Tasmania: Return to the Emerald Isle

View from the top of the Mountain
View from the top of the Mountain

By YD Bar-Ness

Go to Tasmania. Meet me there. You’ll find it is the place you were dreaming about. You might have to refresh your memory with a glance–it’s the island hanging off the corner of Australia.

It has the wildness you’ve been longing for, with the landscapes and coastlines you were always looking for on the horizon. Tasmania has one of the world’s last great wildernesses, and, truly, we need visitors like you to help save that wildness into the future.

It’s no trouble to get there, once you are in Australia. I’m writing you this letter from Melbourne, where an airplane flight across the Bass Strait to the island costs less than another big night at the pub.

I’m tired, worn out from the travels on the crowded continent and the efforts of returning smiles to those less fortunate. Even in Australia, where people live lives of quality and opportunity, there is still a special feel to Tasmania that makes it worth a visit.

It’s been a long time since I was there. I wonder what it will be like to return to the Emerald Isle. Go, quickly, to Tasmania, and meet me there. When you arrive in the capitol city of Hobart, you’ll see the fantastic bulk of Mt. Wellington, with the striated cliffs of the Organ Pipes tempting you to climb and explore their verticalities.

Dolerite Mountains

Moonrise over Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Moonrise over Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Like so many other dolerite mountains of Tasmania, this one just above Hobart offers the adventure and variety you’ve been seeking in life. The forests themselves, with walking and biking trails, offer even more options that the paved motorway road to the summit.

In the city itself, you’ll be able to see the transformation of the island from a raw, resource-extracting economy to a more refined, sustainable, ecotourism model. There are fewer people working with chainsaws, and more people working with espresso machines.

You can walk along the old sandstone warehouses at Salamanca, and if you arrive on a Saturday, appreciate the bustling market, where everyone in town arrives for the best of food, veg, gifts, and socialization. The gardens and lawns surrounding the Parliament House will give you a perfect place for a picnic, underneath the old oak and sycamore trees.

It’s here that you’ll spread out the map of the heart-shaped island, and let your eyes wander over the tortured chasms and folded mountains that we will soon explore.

You’ll see the Midland valley, running from Hobart in the southeast to the collection of small towns on the north coast. Your gaze will catch on the strange peninsulas of the east coast, with their narrow isthmus-necks the gateways to strange and isolated national parks: Freycinet, Maria Island, the Forestier Peninsula, Bruny Island.

Aerial view of Hobart harbor, Tasmania.
Aerial view of Hobart harbor, Tasmania.

You’ll see the southwestern third of the island, covered in the Southwestern National Park, and you’ll immediately know that this covers the swampy buttongrass moorlands, where the crystal white ridges of quartzite mountains rise jagged. Their names- Federation, Frenchman’s Cap, the Needles, Mt. Wedge- have all danced through your imagination.

The highlands will also beckon- it is through this grotesque and windswept mountain plateau that the famous Overland Track weaves from the double-peak of Cradle Mountain, through the stunted and colorful heatherfields, and though the towering peaks of Mt. Ossa and Pelion.

The infinite columns of dolerite scratched into sharp mountains by long-gone glaciers, will do nothing but soothe your heart.

Dark Cool Rainforests

When you go to Tasmania, you must go to see the forests. It is these dark cool rainforests that make the island so special, preserving the strange botany of the Southern Hemisphere. Like those of New Zealand and Chile, Tasmania’s forests hold still the trees, ferns, and mosses of ancient Antarctic forests, lineages a hundred million years old, and still alive and well.

The world’s tallest and largest flowering plants- the giant swamp gums and stringybarks, tower above the treeferns and beech trees in a strangely thrilling way. It is these forests, and the fight to save or exploit them, that has ripped apart Tasmania over the last few years.

Mount Wellington, Tasmania.
Mount Wellington, Tasmania.

You will, no doubt, have heard about the bitter fights to protect these forests. Maybe you’ll meet some of the activists, the dedicated souls who have fought so hard, staged demonstrations and filled protest camps. And maybe you’ll meet some of the forest workers, who face uncertain futures as public opinion turns against their livelihoods.

Rainbow over Hobart.
Rainbow over Hobart.

Their chainsaws hold little for you– the only shock at the ragged wasteland following a clearcut area. You’ll pass these places by, and you’ll find that the knowledge they have been replanted is an uneven counterbalance to the damage already done.

Maybe, rationally, you can learn that Tasmania is managing its forests far better than most other places on Earth, but landscape clearing is still an ugly thing. Things are changing, and the forest industry is dealing with a difficult change towards eco-tourism. The transfer of skills is necessary, and indeed the future of Tasmania’s economy may lie with you.

Green and Quiet Places

It sounds odd to say, but its your sensibilities that point the way forward. Your appreciation of green and quiet places, and your ability to walk happily on remote beaches- this is what is needed. Your enthusiasms for fine cheese and wine, and good fruit and fish match well with your desires for good coffee and scenic towns.

The island is now more confident of its charms, and people throughout Australia can now imagine the gourmet and luxurious life to match the austerity and challenges of the wild lands. It’s a stunningly different place, and the wildness is there waiting to encompass you. Go find out for yourself – they need you there.

Go, you nomad, go to Tasmania. It will be wonderful. I’ll see you there.

YD Bar-NessYD Bar-Ness is a conservation ecologist based in Fremantle, Western Australia. As a scientist, he specializes in climbing trees to explore forest biodiversity, and as a conservationist, he seeks to use geography and photography to create environmental education materials. Please visit www.treeoctopus.net to learn more about his work.

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