Some things are worth braving an attack of vertigo for. The good golly gosh views from atop the Tahune AirWalk, perched high in the Tahune forest canopy of Tasmania’s Huon Valley, sits distinct among them. My focus shifts from my trembling legs to the pleasure of a journey in nature’s lap, as I walk along the carefully-constructed airwalk. It’s easy to imagine how Gulliver felt on his travels, when surrounded thus by the world’s tallest flowering plant–the Eucalyptus Regnans–known by locals as ‘swamp gum’.
The higher you go (the airwalk varies between 25 and 45 meters in height) the more exhilarating the experience becomes. Huon pine saplings here. Forest fungi there. Everywhere the tallest hardwood in the world–in the form of a 99.6 m tall, swamp gum tree named Centurion.
There’s distinct pleasure to be had in going deep into this southern forest, with a guide who knows a great deal more than you do. The water of the Huon river that swirls beneath our feet is dark amber in colour, hich the guide elaborates upon, with the brusque manner of a man evidently explaining the river’s murky glow for the millionth time, “Appearances can be deceptive. The tanin leached from the button grass plains, gives the river its colour. But the water is pure and clean. A lifeline for the croplands, fish farms and residents for whom it provides.”
The more ways of getting under the skin of the place, the deeper the insight. Tahune AirWalk offers a chance to hang-glide, mountain-bike and wobble across swinging bridges, to feel your place in the landscape and the power of nature around you. For the faint of heart, there are also leisurely trails.
Since I’ve seen the river from above, I drive further in the direction of Hobart to the Huon River Jet Boats, for new perspective on the landscape. But even the drama generated by 360-degree spins and dramatic turns that the boat takes as it speeds through white water, is dwarfed by the view surrounding us. “The river,” the captain says seriously, “is more than a pretty, pristine face. More than the water between its banks, it’s also the low-lying wetlands that border it. The orchards and pastures that slope up from it. The forests in its middle reaches. The solid people who are grateful for it and build their lives around it.”
In keeping with this earthy spirit, the food in the valley is built around a holy trinity of principles, a valorization of the local–seasonal and sustainable. The William Smith and Sons Farm is one good example of places to visit that follow this philosophy. Every permutation and combination of operation that can be done to an apple is performed. There are bags of organic apples, apple pie, apple decorations, apple cider–all on sale. Crafted and matured in oak vats, this complex drink spills over with the taste of citrus and juicy fruit. But what I taste in the cider goes beyond citrus notes. I taste rather a triumph of the small-scale and the niche.
And that’s it about this place–everything is part symbol, part code, of a much larger metaphorical story. A rainbow lorikeet flies by in all her colourful plumage, but like the scenery, she’s not just some idealized romantic image put here to delight a watercolorist. Neither are the artifacts of the intensely lustrous (and for the most part protected) Huon pine–from letter holders to furniture–just inanimate pieces of Australia’s oldest living tree. They are reminders of the power of the water and the earth that bear them. And in whose lap we are all finally irrevocably connected.