In the 1980s, when much of the world was consumed by a fascination with shoulder pads and Duran Duran, Tasmanians came up with Australia’s first ever Green Party. In 1982, some of its foundation members helped successfully lobby for Tasmania’s wilderness to be World Heritage-listed. The Tasmanian WHA includes four contiguous national parks and covers almost 1.4 million hectares or, incredibly, some 20% of the island.
Twenty six years on from the WHA listing, Tasmanians still take all their wild greenery seriously. There are 17 World Heritage Areas in Australia, but perhaps none influence a state’s psyche as much as it does for Tasmanians. And yet, access to some of the very best parts of the Tasmanian wilderness doesn’t require any great odyssey. Tasmania’s astoundingly diverse wilderness is incredibly accessible. Not surprisingly, there all sorts of ways to take an eco-trip through Tasmania.
The 65km Overland Track is Tasmania’s most acclaimed hiking trail. It is etched from a staggeringly diverse wilderness and weaves through an ancient jigsaw of lakes, craggy dolerite peaks, buttongrass plains, rainforest and waterfalls. In a considerable bonus, some of the wildlife can be as prolific as the mostly unreconstructed surrounds.
The walk begins at the northern edge of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, part of the WHA. The name of the park takes its lead from Cradle Mountain and the first few hours of this alpine adventure tracks up to a plateau right beside it.
Cradle Mountain and nearby Dove Lake are Tasmanian icons – but that’s not all; you only have to boot it along a fraction of the track before entering a gallery of other master-pieces by Mother Nature. Sitting by one of the many tarns glazed with reflections of the surrounding wilderness, walking through relic Gondwanan forests of myrtle and sassafras trees and an encounter with a fretless wombat can rival the icons.
This well-maintained trail is visited by thousands of people every year. Some walkers choose a fully-guided group hike while others trek solo. There are free public huts along the track with basic sleeping platforms. As it’s only about 9km between huts on most days, there are several options for a detour off the main track. There is, for example, a trail to the top of Mount Ossa (1,617m), the highest mountain in Tasmania.
Allowing for a few side trips, the Overland Track (www.overlandtrack.com.au) typically takes 6 days to complete. On your last day on the trail, you can opt to take a ferry to Cynthia Bay, part of Lake St Clair, and the official end of the track. Given that the WHA stretches some 160km to the southern tip of Tasmania, you could keep going and lose yourself for a month or so.
Tasmania isn’t just for explorers. If you don’t feel like going it alone and being self-sufficient, much of Tassie’s wilds can be discovered in a style that would even suit Russian oligarchs. A number of companies operate walking tours that combine mostly unreconstructed wilds and Tasmania’s increasingly lauded fresh produce. Oysters fatter than an unexercised dog, cheeses that are never wrapped in plastic and local wines are often on the gourmet-walk menu.
Guests on the 4-day Freycinet Experience Walk (www.freycinet.com.au) explore the incredible coast around the Freycinet Peninsula. The hiking comes with sustainable comforts, spending 3 nights at The Friendly Beaches Lodge (an award-winner from the Royal Australian Institute of Architecture for its sustainable design), constructed entirely from Tasmanian plantation hardwood and rests lightly within the delicate coastal bushland along Friendly Beaches and is not connected to town’s water or electricity grid.
Maria Island sits off the east coast of the Tasmanian mainland. The entire island is national park, meaning that there is no access for private vehicles. This is good news for not just walkers, but also Forester kangaroos and wombats, which are seen readily during the day. Elsewhere about Darlington and fields clipped like golf green, Cape Barren Geese sit on nests, unperturbed about approaching strangers.
Maria (the ‘i’ is pronounced like the ‘i’ in island) is often referred to as a type of Noah’s Ark. The geese and the kangaroos were sent to the island, a national park since 1972, to breed insurance populations. The island is also a stronghold for other birds, including the forty-spotted pardalote.
The four-day Maria Island Walk is an award-winning, fully-guided walk. Gourmet foods with fresh, local provenance and fine wines feature as much as the unspoilt wilds. This family-owned venture was a finalist in the Best Eco/Wilderness Adventure in 2004/06.
The Walk (www.mariaislandwalk.com.au) provides easy adventure with 2 guides and a maximum of 8 guests, and accommodation is in private beachfront standing camps but the final night is spent in the heritage-listed, colonial-era house (solar panels provide power and are discretely hidden).
RAFTING THE FRANKLIN
The Franklin River has a mythical status in Australia and flows 125km through the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Damming it was once proposed and the fight over retaining its wild state fomented the Green Party. With its emotive and unreconstructed wilds, the river has been a muse for photographers and writers from around the world.
The best time to raft the Franklin is between December and March when the weather is relatively stable, though southwest Tasmania is renowned for its wild weather. But rafting the Franklin comes with another warning: stories of personal epiphanies while rafting the Franklin are not uncommon.
Nicholas Shakespeare, an English author so enamoured of Tasmania that he lives part of the year on the island, wrote of the Franklin River: ‘One of the last wilderness areas on Earth and until you’ve walked earth that other homo sapiens haven’t trodden, you don’t know what you’re missing. I spent six days drifting downstream past ancient Huon pines that were alive when Christ was crucified. There is a rhythm between complete calm where the river is carrying you along – when cliff faces, trees and the sky are reflected in the water – and the rapids, when your life flashes past you. It was an extraordinary experience’.
It doesn’t take that long to get a new perspective on life: typically rafting expeditions last from 8-14 days. A number of companies operate river expeditions.
The 3-hour Tasman Island Cruises tour (www.tasmancruises.com.au) leaves from Pirates Bay, an easy one hour drive southeast of Hobart. It gets you up close to sea caves, Tasman Island and wildlife including seals, albatross, dolphins and sometimes whales. Tasman Island Cruises and sister tour Bruny Island Charters (www.brunycharters.com.au) have helped to establish the Tasmanian Coast Conservation Fund to provide support to the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, which manages Tasmania’s national parks and marine. A proportion of every ticket sold is donated to the fund.