Narawntapu National Park, Tasmania: A River Of Sand

Our last morning in Gowrie Park centered around one question: would we chance another trip to Cradle Mountain? Had the weather gotten any better?

The answer was a short and simple no. In fact, the weather was quite the same, and possibly even worse. Jake and I were set to leave from Launceston the next day, so if we didn’t go now, he and I would miss it (Steffen and Ben had already planned to stay longer than the two of us, since Steffen was just taking the ferry back to the mainland — they could wait out the storm).

Had I realized we wouldn’t be able to fit in a trip to the Cradle Mountains, I wouldn’t have bought my ticket for Wednesday the 31st, but since I’m still unable to see into the future, I had to live with my decision. That, and the one we finally made in the morning: to keep heading North to Devonport and leave the mountains behind.

Before we left, though, we stopped by the Online Access Center in Sheffield (yes, there was only one), which was connected to the library. Jake and I were looking into tickets for the bus from Devonport to Launceston, but couldn’t decide on a time or bus company. It could wait for Devonport, where both companies had offices.

Devonport is a small, but busy port city. It’s the only place The Spirit of Tasmania ferry from the mainland docks, and the small downton area near the wharf is home to the now-expected cafes, hotels, pubs, newsagents and clothing shops. We roamed around the town center looking at all the wares, when I walked by these:

Finally! My dream of owning a beauty care center/pharmacy has come true!

We stopped at Subway so Hungry Hungry Steffen could chow down a sandwich (Jake, Ben and I had inhaled some basic sandwhiches out the back of the car earlier — Steffen was always a bit more particular about the quality of his meals, especially when he’s hungry), then headed to an Aboriginal Cultural Center. The price was $2.50 to get in, which I didn’t mind paying because I read there was Aboriginal rock art to see on the grounds.

The center was called Tiagarra. It consisted of a small visitors center next to a larger shed, which housed the museum. The museum was actually quite informative, taking you through the history of Aboriginals in Tasmania in general, as well as the tribes that inhabited the area where Devonport now sat. Did you know that Aboriginals have been in Tasmania and Australia for more than 43,000 years?? I haven’t yet completely wrapped my mind around that.

On the grounds outside was a walking track that took you from one rock engraving to the next. Many of the engravings were circles, sometimes concentric, and others vaguely resembled animals. Even though it felt incredible to see marks made in stone tens of thousands of years ago, it was rather disappointing knowing that other places in Tasmania offered rock art that looked like wallpaper in a house. The best/worst was the “Seal”, which after 10 minutes of looking at various creases and cracks in the rock, Jake and I failed to pick out.

Next came the question of lodging for that evening. The weather looked pretty good and we decided on a campsite (even though there were backpackers in Devonport for only $13 a night — but hey, that’s $13 earned). There’s a national park just east of the city called Narawntapu so we drove there and had a look to see what the walks were like.

You might be wondering why they chose a name like Narawntapu for a national park. Other than the obvious Aboriginal cultural heritage reasons, it was to get away from the original name, which was given to reflect the material mined from that area long ago. The original name, and I kid you not, was Asbestos Range National Park. “Gonorrhea Fields National Park” would’ve probably attracted more visitors.

There was one track that best fit our interest and time constraints, only about 1 1/2 hour return, which took you up to something called Archers Knob (or, “The Knob”, as I liked to call it).

The grounds of the park were almost infested with wallabies and kangaroos and we also passed some smaller guys called pademelons (think smaller wallaby, or smallaby, if you will). Ben and I figured that since the walking track was made up of soft sand, it was easier to come upon all the wildlife; they couldn’t hear our footsteps until we were only feet away.

The track curved near the beach and then up a small hill to a lookout. Off in the distance, towards Devonport, a column of smoke rose from a small town and created a haze in the area. It could’ve been either a bushfire or a housefire.

On the walk back, we decided to detour and check out the beach, following the coastline back up to the carpark, instead of the forest track. While we were on the Knob, I wondered why the beach was so deserted. From that height, it looked pristine. There was no kelp or seaweed littering the sand, and the coastline gently arched towards a sharp point — a beautiful place for a picnic. When we stepped away from the sand dunes and onto the beach, I knew why: the wind.

The wind blew down the sand at gale forces, against the direction in which we were headed. Oddly, the lose sand that came with it only floated a few inches above the ground, so our faces and eyes only had to bear the brunt of the sharp winds. Walking down the beach felt like a bad mime performance, as we were all either leaning forward at a cant, or turned sideways for a few precious moments of streamlining.

The most amazing part was how the sand moved over the ground. It blew in ghostly currents towards us, like quick moving mist over the ground. If you turned and watched it race past you, it was as if you were looking out of the window as you sped down a sandy road, except we were standing dead still. It was so incredible I took a short video of it.

It was so difficult to walk against the wind that after a long time, we started to think we had missed the path back into the forest. I kept looking at the map, but it was so simple I had no idea where we were in relation to the track. Surely we’ve walked that far, right? We must be walking at a third of our normal pace. After some more time, Ben spotted a yellow marker, and we ducked back in among the sand dunes.

The park offered some campsites along the coast and we quickly found one and set up our gear. The slab for that night was Toohey’s Red Bitter and the meal was spiral pasta with eggs, ham and onions.

It was our last night in Tasmania together, and we started thinking about the future. The last two weeks had put us in such a state of mind that it seemed like years had gone by. And now that we had all grown up, it was time to figure out what came next.

Ben started to talk about Thailand again, and I asked him what the weather was like around June (apparently, you’ll find monsoons in the South, but the North is quite nice. Later, they switch and the wet season hits the North, leaving the South very accomodating). He took out his Lonely Planet and started looking at temperatures. “Hey Ben, what’s Darwin like in May?” “What’s New Zealand’s South Island like in late-March, early-April?” “What about the North?” “Ben, what’s Perth gonna be like in a few weeks?”

We would ramble on about what we could do in the next few months: “Well, I could work for a few weeks in Perth, then maybe head up north …”, “I gotta make it back to Sydney by mid-March, then definitely NZ … maybe I’ll start in the South Island …”, “I know I’m going to do Alice Springs, then I have to find work in Perth.”

Even though we had several beers left, we called it a night. It was Jake’s turn in the car, and Ben set up his sunshade bed in Steffen’s tent. We should’ve expected it, but the temperature plummeted that night. It was one of the coldest we experienced in Tassie, and none of us got much sleep.

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