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Published: August 6th 2007
The Devil's Gullet
A fantastic view of the dolerite columns that make up so much of Tasmania's cliffs and mountains.
We spend the night in Deloraine's YHA hostel, a rather regimented place - not quite necessary, since we were the only people staying there - where the somewhat eccentric owner felt the need to post signs absolutely everywhere, of which my favourite was "beds are for sleeping in, not on". Still, the hostel's quiet location at the top of a small hill gave us fabulous sunset views, with Tasmania's rugged central mountains silhouetted against a truly technicolour sky. That and not far off a century's worth of National Geographic back issues made for a nice peaceful evening.
Deloraine is a quaint, small place, nestled on the banks of the aptly named Meander River, and consists of little more than a couple of streets lined with shops. Strange to think, then, that Deloraine is actually "Tasmania's largest landlocked town". Scraping the proverbial superlatives barrel, wouldn't you say ? For such a tiny town, it has a remarkably lively feel to it and more independent shops - delis, restaurants, cafés and the like - that somewhere much larger back home. No British clone streets here...
The next morning we set off westwards towards what is perhaps Tasmania's best known National Park
The Western Tiers
Stretching across the horizon of central Tasmania.
(which is saying something: Tasmania is smaller than Scotland but has no less than twenty National Parks), Cradle Mountain National Park. This park forms the northernmost part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tasmanian Wilderness. It is a place of towering, jagged mountain peaks, of crystal-clear lakes, streams and waterfalls, and unsurprisingly is a very popular place.
Central Tasmania's rather bumpy geography makes getting to the park a bit of a trek. Fortunately, as always seems to be the case in Tasmania, there are plenty of places to stop along the way. Particularly worthy of mention was the itsy-bitsy town of Chudleigh half and hour away from Deloraine. This otherwise-no-horse-town is home to the Honey Farm, an absolutely extraordinary shop specialising in that most Tasmanian product. Bee-keeping is alive and well in Tasmania, and the island - with its wide range of plant life and habitats - produces a most bewildering array of honeys. Bush honey, eucalypt honey, this honey, that honey. The shop's owner has also come up with the clever idea of mixing honey with all kinds of natural flavours - there's wild strawberry honey, orange honey, pistachio honey, rose honey, lavender honey, peppermint honey, even chocolate honey
Now, in spring, relatively littls water passes over these beautiful falls.
Now, in spring, relatively littls water passes over these beautiful falls.
! Best of all, not an E-number in sight. Free tastings kept us occupied for a good while, and we came out laden with various pots and a cone of honey ice-cream (how could we resist ?). We had hoped that we might be able to bring some of these fantastic products home with us, but the owner confirmed our suspicions that if there's one thing that won't make it through New Zealand customs (apart from heroin, cocaine and your usual suspects), it's honey. Darn it...
A little further along the road to Cradle Mountain we make a rather circuitous detour along another unsurfaced road to the Devil's Gullet. Here the gravel road winds and climbs for nearly 15 bumpy kilometres to the top of a summit where a small platform, perched on the very edge of a huge dolerite cliff, offers heart-stopping views of the Fisher River Valley and the gnarled peaks of the Great Western Tiers. Not much is left of the Fisher River - although you wouldn't tell at first glance, this area is Tasmania's powerhouse. Diminutive it may be, but Tasmania has no
Garden of Eden
Flowing waters, cool air, green moss.
less than fifty large dams and nearly thirty hydroelectric power stations. The island’s bumpy geography, complete with high-altitude lakes and raging wild rivers, as well as it wet climate, make it a big producer of hydroelectric power - as well as Australia's own little Duracell battery. Since 2005 a 290km-long cable has run beneath the stormy Bass Strait, connecting Victoria's and Tasmania's electricity grids, allowing each state to supplement the other's power supplies.
Our last stop before we reach the National Park are the Liffey Falls, a set of beautiful, wide falls deep in the Tasmania's temperate rainforest. Now, in late spring, there isn't a huge amount of water, which allows us to boulder-hop along the shallow riverbed right up to the bottom of one of the falls. The fast-flowing water has a dramatic cooling effect and moss, damp and green, covers every surface and gives this tranquil place a very Edenic feel.
