What Part of “Rainforest” Don’t You Understand?

I’ll admit it… when I was researching my trip to Tasmania, I didn’t really focus on one fact that kept jumping out at me from my Lonely Planet guide and various web sites: the island state comprises one of the largest tracts of cool temperate rainforest in the world.

“Cool” and “temperate” I got–that’s one reason the place appealed to me, as I hate hot weather. “Forest,” okay, sure, seems like there would be a lot of trees. “Rain,” well I guess it gets a lot of–

Ooh! Tasmanian Devils! Wombats! Kangaroos and Wallabys! Historical convict sites!

Did someone say something about rain?

In this blissful state of denial, I landed in early November, Tasmanian spring, at Hobart International Airport, in bright sun and cloudless sky. Lovely! I spent several days in Hobart walking around the surprisingly hilly city (it reminded me of a tiny and tidy San Francisco or Seattle), climbing Mt. Wellington and accomplishing other must-dos for the Tasmanian capital, almost entirely in dry, sunny, lovely weather.

Then I headed out into the hinterland.

My first day of travel (by rental car, as there are no trains and I found the bus network extremely limited, expensive and convoluted) took me as far as Lake St. Clair, at the southern end of the famous Overland Track. The Overland is Tasmania’s answer to New Zealand’s Milford Track, a must for anyone who hikes, hyped by the tourist board as the single most fantastic experience you could have on the island, blah blah.

Lake St. Clair, at the southern end of the Overland Track and part of Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, as well as Tasmania's UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pointy peak on the right is Mt. Ida.

Originally, I had planned to do to the Overland. But, just like I planned to do the Milford in New Zealand and ended skipping it in favor of the less-visited but arguably more spectacular Rees-Dart and Kepler Tracks, I decided not to. Transportation was one issue. The Overland, like the Milford, is not a circuit, and in high season you have to walk it in one direction, north-to-south. I spent several frustrated hours online in Hobart trying to piece together getting to and from the trail. It costs a couple hundred bucks just to hike the Overland, plus a couple hundred more (at the very least) to cobble together transportation using a variety of different buses from different companies, all of which required overnight stays at transfer points.

Close-up of Mt. Ida. What can I say, I'm a sucker for pointy peaks.

Note: Tasmania is not a large island. Okay, it’s bigger than, say, Manhattan, but compared with Iceland or New Zealand or other islands I have known, it’s not on a scale that merits that kind of time and expense to get from Point A to Point B.

Lake St. Clair's northern tip, near Narcissus Bay

What convinced me to skip the Overland, however, was this: all the photos I saw online, all of them, were of one of two images: the iconic Cradle Mountain (at the northern trailhead) or Lake St. Clair (at the southern terminus). I got suspicious when I realized route descriptions mentioned walking in forest. A lot.

A view of Mt. Olympus from Narcissus Bay. I should note this is the Tasmanian Mt. Olympus. In case you were wondering.

Don’t get me wrong. I love walking in forest. I am a fan of trees. But I have walked through many a forest, sometimes day after day after day in New Zealand. Beautiful, yes. Soul-touching, sure. Boring? Uhm, after a point, yep.

All the blogs and brochures also mentioned that notoriously bad weather on the Overland meant that seven out of ten days it poured rain–

La la la la la la… What? Did you say something about rain?

Anyway, I decided it made more sense to rent a car (getting a good deal) and, in addition to seeing everything else I wanted to see in Tasmania, stop at the southern and northern ends of the Overland for day hikes and skip the middle bits.

This turned out to be an excellent decision on my part. Yay me.

On an interpretational trail near the Lake St. Clair campground... trees were still somewhat of a novelty for me after Antarctica so I took lots of photos of them.

So, my first stop out of Hobart, as mentioned, was Lake St. Clair. The day was bright and lovely, as surely all days in Tasmania are, right?

Right?

What? The forests are so dense and tangled and atmospherically lush because of the massive amount of rai–

Oh! Look! It’s a kangaroo right by the side of the road!

Arriving in early afternoon, I decided to take a boat cruise the length of the lake, a rather touristy thing for me to do, but why not. I could do a bunch of day hikes the next day when surely the sun would shine as brightly (as it turned out, the boat got back early enough that I did several short hikes around the campground where I’d pitched my tent).

Another moody eucalyptus shot near Lake St. Clair on the Lar.mair.re.men.er tabelti Nature Walk (no, I did not doze off on the keyboard. The walk is an interpretational trail introducing people to the local historical Aborginal culture, and Aboriginal words often include punctuation like that).

On the Platypus Bay Trail, allegedly my best chance of seeing a platypus in the wild. They were apparently otherwise engaged.

The first big excitement once I’d settled in for the night was hearing a thump thump thump outside my tent as dusk set in. I peeked through the mesh window at the back of my tent just in time to see a wee wallaby hopping past. An actual wallaby! In the wild! Adorable!

