Thursday 23 May 2024

Talleh Tales: Chapter One

The call came just before dawn. A call of nature? Nothing unusual about that. But this was more. In the dim light, as I stood relieving myself, the call continued, drawing me to the lake shore. A light mist lay over the waters, blurring the line between a metal grey sky and the silver grey water. 

[Dawn at Talleh Lagoons[

All was perfectly still, or almost so. I’d thought the lake to be mirror calm, but a tiny, silent ripple just below me caught my eye. Concentric rings, like those created by a small rock plopped onto the water’s surface, gently ruffled the calm. But there was no rock thrower. Rather, as the sun began rising, I could see there was the smallest movement of air, a drift of mist coming across the lake. It didn’t make waves as such, but there was sufficient movement to cause the water to lap against a barely submerged rock; to winkle ripples out of the almost inanimate water. 

This movement of air was not wind, the sort depicted coming from the puffed cheeks of a huge humanoid cloud. No, this was a mere whisper, like a breath of God hovering over the waters of creation: a picture from the opening verses of Genesis; a poetic depiction of The Beginning of all things. 

* * * 

The (lesser) genesis of this walk came from the creative mind of our friend TimO. On a walk in Tasmania’s Central Plateau back in December ’23, Tim had posed the question: what if, instead of doing a long through walk, or a circuit walk around and back, we just walked somewhere and stayed there? For days. It would be a quieter, more meditative trip. If we wanted to we could amble around, experiencing or photographing details at different times of day. If we stayed longer we’d be able to know the one place on different days, and in different conditions. We’d be aiming for deep rather than wide. 

[Cushion plants and scoparia, Central Plateau]

We’d liked the idea, and the seed had grown. But ironically when we nailed down a few optional times in February ‘24, TimO himself wasn’t available. In the end our group was whittled down to just three: Jim, Lisa and myself. Our destination was Talleh Lagoons, a place we’d “discovered”, with TimO, on the last night of our December walk. 

Two things about the proposed walk appealed to Jim. Firstly we could start early by staying overnight at the Great Lake Hotel, and secondly the campsite was only about two and a half hours from the road end. A nice cushy walk, we (quietly) thought to ourselves. 

Lisa kindly provided the transport from Hobart, and after a pleasant night at the hotel, we reached the start of the track quite early. The “cushy” walk began, and we wandered gently along the known route. This being the plateau, the going was undulating at worst, and the conditions were clear and pleasantly cool. We were soon getting views towards lakes and mountains, the former nearer than the latter. 

But two and a half hours in, we realised we were still a long way from Talleh Lagoons. We’d made the mistake of taking Jim’s exit time from our December walk, and imagining we could match that pace on today’s inward walk. We had to admit that a Jim-headed-for-home pace was unmanageable. 

We eventually arrived in time for a late lunch, and had soon settled our tents into the lakeside camp. It was as beautiful and tranquil as Jim and I remembered, and Lisa shared our enthusiasm. Scattered trees gave us some wind protection, and strategically placed rocks divided the campsite into “rooms”, as well as offering seats and wonky tables. If we had to stay in one place for a time, we could do a lot worse than here. 

[Campsite at Talleh Lagoons]

Across the lake, the southernmost of the three lagoons that make up Talleh Lagoons, we could see the track we’d descended to get here. Mid-afternoon we saw another walker coming our way. We watched as s/he eventually reached our side of the lake. As they were setting up a few hundred metres away from us, we wandered up to meet the neighbour. The walker admitted he’d been planning to come to the site we now occupied. But seeing us ensconced, he’d chosen a (less ideal) site well away from us. 

We introduced ourselves to Steve. He turned out to be an ecologist currently working for the same department I had worked in prior to my retirement. Yes, Tasmania is a smaller world than many places! For a time we talked workplace politics, before moving on to the much more interesting topic of pencil pines: his specialty, and one of my passions. He eventually set off to indulge another passion: fishing for trout in the lagoon. We wished him well, and left to get our somewhat more certain evening meal together. 

