Friday, 2 December 2011

Tasmania: Scotland with eucalypts

I am currently back in Sydney after two weeks in Tasmania. It is not, as some may have suggested in the past, either a fantasy land and nor is it a separate country to Australia. It is in fact one of the states, probably the most bullied and somewhere akin to Wales on the level of inbreeding jokes it suffers. As it happened, I did not actually notice any six fingered folk but I would suggest that is more reflective of my poor observation skills than anything else.

Anyway, I suppose I should write about what I got up to as this is a travel blog.

First part of the trip was landing in the exciting cosmopolitan hub that is Launceston. We joked before landing that there would be no runway, just a field. After we landed we realised that although there was a runway, it was actually situated in a field. And then mountains and forest surrounded the field. Even as we drove into the centre of the city, I could not shake off the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. For me, that probably sums up the best part of Tas for me - it's closest I've felt to wilderness, a place where man has managed to avoid destroying too much. To make the point, 1/3 of the state is National Park land and an awful lot of that is World Heritage listed.

So after walking through Launceston, Tasmania's second major city that reminded me more of Northampton than anywhere else, we decided to get out into that wilderness a bit and see Cataract Gorge. With it's Zig Zag route it was a good precursor to the Overland Track we would be starting 2 days later but we didn't want to take it too hard so Hannah and I paid for a ride on the chairlift over the first basin to get to the other side of the gorge. There we found peacocks quite literally shaking their tail feathers and wallabies happy to pose but quick to jump away from me when I wanted a photo with them.

Our second day in Launy we decided to spend outside of it. We rented a car (well, the ones that can drive, Izi and Lizzie did) and eventually figured our way out of the city when it began to rain. Dressed in sandals, shorts, sundresses and hippy trousers, our day out became one of finding free food wherever we could get it and a lot of hilarity in carparks, our insanity pooled in such a small confined space that our Hyundai Getz allowed. The amount of sugar consumed at the honey museum probably didn't help - 50 different flavours of honey including choc orange, strawberry and cajun chilli.

Beyond honey, we also visited a cheese factory, sat outside a salmon farm (we would've had to pay for that one), a cherry warehouse where I tried cherry chutney and finally finished at a chocolate factory in Latrobe, almost at Devonport.

The remainder of that day was spent packing and preparing for the trek ahead of us. We met with our fellow hikers at the hostel to discover quite how little we knew about what we were letting ourselves in for. Bridget and Isabella, probably the most prepared of our 9 person crew, not only had walking boots, proper raincoats and tin mugs but also gaters - I wasn't even sure what gaters were before this trip (it turns out that they protect your ankles from leeches and so forth). The Frenchies - Sylvain, Thomas and Amelie - all had walking boots but with plastic K-Mart ponchos for raincoats. Hannah and I were in trainers and all four of us just had shorts to walk in. But at this point we were still having dilemmas about  how much suncream to take and worrying about not having a hat. It transpired these were rather redundant debates...

(It's approaching 1am now and I am struggling to stay awake so this will be a somewhat shortened version of the story of our 80km trek (we thought it was 65km - just another way in which we were clueless) across the Tassie wilderness)

We started the trek at Ronny Creek and on our first day we had one of the hardest sections to tackle as there was the steepest incline of the walk up to Marion's Lookout to see Cradle Mountain. It was a pretty spectacular sight although, as Thomas put it, not the kind of cradle you'd actually want to lay a baby in. Having taken it easy for the first half of our 10km for that day (including a small drama with a twisted ankle) we had to speed up so as to get to our first hut, Waterfall Valley, before darkness fell. The four of us girls, trudging on determinedly, reached the hut first out of our group of 9. We were grateful to see the sight and feel the warmth of the hut, even if the other walkers were not quite so friendly - I have never felt so embarrassed about my footwear, it was even worse than wearing my garden boots to a nice club called Hugo's in Sydney.

The huts were set up with two layers of long wooden boards (a sort of really big bunk bed) on which you laid as many roll mats and sleeping bags as would fit and there was your bed for the night, the more people sharing the better for warmth. Cooking was a giggle on the first night as we had not used our stove before - it was basically a jumped up emergency stove so we were lighting fuel blocks on a tray upon which we placed our billy named Bobby to cook our dinner (cheesy spaghetti with dehydrated peas... not our best meal). Before darkness fell we got to see one of the most impressive sunsets Tassie could offer over Barn Bluff:

For the sake of brevity, I will say that most of days were like the first - walking, being cold, getting to the huts, relief, warming up, eating, playing like children to the annoyance of some 'serious' walkers and then trying to retain heat throughout the night so as to wake up as warm as when you went to sleep.

A few more memorable moments:

  • Snow falling on our second day in Windemere Hut, the only hut where the heating was broken. We invented sleeping bag aerobics to warm up. Snow in AUSTRALIA. I kid you not. 
  • Reaching Echo Point on our penultimate day after 15km, the last 5km in utter delirium with mud on our faces and being greeted with the best view of Lake St Clair. Washing my face in the icy water before bombing into it and swimming straight back out again.
  • Watching out for shooting stars and trying to figure out Southern Hemisphere constellations at Windy Ridge Hut
It's really too late now to write anymore so I will sign off. Hopefully I will get to write a little more at some point about this amazing trip. Sufficed to say, it was nice to be lost in the mountains for a while, away from internet, phones and especially facebook. Don't count on seeing me on it for a further little while!

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