Wildlife experiences are around every corner in Tasmania, with something for every family member, writes Dani Wright.
Nick and Mick dish out plenty of jokes with their seasickness tablets as we head out to the wild Southern Ocean off the south-east coast of Tasmania. We're in a place best known for its homegrown artisan produce, but we're forgoing Bruny Island's honey, oysters and cheese and instead experiencing thrilling tight turns on board a fast but not furious eco-cruising vessel.
It's the wildlife my children, Georgie, 10, and Henry, 13, and I have come to admire, and as we circle seaweed-encrusted rocks, black-backed shags look at us curiously - a boatload of passengers clicking off shots with our cameras.
We power into caves, some with calm turquoise water, others with blowholes that shoot out high puffs of water — each reminding us of the power and beauty of nature.
We're part of a convoy of Pennicott Wilderness Journeys boats and their skippers banter with each other over the radios: "Go a bit closer, get them soaked — go on, Andrew, give it to them," operations manager Mick urges the skipper on the boat nearest us.
Later, Andrew radios Mick excitedly: "What you got, what you got?" We've slowed down for a closer look at a rare seabird, but it's sometimes a whale or pod of dolphins – it's a kind of marine treasure hunt.
The biggest excitement of the day is when we get to the Australian fur seals at The Friars. The group of islets is home to large adult seals and we watch as they struggle up the rocks to flop down, necks bending as far back as possible to worship the sun, their babies rolling on their backs in the water with flippers playfully covering their faces.
Back on dry land, we finally experience the region's gourmet delights. Chunky fresh bread rolls with thick slabs of smoked salmon and hearty soup warm us up before we're back on the short journey to Hobart, where more good food is waiting at Tavern 42 Degrees South (known to locals as T42).
Priding themselves on "locally sourced food, seafood, eclectic wines, good beers, and fun spirits", the staff recommend a pinot noir from Tasmania's Tamar Valley, matched with brown rice and halloumi salad, beetroot, currants and spinach — the perfect combination of delicious flavours and crunchy textures.
On the way to Cradle Mountain the next day, we stop at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, in operation for more than three decades as the only 24-hour, state-wide wildlife rescue centre.
"Tasmania is the road-kill capital of the world and we get about 8000 calls every year to rescue an animal," says Bonorong's senior keeper, Jordan. "As part of the rescues, we also have the veterinary side of animal care and a new animal hospital where people can watch surgeries."
The beautiful, natural-bush setting offers the chance to walk among hundreds of kangaroos and joeys, feeding and photographing them to your heart's content.
"If you have the interaction with the animals, people get more passionate about protecting them," says Jordan, introducing us to Bert, a koala living on a low-energy eucalyptus diet and sleeping 20 hours a day.
We also meet a snuggly baby wombat, who will be reintroduced to the wild at age 2, when, Jordan says, wombats tend to get more aggressive. Then there's three-legged echidna Randall, who is short on legs, but big on personality.
In the middle of Tasmania, we discover the natural wonders of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, walking under a canopy of twisted trees covered in moss on the Enchanted Walk.
There's plenty of wildlife to accompany us as we walk along the well-maintained wooden tracks beside a fast-flowing stream to reach the Pencil Pine and Knyvet falls — Tasmanian pademelons hop on by and a very friendly wombat grazes on tussocky snowgrass, unperturbed as we walk by.
Later, we make our way to Devils @ Cradle wildlife park for an after-dark feeding tour. Our guide, Prue, tells us all about the softer side of the Tasmanian devils, named by the first European settlers after they heard the distinctive screeching noises the animals made in the night.
We watch them being fed large pieces of meat — feeding time for the devils is a bit like a game of chase, before a game of tug-of-war, as they wrestle the meat back and forth between each other.
"C'mon guys, what's wrong with sharing," says one onlooker. The world's largest carnivorous marsupials, Tasmanian devils ARE scavengers and have the most powerful bite in the natural world.
Following the homely smell of a wood fire, we end up at Peppers Cradle Mountain Tavern Bar & Bistro, where we warm by the fire, play games of chess and feast on hearty dishes of Himalayan lamb curry.
We're glad to be away from Wi-Fi connection and there's plenty for us to talk about - the children have many fond memories about all the animals they've met on the trip.
Each year, it gets harder to find a family holiday every child is happy with, but it's clear combining wildlife, wilderness and delicious food in Tasmania will always be the perfect way to escape the everyday together — no matter our age.
To learn more, visit discovertasmania.com.au/air.
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