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

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - TRAVEL - WORDS ROBIN ESROCK

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

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