In my last post, I barely touched upon the shifting climatic conditions that I faced while on the Northern Coast. That all came to a head as I made my way to the interior and journeyed to Cradle Mountain.
The morning before, I had arisen just before sunrise to make the drive to Liffey Falls, a multiple tiered waterfall in the middle of the beautiful Liffey Range. As I drove towards the falls I was a wee-bit confused by the digital thermostat on my rental car’s console gauge. The thermometer on my cherry red Toyota Corolla read 3 degrees Celsius as I bobbed and weaved my way up the mountain en route to the falls. That morning, I had run out of clean socks, and for some unforsaken reason thought I didn’t need any, and that this was going to be the day to venture into the Tasmanian forest, ill prepared for the elements that I might face.
“Three degrees?? two…. one…. ahh, that’s a zero right?” I said to myself aloud in bewilderment. “It’s straight up freezing now, zero degrees, and I’ve got a windbreaker on and no socks, awesome!”
I had completely misplayed my hand in the clothing department. There was a thin layer of slushy snow on the ground at the top of Liffey Pass which a gas station attendant told me later in the day is rather rare. So much for the little springtime warm up I had about read in the weather forecast.
I was later confronted with this reality as I stood staring up towards the beauty that is Liffey Falls. With fern trees poking their heads out in every which way and the moss covered logs of fallen trees looking more like a scene out of Lord of the Rings than a real life setting, I may have been freezing my little buns off but I was rewarded with absolute solitude. Not another soul in the park, chirping birds and the crashing sound of thousands of gallons of fresh water were my only company … I had a world class waterfall all to myself.
Time and time again, this is one of the things that has made a lasting impression on me about Tasmania. From National Park, to untouched pristine waterfalls and crystal clear beaches, at any given moment you are only a few steps or coves away from being alone. There is truly an unspoiled beauty to the wilderness in Tasmania, one that I can say I have not had the opportunity to experience before. Maybe it’s the time of year that I am visiting Tasmania, but in the States if I were to go to a waterfall like Liffey, I’m sure I would pass at least 25 odd people in the three hours I was there. Instead, I enjoyed this piece of pristine Tasmanian scenery in complete solace.
The next morning I was arriving at the front gates of Cradle Mountain National Park, and quite thankful that I was arriving then and not the day before, because a couple that I spoke to at the visitor’s center told me that they were forced to spend the night at the park’s resort after being caught in white out conditions the night before. Pockets of snow still hugged the side of the road and the air outside had an alpine crisp to it as the temperature hovered only a few degrees above freezing.
Cradle Mountain is Tasmania’s most notorious National Park. With its ample number of bush walks and various nature escapes, it’s the perfect place to spend a weekend. As I drove up the narrow strip of bitumen on the Dove Lake road which doubled as the park’s only vehicle access road, I couldn’t help but be reminded in a strange way that I was driving up the valley floor of Yosemite National Park in California. Although the parks are different in many ways, there were subtle reminders, which more times than not, brought me back to the Sierra Nevadas. It’s as if Cradle Mountain was the smaller more manageable sibling to Yosemite. Granted, as a disclaimer, I didn’t do the six day overland trek from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Claire, so the “manageable” size that I speak of is merely the area which can be accessed by vehicle. I’m sure that trek would adjust my opinion on the size of the park.
That being said, I faced unique beauty at every angle in that park, from the lapping waves hitting against the pebble shores of Dove Lake to a wombat and its joey feeding on button grass on the Ronny Creek walk. Cradle Mountain and its surrounding areas offer a beauty which is the quintessential Tasmanian experience.
As I wound myself through the small mountainous towns of Tullah, Rosebury and Zeehan on my drive southbound, I was reminded of Tasmania’s mining history passing. This area saw a huge boom in population and mining in the late 1800′s when silver lead ore was found in the local hills. In the case of Zeehan, its population once swelled to over 10,000 people, although today just under a thousand still call it home. Driving through these towns now is a testament to the harsh realities that these early pioneers faced, and a constant reminder of Tasmania’s rich “salt of the earth” history.
I thought my eyes were playing a trick on me the next morning as I cruised down the Gordon River. The water of the river was so still that it offered up a perfect mirrored reflection of the forest above its surface. From small docks to huon pine trees, you really couldn’t tell which direction was up and which was down. From Sarah Island, which in its short lived history gained the reputation of being one of the Australian colonies strictest penal facilities, to learning about the distinctive leaf structures of Tasmanian trees which allow light to trickle all the way to the forest floor, my time in Stanley was insightful and a unique visiting opportunity into a corner of Tasmania that not many people get to see.
One of my more interesting experiences came on my final days in the central highlands of Tasmania, where I found myself sleeping in the old school principal’s home in Tarraleah. Allow me to elaborate – the town of Tarrleah was built in the 1930s as homesteads to the workforce which manned Tasmania’s first Hydro-electric power plant. For years nearly 500 people lived and worked in Tarraleah, but as time went on, fewer people were needed to run the facility thanks to technological advances. After lying in semi-ruin for years, the entire estate was purchased and after major renovation, was turned into a resort style setting with accommodations, dining and other outdoor activities. The beauty of it is, is that the town still stands exactly how it did eighty years ago, so after checking in, I found myself making a mediocre pasta alone in the kitchen of a former school teacher’s house. It wasn’t long before the memories of my ghost tour at Port Arthur began to run wild in the back of my mind. Each step I took, the wood beneath my feet let out a moan that could scare even the hardiest of brave souls. Later on, I sat in the living room and as I looked at the 1940s era radio in the corner of the room, I couldn’t help but think about the history and the past of this home. Who had sat here, what family’s adversities had been discussed where I sat, and all of these wild thoughts ran rampant in my mind until the room went black. A small pop…then complete darkness fell upon me which was followed by silence, eery silence.
“Ahh, are you kidding me?” All conversations at this point were aloud, seeing that I was alone and it acts as a bit of comfort hearing your own voice.
“The fuse has blown, seriously… what are the odds?” Probably a bit higher than I initially thought in an old house like this! After a frantic search in the dark for a flashlight and some fumbling around the outside of the house, I finally found the fuse, not only turning the electricity back on but also a giving bit of relief to my petrified soul.
The next morning as I sat and watched the rushing water of Tarraleah Falls, I reflected back on my school principal’s home and also the town that is Tarraleah. I really enjoyed my time there, there are not many places left like it, a rare glimpse into the past but one which is not occupied by today’s beings. There are no advertisements or logos to drown out your feelings or thoughts. A place like Tarraleah might be small and there might not be a whole lot to do, but it offers up a chance to see how things were, how Tasmanians lived half a decade ago, and how much hard work has gone into making Tasmania the way it is today.
I thought about this along with a lot of other things which I had seen and experienced on my grand loop of the Tasmanian island. My time spent dwelling on the past was short-lived however, because I was on may way back to Hobart where I had one last day, and on that last day I was about to be catapulted straight into the future as I was to spend it perusing the sandstone halls of the Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)… Australia’s most talked about museum.