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wukalina Walk, hiking through ancient landscapes in lutruwita (Tasmania)
I have a thing for island destinations. That is why, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to go for a Tasmanian expedition; there’s something about being surrounded by the ocean that really makes it special. I particularly love flying in for the first time and seeing the shoreline stretch out under the plane, so it was with huge excitement that I touched down in Launceston, Tasmania after attending the travel industry’s largest showcase.
A Tasmanian Expedition
We arrived at Hotel Verge, a new “industrial-luxe” property in the centre of town, after an intense period of meetings – some 100 over four days. Four industry colleagues had signed up for this ensuing Tasmanian adventure and, in need of stretching our legs, we began with a walk to dinner at Stillwater, surely one of the best restaurants that the city has to offer (and there are plenty). Following oysters, wallaby wings, rock lobster and porcini gnocchi, all beautifully paired with Tasmanian wine, we were not only ready for sleep, but also well fed for the hike that was to come.
The next morning, we met our guides at the Aboriginal Community Centre and, after a cup of tea and too many of Aunty Sharon’s famous scones, we drove the two hours to wukalina (Mount William) National Park. With the fair over, the sun was out in full force as we drove through incredibly green and rolling countryside, punctuated by cattle and sheep farms with fleeting glimpses of wallabies, parrots and the odd kookaburra sitting on a wire. Then, the road came to an abrupt end, and it was time to hike.
For much of the drive, Carleeta, our head guide and proud pakana woman, had started to tell us much about the history of her people, the importance of this land and the preservation of their culture. There can be no doubt that they are hugely connected to it, and this became even more obvious as we started the climb to the top of Mount wukalina, which translates as “breast”.
The climb to the summit is a relatively short 2.5km, and at an elevation of 216m, it’s a great way to get the legs moving. While not all that high, it’s the tallest peak in the region and the views out across the marsupial plains, forest, spectacular coastline and ocean stretch all the way to the Flinders Group of Islands. As we stopped for lunch at the top, Carleeta explained how their ancestors had used the depressions in the rock to light fires to warn others of the arrival of European traders. This was the start of a very dark period in history for the Aboriginal nations across Australia, but especially in lutruwita (the palawa name for Tasmania). The impact of foreign diseases and deliberate attempts to wipe out many Indigenous communities is still being felt and will continue to be for years to come.
As we began our descent towards the beach it was clear that wukalina walk is as much a cultural experience as it is a hike. The next few hours were spent exploring the bush and plains before stepping foot on gloriously white sand and walking the last couple of miles as the sun set.
Arriving at the krakani lumi is every bit as special as the pictures make it look. The welcoming smell of the fire pit was the first hint of our end goal, and as we arrived, we were greeted by hosts Alex and Jill with a very welcome glass of Tasmania’s finest fizz and, that evening, a traditional welcoming ceremony by the fire. The camp itself is a small gathering of structures based on traditional Aboriginal shelters, beautifully absorbed into very modern, straight angled boxes. The effect is startling and yet they sit so perfectly in the environment. The camp centres around the fire pit with kitchen, dining room and shared facilities on hand. The rooms are found at the end of boardwalks, with each black cuboid structure opening to reveal a domed interior with private views into the bush. They are simple but it’s hard to imagine anything more perfect at the end of a long day’s hike, complete with a comfy bed and a wallaby skin to keep you warm.
Dinner that night was an opportunity to try the local delicacy of mutton bird. The tradition of gathering shearwater chicks from outlying islands is long standing, and fascinatingly reflected in various ancient communities around the world. It’s gruelling work that involves key members of the community. Learning about the process from Carleeta, who had gathered the birds we were eating, was very much an insight to a world far removed from ours. The meat itself? Well, an acquired taste, perhaps, somewhere between duck and mackerel – but much nicer than that sounds!
Waking to the sounds and smells of the bush, we gathered around the embers of the fire pit for morning coffee followed by a breakfast of fresh fruit, bread and yoghurt. With two nights at the camp, we had the luxury of walking without packs, so we grabbed cameras and water bottles and headed to the beach. This was a gentle day exploring the creeks and shoreline, learning about the plants and way in which Carleeta’s ancestors had both lived in and managed the land. We spent time in ancient living spaces, areas where, for centuries people had gathered to meet, exchange goods and gather seafood. The evidence for the latter is everywhere, with layers of shells clear to see. This was the perfect location to listen to the creation myths and tales of women hunting seals on the islands that lie in the bay. There’s no doubt that the guides of wukalina walk are keeping these stories alive for future generations.
Earlier that morning, Travis had appeared soaking wet from the ocean with a big grin and three huge abalones. As we discovered on return to camp, they made the perfect accompaniment to a local pinot gris. That evening, as we chatted around the fire, we were joined by a family of possums who grew ever braver, even sneaking up to grab the odd morsel left unattended for more than a second or two.
The hike on day three is a long one, some 17km along the beach to larapuna lighthouse, but with plenty of time to stop and chat or eat. Walking in a small group really made the day special; by now we were firm friends with plenty to discuss. However, the moments where I found myself alone, walking along this remote corner of a small island, with no phone signal and just the glimpse of a lighthouse as the only sign of human existence, was akin to meditation. Witnessing a wombat on the beach made it even more special.
The final destination is the carefully restored lightkeepers cottage at larapuna. We were greeted by the sight of a sea eagle resting its huge wings on a tree overlooking a spectacular beach. It couldn’t really have been more perfect. Settling into our rooms for the night felt like the perfect re-introduction to modernity, a step forward in time from the ancient world that Carleeta and her team had taken us to along the way. This made the return to Launceston the following day that little bit easier to bear.
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