Walk On The Wild Side In Tasmania

Is this the best place for a reset in these COVID times?

By Natasha Dragun 27/12/2020

We’ve been walking for five hours, up mountains perfumed by silvery eucalypts, through cool valleys laced with fish ferns, across sun-scorched plains pierced with the long stamen of ancient Xanthorrhoea (grass trees). Over the day’s eight-kilometre trail, we’ve glimpsed wallabies and a pair of Forester kangaroos, the largest marsupial in the state. Our palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) guides have also pointed out pied oystercatchers, hooded plovers and bar-tailed godwits, which fly from the Arctic to Australia’s most southerly reaches without taking a break. But we haven’t seen another human soul – not even a footprint on the track. This remote corner in Tasmania’s northeast, around 160 kilometres from Launceston, is like nature writ large. Here there are no towns, no roads, no streetlights. Though there is, remarkably, an architect-designed lodge.

The krakani lumi (‘place of rest’) campsite is the luxurious base for guests on the wukalina walk, a four-day guided trek and Tasmania’s first indigenous-owned tourism experience. The wind-protected site is flanked by the waves of Cod Bay and brackish Cray River, with dense coastal wattle and banksia all around.

Hobart-based architects Taylor + Hinds were called to craft the lodgings, given a brief to create spaces that are at once warm and welcoming, yet compact and inconspicuous—a modern interpretation of traditional Aboriginal accommodations. It was also important to have minimal impact on the environment.

In this far-flung wilderness, this meant constructing the six sleeping pods and communal lodge off-site, and bringing them in by helicopter; they can be removed the same way, without leaving a mark on the land. They all come with blackened silvertop exteriors, to help with fireproofing and mimic the patina of surrounding banksias, with polished blackwood-domed interiors, scented with the essential oil of melaleuca ericifolia—a flower the palawa use to aid sleep.

Connected by boardwalks, each building also comes with a bird hide, a nook at the back built specifically to shelter feathered friends. On finally entering the property at dusk, we discover the bird cubbyhouse in cabin three is occupied… by a family of possums.

It’s in the communal lodge where the architects’ deft touch, uniting style and sustainability, really shines. Here, there are indulgent rainwater showers, high-tech composting toilets and a sun-drenched common dining room, filled with bespoke ceramics and curios collected on beach walks: shark eggs, kelp moulded into fruit bowls, seahorse skeletons. Another wooden dome overlooks the firepit, its surrounding chairs and beanbags strewn with wallaby skins. Despite the creature comforts, it’s all completely off-grid, using solar lighting and a small generator to heat water.

Meals, meanwhile, are prepared over the fire—think scallops grilled in the half shell, loaves of damper and roasted muttonbird, which proves an acquired taste. While our guides prepare chocolate lava cake, cooked in the coals, I lie back on a wallaby throw and enjoy stellar Southern Hemisphere stargazing.

Over the next three days, activity levels and cultural experiences range from a short barefoot stroll along the sand—to taste saltbush and discover sacred middens of decomposing oyster and scallop shells left behind by tribes over hundreds of years—to a more strenuous 17-kilometre hike south toward Eddystone Point (larapuna) and the famed Bay of Fires.

Our journey along the coast is marked by a cascade of colourful rocks, covered in rust-hued lichen and mussel shells the size of a fingernail. The water is the smudge of blues on an artist’s palette, running from midnight ink to sparkling turquoise, and gin-clear in rock pools where starfish float. I’m struck by the raw clarity of the sunlight, dancing over the shallow lagoon dappled with coral—it’s like someone has taken dirty glasses off my nose and polished them for the first time ever.

Our last night is on the grounds of Eddystone Point. Controversially, the lighthouse here was built atop a midden, although the site retains immense spiritual importance to the palawa. While everyone is welcome to visit the point’s pretty coves, only those on the wukalina walk, with permission from the local Aboriginal community, are able to sleep here.

We do just that in a stylishly renovated lighthouse keepers’ cottage, each room individual with designer furnishings and plush beds—a welcome sight after the day’s long walk. Sipping local chardonnay in the sunny lounge, surrounded by glossy books, we’re joined by a palawa elder from Tasmania’s Aboriginal Land Council, who shows us how to thread glossy warina (periwinkle) shells onto twine to create bracelets. Like everything on this journey, our final experience is a poignant and culturally significant. And now when I look down at my wrist, I’m constantly reminded of just how special this part of the world truly is.

The wukalina walk is an all-inclusive four-day trek from wukalina (Mount William) to larapuna (Eddystone Point). Rates start from $2495 per person, twin share, including transfers from and to Launceston, all meals, alcoholic beverages, guides, accommodation and National Park fees; wukalinawalk.com.au

 

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