Tag Archives: conservation

A Trek Around ‘One Of The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches’

Referred to as ‘one of the top 10 favourite beaches in the world’ and ‘one of Tasmania’s most celebrated locations’, the lesser-known fact about this place is that it is also home to some near extinct plantlife.

Up to the Wineglass Bay lookout

Pathway up to the Wineglass Bay lookout at Freycinet National Park

Pathway up to the Wineglass Bay lookout at Freycinet National Park

I prefer my hikes a little rugged so the first kilometre of this hike was disappointing, an easy walk along a perfectly pummeled pathway, constant width, winding gently up the mountain.

And there were quite a few people. Well, lots. So I followed others, all sorts and every sort of others, and felt a little as though I was climbing up to the top of a family flume ride at Disneyland.

View from lookout down onto bright blue sea of Wineglass Bay

View from lookout down onto bright blue sea of Wineglass Bay

Once at the lookout it all made sense. There we all stood, shoulder to shoulder, admiring the view and the crescent curve of Wineglass Bay. Graced with a clear sky day where the sun illuminated the turquoise of a sea that kissed the edge of a fine, sandy beach, high above the shoreline people posed and cameras clicked away.

It was (and is) the stuff of postcards.

Down from the lookout to Wineglass Bay beach

The crowds thinned on the next stretch, many people deciding not to trek the next section and feel the fine sand in between their toes. Maybe it was wise: the difficulty of the walk tripled with a descent of rocky steps that put plenty of pressure on the knees.

After steep rocky steps and a short stint of a woodland pathway we pushed through an opening in the trees to arrive at a white sand beach, sun bringing out the strongest blues and turquoises of a clean, clear ocean. Knee high waves crashed onto a beach dotted with groups of people, tiny in the distance, who had made the trek down to the shore.

View of beach and ocean edge at Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park

Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park in Tasmania, Australia

Crystal clear waters at Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park

Crystal clear waters at Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park

There was a moment of travel spoilt realisation: although this is an undoubtedly a beautiful beach, so are so many of Australia’s beaches.

I wasn’t as blown away by it as I maybe could or should have been.

Cutting across to Hazards Beach

D-man and I continued on through woodland and ferny passages, alongside white flower scrub and tarns holding puddles of aqua blue. We walked on stretches of newly built boardwalk designed to protect the natural environment. Tasmanians, I realised, get hiking. Maybe even sanitised it, in parts, but I wasn’t complaining.

Wineglass Bay to Hazards Beach Circuit Walk

Wineglass Bay to Hazards Beach Circuit Walk

A bird of prey hovered, silhouetted against a bright sky interrupted only by a few puffs of leftover cloud. We restocked the suncream and cut across the peninsula to picnic at Hazards Beach, but with a buffeting westerly breeze I realised that lunch would have to wait.

As we walked along Hazards beach I ran some of the sand through my hands. It was grittier, thicker than that of Wineglass Bay. But the beach itself? Equally as – if not even more – beautiful than Wineglass Bay.

End of Hazards Beach in Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

Possibly the best lunch spot… ever

We finally settled on a snack spot in a protected little cove at the far north end of the beach where the waters were still. Sitting on rocks smoothed from years of waters rolling over them, we ate warm, squashed sandwiches and chatted to the pademelon who hung around.

Other than the pademelon, we had this place to ourselves. This spot was the perfect spot, the best spot of the trek. I could have frozen this moment and lived in it forever.

Granite and grass trees

And then the last section of the hike, which was a mixture of cutting across rocky hillsides and through grassy patches and sparse woodland until we all but bumped into the nearly-last-standing grass tree.

This tree sprouted a head full of green and brown spikes and trimmed facial hair around a smiling mouth. The things that a tired mind can conjure up.

Grass tree in Freycinet National Park

Spot the features

Plaque in Freycinet National Park displaying info on grass tree rot

More info on the rotting disease

I read the info plaque, stared at this grass tree and was suddenly overwhelmed by the fragility of our environment, human responsibility and everything inbetween. How long before phytophthora root rot would take to claim this victim, a tree who grew only 1mm a year? How long before this landscape became unrecognisably changed, forever?

It was impossible to be optimistic.

The sky greyed and appropriately, it started to rain. Time to wrap this up. We made the descent down through the forest and back to the car park, now nearly empty at the end of the day. No signs of pademelons either.

