2018 February. Hiking Frenchman’s Cap & Maria Island, Tasmania.

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The brutal 3.30am alarm was completely at odds with what my mission was. In my head the plan was to spend a few days of calmness and solitude in the Tasmanian wilderness, you know ? Cross legged, humming in a zen like state… I was at the airport by 5am and sitting in a hire car in Hobart at 8am fighting with Mrs Google over the best way to Frenchman’s Cap. For a start Frenchman’s Cap is a walking track so the only route Mrs Google would give me entailed walking. The second issue was I chose the shortest route and that ended up being 60 kms of cross-country dirt road and cheeky wallabies testing my reaction time.

Frenchman’s cap is reached crossing the Franklin river as you head West.

Around midday I arrived at the small car park with a signboard informing me that Frenchman’s Cap was thataway. I signed the walkers book crossed a magnificent single width footbridge over the Franklin river (special thanks to Bob Brown for saving this river from damming) and trudged on with a pack that was telling me early that it was way too heavy.

The wild Franklin made me realise we went close to losing it to hydro power.

Lake Vera is 14kms in from the road, I lumber along the track which starts calmly enough but slowly shows me that I am in rarely traversed terrain. The further in I go the more rugged the track shows itself to be. My pack never letting me forget that it’s there not moving about too much but giving me the ungainly feel of a lurching camel.

Slowly my world slows to a dawdle. I begin to notice grasshoppers, heaps of them, a noisy green parrot, a long black tiger snake luxuriating in rarely found warmth in the middle of the track. I tiptoe past him in a big arc he gave me little room or regard. It’s nearly six hours of slog into camp. I hear laughter at about the same time I spot the lonely toilet block perched at the top of some nice stairs leading into the newly constructed camp area. The hut is forty years old it’s got a homely feel and I bet has sheltered many cold and wet visitors over the years. I’m offered a cup of tea as I arrive by Terry, a retired head ranger. He will be a wealth of information but for now I must remember his name, Terry the Tasmanian, Terry the Tasmanian. Got it. I set my tent up on one of the raised timber platforms. With my last energy I cook some dinner, a strong coffee and a piece of chocolate. I tease myself with eating more chocolate just to lighten the pack. It’s not a hard argument to win. I’m asleep before sunset.

A middle of the night pee has me staring skywards, it’s a full moon and the stars are amazing for my city eyes. The Milky Way is in fact a broad swipe of glitter stretched across the sky directly above me. Wow. I feel the cold, I feel the tightness in my legs and gingerly crawl back into my tent hoping morning will somehow have turned my legs into tireless machines. I wish.

The camp starts to get noisy at 6am. I find out later that Terry has literally woken everyone like a Sargent Major. He is the only one aware of what today will take. I gulp down my muesli with water unconvinced it will fuel my day. The whole camp is on the track by 7am and we are warm and sweaty within half an hour. The path climbs steadily, we clamber over tree trunks chainsawed into staircases by Terry and others over the years. I am glad my pack is back at Lake Vera it would be a tough carry into Lake Tahune six kms away.

It takes us around four hours to reach the next camp we have climbed 400m in 3 kms. At Baron Pass we stop to admire the vista, it is magnificent, it’s also a chance to catch your breathe and that too was pretty important The hard craggy mountains surrounding us are all of a similar height and in the distance we can finally see Frenchman’s Cap. We pass skeleton forests of King Billy pines burnt out by a fire fifty years ago. Such a fragile environment torched by power company workers burning off under the lines. They left the fire unattended and guess what happened ?

It’s all down hill to Lake Tahune and as great as that sounds it will be a tough climb to reach the summit of Frenchman’s Cap. We crash into the camp at Lake Tahune, it’s currently a building site as they are completing a brand new super-duper building complete with power, heating and triple glazed windows. Dick Smith has thrown some money towards the hut and walking track building generally across Tasmania. He and his wife have been coming here every ten years for fifty years. He walked in here recently and will return by helicopter for the opening. A successful businessman who is putting his money back into the country. Sadly a rarity in Australia.

Lake Tahune and the speck of a beach where I ate my delicious 2 day old sandwich.

