Category Archives: forests
Could This Be the Most Unexpected Landscape in Australia? Hiking The Tarn Shelf Circuit in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania
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)
Discovering the Most Stunning Scenery on the Tarn Shelf Circuit in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania
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.
With the myth of the venomous daddy longlegs truly busted, the only deadly creature I’m aware that we have in England is the adder, a slithery snake of a thing often seen sporting a brown zigzag overcoat.
‘Just ‘adder’?’ asked D-man, ‘not ‘death adder’?’
‘Erm,’ I thought quickly, racking my brain for any hidden information that might boost the reputation of our only venomous beast. I found nothing. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s just an adder. But it can kill.’
Rewind back from this conversation, maybe ten minutes in time.
Having been in the UK for less than a week, D-man and I had trained west from London and were now enjoying a British springtime walk in the woods overlooking Stroud in Gloucestershire. An early summer sun shone down through spindly branches on which bright green buds unfurled and leaves leftover from last autumn lay crunchy underfoot. D-man suddenly stopped.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘I just saw something. Do you have snakes here?’ He didn’t move.
‘Yep. Where did it go? What did it look like?’
D-man pointed to a heap of dead branches and leaves. I rustled the pile with my feet, but he pulled me back.
‘Careful!’ he said, ‘Get away!’
And there it was: the different attitudes that Aussies and Brits have to snakes. For me, having grown up in England, the sight of a snake is a cause for celebration. On the few occasions that I have seen grass snakes and adders I have sat and watched and followed them when they moved.
D-man, an Australian through-and-through, has grown up with regular sightings of some of the world’s deadliest snakes and has had a healthy fear and respect instilled in him through snake awareness classes in school and real life survival tales of friends of friends.
Would the adder have come for me, had I disturbed it? Possibly. Would I have died, had it bitten me? Probably not. What I didn’t tell D-man was that no one has died from an adder bite in the UK since 1975. Instead I let him run with the idea that I was both curious and courageous in my pursuit of a snake sighting.
Or just completely stupid. And totally, totally un-Aussie.
- Adder bites in Britain (British Medical Journal)
- Bitten by an adder – ‘the doctors were worse’ (The Independent)
- Should we celebrate or mourn the death of Britain’s only venomous snake? (The Telegraph)
- Vipera berus (Wikipedia)
- Snake bites (National Health Service/NHS)
- Australia’s 10 most dangerous snakes (Australia Geographic)
- How to Become a Snake Charmer (reed.co.uk)
5. Camp outs within the National Parks and State Forests, such as Brooyar State Forest and Cape Hillsborough National Park offered peaceful, beautiful stop offs that were affordable (starting at $6). Granted, there was a lack of facilities (and people) but what more do you need beyond fire pits and ‘pit dunnies’?!
4. For a Brit like me, Aussie beaches and rainforests are full of exotic appeal. Digging my toes into the sands at Smalleys’ Beach in Cape Hillsborough National Park was a great, calming way to end a day of driving whilst a hasty dip in the river at Mossman Gorge whetted my appetite for future wanderings through strangler figs and soul-stirring greens.
3. Although I may have been somewhat spoilt by documentaries and coffee table books full of intensely coloured imagery, the Great Barrier Reef was still, undeniably, stunning. With only a half day to spare, I took the shorter trip out to the Low Isles where I snorkelled and splashed about, circumnavigated the island on foot (okay, it took all of fifteen minutes) and feasted on a smorgasbord of seafood delights. Literally.
2. My first taste of desolate landscapes was on the drive out of Cairns towards the Eclipse 2012 festival in Far North Queensland. It intrigued me that anyone would live up tracks that disappeared away from dusty roadsides, further into environments where only the odd spindly bush and termite mounds survived.
1. After days of driving through inland Queensland, particularly around Charters Towers, big skies have to come top of the crop. I felt fully surrounded, 360° around me, 180° over me – by a spread of resplendent blue skies, of fluffy, bouncy clouds, of stars piercing a blanket of blackness. I felt my place in the universe: alive and conscious enough to observe it but little, tiny, insignificant overall.
To read my Queensland road trip in its entirety, join the journey here.
To readers who’ve joined me from Cruising Helmsman (and anyone else interested in reading my sailing adventures), click here to rewind to my time in the Galapagos islands and the beginning of a South Pacific adventure.
There was a rustling in the room. I opened my eyes, knowing that soon my alarm would go off, but every fibre of my festival, party tired body was willing me on to further sleep. She saw me stir.
‘Don’t mind me’, she whispered, ‘I just need to grab something from the cupboard’.
She, the stranger whose room I was sleeping in, the stranger who had said ‘sure, I’m going to stay out partying for one more night so of course stay in my bed’. She, the stranger who was now sneaking around a stranger in her own bedroom.
She left and by the morning light sneaking in through an unclosed door I saw a photo of a newly familiar and smiling face. The mother of the stranger, I assumed. I tried to think why I recognised her. Everything was a bit blurry. Everybody was a bit blurry. Was she, the stranger’s mother, the weaver from a festival workshop?
The previous evening, two days after the total solar eclipse, me and a crew of dust ingrained folk drove away from the now quietened stages and the shrinking after parties of the Eclipse 2012 festival up in Far North Queensland, Australia, and we made our way towards the Daintree National Park for a dusk dip in the waters of Mossman Gorge.
The buses had stopped running so we waited for the gates to open, 18:00 for free entry, fully aware that we were pushing it on the daylight front. Maps, signposts and curiosity pointed us into the rainforest along wooden walkways until we reached a path that took us down to a pooled area, a scene from numerous Mossman Gorge pictures.
I walked in, up to my waist. Despite a week in the hot, near outback climate of Palmer River where every day some drizzle or drenching were key to a comfortable existence, here at Mossman Gorge the air felt fresh and the waters crisp. I scooped handfuls of water onto my arms and torso, knowing that a full submerge would feel beautifully refreshing but I stood resolute, stubborn, unable to actually dive into the pool. Stop thinking! Just do!
A few guys made their way upstream before jumping from and slipping down rocks. A couple from our group ran into the water and wrapped up in each other, a coil of kissing and wet hair. D-man was heading towards me and I recognised that look in his eyes. Do it! Now! Before he got the chance, I took the plunge. Ah, clean water. Cold water, but clean water, washing away a festival hangover and a coating of dust.
Wrapped up in dry clothes we gathered back at the car park, a subdued, tired team preparing for the first post-festival split. Goodbyes. Shared moments, precious memories, people I may never see again. Even in more settled times, the transience of travelling continues.
And then on to the absent stranger’s house where I fought my body to stay awake, weights on my eyelids, muscles not strong enough to reflex beyond the last mouthful of a quick cook-up. Rest my body on the first proper bed in nearly two weeks, rest my head on a fluffy pillow and then sink, deeply, into a dreamy world of colour and costumes, of humidity and the upward fight and downward choking of a strangler fig.
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 1: The issue of not being on time (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 2: Fluid definitions of friendliness (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 3: The need to budget for health whilst travelling (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 4: Going big (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 5: And the heat and beat build (travelola.org)
- Art, consciousness and a whole lot of doof at Eclipse 2012 festival (travelola.org)
- Total solar eclipse: the power of the universe puts things into perspective (travelola.org)
- Top things to do in Cairns! (kateanneharrison.wordpress.com)
- Chapter VII: Epilogue – We’ll be back, Mate! (verosupertram.wordpress.com)
- A week in the Daintree – just the beginning (amrenaudtravels.wordpress.com)
- ‘Welfare is tragic for indigenous’ (news.com.au)
- If you go down to the woods today…………. (niamhonleave.com)