Lying spread-eagled on a flimsy rubber mat and clad in a stack-hat and a pair of over-sized white overalls, I nervously wait for the signal.
Finally, with a ‘1, 2, 3, GO!’ I hurtle at break-neck speed (well, 45km/hr anyway!) down a chute that ducks and weaves through the forest canopy before plummeting 110 metres below into the dingy realms of a mysterious natural sinkhole.
Dismal Swamp jungle ride
This adrenalin-charged slide isn’t the most conventional way of reaching the bottom of Tasmania’s intriguing Dismal Swamp, but, taking only 20 seconds, certainly is the fastest.
Those wanting to access this extraordinary sinkhole in a more civilised manner (and children under 8 year-of-age of under 90 cm in height who are prohibited from the slide for safety reasons) have the option of walking, or hitching a ride in a golf buggy, down a track into the swamp.
Formed thousands of years ago by dolomite rock weathering in a circular fashion, Dismal Swamp (now covering 600ha) received its unfortunate name in 1828 (although the owners have subsequently co-named it as Tarkine Forest Adventures), when the first surveyor to map this remote area had a ‘dismal’ experience after having to sleep in the trees to avoid the leeches and mozzies on the swamp floor.
Luckily, we encounter neither of these pests, primarily because at the end of the slide is a maze of raised boardwalks that traverse the sinkhole’s boggy floor. These paths lead through the mist past an amazing array of art installations, their creators inspired by the swamp’s fascinating history and ecology.
Great Nature Trail
The sculptures range from imaginative swamp creatures lurking in the jungle to giant craters harbouring realistic crayfish.
In fact it is the action of their real-life counterparts – the burrowing crayfish (Engaeus fosser) – churning up the swamp floor and oxygenating the soil, that enables the seeds of the blackwoods to germinate and grow in such remarkable abundance here.
You could easily spend half-a-day soaking up the sinkhole’s mystical atmosphere, marvelling at the art installations or queuing up for another exhilarating ride down the slide. But we decide to leave mid-afternoon, allowing us enough time to explore more of the ‘Great Nature Trail’ – a touring route that winds along the Apple Isle’s spectacular north-west coast.
Just on dusk, we stop off at the charming seaside hamlet of Penguin, which not only features reputedly the largest model penguin in the world, but more excitingly a nightly parade of the real thing – cute fluffy fairy penguins that waddle across the beach (Nov – March only) bringing dinner to their hungry chicks.
Talking of tasty tucker, not far from Penguin, we stumble upon our own unique culinary experience – Weindorfers Restaurant.
Tucked away in a rustic shingled-roofed building, this place has a real homely, European chalet-feel about it. And the menu doesn’t disappoint either, offering a bit of everything, from vegetarian bakes and ratatouille to ploughman’s lunches, steaks and smoked trout.
The desserts are to die for with stories of a famished bushwalker eating 37 of their fabled Swedish pancakes in one sitting. Mmm. They must be good.
With full tummies, and running more than a little late, we head off to check-in at nearby Silver Ridge Wilderness Retreat.
The tourist brochures touted this place as being, “wedged up against the base of majestic Mt Roland,” so early next morning we are a tad disappointed to notice only a moderately sized hill at the back of the property.
So, imagine our shock, when an hour later, the sun burns-off the cloud cover to reveal the full extent of Mt Roland – at least 90 per cent of the mountain had previously been hiding above the clouds! Now, in all its glory Mt Roland looms imposingly into the sky like a towering impenetrable fortress.
Just like Dismal Swamp and Weindorfers, our stay at Silver Ridge ends up far exceeding our expectations – country Tasmania is just that sort of place.
Dismal Swamp: Tarkine Forest Adventures at Dismal Swamp is located on the Bass Highway; a three-hour drive west of Launceston. Open 7-days a week. 9am – 5pm Jan – March, otherwise, 10am – 4pm. Closed: 1 June – 31 August each year. Cost: adults $20, children $10 (7 years and under, free). Ph: (03) 6456 7138.
Did You Know? When a burrowing crayfish grows out of its skeleton it then eats it to provide nutrients to harden its new shell.
Silver Ridge Wilderness Retreat: Rysavy Rd, Sheffield. Ph: (03) 6491 1727.