By Ruby Woodruff
It wasn’t until leaving Zeehan that we realized how close the fires had come. Charred branches and blackened hillsides flanked us as we cycled north and the sweet smell of burnt Eucalyptus hung heavy in the breeze.
This was our welcome to the wild west.
While we’d been riding our bikes around Tasmania, (a pin-prick of an Island located on the south-eastern tip of Australia), bush fires had been burning across the state destroying over 187,000 hectares of land, much of which was in the Wilderness World Heritage Area.
The fire-induced closures had almost made it impossible for us to continue our trip, but the road had reopened and we were now heading to the most remote and rugged area on the island: The Tarkine. Although this unique temperate rainforest was not a victim of the fires this summer, it is constantly under threat from logging, mining and poaching.
Getting to the Tarkine is no easy task, especially on a bicycle, and the sealed road we were on eventually gave way to dirt as we neared the Pieman River. From there, the Fat Man Barge took us into the small repurposed mining town of Corrina. Population 5. This would be our last stop before heading into the wilderness on an 80km gravel road fittingly named ‘The Western Explorer’.
We spent a damp night camped beside the Savage River and as we peddled further away from civilization, the landscape became increasingly violent. We were forced to ride our 60-kilo bikes up sickeningly steep hills while vicious downpours soaked everything we owned and gusts of wind stopped us in our tracks.
Eventually, the worst of it was over and we were rewarded with clear skies and an undulating track that allowed us to enjoy the vast landscape we were cycling through. Distant mountains rose up over a sea of trees and the reality of how small we are sunk in.
After a long and arduous day of riding, we found a clearing that would suffice as a campground for the night. We pitched our tent among a sparse patch of trees to soften the wind’s blow and fell asleep, exhausted by our battle with the elements.
The next morning, after tasteless oatmeal and black coffee, we finished the last few gravel kilometres of The Western Explorer and followed the winding pavement towards Arthur River, a seaside town where the only inhabitants are as rugged and salty as the coastline. This would be our final night on the west coast.
Sipping on instant noodles and staring at the tumultuous tides at the edge of the world, I felt an immense sense of gratitude to be in a place that not only survives nature’s wrath, but flourishes. And even though it seemed like fire, water, earth, and air had conspired to keep us from getting to the Tarkine, I can’t blame them, or anyone, for wanting to protect this rare piece of paradise.
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