March. Autumn. I was visiting Tasmania, our southern-most Australian state, for the first time.
It was unseasonally warm. The apple isle had been in the grip of an extended hot season. And as always in Australia, the resulting storms and lightning strikes had started many fires. Wide, rolling fires, hard to put out, continuing for weeks with the ongoing heat. Steady fires, edging their way forward through great swathes of the south-east, south-west and central highlands. The Huon Valley was a write-off; my planned visit to Tahune now forgotten, the Airwalk a crispy, blackened mess at the end of a closed road.
The east coast was immune, dramatic and beautiful. The north-western inland forests were still reasonably lush and green. Clouds hugged mountains, exposed cliffs were mossy and ferny. It was dry but the thickly-forested landscape survived. I tried to capture the surrounding countryside: granite, pines, rainforest gullies.
With 2 days left and now travelling on my own, I headed south towards Lake Pedder via the central highlands. Rolling hills of pale yellow grasses, remnants of dry forest and empty roads. Despite heading south it was heating up; 39 degrees with hot winds buffeting the car. I didn’t see anyone else for miles. I think Tasmanians were as shocked as I was by the weather, and stayed hidden in their homes.
I was determined to reach Strathgordon, explore Lake Pedder and stay overnight, but unsure if the single road in would be open. Fires had already rumbled through adjacent Mount View and Southwest National Parks. But luck was with me, and still with no other soul in sight, I cruised into fire-affected areas, some still gently smoking. I chose my rest stops carefully as the sun started to disappear behind grey-white drifting smoke.
Then, I rounded a bend and saw this:
The fresh fire was to the north east of me, I was heading west, the winds were nor’westerlys…hmm. Windblown smoke can create an illusion of close fire, but windblown embers can make it real. Battling mind-games, I kept driving until I safely reached Lake Pedder. In retrospect I wish I’d taken more photos of the dramatically scorched and apocalyptically-beautiful landscape. But fear and uncertainty won out; I didn’t stop.
Lake Pedder was gorgeous, stunning (and a future blog post). A little way further west of the lake is Gordon Dam (at the end of Gordon River Road – after that, it’s only world heritage wilderness). I was the only one there. My fear of heights and the strong, hot winds made for a slow walk down to the wall. I had a death-grip on those handrails. But I did it.
Conditions changed overnight. A misty rain settled in and the temperature dropped by 20 degrees. The Tassie I expected was back. Retracing my steps of the day before, everywhere smelled of damp fire and smoke. I saw light green growth evident as plants recovered. Others were softly sizzling in the dampness.
My favourite image is this one below. A grass tree, intact, leaves curled delicately as a result of bushfire, traumatised, elegant, beautiful.
I left Southwest NP and headed into Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers on this last day. It couldn’t have been more different. But that’s another blog post.