Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tasmania Part 3: in which there is a lot of driving and the GPS gets lost

We were leaving Hobart and heading to Strahan on the West coast. Part of the reason behind this trip was to do the west coast of the state, as the previous time we really only visited the east coast. Hobart to Strahan is a fair drive. Oddly enough it doesn’t look as far as Devonport to Hobart, but it takes twice the time. This is because most of Tasmania is protected wilderness areas and roads have to skirt them.

We’d heard about a thing in Huon valley timber country that was called the Tahune Airwalk. Looking at the map we figured that it was on the way to Strahan, so we could do it and then head off to Strahan.

The drive to the airwalk was extremely pleasant. It meanders past rolling cow and sheep filled pastures and along the pristine Huon river. Tasmanians are very proud of Huon pine. It’s a remarkable tree that is only found in Tasmania. It’s the 2nd oldest tree in the world and they have examples in the state that have been verified at over 2,000 years old. It’s a very slow growing tree, growing at 3 - 5 millimetres per year. It was logged extensively years ago, but is now protected and only properly registered and qualified businesses and tradespeople are allowed to harvest the wood, and it’s wood that has fallen and is no longer growing. It was initially prized as a boat building wood. The Huon pine has an oil that makes it both water resistant and inedible to borers and termites. When the boat building industry started to use materials other than wood for their craft the bottom pretty much fell out of the Huon pine industry and that’s also when they began to protect it. Because there’s not so much of it around these days it’s very valuable. You can easily and cheaply buy small items made from it, but bigger things like tables, could run you as much as $10,000.

The Tahune Airwalk is in the middle of a working forest. You drive up the winding Arve road dotted with walks and picnic spots and find yourself at the Tahune Airwalk. It was recommended to me by a work mate who had visited it as a fun thing to do. There are a few walks that can be done and a sort of flying fox thing with a hang glider. It was supposed to be totally safe, but I have a bit of a problem with heights and we were pushed for time, so I decided against that. We took the most popular walk, which takes you into a dense forest, they have various types of trees labelled, with a little bit about them. You gradually ascend until you wind up on this metal framework, which takes you into the treetops. This is the airwalk. It’s quite a vantage point and allows you to see just what monsters many of the trees around you are, it also gives a good view of the river, where you can see the kingfishers flitting about, wheeling and diving as they fish for food on the surface of the water. Even for someone with height issues I found this quite enjoyable and extremely safe. It may have been different on a wet day, but we had really nice weather.

Remember I said we thought that the airwalk was on the way from Hobart to Strahan? Apparently not, at least according to our Navman GPS unit. It took us all the way back we’d driven and back through Hobart before directing us towards Strahan. This is a hell of a drive. I don’t mean it’s not enjoyable by that. It’s long and varied and actually quite fun. Tassie has a really good system of highways and you hardly encounter any traffic. Doing a similar drive on the mainland, especially Victoria or New South Wales, would probably take twice as long due to traffic.
We went through more of those verdant fields with cows and sheep. I seem to go on a bit about how green it is. Most of the country has been in a drought for the past couple of years, obviously not in Tasmania. We found ourselves in more timber country, driving through pine plantations, often one side was deforested and the other had replanted areas which were growing for harvest at a future date. We regularly saw snow on the side of the road, evidence that although it is officially spring, winter is still hanging around down on the Apple Isle. At one point the GPS directed us off the main road and down 20 kilometres of unsealed road, that was fun, glad we have a 4WD. We drove through some of the world heritage listed Franklin River wilderness area. Eventually we wound our way into the mountains and the rainforest. That was where the GPS lost its signal, it was rather amusing to look at it telling me that I was driving off the road. Fortunately I wasn’t, because that lead to a fairly steep, heavily forested ravine. The only part of the drive I didn’t enjoy came towards the end, and that was through the Queenstown area. I’ll talk more about Queenstown later on, but the whole place has been devastated by mining and it’s just desolate looking hell hole, the road went up steeply and wound around tight turns, taking you along the edge of some dizzying drops into the mine ravaged landscape.

It was dusk by the time we rolled into the picturesque and loving restored fishing, mining and pining village of Strahan. We got some takeaway fish and chips for dinner, because it was one of only 2 places still open in the village. More of Strahan and it’s rugged northwest surrounds tomorrow.

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