UPDATE 2020 – I haven’t been but have heard that since the 2018-2019 fires the end of the tree we rely on to get across the Gordon River is now permanently in water, and is likely impassable with ANY rise in water level.
Anyone who likes to explore mountains in Tasmania has surely heard of Lake Rhona. It’s always described as a beautiful, stunning, and very special place. The only things people warn you about is the crossing of the Gordon river, which after decent rainfall can flood, making crossing back over the very conveniently placed tree(s) somewhat interesting, if not dangerous. Oh, and maybe the little bit of button grass bog (but nothing to rival the reputation of the South Coast track or the Soddon Loddons), or reports of gastro from some who have drunk untreated water straight out of the lake itself (the rivers are fine, we must have tested almost every one).. and one that I might add, the mozzies round Rhona (though this may well be weather dependant). None of these things really detract from the place itself though, they just require a little bit of forethought and planning for appropriate management.
Given its reputation, Rhona is a walk that most people have on their ‘list’. I’ve had it on mine for some time, and as with all walks on the list, the more I heard about it, the higher it climbed! So high in fact, I was set to go in a month or so ago on three beautiful days, but at the last minute had to work through my weekend to my immense disappointment. Not to be deterred, my next chance of three days off was to be the Sunday directly after returning from a week in the Southern Ranges (Friday night), and I tentatively toyed with the idea – a nice relaxing walk in after one day back at work, just to ‘work out the aches and pains’ I expected to have.. This didn’t eventuate either for various reasons, but it had never been set in stone so I wasn’t too put out. I had accepted by this stage that some things happen when they’re supposed to, and that I would get there eventually.
When I discovered about a week ago that there was going to be a few busy work weeks for me between Christmas and mid January I figured I needed to escape first, and again, it was the promise of a beautiful place, a beach to lie on, some mountains to climb, and in general a relaxing trip (for anyone who knows me I mostly do relaxing in a kind of fast-paced way, but this was to be a slightly slower pace).
Unlike either of the first two plans/ideas, this time I was lucky enough to be accompanied by another Pandani member and good friend, whose presence greatly enriched any experience I could have had solo. Lake Rhona would be a beautiful place to go for silent retreat and reflection, but there’s always something extra special about being able to share and marvel at all the wonders and beauty of nature and place with someone else, building connections that extend beyond just yourself and nature, but also with, and witnessed by, someone else. The nature of these connections depends always on the dynamics of the group you’re with, and I have to say I’ve been amazingly lucky in this regard. I have some very special friends. This trip, I most definitely saw things I never would have seen, did things I never would have done, and learnt things I never would have known, had I been alone. As I continue to walk, and especially over the last few weeks/months, I find I’m taking much more pleasure in having company (despite being my introverted self) than going solo (though that has some fun bits too).
Anyway, despite the odds with the trip being the weekend directly before Christmas, the weather forecast deteriorating , and the last minute notice, I not only had great company, but we were both equally determined to still go in to Lake Rhona at week’s end. I think we had both been looking forward to doing it for so long, separately and with our own, but likely very similar, motivations, that once we’d decided, that was that. It was, in any case, a walk that we thought could be enjoyed in any weather (save the kind that would have had us stranded on the wrong side of the Gordon, Graham unable to return to his family for Christmas Eve, and me unable to get in to work, where my boss would likely kill me for missing one of the busiest days of the year!). And I think it’s safe to say we were right, and neither of us have any regrets, despite the fact that both of us take great pleasure in the challenge, adventure and exhilaration of a climb.. Rather, we just had another excuse (like you need one!) to return and enjoy exploring other parts of the place that we didn’t get to see this time.. perhaps a slightly longer trip, incorporating Mount Wright and Stepped Hills.. hmmm 😀 (a note on this, you never ever come out of a good walk without at least one new place added to the list)!!!
