Wednesday, November 21, 2018
The island state of Tasmania or Tassie as the locals refer to themselves is hard to recognize as Australian. No hot baking sun, no wide open desert, no 1,000,000+ acre cattle stations. Instead Tassie has an oceanic climate with mild, rainy winters, cool summers and exquisite food – think razor thin sliced gin-infused salmon!
With a population just over 500,000 and growing faster than any other Australian state, Tasmania, according to the state government, has low unemployment, stable home prices and a sense of confidence. There is a culture of environmental stewardship which has prevailed over the economic interests of logging and hydroelectric generation, though not without controversy. The 20% of the state which is protected includes the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area with its temperate rainforest, crystal clear rivers and animals like the Tasmanian Devil found nowhere else.
When settlers arrived they discovered a tree that was subject neither to decay nor insects. The Huon pine is the second oldest tree in the world, after the Californian bristlecone pine, and trees that die remain perfectly preserved, even in mud or water for thousands of years. We saw slabs that were 10,000 years old. They died after 4,000 years and lay on the forest floor for the next 6,000. It takes 500 years for a tree to grow to maturity, adding girth at the rate of 1 mm a year. https://www.huonpine.com/
Huon pine was the ideal ship building material. Needing ships for its growing navy England sent a master shipbuilder to the penal colony, Sarah Island off the isolated Tasmanian west coast in the 1820’s. Under his direction convicts produced 131 ships in 12 year.
Gordon River Cruise
Strahan, population 658, has been the centre of logging on the western coast of Tasmania and is now primarily a tourism destination. Why? It is situated on Macquarie Harbour which is 6 times larger than Sydney Harbour but is separated from the sea by a treacherous reef with a narrow 200 metre gap which prevents it from receiving large ships.
We took a 6 hour cruise out through the harbour, and because it was calm we went out through Hell’s Gate and then back along the scenic Gordon River which used to be the logging waterway. Piners (loggers) lived in 2 layers of flannel shirts, always wet in the rainforest. As one piner said, the wool at least kept us warm. They would cut holes in the toes and heels of their boots so that the water could drain out. When one of their mates was injured the strongest piner rowed non-stop downriver for 14 hours to bring him to town. The doctor was away so the bartender who apparently had some experience in these matters, poured liquor down his throat, then proceeded to clean the wound and stitch him up. They were hardy souls!
The Last Ship to Sail from Sarah Island
In 1834 ten shipwright convicts planned the ultimate escape. They stole the ship they were building and sailed it across the Pacific to Chile. Of those who survived the crossing 4 were captured and returned to Australia to face trial for piracy and almost certain hanging. Their successful defense cleverly noted that the ship was not finished and never officially registered as a ship, and that they had seized it within the harbour and not “on the high seas” so they were found guilty only of the lesser charge of robbery of lumber. The story is told in Tasmania’s longest running play, 25 years of performances in beautiful Strahan.
In Cradle Mountain National Park we walked the the 2½ hour circuit around Dove Lake. Sheltered rainforest with ferns gives way to eucalypts and then low bushes.
Two highlights in Freycinet National Park, one was sitting in our camp chairs, wine in hand watching the sun set over the water. The other was falling asleep midafternoon in the camper with sun streaming through the trees, a soft breeze warming my face and watching the eucalyptus branches being flung about in the rising and falling breeze. And always the smell of eucalyptus.