“Few things are as exciting as the idea of travelling somewhere else. But the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams.”
Alain de Botton
I’ve never been a fan of mass tourism, but over the last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot about the negative aspects of it and in particular with what is happening to Venice. Apparently as many as 44,000 cruise ship passengers pour into Venice a day during the high season. That’s roughly 5 cruise liners worth. When we lived in Tasmania we’d get the boats pull into Hobart Harbour, thankfully just one at a time, and the passengers would be like a tsunami as they headed for Salamanca. I hate to think what 5 times that number would be like. Along with the negative impact that has on the local population and the environment there is also the fact would you really want to visit somewhere with another 44,000 people? It’s hardly getting away from it all is it? Then there is the whole thing of “Right you’ve got six hours in port and then we’re off to the next location”. Six hours following several other thousand people all traipsing round the same location, looking at the same few things only to herded up at the end of the day and taken somewhere else to do exactly the same thing the next day. It’s a gross version of the 1969 film “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”. It’s worthy of Dante’s vision of hell. So why do people do it and pay a fortune for the privilege? Essentially people do it because they are bored with the ordinariness of their life and want something out of the ordinary with a touch of luxury.
When I lectured in photography one of the most common complaints from students was that there was nothing to photograph in Perth or Western Australia. They wanted something new, something exciting something that they’d never seen before. The problem was photography’s history encourages that kind of thinking – we only have to look at the photographic tradition of the road trip established by the likes of Robert Frank and his eponymous book The Americans with its hip introduction by Jack Kerouac. Stephen Shore and Alec Soth amongst others have popularised it to the extent that it has almost become a photographic rite of passage. Indeed at a portfolio review at FotoFreo my reviewer actually said I should go on a road trip as a means of finding myself. But the thing is booking a package holiday to Bali or Vietnam is not going to work as all you will see are the usual tourist attractions and maybe you’ll take some photos of poor third world people. Invariably you return home and the photos get ignored and languish in a dark recess on your computer hard drive as they look the same as everyone else’s. They are not out of the ordinary. The British philosopher and writer Alain de Botton in his book The Art of Travel said “Then I realised that the problem with going away is that you take yourself with you.”
I would suggest that if you want to produce interesting work look to the ordinary and easily accessible. Many photographers have taken this path. Robert Adams documents the changing American landscape and in particular the spread of suburbia. Chris Killip,Sally Mann, and Larry Towell are all photographers who have done projects about ordinary things on their door steps and have produced extraordinary images. The American photographer Minor White once said “…all photographs are self-portraits.” so thereis no need to travel to find your self just keep exploring with your camera. The frequent retort from my students was that everything around them had been photographed before well White also had an answer for that “Everything has been photographed. Accept this. Photograph things better.”.
So what have I been doing photographically for the last week? Well I’ve been out to some local nature reserves, I’ve visited them many times over the last 14 years and it never ceases to amaze me that I always find something new. So I was delighted to find these two flowers.
I’ve been hanging around the York Golf Course. Not to play golf you understand – I’ve never understood the compulsion to dress up in silly sweaters and shoes and drag a bunch of sticks in a cart around a large field while trying intermittently to knock a ball into a hole. No the reason why I’ve taken to loitering at the York Golf Course is that is home to a significant number and variety of wildflowers. Not on the fairways off course – they are barren bits of grass with the occasional large hole filled with sand. No the interesting stuff lies in the rough between the fairways. It’s not without its hazards mind you. Those people in their funny clothes reckon they can hit a ball straight down the fairway to the flag in the hole – well most of ’em can’t, they slice the shot and the balls land like a barrage of misplaced shells in an American artillery strike. The ground is littered with balls in among the bushes. I thought the rules state that you have to play the ball from where it landed, well the number of “lost” balls in the rough at York plainly shows that this is not happening. It’s so bad that next time I visit I’m seriously contemplating wearing a helmet. You can never be too careful.
As you might have gathered from my last post I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Wave Rock itself. Besides watching tourists I spent my time looking for orchids. I had seen on my Facebook feed someone had found some dark banded greenhoods at the base of the rock so I spent ages walking along the vegetation looking for a small green and brown plant amongst a sea of other small green and brown plants. Amazingly I found a patch of half a dozen under a clump of sedge. I did my usual thing of lying down to photograph them. So there I am my torso in amongst the sedge and my legs out on the path quietly photographing flowers.
After a little while of me lying completely flat trying to get the best possible viewpoint a woman walks along the path and finds my prostrate form. Perhaps being a fan of the “cosy crime” genre she thinks she has found a body, or at best someone who has collapsed sick while sightseeing. So she kneels down to touch me – I suppose to check whether I’m alive or not. I say “Hullo” and she jumps out of her skin and looks like she could keel over with a heart attack. I quickly explain that I’m fine really, and it’s very kind of her to be so concerned, but I’m just photographing some flowers. From the look she gave me I think she would have rather found a dead body than a mad man lying in the mud taking photos.
