Please take a hike

Walk and won­der in Tas­ma­nia’s Tarkine

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - EMMA ROSSI

Ly­ing on a lichen-cov­ered log, look­ing at the sky through tree ferns that are more than 1000 years old, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble no one has ever stood any­where near me. The Tarkine in north­west Tas­ma­nia is largely un­ex­plored; after the Pa­cific tem­per­ate rain­forests ecore­gion of North Amer­ica, it’s the sec­ond-largest tract of cool tem­per­ate rain­for­est in the world.

We’ve been given firm in­struc­tions not to wan­der off, and to al­ways let our com­pan­ions know even if we’re leav­ing the track just to peer at some­thing. It’s easy to get lost. And there are snakes. There are also flies and bird noises, only some of which are fa­mil­iar.

I’m im­mersed in a for­est of soar­ing, 70m-high Eu­ca­lyp­tus obli­qua and del­i­cate, lacy lichens. I scoop my hands to drink from cool, clean creeks. Now we’re in a fairy-like dell, mar­vel­ling at a tiny spi­der’s web, when there’s a mo­men­tous crash. The smash­ing re­ver­ber­ates for sec­onds. A tree plum­mets in the for­est. The fol­low­ing day we see a freshly fallen myr­tle, the rain­for­est’s dom­i­nant species. There are myr­iad sas­safras trees, too, and leather­woods with scented white blos­soms, fa­mous for their strongly flavoured honey.

We are here as guests of a friend cel­e­brat­ing a sig­nif­i­cant birth­day. We’ve flown into Launce­s­ton and been picked up in a minibus. We’ve hired back­packs, walk­ing poles, head torches and wet weather gear.

It rains a lot in the Tarkine — al­most 2.5m a year, we’ve been told. And the re­gion is said to have some of the clean­est air in the world. The cleans­ing winds come from Antarc­tica, over the South­ern Ocean. After a few hours in the minibus, we’re given an op­tion of walk­ing to base camp with, or with­out, our big packs. Each of us has hik­ing shoes or boots and a day­pack and we all opt to send the heavy gear in a small ve­hi­cle, which is also car­ry­ing our food and drinks.

As we walk up, our guide tells us there are an av­er­age of 500 vis­i­tors a day to the fa­mous Cra­dle Moun­tainLake St Clair Na­tional Park in the cen­tral highlands of Tas­ma­nia, but fewer than 2000 vis­i­tors have been to this part of the Tarkine. Now I un­der­stand why it’s been called “the edge of the world”. It feels ex­cit­ing to be part of such an ex­clu­sive ad­ven­ture.

Our op­er­a­tor, Tarkine Trails, has var­i­ous ex­plo­ration op­tions. Our host toyed with the idea of a six-day hike whereby we would carry ev­ery­thing. But a shorter ver­sion — that pro­vides ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties such as warm wa­ter, erected tents and a glass of wine at night — proves the more wel­come choice.

In the spirit of frank dis­clo­sure, there is one com­post­ing toi­let for 10 walk­ers and three guides. And a Ja­panese- in­spired bath­house for a warm-wa­ter sponge. Cook­ing, heat­ing and cool­ing of beer and wine is done us­ing gas bot­tles. We are able to charge our cam­eras and phones when a gen­er­a­tor is turned on for a few hours each night.

We speak a lot about in­dige­nous Tas­ma­ni­ans, the Tarkinener peo­ple who lived here for tens of thou­sands of years. Alas there are no sur­vivors of the Cape Sandy group. They were coastal peo­ple with a rich cul­ture, rock carv­ings, boun­ti­ful food from the sea and land, ev­i­denced by mas­sive mounds, or mid­dens, of seashells. Our guide re­veals he has seen hooli­gans do­ing dough­nuts in four­wheel drives over th­ese mid­dens. “It would be like en­ter­ing a church, mosque, shrine or syn­a­gogue and driv­ing all over th­ese sa­cred sites,” he says. My heart hurts.

The Peterni­dic peo­ple also came through here. There was plen­ti­ful food on the un­du­lat­ing grass­lands be­low. Some of their de­scen­dants are still in th­ese parts. Then there are the en­dan­gered wildlife species, in­clud­ing yel­low-tailed black cock­a­toos and fresh­wa­ter cray­fish grow­ing to a tremen­dous 1m long. Too many mam­mals are ex­tinct, how­ever, such as the quiet, se­cre­tive and mys­teri-

Ex­plor­ing the Tarkine, top and left; bud­ding tree ferns, above;

Mycena in­ter­rupta, be­low left; wal­laby, be­low

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