Read my review of Mountain Valley Wilderness Holidays in The Australian Travel & Indulgence
Tucked away from the world, in the remote Loongana Range in North West Tasmania, Mountain Valley is a 61-ha Private Nature Reserve that is home to many iconic species of Tasmanian Wildlife. The key attraction of Mountain Valley Wilderness Holidays is an opportunity to see the elusive marsupial carnivores: Tasmania devils and Spotted-tailed quolls, both on the Threatened Species list.
There is also a good chance to see the platypus in the Leven River that flows through the property. Not to mention echidnas, Tasmanian pademelons, Brushtail possums, and a few species of Tasmanian endemic birds.
We stayed at Mountain Valley Wilderness Holidays for two nights as part of our North West Tasmania road trip and had some outstanding wildlife watching experiences. If you are keen to see some of the more secretive Tasmanian mammals in the wild, you will love Mountain Vally Wilderness Holidays.
The Adventure Begins
We arrived in Launceston in the early afternoon, picked up our rental car at the airport and headed towards Loongana with a quick stop at Woolworths in the coastal town of Ulverstone to stock up on groceries. There are no shops or petrol stations near Mountain Valley.
The drive south from the coast took us through some remote farmland until we crossed the Leven River and entered the forested environs of the Loongana Mountain Range.
The log cabins at Mountain Valley Wilderness Holidays are located in a beautiful button grass valley where Leven River meanders through a striking karst landscape that conceals a number of caves.
Len, who owns the property with his wife Pat, showed us to our cozy log cabin, and before we even had time to unpack, led us on a platypus viewing tour which consisted of crossing the button grass plain in front of the cabins to the river.
While we may not have needed an escort across the small plain, it took Len’s practised eye to spot the platypus at some distance from our perch in the fading light.
We could just make out the shape of the animal swimming on the surface and diving every few minutes. According to Len, sometimes they come very close, but our platypus was happy to pot around at the opposite bank keeping a respectful distance between us.
Len suggested that if we really wanted to see a platypus up close and in daylight hours, we should visit the Tasmanian Arboretum in Eugenana. His advice turned out to be right on the money. We visited the Arboretum a couple of days later on the way from Cradle Mountain to Stanley and saw more platypus in about 2 hours than we ever imagined possible. The Arboretum is easily the best place to see platypus in Tasmania.
About an hour before sunset, Len arrived at our cabin with a bucket of raw chicken and threw some pieces on our lawn to attract the carnivores. I generally don’t support the feeding of wildlife for the sake of touristic encounters but in the case of Tasmanian devils, it’s not all black and white.
More than 80% of the Tasmanian devil population has been wiped out by contagious cancer, known as Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease. The devils that survive the disease face another challenge. To maintain their metabolism, Tassie devils need to consume 40 per cent of their body weight each night. That’s a lot of snakes and lizards to catch. Or a single pademelon carcass to scavange. But the majority of pademelon carcasses in Tasmania are found on roads. And as devils feed on roadkill they get killed by cars themselves.
From this perspective, offering an alternative food source to the devils and keeping at least some of them off the roads doesn’t seem like the wrong thing to do. And just because the food is on offer doesn’t mean that the devils come to eat it.
As Len explains, the reduced numbers of devils mean that there isn’t as much competition for food among them. And the devils can afford to be cautious. They don’t like the full moon, because its bright light makes them more visible. They also don’t like windy nights because the sound of the wind interferes with their hearing. And as luck would have it, our first night at Mountain Valley was a windy night of the full moon.
Mountain Valley Log Cabins
The beautiful thing about Mountain Valley set up is that your log cabin doubles up as a hide. You get to sit in cozy armchairs by your cabin windows and wait for the animals to arrive. We even ate our dinner in those armchairs, staring at the lawn light up by the porch light in anticipation.
Photography is a bit more challenging, however. Since the cabin windows don’t open all the way up, there is no way to hold your camera unless you want to photograph through the glass.
