Going to the River Styx

The westerns and south central sections of Tasmania offered us far more eerie and unexpected scenery than we expected. This is the part of the country where you can best see man and nature at odds with each other, where forestry and mining and idyllic nature preserves (or dreams thereof) collide. Let’s start with Tullah’s Wee Georgie Railroad, a remnant of the narrow gauge railroad that served the silver mining industry for many decades of the early 20th century. You can still take a short ride in one of the rail cars, but only if you happen to be in town during highly specific weekend hours. Otherwise, you just have a view down empty tracks:

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Then there’s Queenstown, the center of Tasmania’s copper mining industry for nearly a century. To get there, you drive through deep green forests – and then you hit the reds, oranges, and yellows of stripped earth:

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That pool at the bottom of the quarry and slag heaps is a vivid teal because of the copper (blue) and sulfur (yellow) deposits still in the ground. You can walk out over the pool if you take the brief Iron Blow detour off the highway just out of town, and the view is spectacular (though in answer to the kids at the lookout next to me, no, you cannot go swimming).

Queenstown itself feels a quiet and a little bit deserted in the way of any mining town where the mine has closed down. The old hotel and post office stand as testament to the town’s glory days …

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… but the fact that there is someone playing the bagpipes out on the nearly empty main street suggests that there’s not a lot of action in town right now.

If you drive south from Queenstown toward Hobart, you pass over the east-west divide: the line where the wetter, greener west and the drier east of Tasmania split. So the world turns suddenly brown and yellow:

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The most exciting part of this section of the drive was finding an echidna! It was crossing the road, but when I got out of the car to try to visit it, the spiny little creature trundled into a log. So I don’t have a photo, but it did bear out people’s suggestions that if you want to see an echidna, looking for them along the sides of roads and trails will be your best bet.

As you drive further south still, you come to the small town of Westerway – and the Big Raspberry!

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The sign at the Big Raspberry (or “BIG RASPBERRY”) indicates that it was “the brain child of Uncle Desi and Randall … designed and fabricated over many hours by Sam, local welder with 40 years of industry experience. It is constructed using recycled plough disks, 44 gallon drums and an old tractor exhaust.” And yes, you can also buy raspberries there.

Our goal in driving through all of this was to get to the tiny village of Maydena, where we stayed in slightly run-down old forestry workers’ cottages:

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Maydena was developed in the early 1900s as the heart of a thriving forestry industry, which means that it lies in the midst of thousands of hectares of forests. Some of these are still logged, but many offer excellent hiking areas.

The first walk that we explored was the short Junee Cave Track, which leads to the mouth of the two deepest caves in Australia:

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These caves, the Tachycardia and the Niggly, are both about 375 meters deep. They lie in the midst of 30 kilometers of cave passages. I was sad that we weren’t allowed to go in to see them, but given the pictures of Tasmanian cave spiders near the mouth of the cave, maybe that was for the best.

This cave entrance is also the source of the Junee River, which springs out of the limestone rocks deep beneath Mt. Field. So unlike most of the other rivers in the area, which have turned a deep brown from the tannins in the peaty soil, this river is crystal-clear.

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Our second hiking adventure took us to the Styx Forest Reserve. This temperate rainforest reserve is home to eucalyptus trees (eucalyptus regnansthat are the world’s tallest flowering plants; they can reach over 260 feet tall, and some are over 500 years old. Those giant trees have made this forest the epicenter of a longstanding fight between loggers and environmentalists. The latter have worked to protect the forest through road blockades and tree sits (this involves someone sitting in a tree 24/7 to ensure that no one cuts it down). In fact, one of the trees in this forests holds the record (who knew there was such a thing?) for the highest tree sit in the world, which took place for about five months in the early 2000s.

We saw no sign of any such strife; as we drove the gravel road up to the hiking areas, we just observed a lot of timbered land, empty of anything but a few wild lupines …

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…and  then lush green forests. Our goal was the Big Tree Forest Reserve, home of the Big Tree Forest Walk and the Styx River Walk. The first of these two short tracks takes you to the Big Tree:

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I love how literal this is — but when you look up, you wonder if this tree could have been given any other name:

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The Big Tree is truly enormous:

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The funniest part of naming these trees is that several years after awarding this one the “Big Tree” designation, they found another eucalyptus tree that was even larger. So they named that one “Bigger Tree.”

There are giant trees everywhere you look …

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… and you can even walk on some of them:

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There are also plenty of tree ferns — we loved that this one has chosen live its life in a yoga pose:

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The tree’s head (still alive) appears to pop right out of the ground:

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The Styx River walk took us, as promised, down to the Styx River:

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The original River Styx is, of course, the river that the Greeks believed formed the border between this world and the next (that would be Hades, the underworld). In Tasmania, the Styx is just a very long, very brown river. Some people have speculated that the river earned its name because of its color — but Prescott joked that its name comes from all of these sticks:

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We really loved the Styx Forest Reserve and would love to return (there is at least one more trial, colloquially dubbed the Tolkien Track, that we did not have time to find or explore). I would recommend the forest to anyone interested in ancient places, tall trees, and old growth forests. It feels very wild and empty. And I really hope that it becomes a national park someday.

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