[Jim settling in at Talleh Lagoons]

With the meal over we had a quiet wander along the shore, sometimes looking back along the lake to see if Steve was having any luck. The weather was calm, but the lake surface had plenty of ripples from trout activity. Our neighbour might yet have a special dinner. We stretched and yawned and left him to it. As currawongs and honeyeaters sang farewell to the day, it was time for us to get horizontal in our own little nylon nests.

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Back to the Land of a Thousand Lakes 3

[A grey early evening over Silver Lake]

As grey afternoon graded into grey evening, we sat around the Silver Lake campsite comparing notes on our post-lunch walks. Libby hadn’t found the reputed Shangri-la campsite near Lake Ah Chees. But she, Tim D and Merran had nonetheless enjoyed their peregrinations. Afterwards they too had gone on to Lakes Sonja and Solveig, but had crossed the Pine River well before we had. This alone, we retirees argued, explained why they’d almost caught us by the end of the day.


One thing we did agree on was how grateful we were that the forecast rain dump had held off for our first two days. The more usual Roaring Forties winds had been supplanted by a deep low pressure system east of Bass Strait. That had been flooding southern Victoria, and threatened to do the same to northern Tasmania. Looking in that direction now we could see dark clouds lowering over the peaks of the Walls. 

[Threatening clouds above the campsite]

Above us large cumulus clouds began piling up. Would tonight bring the end of our weather luck? It might, but dinner and a round of Yaniv (cards) were more of a certainty. So we relaxed and enjoyed this special time in a special place. And in the end, for all that the clouds blustered and shook their fists at us, they delivered nothing overnight. 

[Tim D (centre) explains Yaniv to Libby and TimO]

After another peaceful sleep, we were up early. Our plans for the day were vague, but we wanted to walk back uphill before the day grew too warm. I wasn’t at all keen to face the scrubby ascent from Lake Antimony. It had felt hard enough descending through it on the first day. But as sometimes happens, the difficulties were as much imagined as real. With fresh legs and a lighter pack, we were soon through the worst of the scrub. 


Partway up the hill we took a good break at Theresa Lagoon, and TimO and I wandered around the shore for a while. Pencil Pines were part of the lure. I always enjoy their company, but we also wanted to see whether this large lake might be a future camping destination. After we’d sussed out a couple of good looking sites, we rejoined the group and quickly fuelled up on nuts and water. 

[TimO checks out Theresa Lagoon]


Once we were back at the more defined Lake Fanny Track, we had decisions to make. The wind had freshened from the north, and was now quite cool. Some of us had grand plans of more lake discovery in the afternoon. But the first order of business was to find a campsite sheltered from this wind. After that we’d set up tents and have lunch. Then we could better consider the afternoon’s options. 


From the track junction we looked out to a chain of lakes only a kilometre or so to our north-west. The three Talleh Lagoons run almost north-south, and looked as though they’d have some sheltered sites. We pushed downhill, through bush that thickened as we neared the lakes. We looked first at the middle lagoon, but the only flattish bit of shoreline was wide open to the wind. So we moved on to the southern-most lagoon, where we found a shelf some distance above the lake that looked quite sheltered. Some looked happy to stop there, but I was in fussy mode. Why camp quite near a lake when you can camp right on the lake shore? 


That, of course, required there to be such a site, and that it be sheltered. So a few of us dumped packs and walked along the western shore of the lake in search of this “Goldilocks” site. We poked around for 15 minutes or so, and were about to give up when I suggested we look just a little further, the other side of some big boulders. Perhaps they were the Three Bears, because just beyond them was a campsite which Goldilocks would surely have appreciated: sheltered, absolute waterfront, great views, plenty of room for our tents. We only had to mention to Merran that it was also great for swimming, and she was on board.

[Waterfront camping at Talleh Lagoon]


Then, as we set up, something strange came over the group. All talk of going off in search of more lakes in the afternoon dissolved. Suddenly the prospect of having a lazy afternoon at the Goldilocks site had universal appeal. This was music to Jim’s ears. He had already planned just this, and was both surprised and delighted not to be the only one. 

