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Published: February 4th 2014
One of the great pleasures of being a schoolteacher in Tasmania is getting a nice long summer holiday over much of December and January, perfect for getting outdoors and exploring the immense natural wealth of this little jewel of an island. No less than 45%!o(MISSING)f the state lies protected within National Parks and reserves - an absolutely vast amount. Much of the southwestern portion of the state, accounting for nearly a fifth of the island's area, remains almost completely untouched by Man and forms the UNESCO-listed Tasmanian Wilderness Heritage Area
. From wild, deserted coastline to the world's largest tracts of untouched temperature rainforest, the range of landscapes and ecosystems is exceptional.
One of the parks making up this vast emptiness is the intuitively-named Southwest National Park. Its highest peak, Mount Anne, is well known among Tassie bushwalkers as much for its formidable nature and beautiful appearance as its frequently foul weather and notoriously changeable (even by insane Tasmanian standards) conditions. The Mount Anne Circuit is a three-to-five day loop which takes in some of the area's most rugged terrain, including of course the peak itself: while relatively well marked for most of its length, the circuit is not known
as one of Tasmania's easier walks. And so, a week or so before Christmas, I set off with a new-found friend and 17kg of gear for my first taste of true
Wilderness it may be, but you don't have to go very far to get to it - the trailhead is a mere 140km from the centre of Hobart, barely two hours' drive from our house. The change from 'city' to 'empty' happens very quickly round here: the last settlement of any size, New Norfolk (population 5,000...), is less than 40km away from Hobart CBD. The final few dozen kilometres of the drive are along a long and lonely gravel road past Lake Pedder - Australia's largest freshwater lake. The only reason such a well-maintained road exists in the middle of nowhere is that it is a 'hydro road', built to service several hydroelectric power stations around the lake. Indeed, two-thirds of Tasmania's electricity is provided by hydropower, with most of the dams concentrated in the island's mountainous, green and wet heart.
The track doesn't actually form a full loop, so to avoid ending the walk with a 10km trudge along said gravel road - quite
probably, knowing my luck, under the rain - we manage to arrange a car shuffle thanks to a colleague of my walking buddy's who just happens, strangely enough, to be on an assignment in the area. It takes only ten minutes to return to the starting point from where we leave the car at the other end of the track...hard to believe it's going to take five days of walking to get to it again!
And what days! There are descriptions of the Mount Anne Circuit all over the place, so I won't bother going into detail here. Suffice to say that the Circuit was easily one of the most physically challenging walks I've done in a little while. Steep climbs, razor-sharp ridges with plunging drops on either side, exposed scrambling over rough boulder-fields, hauling our packs up vertical rock walls with rope, seemingly interminable descents along quartz stream beds through thick, rain-drenched forest, waist-deep mud, this walk certainly had it all...and in spades. The landscape was raw, wild, and very very
beautiful - in the words of a fellow hiker we passed along the way: 'the views never get old here'
. The soaring, vertiginous and vertical dolerite columns
of Mount Anne...The astonishing, stegosaurus-like spine of Lightning Ridge...Sparkling tarns surrounded by pencil pines in a scene bearing a striking resemblance to a Japanese temple garden...Endless buttongrass plains bordered by rushing streams...Forests of prehistoric-looking pandani...
Even by the high standards I've already come to expect from Tasmania, the Mount Anne Circuit was nothing short of exceptional. Definitely
one to remember.
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