In March 2018, just on a year after my father’s life reached its end, Maggie and I spent eight days travelling around Tasmania and visiting some of its famous wilderness spots.
I mention Dad because he grew up in Tasmania and I spent the first four years of my life there while he worked as a young country doctor in the north-east of the state. Our family then settled in Melbourne but we visited Tasmania several times, for holidays and to catch up with Dad’s extended family.
As well as those trips to Tassie, as it is known to most Australians, I went there on two hiking trips organised by my secondary school. I visited three national parks, including Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair, where I twice completed the famous Overland Track.
So, after my home state of Victoria, Tasmania is probably the part of Australia with which I am most familiar. Over the last decade or so, I have steadily introduced Maggie to some of my favourite corners of the state, as well as discovering new places together.
Our first two visits to Tasmania covered the areas around the two largest cities: Hobart, the capital, and Launceston, where Dad lived as a boy. (In May 2016, I published a series of posts about our time in and around Hobart, beginning with this one.)
These ‘soft’ introductions were all well and good. However, the time had come to take Maggie for a walk on Tasmania’s wild side, as in some elements of its world-famous expanses of wilderness.
When I say “walk”, I don’t mean going for a hike. Maggie has issues in both ankles and one of her knees; and I am not the sleek rodent of my youth! So, I put together an itinerary that would enable us to visit some areas of outstanding natural beauty without having to trek up hill and down dale. (This itinerary would also be relevant for younger or fitter people on a tight time budget.)
After flying into Hobart, we made our way up the east coast to the town of Swansea, which overlooks the beautiful Freycinet Peninsula.
The next morning, we drove across to Coles Bay, the peninsula’s main settlement. We had booked to go on a half-day cruise around the peninsula, most of which is a National Park.
Here is some of what we saw, including a large school of dolphins. The geology of the national park is dominated by a type of granite with a distinctive orange hue, owing to its high content of the mineral feldspar.
After rounding the southern tip of the peninsula, the cruise hugged the east coast until we reached the park’s most famous feature, Wineglass Bay. You have to see the bay from above, eg the top of the modest mountains overlooking it, to realise how it got its name; here is an example.
Our cruise boat anchored in the bay while we enjoyed a quality bento-box lunch, followed by the return journey to Coles Bay.
We then began to make our way across southern Tasmania to our next wilderness destination on the island’s west coast. As you can see, the weather was sunny and there was plenty to admire along the way, including Lake St Clair, where Tasmania’s longest river rises.
Our next stop was the town of Strahan, located on Macquarie Harbour, which is a large inlet of sea water providing shelter from the winds and swells of the Southern Ocean.
Next morning, we boarded a large, modern river-cruise boat for a journey up the Gordon River, which is a major element of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. You can learn more about the river’s significance here.
The cruise boat docked at a spot called Heritage Landing, from which there is a boardwalk through parts of the surrounding rainforest, the world’s most significant temperate rainforest.
After we returned to the boat, it headed back downstream, re-entered Macquarie Harbour and picked up speed, taking us all the way to where the harbour meets the Southern Ocean, the outer limit of the boat’s suitability.
Then we backtracked to Sarah Island, another significant site within the boundaries of the World Heritage Area. The island was included in the listing for its historical values, arising from the fact that a British penal settlement was established there in 1821. (Every one of the British settlements established in Australia between 1788 and 1826 began as a penal colony, housing convicted men and women from Britain.)
You can read more about Sarah Island here.
From Strahan, we made our way to our last wilderness destination, the Cradle Mountain area at the northern end of the national park which bears its name.
This was where my two hikes along the Overland Track had concluded, the second being 50 years ago next month. Back then, the only building of note was Waldheim (meaning Forest home), a stunning, rambling, replica of the house built by an Austrian botanist and his Tasmanian wife in the first two decades of the 20th century. And there was just a modest dirt road, along which buses would make their way to collect weary hikers and transport them to one of the towns dotted along Tasmania’s north-west coast.
Nowadays, there is a wide variety of accommodation, from camp grounds to a resort, a carpark that will hold several hundred vehicles (as it did when we arrived) and various other services and facilities. The Austrian was a strong advocate of establishing the national park and encouraging visitors but I suspect even he would have been gobsmacked by the vast numbers of people from all corners of the world who visit the Cradle Mountain area each day during the milder months (December to April). I was. Gobsmacked, that is!
Maggie and I spent part of two days in the area, basing ourselves at a wilderness retreat in a forest located an hour’s drive further north. Our first, very gentle activity, was to traverse a boardwalk that meandered through a patch of temperate rainforest.
Next was a visit to Devils @ Cradle, a sanctuary dedicated to the care, protection and breeding of the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil. The survival of this unique animal has been threatened by a transmissible cancer that generates facial tumours, often causing death. An outstanding national program is now making progress in controlling the spread of the disease and creating a population of immune devils, supported by a comprehensive ‘family tree’ that averts the risk of in-breeding.
We learnt much of this on a guided-tour and we even got to pat one of the young, disease-free devils that have been bred and reared at the sanctuary.
And here is a photo of one of the two species of Quoll supported by the sanctuary, both of which are also under threat in the wild. (You can learn more about the Devils @ Cradle centre here.)
Our time with the Tasmanian Devils was quite a thrill but we had saved the best for last: Cradle Mountain, the most iconic landmark in Tasmania, the view that launched a thousand calendars!
It appears at the beginning of this post and here it is again, majestic and serene, accompanied by its reflection in the waters of Dove Lake. Well, serene if you can avoid the non-stop flow of selfie-wannabes, that is!
There is a walking track that encircles the lake, for which you would need to allow up to 2 hours, depending on your fitness. Although it involves little uphill walking, the track is quite uneven and rocky in places, which is why Maggie found a quiet place in the shade by the edge of the lake while I completed a short section of the walk.
I had completed the full circuit on a day just like this back in December 1996, accompanied by my then nine-year-old son. The weather was so idyllic that I booked a guided ascent of Cradle Mountain itself for the next morning, something poor weather had twice prevented me from doing in the 1960s. But my cursed luck held and thick clouds rolled in overnight. I still did the climb and had my photo taken by the cairn at the top to prove it, only to see the clouds roll away as we neared the end of descent. Sigh!
This cautionary tale has a more serious intent. Even at the height of summer, the weather in the high country of Tasmania can change very quickly, due to the cold air masses that can be generated by the Southern Ocean, with little or no warning. So, if you decide to explore the wonderful Tasmanian wilderness in more depth than we did last year, I recommend that you pack for a wide range of conditions and seek advice from local experts before you venture out.
Cheers for now!