Can you imagine the feeling of every cell in your body waking up out of a sleepy state? Of a bubble of awe and appreciation for all around you building in your body, rising up through your feet right to the top of your head with each and every step that you take? Of a great, great sense of peace and contentment?
This was how it started.
With light feet D-man and I descended down and across the tarn shelf and through a green, rocky landscape dotted with clear water mountaintop lakes. It was still early morning and other than another hiker who had taken the turn off for the extended trek to K Col, we hadn’t seen a soul. This world – a place so different to the expected, stereotypical scenes one has come to expect of Australia – was ours for the enjoying. Mount Field National Park was showing itself to be a place full of visual surprises.
The air was crisp and drinkable yet the sun packed some punch, even at this time of the day. We juggled layers, sunhats, woolen hats. Finding the right balance was an impossible act.
The stretch before Lake Newdegate is scattered with naked snow gums, a scene from a fairytale or a fantasy film, spikes of ghostly pale sticking out at all angles against a green brown scrubland.
We shared our lunch space with another solo walker. He perched himself outside the hut while D-man and I sat of the boardwalk at the edge of the lake, looking out over the water and those spikes of ghostly pale, and observing wisps of low hanging mist.
By the time we arrived at our next stop of the Twilight Tarn hut, we had made our way from a somewhat mystical landscape, past the Twisted Tarn and on into the eerie. Preserved in a state of sepia were old battered boots and wooden skis, creaky floorboards and ageing photos. Onwards.
A small black snake stopped me in my tracks – my first encounter since I arrived in Australia nearly two years ago. Dragonflies danced in front of our faces before landing on the edge of puddles and pools of crystal clear water that glistened in the sunshine. We, humans, felt the indelicacy and invasiveness of our increasingly heavy footfall. There was still some way to go.
And the way to go was downhill over a loosely defined path of rocks, heavy on the knees and demanding of concentration. Surrounded by spindly trees and moving away from the higher alpine wonder of the tarn shelf and surrounding areas, my focus shifted to the finish line.
Barely glancing Lake Webster through the trees, we pushed on along boardwalks and a straighter pathway, across marshy spots and into dryer, enclosed bush land through which a good slither of blue sky could still be seen.
As we drove back down to the main entrance and visitor centre of Mt Field National Park some six hours after we first strapped into our walking shoes that morning, I observed how the imagined cliffs of last night’s drive up were in fact fairly, well, imagined. Mind at rest and body tired from a thorough trek, tonight’s sleep, I realised, could only match that of the night before. Bring it on.
The Tarn Shelf Circuit walk via Lake Newdegate/Twilight Tarn and Lake Webster is approximately 12km of mixed terrain. In places it is very exposed and at times it can be challenging. It took us 6 hours to complete the circuit, which factored in three stops plus regular pauses to take photographs.
- Discovering the Most Stunning Scenery on the Tarn Shelf Circuit (travelola.org)
- Eucalyptus pauciflora – Snow Gum, White Salee (anbg.gov.au)
I must have slept well. Having completed a drive up to Lake Dobson long after sunset that had me gripping the passenger seat with fear of what appeared to be precarious cliff drops off narrow dirt tracks, the relief of arriving must have taken hold, and – together with recent memories of glow worm magic – my body and mind shut down the moment that my head hit the pillow.
Because now I was wide awake, the sun was burning through the last of the dawn haze and I was ready to stretch my legs. It had been too long since my last proper trek. Surely it wasn’t way back in in 2012 during a stint travelling in South America? I love trekking. What happened?
Laced up in hiking shoes and carrying a backpack stuffed full of water and snacks, D-man and me stepped out into a brisk day full of early morning light and signed in at the check hut at the southern side of Lake Dobson before skirting clockwise around the water and onwards along an easy path through a forest full of pandanis.
And then started the upward hike. ‘Best to get this climb out of the way at the start of the day,’ I said, but by the time we reached the huts and sagging lifts of the Mt Field ski village we had to stop for the first break of the day, legs burning. I took off a layer, one of many. Be prepared for all weather eventualities on these hikes, I’d been told.
