Please take a hike
Walk and wonder in Tasmania’s Tarkine
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