We finally arrived at the west coast of Tasmania to explore what we had come to see: the Tarkine.
We’d first heard about the Tarkine at the Sustainable Festival in Melbourne back in February, when former Green leader and senator Bob Brown delivered a passionate presentation on it. After acquiring a copy of the Tarkine Trails book, which showcases the Tarkine’s heritage and history, we realised that we wouldn’t have enough time to see all of the Tarkine properly. Definitely a place to spend a lifetime exploring, we would at least get a good idea of it by spending a couple of days in the conservation area.
The Tarkine (Takayna) is one of the last Gondwanan temperate rainforest wildernesses in Australia. From the west coast moving inland its north-south boundaries are the Arthur and Pieman rivers and the town of Waratah in the east.
Our trip through the Tarkine started at the small village of Marrawah and led us to Green Point, a well known surfing beach, where one can read about the local hero called Tunnerminnerwait. Tunnerminnerwait was an aboriginal man who lived during the time of the Van Diemen’s Land company’s spread throughout Tasmania.
Born in 1811 on Robbins Island off the coast of Marrawah, Tunnerminnerwait was witness to the elitist behaviour of the settlers, but despite this familiarised himself with the British way of life and English language. He was sent to Flinders Island under the initiative of George Augustus Robinson, who was responsible for removing the remaining Aborigines from the Tasman mainland. Tunnerminnerwait rebelled when he realised what Robinson’s real plan was and took revenge. Eventually he was captured and sentenced to hang. There are conflicting opinions about whether the Aboriginal Tasmanian population was completely wiped out during settler occupation. But stories like this show that the indigenous people were fighters, who defended their identity and people.
After we left Marrawah, we headed down along the coast to Arthur River before taking off on the Western Explorer road – a 77-km remote gravel road that serpentines through the buttongrass and heathland of the Norfolk Ranges all the way to the remote Tarkine village of Corinna.
You won’t meet a soul on the road, which is the nice thing about it. But there’s also a dark side to the Western Explorer. It was once known as the Road to Nowhere as it provided and still provides easy access to the sensitive Tarkine environment.
Recent bush fires are evidence of the increasing effect of man on this wilderness; logging being another. Some argue that hiking trails would be a friendlier form of tourism than traffic but judging by the state government’s most recent ‘bright’ idea to downgrade the status of Tasmania’s world heritage areas to something more exploitable for tourism profiteers, it seems old habits and attitudes will take time to change. Hopefully it won’t take a disaster before the Tarkine is added to the World Heritage listing.
The Western Explorer Road ends at Corinna and the Pieman River. Yes, the river is named after an actual baker/pieman. The original name for Corinna was Royenrine, the Aboriginal name for a young Tasmanian Tiger. A former gold mining town, today Corinna is a kind of base camp for the Tarkine wilderness and a botanist’s wet dream packed with native myrtle beech, celery top pine, native laurel, sassafras, leatherwood and the world’s oldest trees, the Huon Pine, which can reach the ripe old age of 2,000 years. All of the old mining buildings are well preserved, including the village’s cosy pub, and the mind boggles that at one point in Corinna’s history 2,500 people lived here.
At Corinna, you can either take a boat cruise on the Pieman River, hike up to Mt Donaldson (7-hour hike), hire a kayak and explore the area by paddle, or go off on your own expedition. The rainforest here is second to none. There are several short nature trails that take you into the rainforest from Corinna. You can also experience it at the free camp site at Savage River, about 3-4 km before Corinna. This is also where the hike up to Mt Donaldson starts. We stayed at Savage River Camp, and listened to the sounds of Tassie Devils out and about on their nocturnal prowls.
We took the Pieman river boat cruise out to Pieman Heads, and learned about the crazy history of the river’s use in earlier times. Though the road ends at Corinna, if you’re good the ferryman will take you across the river on his Fatman barge. If he’s already in the pub or gone to bed, you’ll just have to wait another day to continue your adventure down to the mining towns of Zeehan and Queenstown.
We left the Tarkine earlier than desired but with the knowledge that we would come back. It’s a place that requires a lifetime or more of immersion.
- Visitor signs
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