Friday, November 11, 2011

Roads Less Travelled - The Lakes Highway

Part of the Circle of Standing Stones at the Steppes Historic Reserve
Driving over the roof of Tasmania

The Lakes Highway runs up the centre of Tasmania North to South or vice versa, from Bothwell to Deloraine. Although this route is officially shorter, it’s a hard drive with lots of bends, long uphills and gravel sections, so it takes twice as long as driving on the main highway through the Midlands. However, since it was a long weekend and fearing bumper to bumper traffic on the sealed road, I thought I would give it a try. It had been twenty years since I had come this way, so I vaguely hoped that the road might have been finished by now, but things hadn’t changed much. There was a bit of new work around Bothwell. There were a few more shacks and some were a bit fancier than before and there were quite a lot more muscle cars towing large boats.

Detail of one of the Sculptures by Stephen Walker

Because it passes over the Central Plateau this road is very exposed and is often impassable by conventional cars because of ice and snow. The few settlements are small and far between.  Mostly they are clusters of holiday shacks used in summer and on weekends. The boats parked outside them are often bigger and the fishing is supposed to be excellent.

The Great Lake - This is the first time I have seen it in good weather

I had never seen the Lake looking blue before. The last time I came through, the clouds came right down to the road. This is harsh country which was previously only  known to trappers and mountain cattlemen who brought herds up here in summer. Apart from genteel pastoral properties hidden behind imposing gates around Bothwell, it still seems like a blokey kind of place where men go to escape from work or family responsibilites for a while. Think barbies and tinnies and Eskies full of fish, though I did see at least one family walking their dog.
Beware of large utes towing boats.They rarely slow down
 I pass a small car crumpled at the side of the road. The driver may have lost control on the gravel. It pays to drive slowly and there is less risk of windscreen damage too.

Loved some of the names along the way
There's a place called Mother Lords Plains just around the bend and when I read a sign saying Ripple Creek, I couldn't get that song by Arlo Guthrie out of my head.
"I don't need no diamond ring
I don't need no Cadillac car
I just want to drink my Ripple Wine
Down in the Lightning Bar ...”
Did I mention that the radio in my car doesn't work and I often sing quite lustily to myself while driving, much to the astonishment of other drivers.
There are Aboriginal place names here too - Miena, Liawenee and Waddamana, which variously mean 'Lake,' 'Cold Water' and 'Noisy Water,' though not necessarily in that order. It does indicate that these places were known to aboriginal people. They didn't fish, but they probably hunted here in the summers. Certainly there is still plenty of game, especially very large kangaroos, both dead and alive, so watch out for them on the road too.
Liawenee and Miena regularly compete to see which is the coldest place in Tasmania.
Sometimes the boats look bigger than the shacks
After leaving the Lake with it's clutch of villages, the road rises again and the landscape changes and becomes more desolate. You could imagine what the country might have looked like thousands of years ago, before Tasmania separated from Antarctica. There are several ancient species here.

 Pencil Pines at Pine Lake
  Pencil pines are cousins of the Califoria Redwoods and are left over from Gondwana times. Related trees exist in New Zealand and South America and are part of the evidence that all three countries were once conjoined. The Pine Lake Walk is one of the few places where you can see them easily without having to go bushwalking for hours. Some of these survivors are over 1,000 years old.

The bright green mounds are Cushion Plants
 Cushion plants are a bit like corals in that they are tiny individual plants which huddle together to protect themselves against the cold. The ones above are probably around a hundred years old and they are very delicate. The plant on the left in the picture is Richea Scoparia. It doesn't look much now, but in a month or so it will flower in a blaze of pinks and reds and orange. 
From the top of the Plateau there are some fabulous glimpses of mountain scenery and views over valleys and foothills of rich farmland stretching all the way to the sea. Then it’s a long, long way down.





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