How do you explain to someone why wilderness is so important? It is only through experiencing it over time that one comes to such an understanding.
Across the Port Sorell estuary, to the west of our family shack at Hawley Beach, Tasmania, lies Narawntapu National Park. From our shack we have an uninterrupted view of the Park that forever changes with seasonal weather and cloud formations. It is an ancient and quiet land- the legacy of the men who loved this place and understood its importance to preserve it.
I first traversed the length of this park years ago from Baker’s Beach to Green’s Beach, when I was just fifteen. I still love walking there in the different seasons when the feed is plentiful for the protected wildlife, and the beaches are deserted, wild and windswept.
The park extends from the Asbestos Ranges down to two Bass Strait beaches- Baker’s Beach and Badger’s Beach, stretching for many miles of coastline. The traverse of these beaches is a good day’s walk in either direction. The park includes many inlets- Shell Island, Penguin Island and The Carbuncle, headlands, dunes, wetlands, a lagoon and an old historic farm.
A Summers Walk
We completed our summer’s walk in Narawntapu- a circuit of over 18.9 kilometres. The weather was ideal- overcast, cooler temperatures in the low 20’s before rain developing late afternoon.
This summer there was a notable absence of wombats, due to their population being stricken by a deadly mite parasite, since our last visit. The water table was low, and in the swamp areas there were more visible plums of surface algae and weed. The bush was showcasing several species of wild flowers, - white flowering tea tree, a climbing native blue berry, a rare purple orchid, and the vibrant pink flowering trigger plants. Native tallboys, triggered by the higher summer temperatures and bush fires of the past, were also evident in seed on Archer’s knob.
My husband, Jim and I, first walked through to an ancient paperbark forest swamp. This is my favourite spot in the park: it reminds me of wading through swamps with my science teacher- ‘Sir’ we called him, in search of microscopic life forms, Year 8 at school: the best science excursion I ever had growing up!
We climbed to the summit of Archers Knob, then ambled down to the eastern end of Bakers Beach. Another climb up over the saddle, and down again revealed the deserted and beautiful Copper's Cove.
Returning, we were able to transverse around the headland due to the low tide. Low water mark revealed a number of sea caves, and interesting striated ancient rock formations, weathered by time and wind. Although very sharp to walk on, I enjoyed the challenging clamber across the rocky outcrops around the cliffs.
Arriving at the eastern end of Bakers Beach, I took a refreshing dip in the ocean, whilst Jim assumed a life guarding patrol (not that I needed rescuing!)
As we retraced our path towards Springlawn, Jim sprung backwards to avoid a tiger snake on the track ahead of us- a flash of stripes and head rearing to strike, as we disturbed it from its slumber. But this snake was easily faster than us as it retreated into the bush. The tiger snake is the deadliest of all the snakes in Tasmania to come across. (The others to avoid at all costs are the black snake and the brown snake.)
Once we reached the open planes of the Springlawn, we came across families of grazing Forester kangaroos, oblivious to our presence. We were so lucky to view them at such close range.
A Winter’s Walk
When we took our young visitor from France, Edmee, with a long list of animals she wished to see, we weren’t disappointed. There was an abundance of wildlife grazing late afternoon on the open grassy plains – forester kangaroos, Bennett’s wallabies, paddy melons, echidnas and wombats. Sheltering on the lagoon were flocks of black swans, ducks, herons, pied cormorants, coots, bitterns and grebes. Kookaburras observed us studiously, blue wrens played in the foliage, and native hens scattered in our path as we walked.
Ahead of us warned plovers of our approach, and on the beach- oystercatchers, seagulls, terns and ocean gulls, wheeling around in the biting wind. All this was in the space of a few hours walking through the bushland, past the swamp and bird hide, our feet sinking in a water logged boggy path, as we plied our path around the lagoon in the ebbing wintry twilight.
We strode past bleached white skeletal remains of possums on our path: stripped clean by foraging animals- constant reminders of the natural order of survival here.
One summer’s night I remember watching in disbelief as our park burnt: red embers glowered. The silhouetted trees alight, flickering against the night sky. The smoke haze choked the ranges, as the fire raged and burned for days on end. Recovery was slow over a few years, but gradually the bush recovered, wildlife returned and regrowth signalled new life again. Part of the cycle of life.
It is in Narawntapu National Park that I rekindle a sense of contentment, enjoy solitude and enrich my soul- something that only a wilderness experience can bring. I hope that I too, will impart this love of wilderness to those who walk with me in this hallowed land, like those before me have done.
I am a part of that wild place... and it is a part of me.