I have little time to waste it is still over an hour of scrambling to the summit.i expect a defined path but soon forget that. Small rock cairns are the only guides to the puzzle. It forces my eyes to peer ever upward and tells me the path is pretty random with occasional confirmations in the form of other footprints or scars on the rock face. I move with trepidation and sigh with relief each time I spot a stack of rocks. As I near the top I feel like I can see forever if it wasn’t for the sweat stinging my eyes. Finally instead of peering for markers I turn and admire the view it goes on forever. I reach the summit at midday in the distance I watch a cloud of smoke rolling through the far off valleys, they are back burning and within half an hour my vista is blanketed in smoke. Damn.


I slip and slide down the quartz rock face towards Lake Tahune passing the two girls. The Japanese girl is clutching her ukulele. It wasn’t on my list to carry a musical instrument up there, what was I missing out on ? It’s hot now and the track is the sundeck for hundreds of small lizards basking in the warmth. I stumble and wheeze my way back into camp. The hut builder points me towards the “beach” on the lake’s edge, I sit and eat my two-day old sandwich and watch a beautiful pink breasted robin dance in a nearby tree. I get up from lunch my body already feeling stiff best I keep moving.

I keep looking at my watch trying to calculate my return time. My only identifiable location is Baron Pass. It’s also where the track finally turns down hill again. With the sun now hidden by the mountains it’s easier walking although my knees are jelly. On the dot of 6pm I reach camp completely exhausted. I spot a small jetty next to the river feeding the lake. The camp is empty I grab my towel and strip off, easing my body into the tea coloured water. It’s icy cold and my leg muscles contract, I’m sure I’ll cramp but ever so slowly my body relaxes. I close my eyes and hear nothing other than the gush of water and it’s washing away the tiredness. I cook a can of lentil soup, munch on ched biscuits topped with a tin of oily sardines and watch the moon slowly slide up over the nearby hills. The others all dribble back into camp an hour later, few words are spoken we are all exhausted.



Terry, the retired ranger saw the walk as his precious child.

Keeping with the rhythm of the last few days I am up early. My thoughts gravitate towards being back with civilisation by midday or at least before lunch is over. The track out has no secrets any more all was revealed on my way in so I walk relaxed and aware of my surroundings. I walk some of the five hours with Terry, the retired ranger who speaks of his time on the track like many would speak of a precious child. It’s been more of a chosen lifestyle than a job. The way I’ve watched him point out things to others. Noticed him make sure the two novice female backpackers carried enough food and water and offered them his own. Wanting them both to get the most of this backcountry experience, hopefully they will not forget it. My last sight of these three is the two girls appearing with Terry in my rear vision mirror as I leave the car park. The Japanese girl with her ukulele tied to the top of her backpack. You never know when the urge to play will come even on top of a mountain. The world is made up of every conceivable type and I meet them at every turn.

Part 2 Maria Island

Map of Maria island, off Tasmania’s East Coast.

Kylie and I had all of the gear. It’s just that the weather can change rapidly in Tasmania, especially the West coast. So come Thursday night our plans took a turn and instead we found ourselves heading towards Triabunna on the East coast and a ferry to Maria Island. An incredibly good chicken pie in Triabunna showed us what we would be missing heading to an isolated island with all cooking done on tiny gas burners not a fire and certainly not a bakery in sight… sigh !

We squinted into the morning sun as the Tasmanian Parks ferry slipped into Darlington. Whilst the ferry craned the boxes loaded with backpacks and bicycles onto the pier we looked about to see the remnants of a cement works from the 1930s. there were some timber cutters/farmers dwellings and earlier again the convict settlement lodgings. Maria islands history has been chequered that’s for sure. Where we were seeing natural beauty the convicts would have only seen absolute isolation, their lives rotting thousands of miles from home. With that firm in our minds we loaded our backpacks full of life’s luxuries and with legs quivering set off. There was barely a soul around and soon we had the track to ourselves as most people were staying around the camp area at Darlington.

Darlington pier and the drop off point for the National Park ferry.

The weight and heat of the late morning soon had us sweating and questioning this folly of an idea. Like most things it sounds exotic, adventurous and a walk in the park when discussed over a dinner out, cooked by someone else. But now the tent, cooking equipment, bedding, clothes and food were all fighting for room in the packs. Mine felt like a small child had attached itself, limpet like. With every footstep I got a little clammier. Water was the most important commodity and the heaviest. One litre equals one kg and you couldn’t skimp as we were unsure what we would find at the camping grounds further South.

