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Escape to Eco-Paradise You don’t know what you’re missing until you visit Tasmania.

The author enjoys a scenic lookout on the “Wineglass to Wine Glass” tour. (Photograph by Greg Clarke)

It’s a long way from the Great White North to the land Down Under. Five planes, 32 hours and a dozen unsmiling security guards later, I stepped onto the tarmac in Hobart, Australia, in a disoriented funk. I had left Canada on a Saturday morning and arrived in Tasmania on a Monday afternoon. Somewhere between Los Angeles and Auckland, I had lost an entire day. Worse, on the long prelude to my two-week eco-adventure, I had also left behind something very, very important: my wife.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Jenny and I loved to travel together. Every spring, we rented a cabin near Ontario’s Algonquin Park to play duck, duck, moose without the hordes. In Costa Rica, we explored the cloud forests, learned to surf (badly) and tried to cure my monkey fixation. (It didn’t work.) We honeymooned in the jungles of Guatemala and Belize, and had recently trekked with our toddler son (and my wife’s new baby bump) in the hills of southern Spain.

Jenny’s belly, however, had ballooned past its fly-before date by the time I was invited on a trip to Tasmania (one of the perks of pretending you’re a travel writer). My return ticket would be three weeks shy of the D-Day for baby number 2.

My wife had lived in Australia for a year and always raved about the country—an opinion I deviously turned against her. I had never been Down Under. She had and loved it. Ergo, shouldn’t I be allowed to visit too?

Jenny reluctantly let me pack my bags. However, two facts remained inescapable. One, if her water broke early, I might as well stay on the far side of the planet, because she would never ever speak to me again. And two, if I did return, I had to complete the mission impossible of every spouse who travels to an exotic location without their bitter half: find the one gift that whispers “I wished you were there…”

Like most North Americans, aside from the devilishly hungry nemesis of Bugs Bunny cartoons, I knew next to nothing about Tasmania. Twice the size of Vancouver Island, with only two-thirds of its population, the former penal colony sits 240 kilometres south of Australia’s sun-baked mainland, at a more temperate 42 degrees latitude. Nearly 40 percent of the island’s rainforest, alpine plateau and beachfront has been protected as parkland and within a vast UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once dismissed as an isolated backwater, Australia’s “natural state” is fast becoming a must-see for eco-minded globetrotters.

After arriving, I had barely enough time to drop my bags before I was whisked away for a sunset sea kayak paddle in the harbour of Hobart, the laid-back capital. The following morning, my jet lag was spritzed clean by a jet boat tour past coastal dolomite pillars and a fur seal rookery. Hundreds of dolphins chased us back to shore.

Over the next few days, my emotional baggage felt lightened too. I enjoyed a pedal along the island’s picturesque east coast, knowing full well that Jenny hated biking nearly as much as I loved travelling on two wheels. The other cycle tourists were single except for a middle-aged couple from Sydney. Hubby wanted to keep pace with me but felt obligated to dawdle with his wife. Score one for flying solo.

Then we drove north to the gateway of Tasmania’s central highlands and UNESCO reserve. It seemed another perfect chance to commune with Ma Nature and forget, for a moment, how much I missed my own very pregnant wife. Or it would have been, if the national park hadn’t been christened Cradle Mountain. What next? A climb up Diaper Valley to the summit of Postpartum Peak?

The scenery was a moody panorama of alpine lakes, sawtooth ridges and buttongrass meadows. In a message home, I emphasized the rugged challenges of my journey: the hiking, the kayaking, the mountain biking. I had left my itinerary with Jenny, however, and she knew my day in the wild would conclude with a spa treatment and a gourmet dinner at Cradle Mountain Chateau. “So,” her next email inquired, “did you choose the massage or the milk bath?” I could have chilled a bottle of wine (a fine Tasmanian Sauvignon Blanc, in fact) on her icy reply.

Postcard pretty by day, Tasmania reveals its truly wild side after dark. On a nighttime wildlife-spotting tour, we marveled at the roadside menagerie of nocturnal critters captured in our guide’s roving spotlight: wide-hipped wombats, portly pademelons, bouncy wallabies, skittish possums and even a young Tasmanian devil, the endangered icon of the island.

Haunted by guilt, at every gift shop, I bought for my toddler son more Tassie devil paraphernalia: a stuffed devil, a T-shirt, a pair of devil-faced slippers. Years from now, he may wonder why his father returned home from Australia with so many souvenirs of a toothy, malodorous marsupial with the disposition of an Ultimate Fighter.

Jenny, I knew, couldn’t be bought off with cheap toys. Midway through the trip I also learned that she was polling readers of her “mommy blog”: Would they have let their husbands go AWOL in the third trimester? How expensive a present might forgive my absence? Baby number 2 hadn’t even been born and already I was a deadbeat dad. I felt awful.

Maybe it was just something I ate. Or how much. I had nearly consumed my own weight in fresh seafood and other Tasmanian cuisine by the time I joined a guide from Freycinet Lodge for a decadent diversion called the Wineglass to Wine Glass tour. An early-morning amble up and over a small mountain pass led us through eucalyptus forest to the quartz-white smile of Wineglass Bay, named one of the world’s 10 most beautiful beaches by Outside Magazine.

We finished our three-hour jaunt through Freycinet National Park on the equally award-worthy Hazards Beach. The only hazard I faced, as I sampled a chef-cooked cornucopia of local delights (oysters, crayfish, abalone and quail, followed by artisanal cheeses and cream-filled cakes), was the reminder of my own loneliness. I had just been served the most romantic meal in the most romantic setting, but without the one person who made romance possible. After lunch, I boarded the boat back to the lodge with the Chardonnay-glazed stare of the terminally depressed.

On every solo trip, as I wonder whether to eat a dodgy bit of street meat or bike down a hideous incline, I imagine a bracelet on my wrist engraved with WWJD: What would Jenny do? Too often I ignore my wife’s telepathic advice—with predictable results and painful regrets.

This time, I knew what she wanted. Come home safe. Come home on time. And come home with a damn fine gift. But buying clothes for a pre- or postpartum spouse can be an emotional minefield, while a pricey bottle of wine was a reminder of the pleasures lost to pregnancy and nursing. I was stumped.

And then I found it. On my last afternoon, I wandered through Salamanca, Hobart’s bohemian enclave, and stumbled upon a shop run by an artists’ collective. On the wall hung my “Get out of jail free” card: a handcrafted silver necklace as striking and as authentic as the island itself. I packed it away and prayed that I didn’t become a daddy again somewhere over the Pacific. The gift, I knew, would grovel in the language of love: I went to Tasmania without you, it promised, but one day we’ll return as a family. And we’ll all have a devil of a time.

David Leach and his wife, Jenny, welcomed baby number 2, Briar Kathryn, in December 2007.