It’s known as ‘The Apple Isle’ and for those of you from around the world who don’t know, Tasmania is the little island at the bottom of Australia that’s the butt of quite a few mainland jokes and so often gets left off maps. Apparently it got the whole ‘Apple Isle’ name because for many years it was one of the biggest apple growers on the planet. But I wasn’t there for the apples, although I did eat a few while I was there and they were quite nice. No, as usual, I was there for the trail running and adventure.
Weirdly, while I’ve been to quite a few places around the world, there are still plenty of spots in my own home country of Australia that I’ve not yet visited – and Tasmania was one of those. There wasn’t really any good reason for not having been. I simply hadn’t gotten around to it. Especially since getting into this whole adventure lark, I’ve always thought it would be a pretty awesome place to go, but as is often the case, unless you have a specific prompt to go, it just never happens. The Tassie Trail Fest was my prompt to go. So I did.
As usual, my decision to go was a little last minute and I did precious little research on where specifically I’d be going and what else was around. I basically booked a flight, a car, and turned up figuring I could make the rest of it up as I went along. It’s a strategy that’s worked for me before but isn’t one I’d necessarily recommend.
The Trail Fest itself wasn’t due to start til Saturday, which meant I’d pencilled in Thursday and Friday as adventure days. Thursday I checked out the nearby Myrtle Forest Walk just outside of Weldborough before heading off to St Columba Falls and onto Ralphs Falls. It was my first taste of Tassie wilderness and I absolutely loved it.
St Columba Falls is considered one of Tasmania’s highest and most beautiful waterfalls. I have to say, it probably wasn’t one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen, but then, perhaps I’ve been a little spoiled with some of the spectacular falls I’ve seen in South East Asia. The forest along the way, however, was right up there. They say Platypuses live in the creeks there, although you’d need to be pretty lucky to spot one. You’d have to be even luckier to spot a Tasmanian Tiger – the icon of the Tassie Trail Fest. In days gone by, this area was their prime habitat but they’ve been listed as “presumed extinct” since 1986 – 50 years after the last one died at the local zoo. That hasn’t stopped there being thousands of sightings of them still, including one right there at St Columba Falls by a local ranger back in 1995. Locals are convinced they still live deep in the forests and I hope they’re right.
I may not have seen any platypus or Tasmanian Tigers, but I did get bitten on the back of the leg by something while sitting on a rock by the creek. It hurt like buggery and at the time, I was worried it was Tiger Snake because I am an idiot and a panic merchant at times. I imagined dying a slow and painful death, alone in the wilderness beside that beautiful creek. There’s probably worse ways to go, but it turns out it wasn’t a snake. Or a platypus. Or a Tasmanian Tiger.
Next stop was Ralph Falls – and even though the nasty weather was really starting to settle in by this point, I actually thought this 100m high ‘ribbon’ waterfall was much more spectacular making its way down some fairly decent cliffs. While clear, fine weather is usually what people wish for when they’re out and about, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s that there can be real magic in ‘bad’ weather, and the mist rolling in made for an awesome photo before I had to tuck the camera away to keep it dry.
On the way back to the car from the main lookout I found a turn off on the trail and followed it for a while to the top of the falls, but because I didn’t have a map and the trail was quite over grown, I got a bit sketched out and turned back after a while. OK, I confess, mostly I was worried about being bitten by another killer platypus. I now know it was a nice 4km loop trail and wish I’d done it. But when you’re in the middle of nowhere by yourself, without proper supplies, and scare of Tasmanian Tigers, the last thing you want to do is hit up a trail that goes for who knows how long and who knows where. One for next time!
Besides, with a trail marathon coming up on the Saturday I wasn’t wanting to put too many miles on the legs so I was happy to keep things pretty mild, do some short walks, and say ‘hi’ to a couple of very friendly echidnas along the way.
I spent that first night in one of the event’s luxury tents. It turned out they were so luxurious they came with their own water feature courtesy of 12+hours of relentless rain and a leaky roof. So in the early hours of the morning I was forced to abandon ship and stay warm and dry in my car. Ah yes, adventure comes in many shapes and forms, and sometimes when you least expect it.
On the Friday, again without any sort of plan, I just jumped in the car and headed off, coming across the Blue Tier Giant Trail – a forest trail to view some giant gum trees. Seemed as good an adventure option as any to me. It was raining, but I was rugged up in my ioMerino as usual, so I braved the elements and set off on what was supposed to be a short, easy walk. The Blue Tier Plateau is an exposed, sub-alpine plateau 600m above sea level and this particular walk goes through huge eucalypts, musk, myrtle, mosses, ferns, and a shit load of leeches. Not that anyone mentioned the leeches. And damn do I hate leeches.
I made it to the Blue Tier Giant without any issues. Just a bit wet. And this tree really is a giant. Perhaps not on the scale of the redwoods I’ve seen in the USA, but it is seriously big. In fact, it’s the widest living tree in Australia and takes 15 people to wrap their arms around it. I was 14 people short so didn’t bother trying to test that. instead I just stopped and took a few rain soaked pictures. Big mistake. As this probably gave some blood-sucking hitch-hikers the opportunity get on board. Half way back to my car, I felt the not unfamiliar bite of leeches on my legs and feet, and sure enough I was covered in the little bastards. If there was any good news, it’s that they weren’t killer platypuses. And they were the regular leeches and not the dreaded vampire Tiger Leeches that need a nuclear arsenal to remove. (All jokes aside, Tiger Leeches are a real thing. I googled and it tuns out Leeches are hermaphrodites and devoted parents. Which is kind of cool but I still hate them.) Can’t say I felt all that lucky at the time that I’d managed to pick up just regular leeches, standing on the side of the road, stripped down to my undies, standing in the rain, trying to pull them off my legs and pick them out of my pants, socks and shoes. Not a great look and not my favourite part of this whole adventure thing that’s for sure!
That night I relocated to the nearby Dorset Hotel in Derby. Considering the town of Derby has a population of around 200 it’s fair to say accommodation options there are fairly limited. And with 300+ trail runners and sundry hangers on hitting town for the Trail Fest, I was pretty lucky to find somewhere to sleep at all. After seeing the room, I’m not sure I’d necessarily consider myself lucky exactly, but at least it was dry. Full of spiders and about 30 years worth of cigarette smoke, but dry. I’ve stayed in some pretty shit places in my time, but this may well be the shittest. You never want to write terrible things in case the people you’re writing them about see them – awkward! But in this case, I think it’s fair to say there’s ‘Ye olde worlde charm’. And then there’s… whatever this was. For anyone considering visiting Derby in the future, I can highly recommend never staying there. But hey, sometimes dodgy hotels are all part of the adventure and the sheets were clean(ish), the shower was warm, and Leonie the publican was actually pretty cool beneath her gruff, chain smoking exterior.