Days 5 and 6. 19th and 20th October 2018.
Time flies when you're on a big drive and there's so much to see with the naked eye. No time to sit and down for coffee on Friday: it was two takeaways before entrusting our day to Google. The journey from Waratah to Cygnet via the Murchison Highway.
It's almost like someone collected the best parts of every piece of land on the planet and threw it together on an island for good measure and called it Tasmania. Well, the naming part came a little bit later, but you get the picture.
As we exited form the north, we passed through fern-lined roadways, buffeting rain forests. Within the hour, the scenery opened out onto more of a Scottish Highland theme with grass covered fields and small highland shrubbery. At every turn, another change of scenery with mountains, fields and lakes. The Franklin-Gordon area was as lush as promised by the travel brochures, forever green as the highway joyfully writhed through its curves, bends and hairpin turns lowering us onto another plateau.
Lake Plimsoll is one of those picturesque treats that open out in front of you to the left as you head south, inviting you to stop over on the side of the highway and snap a happy memory. It's also the lake we've renamed "Photographer Falls" as this is where Chris went for a tumble in search of the perfect shot. The fall was a graceful execution. He fell straight onto his right elbow then twisted in slow motion onto his back like a chihuahua ready for a tummy rub, camera held high in the air. He suffered a bit of shock, telling me he felt like he was going to pass out. No drama, really. We were only a couple of hundred kilometres from the nearest hospital. I took over the wheel and kept us barreling forward.
The nearest town was Queenstown, an old copper mining town (the mine soon to be reopened, the local word has it) where we found a very competent pharmacist in lieu of a hospital. He gave us some advice on how to look after Chris's injury until we got to Hobart, where we might want to seek help from the emergency department. Treatments in hand, we found a nice little bakery and bought a salad sandwich and a (very delicious) chocolate eclair each. The journey continued, Chris nursing his wound. Had we known it was on beforehand, we would have planned a stay in Queenstown overnight for the Unconformity Festival, which is an arts festival that runs every two years. Like so many other things in Tasmania - there's always next time!
The exit from Queenstown was another natural spectacle. The hills around the town are bare; arid presumably from their historical use. The road contorts upwards, such that it felt like we were riding on one of those gold-mine theme rides at an amusement park. Zeek's Revenge, or something like that. Of course, we had to stop for some photos of the town below before continuing the jaunt.
More prairies, wild grass and button flowers. There were sprays of pink and white flowers up some of the sandstone cliff faces, like coconut ice growing wild along the highway. There were even several mountains capped with the very last of the season's snow in the distance. The east-west divide is a stark setting, with three rocky peaks at the end of long fields. This is the point at which the rugged terrain falls away in deference to more recognisable Aussie bushland. Derwent Bridge was the next rest-stop, Chris's arm still sore, weak grip, but he no longer felt like he was going to pass out. Bonus.
The Wall is artist, Greg Duncan's, own exhibit, made up of three-metre tall panels of wood carvings he has been working on since made over some years, in honour of the region's history from the traditional owners to the colonial pioneers and beyond. Parts of the wall are left unfinished to give visitors an idea of the process he follows. Apart from the magnificence that is The Wall, itself, are other wood sculptures he has completed, such as gardening gloves or a block and tackle. Signs upon entering the gallery clearly state they don't tolerate mobile phones/cameras (the copyright belongs to the artist) or misbehaving children... which makes for a calm environment to appreciate the art.
We continued our southward trip, crossing the Nive River just south of Tarraleah, where the hydroelectric power station draws it water through massive pipes that run up the side of the mountain: an impressive site. At the top of the next mountain was a man-made canal, its signs warning against swimming or boating. The current there looked mighty powerful!
Another pretty town on the way, Hamilton, rewarded us with more beautiful gardens and well-maintained classic architecture before we wound our way through the hillsides, joining the freeway back into Hobart. Peak hour traffic. We spent a good ten minutes jostling our way through the city before hopping onto the track that leads to Cygnet.
