No one is more eager to get out of a hotel than parents and children sharing a room, no matter their age or stage. I thought we’d be amongst the first to get breakfast when it started at 7 am, but when we arrived at 7:10 am the restaurant was vibrant with energetic children, Moms on the edge, and Dads all too aware of how close their energetic children were putting Mom to the edge.
We found a relatively quiet spot in a windowed corner where the echoes of generational recrimination waned in acoustic insignificance. In preparation for the day’s exertions we gorged ourselves on all sorts of things real mountain climbers wouldn’t touch. And bacon.
We headed back into the park to get good use of the last five hours of our twenty-four hour pass. Regarding the shuttle bus, we adhered to the old adage “Fool me once, fuck you.” Instead, we took the more dangerous and less environmentally friendly option of driving to where we wanted to be so we could leave when we were done. The drive was easy, although it helped that we had toured it by bus the previous day.
Leaving Ronny’s Creek car park at 8:45 am, we headed for Marion’s Lookout, 1,223 meters (4,000 feet) high on a four-hour circuitous trek that would take us by Crater Lake, up past Crater Falls to the lookout, then down past the Wombat Pool, over to Lake Lilla, and finishing with a relatively flat stretch back to Ronny’s Creek. Then we’d have a three hour drive through the mountains to Strahan, but we’ll get to that. At least I hoped we’d get to that.
Six hikers, all about 30, started just ahead of us. Each was laden with a large pack, complete with bedroll. We overtook them in no time, as we were carrying only a daypack. “Are you doing the Overland Track?” I asked. They groaned and nodded in unison, the most articulate of them saying she was proud, to use her words, to have completed the first ten minutes. They had a six-day trek ahead of them of “only 80 kilometres”, all the food and comfort they would experience during that period now on their backs. Admirable. “Good luck!”
I like a walk in the woods as much as the next curmudgeon, but I’ve never been much of a mountain climber. Yet I find mountain climbing marginally less insane than, say, trying to ride a bike up one, as the cyclists we met at the hotel yesterday had succeeded in doing. Or trying to remove a mountain altogether, as the miners we met at the hotel yesterday were negotiating the doing of.
Much as I love the views – I will climb most anywhere for a view – I don’t get to see much while climbing, as watching my feet, and more particularly where I put each foot, becomes central to my continued survival. Head down, often the most stunning view I get is that flash of light I experience colliding at speed with a low-hanging tree branch.
My audio appreciation, on the other hand, goes unhindered. The roar of a waterfall, the howl of the wind through a mountain pass, the buzz of ten million flies feasting on the carcass of an unfortunate wombat, each is a natural symphony. There are two trekking sounds that irk me, however, and both are airborne. One is the growl of sightseeing helicopter flights which carry fat rich stupid people who have no clue, or don’t care, that their activity devalues everyone else’s experience. The other is birds. Gosh, I wish they’d just shut up sometimes.
As we got further out the track got a rougher and sketchier, steeper and more difficult. At one point I was climbing 100 metres up a rock face at an 80 degree angle, grasping for dear life to the steel chain generously anchored into the mountainside, when I turned to appreciate the beauty that lay beneath me. Of all the moments to experience a strong dose of déjà vu, there it was. C’mon, brain, don’t go all other-worldly on me now!
I got grip of myself, and the chain, and the cliff, scrambling to a landing where I could figure out why this all seemed so familiar. The answer came in an instant: Wilson’s Prom. Wilson’s Prom is the southernmost protrusion of the Australian mainland, and the last remnant of the land bridge that once connected it with Tasmania. The similarities between it and the view before me were unmistakable. There could be no doubt: Tasmania is part of Australia after all.
Marion’s Lookout fulfilled its promise of magnificent views, glimpses deep into the wilderness. I won’t try to describe the beauty, but have a look at the photos. For full audio, take a shower in an aviary whilst a helicopter lands.
After a picnic lunch by Ronny Creek we left the park, happy to have contributed to ecological catastrophe by having avoided the shuttle bus. The next overnight stay was in Strahan on Tassy’s west coast, but to get there we had to drive through the “West Coast Wilderness” region. To be sure, the grandeur and splendour of Tasmania’s northwest had impressed me so far, but I found it difficult to consider myself in the wilderness when surrounded by mobs of people from around the globe. It certainly didn’t feel like the ends of the earth.
Not for long. As we wended our way westward, the highways became less well-marked than the hiking tracks, the scenery more astounding, and the people fewer and further between. Disturbingly, every property that had at some point in history been cleared for farming had a “For Sale” sign in front of it. A major highway became a gravel road for some twenty kilometres, and while it claimed to be “Road Work”, there was little sign of any work being done this Friday afternoon.
Worried that we had somehow gone off course, we stopped at a lonely hotel pub in a small hamlet – it might have been called Tullah –to confirm our way forward. The parking lot had a half-dozen trucks and farm vehicles parked higgledy-piggledy, as if each knew its place and no others would ever seek to join them. As we got out of the car, an old woman sweeping dust off the dirt looked up, startled, then hurried into the pub ahead of us.
Dead silence and fourteen eyes met us as we entered. Frank ordered two coffees; I headed for the gents. I’m not sure what happened when I was in there, but when I came out, music was playing, a card game had commenced, and everybody was laughing and chatting with Frank, their new best friend. Someday I’ll figure out how he does that – or maybe not. Perhaps we were the first customers in the establishment’s hundred and twenty year history to pay eight dollars for two coffees – but I suspect there’s more to it than that.
In any case, we got far more local knowledge than we had bargained for, including directions to a back road that not only bypassed another forty kilometres of “road work”, but offered amazing scenery. Eight bucks well spent.
While the road work ended, the roads got swervier and curvier, the scenery more mesmerising. The recommended itinerary took us through a series of valleys and canyons, along a succession of rivers and lakes, each punctuated by a hydro-electric damn and interrupted by a switch-backed climb and fall through a mountain notch. It occurred to me that Tasmania was filthy rich in clean water and clean power, two commodities in increasing demand and decreasing supply. So where was everybody?
You read it here first – I started to enjoy driving! I was amazed how effective down-shifting a Hyundai automatic into low gear could be in regaining control of a vehicle otherwise lost to the whimsy of gravity and granite.
We arrived in Strahan just before four in the afternoon, exhilarated and exhausted. Two days earlier, I had booked a sunset cruise on the Stormbreaker, a ketch sailing out of Strahan. It was to depart at five, but I had been warned that we were the first to book, and that if they didn’t get six, there’d be no cruise. The return call I was assured never came. On arrival, when I called to see if the cruise was on, the first words in reply were “Is this Mr. Kodiak?” Yes, it was. Where there six? No there were not; no cruise. Just as well, really, as we were exhausted.
I had to ask myself, where is everybody? It was a beautiful sun drenched Friday afternoon in the one of the most idyllic seaside settings I had ever experienced —yet the streets were empty. Maybe that’s what made it so idyllic.
We wandered down from our room which was perched on a bluff overlooking this little piece of heaven. The public bar at Hamer’s Hotel quite literally stank, populated entirely by hollow eyed smokers who finished each beer in eager anticipation of their next cigarette outside, laws being what they are. This is paradise?
Next door we uncovered the Union Take-away, which offered Tasmanian scallop pies with chips and salad for eight bucks. We bought a nice bottle of Tassy Sauv Blanc, and dined seaside, total cost forty bucks. Allow me to rephrase: This is Paradise.
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