MOON BASE

A for­mer ANTARC­TIC ex­pe­di­tion TRAIN­ING FA­CIL­ITY is the per­fect place from which to ex­plore a unique por­tion of TAS­MA­NIA, finds DANIEL DOWN.

Australian Traveller - - Weekends -

WHEN BUZZ ALDRIN STEPPED onto the sur­face of the moon and gazed across its stark sur­face, he couldn’t help but put his emo­tions into words. “Mag­nif­i­cent des­o­la­tion,” he ex­claimed, in some ways eclips­ing Arm­strong’s fa­mous first words. It’s a lit­tle how I feel gaz­ing back at Thou­sand Lakes Wilder­ness Lodge – a tiny speck of white on the hori­zon, at the end of a vast ex­panse. There must be a fair few kilo­me­tres of wind-blasted tun­dra be­tween our po­si­tion and the lodge’s com­forts, and no paths to lead us there. It’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing, like we’re cast adrift; de­tached from hu­man­ity. We’ve ‘free-walked’ out here, pick­ing our own way through the dense scrub of the Cen­tral High­lands Plateau – part of Tas­ma­nia’s seem­ingly end­less Cen­tral High­lands World Her­itage Area. In­deed, it was pre­cisely these iso­lated, moon-like con­di­tions that made the Cen­tral High­lands per­fect for an Antarc­tic re­search base here in the ’80s. The Ber­nac­chi Lodge, as it was called, had to bow to its harsh en­vi­ron­ment, its roof an­gled to de­flect sav­age winds hurtling across snow-cov­ered tun­dra. Aban­doned to the el­e­ments in 1999, it was even­tu­ally bought by V8 Su­per­car rac­ing star Mar­cos Am­brose, who re­launched it as Thou­sand Lakes Lodge last year as a base for an­glers and walk­ers. As soon as my wife and I ar­rive, Mar­cos, who hap­pens to be vis­it­ing with his fam­ily, tells us to get out there and ex­plore, hand­ing us maps of the re­gion that look like the pock­marked sur­face of the moon ow­ing to the thou­sand or so lakes that give the lodge its name.

All AT re­views are con­ducted anony­mously and our writ­ers pay their own way – so we ex­pe­ri­ence ex­actly what you would.

For­tu­nately, the con­di­tions are far from Arc­tic dur­ing our stay, and we’ve timed our ar­rival per­fectly to co­in­cide with the trans­for­ma­tion of the scrub into a sea of wild­flow­ers, their scent fill­ing the air. The lodge’s strange an­gles mean the ma­jor­ity of the struc­ture is given over to a cav­ernous lounge and din­ing area, with leather so­fas po­si­tioned in front of an im­mense fire­place; an­other lounge with board games and some­thing of a li­brary, and a more in­ti­mate din­ing room is found off a cor­ri­dor. Ev­ery­where you go, big win­dows frame what this place is all about: Tas­ma­nia’s fa­mous wilder­ness. Here, you’re al­ways in the wild sur­rounds, whether you’re in­side the lodge gaz­ing out or miles away gaz­ing back across the bogs, lakes and heath­land. When you are back, it’s em­i­nently com­fort­able; a rain shower is the ideal an­ti­dote for tired legs fol­low­ing a lengthy bush­walk, as is a Nant Es­tate whisky, from down the road, in front of the fire in the lounge. Cor­ri­dors are adorned with pho­tos of an­glers waist-deep in one of the many lakes, and you can sink into a sofa to ad­mire the pho­tos in books such as Tasmanian High Coun­try Huts (some of which you can hike to from the lodge). The rooms are func­tional and mod­ern, if a lit­tle box-like – per­haps be­tray­ing the build­ing’s for­mer life as a train­ing base – but the draw of the com­mu­nal spa­ces means your room sim­ply ful­fils its role as a place to change, shower and sleep. Such is the beauty of the Cen­tral Plateau, with dif­fer­ent heathers, mosses and wild­flow­ers de­liv­er­ing a sur­pris­ing amount of colour in the sum­mer months, that you’ll spend most of your time out­doors, com­ing close to wal­la­bies in the heath and black swans on the lakes. A mem­ber of staff will pre­pare a pic­nic lunch for you, and you can bor­row gear from the lodge – gaiters (shin guards) are a must if you’re go­ing bush­whack­ing. When you re­turn, the chef (now Phil Kelly from gourmet deli Wursthaus Kitchen) will be ready to take your order – roast Tasmanian lamb or fresh-caught trout per­haps – be­fore host Ja­son gives you an im­promptu af­ter-din­ner per­for­mance on his cir­cu­lar didgeri­doo (a spi­ral-shaped in­stru­ment carved from a sin­gle piece of wood). Be­fore bed you can take a torch out to nearby Lake Augusta and look for platy­pus, as wom­bats graze on the banks around you. There aren’t many places in the mod­ern world where you can ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing akin to Aldrin’s ‘mag­nif­i­cent des­o­la­tion’, where you’ll feel how small you re­ally are in na­ture’s grand scheme, but down here in Tas­ma­nia, in the oth­er­worldly land­scape of the Cen­tral Plateau, you can come pretty close.

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: 4WDs tackle the tough ter­rain of the Cen­tral High­lands; The shore of one of the re­gion’s many lakes; The land­scape here pos­sesses an ethe­real beauty; Rooms are con­tem­po­rary; It’s hard to tear your­self away from the fire in the main lounge; The lodge rises out of the heath.

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