This off-the-beaten-track private nature reserve in northwest Tasmania may just be the best place to see Australian animals in the wild.
You’re snug in a doona, sitting by the full-length window of your humble cabin, watching and waiting. Behind you, the crackling open log fire keeps the cold night outside at bay.
Glued to the window, your eyes scan the scene in front of you, looking out for the slightest hint of movement. On the other side of the glass is the verandah, lined with small pieces of raw chicken. Beyond that, chunks of roadkill are speckled across the lawn. Farther beyond, besides the few bushes and trees you can make out, the 61 hectares of the private wilderness reserve you’re calling home are swathed in darkness.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
And then, coming from somewhere in the darkness, you hear a strange noise. A throaty hiss, perhaps, or the crunching of bones. Pressing your face close to the window, you spot it. Your visitor has arrived, making its way to your verandah for a late night feast (or technically, since they’re nocturnal, breakfast).
Not just any visitor, either; this is an iconic local species, and rare enough in the wild that it’s listed as endangered.
You watch it slowly plod up the stairs and along the verandah, wolfing down its treats one by one. Close enough to touch, but for the glass window between you.
And a good thing, too. For a rather small creature, not much taller than a Jack Russell — but squatter, black-furred, and with a rather dopey-looking expression — it’s a fierce little thing. Its jaw could crunch through your thighbone with the same ease with which it chows down the roadkill.
Meet the Tasmanian Devil. On your doorstep.
The best place to see Australian animals in the wild?
It’s not just Devils you’ll find here, either. Mountain Valley Wilderness, founded and run by husband-and-wife team Len and Pat, is arguably the best place to see Australian wildlife in the wild.* In the three nights we’ve spent on the property over two separate trips, we’ve seen seven different wild animal species. Not a bad tally.
One was within 10 minutes of arrival on our very first stay; talk about good first impressions. About 200m away from our log cabin was a spiky little critter wobbling along the grass in search of ants. Spotting it from afar, Pat led us closer to watch the little guy go about his business. (But not too close of course; obviously, wild animals’ safety and comfort levels ALWAYS come first when wildlife-spotting.) First wild echidna spotted: tick.
Then there were the platypi. Around twilight each evening, Len led us and other guests on an informal walk down to the creek, pointing out the subtle rings of water that denote these bizarre creatures’ underwater presence. As Len explained, the Tasmanian subspecies of platypus we saw is most likely an older evolutionary throwback than its cousin on the mainland. And, going against the usual grain of island dwarfism, the platypi here are also on average 3kg to the mainland equivalents’ 1kg.
One night there, while Devil-watching, we even saw one of my faayyvourite animals: the tiny spotted-tail quoll, Tasmania’s apex predator. (The Devil, though savage AF, is more a scavenger than a skilled hunter in its own right.) In a matter of seconds, the quoll darted out from hiding, quickly grabbed a treat from our lawn, and dashed away again before its Devil rivals could spot it (pun intended). Later, its head popped up above a bush, meerkat-style, for some quick recon. I squealed.
And of course there are also a miscellaneous array of adorable pademelons, possums and Tasmanian native hens casually pottering about the place. This is all I really have to say about why I love Mountain Valley. It’s a veritable wildlife lover’s paradise.
Sinkholes, glowworms and a baby Devil
So why is this place such a haven for wildlife? Mountain Valley is a registered private nature reserve with a perpetual conservation covenancy on the land. The effect? In their own words:
… the property can never be logged and the habitat can never be degraded.
Good news for the vulnerable white gum wet forest and cave systems here.
Because, yes, just in case this place wasn’t already awesome enough, it also boasts several caves on site — including a glow-worm cave set at the bottom of a sinkhole. Naturally.
We went there with Len one rainy day, sporting supplied ponchos and gumboots. The vaguely Pandora-like lushness of the bush on his property, all ferns and moss, made the walk worthwhile even before reaching the cave.
The stormy weather had transformed the usual steep stairs leading down to the cave into a muddy mess of sludge, so we made the descent with the aid of ropes and Len’s guidance. It was rough going for someone as clumsy as me; I fell on my ass once or twice. All of our hands were so drenched in mud that taking photos was actually impossible.
And, once we made it down there and crouched our way into the cave, we found the rain and wind had washed away most of the glow-worms. A few flickering lights here and there were all that remained of the usual starry display. It was still an utterly enchanting experience though, as my first time in a non-commercial cave — and my first time virtually abseiling down a diagonal wall of mud.
On our way back, both Len and my lucky-ass partner got to see a BABY TASMANIAN DEVIL in broad daylight (OK, technically twilight, heading towards darkness). It froze when it saw us, they reported, and quickly scrambled away into what we can only presume was its den. I don’t know how I missed it.
But, sure enough, that wasn’t the only Devil-spotting opportunity of the day, thanks to a mixture of luck and Len’s intervention. He does the groundwork; the rest is up to Mother Nature.
This is how it works. Len collects any roadkill in the surrounding areas — sadly, Tasmania is basically the unofficial roadkill capital of the world — and chops it up (#dedication). Then, after dark, once the guests’ curfew has begun (for safety reasons; Devils are dangerous!), he sprinkles the meat around the lawn.
