We’ve developed a set of wildlife hand signals while hiking, very important, we’re basically SAS out here in the Tasmanian bush. Given we are clocking two near misses a week with snakes the fear is real. When Rouge One Chief Commander Adam (I’ve honestly told him I won’t call him that anymore, but he does insist), is in the lead or I’m in the lead (because it’s a big hill and I want to set the slower pace), we are on wildlife watch. Just like the SAS soldiers it’s a fist in the air for stop fast, then the leader must mimic the discovered animal as such:
- Wombat – butt wobble
- Bird – flapping hands
- Snake – slithering hands while tight sphincter
- Echidna – spikey hands and weird backwards walk
- Paddymelon – tiny hands that are incapable of touching face (like a T-Rex)
You get the picture…It works 100% of the time 30% of the time.
It’s been super helpful in Mount Field National Park, a spot we’d only booked a short stay at which we extended because holy moly it’s good. I think the Tasmanian’s have done their marketing well keeping a small number of tourists on the big-ticket items and don’t talk about the other ones, the ones you don’t know about unless you know, you know? To quote Peter Timms, “While Australia has now lost whatever mystery it once held for foreigners, ‘Tasmania’, which does not conform to the sun, surf and sand image, retains its exoticism. In a world becoming progressively more uniform, that is something worth exploiting. Today the tables have been turned completely, neither abhorrent nor the butt of jokes, Tasmania has been reinvented as a peaceful, urban refuge from world gone mad; a place to escape to rather than a place to escape from.”
Mount Field and South West National Park and the surrounding area in the mid-south is no exception. On our way to Strathgordon, the furthest southwest you can go, we took a left turn down a dirt road and drove about 30km to Scott’s Peak, for no reason except you never know what’s down the end of a dirt road. We arrived at what felt like the equivalent of the Swiss Alps, the Canadian Rockies, the Remarkables or the Andes, bathed in sunlight, surrounded by glistening navy blue water and not a soul to be seen (again, le sigh). The photos are amazing, but don’t do the grandness of the mountains, the vastness of the distance and pure silence we enjoyed justice. We swam, it was cold. Had lunch by the water, sitting quietly shaking our heads at this sneaky bit of Tassie they’ve kept to themselves. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone else.
We’ve been well equipped for our hikes with poles, good shoes, jackets and most importantly snacks. My mum was kind enough to make us some Anzac biscuits when we left, which have been life savers as your body is starting to fade on the last mountain climb. We reached the last biscuit as we arrived at our Airbnb in Ellendale, it was devastating. Being the creative videographer he is Adam decided we would film a short video about how great they’ve been. He went out the front of the farm cottage and told me to hold the camera as he hid behind a bush and came out breathing heavily, grasping his imaginary AK47, stumbling from a bloody war among the jungle with some hidden but brutal enemy. He slowly, through haggard breath, body broken, mind a mess reached for the last Anzac biscuit in his pocket in the hope it would sustain his final moments…only to look up, see our lovely Airbnb host Nigel, on his own verandah enjoying/spitting out his morning cup of tea with a terrified look on his face asking, “are you alright mate??”, and probably thinking, “bloody bozo from the city trying to do an insurance job on me”. The rest of the video is facing downwards as I cried laughing, also unable to breathe, fighting my own war not to pee my pants. Nigel, a quiet shy farmer will be dining out on the ‘bozo from the city’ for some time.
Our next day was hike day (sans Anzac biscuit). The 17.5km Tarn Shelf Hike; we started early and found ourselves at Platypus Tarn completely alone again (we didn’t see another person for six hours), as the mist was rolling over the tranquil still water as the suns reflection warmed the surface to create crystal like waterdrops which danced around like mystical creatures. Sentinel trees lined the bankside, some grey with age and weathering, some green with youth and vigour, but utterly still in the collective morning wakening breath.
A tarn is a mountain lake or pool, formed in a valley excavated by a glacier, and all seven along the Tarn Shelf of Mount Field are different in colour and clarity. We walked for seven hours through dense bushland listening and watching black cockatoos call to each other while devouring banksia flowers, though alpine bush so quintessentially Australian in its flora and fauna and so perfect in their placement you’d be forgiven for mistaking them for a curated botanical gardens, over mountains and hills overlooking the forests, farmland and wilderness beyond. At the last tarn we jumped in our swimmers and dived into the bright teal and freezing waters, every tired muscle and bone relaxing into the cold depths.
Finally, we finished our time at Mount Field on a walk which when we asked for a ‘secret key for a special gate’ at the Ranger Station came with a surprised and suspicious look of “how do you know about that?”. It was the walk to the incredibly named Growling Swallet, named after the growling sound the water makes as it enters the limestone rock formations plunging underground into the Junee-Florentine karst, one of the deepest cave systems in Tasmania. The Junee–Florentine karst covers an area of about 18,500 ha and contains more than 500 documented cave entrances. We drove along a thinning dirt track, surrounded by rainforest for 20km, then walked another 3km into the soul of the forest, along a fallen tree which we paced out at 52m, past bright fungi and towards the mouth of the cave system, where cold clear water rushed past us into the black gaping chasm in the hillside. It was ominous, so we sat back with a Tassie cider and watched the water flow, the fungi grow and listened to the birds bring on dusk.