Make yourself time to be wild and free.
Do you have a happy place? Somewhere you can go when the world gets too much, a place to re-charge and reconnect?
I do, and I’m lucky that my very special place is practically on my doorstep. It’s one of the reasons I love Hobart so much and am loath to consider leaving. My happy place is Mt. Wellington, the dolerite peak that makes this little city so unmistakable. Hobart folds itself around the Mountain’s flanks, seeking shelter from the westerly gales that batter this latitude and drinking from the many creeks and rivulets that drip their way down the slopes and run through the gullies. The Mountain’s unmistakable silhouette can be seen from most every part of this little city, watching over the lives below.
Wellington is special, and not just because it’s an ecological treasure-trove (A Gondwanaland remnant, with wet and dry sclerophyll forest, temperate rainforest, stunted alpine woodlands and alpine heath-lands, it’s incredibly diverse). There’s a power to the place; a deep, quiet presence that sinks into you and reminds you that the world is so much bigger and older than your little griefs and anxieties.
I like nothing better than to lose myself in solitude for hours on one of the many trails that criss-cross the Mountain’s peaks and valleys. After a year of walking on the Mountain most weekends there are still dozens of new trails awaiting exploration, plus old favourites to re-visit and experience in different seasons. In autumn the rainforest is full of fungi in a riot of shapes and colours. In winter the summit may be dusted in snow and the woodlands wreathed in mists. In spring tiny wildflowers sprout unexpectedly from rocky crevasses, tiny jewels in a harsh landscape. In summer the views stretch out forever and every inch of Mountain hums with life… There are hidden waterfalls, arresting outlooks, vast alpine plains and craggy peaks to climb.
Wellington is the wilderness on my doorstep, and it calls to my soul. Every hour spent walking the slopes is time well spent, restoring my spirit and reminding me why these wild places matter. That’s what is so important about preserving pockets of wilderness: these spaces nourish us and help to keep us connected to the ecosystems we rely on. Wild places teach us how to be alone, how to reach the sacred inside ourselves and how to reconnect with our environments. My Mountain, it is love.
Where is your happy place? Where do you go to get away from it all? Does the wilderness call you, or are you refreshed by city life or the sea instead? What makes a place truly special to you?
…and if you ever want a walk on my Mountain, you only have to ask.
Let’s start with a bit of background, shall we? The Franklin River is a tributary of the Gordon River, and flows through the northern section of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park: a swathe of remote, mountainous forest and dark, tannin-stained rivers largely untouched by Europeans, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Largely untouched: like every other decent-sized river in Tasmania, the Gordon River is dammed, with the headwaters trapped in Lake Gordon and Lake Pedder, released on demand to generate hydro-electricity.
The Franklin is the last true wild river in Tasmania. Un-dammed, untapped, unspoilt. It almost wasn’t so. Three dams were proposed for the Franklin hydro scheme: Gordon below Franklin, Mount McCall and Irenabyss and construction was started at the first two sites. After a protracted battle over many years the Franklin was finally spared thanks to a 4 to 3 High Court ruling. The River was protected and the Australian Green Movement was born. After 7 days exploring the River: worth fighting for.
Day 1 saw us assemble in front of an old Hobart Hotel at 7:30 am, packed, half asleep and ready to go. We’d collected our river bags, wet suits and helmets the afternoon before to give us time to pack properly. Although I wasn’t planning on taking much with me, on packing my river bag it became apparent that my sleeping bag was enormous (it doesn’t compress) and since it was essential to bring I’d have to relinquish anything else that I judged (not entirely correctly) wasn’t absolutely necessary. Thus I found myself travelling very lightly indeed for the next 7 days! We boarded the mini bus and were on our way by 8 am, a disparate band of eight strangers with little to say to each other at this stage, plus our two guides (Brett and Jim). As we made the long drive from Hobart up to the Collingwood River our guides filled us in on the essential information for the trip ahead including that for the next week we would be crapping into plastic freezer bags that would be journeying down the River with us. Delightful!
We took the DSLR with us, safely stowed in a protective case for use at camp only. Espen also brought a little waterproof point and shoot that fit in our life jacket pockets and allowed us to take photos on the river, well, as least when we weren’t madly paddling! You can guess which camera saw the most use…
Three hours out of the city we reached our watery departure point: the Collingwood River – a tributary of the Franklin handily crossed by the Lyell Highway. The bus was unloaded and farewelled, lunch eaten, the rafts inflated and loaded up: we were good to go. As well as the two big yellow rafts, Brett had brought along two inflatable kayaks to lighten the raft loads in the shallow headwaters. When he asked for volunteers to take the kayaks I quickly put my hand up and spent the rest of the day noodling about in my bright orange craft, watching the others push and drag the heavy rafts over every obstacle (of which there were many, given the water level was rather low).
I thoroughly enjoyed having the kayak: a space of my own to enjoy the River in silence. Well, when I could get away from the annoyingly talkative 22-year-old boy who had the other kayak!
We paddled on through the shallow waters to the junction with the Franklin where we stopped for an afternoon tea of chocolate and, disturbingly, a My Little Pony cake, before heading down the Franklin proper for a couple of hours, pulling in late in the evening to the beach at Boulder Brace to make camp.
Camp consisted of staking claim to a section of beach, hanging your life jacket and helmet above and inflating your air mattress below. Exhausted, I was in bed by dark and asleep soon after. I woke a couple of times during the night due to mattress deflation, but even having to blown the damn thing up again wasn’t so bad as it gave me time to appreciate the most amazing sky full of stars. I’d never really slept under the stars before (unless you count a night on my friend’s property when we were teens, within 100 m of her house). It was beautiful, but damn cold! Sleeping bag rating to -5 degrees C my arse! It was about now that I regretted not finding a way to wedge my super-warm fleeces and extra-thick socks into my river bag. A new, warmer, compressible sleeping bag was also added to my mental shopping list.