[TimO swims at Talleh Lagoon]


After lunch three of us had a swim in the lake: or in my case a quick and very refreshing dip. And then the rain came, sending some to their tents, and others to the excellent shelter of Tim D’s excellent tarp. It rained, solidly at times, for about an hour, but then cleared to a pleasant if coolish afternoon.

[The great tarp setup at Talleh Lagoon]

Over dinner there was a spillover of gratitude for three good days of wandering among fine lakes with fine people, and in (mostly) fine weather. While some might say this was aided by a final splash of wine and liqueur, supplemented with chocolate, we had genuinely enjoyed what had been a soul filling walk. Then, as we chatted about the shape of our final day, Jim’s sparked up. We’d get going early, he insisted, estimating it would be 3½ to 4 four hours back to the cars. We had to make sure we were out in time to get to our lunch booking at the Great Lake Hotel. It seemed his beer goggles were firmly in place.

[Water lilies in a Central Plateau pond]

And so, after a Goldilock’s-appropriate breakfast of porridge, we packed up for the final time and left our lovely campsite. It’s fair to say Jim hadn’t always been the fastest walker on this trip. But now he took off like a young colt sniffing green grass. For the last few years Jim had been talking down the scope of his future bushwalking. We’d heard often of his preference for comfy huts and short days. And more than once, as he slumped down after a hard bit of walking, we’d heard him mutter things like “this is my last bl**dy walk”. 

[A watery sun on our final day]

I’ve never been fully convinced, since I kept seeing contradictory signs. Our “hut man”, for instance, had just invested in a new tent. Plus on every walk he’d maintained his gear freak status via a “reveal” of some new purchase or other. And now here he was streaking ahead of us on our final day’s walk. 

[The last we see of Jim until the end of the walk]


We never actually got close to catching Jim, who walked out in a mere 2½  hours. He argued that it was too cold to stop, with a biting wind whipping up water from the lakes as we passed by. The rest of us still needed to stop for water and some food. So, was Jim’s speedy walk out simply that of a “horse headed for home”? I’m not so sure. I think it may also be that there’s life in the old dog yet! 

Saturday 16 December 2023

Back to the Land of a Thousand Lakes 2

Someone was swanning about during the night. Despite fatigue and the comfort of my tent, I was awoken by strange sounds during the night. Someone, or something, was padding about our campsite making soft, high pitched hoots and toots. Ah yes! I’d seen a couple of black swans on Silver Lake at day’s end. The pair, it seems, had come ashore in the darkness to check out the invaders, or to graze. Perhaps both.

[A mating pair of Black Swans]


These most elegant of birds are not great walkers, their insubstantial undercarriage and heavy body making them far more suited to their usual aquatic habitat. On land they revert to “ugly ducklings”, waddling a little clumsily, sometimes bumping into or brushing by whatever is in their way. Still, there’s so much to love about these striking black birds, with their gracefully curved necks, candy-red and white beaks, and soft, cow-brown eyes. 


Europeans firmly believed swans could only be white, and that these antipodean inversions of the northern hemisphere’s mute swans were “impossible”. This illusion persisted even into the 20th century. Australia’s natural history has a way of messing with such Eurocentric notions. 

Later we got to watch as the pair took off and flew a lap of the lake. With their long necks outstretched arrow-like, they flapped their broad wings forcefully, tooting softly to each other. We shared a moment of quiet rapture when they eventually glided in for a superb unison landing. 

[Diuris orchids at our campsite]


The only other night noise – aside from a little neighbourly snoring – was a very unconvincing three minutes of “pitter” on our tents. There wasn’t enough rain to deserve the addition of a “patter”. In the morning, we started slowly. Tim D bated us about being keen to pack up and move on. He was not, and neither was anyone else. Two nights in this location was a unanimously welcome decision. 

An earlier iteration of our walk plan had us packing up today, and walking on to Dixons Kingdom in the Walls proper. But that plan had been scuppered long ago when we realised the huge car-shuffle it would have involved. While today’s plan didn’t include a pack up, it would take us on some of that route, albeit with day packs. The walk up the Bernes Valley past Lakes Sally, Sonja and Solveig was new to everyone except Jim and me.


