Day: 178: Bush Walk And Bush Fire

Thur. 7th February 2013

Loaded with water and heading for the fireWe enjoyed our walk out to Crescent Bay on Tuesday and were keen to do a little more. Graham has a lot of experience walking (tramping?) in Tassie. Whilst we don’t have the time (or the desire) to do a 10-day hike into the wilderness we are eager to see more of the island. After a bit of deliberation, Graham suggests that we head out to the Hartz Mountains an hour or so south of Kingston and hike to Hartz Peak where we should get spectacular views all round.

Big big ex treeChris decides to stay behind and we leave her with a cheery wave and an “of course we’ll be back around 5:30” – what could possibly go wrong?? The drive out takes us along the banks of the Huon River and then inland into the forest as we head up and into the Hartz Mountains. The trees here are predominantly Blue Gum Eucalyptus which can grow up to 80m tall – tallest hardwood trees in the world as Redwoods are apparently softwood. (Typical of the Aussies to draw the distinction!) When they say big, they do mean it though and we stop by Big Stump Butt to find this 20’ long, 12’high log that has been left behind by the loggers. The picture really speaks for itself.

Pretty little flowers on the plants by the pathAs we drive further on, we leave the working forest and enter the Hartz Mountains National Park and World Heritage Site. At the end of the road, there is a car park and visitor centre with a small display on the history of the area – including the tale of a family who got caught in an unseasonal snowstorm. There is a registration book which we fill in with details of our plans so that we don’t meet the same fate.

Never ending boardwalkThe paths are nicely signposted as we have come to expect but we didn’t expect to be walking on a boardwalk running above a small stream. Looking at the thick heather and vegetation on either side of us, we are glad to be on an easy path and not having to make our own trail and, as Graham points out, it also protects the plants from being damaged. Further (and higher) up the trail we come across clumps of Cushion Plants (Dracophyllum Minimum) tightly packed together to reduce wind and ice damage. Very fragile and very in need of protection from hiker’s boots as it takes 30 years to recover from being trodden on.

Miles and miles of wildernessGraham warns us that the boardwalk is not typical of Tassie paths and, sure enough, as the path gets steeper and rockier – and steeper and rockier still – the boardwalk stops and we’re on solid mud and rock as we climb on up. Hartz peak is the highest point along a mountain ridge which apparently is called the Devil’s Backbone. We’re a little disappointed that it isn’t called ‘Rocky Ridge’ – the saying it as it is approach has clearly run out of steam here!

A scramble to the topThe final stretch involves a free format climb over a jumble of angular boulders –  how did they end up here in such a pile? Glaciers, I suppose. Its always good to get to the top – we savour the sense of achievement – but here we get our breath taken away by the views. To the west and the north there are forests and jagged peaks as far as we can see; to the east we can look out over the Huon valley that we drove down and then beyond that is Bruny Island (which we won’t have time to visit) and then the Tasman peninsula where we were a couple of days ago; to the south we look out over the mouth of the Huon River down toward the sea. We take our time and soak it all up.

The view from the topReflecting on a great walkUnsurprisingly, we are quicker coming down than going up and so we take the opportunity to pause by a small lake (tarn) just a few minutes off the main path. They’ve even installed a few benches here so we can sit and contemplate the meaning of life. As we’re doing that, we notice a plume of smoke from a bush fire off to the east near where we drove up. It must be new as it wasn’t there when we were on the summit only half an hour ago.  “I don’t suppose we’ll go close to it” says Janet, prophetically.

There may be trouble ahead - queuing for the road to re openSure enough, when we stop for petrol on the main(ish) road having driven down the mountain, we’re told that the road ahead is closed by the fire. We drive on another few kilometres and join a queue of stationary cars. Ahead we can see plumes of smoke along with two helicopters with big water buckets flying back and forth from the nearby river to waterbomb the fire. You’ve got to admire the skill of the pilots not only to fly into the smoke and hover, presumably over the hot part of the fire, but also to work in close proximity to another helicopter. (Later on we find out that one of the helicopters fighting another fire did actually crash today but luckily no-one was hurt).

Raging bushfireWe are not only on the main road back to Hobart, but the only road back and so there is nothing to do but to wait for the road to reopen and so we retire to a pub a little way back down the road (along with a couple of dozen other people). The consensus is that this is only a small fire and that they will soon have it under control and the road back open and that is pretty much what happens. An hour or so later we are driving past the site of the fire in single file traffic. There is still plenty of smoke and ash from further up the hill and about a 100yds or so from the road, as we pause to let a fire truck past, we can see the top of a tree burst into flame. The damage here is not nearly as extensive as we saw on our trip down to Port Arthur and so we can only wonder about what that fire would have been like.

Thursday night is music night for Graham and Chris as they are getting back together with their band after their travels. Needless to say, we could have done without being late back and supper is quickly scoffed. (How did Chris know that Lasagne was our favourite?). After we get our chores completed (sadly these blog posts don’t write themselves) the music draws us downstairs and we sit in the thoughtfully provided comfy chairs and listen to them practice – a mix of blues and jazzy rock including some Steely Dan numbers that had me Reeling In The Years! A great way to cap an eventful day.

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