The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY PETER SAL­HANI

One hun­dred and fifty kilo­me­tres north­west of Ho­bart lies Lake Ped­der. Ringed by moun­tain ranges and river gorges, rain­forests and fields of but­ton­grass, this teablack lake is cen­tral to the South­west Na­tional Park, over 600,000 hectares of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary wilder­ness. It also bears the scar of an old con­ser­va­tion war, lost but not for­got­ten.

For the next four days, my com­pan­ions here will be a fam­ily of Bri­tish ex­pats from New Zealand – mum, dad and their three teenage sons – and our two guides. Our base will be the Ped­der Wilder­ness Lodge at Strath­gor­don. To­gether we will walk through World Her­itage rain­for­est and alpine moun­tains and kayak kilo­me­tres over the lake, stop­ping at wa­ter­falls and beaches and drink­ing from its still, dark wa­ters. Some of us will swim in the lake too, though not for long.

Lead­ing us through this moody, ma­jes­tic land­scape are two fit men in their 30s: lo­cal lad Lou Bal­combe, a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion hy­draulics en­gi­neer whose fa­ther worked on the nearby Gor­don Dam; and Andy (An­drás) Szol­losi, a wiry Bu­dapest-born wilder­ness pho­tog­ra­pher who moved to Mel­bourne at 14, then down to Tas­ma­nia in his early 20s.

Bal­combe and Szol­losi are part of Tas­ma­nia’s “out­doors com­mu­nity” and spend their spare time and cash vol­un­teer­ing at land­care cleanups, protest­ing against na­tive habi­tat de­struc­tion, and plot­ting their next big wilder­ness ad­ven­ture. They col­lect us by mini­van in Ho­bart at some un­godly hour, and drive an hour north­west to Bushy Park for break­fast at a his­toric home­stead in a hops-grow­ing dis­trict. Over rus­tic toast with lo­cal honey and jams our group gets ac­quainted be­fore as­sem­bling in the shed for the day’s brief­ing and a gear check: hik­ing boots, rain jack­ets, walk­ing poles, water bot­tles, gloves, bean­ies, gaiters, head torches.

Hav­ing passed in­spec­tion, we head for Mount Field Na­tional Park to walk the 15km Twisted Lakes/Tarn Shelf Track. En route we learn that a “tarn” is a lake at the high­est point of a glacial val­ley. As we climb, the swamp gums, tree ferns and mop-top pan­dani give way to myr­tle and wild­flower thick­ets, then above the shelf, snow gums. Few Aus­tralian na­tional parks have such veg­e­tal di­ver­sity. Up on the Tarn Shelf is a bon­sai land­scape of myr­tle, pen­cil pine, and a mo­saic car­pet of wild­flow­ers, kept in check by the cli­mate. As Szol­losi says: “Once you’re at 1000m, the wind and cold are the gar­den­ers.”

It’s only mid-April, but the wind is al­ready icy and the fa­gus are start­ing to turn. Nothofa­gus gun­nii is Aus­tralia’s only cold-cli­mate de­cid­u­ous plant: a small beech tree reach­ing no higher than 5m, it grows nowhere else in the world, and we are catch­ing it in the act. All around Lake Newde­gate, its tiny crin­kle-cut leaves are turn­ing am­ber, gold and red, and they will be gone by mid-May. This sea­sonal spec­ta­cle is marked (like Ja­pan’s cherry blos­soms) with an an­nual “turn­ing of the fa­gus” fes­ti­val of lo­cal art and guided walks by Parks and Wildlife Tas­ma­nia.

De­scend­ing from the Tarn at last light, we stop to take in a breath­tak­ing, silent panorama over Broad River Val­ley, and the dis­tant Der­went Val­ley. We pass ski huts nestling un­der snow gums, where Bal­combe and a friend sought refuge overnight dur­ing a snow­storm last sum­mer – “Not as un­com­mon as you’d think,” he says.

Back at the lodge, a hot shower, cold beer and rowdy din­ner re­vives flag­ging city feet. Lou an­nounces a change due to the weather fore­cast. “To­mor­row should be a nice easy pace – we’re kayak­ing.”

