Dreaming Tasmania

A Hiker Finds Realized Fantasy and Jarring Realities in the Ecologically Unmatched Tasmanian Wilderness
  |  Gorp.com
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...The quiet was so deep that their feet seemed to thump along while the trees leaned over them and listened. As their eyes became used to the dimness, they could see a little way to either side in a sort of darkened green glimmer. Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in through some opening in the leaves far above...stabbed down thin and bright before them.The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

The little plane is buzzing like an enraged hornet. The pilot points at the landscape below, explaining something at length in a vinegary Tasmanian accent (or, as he would put it, "Tizmynean icksint"). I haven't understood a word he's said. But the country speaks for itself. The coastal city of Hobart gives way to orchards and fields, which in turn yield to clear-cut forest, to standing forest, and finally to unbroken, endless forest. Rivers wind down the dark valleys and glitter in the sun. A spine of stone peaks erupts through the trees and aims at our belly. We putt past Federation Peak, a quartzite fang towering over a black, shadowed lake. On its shoulder there is a pool as rounded and clear as a contact lens.

Then the mountains drop to the ocean, whose pale green waves lap the various shores of Tasmania, Antarctica, and Papua New Guinea. We get off the plane—Dave Walker, a self-styled engineer from Toronto, Sarah Williams, an English veterinarian, and Rebecca Boyle, whose gargantuan pack and enviable muscle tone identify her as our leader—and start our eight-day, 45-mile hike into pure wilderness.

I love walking. I love the leeway it gives my senses. Too bad my senses aren't in working order. I'm in the state of profound detachment reserved for the truly enlightened and the extremely jet-lagged. From what I'm seeing, I could be dreaming. We're on a track made of crushed white quartzite that crosses a wide buttongrass plain. In the distance, tier upon tier of mountain ranges climb into infinity. Silvery eucalyptus trunks rise into the haze that hangs around the hills. Everywhere, there are the squarish turds of wombats—a stout, bearlike, burrowing marsupial. A pair of tiny black lizards called skinks skits across the wooden planking that crosses a boggy spot. The weather is breezy and warm; the country is beautifully, strangely empty. Not coincidentally, the conversation turns to children's books. The Hobbit. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Secret Garden.

A few hours later, we stop on the huge white expanse of Cox Bight beach, where we eat oysters and chocolate and watch the marbled waves roll in from Antarctica. That night, we pull our sleeping bags onto the sand and sleep under the Southern Cross. I feel as far from home as I can get and still be on Earth.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 19 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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