The Tasmanian wilderness

It may have devils, but it is wilderness heaven

Tasmania doesn't just have UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it has a vast Wilderness World Heritage Area which covers almost 20 percent of this relatively small island. It encompasses no fewer than seven national parks, all wrapped up in one big protected Tasmania wilderness. With a rich Aboriginal heritage to boot, this is UNESCO at its most diverse, dramatic and dazzling. However, there are pressures to change the UNESCO boundaries for logging purposes, and also exploit resources in other unprotected areas of Tasmania’s wilderness. Our aim, therefore, is to ensure that responsible tourism helps combat the economic argument for destruction of such precious forests.
There has been a long standing environmental movement in Tasmania. Indeed it is credited with having the world’s first Green Party in politics. This was spurred on by the Franklin Dam project proposed for the Franklin River in 1978 which was protested against until the project was finally stopped in 1983. This coup is what finally led to many of the country’s wilderness areas being awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

However, starting in the 1990s, there was then a 30-year-long, bitter and often violent battle between the environmental movement and the forestry industry in Tasmania, fought both on the ground and up in the canopies while also causing huge rifts in Tasmanian society. It finally came to an end in 2012, when a peace deal was struck in the form of the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement (TFA) when the leading logging company withdrew. The consequent reduction in heavy vehicles is a big reason, according to Susie de Carteret of our partner Tasmanian Odyssey, why a lot fewer nocturnal animals are now killed on the road.

There have been recent parliamentary discussions of opening up sections of forest to logging and mining again, and the environmental movements are keeping a close eye.
Tasmania’s responsible tourism providers are, however, striving to conquer these wild areas of ancient forest with screeches not of ‘Timber!’ but of pure and utter wonder. The most at risk is the Tarkine Rainforest, one of the finest examples of temperate rainforest in the world, dominated by myrtle beech trees with tall, open canopies. These are the key indicators that Tasmania was once part of Gondwanaland, the ancient supercontinent and, at one time, linked Tasmania to similar ecosystems in South America and South Africa. Today you can take a river cruise down the Arthur River in the North or the Pieman River in the south, or go on guided walks with naturalists who are experts in everything from the forests’ famous huon pine to the endemic Tasmanian waratah, famous for its magnificent pinky red flower which blossoms November to February. And which is, conveniently, peak tourist season.
For total immersion in the Tarkine Rainforest, however, a three- or four-day guided hike, staying in Tasmania wilderness campsites, is what Tassies do best. Wake up to the sound of the forest’s birdlife, such as the black currawong, green rosella, olive whistler and grey goshawk. Have breakfast amongst the ancient ferns, pines and myrtle, and then hike through Gondwana gorgeousness up to plateaus with panoramic views, to plunging waterfalls and to river creeks that are perfect for swimming in.
Tailor made vacation companies to Tasmania’s wilderness will be able to organise all of this for you and the more we can show the powers that be that tourism beats timber, the better. Responsible tourists might also be interested to support the movement to designate all of the Tarkine Rainforest as national park. At the moment most of it is managed by the Forestry Commission, however the Save the Tarkine movement is working tirelessly to have all of it, not just its present 5 percent, protected by both national park status and World Heritage status. Which would prevent any further unsustainable exploitation of these ancient and natural resources forever.
Wildlife loving tourists will be glad to know that the highlight of any Tarkine trip, seeing the Tasmanian devil, will also be maintained, hopefully, as a permanent feature if plans to protect all of the Tarkine go ahead. Because Tarkine is home to the last disease-free population of the Tasmanian Devil. Sadly, this unique creature is at risk of extinction due to a disease known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease, which has wiped out nearly 80 percent of the population in a decade. The Tarkine is their natural habitat and breeding ground, so this is just one more important reason for keeping the forest growing. And be covered by that unique umbrella that already protects so much of Tasmania’s wilderness wonders – the UNESCO Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Photo credits: [Top box - Lake Pedder: Lawrence Murray] [Tarkine Forest: Cazz] [Green Rosella: Brian Ralphs] [Tassie Devil: Nicolás Boullosa]
Written by Catherine Mack
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