Gowrie Park, Tasmania: It’s Not Called Bushwalking If You’re 20 Meters From The Road

One thing I forgot to mention about the night before were the stars. The clarity of the night sky was similar to what we were given in National Park, but since the caravan park was in an open area, there were few trees blocking the view. We were all quite drunk from our session with Matthew, but we still devoted a few moments to lean against Sheila and appreciate the cheapest thrill in the world. By this time I had gotten pretty good at spotting the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt.

The next morning we scratched ourselves in various places, washed out the taste of stale beer with muesli and tea, and slowily got ourselves prepared for some trail walking. We couldn’t have asked for a better morning: the wind brought a slight chill, perfect to counter the sun bearing down on us.

We walked up to Jai’s cabin to tell him we’d stay another night. He was getting ready to ride down to the kitchen to fill up some water bottles with fresh, pure rainwater.

One of the first things to jump out at me when I walked into the kitchen was a faucet, positioned on the wall about 1 1/2 feet above the sink. There was a sign indicating it was pure rainwater, the tastiest you’ll ever find, and in the sign itself you could see the excitement and joy within the writer as they offered such natural delights. Both Rebecca and Jai mentioned this rainwater several times. And I have to admit, it was pretty damn good.

Jai had got himself a motorized bicycle with a basket attached to the front handlebars. It was almost as if the cute little bike Jai would’ve ridden as a boy had itself grown up along side him to become a motorized man. He said it was good to just putter around the grounds of the park, saving him the 100 meter walk he would have to do thousands of times otherwise. His relaxed manner bled into the way he spoke and one would fall into almost a trance, as you imagined riding around on that bike shuttling water back and forth.

We asked him about walks we could do in the area. He suggested the top of Mt. Van Dyke, as it might give us a view of the Cradle Mountains on such a clear day.

Mt. Van Dyke is to the left of the tall pine tree, Mt. Claude is to the right.

Jai’s directions would’ve confused a bloodhound. It should’ve been expected by now, but his instructions went something like this: “Well, you can head up that path over there, then head up right and you’ll see a trail that isn’t used much, but if you push through the first bushes it’ll clear up and and you’ll head through a valley between the two mountains, and there’s plenty of walks you could do up there. It’s a really nice area, just real calm and pretty. Or you can go this other way and there’s a trail that takes you up Roland. You could really spend hours up there once you get to the top, you know, just take a lunch and hang out. But there’s tons of trails around here, just kinda wander around and see what you find.”

It was clear the other three had blanked out sometime at the beginning of his litany of directions, but I followed along as best as possible. The next 1-2 hours proved how well any of us had followed him. We walked down a wide track, not seeing anything resembling an old, unused trail, but seeing plenty of bushes. Every now and then, one of us would see a trail leading into the woods like a mirage in the desert, and either Ben or I would power through and see how far we could get. We would be stamping through tall bushes, climbing under and over fallen trees and shouting out to each other, “How does it look up there?” “More of the same.” “I don’t think this is what he meant.” Finally, we backtracked all the way back to almost the beginning and found another wide, rough road leading away from the hostel.

This one lead to another road, and shortly down the road was a information board, clearly outlining the tracks in the area, with signs and everything. “Why didn’t that guy just tell us to follow the @#$-ing road to the government-posted signs?!”, we all said in near unison.

The track we took was about 5 hours return and it would take us to the summit of Mt. Van Dyke. The first part of the track was very challenging, consisting of a dirt track that went up at an incline that seemed like at least 60 degrees. I pulled away from the other three and made it to a small resting spot first. I figured I’d keep going, but soon the path started to look less and less like a trail and more like the bushes at the bottom of the mountain. It had overgrown so much I frequently found myself stopping and considering going back. I would at least try to hear the others behind me, but all I could hear was the sound of the wind and birds. I’d remember all those statistics and stories of how many backpackers get lost in the woods in Australia, but then I’d look forward and see the rocks of what I thought was the summit. I’ve come this far. If I am lost, then at least let me make it to the summit. I had that argument with myself about 4 times before finally reaching a sign that pointed left and said the summit was about 45 minutes away.

I stopped and caught my breath on a rock. Within a few minutes the other three arrived. “I thought I was lost! I kept stopping to see if I could hear you guys but you didn’t make a sound.”

The rest of the walk was brutal; we had to literally climb, using both hands and feet, over giant boulders, duck through stone archways, and cautiously dance from rock to rock, almost directly up. None of us spoke because our breath was too priceless, and Ben exclaimed “My legs are almost numb, I feel like I’m going to pass out!”

At the top, however, the track leveled out into a plain and it winded around giant boulders that collected near the edge of the mountain.

The top of the mountain was covered with these white trees, like ghosts of a long since burned forest.

I kept wondering which one was the official summit, but we finally gave up and just found the tallest one.

It was another feat of mountaineering to get us to the top. We sat and had some snacks, trail mix and honey sandwiches, but our rest was interrupted by a strong, cold wind that suddenly kicked up. It got so bad we had to grab our things and ditch ahead of schedule.

These pictures didn’t come from the summit, but they show great views of the valley below. The sun would’ve saturated any picture from the top, hiding the mountain ranges that circled this part of Tasmania.

Just as I turned away, I remembered something and ran back to the highest boulder: I chose a rock that wasn’t too heavy that it would be hard to place, but not too light that it would blow away, and quickly positioned it at the top of the top most rock. Just like two weeks ago in Ben Lomond National Park, we had to leave our mark of accomplishment.

This time, instead of acting like damn fools outdoorsmen, we took an easy shortcut through some low bushes back to the trail. Fifteen minutes later we passed a sign saying “Mt. Van Dyke” with an arrow pointing to another large collection of boulders. “Ohh, you’re kidding me … That’s the summit??” But we just said screw it, we had already climbed the tallest one.

By the time we started back down, we were exhausted. And the constant jarring of our knees as they tried to adapt to the ever-changing downhill track only made things worse. Near the bottom someone made the mistake of mentioning food, and Steffen, Ben and I started reminiscing about our favorite foods, and how those fajitas don’t stand a chance.

Ben and I were typically the fastet walkers, usually several minutes ahead of the other two. Steffen would often keep up, but Jake usually took his time, arriving at our destinations 5 – 10 minutes after the rest of us.

We reached the dorms, relaxed for a moment, then started on dinner. Ben cut up the meat, but I took care of everything else, including the cooking. It took longer than I hoped, especially since the “stove” was just a hot plate, but when it was all done and we bit into the tortillas stuffed with beef, onions, peppers and hot sauce, I realized the wait was a chef’s best tool; it had just made it taste better. Neither of us spoke, we just ate until there was nothing left.

After a shower we all congregated in the dining room and chatted up the other campers, most of them Australian. A mention of Matthew’s Monday Night Session was made, but we all knew there was no way we could handle another trip to the pub. My legs were barely listening to me anymore.

Later that night, Steffen cooked up some pasta and we spent a quiet night reading before hitting the sack.

I love that feeling after a good, long walk: when your muscles are screaming for nourishment and rest, and you feel like a hero returning triumphantly from a battle. You could do anything at that point, or at least anything that didn’t require any more physical exertion.

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2 comments

  1. Jai had told us how high the mountain was, but I can’t remember (he has that effect on people). I think it’s somewhere between 1200 and 1400 meters, nothing too high.

    The walk took us about 5 1/2 hours, I think. We stopped and backtracked a lot on the summit, so it was longer than the Parks service had estimated. In general, we found that the estimated times would be a little over what we could do it in.

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