Tasmania Day 12: Lake St Clair & More Western Wilderness

Now that I’m writing about Tasmania 4 months after it happened, and I’ve left what notes I wrote about it back in Bright, some of these days’ posts might be a bit vague. It’s funny how much I can forget about what I’ve done on my travels, so quickly after the event – thankfully looking back over my photos helps fill in some of the gaps and dig some almost-forgotten events back up into consciousness.

Waking up to a beautiful morning at the idyllic and dead-silent Ted’s Beach, I wished it was warm enough to risk a dip in the dark tanin-tainted waters of Lake Peddy, since we were back to living without showers again. If it took us little time to get in to the wilderness, it took us even less time to get out again, breaking north across the Derwent River, stopping momentarily at the quaint Ellendale, dominated by a bright white-wash church overlooking a well-manicured graveyard. After another meal featuring the ever-popular indomie noodles and a side of nachos we stopped at Tarraleah – another part of Tasmania dominated by hydro-electric schemes – to witness the rows of pipeline quietly channelling the potential energy stored in nearby lakes to the generating stations tucked into the bottom of the valley.

Next stop was the end of one of the greatest walking tracks in Tasmania – the 80km Overland Track – at Lake St Clair. We walked a little bit of track as part of a much smaller circuit that took us round part of the south-west edge of the lake. On the return leg we branched off along an Aboriginal Culture walk, seeing some beautiful grass-land but not really feeling the information signs that were dotted around. Maybe that’s a testament to the lack of knowledge we have on Tasmanian Aboriginals due to wiping most of them out while trying to colonise the island.

Continuing west on the Queenstown road, we stopped at the Donaghy’s Hill carpark and did the 15 minute walk up the hill, being rewarded by a 360 degree panorama encompassing peaks from the south of Cradle Mountain National Park to the north of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, made only better by the late afternoon light. As that recommendation of the ranger at Lake St Clair had held true, we checked out Nelson Falls, further along the road, to find them flowing much better than Russel Falls yesterday. Not being totally fenced off by the board-walk, I got right up to the falls and was way happier with the shots I got.

With the sun down and the light fading it was time to scope out our sleeping spot, and with a few camping areas dotted round the nearby Lake Burbury we thought it should be quite easy. The first sight, tucked into a corner east of the lake near the bridge just north of the road, charged a fee but had loads of flat grass as well as showers, not that we were tempted by either. Next we tried a site near a boat-ramp on the west side of the lake, south of the main road, but all pitch-able spots were taken. That left us with a site marked just north of the road so we hunted it down, first driving past the access road as there was no sign. There didn’t seem to be a proper camp area as such, but we passed a number of mobile-homes dotted tucked into every slightly wider part of the road, which didn’t fill us with hope. Where the road ended, and met the bank of the lake, it widened into a rough sloping area that was just about adequate for us so we settled there.

By now it was pretty dark so we left the car lights on while we pitched the tent, then realising, as we tried to start the car afterwards, that we’d killed the battery. I had a fairly good idea how to do a rolling start so we decided not to worry about the small matter of being stuck in semi-remote west-Tasmania with a dead car until the morning. The night sky was brilliant and the landscape quite visible in the short summer darkness, letting me try some of those night shots that almost look like day-light, finishing up with a long exposure that I didn’t wait to see the result of before going to sleep. So, in the morning, I’d find out if my night photography skills were up to much as well as, crucially, those that I had in the art of starting dead cars.

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.