According to those that know it has been an amazing spring here in the Avon Valley. We’ve had rainfall that hasn’t been seen for decades and we’ve had a flush of wildflowers that hasn’t been equalled for fifty years. It has been frustrating as I’ve only managed to get out and photograph the orchids three times, but when I did get out it was beyond superlatives. Here are the highlights.
Clicking on an image will take you through to my online gallery.
Cradle Mountain is without doubt the most iconic wilderness areas in Tasmania. Situated in the Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park, which is in the Tasmanian World Heritage Area, which covers approximately 1,584,000 hectares and represents about 1/5 of the area of the island state of Tasmania. Cradle Mountain is located in the Central Highlands and is 165 Km north-west of Hobart the state’s capital city. The park is world-famous for the Overland Track which runs for 65 km from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair and attracts some 6000 walkers per year. That figure pails into insignificance when you consider that 170,000 people visit the park annually and the majority of them just to see one thing – the rugged majesty of crescent-shaped peaks of Cradle Mountain and its neighbour Little Horn reflected perfectly in the waters of Dove Lake which lies at their feet. There is a slight snag to this, the weather conditions at Cradle Mountain are fickle – this is Tasmania after all – and the conditions that provide such imagery only happen on average about fifty days per year. Season doesn’t guarantee and success as snow and low-lying cloud can occur in summer so basically you have an approximately one in seven chance. At the southern end of the park is Lake St Clair (which Tasmania’s indigenous people called Leeawuleena which translates as “sleeping water”) and the southern terminus of the Overland Track. The lake was formed in the last ice age and is the deepest in Australia. Despite the rugged beauty this part of the park does not receive as many visitors as Cradle Mountain, probably because it takes a little more effort to see things and also because it just doesn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi its northern neighbour does.
On our arrival at Cradle Mountain there was low-lying cloud and constant drizzle – what the Irish would call a soft day. Wet enough to soak you through to the skin despite a Gore-tex within 2 or 3 hours, but not enough to stop you having an enjoyable hours walk, so we did two of the short walks – Enchanted Forest and the King Billy Pine walk. The Enchanted forest walk was as you expect from the name enchanting, walking along side a small stream through the rain forest. The King Billy Pine walk takes you to look at an amazing tree, it is over 40 metres tall and the gnarly buttressed roots and shaggy moss covering made it look like one of the Ents from Lord of The Rings and is estimated to be 1500 years old. It was mind-boggling to think that when the cathedral in my home town of Chichester was founded in 1075 AD that this tree was already 600 years old.. The park is a veritable biosphere, the list of native species is truly spectacular, both flora and fauna wise. In fact most visitors to the park don’t realise that it is a fabulous wildlife watching destination. Most of Tasmania’s large marsupials can be found here including wombats, Bennett’s Wallabies, pademelons, Tasmanian Devils and platypuses. Despite the ground being thick with wombat droppings there was no other sign of them, but we did see a Bennett’s Wallaby and her joey on our way back to the car.
On our second day we decided just to walk around Dove Lake which is supposed to be just 6km long, flat and only take two hours. This would hopefully give me chance to get a photo of the iconic view and experience some more of the alpine environment. The classic view is the one from the boat shed, which is quite near the car park, which means most visitors don’t do the walk but just head straight to it. As it turned out the track was not flat, this is Tasmania after all, and as well as the broad walk over sensitive areas there was a lot of climbing up and down scree covered slopes which was hard on the hips and knees. Although listed as easy we were both quite pooped when we got to the boat shed and me phaffing about taking photos gave us a welcome rest before the last leg back to the car. So did I get the perfect shot? No. The peaks were shrouded in cloud and the wind was creating waves on the lake so there were no reflections. But having said that with the equipment I had, the conditions and the time available I’m happy with the shots I got. For me they represent something of the day-to-day experience of Cradle Mountain.
Australia is not for the faint hearted. I always thought that moving to southern Tasmania from Western Australia would reduce the number of creepy crawlies that we’d find in our house. But no, since we’ve been here we’ve seen scorpions, snakes and spiders galore.
But since The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit and the Harry Potter films I’ve become decidedly uncomfortable around spiders, especially the Huntsman spider shown above. They are on the largish side (the size of the palm of my hand) and it is the way they move that tends to puts the willies up me.
Now the little jumping spiders are admittedly not as bad as the huntsman. For one thing they are a lot smaller, less than 1cm long, and while hairy and their tendency to stare right at you can be off putting, you can in the right frame of mind think of them as cute. The fact that they don’t tend to come into the house also helps.
