I am in Tasmania (Tassie, as it is called locally), the largest Australian island south of the Australian mainland. It is mainly wild and uninhabited, especially in the west. Hobart, in the far southeast, is the capital, and is a lovely, cultured city.
In 1803, Britain invaded Tasmania and outsourced their convicts to eleven penal colonies in Australia, among which was Port Arthur, established as a prison in 1833.
The treatment of prisoners was brutal. The offenses that brought them to Port Arthur were often ridiculously minor, horse theft as an example. The philosophy of correction was to “grind rogues into honest men” by requiring them to work twelve-hour days, six days a week, doing back-breaking labor while manacled one to another by heavy chains. At night, after work, they were required to attend classes and spend Sundays in church. Their living quarters were tiny cells, damp and inhumane quarters in inhospitable climate. It is no wonder that many men were broken. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it makes for sober viewing.
There are a number of adorable animals here in Tasmania: the wombat, a small bear-like creature that looks very cuddly; the Tasmanian Devil, sadly being eradicated by a cancer-like tumor that is spread when the Devils bite each other in the face; the platypus, an incredibly cute member of the monotreme family that has a duck-like bill, big webbed feet and a soft, roundish body; and the Bennetts wallaby, a kind-of junior-size kangaroo. Regretfully, I haven’t seen any of these critters in the bush, only taxidermied in the Hobart Museum. Hoping to see them on The Three Capes Walk, I have no luck.
Speaking of that Walk (what Australians call a hike), I join a group of twelve (eight Australians, three other Americans) and three guides for a four day hut-to-hut traverse across the Tasman Peninsula.
We hike 16-21 km a day through varied terrain, including dolerite cliffs
and a eucalypt forest.
Unlike in California where a single species of eucalyptus tree was introduced and is nothing more than a messy nuisance and a fire hazard, there are one hundred and thirty varieties here, many of which have colorful bark and flowers.
The Three Capes are called Raoul, Pillar, and Hauy and each offers stunning views across the great Southern Ocean where the next land mass south is Antarctica.
The first two days of the Walk are sunny and warm. The third day is full-on Tassie weather. We set out all bundled up in driving rain and gale-force winds, pushing forward, huddled over protectively. Then at about noon, the sky clears and the sun comes out but the wind doesn’t diminish. It blows steadily with gusts of up to 70 or 80 km per hour. This is serious wind!
On our final morning, we are required to wake up at 6:00 am and be on the trail by 7:00 as this is the longest hiking day yet: 21 km. The wind is less severe but it is awfully cold. I put on every stitch of clothing I brought with me. It is not enough.
Once again we see beautiful ocean landscapes juxtaposed with dolerite columns soaring from the sea.
The highlight, though, is a silent walk through the rainforest on Mount Fortescue, the highest point on the Tasman Peninsula. I am alone among the canopy of trees,
five-trunked Myrtles, giant ferns, rocks and fallen tree trunks smothered in thick green moss.
The forest floor is carpeted with leaves and bark. The hush is disturbed only by birdsong and the rustling wind. I am aware of all my senses, completely present in this intimate environment. Such a magnificent way to finish an unforgettable adventure!