The entrance to Cradle Mountain National Park lies a little way off the main road, and the busy car park is ample proof of this place's popularity with visitors, both local and otherwise. Hardly surprising, since the park is less than three hours' drive away
from two of Tasmania's largest cities, Devonport and Launceston. This is also the starting point for Tasmania's famous Overland Track, a five-or-so-day walk which crosses the island's wild interior. We settle for the somewhat more manageable but equally popular Dove Lake Circuit, a route that skirts the shore of pretty Lake Dove, another peaceful mountain lake with the imposing backdrop of hulking Cradle Mountain to complete the picture-postcard. As we have come to expect from Tasmanian National Parks, the track is fantastically well-maintained as it takes you around the lake, crossing miniature sandy beaches, clinging to rock faces overhanging the lake shore and winding around the moss-covered boulders that are scattered along the lake edge. Parts of this beautiful track zigzag through a wooded area nicknamed the "Ballroom Forest", straight out of Sleeping Beauty with its gnarled and twisted venerable old trees. Three-quarters of the way around the track, we decide to veer off the main route along a rougher path that leads up the side of a rocky hill. At the top of the hill lies Marions Lookout, which supposedly offers wonderful views of Lake Dove and a couple of smaller lakes on the other side. After nearly half
an hour of huffing and puffing up the somewhat more "lightly cut" - in the words of the park map, a bit of an understatement - track, we lose the path entirely. Occasional orange blazes had helped us up from the main circuit, but now, perched on the rocky incline, no more signs. After a bit of rather hazardous scrambling about over the rocks, we finally give up on the lookout and make our way back down to the main track and the car.
Driving back towards the main road and our pit-stop for the night, we make a stop at a small parking area which serves as the starting point for some of the park's other walking tracks. Here the landscape is utterly different from the lakeshore just a few miles south, with its almost alpine feel. This is a landscape of low hillocks covered in clumps of tussocky grass. Prime territory for spotting yet another of Tasmania's weird and wonderful creatures.
As we walk along the boardwalk which snakes through the grassland n the fading early evening light, we notice the low hills to the side are dotted with dark, indistinct blobs. Wandering between the clumps
Lake Dove and Cradle Mountain
The unique shape of Cradle Mountain forms a striking backdrop to the tranquility of Lake Dove.
of grass, grazing on the tough leaves like miniature furry cows, are almost a dozen wombats. Of all Australia's bizarre marsupials, this is the one I wanted to see most. And I wasn't disappointed - we sat on the boardwalk, enthralled by these adorable, giant, stocky guinea-pigs, with their big black eyes, square noses and their big buck teeth. Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis - what a wonderful synthesis of the Latin and aboriginal Eora languages ! - is a subspecies of the common wombat, found all over southeastern Australia. Unperturbed by our presence, the wombats trundled around the boardwalk munching on great mouthfuls of grass. Occasionally one would take refuge under the raised path, giving us a brief opportunity to stroke its coarse fur. Cute and cuddly they make look, but these things can apparently reach a positively extraordinary 40 kilometres per hour - and as I said the business end of a wombat is armed with some pretty chunky teeth ! Scattered amongst the grass were exuberant quantities of wombat poo, which is quite remarkable for being perfectly and puzzlingly cubic. I did not get close enough to one of the creatures' rear end to obtain an anatomical explanation for
Dove Lake Circuit
One of many small streams which empty into Lake Dove.
this amusing idiosyncrasy...
Watching the wombats kept us occupied for far longer than they should have, and the light was fading by the time we got back into the car to drive to our bed for the night...The road that runs west and then south from the National Park was particularly treacherous in the dying light, hairpin after hairpin. This and the pleasure of getting stuck behind a large and slow-moving truck made for a tiring couple of hours, and it was a relief to pull into the small western town of Zeehan, in the very heart of Tasmania's mining region, for the night...
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