The next stretch was easier; flats and gentle inclines along solidly built boardwalks. This was a place to make up some time and to take in views down over a craggy landscape, Lake Seal and the Tarn Shelf.
We reached some signposts and the first decision of our day: the option to branch off to K Col and the Mt Field West area, a highly recommended extra 6km scramble. It tempted me momentarily, but we stuck to the plan. Months (and months) without a decent full day hike might not put us in the best state of fitness for a 18km walk. No, stick to the plan.
It was possibly the best decision we made that day.
- Mt Field National Park Activities (parks.tas.com.au)
- Di’s Walk a Month: Tarn Shelf, Mt Field (blogspot.com.au)
- Photo Essay: Tarn Shelf Circuit (bushwalkingblog.com.au)
- Bushwalking: Tarn Shelf Circuit, Mt Field National Park (walkweb.net)
Two things happened after dark at Mount Field National Park, and both weren’t even the main sight, scenery or tourist attraction.
Firstly, Tasmanian pademelons appeared at the fringe of the forest. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw more and more of these marsupials, hopping and bouncing and nibbling on grass. I tried to get close enough to take a picture but my photography skills weren’t up to the job. Faffing around with f-stops gave them enough time to shy away from me and the other nocturnal visitors.
Because the second thing that happened at nightfall was that tourists with torches were appearing too, crossing over paths and patches of grass behind the now dark visitor centre, and making their way towards Russell Falls and the promise of some magic.
The same promise of magic had lured me away from a the coziness of our now clean van where D-man and I had pulled on beanies and warm coats and set of purposefully to see the pre-gnats glow.
I first saw glow worms in New Zealand during – somewhat appropriately – the 2012 Festival of Lights in Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. Their combined luminance was hardly believable. It felt to be real life magic, humbling and incredible.
Now, two years later, I walked with D-man to the area where we hoped to spot some more of these dreamlike creatures, this time in amongst Tasmanian soil and foliage.
Stepping softly and reducing our whispers to silence, we turned off our dampened torches and let our eyes adjust. In my peripheral I saw a light start to burn, followed by more blue white dots in amongst the rainforest darkness.
And although it wasn’t an experience of the same density or intensity to what I’d seen previously in New Zealand, still the scattering of glows added threads of wonder to my bedtime story.
I had been warned: it will be cold. Wanting to keep my luggage to a minimum I partially ignored the warnings. February in Australia, the end of summer, would surely still feel like summer, at least a little bit, right?
But this wasn’t just anywhere in Australia, this was Tasmania, located over 2,000km south of my departing airport in the Gold Coast and 42° south of the equator (only a 9° difference in distance that my home country, England, sits north of the equator). Surely, then, I could expect some chills?
I wasn’t totally naïve. Tasmania is rumored to be a little unpredictable and so I had dug out some woolens, base layers and trek socks and shoved them into a little carry-on suitcase. Wearing closed shoes and jeans for the first time in months, I felt well enough equipped. What more would I need?
D-man and I arrived into Tasmania with a bumpy landing and rainy downpour. Our weeklong holiday looked threatened by grey cover and a pessimistic weather forecast but we were undeterred, filled with excitement for wilderness treks and time together.
Except it wasn’t looking good, at all. ‘You’ve arrived to the worst weather in a long time,’ said my friend Becky as we looked at the incoming storm on the charts, predicted to hang around for most of our time in Tasmania.
Becky’s partner, Hugo, mapped out options for our week that might match the weather movements. A trip to Bruny Island didn’t look like the go as the storm was heading straight for that section of coastline, and the near on plague of mosquitos on the south coast ruled that out as an option. Cradle Mountain was predicted to be swathed in a layer of clouds with the additional threat of hail storms, and the west coast looked as though it wouldn’t be any better weatherwise than the east coast, often cited as a safe option when all else was rained out.
Really, though, Hugo’s advice was simple: follow the weather. Head wherever makes sense on any given day. Over planning? Bleurgh. Unrealistic.
Realising we were ill equipped, he proceeded to dig out everything we might possibly need for a week camping out and about in Tasmania: stoves and five season sleeping bags, head torches and fishing gear and surfboards, double layered hats and down filled jackets. Oh, those last editions were the most welcome of the lot.
