The Hunt for the Tasmania Tiger
Many of you may not be aware of the history of Tigers in Tasmania. The truth is until the early 1900's tigers populated Tasmania! Their systematic eradication was brought about by humans who feared for their lives and that of their livestock. Today, even 78 years after the last reported sighting of the tiger, many traces of their existence are found all over Tasmania. There are tiger bars, tiger hotels and tiger cafés, painted in stripes and occasionally decorated by tiger skins dotting the island. Countless expeditions have explored the Tasmanian wilderness for the last of their surviving lineage, but all were unsuccessful.
We, a cohort of engineers, bankers and scientists believed we could make a determined contribution in the search for the last Tasmanian tiger. Each highly skilled and dedicated team member had nothing else in mind but the successful rediscovery of the Thylacine. Our team was made up from the following people:
Andreas — The Princess
Stemming from a regal lineage of Bavarian mountain men, his natural light-footedness made him world champion of the floor is lava, which was a handy skill to kept his precious feet dry for most of the hike. Andreas was the mountaineering expert of the group. He was also impressed by Matthieu's size.
Anna — The Scientist
A doctoral candidate in the field of water purity and filtration, responsible for assessing water sources and food quality. Anna was also a particularly picky eater, who followed the strict dietary rule: "it's food, it's hot, and nobody died". Simple stuff really.
Bec — The Real Australian
She was the only team member alive to have actually seen the Thylacine in physical form, and even boasted to own one! Her Thylacine - also aptly named Thylacine - apparently spent his days travelling the world from Europe to Antarctica and posting photos on facebook. Bec claimed to be a true Australian stemming from her deep roots of convict heritage; a.k.a.: a prostitute sent to entertain the settlers.
Eve — The Banker
A specialist in sustainable investment, her contribution of monetary expertise would surely help sustain the tigers' future, should we ever find one. She was the only member of the team with the foresight to bring swimming goggles.
Lizanne — The Legs
Professional speed skating and short track cycling athlete. Selected for her speed and endurance, in case our team was chased by wild animals and we needed to make a swift getaway. She was known to cover her torso-sized thighs with pink floral camouflage, and sometimes wear an owl costume - we assumed to blend in with the natural surroundings, but maybe she just liked the style. Also a professional cartographer.
Matthieu — The Big
An advanced trail scout and excess luggage carrier. Matthieu is easily recognisable by his scraggly golden locks of hair, and by his willingness to sprint ahead of the group while still carrying two backpacks. According to Andreas's exclamation upon discovering Matthieu in his tent, he was "really big" and the name stuck.
Meike — The Physicist
An understanding of relativity, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics was crucial to the success of the mission. Therefore, Meike was recruited to plan the team's dynamic, to analyse position and momentum against all uncertainty: a relatively hard job.
Sam — The Cameraman
With years of photojournalism experience spanning the globe, in possession of the biggest equipment, and stemming from that part of the world, he was an obvious choice to record the expedition.
Preparation for the Expedition
Of course, a good team and motivation alone would not suffice, and so careful planning and preparation was started almost a year before we set out to Tasmania. To extrapolate the necessary number of tents for 8 persons, numerous indoor trials and sleeping tests were conducted until the optimal combination of room, smell, weight and colour was selected.
To strengthen ourselves against disease, cold, heat, water contamination and other unexpected events, medical flasks were prepared for all expedition members, clearly labelled with name and destination, and filled with various potent elixirs. Each adventurer was entrusted with filling his or her own flask. There were suspicions some had succumbed to their vices and brought booze instead. These rumours were surely falsifications, relying on the moral integrity of the team.
Since we would be exploring parts unknown, we took precautions in case we encountered any unfriendly Tasmanian locals. Cowbells were organised as a method of payment for friendly locals for food and accommodation. In case any locals became aggressive, the bells could be chimed loudly to scare them away.
Arrival in Launceston
In order not to attract the attention of the local population, the team decided to split up and arrive in Launceston on separate flights. Although unplanned, part of the equipment also arrived on a separate flight, which endangered the entire mission due to the lack of sufficient footwear. We managed to thoroughly confuse the lost luggage centre at Sydney airport, who's employees were lacking the intellectual capacity to follow our travel plans. The airline did provide compensation payment, but it didn't help get out gear back. With the help of Lizanne's flexible friend (Bendy Ben) it all worked out nicely in the end.
