“Tasmania??? I wonder…”, said I. We were exploring possible destinations for a winter vacation and Tasmania had just popped up as a serious option, checking off all criteria – not too cold at that time of the year, not visited so far, and one with a lot of natural beauty. I was surprised at how little I knew about it despite being a frequent visitor to Australia. Little did I know that what I was wondering about would finally leave me wonderstruck ….
While very much a part of Australia, Tasmania is a separate island, cut off from the mainland and hence also often from consideration of travellers, who look at the map of Australia without looking twice at this little island to its south-east. On the world map, it is one of the most south-easterly pieces of land (New Zealand and a few other islands the only ones farther out). About 70,000 sq km in area, it is a rather large island, occupied by just over half a million people; most of the rest is wilderness, of which, a large part is protected as conservation areas like national parks. This wilderness, relatively untouched by and deliberately protected from the ravages of human modernisation, is the biggest draw of Tasmania.
As we read up about Tassie (the short Aussie name for Tasmania), we were surprised at the variety of topography it offers, nurturing a diversity of vegetation quite unique for this size of area. Tassie has grasslands, evergreen forests, temperate rainforests and moorlands, many easily accessible, thanks to the various national parks. As we got more information, our reaction to Tassie changed gradually from doubtful ignorance to excited expectation of what promised and eventually turned out to be a great trip. As I think back upon why it was such a wonderful trip, a few unique things about Tassie easily bubble up.
Tassie is a walker/hiker/trekker’s delight. Spoiled for trekking options to choose from, we ended up taking many many walks every day –short and long ones, easy and not-so-easy ones, on mountains, through grasslands, in forests, around lakes, enjoying the company of no one but each other and nature. I never thought so much walking would be so enjoyable but it turned out to be so in Tassie. One reason for this is nice walking paths – these are not just clearings in the forests; they are properly maintained walkways, made of wooden planks, that are secure, lasting and in good shape. In some places, these may even be at a raised level, ensuring not just clear demarcation, but also protecting unnecessary destruction of wilderness by trekkers. Also, walking in Tassie is hassle-free – no wild animals or insects/flies to worry about. When the fiercest animals you encounter are echidnas, wombats and wallabies, you look forward to seeing them! All this makes for truly enjoyable walks where you are taking in the experience without worrying about anything. Some of our most memorable long walks were around Dove Lake on Cradle Mountain and those in the beautiful wilderness in Lake St Clair’s National Park.
One feature of Tassie walks we found unique was the sight of fallen trees. One might wonder what’s so interesting about fallen trees. In most places around the world which allow trekking, one doesn’t see too many fallen trees because they are obviously removed from trails so as not to impede. When you do encounter them (because you reach there before they have been cleared), they look menacing because they block your way; sometimes that may mean sadly aborting your walk or at other times, painfully finding a way around. Well, not so in Tassie. Here, we encountered many fallen trees, but never once did they look like an impediment or menace. They lay across our path, majestic even in their supine stature, but still friendly and welcoming, because they allowed us to walk right through them! How? Simple – the small part of the now-horizontal trunk that would otherwise have blocked the way, had been neatly sawn out, making for an unhindered trail while still allowing the tree to lie in its final resting place!
This is one of the most amazing part of the Tassie philosophy of conservation – let Mother Nature be, naturally beautiful, going about herself as she was ordained to, while we watch and enjoy her majestic beauty without disturbing her life and routine. Trees are meant to fall and lie and wither away, so they are let be that way; they are not removed; instead, paths are cut through them. There they lie, giving themselves up to Mother Nature slowly and naturally, like they are supposed to, like they would have done thousands of years ago, before man entered their domains. It was fascinating to see how, while these fallen giants were hollowing out and dying, they still provided a fertile root-bed and haven for new life in the form of little plants, flowers and whole ecosystems to take birth and flourish in their withering protection – death and life in one place together, epitomising the continuous, endless, fathomless power and beauty of nature! It was great to see this phenomenon live, thanks to the Tassie conservation philosopphy. Whether it’s these parks or water bodies or the huge granite mountains on the island, they have all been maintained and protected with a puristic, non-commercial and nature-first approach, which is almost too altruistic to be true in a materialistic world, but on full glorious display in Tassie. Such a refreshing role model of conservation, fostering a fruitful friendship between man and nature! Clearly, where there is a will to conserve, one can always neatly hew a way through any tough-looking obstacle!
