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.
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.
I lost it all. All the money in my wallet went in the time that it might take to make and drink a cup of tea. All I’d been trying to do was join in, to be part of a rowdy Aussie crowd, to feel and immerse myself in this annual event.
So I didn’t lose it, as such, I just gambled it away in a game where skill, poker face and celebration style are unimportant. Thankfully.
Known as two-up, this game sees people bet against each other on a heads or tails majority of a two or three-coin throw. Using a wooden coin cradle AKA a kip, the spinner stands in the middle of a 3-metre circle and flips the coins out of their paddle onto the ground. The ringkeeper announces the result and the crowd goes wild, swears, shouts.
Someone always wins. The tails better – the person who has held the money throughout the action – either hands over the cash or pockets it, depending on the game outcome.
Then it all repeats. Again and again. Hours of it, apparently.
Originally played by the soldiers in the trenches of Gallapoli during the First World War, two-up is now legally only allowed to be played on the 25th of April every year – ANZAC day – which ‘marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War‘.
But why only play two-up one day a year?
It does make some sense. With patrons of the places where the games take place betting each other and not the house, there is little to no commercial profit, other than the income from extra drinks. But this doesn’t address the legal issue.
More likely, though, is that Australia wants to be responsible in keeping problems associated with alcohol and gambling to a minimum. Two-up certainly offers the opportunity to win and then lose a lot of money, very quickly.
Back to the game. Every now and then the ringer would hand out freebies and call for a charity shower, and the ring would get pummeled by silvers. I imagined that later in the day the donations would be more generous as drinks flowed and spirits were charged in an ebb and flow of energy and excitement.
A flawlessly made up woman dressed in a silver summer dress hung with one arm to the metal barriers surrounding the game circle and waved banknotes around with the other, tipping them to her forehead. Her eyes struggled to focus yet each time they opened the game up to the next round of betting, she was in, waving those notes. First she collected a few wins but then I saw her starting to hand it back. Finally she slunk away, all spent up, I assumed, or otherwise in need of a friend or a glass of water.
After observing others place bets with neighbours and people across the room I felt ready to test-drive a bet. I played D-man $5, and I lost. ‘I’ll give you it as a test run,’ he teased and gave me back my note. I tried it against another guy close to me. The coins were flung in the air and fell to the ground. I lost. Only $5 again, but I lost and someone else was up $5. It all adds up.
‘One more go,’ I told D-man and I found myself another opponent and upped the bet. $10 this time. Third time lucky, right?
Wrong. The coins fell and I walked away a loser. A very un-Australian loser, at that.
- Description of two-up as played by 2/12th Commando Squadron (awm.com.au)
- Anzac Day two-up tradition (video) (theage.com.au)
- Thrill lost as two-up finally goes legal (theaustralian.com.au)