The first to arrive in Launceston were Sam and Meike. It was sunny and warm, but the wind had a slight chill which warned of the hardships to come. They spent the day acquiring state of the art equipment to enable communication with locals (pre-paid simcard) and basic supplies for the expedition in the wilderness.
The first encounter of wildlife was, unexpectedly, a family of Japanese snow monkeys playing near the the local orchid gardens in the middle of Launceston city. They acted relaxed when on ground level, and did not display any signs of tiger-inflicted injuries; therefore, it was decided to not follow them around.
Launceston to Mole Creek
The rest of the team arrived in Launceston the next morning and spent three hours buying food and supplies for the next eight days of the expedition. With 160kg of supplies and equipment, we were picked up by Ranger Tom and Ranger Jenny in the Tiger Bar's drunk bus to set out into the wilderness.
Mole Creek was a mysterious place of green rolling hills and quickly changing weather. In order to survey the lay of the land, we ventured to the top of Tom and Jenny's hill which overlooked their property on the back of the ute. There the team took the chance to acclimatise to the summer weather, the ten hours time difference and the local customs by having a beer together. We kept an eye open for any unexpected wildlife but only a few pademelons appeared. That evening the team was treated to some decent staeks to strengthen their physical and mental constitution against the hardships of the rough days ahead.
We exchanged the cowbells for two nights accommodation in the shed. The eight of us slept side by side as a defensive measure against hungry tigers, should any sneak into the door-less shelter. To give us a moment of surprise in our defence, Lizanne chose to dress up as an owl - a very original idea! Perhaps the owl camouflage worked too well or perhaps no wild animals were interested, but there were no signs that night. Wind and rain hit the shed hard while we were sleeping, which probably contributed to keeping the tigers away.
Sam spent the early morning scouting the farm area, but only found a rainbow upon the sunrise. The team enjoyed a hearty breakfast inside the old farmhouse of bread and eggs, with wood-fire boiled tea, and coffee from a new and very fancy coffee machine. The shiny machine produced super-powered espresso shots, which, when combined with tasty local milk, got everyone up and WWOOFing (willing work on organic farm).
While Sam and Matthieu started trimming the jungle of cherry and the blackberry trees to reduce hiding options for tigers and facilitate their spotting, the ladies pulled weeds of the vegetable garden to search for prints. The dry wood from the orchid was transported and transformed into a giant bonfire pile near the vegetable garden to scare off wild animals, just in case the situation got out of hand.
During the day we experienced regular showers which forced us to take breaks until the sky cleared again. Again, we had a bbq dinner on the farm and spent the night in the shed. No signs of dangerous creatures were noted.
Lake St. Clair to Waterfall
We woke up with a view of friendly mountains sprinkled with snow, and were compelled to double check our GPS coordinates and calendar to make sure no errors were made in navigation or timing. It turned out we were exactly where we wanted to be, as did the calendar confirm it should be summer. Becoming curious about this abnormal weather (snow in summer in Australia) and the behaviour of tigers in said environments, we decided to hitch a ride into the mountains and continue our search.
After a two hour drive up windy mountain trails, much to the complaint of some stomachs, we arrived at Dove Lake. From Dove Lake it was impossible to continue by motor vehicle so we had no option but to go on by foot. Standing outside the car, the first thing we realised was how cold, windy and wet it was. The conditions forced us to delay the hike until after a team briefing in the rain shelter. Some ate, some checked maps, but everyone put on waterproof gear.
With all preparations compete we set out and started climbing up the hill. The rain calmed down for a moment just to allow us to get a glimpse of our surroundings, revealing a beautiful landscape. When we reached the plateau the wind turned and made the sheer act of walking into a gymnastics act, trying not to fall off the boarded path into the swampy area. Then it started snowing. Sideways.
On the first snow-covered plateau we took refuge into the emergency hut. The group conceded plans to climb either of the two nearby mountains, and had some chocolate covered coffee beans inside the hut instead. The acute dangers of cold and snow combined with the low visibility were too great a risk, so we continued to waterfall camp seeking shelter.
Although we could see no further than a couple of meters, we managed to find some signs of wildlife. Some interesting footprints guided us to an Eastern Quoll hopping through the snow into hiding from us. Had we been able to see the track we may have followed it. The sideways snow turned into sideways rain, and all paths sunk underwater. They were utterly indistinguishable from streams or rivers.
