When I woke up that morning in Ouse I had the strangest feeling come over me, but it was one not entirely foreign, just one that hadn’t visited in a while: I was warm. I was in my tent, on the ground, in my summer sleeping bag, and I was warm. Since we arrived in Tassie, every night in the tent had concluded with a fitful sleep, tossing and turning because the temperature of the ground wouldn’t permit me to stay in one position for too long. Or, that because I hadn’t formed my Cocoon of Warmth by cinching tight the exposed portion of my bag, the top of my head was like the summit of a tall mountain.
Somehow, a warm wind had blown through and provided us the only enjoyable night outside. A day earlier, Ben had an interesting idea: Since he had no sleeping bag, only a silk liner and the Salvo’s shawl-blanket from Hobart, he thought that if he slept on Steffen’s car windshield sunshade, it would somehow reflect his body heat and give him extra warmth. Even though I was convinced our good fortune the night before was due to some typically Tasmanian weather anomaly, he was sure it was because of his new sleeping mat.
After packing up camp, we stopped in town to buy dinner supplies (because, by that time, we had finally learned to appreciate open and available supermarkets) and petrol. Steffen asked, “So, are we going to get coffee?”, referring to the invitation the night before from Tamika and Lesbian #2. We all looked at each other, and quickly shook our heads. “No man, just drive.” Our adventure in Ouse had ended, the mountains were calling us.
Our next stop, and the next biggest “town” was Derwent Bridge, near Lake St. Clair, the southern tip of Cradle Mountain National Park.
Cradle Mountain National Park, as well as much of the Tasmanian wilderness, is a part of the World Heritage Convention’s listing of World Heritage Areas. The convention was formed in the mid-70s and promotes the protection and celebration of Earth’s natural and cultural wonders. Other areas include the Taj Mahal, the Acropolis, the Grand Canyon, and Victoria Falls. Australian listees are the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park, Fraser Island and the Blue Mountains.
By the time we got to the information center, a light rain had started to fall. We spoke to a worker about the best walks to do with the time we had, and enjoyed some warmth from the log fire-driven heater they had lit in the center of the room. The walk suggested was a 4-hour circuit to Shadow Lake. The first leg takes you up 300 meters over 1 kilometer, but the track after that is rather easy. We also inquired about accomodation.
The hostel and hotel owners have a pretty sweet thing going on in Derwent Bridge. You see, there are only about two accomodation options: a backpackers on the grounds of the national park, but run by a third party and a hotel down the street. Although both places had dorm beds, they had conveniently arrived at a price of $25 dollars a night. Without any other options (we were not going to be camping that night — the forecast predicted snow), we booked 4 beds at the dorms adjacent to the park.
After downing a quick lunch, we set out on the walk. Contrary to what you’ll find in much of the mainland because of the drought, Tasmania’s rainforests are predictably healthy and vibrant. The first part of the walk took us up through the rainforest, through shades of green I didn’t even know existed. The frequent rains had turned much of the track into a muddy mess, but dancing from rock to rock and tree root to tree root made the walk much more fun.
At the top of the mountain, the track led down a boardwalk through an open plains area, but because of the low-lying clouds that had settled on the area, our mountain vistas were limited. When we reached Shadow Lake, however, we got some bits of sunlight with strong gusts of wind. Steffen, Ben and I waited for Jake to catch up, and Ben spotted a tree with the most intriguing bark pattern. Other trees in the forest had similar camoflauged shades of brown and white, but none that intricately weaved together in complex strokes. The three of us took about 100 pictures each of the tree.
The last leg of the walk led gradually downhill until we arrived at the visitor’s center again. We drove down a short path to the bunkhouse to unload our things and cook dinner.
The only thing we could all think upon entering the room is that it was the smallest any of us had seen. The room was an 8-by-8 foot square with two sets of bunkbeds, and a center aisle between them. The door opened into that aisle, about 2-3 feet away from the end of the beds. If we all stood in the room, without anyone occupying a bed, there would be room for only one person to turn around. Something was missing too … blankets. We thought they had made a mistake and forgotten to give us one at the reception desk, but a worker informed us that blankets cost extra. Oh, and so were the showers, $1 for 5 minutes. We were backed into a corner, and we weren’t happy. But they were nice enough to provide us a space heater for the room, though by the size of it I suspected a flashlight with fresh batteries would generate more heat.
In the common room we cooked our dinner and watched the weather get worse and worse. The temperature kept dropping, and by the time we all finished showering and were ready for bed, walks to the bathroom became full-out sprints.
Jake and I split a load of laundry, as did Steffen and Ben. One cycle in the dryer wasn’t enough, so we all tossed in more coins for another go. Ben and Steffen had started earlier, so while Ben was out waiting for their dryer to finish, Jake and I went to check up on ours. The dryer was still running, but our clothes were in a pile on top of the dryer, and they were still damp. Jake and I looked at each other, “Noooo, they didn’t …” Could someone have really committed the cardinal sin of a shared laundry room? Did someone actually take our clothes out to put theirs in? I gave the other person the benefit of the doubt and said the dryer might just be that bad, and had required another spin. Jake wanted revenge, but I talked him out of it. As I was fashioning a clothesline in the room out of mint floss, Ben walked in with his laundry, which was completely dry. In fact, he said he had to stop the cycle because the clothes finished early. Jake and I were livid. All of our clothes were still wet, jeans, boxers, t-shirts, everything.
Jake had dumped the clothes on my bunk, the bottom one, and picked out his clothes. I attacked the pile next and began folding. I noticed a pair of what looked like Speedos in the pile and, reserving judgement of another man’s underwear, carefully set it aside with the tip of one painfully outstretched finger. Well, some guys just like that level of comfort, I suppose, though I didn’t peg Jake as the type. I had seem him with boxers, so maybe these were his secret pair, only for those times when he felt … you know, special.
After I finished, I lifted the man-panties once again and tossed them on Jakes bag, “Jake, yours?” “What?”, he said. I repeated, “Forget these?” He peaked down from his bunk and with raised eyebrows and a gaping mouth he said, “umm, nooo!” He started laughing, “I thought they were yours, but I was just like, ‘hey, whatever’ …”, and he raised his hands in that not-gonna-go-there manner. I was cracking up “I thought the same thing, but just figured you like the boys tucked in from time to time and forgot to grab ’em.” “Get them off my bag!!” I lifted them for what I prayed was the last time and tossed them in the corner of the room. She may have stolen our dryer, but we had her underwear.
Upset and tired, we called it a night. This hostel got 8 thumbs down, and 4 fingers up.