Go wild in Tassie’s South-West

Published in On the Road

There’s something life affirming about being at the end of the line, especially in Tassie where the end of the road almost means the end of the world. It’s a thrill that is often hard to find in this digital age. But when you can be at the edge of the world surrounded by World Heritage wilderness with a cold beer and Tassie wine and good food, it feels even more life-affirming. It’s like having a bet each way. Now you don’t have to choose between nature or the spoils of civilisation. Turns out you CAN have both. 

It’s a sentiment Pedder Wilderness Lodge has tapped into as we discovered on our recent visit. Once the staff quarters for the controversial Gordon Dam, in recent years it has renovated and re-badged as an outdoors lodge. It has converted the former mess hall into a lounge, bar and restaurant area and has refurbished the worker’s rooms to offer various levels of accommodation ranging from dorms, lakeside rooms and family-friendly cabins

The clubby lounge is inviting with views of Lake Pedder and distant mountains that look cut and pasted from New Zealand’s South Island. There’s an extensive outdoor garden with barbecues and choice fishing spots. Sitting outside, drink in hand, taking in the lake’s ever-changing light and moods is reason enough to come to Lake Pedder.  

Nature lovers, kayakers, fishos, photographers and outdoor adventurers come here, as do general tourers to view the Gordon Dam, a fifteen minute drive from the lodge. This contentious project was completed in 1972 for Tasmania’s hydro-electric scheme and created Tasmania’s second largest lake. The fallout was enormous, sparking the world’s first political party which was dedicated to the environmental only.

Today, despite its chequered history, the dam is a magnificent engineering sight. it is several metres higher than the Sydney Harbour Bridge and holds back thirty times the amount of water as Sydney Harbour and it’s possible to walk across the dam’s giant single arch. For the ultimate thrill (for your wallet and your heart), a Hobart company Ardvark Adventures organises abseiling the dam; the largest commercial abseil in the world.

The dam marks as the end of the road into south-west Tasmania and many people come here for that reason alone. The beauty of Pedder Wilderness Lodge is that you can stay for several days of walking, kayaking or just relaxing or else drop in for coffee and cake or lunch.

South West Tasmania water and boardwalk

Lake Pedder is surrounded by superlative South-West National Park, which is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage and takes up the whole south- west of Tasmania. The set piece walks of Mt Eliza (11km) and Mt Anne (15km) are some of the few walks in this rugged wilderness area. It’s true the walks are quite challenging and can get very muddy after rain. But the good news is you don’t have to complete the walks in order to get great views. We tackled half of Mt Eliza, a straightforward track through buttongrass plains and some boardwalk, and even though we didn’t make it to the summit, the views from the first hill climb were outstanding. The lake was a shimmering chiffon blue, dotted with strange pink quartzite beaches and circled by the distant Frank- land Mountain Range. Although south- west Tasmania is remote, if the weather’s good these are popular walks, whilst not being too crowded. Our fellow hikers made the walk feel perfectly safe and it was refreshing to see people of different ages and nationalities enjoying Tassie’s great outdoors.

For easy walking with good access, Mt Field National Park is a terrific spot to visit on the way to or from Lake Pedder. The Information Centre is very helpful and there’s a big variety of walks to suit all levels of capability from strolls on flat paths to challenging hikes in the nearby alpine area. Our favourites were the set piece waterfall walks. Russell Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Tasmania and is a flat 30 minute tourist grade walk. Two other waterfalls, lady Barron Falls and horseshoe Falls, are nearby and it’s possible to join up all three waterfall walks for a 2.5 hour walk through filmy rainforest and towering swamp gums and a fairly easy track. Be warned, if you go on a Saturday in summer it can be a bit busy, especially if there’s a cruise ship docked in Hobart, but during the week the crowds die down. Within Mt Field National Park is the alpine area. Although it’s only a 30 minute drive from the Information Centre (which has very good snacks for hikers), the lay of the land is quite different with the rain- forest abruptly giving way to alpine plants and rugged hilltops. The area is dotted with snug ski chalets and in winter there is a small ski scene. There’s an easy flat lake circuit or reasonably challenging rugged hilltop walks.

From Mt Field National Park it is an hour and a half’s drive back to Hobart as the wilderness changes from bush to genteel Tassie cool climate gardens. Or you could head north to explore Tasmania’s fabulous national parks, Lake St Clair, Cradle Mountain, The Tarkine and beyond.