|View from the Humboldt Divide (651m) - Highest Point on the Gordon River Road
It must have been reading about Lady Franklin, but Hobart suddenly seemed all too tame and having been promised a couple of pleasant days, I loaded up my trusty van and headed off to the South West to the World Heritage listed Franklin – Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. You need a Parks Pass to enter here. If you don’t have one yet, call in to the Waterfalls Café and Information Centre at Mount Field on the way through and pick one up there. It’s a good place to find out what the roads are like too, before venturing further.
|East of the Divide it's all rainforest and tall trees, while to the west it is moorland and buttongrass plains
The road gets steep and windy after Maydena and you don’t need to go far beyond it to get that sense of utter isolation – no traffic, no shops and just raw nature all around. It has been a long time since I travelled this road and winter is not the best time to be travelling. The days are short, frost lies thick on the ground and the roads, though sealed, can be treacherous. In shady spots the frost may not leave at all or worse still, it will half melt, only to freeze again, creating the condition Tasmanians call “black ice.” You can’t see it but it’s very slick, so if you must drive, drive slowly and steadily and keep the motor pulling. Parks and Wildlife recommend no more than 60 Kmph. Make no sudden moves and try not to use the brakes because any abrupt change in velocity may cause you to lose control, slide off the road, or worse still, into another vehicle in a place where there is usually no signal and rarely any help in sight. My friendly neighbourhood hydrologist and others who must travel these roads never leave without a hot thermos, a thermal blanket and warm clothes so that at least they don’t die of hypothermia while waiting for help in the event of a breakdown. You used to be able to buy fuel in Maydena, but I see that service station is now closed, so the last fuel is at Westerway until you get to Strathgordon, over 100 km away.
|The fungi continue to delight
|Not so rare perhaps, but prolific
|and or charming
I wonder if I am echoing the osmiridium miners’ loneliness as they made their way to their camp at Adamsfield in the 1920s when osmiridium was used for fountain pens and was worth more than seven times the value of gold. Or was it the hydro workers and their families who lived at Strathgordon from 1974 to 1996 while the dams were being built? The rewards for braving the isolation are the superb views of jagged mountains such as the aptly named Sawback Range and Mount Wedge, delicately frosted with snow and the glimpses of forested valleys and lakes – awesome nature, with not another car or person to be seen.
After stopping here and there to admire the fungi, it's almost nightfall by the time I reach Scott’s Peak dam road. There's just time for a short walk through a bit of rainforest, so I stop there for a cuppa and a brief stroll through tall trees, mosses and lichens to the Twisted Sister, a soaring survivor of our forest wars. The only reason this patch of bush and the tree whose name it bears still exists, is because of a thirty year battle by conservationists to have it included in the World Heritage Area in which it was inscribed in 2013. There are other walks, some of them close by, but there’s no time or distance shown and it’s getting dark, so I move on to the picnic area close to the Needles which I want to climb in the morning. The night is not silent. I am sure I can hear the singing of ice crystals or the music of the stars and I am not sure if the brightness I see above the treeline is a faint aurora or the reflection of distant city lights.
|The lichens are amazing too - this one looks like lettuce
|Another like oak leaves...
|Whereas this one looks more like - though I hate to say it - vomit
|Base of the "Twisted Sister" - Eucalyptus delegensis or alpine Ash, not our tallest tree but a significant one
Despite my doona and the down sleeping bag it’s a fairly cold night and I am up early. It’s only a short drive back to the Humboldt Divide, at 651 metres, the highest point on the road, where the walk is supposed to start. I assume it was named after Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) geographer, explorer and naturalist who wrote on the zoology, botany, astronomy and the minerology of several continents and inspired many other scientists and naturalists including Charles Darwin and Henry David Thoreau. Nearby Mt. Mueller was most probably named after Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller (1825 – 1896) a prominent German -Australian physician, botanist and naturalist, who has lent his name to many plants and place names in Australia, as well as being the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.
|Looking up - You can see how the Twisted Sister got its name
|The Needles -this series of striking rock formations can be seen and reached from the highway
|Unfortunately the track up is more like a running creek - I'm so glad I brought extra socks and shoes
Between these fantastic landscapes is the start of the Needles walk. Not quite as straightforward as the Twisted Sister, this is supposed to take about two to three hours and involves a continuous uphill scramble over what is more like a running creek. Horizontal and cutting grass tear at my clothes in the lower reaches, after which the vegetation grows tougher and more compact. At last I arrive at the monoliths on the ridgeline which offer expansive views in every direction. To the North West there is Tim Shea (I haven’t a clue as to why this mountain was so named) and the Thumbs. Due West there is the Sawback Range and to the South West there is another, possibly Mount Anne and friends. Over to the East there is the Snowy Range and possibly part of Mount Field West, though few of these are marked on my map.
|Jagged peaks and snowy ridges stretch away on the horizon in every direction
That, and the cold breeze coming from those snowy ridges take my breath away. Humboldt’s Divide is not just the highest point on the road. It is more like a Wallace line. To the East it is all forest and tree ferns, while to the west lie riven valleys covered in Alpine moorland which from a distance looks deceptively like fertile plains. It is of course - for wildlife -for wallabies and possibly wombats and devils, for frogs and snakes and for birds, especially the wedge tailed eagle and the white goshawk, and for countless other tiny organisms that enjoy the mix of swamp, heathland and button grass. Close up, there are plants clinging precariously to windswept rockfaces. In summer the wildflowers here on the heathlands are spectacular and while you can see that they are trying, there’s not yet much to see.
|Promises of things to come - A tiny bauera (the bushman's nightmare) blooms along the way
Reluctantly, I turn to make my way down. I am not alone now. There are other cars in the car park. Two elderly gentlemen in Northface jackets lap me on the way down. Makes me wonder what they do in their spare time. Climb the Himalayas maybe? I slither down a rock and do an ungainly splat into a mud puddle at the bottom. How glad I am that I have another pair of shoes and dry socks in the van. I'm looking forward to that thermos of hot coffee too. Wet and bedraggled as I am, I feel exhilarated and refreshed too. Perhaps we need that bit of wildness now and then like tulips need a frost to bloom their best. That’s what I tell myself anyway. Jacinta, another lone female traveller I meet in the carpark, tells me that bad weather is on its way this afternoon. I have an appointment with the tooth fairy in the morning, and can't afford to get snowed in, so it looks like it's back to civilization for me, but it has been a nice little break from reality.