In the end, I rigged up my camera on the tripod just below the window, focused it on the lawn and used a cable shutter release that I fed through the open window into the cabin. On the plus side, keeping the window barely open kept the warm air inside. Though we still had the heater going. It gets down to about 10 degrees at night in the mountains, even in summer.
Once it became dark, we didn’t have to wait long. A beautiful Spotted-tailed quoll emerged from the dark, confidently strode across our lawn, picked up a piece of chicken and sauntered off. Over the next 30 minutes, he paid us another three visits. By the time of his fourth visit, he grew bold enough to sit on the lawn and eat his fill.
But even then he wasn’t done. He made sure to chew every single remaining piece of chicken and pee on the log that marked the boundary of our log.
When the quoll disappeared, the pademelons slowly returned to much on the grass. Then a Brushtail possum appeared walking on the ground. Tasmanian Brushtail possums seem to be more terrestrial in habit than their mainland conspecifics.
By turned in around midnight, weary from the day of travel and hoped that Len’s trail cam would pick up any late-night visitors.
The morning came with drizzling rain and a thick blanket of low clouds hugging the tops of the mountains – typical weather for the valley.
A morning stroll around the property turned up a few critters that were out and about in the rain. Tasmanian native hen strut around our cabin, Superb fairywren fluttered in the roadside bushes, and Welcome swallows were sitting still for a change on the branches overhanging the river.
Back at the cabin, a curious Black Currawong was doing its best to find any remnants of last night’s chicken feast while a flock of Yellow-tailed Black cockatoos filled the air with their croaking calls.
A few Tasmanian pademelons were still browsing in the clearing around the cabins. These handsome little wallabies are by far the most abundant mammals in Tasmania. They are clearly benefiting from the anthropogenic changes to the landscape, and from much-reduced predation.
We decided to go on an exploratory drive to see what was around. Just a few kilometres up the road from Mountain Valley is one of Tasmania’s hidden gems – the Leven Canyon Great Short Walk.
The walk indeed was short, but pretty. But it was the lookouts from the canyon’s edge that blew our minds. Both lookouts faced the imposing bulk of the Black Bluff mountain with Leven River snaking its way around the mountain hundreds of meters below. You can find more details and photos in my post about Level Canyon walk.
With the overcast sky and almost gale-force wind at the exposed lookouts jutting over the canyon’s edge, it felt like we were deep in the wilderness, yet the canyon is just a few kilometres from the road.
Gunns Plains Caves
From Leven Canyon, we followed road signs to the Gunns Plains Caves, another 29 kilometres away. The caves are another hidden gem in the area. Absolutely nothing gives away their presence. We drove across atmospheric farmland and there were no rock faces in sight, and not a single hill that could be big enough to conceal a cave.
The reason we couldn’t see the caves became apparent when we arrived at the car park and realized that the caves were located underground.
To explore Gunns Plains Caves we took a guided tour and wondered the labyrinth of passageways decorated with stunning calcite shawls, straws, and flowstones. One of the most remarkable features in the cave is a natural pattern of rock deposit that looks so much like a painting of a bear that it’s hard to believe that you are not looking at early human cave painting. You can find more details and images in my guide to visiting Gunns Plains Caves.
Another handy road sign brought us to a cafe at Wings Wildlife Park. We didn’t enter the sanctuary itself since neither of us likes seeing animals in captivity, but the temptation of a hot meal at the cafe was too hard to resist.
On the way back, we discovered a lovely waterfall, just past the Gunns Plains Caves. The roadsign announced it as Preston Falls, but apparently, it is an incorrect name and the ‘real’ Preston Falls are located elsewhere.
Whatever the name of the waterfall was, it was very picturesque. The 10-min trail from the road to the falls took us through some blackwood forest, over the Preston creek across a small bridge, and onto the edge of a cliff just to the side of the waterfall.
Getting friendly with an Echidna
Back at the Mountain Valley, we scanned the Leven River for any signs of the platypus but found none. Yet while the platypus kept evading us, we had the most up-close and personal encounter with its close relative, another egg-laying mammal – the short-beaked echidna.
We spotted her ambling across the button grass plain by the river and slowly crept up to have a better look. Turned out we didn’t really need our ninja approach skills – the echidna took absolutely no notice of us. So we came up closer. And closer. She still ignored us.