Fol­low­ing break­fast the next morn­ing our first stop is Gor­don Dam, to walk along its spine where ab­seil­ers are pre­par­ing to plunge into the quartzite gorge be­low. A short drive takes us to the Sprent Basin and set out in two-per­son kayaks for a 16km pad­dle back to base.

Out into Ser­pen­tine Reach, we find our­selves in murky wa­ters. Be­low us is the old Ser­pen­tine River bed that once snaked its way across the val­ley floor, drain­ing the orig­i­nal Lake Ped­der into the Gor­don River, then Mac­quarie Har­bour, and out to the South­ern Ocean. A Lithua­nian refugee, Ole­gas Truchanas, was the first Euro­pean to make that voyage, alone in his hand­made

steel and can­vas ca­noe. He had set­tled in Tas­ma­nia af­ter World War II and made a life­time of lengthy solo trips into this wilder­ness, re­turn­ing to share his pho­to­graphs and find­ings at pop­u­lar pub­lic lec­tures.

Through the Reach, we’re sur­rounded by Pre­cam­brian quartzite peaks of the Fran­k­land and Sen­tinel ranges, and juras­sic do­lerite of Mount Wedge and Mount Anne (south­west Tas­ma­nia’s tallest at 1423m). Bird­calls and wa­ter­falls drift in and out of the sound­scape, be­fore we pull into a shel­tered cove and hud­dle our kayaks to share cups of tea and Bal­combe’s mum’s cook­ies. A few hours later, the white quartz beach of Wil­mot Is­land serves as our lunch spot, where a few of us strip off the ther­mals and brave the “brac­ing” water – briefly.

Past White Spur Point and Trappes Is­land, we cruise into Strath­gor­don Bay, reach­ing the lodge be­fore sun­set. Hav­ing kayaked lazily un­der the clouds, today (day three), we climb into them, for the eight-hour re­turn cir­cuit on Mt Eliza – the big­gest chal­lenge of this trip. It starts from Con­do­minium Creek, head­ing east over a nar­row board­walk through but­ton­grass mead­ows be­fore the as­cent be­gins abruptly. For three hours, our band of eight climbs 1000m up a steep track that’s mostly de­fined by steps. Our guides point out the tiny holes in the ground where fresh­wa­ter cray­fish hide. Look­ing back, a vast panorama un­furls, and it’s easy to imag­ine the Lake Ped­der that be­guiled Truchanas.

On a spur just be­low Eliza Plateau and the tree­line, we stop for lunch near High Camp Hut, an­other refuge for bush­walk­ers. The alpine winds have stunted Tas­ma­nia’s small­est eu­ca­lyp­tus, E. ver­ni­cosa, the var­nished gum, into lit­tle more than a shrub. While we rest in the af­ter­noon sun, bees are at work on the na­tive plum and pep­per­berry bushes, and wiry bauera – “a trekker’s night­mare”, says Bal­combe, with its tiny talons.

From here our guides point to other land­marks and walks they’ve done, or plan to: the Sen­tinel Range (963m), Mount Wedge (1146ms), De­cep­tion Ridge, the Western Arthurs — one of Tas­ma­nia’s more spec­tac­u­lar ranges — and French­mans Cap, where the rare Huon pine is hang­ing on. Above us, Bal­combe spots an­other en­dan­gered Tas­ma­nian, a wedge-tailed ea­gle, up­draft­ing on an air cur­rent near Eliza’s peak.

Day four takes us out of the clouds and into the Up­per Floren­tine Re­gional Re­serve, where some of the tallest trees on earth live – the swamp gum or E. reg­nans. We fill our water bot­tles from Churchill Creek then take an old min­ing road, the Adams­field track, into the for­est where sas­safras, leather­woods, tree ferns and moss thrive in the cool lower canopy. In a small clear­ing we reach Churchill Hut, built by trap­per and log­ger Elias Churchill, who caught the last Tas­ma­nian tiger here in 1933. The tiger died three years later at Ho­bart’s Beau­maris Zoo, but its tim­ber im­pound­ment re­mains, and wish­ful thy­lacine “sight­ings” abound in the area still.

