Life in the scenic lane

When God was designing Australia, the inclusion of mountains was only an afterthought. To make amends, he decided to plonk a nation’s worth of hills on the southern island, soon to be known as Tasmania.

I don’t know how valid that rhetoric may be from a theological or historical perspective, but the point of this blog is not to explore the influence of the divine in matters of continental drift or nation-state boundaries. Perhaps that will be the subject of another post. For now, though, my attention will be focused on the adventures of father and son, in the forgotten little isle of Tasmania.

It’s a funny feeling being a tourist in your own country, but my sense of unfamiliarity has been somewhat justified by Bass Strait – which separates Tasmania from Victoria. I’ve never had to introduce myself as a ‘mainlander’ before; the notion of simultaneously being both a local, and an overseas traveller is a concept I have yet to get my head around. Regardless of my identity status issues, though, Tasmania is nevertheless for me a fresh holiday destination. Which means that I’ve been willing to swallow my pride and take it all through the eyes of a backpacker.

The most pertinent example of this occurs each time we set off on a road trip. In safari-esque fashion, I perceive every rock to be a wombat, every pile of twigs to be an echidna, and every long stick to be a snake. My wishful thinking has yet to serve me well. The only wombats – or Tasmanian devils for that matter – I have come across have been splattered with blood and lying  in the middle of bitumen. Nor have I crossed passed with a snake, yet such a non-event has not left me particularly disappointed. I have, however, spotted up to a dozen Tasmanian Tigers. Unfortunately my camera has been too slow on each occasion. What a shame.

There are a number of key differences down here. While the weather may be fickle in the same fashion as Melbourne, it is significantly colder; the Spirit of Tasmania released me from humid 34 degree weather and delivered me into a land of depressing clouds. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Cold weather is ideal for bushwalking, in spite of the fact that overcast conditions have an uncanny knack of leaving one sunburnt.

The second difference is mobile phone reception. Up until now, I’ve been pretty indifferent towards the National Broadband Network. Not having coverage when you’re less than 5 kilometres away from a major city (or, in the case of Strahan, the heart of the tourist capital) has somewhat changed my perspective.

Thirdly, the stigma directed towards P-plate drivers is a world apart from Victoria. While such intermediate road-users are still perceived negatively, it’s because they drive too slow. I’m not sure that I agree with the enforcement of an 80km/h ceiling on P-platers, but from a tourist viewpoint, it’s perfect; it enables me to take in the scenic route as slow as I want, without worrying about impatient drivers.

A combination of lousy mobile reception and measured driving brought a colour of drama to my otherwise enjoyable first day. With our GPS taking us around in circles, and my dear friend Mr. L. Planet imploring us to take a scenic drive, I set off south from the the northern coast in search of the apparently worthwhile Leven Gorge. An overwhelming cover of fog, however, made our detour seem redundant. In the passenger’s seat, Dad fell asleep. Had I followed suit, we would have been in a lot of trouble.

Thirty minutes into the drive, a new concern popped into my head. Weren’t we meant to check-in at our accommodation before 6 o’clock? With the clock already situated at half past five, the hostel over 100 kilometres away, and the mobile refusing to give in, I was resigned to the fact that sleeping in the car or paying a ridiculous sum of money for a hotel were the only options on the cards. That’s when we arrived at Leven Gorge, and put those worries on hold.

Up until this point, our drive had been filled with stress and regret. The spectacular platform panoramas of Leven Gorge erased all that; Dad and I were awestruck at the mountainous canyon and dense rainforest that sat 300 metres below us.

It turned out that we did get accommodation, after all, for the bargain price of $10 a head (thankfully we only have one head each). If it wasn’t for Dad noticing a camouflaged ‘After Hours Inquiries’ phone as we were about to leave, though, we could have endured an uncomfortable opening night.

The next afternoon brought about a similar race, but this time it was a race that involved efficiency, patience, and precision. In the hours before we reached Rocky Cape National Park, I insisted with Dad that we fuel up. His confidence in our petrol tank, however, vetoed my pleas and we continued our long drive up to the park’s peak.

On the drive home, though, we were inevitably lacking in the fuel department. But seeing as it was already 8pm, the nearest service station that was open was over 30 kilometres away. Determined not to waste fuel, I staggered along the highway at 50km/h, letting heavy duty trucks and old Grannies overtake me. Irresponsible P-plate driver? I think not.

Once again, our concerns were quelled by a fortunate ending. But only just. As we pulled into the Wynyard petrol the station, the little fuel arrow was flirting with the red line. A couple of extra kilometres would have been our downfall.

These are only some of the misadventures encountered by my father and I, and they have only really scratched the surface of what this Tasmania trip has thus far encompassed. We’ve cruised through rivers, crouched down caves and found ourselves bogged in sand. Furthermore, I could go into  detail about the great crab migration at Narawntapu National Park, the ill-placed sand dunes at forest-laden Strahan, the rugged ‘drive’ up the the Western Explorer ‘road’, or the mind-blowing, clothes-blowing, body-blowing ‘Edge of the World’ lookout. But I figure that I’ll save those stories for a later date.

In fact, when I return you can ask me all about it. Just don’t ask me whether I have killed any animals at any national parks. I could get into a lot of trouble for that answer…