So I took her nonchalant attitude as an invitation to connect and lied down on the ground to see the world from her eye level and to have a better look at the animal herself. The reason I knew she was a ‘she’ is that at such close range I could see that she didn’t have the characteristic spurs on the ankles of her back feet. That’s right! I was close enough to have a good look at her ankles!
To my amazement, when she came within about half a meter of me, she didn’t alter her course and proceeded to do what she was doing slowly moving closer and closer to my face. And what she was doing was digging up ant nests and lapping up the panicked insects as they tried to flee their doom. She dug with her exceptionally long claws, throwing handfuls of earth at my face. Then she would stick her long snout into the hole and poke around trying to detect the ants with those amazing electroreceptors packed on her beak.
She would push her nose into the ground so hard that her back feet would lift off the ground. I could hear the little squeaky noises she was making from all this effort. Eventually, she would find the ants and pause. I could see her throat move as she collected the ants with her superbly long tongue.
Once she was done she ambled to the next spot, now inches away from my face and continued her ‘hunt’. Ants of different shapes and colours were crawling among her spikes like unwitting hitchhikers. And she kept digging for more with unbounded enthusiasm.
I couldn’t fight the temptation and reached out to gently stroke her furry leg, further confirming my deduction that she was a girl. She didn’t mind. Didn’t even notice. She discarded me as just another animal on the grassland, safe to ignore. It was a beautiful moment of connecting with another being, so unlike me, yet not so unlike as to be incomprehensible.
Waiting for the Devil
As the sun dips behind the mountains we settle on for our second night-watch. This time, we are prepared for the long wait with a glass of wine and some berries for dessert.
The conditions look promising – the moon is hidden behind the clouds and the wind is quite gentle, by Tasmanian standards.
First off the mark are the pademelons again. They turned up while the sun was still up. Once the darkness falls, last night’s quoll comes strutting out into the light and saunters off with a juicy drumstick. Then another, much smaller quoll timidly approaches, takes his share and walks away into the darkness. The two quolls take turns on the lawn for the next half an hour or so.
And then suddenly there was a Tasmanian devil standing in the middle of our lawn. I didn’t see it approach. It seemed to have materialized out of the thin air. It didn’t seem to be as shy as Len made them out to be. We watched it with harsh excitement until it turned its face towards us and I felt a pang of horror in my gut. Its face was the stuff of your worst nightmares. Disfigured by grotesque facial tumours, it was a horrifying mass of flesh that didn’t have any identifiable features.
Of course, we knew about the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease that has wiped out 80% of devils since the 90s, but seeing it ‘in the flesh’ was a gut-wrenching experience.
Thankfully, the latest research shows that the devils are rapidly developing an immunity to the disease. As if to prove the scientists right, the next devil that visited our lawn was a beautifully healthy individual. It was smaller and shyer than its sick cousin and we sat stone-still as it cautiously approached the light-up lawn, picked up a piece of chicken and rushed off.
For the next hour and a half, we watched the quolls and the devils taking turns to clear our lawn of most of the chicken. By midnight, we turned off the light and let the animals finish their meals in the comfort of almost total darkness.
Final Thoughts on Mountain Valley Wilderness Holidays
For us, staying in the cozy log cabin at Mountain Valley and watching Tassie devils and Spotted-tailed quolls emerge at night was the absolute highlight of our Tasmania road trip. It’s an extraordinary experience and a rare opportunity to see the shy carnivores.
The property is quite remote, there is no noise, no pollution. In fact, Tassie is famous for having some of the cleanest air in the world, and places like Mountain Valley are unique even for Tasmania. If you are desperate, you can get a weak wi-fi signal in some areas of the property, but otherwise, enjoy the digital detox.
Know Before You Go
Mountain Valley Wilderness Holidays offer 6 self-contained log cabins equipped with open log fire, electric blankets, and reverse-cycle airconditioning.
The minimum stay is 2 nights and the rates range from $180 to $280 per night. You can book via the Mountain Valley website.
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