Discovering one of the most rare and valuable wildernesses an hour south of home…
I’m ashamed to admit that Tasmania is largely dismissed by Australians. The only time we might mention this triangular island of the south is when we’re looking for a discreet way to describe pubic hair. “A map of Tassie,” may sound harmless to a non-Australian, but to us it creates a descriptive visual with the dual function of sucker-punching the guts of this little sister island that hangs below the mainland.
We Melburnians have a lot of pent up rage from not being Sydney and unfortunately Tasmania bears the brunt of our inferiority complex. I myself know the feeling: I’m the fifth child out of six and was therefore bullied all the way down the line until my younger sister was born. Poking fun at your siblings is a right of passage after all.
Okay, so I admit I’ve enjoyed a giggle or two at Tasmania’s expense, but the adventurer in me felt it was time to get to know this part of our country in depth. I set off to find out what this remote outpost is all about.
A small REX prop plane dropped me off in Burnie in the north-west corner of the state. Forget about congested freeways—the road out of town was but a narrow country road devoid of traffic, which eventually turned into compacted dirt as fine and white as baby powder. I was travelling rapidly from remote to remoter. I had no idea what I would find around the bends.
Table Cape Lighthouse, Wynyard
I had to be careful about fuelling up when I could—the towns were stretched far apart. Also, I was hungry and hadn’t seen a café since Burnie. It appeared my options were going to be a roadkill wombat or the upholstery of my rental car (what is the excess for a gnawed headrest?) until I finally arrived at a shack containing a petrol pump and a basic store, where I bought a meat pie and a bag of chips from a friendly old lady in a floral housedress.
Evidently I’d stepped into a time-machine and pressed the ‘Australia Circa 1969’ button. It looked like Hollywood’s laughable interpretation of Down Under.
But I was having so much fun. I was exploring a place as tucked-away and unpretentious as the isles of the South Pacific. Back on the road, I passed increasingly dense clusters of ancient huon pines and sassafras and hundred-year-old ferns giving shade to the undergrowth with their wide umbrellas.
I was a real adventurer on a real expedition, exactly like Bear Grylls if Bear were to set off exploring in a air-conditioned Hyundai hatchback while multitasking the eating of a meat pie with singing a bad rendition of Lorde’s Royals at the top of his lungs.
I’d found the upside of being the bullied younger sibling. Overlooked beauty of epic proportions. Uninhabited wilderness. A forgotten destination, all to myself.
The road to Corinna in the Tarkine Region
I arrived at an eco retreat in the Tarkine region—one of the largest cool temperate rainforests on earth and the biggest in Australia. On a riverboat cruise I met Dale, a boat captain who had an endearing passion for trees. “That is a male huon pine,” he’d say, eyes glazed over with affection. “There’s a beautiful female up the river, I’ll take you there.”
For two hours we cruised along the mirrored river, which snaked through uninhabited greenery. Dale told me all about the forests of Tasmania: its global importance, the logging history and how these forests, dense with ancient trees, make all the wart-faced logging moguls pat their pockets and twiddle their fat fingers with delight.
Dale’s enthusiasm for woody perennials was infectious, and from then on I found myself standing before all trees with the hooded eyes of a lover. Thanks to Dale, I had a newfound possessiveness for keeping these wildernesses intact. You touch this rainforest I kill you!
Tasmania was getting under my skin.
Tasmania’s ancient forests are constantly under risk. It’s easy to feel indifferent to news reports of plans to fell thousands of hectares when your concept of the wilderness is nothing more than a green spot on a map, but when you walk among the towering giants that make up these forests and brush past their mossy beards, you will feel differently. You will know why cutting them down is nothing short of violent abuse to one of the most important destinations on earth.
“It is akin to mining the great pyramids of Egypt for road gravel,” said Greens minister Nick McKim.
Well put, Mr. McKim, but it’s also much worse than that. This is a world heritage site of extremely rare value.
A site is deemed worthy of a World Heritage ranking when it becomes listed by UNESCO as having outstanding universal importance for either cultural or natural reasons, or a combination of both. If a site meets one or more of ten possible criteria, it can become world heritage listed. The Pyrénées meets five criteria, the Great Barrier reef meets four, Yellowstone National Park meets four, Angor Wat meets four, the Serengeti meets two.
There are only two places in the world that meet as many as seven of the ten criteria. Mount Tai in China and the Tasmanian Wilderness.
The Tasmanian Wilderness, people.
This is not travel writer hyperbole: this is literally one of the most precious places on earth.
The only reason you might not know that is because the island is tucked away in the pubic regions of this already-remote country. It’s faraway, forgotten and dismissed, which works to its advantage, yes, but also to its detriment. Who will really understand what is being destroyed? Who will fight for it?
If there is only one reason that you should add Tasmania to your bucket list now, it’s to meet the gentle giants of the forest, to be among the heartbeat of a rare and precious wilderness, and to understand first-hand why it’s your job and mine to protect this island from harm.
My trip was sponsored by Tasmania Tourism and Go Behind the Scenery but all opinions, references to pubic hair and mentions of greedy, fat fingered logging moguls are entirely my own. A big thanks to Dale for obvious reasons, as well as the cosy Corinna Wilderness Retreat.
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.