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Published: February 10th 2010
First night in a swag and not bad, not bad at all. It had a mattress, which is luxurious when you've spent many nights with nothing but a thin sleeping bag between you and the hard ground, oh and a flap (technical word)
so I could completely hide myself. Some people had complaints of claustrophobia because there's not much space in there but I was fine, coffin-wise.
After tea and toast on the fire we all got our bags ready and took turns in the bathroom. I got talking to one of the Dutch girls from another trip who happened to have studied in the same department as me at King's College London. She was now working for a Dutch think tank in international relations in the Hague. Now, why aren't I doing that? It was a shame she wasn't on our trip because we also had Maja - the Polish girl who worked in Brussels for the EU's development office on Sudan. We would have made a nice mix of people discussing world affairs! Sadly, Dutchie was stuck with the other group, one of whom sat by herself, spoke very loudly, and generally made lots of mischief for everyone
else. I heard later on that the poor Dutchie wanted to leave the trip early because of this disruptive woman - the worst the tour guides had ever experienced.
We left the huge acreage of Gary's property and we drove westwards into the Tarkine
, Australia's largest temperate rainforest. We stopped at the Savage River bridge and from the trailer we made gourmet sandwiches for ourselves. This was remote country, deepest wilderness and if the Tasmanian Tiger does exist, it’s here that it will likely be lurking. Before heading into the forest Gary put on a big backpack carrying all kinds of emergency supplies; he clearly wasn't taking any risks.
Before doing Tassie trips he had extensive experience of trekking and leading tour groups up mountains in Pakistan, Afghanistan all the other Central Asian ‘stans, Turkey, Brunei, India, the Himalayas including Nepal (fluent in Nepali). Not only that but as a young man he'd spent three years at London Zoo - telling us how he'd had to use a rifle to stop a crazy king-fu freak who'd jumped into the lion enclosure. He later served in the Aussie Army. I found him to be modest, quiet
and unassuming whose carefully considered answers to our many questions always reassured me. We were clearly in good hands as long as we listened to him.
Our ascent included burnt trees, the results of a very bad bush fire that had come through the year before. An hour or so into out trek and we were at the bottom of the peak of Donaldson. There were great views over the surrounding hills and forests and the winding Pieman River
(named after the profession of escaped convict-turned cannibal Alexander Pearce
- which in turn was the basis of the novel "For The Term of His Natural Life"). The clouds here were huge and the mountains very lush - I frequently paused on my way up to take it all in. An hour later and we were on top of Mount Donaldson with a terrific 360 degree panoramic view of the Tarkine wilderness: Pieman River, the rainforested valleys of the Donaldson River, the Tarkine’s deep interior, and the Southern Ocean to the west. Tasmania in all its glory; untouched and mysterious.
Our descent, then a drive to Corinna
- a remote and deserted mining station that was now turned into an
eco-resort. Maja, Jenni and I rented some kayaks here and paddled down the river for a few hours. The sun was hot that day but it was so serene with the lush forest on either side of the river.
That evening we camped behind the eco resort - Gary cooking up some delicious Malaysian Satay. The wallabies creeping up to us sniffing out the food. My first proper sighting of a wallaby in Australia - but they are abundant in this neck of the woods. In fact they are protected and there are more of them now then there were before European settlement. We sat around the fire for a while but not for very long...it was a long day and when darkness hits, your mind wants rest - under the stars.
Another early start with breakfast starting at 7 packing up by 8.30 at the latest. This morning was different and we did the Whyte River walk. Following the Pieman River east from Corinna to its junction with the Whyte River. The woods were isolated and quiet and and I've never experienced such dense forest in my life before. 'Horizontal' tress marked our way -
so called because they fall down and then grow back upwards, making a criss-cross jungle - the reason why escaped convicts never got very far. We stood by the river's vantage points looking out for trout and the elusive platypus. Still no-show.
We then crossed the Pieman River
via a vehicular barge and then drove to the west coast. I think the place was called Granville Harbour
but also called "The End of the World"! It was formerly a busy harbour but now very quiet. We had to use the full extent of the 4x4 to drive along the Climes track
where we came across a dramatic and rugged coast.
The weather in this region can be unpredictable and is often pounded by the ‘Roaring 40s’
- a name given for the latitudes between 40°S and 50°S because of the boisterous and prevailing westerly winds. Because there is less landmass to slow them down, the winds are especially strong in the Southern Hemisphere, notably in the South Indian Ocean, or what is called the Southern Ocean by Australian authorities. On this day we had waves that were pounding the coast - these waves hadn't hit land-fall since Argentina and
they were BIG. There we stopped, got some things for lunch and then took off under a blazing sun to walk along the coastline. We set up camp opposite a huge midden
- basically an ancient aboriginal rubbish dump - of sea shells.
We walked along the rest of the beach, jumping over rocks, looking at star fish as well as the huge swell waves crashing into the rocks.
I now had my first glimpse of Tasmania's deep convict past: a place called Macquarie Heads
. It was through 'Hells Gates" as they were known that those recalcitrant prisoners who had re offended in Van Diemen's Land's were sent through to Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour(1823)
. Chosen for its natural isolation and near-impossibility of escape it was a deliberately harsh regime - back breaking logging, harsh floggings with the cat o'nine tails and solitary confinement. On a very beautiful late afternoon, the inlet calm with a lighthouse looking out benevolently I couldn't help thinking about the convicts that would have been rowed past me into a miserable and harsh existence in a prison so far from everything they knew. Sadly I never got to visit the ruins of the penal
We later camped at a beautiful deserted spot overlooking the inlet harbour - dusk seemed to last for hours and we then sat around the fire, staring into it...
What I'm listening to: Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence (2009)
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