While a well-equipped 4WD and camper can get you to many of this country’s hidden treasures, now and again it’s worthwhile venturing out on tracks that support hiking boots rather than all-terrain tyres. And if there’s one place in Australia this principle holds true more than any other, it would have to be Tasmania.
It’s hard to appreciate just how much of Tasmania is inaccessible by road until you begin to plan a road trip. While the State’s 68,000sqkm of geography is only serviced by around 3700km of state-owned roadway, it doesn’t take long to see that most of this infrastructure services north and eastern Tasmania. Over in the rugged west, your options to drive the beautiful, rugged landscape are still remarkably limited, and deliberately so.
Tasmania has been ground zero for some of Australia’s most vigorous efforts to conserve biodiversity. These efforts manifest in nearly 3.4 million hectares of reserves covering over 50 per cent of the state’s total area and community opposition to infrastructure and economic development in these reserves runs deep. So, with massive chunks of the state in accessible to vehicles, particularly in the north-west Tarkine and Cradle Mountain regions, as well as in the south-west wilderness area, Tassie is a place that reveals its true beauty to those willing to get off their butts and lace up their boots.
My first experience of bushwalking in Tassie left a lasting impression. I completed the 65km, six-day trek through the heart of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park 12 years ago, a matter of months after finishing a confronting treatment program to counter an aggressive cancer that threatened to leave me pushing up daisies before my fourtieth birthday. Needless to say, the bushwalk was memorable for a number of reasons.
So when the opportunity came up to take our 10-year-old daughter to Tasmania for the first time, we were keen to give her the opportunity to unlock the State’s secrets on foot. Here was a place to open a new chapter in the family album and to give her a sense of accomplishment to rival any that I could claim for myself. The plan? We’d walk the grade three, 15.5km track from Cockle Creek to Tassie’s southern-most tip at South Bay Cape. A relatively easy stretch for my husband and I, but a considerable enough undertaking for a young child to generate a solid sense of pride.
While leaving the camper at the Cockle Creek Campground and setting forth for a bushwalk sounds simple enough, the logistics of doing so can prove more complex than expected. The difference between packing a camper and packing a backpack couldn’t be starker. On the one hand, our campers offer the prospect of creature comforts like doonas, fridges, cooking utensils, clean clothes and myriad other conveniences that can make life on the road feel like life in a small well-appointed apartment. If things don’t go according to plan, there’s a safe, warm and cosy shell within which to wait out the storm or for roadside assistance.
But all this changes when we choose to leave our rigs behind and pack our homes on our backs. Now everything needs to be light and little, multi-purpose, weather resistant and contained within a well-fitted backpack. I don’t reckon I’d be over-stretching to assume most of our campers don’t bristle with kit fitting this description. So planning a bushwalk in Tas is something that needs to be done before you hop on the Spirit of Tasmania. It’s not something that you should be doing on the fly.
In our case, the planning and preparation was well worthwhile. The Backpack Beds we strapped to the roof-racks before leaving home provided both the shelter and storage we needed to provision our overnight trek. The ration packs and flameless heater bags, which looked out of place in our camper’s pantry, tucked neatly into our packs and provided warmth, sustenance and novelty that put a massive smile on our daughter’s face as the sun went down. As for the emergency gear we carried — our Personal Locating Beacons and walkie talkies — well, they travel with us everywhere.
But there’s nothing like setting out with your kid on her first overnight hike into the wilderness to reinforce their importance.
So, was all this ‘back-to-basics’ stuff worth it? Hell yes.
Where else on earth can you walk through native heathlands with the faint prospect of seeing a Tasmanian Tiger that’s somehow evaded human detection? When else do you stand alone and gaze across the ocean knowing that the next site of human habitation is over 4,500km away in Antarctica? How else do you get the heightened sense of connection with nature that comes when the only thing between you and a windstorm is a dense overhanging shrub and the body heat of your own family? And how much better could it get than seeing your kid stop along a wilderness track to check for fairy houses among stands of ancient forests while she notes the difference in the scat of a quoll and a pademelon?