Even for a man used to heady thrills, Tasmania offers serious adventure – just ask Formula 1 driver Mark Webber
It’s been said that if you want somewhere to take you out of your comfort zone,you couldn’t do better than to head to old Van Diemen’s Land. Forget The Man from Snowy River – this is the real land of adventure.
I spend my working life racing fast cars all over the world but when I first came here, about 12 years ago, I instantly realised that this was the ideal spot for me to slow down and breathe deep. I love Tasmania for its sheer ruggedness, its sense of remoteness and the feeling that you are really able to escape from everyday life.
Happily, these days you can live as well in Tasmania as you could anywhere: there are wonderful hotels, the people are as welcoming as any in the world and the wine and seafood are pretty much unbeatable. But it’s also the perfect destination for someone who really loves the great outdoors.
On the Formula 1 circuit, life is naturally quite intense and most drivers need an escape valve that allows them to get away from that world from time to time. I had been looking for a destination that would take me out of my own comfort zones – get me doing things that I’d never done before. I wanted to test myself in different ways and I realised that there are a lot of other people who feel the same way.
With its spectacular mountain landscapes, dense forests and pristine beaches,Tassie has a way of challenging you.The combination of harshness and beauty made it the natural venue for the multi-sport charity event that has become the Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge, raising funds for the Mark Webber Challenge Foundation.
The 2006 challenge gave a selected group of sports personalities, celebrities and businesspeople the opportunity to spend six days racing almost 640km across some of the most dramatic wilderness areas in the world.
We pedalled mountain bikes through rainforest near the incredible Montezuma Falls (ending up wearing what amounted to a 4kg mudpack!) and along the breathtaking 33km stretch of gleaming sand that is Ocean Beach.We rafted on the Mersey River and raced kayaks among the uninhabited islands of Macquarie Harbour.
One memory stands out above the others.We were breathing hard as we ran towards the soaring cliffs known as the Walls of Jerusalem. The team was feeling relatively strong considering we’d battled through a dusty 55km mountain-bike hill-climb the day before and had already run 16 cross-country kilometres that morning.By that point we were running with our heads down, eyes on the trail. As we came over the pass they call the Damascus Gate I glanced up – and gasped. “Look up guys! Just look where we are – this is amazing!”
The old fur-trappers who named most of the mountain landmarks were perhaps overly given to Biblical sentiments, but when the sun burst from behind the clouds to spotlight the jagged peak that they called Solomon’s Throne it was easy to see where they got their inspiration from.
The others in the team had never seen anything like it, either. We had been running across land on which probably nobody had ever before set foot until the route was mapped out for this challenge.We were racing through an incredible landscape that was polka-dotted with little highland lakes.Wallabies bounded away from us through the bush, platypus dived for cover under the icy water and the spoor of countless Tassie devils and wombats lay around.
My team-mate James Cracknell was blown away – he has crossed the Atlantic in a rowing boat, yet he proclaimed it the remotest spot he had ever visited.
Those sub-alpine highlands with their snow-gum copses and meadows of button grass – patterned and shaded like Aboriginal paintings – are so ancient that they formed the backdrop for Walking with Dinosaurs.Not too much has changed in 152 million years. It’s real back-to-nature stuff; being out there amongst it – and the elements Mother Nature throws at you – makes you feel humble and insignificant indeed.
I’ve visited a lot of countries in my travels but when a local Tassie boy who had never left the island suggested to me the other day that he was lucky enough to live in “God’s own backyard”– well, there was no way I could argue.
Whose backyard would you rather play in?
The next Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge will take place between December 7-11, 2011, with five-day, three-day and one-day events to suit all adventure levels. It will be run to raise funds for the Mark Webber Challenge Foundation. To find out more, visit: www.markwebbertasmaniachallenge.com