Tasmania’s newest trek reveals the postcard-perfect landscapes of the state’s northeast through the stories of the local indigenous community.
It is an unusually warm autumn day in northeastern Tasmania, a part of Australia known for its vast, rugged wilderness areas, untouched stretches of sand, and distinctive flora and fauna. Within minutes of lacing up our hiking boots to scale Mount William in its namesake national park, we spot bald eagles, a pair of Forester kangaroos, and fresh Tasmanian devil scat. Steps later, we come across something a little more hair-raising: a tiger snake, coiled at the base of an ancient grass tree. Carleeta Thomas, our 19-year-old guide, stops the group abruptly, but she is clearly unfazed by the venomous reptile. “It’s not used to seeing people, and just wants to make the most of the sun,” she explains.
The fact that tiger snakes—any snakes—are so comfortable hanging out by the side of the track is testament to just how wild, wonderful, and unpeopled this part of the world is. It’s unlikely that another human has tramped this trail in days, maybe weeks. And they won’t again until the next group of Wukalina trekkers passes through.
Managed by the Aboriginal Land Council, the Wukalina Walk is the state’s first indigenous tourism project—a four-day guided trek that brings groups of no more than 10 people to the beautiful bushland of the Mount William/Bay of Fires region, some 170 kilometers northeast of Launceston, Tasmania’s second city. The goal is to show off the countryside through the stories of the indigenous community, whose history here is as sad as the region is spectacular.
Tasmania’s Palawa people are believed to have once numbered about 15,000, a figure reduced to just hundreds within years of the arrival of European settlers in the early 1800s. Many of the Aboriginal women who survived disease or being shot were kidnapped by American and British sealers, and it is their descendants—including Thomas—that still consider this corner of Tasmania their spiritual homeland.
When the snake moves on, Thomas fumbles at the base of the grass tree and produces a handful of shiny red spheres that look like berries. In fact, they’re balls of sap, which her people use as an eye-popping lacquer to decorate instruments and weapons.
Ten sweaty kilometers later we arrive at our base for the next two nights: a standing camp named Krakani Lumi. Hobart architectural studio Taylor and Hinds was called in to craft the sculptural main lodge and five boardwalk-connected sleeping huts, which are dotted among banksias on the verge of Cod Bay. While the exteriors are boxy, half-domed interiors resemble luxe caves, fitted with comfy beds and wallaby hides that keep things cozy at night.
Despite having a kitchen, composting toilets, and rain showers, the communal lodge is entirely off-grid. It’s here that we gather around a fire in the evenings, savoring meals—wallaby carpaccio, flame-cooked scallops, grilled muttonbird—while Thomas tells us about the Palawa creator spirit Muyini.
On day two we stroll barefoot along Cod Bay’s beach, a stretch of powdery sand bordered by lichen-crusted boulders. Thomas lingers at the back of the group to forage for shark eggs and leathery bull kelp; she also picks some saltbush leaves that we later fry into crispy chips. Our destination is a huge beach midden, where the sand is blackened from the decomposition of piles of oyster and clam shells, not to mention centuries of fiery Palawa feasts.
Day three is also spent walking the beach, this time south for almost 20 kilometers toward the Bay of Fires. We reach the lighthouse at Eddystone Point (traditionally known as Larapuna) at sunset, and are welcomed with Tasmanian beers and cheeses served in a stylish renovated lodge that was once a lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Only members of the indigenous community and those on the Wukalina Walk can stay here.
On our final day, we climb the granite lighthouse’s 130 stairs and gaze over the trail we’ve just hiked; in the other direction is the Bay of Fires, named after the extensive spot blazes that early French explorers saw when mapping the island. “We’ve come a long way,” says Thomas, perhaps referring to the hike, perhaps to the state of indigenous relations. “I feel so lucky to be able to share the stories of my people in this incredibly spiritual part of the world.”
The Wukalina Walk costs from US$1,786, including all meals, guides, park fees, transfers, and accommodation. Expect to walk around 10 kilometers on day one, five on day two, and 18 on day three; there’s just a small amount of walking on the last day.
More information here.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2019 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Walk This Way”).