Staring down a rope dropping 50m to the ground, the competitors we have been following through Tasmania, were facing perhaps their most nerve-jangling task to date.
It was day four of Mark Webber’s adventure challenge, and we were on the Tahune AirWalk – one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions. In a mixed eucalyptus forest canopy, the path steers visitors along 597m of three-story-high walkway.
The route, a gentle but spectacular stroll, culminates in a cantilever viewpoint over the confluence of the Picton and Huon rivers – but while we took the usual route the competitors went for a more adrenaline-fuelled option (not available to travellers!) by stepping beneath the walkway, clambering across the sub structure then dropping over the side on a rope.
We had come to expect nothing less, of course, from this event, which gives both professional racers and everyday (if reasonably fit) individuals from all walks of life the chance to experience Tassie in a very unique way.
It was four days since we began our journey around the southern region of what is the world’s 26th largest island. Kicking off in luxury from Freycinet Lodge, we had climbed up the challenging Mount Amos (where competitors had an equally scary descent). We then travelled three hours south to the Tasman Peninsula’s spectacular coastline and onto what is perhaps one of the state’s best-kept secrets – Bruny Island.
This little-visited jewel is accessed by occasional ferry from Kettering, just 45 minutes from Hobart, and on our visit it was sparkling in the perpetual sunshine we have been treated to all week.
First spotted by Abel Tasman in 1642, these two islands are joined by a narrow isthmus called The Neck. Here, we struggled up more than 200 steps (the competitors know exactly how many, as they had to count them as part of the race) to reach a spectacular 360-degree view of this near-deserted, desert-like island.
The highlight of the day was beautiful Cloudy Bay (on this day, rather inappropriately named). Pristine white-sand beaches stretch out on both sides of a tidal creek – the picture perfect beach destination where I could have relaxed for hours. However, a logistical nightmare for competitors, who had to balance their mountain bikes on kayaks to get across the fast-flowing river.
With just 600 residents on the island humans must be easily outnumbered by wildlife. White wallabies are one of the rarest sights. They remained elusive for us, but we did encounter a dolphin in one of the pretty, south-west bays as it popped in to play among the competitors’ kayaks.
The penultimate day saw us bouncing down the rugged roads of the Hartz Mountains – which proved challenging for the racers to navigate on their bikes. The more trodden paths lead to a high alpine wonderland which, on the morning we arrived, was beautifully draped in a necklace of cloud.
A gentle boardwalk path steered us up through the tree line to a marshy world high above the clouds, dotted with mirror-like tarns and rocky peaks. Each offered a wide vista over to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel on the coast, which leads back through Hobart to Bruny.
This area harbours some of Tasmania’s endemic plant species. Mosses that take thousands of years to grow and tall trees including the Eucalyptus Regnus are found here. The region also offers some spectacular cycling routes – where some companies run commercial tours – and even I felt like jumping out and having a ride around as the rubble roads seemed to go only one way: downhill.
The gentle riverside capital of Hobart appeared uber-urban on the following day, with a cosmopolitan range of restaurants and a bustling town centre. It was sleepy on a slightly sodden Sunday morning as the race came to its conclusion, but it was still far more populated than anywhere we have been in the last week.
In 12 months’ time, the event will be back again in a different part of the state. Another course in yet another region will be run in 2012.
However tough this mad sport of adventure racing may sound, what it does allow people to do (even born-and-bred Tasmanians) is reach untouched state secrets. Anyone, from the pro-racer going for fastest time to adventure travellers looking for a challenge, can get a taste of something special.
And having seen just a small section of this enchanted isle’s wilderness, I can see why Webber didn’t want to take his adventure event anywhere else...
More than 50 racers challenged each other on a thrilling multi-sport competition showcasing Tasmania’s spectacular terrain – and Will Gray has followed it. You can see videos, images and latest news on the race here: www.markwebbertasmaniachallenge.com
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