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Backpacker Magazine – Most Rugged Coast: Tasman National Park

Most Diverse Landscape: Tasmanian Revel

by: Dennis Lewon and Nancy Bouchard

Trails go by--and through--deep puddles (wear waterproof boots and gaiters). (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
Trails go by--and through--deep puddles (wear waterproof boots and gaiters). (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
View from atop the west wall (Photo by Ben Fullerton).
View from atop the west wall (Photo by Ben Fullerton).
Boardwalks protect fragile wetlands in walls of Jerusalem National Park. (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
Boardwalks protect fragile wetlands in walls of Jerusalem National Park. (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
Wallaby with joey (Photo by Will Rochfort).
Wallaby with joey (Photo by Will Rochfort).

#1. Most Exotic Scenery

Jurassic Park on Mars. The thought pops into my head as I watch an enormous moonóso big and red that it looks like it belongs in the sky of another planetódip over a primeval-looking eucalyptus forest. Trees rise densely on the hillside across the valley, and the moon sinks slowly into the snarl of ridgetop branches. Birds fill the air with a dozen different calls; the karweek of black currawong and gutturalthroat clearing of yellow wattlebirds echo against rock walls. The dolerite cliffs here formed 165 million years ago, and itís hard to say if things have changed much since.

Iíve climbed the hill above camp to catch the moonset, and as dusk settles on Tasmaniaís Walls of Jerusalem National Park, Iíve fallen firmly under the spell of a land that looks more exotic than anything Hollywood has dreamed up. Only a dino- saur could make the scene any stranger. The next best thing appears: As I head back to our campsite at Wild Dog Creek, a wallaby hops into a clearing alongside the trail. The diminutive kangaroo, a member of the marsupial family that separated from other mammals in, yes, the Jurassic era, nibbles on a carpet of pineapple grass. What will appear next?

That becomes the recurring question over the next week as I explore Tasmania with a BACKPACKER crew. In Walls of Jerusalem, we hike a 20-mile loop, con- necting campsites at Wild Dog Creek, Dixonís Kingdom, and Lake Adelaide. We swim in clear-water pools called Solomonís Jewels. We enter the alpine sanctuary through Herodís Gate and climb 4,951-foot King Davidís Peak, scramble down a rocky chute in the Wailing Wall and up 4,787-foot Mt. Jerusalem (an early surveyor bestowed the Biblical names). From the top of Mt. Jerusalem, we overlook a shimmering wilderness dotted by scores of shallow lakes, like the remnants of a great sea. In camp, we sit on a bed of moss and grass so thick and soft it feels like sinking into a couch. We step carefully around emerald cushion plants that look like coral growing in the mountains.

And all that comes before we hit the coast. Itís hard to keep track of all the reasons Tasmania feels like another planetó one made for hikers. So we made a list of the next 10.
2. No Reservations Required
We hiked three national parks without jockeying for campsites. Even in high season, backpackers donít need reservations (excep- tion: The Overland Track).

3. Best Wildlife
No denying it: We oohed and ahhed like windshield tourists in Yellowstone at the first wallaby we saw, grazing in Walls of Jerusalem. In fairness, we thought it could be the only sighting of the week. The next day, we hiked to Dixonís Kingdom, a lush valley dominated by a pen- cil pine forest, and encountered a mob (thatís what a group is called) of wallabies congregating in the meadow. Other wild wildlife to look out for: wombats (short-legged marsupials), echidnas (spiny anteaters), and spotted-tail quoll (cat-like carnivorous marsupials). If youíre really lucky, you might see a Tasmanian devil, but the population has been decimated by a facial cancer (a disease-free colony has been established on Maria Island).

4. Freshest Air
Before landfall in Tasmania, the wind-driven air sweeps across thousands of miles of ocean, where itís stripped of impurities. Breathe deeply.

5-8. No poison oak or ivy; Lyme disease; mosquito-borne diseases; or acclimatization
The highest mountain in Tasmania is a tad over 5,000 feet, and alpine terrain starts at 3,000 feet. No need to build in travel time to adjust to the elevation.

9. Easy Entry
Every widely traveled backpacker knows what itís like to have an overzealous customs agent paw through a carefully packed sack of freeze-dried food, trail mix (fruit!), and jerky (almost always confiscated). Itís not a trip-ender, but itís sure a hassle to replace camp meals abroad. What a nice change to show an Australian customs officer our entire duffle worth of backpacking food, and have him ... wave us through with a smile.

10. Best Bouldering
Like climbing, donít want to pack a bunch of gear? Head to the granite blocks in Freycinet National Park that make up The Hazards and Mts. Graham and Freycinet. Established climbing crags (for all skill levels) are scat- tered across the peninsula, and the bouldering (no rope, harness, or equipment needed) is endless.

11. Tastiest (Local) Single Malt Whisky
In 1839, Governor John Franklin prohibited distilling spirits in Tasmania. About 150 years later, Bill Lark looked around at the islandís plentiful barley, pure water, and natural peat, and wondered, Why? The result: He got the regulations changed, and now his Lark Distillery produces a single malt whisky thatíll warm the chilliest Tasmanian rain. ďA sweet, peaty flavor and distinctive smoky finish,Ē says one very satisfied tester. Info:

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