Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Good Walk Spoiled

[The Leeaberra Track Part 1]


Below Heritage Falls on the Douglas River 


The obsessions of youth often signify something more than the object of the obsession. Girls and horses is one that’s been well explored, but there are many others. I, for instance, was obsessed with golf. By my late teens I had become good enough to play off a single digit handicap. Once I even completed an 18 hole round in one under par. This secured me a trophy whose uselessness was profoundly amusing. A cut crystal sherry decanter was not the perfect prize for a (then) teetotal 17 year old.

By my early twenties I had lost enthusiasm for golf, and was developing some sympathy for Mark Twain's summation of it as a good walk spoiled. Even at the height of my obsession I was at times distracted from golf by the flora and fauna on view on my home course. I remember staring boggle-eyed at spawning eels; pondering the amazing semi-submerged life of mangroves; being transported by the warbling of butcher birds; laughing at the acrobatic antics of galahs. It didn't bode well for my golfing future, but was certainly a pointer to interests that now predominate.

I was reminded of all this when we recently walked the Leeaberra Track in Tasmania's Douglas-Apsley National Park. The three day walk normally begins at Thompsons Marshes, inland of the east coast town of Bicheno. But severe flooding in recent years had taken out two bridges on the access road. Without a four wheel drive vehicle to get us to the track head, we were forced to walk an extra 5.5 kilometres up old logging tracks. It was like having to play golf off the back marker.

To add to our handicap, it was one of those rare October days that gets uncomfortably hot. The walk – from near sea level to 400 metres – proved cruelly, sweatily tedious. We had estimated it would take us between one and a half and two hours. It took nearly three and a half. We arrived at Thompsons Marshes late in the afternoon, thirsty, sweaty and feeling as though we had already done our day’s work. Welcome to the start of the walk!


Tim and Lynne at the "start" of the track, 3 and a half hours after starting!

A good campsite can cover a multitude of sins, and when we finally got to the first night’s camp beside the Douglas River, it turned out to be one of those. Nestled high on the river bank, beneath a canopy of tall trees, the site had most of what you could ask for, including some useful lounging logs.

The hot clear day had turned to a cool clear night, and after a welcome meal, and an even more welcome wash in the river, we relaxed against our logs. Stars pricked the dark above us. Robbed of some familiarity by the trees that blocked our view of their companions, the stars’ beauty and mystery seemed to multiply.

As the river shushed, and currawongs bugled a cheery last post, I contemplated getting out my tripod and trying for a long exposure shot of the canopied stars. But the physical and mental effort needed felt beyond me. Instead comfort, inertia and sore muscles prevailed. After a little more lounging and yarning, we stumbled off to our tents, and slept like our campsite’s logs.

From very early the birds were up and active. A tuning orchestra of calls drew me into consciousness, from the clink of currawongs, the ding of green rosellas, and the cheeeerr of fantailed cuckoos; to the chip of crescent honeyeaters, the weeee of firetails and the dizzy-dizzy-dee of grey fantails. You realise how tuned to birds you’ve become when you’re identifying their calls before you’ve even registered you’re awake!

The morning was set aside for waterfall visits. If you hanker after high mountains and expansive views, the Leeaberra Track would probably not be your first choice. But if you can’t get enough of running, tumbling, gushing, falling or tranquil rock-cloistered water, it’s near enough to perfect.


Tim takes a shortcut down the Douglas River

We picked our way down steep and sometimes slippery tracks – and non-tracks – to the two falls that neighboured our campsite: Heritage and Leeaberra Falls. This was as far as I had been on previous visits to the north of the park. I remember being surprised to find waterfalls of this height and volume in the “dry” east of Tassie.

Flowing water has always entranced me, and although the flow over the falls was more modest this time, it was still impressive enough to still conversation. Each of us wandered around the falls, photographed, or just sat contemplating the ever-changing interplay between fluid and rock.

We knew we soon had to return to the campsite and put those heavy packs back on. Yet somehow the night’s rest and our exposure to this beauty had already started to unspoil this good walk. We were ready for day two.


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