Once walking on the hard and consistent surface of the Lyell Highway, good speed was made walking for approximately 8 kilometres, until Andrew reached the turnoff to the township of Wayatinah, pausing only for the passage of multiple camper vans, hire cars and enthusiastic motorcyclists making their winding way between Hobart and the West Coast. This was an extremely unpleasant piece of road for pedestrians. The road was designed in remote central Tasmania with never an expectation people would walk along its edge. The result is that verges are narrow or almost non-existent, and guard rails often sit at the top of a dramatic drop. I know elsewhere I have needed to hop over such guard rails when vehicles approach and hold on for dear life so as not to fall down a massive incline. But Andrew survived the walk with care. Earlier plans to walk with pleasure listening to music through ear phones had to be abandoned in order to listen for traffic speeding around tight corners in the winding road.
After walking to the Wayatinah township Andrew continued downhill to the bridge over the Derwent River where his vehicle was parked. A moment of concern flashed through his mind as he approached. When walking towards his ute Andrew could see a couple of guys including a burly chap wearing a high-vis vest hovering around the vehicle and peering in the windows. Oh Oh. Was this someone about to break into the vehicle and steal it? Had he arrived just in time to prevent such a loss? As Andrew approached, the chap called out, “Is this your bus?” “Yes!”, Andrew replied, somewhat relieved. “Thank God you’re alive!” The fellow was a SALTAS salmon hatchery employee and, rather than having an intent to interfere with the vehicle, he had been deciding whether to call the police. He had seen the ute parked unattended for over 24 hours and feared that a fisherman had fallen into the river and disappeared!
Andrew explained that he was not a fisherman but a bushwalker and then proceeded to describe the project to walk the Derwent. The employee emphatically declared it was not possible to walk the full length between Wayatinah and where Andrew has started the walk the day before. “The river can’t be walked, the country’s too steep!” He felt the project to walk the Derwent was “nuts”. “You can’t walk down there’. It was useful to have confirmation supporting Andrew’s experience.
After dropping off his pack at the ute, Andrew then wandered upstream for a few hundred metres to the weir where SALTAS has a water intake.
He then continued on a track for a further few hundred metres until he reached a bend in the river where there is a flying fox for what looks like Hydro Tasmania equipment. Beyond that point familiar-looking scrub fringed a river bank which steepened quickly and dramatically. Further walking on the river edge was clearly impossible from then on, and the volume of water in the river made walking in the river impractical.
With that, the Tarraleah to Wayatinah section was essentially complete – complete except for about 4-5 km of winding gorge which was undertaken higher up away from the river bed and its edge.
I am so very grateful for Andrew’s persistence with the walk, his notes and his wonderful graphic photos. From these I could ‘feel’ the journey. I felt my heart soar when I saw the photos. I could feel the rush of the water, smell the freshness of the bush, and hear that clean ‘noisy’ atmosphere of the terrain. They took me out there.
As I had imagined, this was a walk compressed tightly into a narrow valley, over rocks and around water pools and flood debris for endless kms. With steep sided hills pressing in on both sides, there were no vistas or panoramas just the sight of the next corner ahead. Never a chance to get a walking rhythm. This was a walk which held both physical and mental challenges. Other than where to put his feet next, Andrew’s greatest ‘problem’ could well have been associated with ‘when will this relative sameness ever end’. While he saw snakes sunbaking on the river rocks, he was never in danger. He didn’t turn an ankle and he was able to walk out and live to tell the tale. Bushwalking always involves endless problem solving and I have always felt it is likely to be an activity that could stave off dementia.
One of my hopes was that there would be things to see or hear that are not normally seen – and that Andrew would experience completely new things which will thrill him. Seeing the Counsel River gave him that excitement and he has planned to return, albeit getting there from the land on the other side of the Derwent River and not via the River.
This was a walk conducted safely. Andrew used his maps and GPS constantly to be pinpoint his location and monitor progress. For example, walking through the plantation forests without this equipment could have been difficult because maps are out of date and endless new unsignposted roads and tracks exist which do not always follow contours. Getting lost would be easy.
That Andrew accepted having clothes ripped, and his body scratched and bruised in the quest to see if something was possible, is completely admirable. Even a week after the walk, one spectacular bruise on his shin (caused by slipping between two lumps of wood) was still working its way through the green and yellow stages of healing. This is not a walk which others should try; it was rough and the walk was mostly hard going. Regardless, the country was amazing and the rainforests sensationally beautiful – “there were heaps of interesting forests, and cascading waters from the hills”. I still feel thrilled that he undertook the walk and that there has been a new story to tell and photographic evidence of the journey to walk along the Derwent.