March 10, 2023
11 mins Read
“Are you Rebecca Huntley or Rebecca Crawford?” asked the young man as he emerged from the General Store and walked towards us, holding up two brown bags, each containing keys and a torch. Under normal circumstances this would have been an easy question to answer, but these were not normal circumstances.
My teenage daughter and I had just driven slowly for almost two hours without mobile reception in darkness on an unsealed road through the densest forest imaginable. The potholes looked ominous. Bats darted across the windshield and pademelons jumped onto the road in front of us.
I spent most of the time hoping and praying that our destination – Corinna Wilderness Village in takayna/Tarkine in north-west Tasmania – would indeed exist at the end of this seemingly endless road winding deep into one of the most ancient natural environments in Australia.
So extraordinary was this journey, it did feel as if we were entering some kind of terrestrial wormhole. My daughter had just finished binge-watching Stranger Things and tried to lighten the mood with the occasional joke about Vecna, the evil protagonist of the Upside Down world (also known as the Mind Flayer).
I was flabbergasted when the young man asked me my name because I was actually born Rebecca Crawford and changed my name, at aged 18, to Huntley (to sneak under the radar at law school given my father was a well-known legal academic). In 30 years, I had never encountered another Rebecca Crawford, let alone late at night in the middle of a historic mining and pining village at the edge of a vast wilderness in lutruwita/Tasmania. Like me, Rebecca Crawford was late. Or maybe lost.
All I could do was splutter: “Well I’m both but right now I’m Rebecca Huntley.” He handed me one of the brown bags, a bottle of red and a map to where our cottage was situated. I headed back to the car and my daughter, wondering whether this was the start of a Hollywood body-switching film or just the wildest coincidence of my life. But in a place like takayna/Tarkine, the wildest things seem possible.
I’ve never experienced any natural environment like it. The rainforest itself is the largest cool temperate rainforest in Australia, and the second largest in the world. It’s home to trees that are not hundreds, but thousands of years old. It was considered to be the last refuge of the now extinct Tasmanian tiger. And you can understand when you visit why there are those who believe one or two of them could still be lurking around in that lush and intense expanse of green.
The forest is home to wombats, quolls, platypuses, devils, kingfishers and all kinds of wildlife. But more than any animal sighting, the forest itself is the most thrilling living entity here. Along with its famous Huon pines, sassafras and eucalyptus trees, there are giant ferns and the widest variety of moss and lichen. takayna/Tarkine is habitat for 117 threatened species of flora and fauna and 30 priority species. It’s a treasure to be fiercely protected.
The Corinna Wilderness Village is a township with definite Deadwood vibes at the edge of the Pieman River, which snakes through takayna/Tarkine. The village consists of the General Store with a bar and restaurant, a guesthouse for groups and 16 wilderness retreats set up as one- or two-bedroom cottages. The village itself looks much like the original township would have done, albeit with solar panels and rainwater tanks.
The whole set-up is eco-friendly, working towards achieving a carbon-neutral experience and reducing impact on takayna/Tarkine. Guests are asked to take large rubbish items with them, the restaurant sources local produce where possible, and there is no internet or phone reception.
Corinna was established as the first post-convict occupation of the west coast of Tasmania and, in its heyday, was a thriving community. The gold rush saw a number of settlements along the river with fortune-seekers coming to cut trees and find gold. In its early days, it was the nearest Tasmania had to a lawless community where there were no controls of church or police. Indeed, it was described as the ‘roughest town in Tasmania’ in the 1880s. And that’s saying something.
With the completion of the Emu Bay Railway to Zeehan in 1900, the town declined in population and was leased to a number of families over the years, during which time most of the old buildings were lost and some new ones constructed. In 2005, the leasehold was sold to Tarkine Wilderness and the historic mining town was transformed into a wilderness retreat. Our neat little cottage was warm, comfortable and clean: anything too flashy would have ruined the historic feel of the whole set-up.
Dinner was waiting for us in the kitchen and the gas heater was on. As we watched a film my daughter had helpfully downloaded onto her laptop, I contemplated the logic of taking a teen to takayna/Tarkine rather than to Melbourne for shopping. Or to a fancy Queensland resort for swimming.