Come nightfall, after you’ve cooked, washed up, got the fire going and switched off the lights, you may just be in for a show. Of course, being wild animals, viewings can’t be guaranteed, but we’ve seen Devils 3/3 nights we were. It may not be a zoo, with animal-spotting on lock — hence the basis of its appeal, no? — but your odds are pretty good.
Guardians of the ecosystem
And here’s the thing: you may question the ‘wildness’ of the Devils here given that food is being laid out for them on a nightly basis. But these guys can eat up to 40% of their body weight in half an hour; the roadkill they get here is not enough for a full day’s meal, especially when shared with — or fought over by — other Devils.
What’s more, with the rise and rise of the deadly facial tumour disease among Devils, getting roadkill off the road is a good thing for their population: so aggressive are these little guys that often two or more will fight over roadkill by the side of the road and end up becoming roadkill themselves. Plus, as Len explained, they have such a large span of territory that it’s very rare for Mountain Valley to get regular repeat visitors, except for the occasional sick or injured Devil.
They know this thanks to Devil observation charts stashed in the guest rooms, similar to an adult colouring page but instead you record any markings on the Devils you spot. It’s a surprisingly fun low-tech ‘citizen science’ activity, encouraging you to pay close attention to the individual Devils that stop by. Getting to see them up close yet in the wild at once is incredible, and you’ll enjoy picking up their unique mannerisms, movements and frankly godawful sounds.
The thing about Len and Pat is they don’t only care about the wildlife in their immediate vicinity, either. On our last visit, we mentioned that we’d been to Maria Island and Len asked if we’d spotted any of the local wombats (yes!!) with the telltale signs of mange (also, sadly, yes). If every Australian cared as much about our wildlife as these guys we wouldn’t have the worst mammal extinction rate in the world.
Think about that when you think about Australia’s one-of-a-kind quirky wildlife; how many species have we already lost in the last 200 years alone (funny timing that, hey)? And how many more do we stand to lose? ‘Lose’ is of course a misnomer; kill, or allow to die off thanks to feral species, habitat destruction and disease, a more accurate description.
Before I spend the rest of the post on a greenie rant, allow me to take this moment to acknowledge the role that tourism can play in impacting animal species; it can be both a drawcard, a boon for local species’ survival (and tourism), but also the source of horrendous exploitation and endangerment.
Which is why it’s so important to DO YOUR DAMN RESEARCH whenever you’re looking into booking a wildlife attraction. And support the ones who actually care and do the right thing.
Like these guys.
Creatures vs creature comforts
So, enough gushing — the downsides? It’s all a matter of perspective.
The property is remote enough that you have to boil the tap water for three minutes before drinking and, being so far from shops or restaurants, it’s best you bring your own food and do your own cooking.**
The last time I visited, there was neither WiFi nor phone service (though more recent TripAdvisor reviews suggest that it’s now got WiFi coverage, albeit weak).
If you’re a sightseeing-oriented type of traveller, there’s not a whole lot to do in the surrounding area. Cradle Mountain is about an-hour-and-a-quarter drive away from the property (though for what it’s worth I recommend staying within the national park itself rather than day-tripping there). There’s another mountain closer to Mountain Valley called Black Bluff — recurring bad weather means I’ve yet to experience it myself — and nearby Leven Canyon is quietly spectacular. But hiking and soaking up the wilderness really is the order of the day.
If you’re an insectophobe, be warned; you may find a bug or two around the place. (But can we all just agree that it’s not realistic to expect amazing wilderness accommodation options to uphold the same standards of cleanliness — namely, the same lack of insects — we’d expect in a city hotel?! Please? It drives me crazy hearing about tourists who whine about a tiny skink lizard being on the wall of their rainforest ecolodge).
And, with its shag pile carpet (coloured green in at least one room) and ’70s-style couches, it’s not exactly the most stylishly appointed place I’ve ever stayed. Retro log cabin chic may be an overly generous way to describe it — big on the ‘retro’, not so much the ‘chic’. It’s basic and dated, sure, but to be fair Vogue-style decor and private nature reserves don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, and I’d take the wilderness any day of the week.
All in all, the rooms are cosy, comfortable and homely. And what you lack in connectivity, creature comforts and Instagram-brag-worthy-luxury you gain in, surprise, surprise, cliché, cliché, inner peace and reflection something something — no, but really, it is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever stayed. As well as one of the most memorable, thanks to our night-time visitors.
Mountain Valley Wilderness is not for everyone. But for wildlife-spotting opportunities alone, this place is special; for the opportunity to support two wildlife lovers who do such good work for Tasmania’s precious natural environment, it’s a must, and I for one plan to remain a repeat visitor.
Yup. If you a) are going to Tasmania, b) love wildlife, and c) would like to see some pretty special animals right on your doorstep — in a place where it’s humans, not animals, behind the glass — stay here. End of story.
* Although I should note, being in northwest Tasmania, you won’t find any koalas or kangaroos here.
** Though it is self-catering, Pat also provides home-cooked dinners upon request ($25).