Recently I had the opportunity to complete part of the Tarkine Rainforest Track south of the Arthur River in the state's north-west. The Tarkine is an area which many people still find hard to define. It is a vast area of rainforest, remote mountains and rugged coastline roughly bounded by the Arthur and Pieman Rivers, Murchison Highway and Indian Ocean.
A few years ago, a company now called Tarkine Trails, started a 5 day commercial walking circuit starting at Farquhars Bridge and ending at Hilders Bridge. As both bridges over the Arthur have washed away, both ends of the walk involve getting wet or using a canoe. The taped route was originally marked by the Tarkine National Coalition and follows old logging roads for some of its length before plunging into the vast myrtle rainforests and button grass plains that blanket much of the Tarkine.
Wading the Arthur was not too eventful. A ford 500m downstream from the old bridge site allowed for knee-deep wading after which the Keith River and Folly Hill Roads were followed to another river wade, this time over the Lyons River. Just before the road crests the ridge on the west side of the Lyons valley, Folly Hill Road swings south and almost disappears into a sea of bauerea while a side road (which looks like the main road due to recent use) continues over the ridge toward the Wynsmith Hills. It was a struggle at times as we frequently ducked under or over bauera choked fallen trees until the old road became clearer as it descended to a long-delapidated bridge over Eastons Creek.
After some ups and downs, the taped trail led us past the Blue Peak campsite to the two tiered waterfall dubbed Galadriels Cascades. Eastons Creek was then crossed and recrossed before we eventually reached the Tarkine Falls campsite just on nightfall. There was just enough light to select tent spots and setup camp. While pleasant in one sense, it was a little surprising and dissappointing to find that a large canvas shelter and seating area has been established by the commercial walk operator. In the hollow under a giant myrtle, large white drums of cooking ingredients had been stashed under a tarp.
As I fell asleep to the peaceful sound of falling waster, I decided this must be the first walk to a waterfall where the sound of it taunted me through 15 hours of darkness before I could see what it actually looked like. When I collected water for dinner, I rock-hopped to the waterfall base and the top of the fall was out of reach for my feeble headlamp so I knew it was more than a few metres high. In the morning, I was rewarded with a quick photography session before we retraced our steps, making good time back to the cars at Hilders Crossing.
There is some talk in government ranks about the possibility of a tourist road through this area. I am now in two minds whether to support or oppose it. Tarkine Falls in my opinion are very pretty but not as spectacular as the more accessible Dip Falls which are slightly bigger and on a larger watercouse. The section of the proposed road near the Lyons River traverses an extremely steep sided valley where a large landslide has already removed most of the road at one spot. It would be difficult to make the road landslide-proof without making huge scars on the landscape by cutting deep into the hillsides.
|Tarkine Falls camp|
After walking in the area, I am convinced that the only benefit of the proposed loop road is to separate production forestry traffic from tourist traffic. This is certainly an issue for tourists attempting to access features such as Dip Falls, Milkshake Hills, Lake Chisolm, Wes Becket, etc. I just wonder whether there is a better route that links these areas without reopening roads that flirt so closely with the precious rainforested interior of the Tarkine.
A mate was keen to go to Tarkine Falls so, despite being there only two weeks earlier, I was off again!
On the way to Hilder bridge we took a fork in the road that led to a picturesque bend in the Arthur below Phantom Peak. The peak was living up to its name with its head well in the clouds.
After wading the Arthur and Lyons Rivers, we explored a short distance beyond where the overgrown section of Folly Hill Road turns off. Just over the ridge a helipad had been bulldozed into the tea tree scrub. We could see along the ridge a short distance but cloud was still preventing us from seeing Phantom Peak and the Wynsmith Hills.
Once back on the track we made reasonable time and just had time to setup camp at the Falls before dusk.
The following day, we decided to spend a bit of time following the taped 'Day Walk' route that heads away from the Tarkine Falls campsite. Walking as quickly as we could, we climbed gradually for approx 2km to a point where the track was about to commence a sudden descent into the valley of Eastons Creek. We were very keen to make it out of the forest into clear terrain but our time was limited so we headed back to our packs and toddled home. Further exploration will have to wait for another day.
On a future trip, I am hoping to take my mountain bike in to Folley Road which can be accessed from the 'South Arthur Forest Drive.' It should be possible to take the road to the edge of the button grass plains only a short distance from the Falls.
Very soon after returning from this trip, the State Budget was announced. Lo and behold, there is money in it for the new Tarkine tourist road. My prediction is that the road will be similar to the Abt Railway. It will run way over the budget. I'm guessing that the people who have estimated its cost are not familiar with the terrain to be traversed. As I mentioned in my last post, the Folly Hill Road has literally fallen into the Lyons River due to a large landslide. In several spots in that area, the road is cut into a very steep hillside and would only be a single lane wide.
I'm also curious about the approach that will be taken with construction. The cheap way to build it will be to clear a massive wide swathe through the forest. In the case of the Gordon River Road, it took the best part of 3 decades for the roadside vegetation to recover. The new sealed road in to Dove Lake and Waldheim has been sensitively built into the surrounding terrain but I expect the construction techniques there are expensive. I would be very surprised if that approach could be afforded with the money that has been allocated.
The tragic case of the Western Explorer shows that the government is not willing to spend the money on maintenance to keep the road open. It has now been closed for 6 months following a bushfire and there's still no sign of when it may reopen. Will this new Tarkine Road be similar?
Common sense has prevailed in relation to the Tarkine Drive. The South Arthur Forest Drive has been upgraded and rebranded as the Tarkine Drive. Visitor Guides for the Western Explorer and Tarkine Drive can be found at Discover the Tarkine's website.
Despite being marketed as a tourist destination there are still conservation concerns in the Tarkine. Threats include logging, mining and off-road vehicles (a few badly behaved 4WDers wreck it for the rest). All of these are happening within a short distance of the tourist drives being promoted. The Bob Brown Foundation is very active in monitoring these threats and calling for the area to become a national park.
In 2014 I was delighted to take Kylie to see Tarkine Falls. We first went to listen to my sister Vanessa who had been engaged to sing at a Tarkine Coalition training weekend. After this we waded the Arthur and followed the route described above, spending one night at Blue Peak and a second night at Tarkine Falls.
|Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish walking over moss covered rocks beside Eastons Creek|