IN A WILD PLACE
A Wild Pedder BUSHWALKING and KAYAKING ADVENTURE through Tasmania’s south-west is a CHANCE TO FEEL at home in the WILDERNESS.
Tasmania’s south-west by foot and by kayak.
YELLOW GUM, MYRTLE and megafauna. Lemon-scented boronia and ecotone. Understory, overstory and creeping strawberry pine. Gnarled pencil pines and twisted tarns. As Lou and Cody lead us through Mount Field National Park, I pluck words from their commentary because I like the way they sound – poetic and pleasingly self-descriptive – but the picture they build is of something remarkable. I’m on a Wild Pedder adventure tour through Tasmania’s southwest wilderness, and day one sees our small group warming up with a bushwalk through ancient landscapes of lush temperate rainforest, alpine moorland and mountain lakes. In winter, the state’s oldest national park is home to popular ski fields, but by the time Wild Pedder’s season begins in November the snow has melted to reveal pristine scenery that looks much like it would have when Australia was part of Gondwana. This corner of the country is a perfect snapshot of how Tasmania relates to the supercontinent that once comprised the landmasses of the southern hemisphere. We walk through myrtles, the dominant tree species then, and pass large tree ferns whose name, dicksonia antarctica, reflects how they have been unearthed, fossilised, in Antarctica. Up on the Tarn Shelf – an otherworldly expanse of boulder fragments and mountain lakes carved by glacial activity – an ecosystem exists that has managed to remain relatively unchanged since the supercontinent began breaking up 180 million years ago. We spot an innocuous-looking Tasmanian mountain shrimp floating translucently in a tarn; it represents a living fossil whose closest relatives existed in the Triassic period, some 250 million years ago. In autumn, you can visit Mount Field to see the leaves of the fagus, Australia’s only cold climate winter-deciduous tree, turn bright
red, orange and gold. It’s so magical that a festival is held in its honour. But for now the colours are bushland shades of green and brown, illuminated by the sun and contrasted against the brilliant blue of sky and lake. We cover 15 kilometres at a leisurely pace and breathe in the land and its legacies. It’s the perfect introduction to this remote area of Tasmania’s south-west wilderness: part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area that encompasses a greater range of natural and cultural values than any other region on the planet. We’re an hour and a half from Hobart but a world away, and over four days we will engage with the environment out here in all its diversity and from all angles. We kayak Lake Pedder and learn about its storied history. Once a 10-square-kilometre glacial lake, it was flooded in 1972 for Tasmania’s Middle Gordon hydroelectric scheme, to great controversy. The bitter debate that surrounded this intervention on the natural landscape triggered Australia’s move towards environmental awareness: it was the flooding of Lake Pedder that gave rise to the United Tasmania Group – the first Green political party in the world. Our journey takes us 16 kilometres through inundated gorges as we follow the original course of the Serpentine River and spill into where the old lake – once fringed by an unspoilt golden sand beach – lies below. We climb and clamber up the exposed face of Mount Eliza for a challenge and an incredible perspective on the dramatic landscape. We scale the floor of the Florentine Valley, where the Tasmanian swamp gums grow tall and the last thylacine was captured in 1933. And of course, a trip to Tasmania wouldn’t be complete without fine local food and wine, and the Pedder Wilderness Lodge – located in the midst of it all – provides this in abundance each evening. And when the experience ends and we wind our way back to Hobart, we stop at a Derwent Valley vineyard for a tour, a tasting and one last chance to soak it all in. Helmed by Lou Balcombe and Cody McCracken, Wild Pedder is everything an adventure tour operator should be: a professional outfit born out of friendship – the pair met at a house party when Cody set up his swag on Lou’s garage roof – and a passion for the work itself. Their signature Pedder Experience is less like a guided group tour and more like a bushwalk with friends, and helps you feel entirely at home in the wilderness. Over a glass of pinot noir at the lodge, watching the weather roll in over Lake Pedder, they tell me how it all began. Lou and Cody’s friendship fortified during their time guiding along the Bay of Fires. Rostered on an unprecedented number of tours together, their rapport was infectious: it wasn’t long before they resolved to go out on their own. The seed for this particular wilderness tour was planted after an opportunity arose to combine an adventure with high-quality accommodation at the Pedder Wilderness Lodge, an old hydro set-up in Strathgordon; originally built to service the station’s workers, it was reopened under a new guise in 2015. Unfamiliar with the territory, the mates ventured south-west to explore. “Once we got out here and saw how incredibly rugged and beautiful it was, it piqued our interest,” says Lou. “And then as we started learning the stories
about the lake we became more invested emotionally; it started to draw us in.” And though they point out that they’re not the first tourism operators to have worked in the area, Lou and Cody had found a niche. “I think it’s pretty rare on this earth that you can find what feels like a pocket to yourself,” Cody says. “And it sort of felt like that.” The pair spent a summer here to hash out the itinerary that would become the Pedder Experience. “We’d come out for four or five days at a time,” says Lou. “We’d pick a mountain, hike the trail, take notes, get muddy, get wet, get exhausted.” Cody corroborates: “It wasn’t just about immersing ourselves in the knowledge of the area. It was about immersing ourselves quite literally in the mud and peat of the south-west.” The weather here is mercurial and the landscape not always forgiving; that’s where the wild comes in. Whereas we kayak in a squall – rain lashing our cheeks while we paddle into a crosswind (it’s invigorating), stopping for a break in a sheltered rainforest pocket to drink warming chai tea – other trips might see kayakers sunbaking and swimming during their picnic lunch stop on a Wilmot Island beach. As a business, Wild Pedder is still young and guests benefit from the heart, soul and hard work its owner-operators pour into it, working across its every aspect: “We’re going to be the receptionist on the end of the line and the person scrubbing down the gaiters at the end of the trip,” says Cody. “We’re buying all the food, handpicking the avocados...” Their passion and dedication gets under your skin in the same way the commanding beauty of the south-west wilderness does. And for them, being able to show visitors this timeless part of the world makes all the effort worth it, every time. “Imagine someone getting off the plane – from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane,” says Cody. “They’ve gone to bed that night and woken up the next day to be picked up in the dark from Hobart. Then all of a sudden they’re at Mount Field walking among the pandani – these ancient plants – in the midstory and the beautiful pencil pines in the overstory; there’s a tranquil stream carving its way through the foreground and ambient light piercing its way through the canopy. And in that moment it all clicks, it all feels worthwhile; you understand why you do it. And that’s just the beginning of the trip.”
As a business, Wild Pedder is still young and guests benefit from the heart, soul and hard work its owner-operators pour into it.
FROM LEFT: Boulder scrambling towards the summit of Mount Eliza; Walk through a landscape of mountain lakes at Mount Field National Park .
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A visit to Meadowbank vineyard makes for a rewarding wind down; Colours of the Florentine Valley; End each day relaxing in a cosy communal retreat at Pedder Wilderness Lodge; An old alpine hut sits at the edge of Twilight Tarn; No trip to Tasmania is complete without a drop of local wine. OPPOSITE: A pit stop on Mount Field’s Tarn Shelf.