And so we left Hugo and Becky behind in Hobart and headed inland for Mt Field National Park to get our first taste of the highlands, fresh air and vastly fluctuating temperatures of Tasmania.
And believe me, Australia really does get cold. Oh yeah.
I’ve never been in trouble with the police, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.
Within a couple of days of being in the Australian state of Tasmania I’d had two run-ins with the authorities, both of which could easily have been avoided with some smarts.
I had been back in Northern New South Wales for over half a year, working and settling down into some sort of normal life routine – if beaches and sunshine can ever be classed as normal life – and finally I was off to see a part of Australia that I’d heard again and again was the most beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors.
With a head full of trail and trek ideas, my mind wandered a million miles away from anything official, into a land of fresh air and unspoilt landscapes.
As I walked through the arrivals gates at Hobart Airport, then, I didn’t expect to be greeted by three police officers and a sniffer dog.
The dog was evidently interested in my bag. I saw D-man glancing at me, wondering what I might have that was of interest to the dog. I smiled and kept on walking, my heart beating faster as I realised the dog was sticking by my side. This wasn’t going away. I took a breath.
The officer stopped me. Was I carrying any fruit, she asked. Ah, fruit! Easy answer: no, of course not, but the dog persisted, sniffing at the bursting leather bag that I’d slung across my body. ‘Can I take a look through your bag?’ asked the police officer.
Full of wide-eyed innocence, I opened it for her, pulling out notepads, a t-shirt and toiletries. There, underneath everything, lay a little, red apple. I cringed. Handing it over, I waited for the reprimand, but instead she rewarded the dog for a job well done and sent me on my way. No $130 on-the-spot fine, this time. Thanks Tasmania. I’ll be good next time.
A couple of days later I made my way from my friends’ house to a part of Hobart that reminded me pretty much of the industrial and rundown part of any given city. I’d booked a van, the last van in the whole of Tasmania, if online booking sites were anything to go by, and had come to pick it up.
Cleaning of all vehicles was in full swing when we arrived so D-man and I sat inside reception and waited, and waited and waited. With the usual cleaner off sick, the stand in was doing his best to get through the Monday morning returns. In holiday mode, we were forgiving, happy to not get wound up, but when half an hour turned into two hours we started to sense our day hike at Mt Field was slipping away.
We finally set off in a van equipped with pretty much everything including dried tea dribbles on the cabinets and an indoor light cover that refused to stay put, and we were on our way. Out of the city. Bring on the countryside!
It wasn’t long before we saw the lights flashing behind us, the sirens only just kicked in. I looked at D-man. What now? A police officer walked to the driver’s window.
‘The vehicle you’re driving is unregistered’. He stood stern. My jaw dropped. A costly offence, this wasn’t something we were prepared to accept. Handing over everything we could from the hire company we waited and watched vehicles driving by, faces looking at us wondering what the silly tourists had done wrong this time.
He finally returned from his vehicle. ‘You’re not in any trouble,’ he said, ‘but you need to give this to the company and return the van immediately.’ We placed the slip of paper, worth $200, on the dash and headed back to the hire car place.
The vehicle’s retracted registration was a surprise to the owners, apparently. A retracted registration, we researched, is almost always to do with the vehicle being deemed unsafe, unroadworthy, so why would they send us off into the Tasmanian wilderness in a ticking timebomb? Is the gamble worth the money? Their squirms, wine offering and half day refund wouldn’t make up for the fact we had one week to explore Tasmania and over half a day had been wasted waiting, returning and waiting some more for substandard vehicles.
Our day plans ruined, we gladly left Hobart behind in a new-to-us-yet-equally-unclean-van, but not before calling the company again due to an engine fault warning light displaying. ‘It happens on those older vans,’ they told us, ‘you’ll be fine.’ We hoped so.
So the lessons learnt? Don’t carry fruit into Australia, even between states, it would seem. I can imagine other police officers would be a whole lot less friendly. And the car hire situation? Better time management and holiday planning, maybe? Giving myself more time to book through a reputable company might have saved me half a day and a dollop of grief.