- Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge
114- Bondi Beach
114- Bondi Beach
115- Alpenglow on the Sydney Opera House
115- Alpenglow on the Sydney Opera House
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And no, we did not see Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman.

West of Sydney - Three Sisters, Blue Mountains (July 29)

We drove from Sydney down to Melbourne, staying overnight in the middle of nowhere town of Albury. I did begin the drive with a detour to Echo Point, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, which has a spectacular view of Three Sisters and what looked like the Grand Canyon, Australia style.

118- Echo Point view
118- Echo Point view
119- Three Sisters
119- Three Sisters
120- Three Sisters, edge on
120- Three Sisters, edge on
121- Grand Canyon, Australia style
121- Grand Canyon, Australia style

Recap

Australia is an amazing place! New Zealand gets all the press these days, but I remain perfectly content in not having tried to shoehorn a trip there. There's so much to see in Australia, so much that is different to anything that we'd ever seen before. The scenery is stunning, and the wildlife is unique. My trip last year to K2 and over Gondogoro La pass remains my all-time favorite trip, but this one was no less interesting. And I had my wife with me.

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'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker
bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!"
Photography: flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani

NWtrax, RichP, jstern, John Mac, half fast, Nancyann, meck, olderthanIusedtobe, Alpine Pedestrian, runup  awilsondc  Char May, Slim
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olderthanIusedtobe
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostFri Aug 05, 2022 9:20 pm 
That looks amazing Gali.  Love all the critter photos.  Wombats are awesome.  You even managed to make the Tasmanian devil look kinda cute.

It appears the scenery of Australia is more varied than I realized.  I know it's not ALL desert, but that is some lush greenery, and some terrain that looks truly alpine.  And amazing coastal rock formations of course.

GaliWalker
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostFri Aug 05, 2022 9:23 pm 
The azure kingfisher puts our belted kingfishers to shame.  Any kookaburras?

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GaliWalker
Have camera will use



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GaliWalker
Have camera will use
PostFri Aug 05, 2022 9:34 pm 
olderthanIusedtobe wrote:
… and some terrain that looks truly alpine.

Tasmania is pretty alpine. Lots of beautiful lakes too! The dead of winter is probably a bad time to visit though, because of road access issues. Hopefully, I will get another crack at it.

olderthanIusedtobe wrote:
The azure kingfisher puts our belted kingfishers to shame. Any kookaburras?

Yeah, I was so happy getting those photos of that Azure Kingfisher! It’s less than half the size of our belted kingfishers, but twice as nice. Unfortunately, the kookaburra was the only famous Australian animal that I missed out on. I kept hoping I would get to see one but it never happened. I heard their laughter from a tree on our final morning in Australia, but never saw them.

--------------
'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker
bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!"
Photography: flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani
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lookout bob
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lookout bob
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PostSat Aug 06, 2022 8:57 am 
Lovely photos Gali....great memories return from your photos of Wilsons Prom....thanks for the great report! cool.gif

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"Altitude is its own reward"
John Jerome ( from "On Mountains")

GaliWalker
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostSat Aug 06, 2022 2:14 pm 
GaliWalker wrote:
I kept hoping I would get to see one but it never happened. I heard their laughter from a tree on our final morning in Australia, but never saw them.

Clearly  they were mocking you!  At least you got to hear them.

The Australian magpies have some amazing vocalizations too.

GaliWalker
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GaliWalker
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GaliWalker
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PostSun Aug 07, 2022 9:46 am 
olderthanIusedtobe wrote:
You even managed to make the Tasmanian devil look kinda cute.

A slightly less cute photo of the Tassie Devils; they are consuming a wallaby carcass, and it's the only one I took that won't turn your stomach:

Brunch
Brunch

--------------
'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker
bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!"
Photography: flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani
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