In the Tasmanian bush, Alan Hitchens has an encounter with an endangered species.
There it was. Trundling across a grassy area heading for a gaggle of geese.
Black and tubby, this was no ordinary animal. This was a feared and endangered Tasmanian devil and one of the geese seemed to be marked for the devil's lunch.
The scene was Maria Island (pronounced Mar-eye-uh), a national park off Tasmania's coast.
A group of - some would say ageing - Kiwi tramping and walking enthusiasts were attracted to the Maria Island Walk by publicity that described the experience as "four days that will last a lifetime". It has won seven national and 12 state tourism awards. We thought it had to be good.
Having experienced it, I'm inclined to agree that I'll never forget my four days on Maria.
Beaches and history play a big part in this adventure, and we land at a beach (you need to wade ashore) where French explorers put ashore in 1802. As the boat leaves us and turns back to the mainland, I'm excited by the sense of history about the place. It's easy to imagine the French flag flapping in the breeze.
We're on a catered walk - glamping, I suppose - and after a short stroll and a tasty lunch on the beach we are at our first overnight base.
And what an impressive base. A decent-size mess hall with all facilities and special tents made from wood and canvas. Plus, a couple of chemical toilets and wash room all linked by boardwalks. Similar accommodation is provided the next night.
Guides Sam and Sean turn out to be good cooks and throughout the journey turn out amazing meals: three courses at night with excellent Aussie wine.
After lunch on day two, we encounter our first and only disappointment. The walk is through what the Aussies call "bush". It is, they say, tall eucalypt forest. Forest, it's not. Burnt out spindly gum trees surrounded by tinder-dry bracken, it is. Not at all a Kiwi's idea of bush.
Day three is a biggie: 14km of walking on excellent tracks, the road built by convicts.
Maria Island was one of Australia's first convict settlements and there are many remains of the convict days to explore. We imagine what life was like for those unlucky souls. High on a hill looking back towards Tasmania are the remains of what were once hundreds of cells where convicts slept in appalling conditions. These men worked on a surrounding farm.
Our guide tells us that the convicts called this area paradise. They had clothing food, shelter and work, something many of them had never had in their home countries. It was considered a desirable place to be incarcerated.
It's on day four, walking the 9km along a convict-built road heading for Darlington, a major convict settlement, that Sam discovers the droppings of a Tasmanian devil.
He prods the long fat scat with a stick to reveal bones and feathers among other things. The devils eat everything, leaving nothing of their kill behind.
We badly wanted to see one of these creatures and were delighted later in the day at Darlington, as one waddled past after a goose.
Tasmanian devils are an endangered species. On Tasmania, their population has been devastated by a vicious form of cancer.
Wildlife officers transferred 30 healthy marsupials to previously devil-free Maria Island and they've thrived. There are now more than 100 on the island, keeping the geese and possums under control.
Kangaroos, wallabies and numerous birds also inhabit the island and are easy to spot.
Darlington is the jewel in Maria Island's crown. Formed as a convict settlement in the early 1800s, many of the buildings and administrative houses still exist. Most have been refurbished. Backpackers sleep in old cells.
The convict settlement didn't last long. It was too easy to escape, even though the mainland looked far away.
In such a beautiful spot it's easy to wonder: why would did they want to leave?
Getting there: Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Hobart, via Sydney and Melbourne.
For more information: Visit mariaislandwalk.com.au.