Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Back in the Wild, Wild West - Day 4 Corinna and beyond



The Pieman River at Dusk  -reflections equal those on the Gordon River

I wake up at daybreak. There’s been no traffic since the night before. Turn the key. Not a murmur. I turn the wheel, take off the handbrake and roll into the road. The going is good for about 45 seconds, then there’s just the tiniest dip - not noticeable the night before, and my car stalls right in the middle of a narrow bit of road. There’s no calling the RACT here.

Nothing happens for three hours. I make coffee, have a wash, tidy the van and get ready to walk the three or four kilometres into Corinna.  Just as I am about to leave, feeling guilty about blocking the road, a serious 4WD, towing a caravan comes lumbering up the hill. Matthew and his partner Jennifer back up a bit, decouple the van in a wider spot and come down to jump start me with my lovely new jumper leads. Nothing happens the first couple of times.
Another vehicle comes from the other direction. Its owner is impatient because he has to get to work at Corinna. He manages to squeeze past us, but the next vehicle, being larger, is not so lucky. Its driver is also trying to get to work. Matthew the driver of the 4WD, makes the other driver help push the van uphill a bit and out of the way.  He's not very happy as he ploughs past. They can’t be locals. None of us would ever have passed a vehicle in trouble.
When Matthew turns the engine on in his 4WD, my motor finally stutters to life and he follows me all the way down the long hill into Corinna to make sure it doesn’t cut out again, then we part company. I leave the motor running on the flat while I take a quick shower and leave it running while I’m on the ferry even though the signs say you shouldn’t. 

Some of Corinna's quaint cottages
 Corinna set on the Pieman River, is a lovely spot and I would have liked to linger longer, but my card now says, “Incorrect pin.” Once one of the most boisterous mining towns with 2,500 inhabitants, it is now a peaceful retreat in the middle of the rainforest with no power, although there are lots of solar panels to be seen on the neat little cottages that remain. I notice in passing that the pub has CB radio. I never thought of trying the one in the van because I only ever received one signal on it and that was crossing the Nullabor three or four years ago. I also find out that the road North through the Tarkine has been closed for days because there now many more fires burning, some of them deliberately lit.  

The Bunkhouse is well patronised
“How come the rainforest burns when it is so wet?” My friend had asked as we passed a burnt out section of forest on the Lyell Highway. Despite the heavy rainfall 2000 -3000 millimetres a year, temperate rainforest that grows on dirt as opposed to a thin layer of humus on rock, (which is very vulnerable to erosion), is underlain by peat which once a fire starts burning, is almost impossible to put out, not to mention the difficulty of access. Even if the surface appears to be out, it can go on burning underground for weeks, even months.This has been an exceptionally dry year  -the eighth lowest on record and particularly in the West and North West.

Unlike most Australian vegetation such as Eucalypts, wattles and tee-trees, rainforest does not regenerate easily after fire. The harsh weather, the mountainous terrain and the acidic boggy soils are among the reasons why secondary activities such as farming have never really prospered, leaving the communities solely dependent on mining and perhaps tourism for survival. Corinna does have a popular river cruise on the Pieman which has reflections as least as impressive as those on the Gordon River.
The Old Pub - scene of riotous times. The new one is much more substantial 
Fatman - the barge across the Pieman
I don’t stop driving until I get to Zeehan and find a place that looks like it may have some type of mechanical services. It’s an Atlas Copco Branch, machining parts for a mining company, but the man in the office is very helpful. He phones the local mechanic who promises to meet me in twenty minutes.
While I’m waiting, I leave the motor running and go on a begging mission at the ANZ bank. I can’t believe that there is still a real bank operating in Zeehan, one of which I had once been a customer, although I am not now. Fortunately my card works this time. The 24 hours must be up. The mechanic has the problem sorted in no time. He also tells me what to do if it happens again and refuses to take any money. That’s more typical of real West Coast hospitality. 

One of my several saviours - Greg Howard, mechanic at Zeehan. Thanks also to Matthew and Jennifer and the people at Waratah
The repair lasts until I am just outside the city limits and I’m forced to disconnect the brake light completely. I’m glad I didn’t rely on getting it fixed in Queenstown, because the mechanic I met at the service station on Saturday is not on today, though the RACT does have a depot here if only the phone worked outside the town. At least I can now buy fuel on my card.

Smoke fills the air as I leave Queenstown
The sun is an angry smear of orange which turns the hills of Queenstown red. It looks like the whole state must be on fire. Instead of taking the Lyell Highway all the way through, I turn off at Brady’s Lake and take the unsealed B173. It’s not a bad road, although that can easily change after a bit of bad weather. It traverses several highland lakes and their clusters of small shacks before plunging down through agricultural land to Ouse. It is in fact more settled and today it’s easier going than the main road – another of Tasmania’s little secrets. The dry eucalyptus forest of the plateau doesn’t thrill me as much as the rainforest does, but I can see the attraction for fishermen.  As it gets dark, I bed down for the night at Dee Lagoon, within sight of a light – street light? Generator powered cabin?  I don’t know, but it makes it seem less isolated.  It’s been a long day.

Goodbye West Coast - I still love you, despite the trials you put me through
 
Hello Central Plateau!  The last rays of sun catch some ghost gums. This type of vegetation actually supports far more wildlife than the rainforest does.

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