From Here To Antipodes


Aug 10, 2001
Outside Magazine

Although the outside world has yet to catch on, any Aussie will tell you that for the most extreme wilderness fix, you should head down to Tasmania. This island's mountainous expanse contains the finest bushwalking in the country, the fiercest rivers, the most dramatic alpine scenery. More than one-fifth of its territory has been listed as World Heritage areas.
The premier bushwalk is the Overland Track in the northwest of the central highlands. Running through Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, this tough, muddy trail crosses 54 miles of exposed, windswept moorland, its mountain panoramas interspersed with lakes and gnarled, twisted forests—all inhabited by wallabies, wombats, and Tasmanian Devils (unlike the Bugs Bunny version, they're like big-headed rodents, but the surprisingly loud roar is accurate). The track can be covered in five days, but most people prefer to take at least eight to explore the side trails. No permits are needed for camping, but all hikers must register on departure (for park information, call 04-92-1133). The Australian outfitter Peregrine (in the U.S.: 800-889-1464) runs guided seven-day camping treks for $780 per person, including all equipment and transfers from Hobart. Cradle Mountain Huts (03-312-006) offers a cushier six-day trek on the Overland Track, with overnight stays in comfortable, heated cabins ($1,138 per person). And there's no shame in staying at the sprawling chalet-style Cradle Mountain Lodge (cabins with kitchenettes, $125; 800-225-9849) at the entrance to the national park. The place is almost the size of a small village, but it's a good base for day hikes. Your best bet: Take the six-hour loop around Dove Lake via the Twisted Lakes.

For fly fishermen, the thousands of lakes and pristine streams riddling the central highlands are hopping with brown trout; stay at the eccentric Bronte Park Highland Village (doubles, $50-$63; 02-89-1126), a converted hydroelectric camp from the 1950s, each of its cottages named after a different foreign country. Meals are extra, served in a family-style dining room.
Beyond Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair, the whole southwest of Tasmania is a network of World Heritage-listed national parks, a barely mapped expanse of mountains and temperate rainforest where many are convinced the Tasmanian Tiger, or thylacine, still lurks. At the area's northern fringe lies the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, which enjoys talismanic status among Aussie environmentalists: In the early 1980s, hundreds of Tasmanian "greenies" threw themselves in front of bulldozers to save the Franklin's raging rapids from a dam. Whitewater rafters can only give thanks: As you weave through some of the world's most inaccessible country, overhung by greenery and 170-million-year-old sheer quartzite gorge walls, the Franklin seems like a crevice in geological time. Class IV rapids follow in quick succession, with portages required in several sections. Peregrine runs rafting expeditions, from the more moderate five-day trip along the Upper Franklin ($860 per person) to a 13-day wilderness extravaganza along the entire river ($1,490 per person) climaxing with 600 yards of the Class IV Newland Cascades and including a day climbing Frenchmans Cap, the tallest peak in the park.
For coastal drama, head for the South Coast Track, a six-day journey along uninhabited beaches flanked by huge headlands; it's like a larger-scale Big Sur (next stop south: Antarctica). To tackle this sodden, mist-shrouded, leech-filled trail alone, take a light plane from Strahan into the airstrip at Melaleuca—a camp almost lost in the middle of the wilderness—then hike about 45 miles out to Cockle Creek, where daily buses operate (no permits are needed, but hikers should be experienced; for park information, call 011-61-02-88-1283; flights cost $463 with Wilderness Air, 04-71-7280). Down Under Answers (in the U.S.: 800-788-6685) operates nine-day guided camping trips for $870 per person, including equipment and transfers from Hobart.
On the east coast of the island, the Freycinet Lodge (cabins, $110; 02-57-0101) is a new, minimally designed wilderness hotel at the gateway to the sand-fringed Freycinet Peninsula National Park. You can take day hikes over the pink granite mountains into clear, green Wineglass Bay. Peregrine offers a three-day sea-kayak trip for $390 per person (including gear, meals, and transfers from Hobart). You'll paddle three and a half hours south of the lodge to a remote beach camp on the western shore of the peninsula where you can kayak, hike, snorkel, and fish.

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