JUMPING FOR JOY
Why just sit there contemplating Tasmania’s awesome scenery when you can don a wetsuit and a helmet and leap off the face of an ancient cliff right into the middle of it
Is there an experience more exhilarating than jumping feet-first into a pool of crystal clear, waterfall-fed canyon water? Canyoning is a magnificent adventure, but it’s difficult to find a location. The pools have to be the right depth for rock jumping. Canyon walls must be steep, the water should be clean enough to drink, it can’t be too dangerous, and the location has to be accessible. Canyoning turns nature into a waterpark: you can climb, leap, swim, abseil, splash and slide — only the ‘rides’ in this waterpark are 400-millionyear-old rocks.
Such is the case with Cradle Mountain National Park’s Dove Canyon. The South Africans might call it kloofing, the Japanese river tracing, and Americans canyoneering, but there are very few places on Earth where you can show up at a visitor centre, sign a waiver, get fitted out in a wetsuit, and be guided to the water adventure of a lifetime.
As one of the most beautiful and iconic regions of Tasmania, a hiker’s paradise, Cradle Mountain National Park sees plenty of traffic. Several years ago, some river kayakers went searching for the first descent of the Dove River. Soon enough, they discovered the river was in fact a canyon and, while the rocky, narrow drops ruled out kayaks, it did look ideal for canyoning. Four years of planning and permits later, Cradle Mountain Canyons opened for business.
At Cradle Mountain, I pack my wetsuit, booties, life jacket and helmet into a dry bag for the picturesque 40-minute hike along the Dove Canyon Tour. I join a group of three couples to traipse along the trail until we find the “changing rock”, a spot to squeeze into our 5mm-thick wetsuits for the challenge ahead.
To enter the canyon, our guide Ben invites us one by one to the edge of the ravine to abseil down. Instead of landing on the ground, we unexpectedly plunge into a refreshing canyon pool. The shock and elation is worth the price of admission.
Gathered at the bottom, we begin the first of seven challenges. First up is the biggest waterfall jump, Freestyle Falls. With a lower water level than usual, it’s a 7m jump into a deep pool below, which can be accomplished however we wish. This early on, most people take the leap of faith, though I make a mental note to keep my arms at my sides so I don’t slap the water and sting my hands.
Next we gather ourselves at The Pit. Here, the water appears to vanish beneath our feet into a cavern. One at a time, we step up and jump, amazed to be having so much fun in such a seemingly dangerous location. It’s as if at any moment an adult will appear and yell at us to stop. Especially since The Pit leads directly into the Laundry Chute, where thousands of years of gushing water has created a rocky slide that fits the human body perfectly. We lean back, straighten up and slide around a large boulder into another pool, swimming under a waterfall into a little cavern.
The wetsuit is more than sufficient to keep us warm, though my hands are feeling numb from the 16C water. After another abseil, Ben urges us to “jump with style” over Tea Cup Falls, and then we’re encouraged to forward flip into Horsey Falls, which everyone manages to do perfectly. All too soon the fun part is over, and now comes the 20-minute hike up the ravine in our wetsuits, and the 40minute hike out to the parking lot.
This full-day trip is for people 15 years and up who are physically fit (the company does offer a less challenging experience for younger participants).
This is an edited extract from The Great Australian Bucket List by Robin Esrock, Affirm Press, $32.99