the surface of Tasmania's Whyte River was still as a painting. An azure
kingfisher skimmed low over the water, and the creaking calls of yellow-tailed
black cockatoos echoed from the canopy. By the riverbank, the water stirred as
a platypus prospected for food. So began another day in the Tarkine
across Tasmania's northwestern corner, the 4,470sqkm Tarkine, which is bordered
by the Pieman River in the south and the Arthur River in the north, is touted
as the world's second-largest temperate rainforest, behind only the vast Great
Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. With few roads and located far from
the main population centres of Hobart and Launceston, the Tarkine receives only
small numbers of visitors – but that may be about to change when construction
of a 90km tourist route into the region begins in May, looping
through the scenic Tarkine from the town of Arthur River to Tayatea Bridge.
Currently, the only significant road
through the Tarkine is the unsealed Western Explorer, dubbed the “Road to Nowhere” by critics when
it was built in the mid-1990s. Today, though, it is very much the road to
somewhere, as the Tarkine grows in significance in Australia's natural
consciousness. Leading Australian scientist and environmentalist Tim Flannery
has described it as "perhaps the least disturbed forest in all of
Australia, the closest thing our continent offers to a true wilderness".
southern end of the Western Explorer, on the banks of the Pieman River, the
former gold-rush settlement of Corinna
offers the only accommodation inside the Tarkine. Its 17 period-style cottages
are edged against the rainforest, providing treehouse-like views into the
canopy of myrtle beech, sassafras, laurel and celery top pine trees.
Tarkine's gold rush was a fleeting thing. Gold was found in Middleton Creek
around 5km north of Corinna in January 1879, and by July of that year there
were 400 people in the area, hunting for gold. In 1881, the first store was
built on the banks of the Pieman River and Corinna was born.
reached its apex in the 1890s when around 700 people lived at Corinna, but by
1919 the town was all but abandoned, leaving what Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife
Service describes as " the only remote area historic mining
settlement" in the state.
Corinna's heyday, pubs anchored both banks of the Pieman River, though today
the Tarkine Hotel
stands alone, wrapped in a wide veranda that would not look out of place in the
deserts of central Australia.
Corinna, a range of activities is in easy reach. Kayaks are available for hire
to explore the Pieman River and its tributaries, and several walking trails
radiate out through the rainforest. A five-minute walk west from Corinna leads
to a colony of freshwater crayfish, their characteristic mud burrows rising
like a mini-Manhattan from the forest floor.
A one hour hike
on the Whyte
River Walk meanders to the platypus-busy Whyte
River, passing through rainforest and a choir of birdsong along the way. In the
other direction, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk heads 300m along the banks
of the Pieman River to an ancient Huon pine tree.
Mild and wild
Tasmania, Huon pines are one of the world's longest-living tree species,
growing for up to 2,000 years, and the Pieman River is one of their most
evident strongholds. Its riverbanks also hide one of Tasmania's most beautiful
but least-known waterfalls, Lover's
Falls (named for a pair of 19th-century honeymooners who visited here),
plunging about 20m over a cliff into a grove of giant ferns.
River is best seen from aboard the Arcadia II, the world's
last-surviving Huon pine-built pleasure boat, which cruises downstream each day
from Corinna to the river mouth at Pieman Heads. Built in 1939, the 17m cruiser
– once a World War II navy supply ship – has been operating as a tourist boat
on the Pieman River since 1970.
from wind by the forest, the Pieman River is often a mirror reflection of the
world around it – trees, sky, an occasional white-bellied sea eagle – providing
a meditative setting in contrast to the wild scenes ahead at Pieman Heads.
west coast is one of the fiercest stretches of shoreline in Australia; the
highest waves ever recorded in the country (19m) were here, and supply ships
trying to enter the Pieman River in the 19th Century were regularly torn apart.
Southern Ocean roars ashore at Pieman Heads, smashing into the well-named
Misery Rock and piling up sea foam and hundreds of logs on the beach. Wind
scours the shore, pelting sand through the graveyard of ocean-polished wood.
Corinna, the drive north on the Western Explorer threads through the rainforest
for 10km, providing glimpses into fairy-tale scenes of ferny glades and mosses
as lush as lawn. As the road leaves the forest, it enters another of Tasmania's
signature scenes – buttongrass
moorland – where traces of the Tarkine's human history remain in the
remnants of a water race built to power hydraulic gold sluices in the late 19th
Century. Look behind, at the forest that covers almost 7% of Tasmania, and there
is now only green where once there was gold.