Just like the walks, the road drives were truly memorable. Our long drives around the island – from Hobart to Freycinet, on to Lake St Clair, then to Cradle Mountain and thence to Hobart (about three to five hours each) never felt long. All drives also took us through a rich diversity of landscape. From small bushes and/or ferns on one side of a mountain overlooking a valley full of grass and shrubs, you might drive into dense forests on the other side, flanking a lovely water body down below. Or you may be driving through flat barren land, and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by tall eucalyptus forests on both sides. And then, every few scores of miles on a drive, there is something to explore – a beach, a walking trail, a lovely landscape. The road would show a sign about this place in the vicinity, with a good map of the area and a neat safe place to park the car. We would stop, park, grab our cameras and water bottles, sometimes also walking sticks, and amble around for a bit, exploring the area. We did this in all the drives we took, discovering lovely bays, beaches, coves, cascades, lookouts and lighthouses – Nelson Falls, Honeymoon Bay, Sleepy Bay, Cape Tourville, Devil’s Lookout are just a few of these lovely places that we delightfully detoured into in this manner, explored and then drove on.
A couple of places, both around Coles Bay, that will always stay in my memory of Tassie – one is Wineglass Bay. With a perfect wineglass shape, this bay makes a beautiful scene from its lookout point on top of a granite mountain, quite rewarding after the reasonable climb up. The other place is Honeymoon Bay, a small bay with little coves around it. The shades of blue we saw there – in the water and in the clear sky were out of this world! The other thing I remember from there is the huge colonies of mussels. What appeared from a distance like giant blackish carpets of some kind of moss were actually innumerable little shells of mussels growing on the wild rocks. No wonder it is one of the favourite sea food dishes served along the entire bayline. It was our first time seeing these colonies of mussels and will therefore always stick in our memory.
An account of the trip to Tassie would be incomplete without a mention of Hobart – the capital and biggest city on the island, nestled cozily between Mount Wellington on one side and the ocean on the other. While Tassie has other smaller cities, a trip to Hobart is must – if not for visiting places, at least as a landing point into the island. And there is enough here to keep one busy – a meal at Salamanca Place, art and architecture at MONA (Museum of Old & New Art), a dip into Antarctic expedition history at the museum, and a drive to Mt Wellington for the amazing cloud-veiled views of the city as well as pretty walking trails. The icing on the cake is the variety of delicious food options available. A melting pot (literally and figuratively) of different cuisines, Hobart is a dream for foodies.
Another aspect we loved about the wilderness experience in Tassie was the lovely lodges we stayed in, offering cabins / chalets right in the middle of the National Parks, all built in a nature-friendly way, allowing for an authentic experience of nature. When you can open your window on to forests, when you can sit in the small balcony of your room gazing into a mottled pattern of light and shade formed by sunlight trying to makes it way through vegetation, when you can sip your cuppa listening to the sounds of forest creatures with a rumbling brook flowing by, when you can light a real log fire in your cabin to protect from the chill outside, it adds an element of charm to the experience, that’s unmatchable.
So, that was our Tasmania trip. Before this trip, I knew nothing about Tassie. Now, Tassie, to me, stands for pristine wilderness, a place where one can see how the earth might have been and looked thousands of years ago; it’s a chance to touch, feel, explore this pristineness in a friendly, non-intrusive way. To me, Tassie will always be synonymous with beautiful walks and drives enhanced by visual effects of lovely landscapes and audio accompaniment of great music or intent conversations, looking forward expectantly to the new experience the next turn is about to reveal, ever-ready to explore new, different things along the way even if they meant detours off the beaten path! It sounds so metaphorically idyllic, it’s going to stay with me forever as an inspiration – Tassie, the little wonder, down under!