BUTTERFLIES rise from the road in front of the car as we slowly motor out… it’s as if they’ve been resting on the road warming themselves this cool, overcast afternoon.
That’s what the Tasmanian tiger snake does of mornings over by the woodpile. You notice the creature as a metre or so long, dark shape lying still in the sunlight … still, that is, until you approach hoping to get a close up photo… but not too close up though. It must be so sensitive to vibration in the ground because it slithers away below the woodpile as soon as it detects anyone coming.
This shack is the best of both worlds. It started life who knows how many decades ago as a timber building located over near Swansea and was moved to its present location some years past to accommodate the loggers who cleared the good timber from Mt Paul. Now, it houses visitors who come to stay out here in the relative seclusion of the eucalypt forest.
But the best of both worlds? Yes. There’s the Tasmanian rusticity to the shack in its forest setting and there’s the luxury of electricity and bottled gas which supplies fuel for cooking and hot showers. Basic luxuries for sure, but spend some time in the bush and you soon learn what true luxuries those things are.
There’s also a radio phone with its antenna beside the verandah. It has a warning sign about the danger of radio frequency emissions to those with medical implants and it makes contact with the people who own this shack. They’re some kilometres along a branch of the dusty road that brought us here, out to the north, in the other direction.
We haven’t needed to light the barrel-shaped wood heater as the weather has been cool, though far from what you would call cold. Just in case of a snap freeze, there’s a bucket of split timber behind the heater. But, if you do have to go out to the woodpile for additional wood, just watch where you put your hands for its dark, linear inhabitant I’m sure doesn’t like being mistaken for a stick.
The shack has a kitchen/dining area/living room that gives onto a long, narrow room with large windows that Fiona calls a ‘sleepout’. From there you can look east over the Tasman where this evening there’s a fishing boat quite some distance out, flood lights blazing in the grey gloom where twilight blends sea and sky in a gray haze.
About four kilometres away and a couple hundred metres lower down there’s a large lagoon with a narrow sandy beach backed by coastal forest. Not long ago I thought I could make out a building, a fisherman’s shack perhaps and a dim light glowing. But who would live down there? So isolated. And isn’t it in the national park anyway? I picked up the binoculars and focused on the area to find that it was a trick of light on white sand… no shack, no fisherman, no light. Not that I would have been surprised if there had been. I have had enough experience in isolated parts of this island not to be surprised by the presence of bush huts in the most unexpected places.
The water has been grey today since cloud replaced blue sky by rolling itself out over it, but when we arrived we could look beyond that lagoon with its sandy beach to where the turquoise water blends into blue and parallel lines of white foam indicate where the surf breaks against the shore. This we know is a tiny portion of the kilometres-long stretch known as Friendly Beaches. We visited those beaches today but not the part where I imagined I saw the shack with its dim light, for that is a long way from where the road takes you to the beach and I expect few people venture that far. The beach goes on and on into the distance broken only by granite outcroppings stained with the bright orange of lichen. Scrubby coastal tree thicket forms a dense barrier behind the beach except where bushfire has cleared the land to leave only the grey skeletal remains of stunted vegetation.
I should have said that the shack, our temporary accommodation, is quite some distance along a gravel road that sneaks off the hardtop going into Coles Bay. The road gets a little rockier close to where it terminates at the shack and once there was a continuation that went in the direction of the beach. Now, there’s a log across it and a little sign that says road closed.
The story goes, according to the two women who own this parcel of forested land, that the previous owner decided to sell after becoming incensed when the national parks service excavated a number of deep swales across the road to stop traffic. Unfortunately, those ditches also stopped him getting down to the coast to service his cray pots.
One day, we did the popular walk up to the pass at The Hazards, where the track drops down to Wineglass Bay. Last time I was here, that’s several decades ago now, the tracks were less well maintained, the number of people fewer. Now, it’s a very busy track with people making the climb wearing everything from walking shoes to thongs. Its’ still a good walk, however, and standing at the lookout you see why Wineglass Bay deserves the reputation it has.
Once, when I left footprints on the beach at Wineglass Bay, I was with friends I used to spend time walking with in the mountains. We had carried packs with a couple days food supply and tents over the pass and down through the forest that spills onto the beach. Then it was an easy ramble along the beach by the turquoise, clear water to the campsite at the southern extremity of Wineglass.
Her we set up camp and, as day became evening, a fisherman from one of the boats anchored in the bay came ashore with a bucket of freshly caught fish for us. That evening we ate well. Next morning, we made out own attempt at interspecies communication with a pod of dolphin that came within a couple metres of the shore to look at us looking at them.
They were good days when I had made my way into places like this. Over the years I made a number of journeys into Wineglass, one a longer trip to traverse the pink granite range at the southern end of Frecinet Peninsula. On another, we bypassed the peninsula in a fishing boat to make landfall on Schouten Island off its southern tip where we spent the weekend exploring this seldom visited place.
But now I live far from here and my infrequent visits are all the more meaningful for that and are filled with the remembrance of rediscovery of places known long ago. Those places are still there but of those people I visited them with—where are they now?
It’s nearly dark here at the shack at the end of the gravel road. The little wallabies have come out to graze as they do every evening and the tiger snake is nowhere to be seen. From the wetland the frog chorus has started and will continue through the night. Taking in the peacefulness of the place I realize that just as the forest is recovering from logging, so am I recovering from the hubbub or urban life.
Darkness is gathering and down on the beach not a light is to be seen.