Great walks of Tasmania
ASK ANY TASSIE LOCAL and they’ll eagerly tell you that there really is no place like their home.
When pressed as to why, they quickly attribute their pride to all that Tasmania has to offer: striking landscapes, rich heritage, an abundance of unique flora and fauna, delicious food and wine and a close-knit community that these days is rarely found.
Now, five of Tassie’s tourism operators have banded together to create the Great Walks of Tasmania (GWT) – seven guided walks that must be wandered to be believed.
Each of the walks – the Maria Island Walk, Bay of Fires Walk, Freycinet Experience Walk, Cradle Mountain Huts, South Coast Track, Tarkine Rainforest Track and the Walls of Jerusalem Experience Walk – are unique, so look forward to seven different journeys.
Ranging between three and nine days, what you can expect from all seven walks is the same personalised service, fresh local food, expert knowledge from the guides and a landscape that will steal your breath.
Construction-engineer-turned tourism-operator Ian Johnstone founded the award-winning Maria Island Walk in 2002 and was a key initiator in the GWT scheme.
As a Tasmanian wilderness aficionado, Ian struggles to hide his enthusiasm for the project. “An analogy we use is that like Africa has the five majestic animals everyone should see in their lifetime, Tasmania now has the big seven. Seven magnificent walks that everybody, if they’re lucky enough, should experience,” he says.
What makes Tasmania a ‘must-see’ destination?
It is a combination of things. Having been an isolated island for 20,000 years there are plants and animals and history here that are different to anywhere else in the world.
It is also stunningly beautiful. And there is a friendliness, an honesty and an authenticity to the people here.
Tassie is also very accessible; a cheap airfare, a short break. For the Maria Island Walk you only need to be away from the neighbouring states for four days which is perfect for a break.
What inspired you to create the Maria Island Walk?
I was born in Australia and I worked around the world as a civil engineer for many years. I’ve always loved the outdoors and I am a big believer in conservation and trying to make a positive difference in what I do in my work for the community and the environment.
In 2002 I decided to have a go at setting up a Maria Island Walk. I had a young family and I had moved to Tasmania. I’d seen a lot of top-end tourism being done very well in Africa, New Zealand and elsewhere.
I’d also seen the Overland Track and other great products here and that inspired me to have a go on my own. I started talking with the national parks in the area for permits in 2002.
We then designed and built the two wilderness camps, recruited staff and created the business. Our first walk was in 2003 and we’re now recognised as one of Australia’s most outstanding tourism experiences.
We set high standards in customer service and our food is exceptional. We’re very much about local low-kilometre food.
How did the Great Walks of Tasmania initiative come about?
In the early days the individual tourism operators in Tasmania used to run their own race and look after their own businesses.
Then we all got to talking and the seven of us shared similar values about providing a unique and high-quality guided-walking experience and it made sense for us to work together to really promote our wonderful areas and promote walking in Tassie to the outside world.
We went to Tourism Australia and they were highly supportive of the idea. All the members of GWT strive to be socially and environmentally responsible while simultaneously providing an exceptional service.
Our ethos on tourism is very much based on sustainability and low-impact practices and really appreciating the environment around us and protecting it. That really fits in well with my views and outlook on the world and how I live my life.
Our organisation is made up of a broad range of people, from merchant bankers and chefs to Antarctic guides, extreme sportsmen, midwives, elite athletes, world champion orienteers, historians and people with extensive knowledge of flora and fauna.
Who are the Tasmanian walks designed for?
They are for people who are ‘experience seekers’. They don’t necessarily want to go and sit in a resort or a sterile environment. They want to get out and meet and smell and taste and see and learn new things.
And while it is ‘soft adventure’ there is the cultural side to it – the natural and human history – so people come back not only refreshed but also educated or enlightened after having interacted with the local people and culture.
Our guests are also people who have similar values to our own. They’re people who are interested in learning about the world and helping to preserve the environment. A lot of the walks have been recognised for their eco-tourism approach.
Those of us that have wilderness camps remove all our rubbish – everything we cart in, we cart out. Which, for significant tourism operators, is a major undertaking.
Our camps are also built above the ground so there is no penetration of the land. If they had to be removed they could be within two or three days and you wouldn’t know they were there.
Do these Tasmanian walks have what it takes to rival other great walks from around the world?
I’ve got no doubt. Our experiences are right up there with anywhere else. Our point of difference is our walks are highly personalised and we offer superb Tasmanian food and wine and, of the seven walks, four have candlelit dining.
You also have a beautiful bed and pillow. So you’re roughing it in a soft, gentle sort of way.
We have people come from around the world who’ve done all the other great walks and they say our walks are right up there – as good, if not the best, they’ve experienced.
What do you hope visitors will take away from this Tasmanian experience?
A large part is the human interaction. The warmth and the friendliness and the discovery of things with friends are a huge part of it. We also hope people leave with an appreciation of what a special place Tasmania is and an appreciation of good environmental tourism.
The Tarkine Rainforest Walk really tries to open peoples’ eyes to how beautiful and how precious these forests are. They’re under threat from development, so it’s important people know this and do their little bit to spread the word and help with the movement so those areas are preserved.
Source: Australian Geographic Outdoor Mar/Apr 2011