In the for­est clear­ings around fallen gi­ants are saplings of cel­ery-top pine and tea-tree, rac­ing for light, with pur­ple ap­ple berry, for­est flax-lily, and a saw-toothed wheat grass around them. On the for­est floor, moss, lichen and fungi are com­post­ing the old

Our guides point out the tiny holes where fresh­wa­ter cray­fish hide. Look­ing back, a vast panorama un­furls.

hard­wood sleep­ers of the Adams­field track, as well as ev­ery fallen leaf and limb, back into life-giv­ing hu­mus. Amid the patch­work of deep greens and black earth come flashes of brightly coloured fungi – milky whites, tan­ger­ine and the bril­liant cyan Mycena in­ter­rupta, or pixie’s para­sol, no big­ger than a thumb­nail. “The more types of fungi you find, the health­ier the for­est,” Bal­combe says.

We reach a stand of old reg­nans, 3m or more in di­am­e­ter. Bark draped in ferns and moss, knuck­les pro­trud­ing, like awnings, over hol­lows at their base. One has a crown of spires so far above the canopy they can’t be counted. We are si­lenced, even the three boys, and just sit awhile with these an­cient broth­ers.

In 2011, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Mi­randa Gib­son climbed to a tiny wooden plat­form sus­pended 60m up a 400-yearold reg­nans she named the Ob­server Tree. She lived there for 449 days, sup­ported by vol­un­teers on the ground, in protest against the log­ging of this old-growth for­est. Their cam­paign was re­warded in 2013 when the Up­per Floren­tine was added to the Tas­ma­nian Wilder­ness World Her­itage Area, al­though the nearby Styx Val­ley re­mains un­der threat.

Wild Ped­der be­gan in 2016. Lou co­founded it with his friend Cody Mc­Cracken, an en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist and con­ser­va­tion­ist he met through the Tas­ma­nian Walk­ing Com­pany. The pair de­vel­oped the Ped­der Ex­pe­ri­ence, first tak­ing small groups on wilder­ness day-trips with com­fort­able lodg­ings for nightly re­turn. They spent a year travers­ing this ter­rain in all weather to build an itin­er­ary that, says Mc­Cracken, “re­ally shows the di­ver­sity of the south­west Wilder­ness in Tas­ma­nia’s largest na­tional park”.

Breath­tak­ing as it is, Ped­der is an al­tered land­scape. The orig­i­nal lake was drowned in the early 1970s when the Hy­dro Elec­tric Com­mis­sion dammed the Ser­pen­tine and Huon rivers to make cheap elec­tric­ity for an alu­minium smelter. Truchanas had cam­paigned against it for years, along with artist Max An­gus, ac­tivist Brenda Hean (who mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared in 1972), and count­less oth­ers lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally who saw its sig­nif­i­cance. Nearly 50 years later, it’s be­lieved that the lake, with its daz­zling 3km beach of pink quartz sand, and the Ser­pen­tine River, are ly­ing in­tact, wait­ing to be re­vived.

In his 1986 book Lake Ped­der show­ing the many moods of the orig­i­nal lake, with pho­to­graphs by Truchanas and oth­ers, Bob Brown wrote: “Lake Ped­der lies be­neath the tide of in­sen­si­tiv­ity which still curses hu­man af­fairs ... but beyond these times, a wiser and kinder age beck­ons us into the fu­ture.”

Whether or not the damming is un­done, the Tas­ma­nian out­doors com­mu­nity is part of that “wiser, kinder fu­ture”. Bal­combe’s in­struc­tion on our first day of this trip speaks vol­umes about a love of na­ture, and the in­flu­ence of Truchanas: “One rule ap­plies when­ever we go into a wild place: we take only pho­to­graphs, and we leave only foot­prints.” Wild Ped­der op­er­ates this ve­hi­cle-sup­ported four-day itin­er­ary from Novem­ber to May, with ac­com­mo­da­tion at Ped­der Wilder­ness Lodge, Strath­gor­don. wildped­der.com.au

Breath­tak­ing as it is, Ped­der is an al­tered land­scape. The orig­i­nal lake was drowned to make cheap elec­tric­ity.


Clock­wise from above: Wild Ped­der founders Lou Bal­combe, left, and Cody Mc­Cracken; the en­larged Lake Ped­der; the pix­ies’s para­sol fun­gus; and kayak­ing on Ser­pen­tine Reach

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