The second big excitement arrived around midnight, waking me with a start. Someone had dumped a bucket of water over my tent! What the hell! Wait, they’re dumping another bucket! And another! And…

Oh. Rain. Serious rain.

That’s okay, I’m sure it will be over by morning.

MmHmm.

Morning of Day Two: atmospheric fog shrouding Mt. Rufus, my intended destination. I skipped it in favor of finding less obscured vistas. Ha!

Oh, don’t worry. The rain did end. Eventually. In December.

That’s right, dear reader, after that first day at Lake St. Clair, it pretty much poured rain every day I was in Tasmania. My tent, my clothes and my boots were perpetually soaked and I made the acquaintance of many a Tasmanian leech. They are actually quite cute, like independent wiggly eyelashes out of a Dr. Suess book.

Tasmanian leech I discovered on my jacket after getting in the car (and after having de-leeched, or so I thought). Curiously, while they were all over my tent and gear and boots and outerwear, I never found any on my skin (I put this guy there to get a good photo because yes, I am that willing to suffer for my art).

There were a couple days the sun came out for four to five hours at a time, but mostly it was rain, gloom and fog so dense that Steve my Guardian Angel got a few more white hairs as I drove through the mountains. There was also a day of hail mixed with rain, which I guess counts for variety.

Donaghys Hill lookout, at the terminus of one of the allegedly most spectacular short walks in the world. Its claim to fame is its view of the famous Frenchman's Cap, Tasmania's equivalent of Half Dome in Yosemite. Mmhmm. Frenchman's Cap is right there. Beyond the fog. I am including this photo because the two other tourists at the lookout were actually, really, as-God-is-my-witness French, and I stood there staring at them, for what they seemed to think was an uncomfortably long while, desperately hoping one of them would put on a hat so I could make a quip about finally seeing Frenchman's Cap. Alas, they did not oblige me.

Of all the moody fog photos I took (and believe me... I took a lot), this is my favorite. I just like the contrasts--try embiggening it. Taken at the Surprise Valley overlook in the World Heritage Area near Frenchman's Cap.

My roughly clockwise circuit around the island took me eventually to a hostel in Launceston, the largest city in the north of the island. As I was checking in, four extremely wet and smelly hikers arrived. They were flying out the following morning, back home to England, after spending a week on the Overland Track. Coincidentally, they did the trail on the same dates I had planned to do it. It poured rain nonstop every single day, they told me, with heavy fog that made it difficult to see the trail, nevermind any of the scenery. They were glum and stank of mildew, their boots and gaiters black-brown with crusted mud.

I got to see Frenchman's Cap in the end, albeit from quite a long distance away. It's the Half Dome-y looking peak on the horizon. Taken from another touristy cruise boat, this one doing the Macquarie Harbor/Gordon River route, which I took because it was the only way to see Sarah Island, the topic of another upcoming post.

Mm-hmm. Just as I suspected.

Gordon River, famous for the reflections in its dark, tannin-stained waters. Whatever. I feel great bitterness towards the Gordon River because UNESCO decided it ranks higher on the World Heritage criteria list than THE ENTIRE CONTINENT OF ANTARCTICA. Seriously!

I felt bad for them, as they had traveled all the way from England just to do the Overland and were flying straight home with nothing to show for it except perhaps a fungal infection or two.

Another shot of the Gordon River. But does it have penguins, seals, auroras, katabatic winds, glaciers or volcanoes? No. Pfft.

“I had no idea it rained so much here,” muttered one of them.

“Well,” I said before I could stop myself, “Tasmania is one of the world’s largest tracts of cool temperate rainforest, you know.”

Brat.

Hey, how about some more gloomy overcast landscapes for you? Here ya go:

A view towards the famous Cradle Mountain. It's out there. Really.

My second try at visiting Cradle Mountain. Better, but it was the third time that was the charm. Look for those photos in an upcoming post.

When the vistas won't cooperate, one must make one's own fun. Anzac Cow outside a cheese factory near Cradle Mountain.

Well, it's almost a clear day. Looking south to the Walls of Jerusalem National Park from the Devil's Gullet. The Walls turned out to be the best hike I took in Tasmania--look for photos of that in, yes, an upcoming post.

Devil's Gullet. I don't see anything devilish or gullety about it, but that's just me.

My rental car was a Hyundai Getz (I named it Bernie. Think about it. I'm guessing those of you who lived in the New York area in the late 80s will get the joke). While it lacked pick-up and got middling mpg, Bernie happened to be the exact size as my two-man Kelty tent, and often served as a drying rack.

The Bay of Fires, named by early Europeans not for the brilliant orange of its lichen-stained rocks but for the multitude of Aboriginal camp fires dotting its shore until said early Europeans arrived and made quick work of decimating the local population. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the world. On the day I visited, ah, not so much.

Curiously eroded rock on the Wineglass Bay Trail on the east coast. Good for sheltering from the rain, that's all I'm saying.

Wineglass Bay, another of Tasmania's famously scenic beaches.

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