Virtuoso Life - March/April 2009 - 84
Victoria Dock in Hobart and (right) Cradle Mountain’s Dove Lake. that Huon pine is about 20 years old,” warns Kristie, my ranger guide, who thinks I’m about to pluck the tiny three-inch shoot. I’m not, but her concern is justified. She gestures to the massive trunks surrounding us. “These beauties were that high when Jesus was born.” That gets my attention. Towering above us on the banks of Tasmania’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gordon River are some of the oldest trees on the planet. The superb Huon pine may grow painfully slow, but its highly prized wood was a treasured resource here in the remote western wilderness, one of the world’s last expanses of temperate rain forest. I’m lucky to see it: Twenty-five years ago, parts of the Gordon and Franklin rivers were due to be flooded as part of a governmentbacked hydroelectric project, thwarted at the last minute by a tide of environmental protest. Today I’m on a Tasmanian road trip from Launceston, in the north, to the southeastern capital city of Hobart. I’ve come to hike and recharge from the metropolitan bustle of my home in Sydney. Walk on in “This is Rebecca, our wombat,” says Troy, the nature guide at Cradle Mountain Lodge, where I join a small cosmopolitan group on the 84 VIRTUOSO LIFE (HOBART) STEVE VIDLER/IMAGESTATE/JUPITER IMAGES, (DOVE LAKE) JOCHEN SCHLENKER/MASTERFILE (TASMANIAN DEVIL) ERIC BEAN/THE IMAGE BANK/GETTY IMAGES “Careful, Mainland Australians often poke fun at the island as if it were the smallest child in the family of states, but we’re intensely protective and nurturing of it as well. Tasmania is a member of that elite geographic group of the world’s most southerly inhabited lands, a club that includes New Zealand’s South Island and Patagonia, and when it comes to solitude and majestic scenery, this end of Earth provides just the escape most of us need. About the size of West Virginia, Tasmania is a concentrated model of Australia, with landscapes ranging from parched desert to drenched rain forest and nearly everything in between. Dominated by ancient dolerite outcrops, this densely wooded land draws air directly from Antarctica – making it, according to some scientists, the cleanest air in the world, though a little chilly and damp most of the time. The whole island can be traversed in a couple of days by car. A week will allow you to fully appreciate rare trees, such as myrtle beech and leatherwood, that have thrived here ever since being evicted from the mainland some 45 million years ago, as well as beaches where you can walk an entire day without seeing a single soul.