Montana Wolf

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Boat to Hell and Nirvana: Tasmania Blog Eight

Macquarie Harbor - heading toward Hells Gates

We dropped from the highlands into Strahan mid-afternoon. High energy enveloped the town which was positioned between saltwater and rainforest. I don't know what I expected of Strahan. As one of the few towns located on the wild western coast, I anticipated something beautiful and raw. It leaned more toward cutesy, but the impressive historic architecture showed through.

It was January 30th, the eve of the full super moon eclipse. Edgy energy was on the uptick as we made our way to the harbor where the rainforest cruises departed. We purchased tickets for the next day, choosing the cruise that departed and returned the earliest. Next up was finding a camp away from the RV-park throngs. We followed our noses to a dry camp location adjacent to the small, empty golf course. There were only a few RVs; this was our spot. Daylight waning, we circled back to People's Park and the trailhead for a rainforest walk to Hogarth Falls. A beautiful little hike with interpretive signs, it was the perfect introduction to the Eucalyptus rainforest, and my first meeting with the incredible tree ferns.

Eucalyptus Giant

Alas, no platypus.

The brown rainforest water is common, the breakdown of natural elements, not pollution.

Hello again to my White Cockatoo buds!
Greg and Tree Ferns ... Rubber Fern and Hard Water Fern in foreground.

We returned to camp as sheets of rain moved in. Dry camp turned to wet camp. No worries, we were in the van, right? Then, plop, plop, plop in the middle of the night, onto the middle of my forehead. What the ... ??? I switched on the light: water was leaking through the air conditioning/heater unit. Greg pulled a tarp out of his elephantine suitcase and covered the bed. The next morning we realized that the tarp, taken from his work tools at home, had dried paint on it. The bedding was covered in tiny paint chips. No time to deal with it; we had to get to the cruise.  Yes, it was now the morning of the full moon eclipse. The first boat I saw in the harbor was the Climax. I smiled. Pretty sure it didn't refer to the Capt's great sex. On the other hand, aren't boats named after women? I tucked the omen away.

Hell's Gates
We boarded the boat at 8:30 for a six hour cruise. The weather was tumultuous, a constant shift from sun, wind, quick storms and rainbows. Magnificent. We made our way out of formidable Macquarie Harbor on the Lady Jane Franklin II toward the ocean's opening: Hells Gates. We threaded the narrow passage into ferocious waves, turned around and headed back into the harbor. Dare I say: I'd been to Hell and back. On we chugged toward the Gordon River which would take us into the UNESCO World Heritage Wilderness Rainforest. Amazing to learn this designation met seven of the ten criteria. It was the was the most qualified on the planet, including examples of "on-going evolutionary ecological and biological processes" (threatened Beech Myrtle forests), "superlative natural phenomena," threatened species habitat, traditional settlements and testimony to disappeared cultures. In addition, scientists contended that Tasmania's west coast was the cleanest air on the planet.

The boat slowed as we entered the narrow Gordon River. Cloud and sky reflected on the water and rolled into the rainforest shore. Eons of civilization peeled away from my psyche. I became transfixed, hypnotized by the elemental grandeur of the passage through time. Words became useless; a drumbeat would have been more appropriate. I perched alone at the front of the boat. People would rush out to gaze when instructed to do so and return inside, eschewing wind and showers, as I joyfully stood, metaphorically bowing to the likes of a 2500 year old Huan Pine. One of the slowest growing, longest living trees on the planet -- up to 3000 years -- the tree's golden hue and rot-resistant resins made it a prime target of furniture makers and shipbuilders. The Huan forests, once plundered for their "yellow gold," are now protected.

Scenes along the way:

Expecting the African Queen

Tas Cormorant 

We debarked deep into the Gordon River's wilderness for a rainforest hike. Too many people, too short a trail, too little time. Still and all, wholly thankful for the entry into the eons old sanctuary, assured that she would hold tight to her mysteries for eternities to come. Mysteries like the rare King's Lomatia that grew only in one small part of the rainforest. Was it near? Was I looking at it from a distance and not knowing it? Every King's Lomatia is a clone in and of itself, a biological wonder. It's the oldest clone in the world, believed to be more than 43,600 years old. The very thought pushed tears to my eyes. Its energetic presence permeated the wildscape.

Rainforest walk - one cannot fathom the millions of lifeforms in the layers and layers of plant and soil.

The trip back to town included a hearty buffet lunch. I celebrated with a glass of champagne; toasted the Huan spirits as Greg struck up a conversation with folks on the boat. I attempted to join but words were still hard to find.

We stopped at Sarah Island, site of Van Diemen's Land's infamous penal colony, and were treated to a lively interpretive walking tour and dramatic stories of the cruel, and yes, creative, personalities that  met their fates in the inhospitable place.

White-bellied Sea Eagle
Seen from boat as I thumbed through bird book! 
Still an hour from port, the pontoon sped up as weary travelers settled in. Greg slept as I thumbed through the ship's bird book, identifying what I'd seen since my Tas arrival. Thirty-nine species, not to mention those I'd forgotten and the Blue-tongued Lizard. As for the big guys, the Tasmanian Devil still eluded me.

We stepped ashore. I headed to the van to offload trip packs and coat; told Greg I'd meet him in a bit for a snack. By the time I got to the cafe he had finished and I ordered, as he did a last bit of sight-seeing. I sipped my iced coffee as I collected myself and made notes of memories. A big part of me wanted one more night in Strahan to hike and observe the mutton bird rookery. We stepped into the van instead, not sure where we'd stop, wanting to cut the distance to the old growth forest the next day. As the moored boat had portended, the climax was yet to come. We were a few hours from the full moon rise.

Feet back on the ground,iced coffee time!

More miscellaneous shots:

Terns tucked away

A Hells Gates Lighthouse

Sarah Island

Sarah Island


  1. HUAN forest, 2500 years old! ! And birds, all so delightful. Thanks for sharing your trip!

  2. Very cool, Christina. I love the rainforest. It reminds me of Belize, And all the new birds and animals you get to see. Great trip.