Travels in Tasmania

The island of Tasmania, generally abbreviated to "Tassie” is 240 km (150 mi) to the south of the Australian mainland. It has a population of around 520,000 with over 60% living in or around the cities Hobart or Launceston. Large parts of the island are still wild, untouched, forested hills and wilderness, although there are also vast areas of controversial forestry plantation and logging - and less controversial wine growing areas.

The island is believed to have been occupied by indigenous peoples for 40,000 years before British colonisation. It is thought Aboriginal Tasmanians were separated from the mainland Aboriginal groups about 10,000 years ago when the sea rose to form Bass Strait. The Aboriginal population was estimated to have been between 3,000 and 7,000 at the time of colonisation, but was almost wiped out within 30 years by a combination of violent conflict with settlers and the spread of infectious diseases to which they had no immunity. The near-destruction of Tasmania's Aboriginal population has been described by some as an act of genocide by the British.

Janet and I had previously visited the remote west of the Island, the Pie Man River area. It's famed for its colourful history: escaped convicts who in desperation allegedly became cannibals; prospectors who found nuggets of gold the size of rugby balls or nothing; an impenetrable forest inhabited by Tasmanian Devils and perhaps the previously numerous but possibly now extinct Tasmanian Tiger (or correctly called the Thylacine - Tasmania’s yeti?).

Trekking along Wineglass Bay

This time we headed south to the rugged peninsulas south of Hobart. New access walking routes have recently been opened giving stupendous cliff top and forest walking and staggering coastal exploration. As the Skipper of our boat heading out of the former prison settlement at Port Arthur said looking south, “On a clear day from a high vantage point on the boat, with some good binoculars... you still can’t see anything“. The next land is 2500km away.

Climbers in action on the south coast pillars

The sea cliffs in the other direction are however the thing to see. The North Face Pro Team has attempted some of the pillars that rise out of the churning waters and of course there is the famous Totem Pole, the scene of Paul Pritchard’s accident and the name of his book.

Totem Pole

From the land it is pretty exciting too, with forest trails leading through rain forest and conifers to exposed headlands, leading to the top of massive cliffs. On three separate days, I had an encounter with a snake. I mentioned it to our local guide (an Aussie environmental campaigner/activist called Jeff), He brushed the experience aside. “Oh, that’ll be just a Tiger snake, it doesn’t really want to kill you!" Most reassuring.


(L) Warning was too late. (R) Putting on rain jackets. Jeff was right.

Later we also had an evening close encounter with penguins coming on land to feed their young and not so close encounters with migrating whales.

We walked the Three Peninsulas route in a couple of days and the suggested 3-day wild camping Freycinet Circuit, in a very long hot single day, but for me the highlight was an ascent of Mount Amos. Before we parted company, Jeff gave us warnings not to go up if it was raining. In typical fashion we thought, “How hard can it be? It’ll be fine”. Imagine soloing up the Idwal Slabs in walking boots, but they are higher than the Glyders Mountains from the sea, with the only possible scrambling route marked with arrows glued onto the rock. Tricky on the way up, very tricky on the way down, especially as it did rain!

Jeff was right.

By Tom Richardson
Footwear and expedition specialist

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Tom Richardson
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