Guiding at the End of the World - Josh Wood

Posted by Ettienne Montzka-Caceres on

Imagine standing on the tallest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere. From 300-metres up you can see Australian Fur Seals, which at this height are just little black dots. Across from you, on the towering cliffs of Tasman Island, stands the 100-year old gleaming white tower that is the Tasman Lighthouse. It took you three days of walking to get here. You arrived on a white sand beach via boat. You passed over a small mountain. You meandered through the Ellarway Valley, and across Tornado Ridge. You trekked seven kilometres across the imposing heathland of Cape Pillar, an area that only had its first public track cut in 1990, and you’ve summitted the imposing Blade. Imagine the wonder of standing on that point of rock, surrounded by sheer cliffs to the ocean on three sides. The next landmass to the south is Antarctica. You are at the end of the world!

Now, imagine that you get to re-live this experience, as if for the first time, up to 20 times in the summer. That’s what it’s like to be a guide. As a guide, I get to live vicariously through my guests who are experiencing this wonder for the first time. Every time.

The Three Capes Track is a 48-kilometre trail that takes four-days and three-nights to traverse the remote Tasman Peninsula. This trail wanders through world class scenery and daunting heathlands. Luckily the track is wide and clear and is nearly 40% boardwalk. It is an incredibly well-designed track that takes you through some areas that were only explored in the 1960s, due to their ‘impenetrable’ scrub. My job, along with two co-guides, is to lead 14 guests on this four-day adventure.

I work for Tasmanian Walking Company, which runs luxury walks in Tasmania.  Our Three Capes Track is a luxury walk by all standards. Parks Tasmania has put over five-years of work into the track. One of the great features is the so-called ‘huts’ which provide beds, kitchen and cookware, water, and even a hot bucket-shower at the second of the three huts. The version of the walk that I do has two eco-lodges hidden away in the bush, away from the main path.

Enough of the fancy stuff, I’m here for the nature and the stories. That is really what a guide is for; to tell the stories of the land. Some stories go back to the first peoples, some to the convict era, and one tale only goes back to the 1960s. In guiding, we call this storytelling ‘interpretation’ or ‘interps’ for short. Each guide has their own special way of interpreting the walk. Some like to focus on the plants, some the animals, some love the rocks, and some like to tell of the history. I like to combine these and tie the nature together with the history. I feel that my job is to help people create a connection to the space they are in. When you hear a relatable story, you will remember it because of how it made you feel. If you remember it, it will be important to you, and you will tell others. That is how we protect and promote our wild spaces.

On the first day, the group walks along the edge of Port Arthur, opposite the historic penitentiary, along a trail that can only be accessed by boat. This day is all about the convict story. There are many tales to tell, and I like to tie them in with the landscape. For example, the town of Port Arthur was originally a logging compound (before being a prison). The convicts and settlers of the time would cut down all these tall, hard, scruffy-looking eucalypts for building materials. The convicts, being from England, always tried to relate their experience to their lives ‘back home’ (hence many towns of the same name). One of the eucalypts that dominate the area are the Stringy Barks (Eucalyptus Obliqua). These trees provide a hard, fine grained, blonde wood which is similar to oak. The settlers at the time nick-named this timber “Tassie Oak.” Many other natural features received their names this way, and we still use those names to this day. So, you can see how the history and nature are linked. When pointing out trees, I can say, “This is the Native Cherry, Tassie Oak, She-Oak, Sassafras, etc.” and those names all hearken back to the dark ages of Tasmanian Colonial History.

The second day takes us over Arthurs Peak, a small ‘mountain’ of 318-metres, and across the Ellarway Valley (a derivative of “Where the ‘ell are we valley” named by the intrepid bush-bashers Tim and Reg in the 1960s). This day is all about the walk, the many stairs, and lunch under the towering Stringy Barks of Tornado Ridge. The walk ends at a secret lodge on Cape Pillar overlooking Munro Bight.

The third day is the crown-jewel of the walk: The Cape Pillar Day. This is a day for grand storytelling. I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but this is the day I have worked hardest to develop my story telling. On this day, we walk for six to seven hours and follow the narrative of Tim Christie and Reg Williams who made the first-known attempt to reach the end of Cape Pillar in the mid- 1960s. The walk includes kilometres of boardwalk, snakes, the jagged precipice that is the Blade, Tasman Island, and culminates in standing along the tallest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere; Cathedral Bluff, standing over 300 shear metres above the roaring Southern Ocean!

Another night in the lodge, followed by an early start, begins our final day’s walk. This day is my favourite. The fourth day takes us over and through the rainforest under-story of Mount Fortescue. With its towering tree-ferns, and faerie-tale forest, it is reminiscent Middle Earth. As we ascend to the cliff line, we wander towards the spectacular Cape Hauy, with it’s endless, undulating, stairway. The trek ends with an invigorating swim in the Southern Ocean at Fortescue bay as a memorable way to finish the adventure.

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