Several kilometres down the track we found Waterfall Camp. With so much rainwater torrenting down the mountains it was hard to tell after which particular waterfall the camp was named. The hut had just 8 beds spare for a dry nights rest; those coming later had to sleep on the floor. A small gas fire provided us with the chance to dry some crucial parts of our equipment, while the personalised medical flasks provided warmth from the inside. The group's spirits were high, undampened by adverse weather, unlike our socks which were quite damp.
Waterfall to Windemere
We woke up and quickly established the visibility of yonder hills. Taking that as a sign of improvement we were positive the sun would come out in an hour, and so set off back the way we came towards Barn Bluff on a climbing expedition. Some of the group stayed behind to gather their strength for the afternoon journey.
After emerging from the unusual palmtree grove, those of us that did venture out learnt quickly that the rain was of a particularly evil type: one which found its way though all manner of membranes to sodden our cloths. First we got wet on the wind side (right foot, right leg and right shoulder) before it broke through on the left side too.
We crossed the plateau of mossy mounds and grass tufts, and soon reached the point where the steep ascent to Barn Bluff began. Our calculations of the weather situation tuned out to be wrong: it was no drier when we left the hut. Despite our eagerness to climb the mountain, we decided against scrambling up the treacherous terrain on account of the thick fog blanketing the boulders, the rivers coming down the rock faces and the wind almost taking us off our feet. Instead, we turned around and headed back to the hut. Only sign of wildlife: a caterpillar that accidentally got stepped on.
Back at the hut we tried drying ourselves but got attacked by an unfriendly, aggressive ape-like creature. Since we found no documentation of this unknown species in our zoology notes and it could prove hostile, we decided to call it a Rager (Rangerous Agressivus) and to move on as quickly as possible.
Out in the rain we walked heads down through storm and rain, focussing on carrying our heavy equipment while remaining on the path. The trail was subdivided into nine categories:
- Boulders — Big rocks
- Schist — Small rocks
- Gravel — Tiny rocks
- Tree roots — Nature's roller coaster
- Mud — Nature's beauty therapy
- Forest — Nature's shelter
- Parallel planking — Elevated boards, safe from leaches
- Duckboard — Ground level boards, floating in puddles
- Cordwood — Submerged boards, mud leaches
After many hours and many raindrops we reached Lake Windemere, which indicated we were reaching our destination for the day. We dropped our equipment at the nearby hut and decided, since we could get no wetter but perhaps a lot cleaner, to undress and run back to the lake for a wash and swim. Surprisingly, the water was colder than our toes, even after the barefoot approach through wind and rain. After a thorough bath of about fifteen seconds we jumped out and were almost run over by a wombat storming past. Despite our hopes there was no tiger chasing it - it must have been our screams that we let out when enjoying the bath which set of the wombat.
We quickly gave up hopes on anything involving the word dry. Moisture was filling the air in the hut, keeping the conditions just right for mould. Outside it was raining steadily, and anything left on the veranda was threatened to be stolen by a kleptomaniac possum rumoured to be roaming the area. A droopy pademellon with a joey was hopping around outside and showing no concerns about being attacked by a tiger, so we decided to retire for the day.
Windemere to Pelion
There is nothing better to start the day than to put on a pair of wet, cold hiking boots and step out into drizzle. The onward journey planned was 16km - quite a hike actually, considering the conditions. Everyone started off in a good mood thanks to the rain getting lighter. Some of us (Lizanne) started to get slightly delirious from daylight-deprivation and hallucinated about seeing the sun.
To keep the moods up while on the trail we played a new game: jump from root to root without sinking into the swamp. Since we all considered ourselves rugged adventurers, we set the level of difficulty by carrying at least 20kg weight in our backpacks. With each kilometer travelled the paths sank several more centimeters deeper underwater. Along the way about 50% of what looked like a solid wood was sneakily unstable and sank, while solid footings such as tree roots were all incredibly slippery. The game was played along the whole 16km track.
Needless to say, the conditions lead to scenes reminiscent of the ancient games played in the Japanese city Takeshi, and every possible way to fall into mud was re-enacted. The group had mud inside their shoes, up their legs and even on their faces. Several serious slips and almost-fatal falls gave many a sore archilles tendon, but everyone came through unscathed.
In summary, the game was lost. Trying to keep above the mud was absolutely pointless, as just before arrival at out day's destination the mud became so deep that it almost became a swim to victory. Everyone in the team was covered from head to toe, except for Sam in his knee-high 4-cylinder superman-boots. At the hut, boots were upturned and leached rinsed out.
