Tasmania Day 11: In to the Wilderness

Our short time as civilised back-packers was over this morning, as I, as usual, annoyed Kevin until he woke up so we could make the most of the day that promised to take us into some of the most pristine land in the world: the Tasman wilderness world heritage area. Driving the long and steep descent back into Hobart I wondered if I came back here to cycle round the island, much like David was doing, whether this hill and the cyclist-unfriendly nature of the highway would stop me making back down to this quaint corner of the state. Through Glenorchy, New Norfolk, and stopping in by some fish farm that really only interested me for the toilets, we hit our first scenic stop in Mt Field National Park.

Oddly enough when we got to what we were looking for all we saw was a sign for ‘National Park’ – seemingly a somewhat vague name for a place in a state, let alone a country, with dozens of national parks and reserves – but it was actually the turn-off for Russell Falls. We figured we had to see these falls as they were plastered over almost all the stamps we’d been sticking to postcards bound for back home, and naturally they looked quite stunning there. Our excitement to be walking along the trail to one of Australia’s iconic sites of natural beauty was all but culled when we got to the fenced off platform, peering through the menacing – at least from a photographer’s point of view – trees at the trickle of water running down the not-so-glamorous rocks. Clearly, at height of the Australian summer, we were a bit late in getting to these falls, although the Horse-shoe falls redeemed things, if only a little bit. Lunch in the quiet park across the road from the information centre, watching people in various forms of inflatable vessels bobbing down the river on what was another perfect day weather-wise, renewed our energy and optimism for carrying on into the World-Heritage-listed wilderness.

On the Gordon River road, I was almost completely in my element – it’s the closest thing to the Scottish Highlands I’ve yet seen, with almost as much drama and grandeur, but I think we missed a trick by blitzing through it quite quickly in the car. I thought there were quite a few walks to the various peaks that loomed over us as we twisted our way through the rugged landscape, but all I ever noticed were small signs at the side of the road, pointing in the general direction of peaks. But hey, maybe that’s why they call it a wilderness, and anyway, the walks would have probably just been long enough to be dismissed by our lazy sides. We hit Ted’s Beach, a little bit before Strathgordon and scoped out how good it would be for sleeping at that night: some space for pitching a tent and a well kitted out building with a sheltered kitchen area including free bbqs made it sound like the spot we were looking for.

Strathgordon was so small and devoid of any life we didn’t see any reason to stop so it wasn’t until we got to what looked like a lookout over a huge gorge that we got out of the car again. Looking out into the tree-covered wilderness, not even being able to see the bottom of the gorge we got distracted for ages shouting and waiting for the chorus of echoes to calm down, such was the size of the gorge and the number of little spurs that gave our voices something extra to bounce off before they returned to us sounding altogether more haunting. When we eventually turned and looked to the north we realised we only had to drive the car another 100m to be at the end of the Gordon River Road, for we were at the Gordon Dam.

Walking around the, now closed, visitor centre to get a view over the biggest dam I’d ever seen, seeing the ground falling away through the gaps in the steel-grate floor, I had to stop for a second to recompose my legs as I took stock of what was close to a 200m drop to bottom of the gorge and dam wall. Any nerves I had were overshadowed by Kevin’s almost palpable fear of the height, so I had fun coaxing him to the edge of the lookout. The dam is open to walk across, so I steamed ahead and did just that. I wouldn’t say it’s nearly as daunting being on the dam, as it’s wide enough to drive a car on and has a high wall on one side, so there isn’t that perspective of walking a tight-rope. Just as we were going we met a guy who’d rode in on a motorbike and, curiously, asked us where the last fuel stop was. We weren’t sure, knowing we had easily enough fuel for the return trip, so he probably had a bit of a nervous run back out of the wilderness after a bit of an overly-casual stroll in by the sounds of things.