Wilderness and Wildlife Tasmania Southwest

Four litres of cask wine saved my life. Cardboard vino has for too long been unjustly maligned for as an elixir it is surprisingly wonderful and, with liberal doses, superbly numbing.

An epic tract of Tasmania’s southwest is a World Heritage wilderness that gambols over 600,000 rollicking hectares. The Southwest National Park is the largest park in Australia’s only island state. The gargantuan Bathurst Harbour, a drowned river valley, is a prized part of it and a troupe of us had come to Tassie’s southwest to sea kayak about secretive coves and unreconstructed islands.

This Luddite’s nirvana is surrounded by broad mountains whose brief, surely, is to keep sybarites at bay. The largest, imposing, granite-jawed Mount Rugby (771 metres) sits in judgement of every one of my supremely novice paddle strokes. My inexperience, however, had nothing to do with my threatening predicament and cheap wine epiphany. The southwest of Tasmania has an annual rainfall of around three metres. Most of it might have fallen on our expedition if nature hadn’t conveniently packaged it as snow and hail.

There are eight of us in four kayaks. Two of the eight are guides, Toby Storey and Tim Devereux. Toby’s girlfriend, Emma, is along to lend a hand. On the first morning after land-based how-to’s we begin the paddle up the Melaleuca Creek to our base camp. Within minutes we disturb a wallaby and her young nibbling on marsupial grass — the locals’ term for the type of grass growing on the thin river banks.

The southwest winds screaming in over the Southern Ocean are known as the Roaring Forties. That night our base camp becomes the whipping boy for storms that may have originated in the great white of Antarctica, the next land mass south of Tassie. The communal dining area has a fine roof but no walls. Even after changing into warm, dry clothes, and a delightfully spicy calamari main course, the night is colder than unrequited love.

Day two, breakfast is piles of warm stewed fruits, pancakes and real coffee (plunger style). The sky, however, is Hitchcock dark. Some of us ponder creeping back to our tents, sleeping off both the stuffing of breakfast and the impending rain. “Cold is good,” says endlessly perky Toby, 25, a general rallying his troops. “The fact that it can seem shitty means no-one else will be around.”

We take lunch on an intimate beach by Farrell Point around 10 kilometres from camp. During lunch the sun makes a teasing appearance. The warmth is welcome but it is somewhat more comforting to know the sun hasn’t completely checked out of the solar system.

That evening after another ripping meal the wine flows long enough for the hail to cease and some of us decide to break our shelter and make for the beach. Out from the trees the brightness of the night sky surprises us. Despite the cold we soak up both the wine and the star-filled sky. And as Rob notes, “with sufficient quantities of wine we also resolved many of the mysteries of the world.” In the absence of hot showers the cold and wine worked a treat on the expedition’s camaraderie.

Clayton’s Corner is named for the crayfisherman who lived in a superbly simple house across the bay from our camp. We paddle to the home on the final morning. The fisherman and his wife have passed to other worlds and though volunteers are restoring the vacant house it is open to visitors.

Mount Beattie rides over the house. A sliver of a track winds its way from the house through forest and buttongrass landscaped with granite. It’s about an hour’s steady climb to the top of Mt Beattie. The views are far more panoramic than I had expected. A great sweep of the southwest, all the way to Port Davey and the Southern Ocean. For all that we can see man has made little impression on this wild.

We stand and admire our temporary domain. Then we hear a noise. It’s a small plane. We watch it buzz to a landing strip shorn from the surrounding plain. The plane lands at Melaleuca. The place isn’t big enough to be classed as a two-horse town. There are no shops and the few buildings are barely visible, even from the landing strip. Melaleuca’s total population is two.

We are soon to return to Melaleuca, due to fly out on the plane we have watched land. Nobody offers excitement at the prospect. Atop Mt Beattie a hangover subtly lingers but on the bald and exposed summit I surprise myself by feeling altogether fortunate. The experience of Tasmania’s southwest wouldn’t be the same if the weather God took it upon himself to be convivial. Indeed, inclemency proves a wonderful conduit for adventure — rather than dramatic and life threatening. Still, as far as epiphanies go, I thought the one about finding redeeming qualities of wine in a box might be hard to beat. But this southwest wilderness is even far more extraordinary.

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Article: Greg Clarke and Tourism Tasmania

 

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