We had a late lunch in the spacious hut. Some of the group ventured out into the sunny (!) afternoon while others stayed back and practised kangaroo moves in sleeping bags - obviously performed in complete seriousness, to entice and lure in tigers.
The group that ventured out explored an old dark cave. On the way they all refilled their shoes with fresh mud and leaches. The cave was long and dark, but devoid of anything but some spiders. On the way back we came across an echidna - a very peculiar mammal that lays eggs and digs their face into the ground to make itself invisible.
We ended the day with dinner and in good spirits. Despite the fact that the closest thing to a wild animal we encountered so far was a timid echidna, an uninterested wombat or the wildlife developing in our constantly wet shoes, there were still high hopes of finding a tiger soon. Eve needed emergency medical attention after being attacked by leaches in her sleeping bag, which left her with a bloody leg. Luckily, she survived.
Pelion to Kia Ora
Compared to the conditions so far, the fourth day of hiking could have been considered dry. The trail was a mixture of chicken-wire clad boardwalks and wide mud puddles, but at least it was only raining some of the time. We hoped on from root to root, occasionally slipping and filling our shoes with mud. Looking on the bright side, it was keeping our skin nice moisturised, and helped form a natural camouflage. After making our way through a moss-covered forest we reached a plateau where the path split towards Mt. Ossa - the highest mountain in Tasmania. We piled up our bags and dared the climb.
Without the weight of backpacks on our shoulders we were almost lifted up by the wind and struggled to keep our feet on the ground. We climbed up watercourses, trying to avoid remaining puddles (or lakes - free definition) and passed bleached white dead trees and other interesting vegetation. The thick cloud that was covering the top of the mountain seemed to be lifting, and with it our hopes for a nice view. We continued scrambling up through snow and fog, following the directions of a bearded man from the far north who described the route as "past the wee little mountain and then a bit more". Just past a snowman we broke through the clouds.
As the route got steeper we had to leave some of the team behind. We promised to pick them up on the way down if we would find them again in the fog. On the very top of Tasmania we posed for a picture - if you look at it very closely, you can see a faint shape of what may be a tiger in the background. Unfortunately, the science society refused to accept the picture as a proof, saying that the fog was covering it too much, and it may have just been Andreas.
The fog began to clear and we headed down to meet the rest of the group for lunch. Soon a nice view was revealed on the now distant summit. Unfortunately the journey back up would have been too demanding to start a second attempt, so instead we headed back down to our equipment. In the mean time, our bags had been savaged by some wild animal - possibly a tiger. Some believe it may have been a Currawong - a spectacularly intelligent species of bird, which is famous for its ability to open zips. Bec was left without lunch.
Down from the plateau we had to cross the deepest swamp yet, in which Bec almost drowned. She sank in to almost her knees, and was just able to rescue herself and her shoes. Upon arrival at our destination we set up the tents just before it started raining. Again. All night. We had a quick wash in the cold, nearby river and sort shelter in a close by hut.
To lift everyone's drooping spirits due to the lack of tiger sightings, stolen food and never-ending rain, we had a litre of very exquisite port wine. Lizanne had wisely anticipated the hard times ahead and carried it with her all the way. It worked! Some team members made themselves some chocolate pudding, which looked like jellyfish-mud soup. It was consumed with determination rather than pleasure. The port worked a little too well on some people; when Andreas returned to his tent to find Matthieu already in bed (taking up most of the space), he could not hold it in and declared clear and loudly, audible for all wildlife of Tasmania: "My God, you are really big!"
Kia Ora to Bert Nicholas
We awoke to the pitter-patter sound of raindrops on our tents. After our staple breakfast of cereal, powdered food and camping-gas boiled tea, we had the pleasure of packing our wet tents. The idea to wait until the rain eased was a poor decision; it only got heavier.
We abandoned our plan to travel through Pine Valley and to climb the Acropolis in search of tigers. Instead we headed straight to Windy Ridge hut. Half way there a vote was taken to approve a small detour to visit Hartnett Falls (questioning why seeing more water was necessary was at this point was overlooked). The track there led through some overgrown and underwater trails. Access down and towards the falls was limited as every watercourse was overflowing with cold, clear water, and the falls themselves couldn't be approached as the spray was too intense. For a moment the rain stopped (replaced by spray) and some of the team had a relaxing bath at the bottom of the waterfalls.