The Enamelled Back Spider is is almost jewel like in appearance and although they tend to build webs only 1metre from our front door they know their place and stay outside.
My partner does not like spiders at all so I am often dipatched with a rolled up newspaper or slipper to “deal” with them. As I protest and squirm I am often challenged with the phrase “What are you man or mouse?”. Well all I can say is “Pass the cheese!”.
There’s no doubt about it we get a lot of weather in Tasmania – it is said that you can experience all four seasons in one day, and that if you don’t like the weather then just wait ten minutes and it will completely different. Thankfully after what seems a very long and cold winter, spring is starting to show. Flowers are starting to bloom, the days are warmer and people are out and about looking happier. The space of time between the first photo and the last is just five weeks and I have gone from wearing thermals, fleece and Gore-tex to shirt sleeves.Here’s looking forward to summer.
Mount Field National Park is one of Tasmania’s oldest and most popular parks. The reason why is that within the park there are rain forest, alpine moorland, glacial lakes and snow gums. In summer the park is a blaze with flowers and in autumn it is a glorious golden hue as the vagus trees (Tasmanian deciduous beech) prepares to shed its leaves. There are a variety of walks within the park that go from being just a 30 minute stroll to 8 hours Alpine walks which require cross country skies in winter. The Russell Falls walk is one one of the most popular walks in Tassie, it takes you through a forest of ferns, eucalypts and myrtles on the way out to the water fall. It is only takes 25 minutes return and is suitable for for wheelchairs and prams. Another popular walk is the Russell Falls / Horseshoe Falls / Tall Trees Circuit / Lady Baron Falls walk. An unwieldy name for for a very pleasant 2 1/2 hour walk that connects three waterfalls and the Tall Trees Walk. It requires a bit more effort but is worth it as it gives you a very good look at the ecosystem of the lower park. My favourite walks the Pandani Grove Nature Walk which is located on the Mawson Plateau in the alpine areas of the park. This is the best way to experience the alpine ecosystem of the park and as you walk around the glacially formed Lake Dobson you pass through a forest of pencil pine and and pandani. This walk takes about 40 minutes. Last time we went to the park we did the Pandani but also tacked on a side trip to Platypus Tarn in the hope of seeing a platypus. This adds another 20 minutes on the walk but takes you on a quite steep and rough path and I’d recommend it only if you have proper walking boots and are prepared for cold and wet weather. We didn’t see any platypuses, but nothing in life is guaranteed.
What can you see in the park? Well Bennetts Wallaby and pademelon can often be seen grazing in the late afternoon and early evening at the picnic areas. Barred bandicoots are seldom seen in daylight hours but can be seen around the campsite and picnic areas at night looking for insects and worms. Also active at night are brush, ringtail, and pigmy possums. In the more remote areas of the park it may be possible to see Tasmanian Devils, eastern quolls and spotted tailed quolls. Again these animals are only active at night. All of Tasmania’s snake species are active within the park and caution should be exercised if you should see one as they are all venomous. A lot of bird species inhabit Mount Field, with the majority being found in the eucalyptus forest. Here you can see green rosellas, yellow tailed black cockatoos, yellow wattle birds, crescent honeyeaters, grey shrikes and currawongs. Harder to see, but still present in the undergrowth are scarlet and dusky robins and blue wrens. If you are lucky and in the alpine areas you may see wedge tailed eagles soaring on the thermals looking for prey. In terms of flora – basically you have three distinct ecosystems, dry eucalyptus forest, wet euclaypt forest (or rain forest) and the alpine heath. Below 670m you see dry eucalyptus forest which is your typical Australian bushland and is identified by the tall growing trees such as the swamp gum (the tallest hardwood tree in the world growing up to 100m tall) the white gum and the stringy bark. The understory comprises of native musk, and hazel or dogwood. Up to 940m is either closed rainforest or in the transition areas mixed forest. This is dominated myrtle-beech and sassafras with an understory of native laurel. In the gullies formed by the numerous creeks are several species of tree ferns and it is these most people think of when they hear the term temperate rainforest. At 880m and above the Tasmanian snow gum starts to dominate the sub-alpine forest. Past this and you see alpine heath of the pandani which with its palm tree looks can grow to heights of 9m. As you explore the areas around the lakes or tarns ( a tarn is a lake that was formed during the ice age when a glacier created a cirque, corrie or cwm which later fills with water) many shrubs grow mountain berries which introduce a splash of colour to the undergrowth.
If you want to spend more than a day in the park there is a campground for vehicle based campers near the visitor centre. It has a camp kitchen, shower block with laundry and barbecues. There are some basic huts for walkers in the alpine area, and these have basic facilities such as running water, a wood heater, and bunks with mattresses. All accommodation can be booked through the visitors centre on (03) 6288 11149. There is also some private accommodation outside the park.