Brief Visit to Tasmania

by Lynn and John Salmon

January 30 - February 9, 1995

Summertime is the best season to visit Tasmania, and when Ansett had a tremendously low air fare at this time of year we couldn't resist taking a quick fly-drive vacation. Tasmania is not very large by Australian standards, so we were able to rent a car and make a loop around the state.

We arrived in Launceston and found a lovely room at the Ashton Gate Guesthouse where we made our base for two nights while taking day trips. Launceston is a very pleasant town with a feel somewhat like San Francisco only much much smaller. We found a great restaurant called Fee and Me where we sampled wallaby and venison. We also visited something called the Mole Fantasy then took a walk around the Cataract Gorge. A sign on an electric tower near the trail declared "Danger - Near approach will cause instant death."

Marakoopa Cave is located in the northern part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area that covers approximately 20% of Tasmania. We arrived just in time for a ranger-led tour of the cave. The cave is lit throughout the visitor section. Near the end of the tour we stop and turn out all of the lights to experience the glow worms. This is a "wet" cave. There are two distinct rivers flowing through it and lots of cool formations in the shape of straws, curtains, rashers of bacon, lily pads, etc. After Lunch in Mole Creek we visit nearby King Solomons Cave, a "dry" cave. This does not mean it is dry, just that no river runs through it.

After leaving Launceston we drove west to Cradle Mountain National Park (also part of the world heritage area). Although we didn't arrive until 3pm we decided to set out on a walk since the weather was beautiful (supposedly a 1 day in 10 occurrence).

The Overland Track is one of Australia's best known long distance walking tracks. It connects the two eponymous features in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. It is a spectacular 80 km walk which traverses rainforest, button grass plains, and Tasmania's high country. About 4,500 people walk the entire track each year, with many hundreds of others using sections of it as part of other bushwalks. The Overland Track is supported by a series of primitive huts, and most people average 6 days to walk the entire track.

The Overland Track is a bit too ambitious for our limited time, but we decide to take a one day overnight walk to Lake Rodway, a side trip from the Overland Track proper. The walk rises slowly above Lake Dove for a couple of km and then abruptly up the face of Hanson's Peak. The final ascent is assisted by a chain affixed to the rock. It would be a very difficult climb with packs without the chain. It took a little over 3 hours to get to our destination of the Lake Rodway Hut, a basic A-frame structure. There were tables and benches downstairs and room for 20 or more to sleep on the floor upstairs. We were the last arrivals of the evening and joined ~12 people at the hut. A German couple; a retired fighter pilot; a Canadian woman + English woman companion; a Canberran couple; two guys doing some climbing and a another couple. It was a noisy night, sleeping bags rustle no matter how quiet one tries to be.

Groundhog Day

If he see's his shadow will there be six more weeks of summer in Australia?

After an early rise we decided to walk on for an additional day since we have plenty of food. We walked to Waterfall Valley Hut which took us about 3.5 hours with stops along the way. The walk involves a steep 200m ascent through fairly dense forest to a saddle between the Cradle Mountain complex and Barn Bluff. Coming out over the saddle reveals spectacular views of Barn Bluff and numerous peaks to the south and east. This is followed by an easy walk along the saddle and a descent to Waterfall Valley. It sprinkled now and again for the first hour or so. Not enough to really get wet, just enough to drag the raincoat on and off a dozen times.

All snakes in Tasmania are venomous but sightings are supposed to be rare according to one ranger we spoke with. There are 3 kinds: whipsnake, copperhead, and tiger snake. We saw a white lipped whipsnake on today's walk.

There are actually two huts at Waterfall Valley, an old one with ~8 bunks which is now full of people and the newer one we are in with room for ~20 which has just us and two others, an Englishman named Dave who now lives in Hobart, and a talkative young guy from Forbes named Brad. There are also a bunch of people setting up tents on the lawn. One of the guys from tent city came in and we played cards for a while. He is originally from Pasadena. He couldn't remember the name of the street he grew up on (something Spanish).

After our second night we turned back and left via the Overland Track. It took 5 hours to walk out. On the way we encountered a wedding party heading up to Cradle Mountain for the ceremony. We also met Brad on the way out. His knee was acting up and he gave up the walk in favor of the rest of his vacation. We gave Brad a ride to Strahan (pronounced Strawn) and left him at the youth hostel. We decided to stay at the "twee" cottages run by the Hamner Hotel. Nice location on the water front on the Western side of Tasmania.

We had a relaxing day with a boat crusie down the Gordon River. The trip starts in MacQuarrie harbor and briefly passes through Hell's Gate. Hell's Gate is about a 90m wide entrance to a 100 sq mile harbor. It faces the Southern Ocean and the next stop heading west is Argentina, 8000 miles away. They get some serious weather down here, and the cray fisherman working these waters have some hair raising passages through the gate. We go back into the harbor and head up the Gordon River. It's a beautiful day for a slow river cruise and the boat is required to keep a slow speed so it's wake does not disturb the surrounding World Heritage Area.

The Gordon is a dark brown. This is apparently due to tannin from rotting vegetation. It looks like tea, but it doesn't taste like it. Frenchman's Cap is clearly visible about 40km away. We are in rainforest and the dominant trees are Myrtle, Sassafras, Leatherwood and Huon Pine. The latter is "world famous", at least in Tasmania. The Huon pine (Lagarostrobus franklinii) is the second longest lived organism in the world after the Californian bristlecone pine, reaching ages in excess of 3000 years.

After an hour or two of winding up the river we reach Heritage Landing. (Australia in general and Tasmania in particular have taken to the World Heritage Designation as a major advertising tool.) We also Visited Sarah Island and were given a tour by Richard Davey who is putting on a play there this evening. Sarah Island was a penal settlement from 1822-1833. Shipbuilding was a major industry on Sarah Island, and it was one of the largest shipbuilding yards in the southern hemisphere. Some convicts commandeered a ship, escaped and sailed to South America.

At dusk we watched the shearwaters return to a large nesting ground north of the town. It was like being dive-bombed by hundreds of small aircraft.

The next day we leave Strahan and head back east via a more southerly road than the one we came west on. We made a quick stop at the walk to Frenchman's Cap. About 400m from the start there is a "flying fox" that can be used to cross the Gordon River. It has been updated with a small swaying bridge that most people now use, but the flying fox is still available. We walked across on the bridge, turned around and came back in the flying fox which was heaps of fun. We were only out for about 45 min on the entire walk but in the pouring rain we become soaked. I also had my first encounter with a leech which attached itself to my chin. I didn't actually see it as John picked it off and smashed it quickly.

We drove on to Cynthia Bay, located at the south end of the Overland Track. Our original plan was to take a 2-3 day walk up from the other end, but we cancelled that plan due to inclement weather and headed east. We drove as far as Bicheno and stayed in a dumpy hotel.

We managed to outrun the weather and found beautiful fair skies on the east coast and took advantage by taking a major walk around Freycinet. Day one was fairly easy and we camped at Wineglass Bay. Day two included a killer ascent of Mt Graham and 8-9 hours of walking till we camped at Cooks beach. We came out exhausted on day 3 and drove to Swansea for the evening. We sighted our second type of Tassie snake, this one was a tiger snake.

Our last dinner in Tasmania was at Kabuki by the Sea. There are elves and faries there. It was a good meal and the host was great. He really liked John's hair. It reminded him of his friend Lionel's hair. (Lionel is a steward based in San Francisco).

THE END

Lynn Garry Salmon <>{