Andreas, who had been hopping from root to root most elegantly, was happy to announce his feet were still dry today. He seemed to be suffering a very special kind of hiking dementia making him forgetful, so these announcements were repeated frequently throughout the remaining days of the hike. The dementia seemed to ebb the drier everyone's shoes became. Perhaps he just wanted the attention.
When we reached the hut the sun broke through. Based on a quick meteorological evaluation and our past experiences, even though it was now actually sunny we sort shelter inside the hut. For the first time during our expedition we were able to sit outside and enjoy the warmth, while out equipment actually got drier rather than wetter. The view up towards the Acropolis was nice, which we gazed towards while the ranger (a nice one) told us stories of his time in the park.
The hut was spacious and almost empty, save the two other groups. We played cards, washed ourselves with freezing rainwater, and cooked dinner that night before finishing the rest of our alcoholic medicines. As one last attempt to entice a Tasmania Tiger out into the open we went to the helipad - Lizanne in her owl costume - and danced about. The alcohol on our breath must have kept them at bay.
Bert Nicholas to Echo Point
And lo, there was sun! Sun! A lot of sun, and the skies were blue!
After five days of dredging through depressing downpour we had forgotten what it feels like to be (almost) dry - excluding perhaps Sam and Andreas's feet. Wearing dry cloths and shoes let Meike actually felt warm. Andreas was tip-toeing like a Bavarian Princess around every water drop to maintain the feeling. Unlike a princess he refused to kiss the green frog (Matthieu wearing green) to find out if he would turn into a prince. We stored our waterproof cloths and whipped out the sun screen and hats. Sam looking particularly striking in his pink bonnet.
On this, the second last day of the hike we finally had a genuine sighting of a Tasmania Tiger(snake)! With so little success so far, we decided to take what we could get, even if it didn't have any legs. We came across a few Tiger Snakes along the path sunning themselves for warmth. They let us come quite close before slithering away into the undergrowth.
A few kilometers along the trail we reached the tip of lake St. Clair. So happy at the chance to leap into the water, just to remind ourselves what wet and cold feels like. During lunch the relaxed mood was broken by an almost fatal accident: a hiker (figure) was dropped off the jetty, leading to a diving rescue. It was made possible because Eve had the foresighted to bring diving equipment on a seven-day hike.
We continued through the thick forest track along the side of the lake. At one point we had a spectacular wildlife sighting of a platypus paddling around in the lake. We set up our camp at Echo Point and had another swim in the lake. Dinner was a curious creation dubbed "Grash": instant mashed potato and gravy combined to a thick paste, with the consistency of jelly fish cocoa. Yummy! Ania - the voice of reason - accurately summarised the dish: "It's warm, it's food and it doesn't kill you". That evening several more platypi were spotted paddling along the shore.
Echo Point to Lake St. Clair Park Centre
The members of the team awoke at different times - the most enthusiastic up well before sunrise. One after the other we gathered on the jetty as the sunlight painted the sky ever waining depths of red. It seemed that Tasmania had thrown all its rain our way, and was now prepared to give us a break. We took our breakfast tea at the shoreline using rocks as seats, while a flutter of butterflies took a special, almost magical, interest in Andreas.
After a slow morning we set out on to the next 12 km of the expedition. The track was mostly dry which simplified walking, but the area had seen some wild weather in recent times and many parts were blocked by fallen trees. One particularly tenacious tree had pulled the forest floor up with it. Other fallen trees were laying in the lake, providing a vantage point for navigation.
Under the shade of a gigantic fern we stopped to eat all remaining supplies. We soon completed the 100th kilometer of the expedition, and shortly after reached the end of the lake. The last stretch of track was wide, dry, hot and taken at a sprint.
Some of the team took the chance to bathe; the rest reluctant to get wet again. Lizanne saw to the rest getting at least splashed. After a Gaytime stop we headed back by vehicle towards Tom and Jenny's farm.
Tom and Jenny had kindly prepared some non-dehydrated dinner for our return. The menu was free of jelly fish or similar concoctions, and looked much more appealing than Grash. We kept their shower busy for a while, washing off all those layers of rain that had accumulated on our skin. The washing machine was similarly kept spinning for many hours.
The bonfire, which had not yet been set alight, was reluctant to start burning even after the addition of a dead pademelon. Because everybody was rather tired, we hung up our tiger hunting hats for the day and went to bed.