Feet First Australia

exploring Australia on foot


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Foot-Sure in the Snow

Having tried downhill skiing as a young woman – I fell off International Poma, at Falls Creek in Victoria’s high country, part way up, and lacking the confidence or experience to ski down the run I walked up the slope carrying my skis, reaching the top too weary to tackle any slope other than the gentle Home Run back to our chalet – and cross country skiing more recently, I have found the white season alpine sport for me and others happiest on their own two feet.

Last Friday, Lake Mountain turned on the perfect late winter day for me to tread the 5km Snow Shoe Trail, an easy loop through regenerating snow gums and across heath plains thick with snow sparkling in the sun.

FotoJet snowshoe3

I first encountered snow shoes at 16 when I visited Canada with my Dad. I didn’t try the sport then but bought a pair of traditional children’s snow shoes (the adult ones were too big to bring home). Resembling elongated tennis racquets, with wooden frames criss-crossed with strips of animal hide, these travel souvenirs hung on my bedroom wall for years.

The snow shoes I hired on Lake Mountain last Friday were very different beasts. Made of red plastic – I was never going to strap on the blue alternative – with metal studs, they were about 25cm wide and 40cm long and, unlike pesky skis, didn’t slide anywhere when I placed one foot in front of the other!

FotoJet snowshoe2

One of the many things I love about bushwalking is getting away from civilisation and crowds and, I’ve now discovered, I can escape snow-loving crowds wearing snow shoes. The glorious weather had attracted hundreds of tobogganers and cross-country skiers to Lake Mountain but I was mostly alone on the well-signed snow shoe trail that loops east out of the village/resort and then north, within a network of groomed cross-country trails. Trailing yeti-like footprints, I walked for two hours through the skeletons of snow gums killed in the Black Saturday fires and the leafy, green-and-yellow barked sapling eucalypts growing among them, and across heath plains pillowed with snow cut through here and there with creeks and patched with ice-crusted pools.

While I saw skiers through the trees and heard others, for much of the time the only sound was the snow crunching beneath my feet and the thumps of branches weighed down with snow dumping their load on the ground and rebounding skywards.

snow shoeing MEL_4516

Back in the busy village, noisy with tobogganers and builders of snowmen, I assumed that the popular 800m uphill walk to the top of Lake Mountain would be groomed and removed my snow shoes for the climb. I was right, and safely negotiated the summit track and the uncleared short detour to Marysville Lookout, for tree-framed views over the valleys and town.

FotoJet snowshoe1

The snow on the 300m side trail to the Alps View, which I can only assume was stunning, was deep, however, and after sinking up to my thighs several times within a few metres I reluctantly gave up and, cursing my foolishness in abandoning my trusty red weight spreaders, and too tired to climb back up again wearing them, I headed back down the hill.

A snow shoe convert, I climbed into my car and headed home to spread the word.

 

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Falling for Tasmanian Waterfalls

Tasmania is so flush with natural wonders it’s a wonder the island state isn’t brash and boastful. Rather than spruik its wares like an over-loud footpath vendor, however, Tasmania lures you across Bass Strait with hints of treasures and then enthrals.

Tasmania enthrals with beaches imprinted by sea birds and fringed with turquoise shallows; dripping rainforests thick with mosses and lichens; windswept moors where flora and fauna hug the ground; wilderness accessible only by the adventurous and determined (and escapable only by the well prepared and lucky). And with a cornucopia of waterfalls.

Waterfalls of Tasmania, a community of volunteers endeavouring to visit and document every cascade in the state, has documented 132 of the 230 known falls so far – cascades that burble through boulders, pour over tiers and plummet off escarpments. And the best time to see them, and lick spray off your lips, is after winter rains and as the snow begins to melt.

Some of Tasmania’s waterfalls are visible from roadside lookouts; most involve a leg stretch. Five of my favourites are:

Marriott’s Falls (Hobart region)

Marriotts Falls FotoJetA near neighbour of the better-known waterfalls in Mt Field National Park, Hobart’s forest and mountain playground, Marriott’s Falls is a scenic 70-minute drive from the state capital via the road to Lake Pedder.

An easy 6km return walk takes you downstream beside the rocky Tyenna River and then briefly cross-country, past a gnarled old acacia, and up into the verdant moss forest where Marriott’s Creek, a Tyenna tributary, falls more than 10m over a hanging garden of curved stone.

This is a beautiful walk on a misty day, when the forest drips and the greenery glows.

 

Liffey Falls (Launceston region)

Liffey Falls FotoJet

Many people’s pick as the state’s prettiest waterfall – a big call! – Liffey Falls pours over sandstone tiers at the north-east foot of the Great Western Tiers within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

An easy 2km-return walk from the upper car park is the shortest route to the falls but an easy-moderate 10km return walk from the lower car park and camping area, much of it on old logging track, immerses you in the lush regrowth forest enfolding the Meander River and its cascades.

Photogenic fungi thrive in damper weather and can dramatically slow progress on this walk.

 

Meander Falls (Launceston region)

Meander Falls FotoJet

Born in the Great Western Tiers, the Meander River launches itself off the dolerite escarpment and down a precipitous cliff as Meander Falls.

The 10km return walk (4-5 hours) to this dramatic drop, about 30km south of Deloraine, is a steady climb on a very rocky track that demands you place every foot with care. (The alternative longer loop, returning via Split Rock, involves lots of rock clambering across a scree slope.)

Winter ice and snow make this walk challenging but the falls can freeze in winter, rewarding experienced and well-prepared hikers with an unforgettable sight.

 

Montezuma Falls (west)

Montezuma Falls FotoJet

Tasmania’s longest single-drop falls (104m) is named not after Mexico’s last Aztec Emperor but the mine that won gold and silver, the treasures of the Aztec empire, from the surrounding hills in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The 11km return walk to the falls, from just outside Rosebery, follows the route of the old North East Dundas Tramway. Virtually flat and often muddy – the local average rainfall is 3m! – the track passes through multiple cuttings floored with old sleepers, walled with mossy stone and roofed with lacy forest.

You can walk all the way to the foot of the falls but the best, if slightly wobbly, view is from a narrow suspension bridge strung across the gorge just below the drop.

 

Philosopher Falls (west)

Philosopher Falls FotoJet

The lush, leafy world in which you find Philosopher Falls, in western Tasmania, an hour’s drive south of Burnie, epitomises the takayna/Tarkine: verdant, complex, ancient and precious.

The 90-minute return walk starts on a good track that zigzags downhill through ancient tree ferns, native pines, sassafras, myrtle beech and leatherwoods. A flatter walk continues downstream from a bridge over the Arthur River, following an old water race.

Several hundred steps then descend to a platform overlooking a multi-tiered drop named after James “Philosopher” Smith, who discovered tin hereabouts in 1871 (but not so close these falls were destroyed). Smith’s find gave birth to Tasmania’s mining industry and saved its troubled economy.

 

All these walks are described in detail and mapped in my new book, Top Walks in Tasmania (published by Explore Australia), due out in September this year.

 

What are your favourite Tasmanian waterfalls! I’d love to hear.