We plodded on the effervescent early talk slowing as our eyes took in the nearby bush. There was stuff out there our city eyes had missed. Wallabies watched silently rarely having to scoot, a variety of birds screeched and called before flitting away. Wombats ignored us as they industriously mowed the old pasture to lawn bowls standards however their wastage was piling up on the greens. We laughed as they froze eyes open if we got too close obviously convinced that they would become invisible or at best mistaken for a rock if they didn’t move.

The wombats are eating the place bare.

The track turned and hugged the coast and radiant white sand beckoned us to drop our packs and feel the fine crunch under our hiking boots. The sparkling sea near four mile creek draws us in like a magnet. Clothes are flung off and we both go crashing into the water the weight of hours with packs on our backs instantly melting away any fatigue. It was blissful and so was standing on the beach letting the sun’s rays dry us leaving our skin coated in a crusty white layer. Three dolphins swim offshore chasing small fish and a Brazilian backpacker too busy taking selfies misses their aerial display.

Kylie enjoying the pristine water.

We plod on refreshed from our swim but more than happy to arrive at Encampment Cove late afternoon. The camp area has been inundated with fishermen and we trudge up the hill looking for a flat piece of ground and some space between them and us. We don’t hear them again other than their outboard motors revving as they head out at dusk and dawn. Our dinner is cooked earlier than most children eat but we are pooped. It’s not even dark when the zip closes the tent flap and our bodies can sigh, no scream in relief. I would have missed the full moon rising like a soggy balloon over the nearby hills if it hadn’t been for my  weak bladder in the middle of the night. The sky was full of sparkling stars we just don’t see in the city.

There is only so long you can lay in a two-man tent staring straight up at the netting and buzzing mosquitoes on the other side of the netting. On standing your body complains then you bend to feel the pain move but know the only thing to sit on is a dead bough from a nearby tree and that is barely stool height. Silently coffee is brewed and a bowl of muesli scooped into our mouths. The wombats so industrious last night have slept in and the campsite has been left to the wallabies and noisy birds to keep us company.

We head off to the nearby convict cells. A grim-looking row of cells face North / West towards the natural beauty of the sea and the nearby mainland of Tasmania. For those convicts locked within the tiny cells the spectacular view would have been blurred by frustration. The area became a farm for some years but there are few remaining landmarks other than slowly rotting fence posts and long strands of twisted, rusting wire.

The old convict solitary confinement cells near Frenchs farm.

Cookaburras laugh as we head off towards the narrow neck at McRaes Ishtmus barely linking the South of Maria Island, the sea slowly eroding this thinnest of strips of land. Some yachts bob in the bay a few seagulls squawk and dive often successfully gulping their catch as they wheel overhead. It’s as I imagine seagulls should be instead of the scavenger lifestyle I usually observe as they tussle over chips at an overflowing rubbish bin. The delightful memories of yesterday’s swim has us slipping out of our clothes and walking almost boldly into the bay. Slow at first then faster as the cold water teases, the choppy sea lifting us onto tiptoe as everything tightens. And then you are under and the air escapes and the coldness doesn’t matter so much. Your whole body tingling and invigorated or is it blind numbness ?

On returning to our camp we find our solitary tent surrounded by a dozen new arrivals. A large group of wooden boat builders from all around Tasmania has sailed into the bay and literally pushed us out. They are sorry but they aren’t and within minutes it’s obvious we are going to have to move. They even stop erecting tents as they eye our dismantling tent site. So instead of relaxing as the last of the afternoon slipped away we find ourselves packing and heading towards Frenchs farm.

It was a good move as the only campers here are walkers, those that have trudged under their own steam to this old homestead and a couple of cyclists loaded with equipment. The following morning we pack early, take our breakfast up into the veranda of the old homestead. We chat with the Europeans backpackers who are amazed at the varieties of birds, the rock like wombats and skittish wallabies. Most are travelling very light, many did not expect to be camping at all but are enjoying the chance of isolation such a rarity in today’s world. We pack up our last things and begin heading back towards the ferry but with enough time for one last swim. It had become the theme of the trip and luckily the Tasmanian weather smiled on us.

Give life a slap or at a minimum a dunking in cold sea water !