[At the northern end of Silver Lake]

We first picked our way up the western shore of Silver Lake, dodging inland through scrubby woodland when the shore was impassable. In less than an hour we’d broken out at the large grassy clearing on the north-western shore of the upper Silver Lake. This was where I’d camped previously, and where we’d originally planned to spend our first night. While its broad, well-sheltered and has plenty of tent sites, we agreed that the campsite we’d settled on had a better outlook, especially in the light winds we were experiencing. Sometimes the wisdom of ad-hoc decisions works out well. 

[Merran looks out to Lake Sally]


Our plan from here was to walk to Lake Sally before diverting to the intriguingly named Ah Chees Lake. The story behind it is that some friends of Archibald (Archie) Meston slipped the name past the Nomenclature Board by giving its spelling an Oriental twist. (After his death in 1951, Lake Meston was also named after the Launceston born teacher/historian/anthropologist.) Libby had heard great things about the lake, including that it had some excellent tent sites, and she was keen to see it firsthand. But to see “Archie’s” we'd have to walk up the valley to Lake Sally. 

[Easy off-track walking through wildflowers]

[Walking past an enormous cushion plant]

As long as we avoided boggy sections, it was a pleasant untracked wander through a plethora of wildflowers. We were staggered by some very large, old cushionplants; enchanted by some comely reed-filled pools; and occasionally spooked by fast-moving white-lipped snakes. Just before the northern end of Lake Sally we stopped for a drink and some scroggin, and to do some running repairs on blisters that had begun to trouble TimO.

[Tim D helping with TimO's blisters]


Then we left the Pine River and followed a creek west to Ah Chees Lake. We found a handsome, large, forest-fringed lake, the perfect place for a lunch break. Merran decided it was also perfect for a swim. She informed us it wasn’t cold, though the rest of us weren’t sufficiently convinced to join her. 

[Merran swimming in Ah Chees Lake]


After lunch we split into two groups. Libby, Merran and Tim D were keen to explore the shores of this lake further, while Jim, TimO and I (the retirees) were happy with what we’d seen of Ah Chees. We’d complete our trek to Sonja and Solveig before returning to camp at Silver Lake. That sounded simple, and initially it was. We soon reeled in Lake Sonja, and Solveig wasn’t much further on.

[TimO and Jim at Lake Solveig]


But then the fun began. We wanted to return on the other side of the Pine River, which meant crossing what was a fast flowing stream. At the southern end of Sonja TimO found a crossing, and went over. But looking at it from a distance, and with the roar of a river making communication difficult, Jim decided it was too sketchy for his shorter legs. I thought it safest to stay with Jim. So we shouted that we’d stay on this side, and keep looking. We added that we should stay in visual contact. That also sounded simple, but the river had other ideas. What looked easy enough on our maps proved much more tricky. TimO had to divert east to avoid the lakeshore, while we had to meander all over the place to avoid river bends, marshes and bushy billabongs.

[Hibbertia carpet near Pine River]


Eventually, well south of Lake Sally, we finally came together again at a point where a crossing looked possible. TimO guided us step-by-step, but doubled the fun by filming our attempts, and adding an hilarious Olympic show-jumping-style commentary. No-one was harmed in the filming of the event, although one walker’s feet may have become damper than the other’s.

The non-retirees, meanwhile, had completed their viewing of Ah Chees, Sonja and Solveig, and were also coming back via the western side of Pine River. In fact as we descended from some unexpected scrub near Silver Lake, we heard a shout and saw them a couple of hundred metres behind us. Not being at all competitive, we retirees called a greeting … and duly doubled our pace. We weren’t going to let those youngsters beat us back to base!

[The waratahs were a welcome distraction while walking]


They didn’t either, but then they had the good excuse of needing to stop and search for Merran’s glasses, which she’d dropped somewhere near the Pine River crossing yesterday. So we were settled on our little campchairs, pretending to look rested and nonchalant, when they came in a few minutes behind us. Happily Merran saw us clearly: she had her glasses back where they belonged.