Reflection

Despite visiting, observing and walking one of the world’s best beaches, it wasn’t the sparkling sea or the postcard view that stuck in my mind.

No, it was that fuzzy looking tree creature waiting to die, the reminder that beyond all the gloss of travel and tourism is the harsh reality that the pursuit of new sights, experiences and places has it’s impact, in this case the accentuated spread of disease.

Time to clean my shoes.

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Filed under australia, beaches

Being silly on the salar

Check out the hexagons on the salar… amazing

I’d heard briefly about the salt flats – Salar de Uyuni – in Bolivia but had done no research into what they were really about. I wanted to go there and have an experience without expectation. It was, at least, a good pretext for lack of planning.

After the trip to the Train Graveyard, me and my fun lovin’ tour buddies jumped back in our jeep and headed onwards towards the infamous, eerie beauty of the salt flats.We stopped off at a little village a few kilometres shy of the actual salar. ‘You can buy hats and scarves here’, said Gonzalo, ‘or some salt’. Tables covered in woollens and salt crystals and touristy trinkets lured in the shoppers. Big bed socks? Absolutely. A cosy cardigan? If you don’t already have one, yes, it is recommended.

Carl sports a fox hat, one of the few non-woollen warmers on offer

Salt crystals on sale

In a series of little rooms and back alleys, we observed the process of salt refining from the cutting out of bricks through to the packaging up of smooth salt, ready for the market and the table. We had a go at lifting a heavy pick axe, the tool used in bygone times to hack up the salar into manageable chunks, replaced now in most instances by circular saws.

And we learnt about the solar evaporation system and the use of solar energy to extract lithium and uranium from the 120m deep flats (unsurprisingly, it’s not a Bolivian company that is funding this project and one can only hope that since President Morales announced measures to ensure Bolivia’s natural wealth wasn’t sold for pennies to other countries who would reap the profits, Bolivia actually benefits from this arrangement).

Gonzalo gives a demonstration of salt extraction stage 1

Sifted and packaged and sealed, Uyuni salt

And then we got back in the car and finally, finally, there she was: 12,000km2 of white, salty landscape stretching off to a flat horizon, Volcan Thunupa to the side. The driver sped on into the whiteness. ‘You using GPS?’ I asked Gonzalo. ‘No, we’re just using the distant landmarks’, he said, ‘the driver knows where to go’. I didn’t doubt it but it was still a little difficult to understand just how he knew where to go as we left behind any recognisable geography. Regardless, over the next few days I realised that salt flats or desert dust, drivers have it figured.

Salt piles, Salar de Uyuni

And then we stopped and got silly on the salar. Devoid of any natural life, we, like many tourists before us, brought the idiocy of humanity to the salt flats.

Team briefing and history lesson before the games start

Toys came out of their boxes and we played; with dinosaur dummies and cocktail umbrellas, with beer bottles and banana skins, with our imaginations.

Playing games at the Salar de Uyuni

Carl stamps down on Blair

I survived… don’t worry

Kicking back to soak up the sunshine

Jumping out of a banana skin because… erm… someone thought it up

A mistimed jump over the car

The search for reflections begins

On the way headed out of the salar, we stopped off at the Salt Hotel where some of the guys had been raving a day or two earlier. One tall, dreadlocked Swede was still hanging around and the boys went over for a comrade catch-up.

The Salt Hotel a few days after the rave

Salt Hotel, Salar de Uyuni

The ground around the hotel was yellowed and dirty. ‘Some locals don’t like these parties’, commented Gonzalo, and I totally got it. Predominantly put on for the tourists and accepted by the police as something to turn a blind eye to, a rave gathering in such a beauty spot could only ever lead to a bit of spoilage. But I also saw it from the other side. To be able to party in this place: wow.

What, I wondered, was driving the decision to run the parties out here, though? Was the money raised sufficient enough for locals not to cause too much opposition? Did any of it feed back into their communities? How was the salar being maintained and looked after subsequent to the partying?

Contemplative thoughts in amongst further merriment on board the jeep as we headed towards our first night’s destination of Villa Mar.

Heading away from the flats and on towards rocks, deserts and lagunas

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Filed under activity & sport, bolivia, natural wonders, nature, south america, tours