I had hoped this mother-and-daughter trip would be a relaxing break from social media for us both. Without the constant distraction of screens (I’m worse than she is), the conditions would be created for some meaningful conversation – hard to find when her twin seven-year-old sisters are bouncing around.
Since she was a little girl, I’ve taken her on holidays where she’s been able to experience Australia’s unique natural environments: I’m trying to use these holidays to instil in my daughter some value and respect for these environments and, perhaps, a lifelong commitment to fighting to protect them.
After a comfortable, warm night’s sleep and breakfast bought from the supermarket in Burnie the day before, we rugged up and headed off for our two-hour river cruise on the historic Arcadia II. The heritage-listed barge is made from the same rot-resistant Huon Pine that is everywhere to be seen along the riverbanks.
With a colourful history as a supply boat during the Second World War and a scallop boat in peacetime, it now spends its days pottering up and down the river allowing tourists to see the ancient trees and learn more about what lies behind the mystique of takayna/Tarkine.
We were lucky enough to be followed for most of the two hours by a family of eagles. In the afternoon, my teenager decided it was time to finish her English assignment. Try as I might, I couldn’t lure her to accompany me on the Whyte River Track, a moderately difficult one-way loop from our cabin to the General Store, with a promise of exciting varieties of moss to see along the way.
The many and varied walking tracks around Corinna are one of its biggest selling points and were as enjoyable in cold, damp weather as they must be in summer. As I was nearing the end of my walk, I saw a woman in the distance with a camera, about my age and height. I approached her tentatively.
“Excuse me, but your name isn’t Rebecca Crawford, is it?” It wasn’t. Perhaps my doppelganger was still lost or attempting one of the more ambitious walks in the region, such as the one to Philosopher’s Falls. Or, even more ambitiously, kayaking on the Pieman River (Corinna has kayaks available to hire and offers guided tours as well).
After another warm night’s sleep and wholesome meal, we woke early to head back to Launceston. Before we left, I did insist that we tackle the Huon Pine Walk together, an easy 20-minute ramble along the riverbank. Signs along the walk told us the area was heavily logged from the 1880s all the way to the 1970s.
The walk is lined by century-old trees that were spared from logging and are now protected. The forest is slowly regenerating, hopefully to be protected for generations to come. As we returned the keys to the young man who first greeted me in the darkness a few days ago, I resisted the urge to ask him if Rebecca Crawford had turned up.
The drive back along the unsealed track through the forest in the daytime was full of spectacular scenery. The potholes were in fact shallow. No bats, but a few pademelons here and there. I didn’t find evidence of the Tasmanian tiger or my doppelganger in takayna/Tarkine. There were a few heart-to-heart conversations with my daughter, but mostly quiet, together time of the quality that eludes us in the city.
What I did discover was a place that only Tolkien could have done justice to with words, but which my daughter managed to capture to some degree with her iPhone camera. Three days was not enough.
You can fly direct to Launceston with Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia from most capital cities. It’s a 3.5-hour drive to Corinna via Devonport and Burnie. Make sure you hire a car that’s suitable for unsealed roads.
Corinna Wilderness Village includes original self-contained miner-style cottages, which have recently had an interior refresh. The retreat has no reception, TV or wi-fi, so is the perfect place to unplug. Although off-grid, you can expect gas heating and hot showers.
Bring fresh food and snacks in the off-season, because the restaurant isn’t open and it’s a long, long drive to the nearest shop. You can also order food through Corinna prior to your stay (we had a wonderful dinner of butter chicken on the first night and a lovely second dinner of beef ragù on the second night).
The General Store has drinks, snacks and a few other supplies. Bring your own coffee and stove-top espresso machine if you are caffeine-obsessed, but there are tea- and coffee-making supplies in the room. The bar is open year-round and you can bring your own alcohol.
Stop in the charming seaside town of Penguin along the way to Corinna. It’s home to The Small Folk, the most beautiful children’s toy store in Tasmania, if not Australia; Penguin Beer Co, which has a taphouse to sample its craft beer with great views of the beach; and The Penguin Peanut Co & Coffee, which sells the best peanut butter I’ve ever had and decent coffee.
Make time to drop into the Ashgrove Cheese Company on your drive back to Launceston for its three-cheese toasties and house-made ice-creams.
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