The greenery unfolded, once more, soon after exiting the city as we sauntered our way towards the Huon valley landing, finally, in Cygnet home to our good friends Anne and Bruce, who generously offered to be our hosts for the next few days. Home made chicken parmi's for dinner with some wine and conversation to catch up on the last eight years and it was time to collapse into slumber at 11pm. The hospital, as it turns out, was not required.
There's a bull in the paddock next door who's been left to his own devices with the bevvie of bovine beauties. From the accounts we've been given, he's quite gentle with his potential dates, sidling up to them, licking them gently as his courting maneuve de jour before getting down to business. It was clearly too early in the morning for these capers (for the ladies) before we headed off. Fernando (that seems as good a name as any) sidled up to his next prospective princess, had a little sniff then, as she sat back down, decided to sit with her. IT didn't look much different to what you might see in a night club where the young jock decides the pursuit might just be worth a little effort, as awkward as the conversation might be.
It's wonderful to be staying with a couple of locals, our friends having moved here a little over twelve months ago. There are magical plans afoot, and today was evidence of that as they treated us to a trip across to the Tahune Air Walk. This meant a drive via Huonville, along the Huon River to the Tahune Airwalk attraction within the forest at the Hartz Mountains. Of course, there were a couple of small stops along the way to take in some of the scenery.
The Lookin Lookout was the first one, with a short walk through the forest. Here you can find a couple of machine relics, left over from when myrtle used to be harvested from the area. The moss on the trees and stumps looks like it has been growing there for centuries, like fine lace to the touch, each little patch like a miniature forest under the scrutiny of a macro photographic lens.
The next pause was a short trail next to the Arve River where platypus can be spotted if you're there at the right time. Unfortunately we weren't, but the walk was lovely, with the sound of the water gently running over the pebbles in the stream.
Our third stop was the main attraction: the Tahune Airwalk. Maintained by Tasmanian Forestry, the Airwalk is an impressive structure that loops around the canopy of the forest, with a cantilever ledge that juts out towards Mount Picton, below which the Picton and Huon Rivers meet. The catwalk-like structure is a little bit bouncy between fixed points, but nothing the faint-hearted couldn't deal with, and provides the unique birds-eye perspective of the forest floor with its grasses, ferns and trunks rising to greet us. Despite the promise of seeing some of the deadliest snakes in the world as we traipsed through the bush we, alas, did not, for which we are all grateful.
Exiting the airwalk proffered opportunities to photograph monstrous tree trunks and take in the glorious fresh forest air, then to branch off onto the return walk to the visitor's centre via the swinging bridges walk. Chris and I continued along this path which indicated thirty minutes. It was actaully a thirty-minute meander through the lush forest before reaching the first bridge, which crossed the Huon River. Swinging bridges always hold such promise of adventure as you gingerly (or not so gingerly) make your way forward, the bridge bouncing and swaying as you move. Somehow, there's always that nine-year-old boy behind you that insists on jumping up and down and swinging the bridge wildly as his companions laugh and scream. He didn't count on someone five times his age and weight grabbing the side of the bridge and giving it a good sharp tug to make him second-think his actions. One final yelp from the companions and all was calm.
As we approached the second bridge, Chris noticed a sign that indicated thirty minutes walk back to the visitor centre via that route, and suggested we take the River Walk, which had a five-minute time attached to it. As much as he'd like to see more, he was a little bit buggered. We set off on the River Walk which, after five minutes, landed us on a lookout ledge where the previously mentioned junction of the two rivers occurred. It was not the visitor's centre, nor was there a path that continued on to it. We backtracked to swinging bridge number two, over the Picton River, and completed the easy thirty minute walk back to the visitor's centre before having a much-needed drink and departing, homeward-bound.
One more stop at Geeveston where, this time, we caught a glimpse of a platypus diving upwards for air before turning straight back down, leaving ripples in the water, concentric aquatic circles the only evidence of its presence. As compensation, a mother duck paddled downstream towards us with six ducklings in tow, feeding and checking out the riverbank before turning and swimming back upstream. Nature is truly restorative for the soul, and today's interaction with it was no exception. Time for a lovely barbequeued meal with our friends and a good rest before tomorrow's adventure!