A Walk on the Wild Side
Lying 150 miles south of Australia, mountainous, Virginia-size Tasmania seems like the end of the earth even to mainland Aussies, and because of its isolated location, much of its flora and fauna exist nowhere else on earth.
Still, most of the island is green and civilized, much like England’s Surrey – except, that is, for the 3 million largely wild acres set aside as parkland, encompassing some of Australia’s most spectacular alpine scenery. The jewel in this natural crown is Cradle Mountain National Park, whose rugged peaks and high moorlands make up a large, untamed portion of the area. The 53-mile Overland Track, linking Cradle Mountain Park with Lake St. Clair, is the country’s most famous trail and one that every Aussie vows to do at least once in his or her life. Penetrating much of the rain forest, a boardwalk protects the environment from human impact.
There are basic huts along the way, but they’re often full. Rather than carry camping equipment for the duration of the six-day hike, sign up with a reputable trekking agency that operates private huts with hot running water and private guest rooms. They’ll supply an experienced Tasmanian guide who accompanies a group at a ratio of one per five guests (groups are never larger than ten); he or she will double as cook at the end of each glorious day of walking, during which you’ll cover between 6 and 11 miles.
The last day includes a walk through a dense eucalyptus forest to the shores of Lake St. Clair, Tasmania’s most beautiful, carved out by glacial ice over the past couple million years; the 10-mile boat cruise that follows augments the magic of your Cradle Mountain experience.
If walking the Overland Track is about 50 miles more than your average vacation undertaking, the Cradle Mountain Lodge is a stationary alternative. Rustic and cozy, it’s not a luxury operation (unless you count the huge breakfast of prime Tasmanian bacon and local free-range eggs). Rather, it’s the kind of informal inn where a glass of Tasmanian cabernet is nursed in front of a roaring fire while swapping hiking stories. It’s a good base from which to plan some days of horseback riding, canoeing, and hiking through lush rain forests and along alpine lakes.
A popular tradition is the nightly “leftover extravaganza,” when the kitchen’s scraps are put out on a nearby platform for the forest’s nocturnal wildlife, which includes the occasional Tasmanian devil (and we don’t mean Errol Flynn).