So after a fast-paced 8 hour shift, 7 of which I spent baking bread alone (I do quite like that), I headed home, and had a few minutes to pack last minute food etc before Graham arrived and it was time to go. As always, I was most appreciative of the lift, even though it would have made more practical sense for me to drive. We were at the start of the track (directions are as per the Abels description, though ignore Chapman’s grid references (for the car park and tape) if working from his book). We were walking by 9.30, wondering what the day, in particular the weather, would hold in store for us. The track starts off nice and flat, with a gentle downhill tendency, weaving through forest. After having it pointed out, I took great pleasure in running my hands through and then inhaling the distinct smell of lemon boronia (boronia citriodora, I’m reliably informed 😉 ). It’s probably a smell that all bushwalkers are fond of, and I’d certainly smelled it a number of times before, but had never actually identified by sight which plant produced it. It has beautiful pinky-white flowers, that Graham described as origami like.
As we walked along the forest slowly changed, a green mossy myrtle section here, then into the clearly identifiable grey-brown messy flood zone. Instinct said the river was near, and I know I approached with excited anticipation. And there it was, nature’s bridge stretching easily across the river, as if extending permission on the proviso you didn’t take it for granted. As I took a photo of Graham walking along one tree trunk, becoming smaller and more distant as he approached the middle, I was again reminded of the true power nature holds over us, and (sometimes I think gratefully) our relative insignificance in the scheme of things. And with this in mind, I figured that no matter how foul the weather might turn, and whether or not we climbed any or all of the three mountains, we would come away with something, you always do.
Once across the river, in no time at all you’re on the button grass plains. Ah, the button grass :)!! Some people hate it, for the jolting, jarring, twisting and turning of the dance it demands you perform, again and again, and even when you do perfect one section, it throws you into the mud as you put half a boot out of line, or sends you stumbling and sliding around as you slip off the side of a wet clump that seemed deceptively level. But I do just love the colours, as it stretches out before you, up to the feet of the blue mountains that frame it, or is it the button grass that frames the mountains? Either way, they go hand in hand, and you’d have to be blind not to smile. It’s something that I associate strongly with Tasmania and bushwalking, which, if you hadn’t guessed, is very dear to me. So after admiring and identifying the mountains we could now see (Wright, the Thumbs, and Reed in particular), we headed off, eagerly performing for the button grass as the mountains looked on at our slow progress.. It wasn’t helped that the weather, much better than expected, and the excitement of being out in the midst of it again, had us stopping to take it all in, and as usual, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh. There were times I just had to stretch out my arms, hands brushing the tops of button grass stalks, or melaleuca (I also learnt what this one looks like) or other species of boronia as I walked along. The wild part inside me making contact with the wilderness outside. I was happy and I was home.
We met two guys who had spent three days walking in, up Reed Peak, and back out, and they too described it as a very special place. That only compounded my excitement. But the long walk through the button grass, up a slight rise, down again, only to rise again then descend, always staying perplexingly close to 500m above sea level, and the increasing tiredness did take a tiny sliver off the edge (not much mind you!). The walk was broken up by findings of relatively intact skeletons of small marsupials, the discovery of numerous cool and welcoming creeks whose water never failed to satisfy thirst or cool a hot head (and be a source of a bit of mischief), the photographing of small tarns where small dragonflies danced in pairs, the marvelling of the new emerald green growth of ferns, not to mention the brief exploration of Gordonvale.
I’d heard of it, but being my usual self, ignorant of matters unless they directly impact me, I had little more knowledge than a vague recollection of having heard the name somewhere before. Gordonvale was, I have since been delighted to learn, the home of a Tasmanian bushman, Ernie Bond, who was apparently very hospitable to bushwalkers, feeding them as they passed through. I wonder what that kind of life would have been like?
The land has fittingly reclaimed much of what once was, leaving evidence in the form of grown over tools, a fallen down building (toilet perhaps), some metal implements, foundations, and introduced flowers. It would have been beautiful to see the daffodils in flower, but we missed it by a few weeks. Gordonvale, protected thanks to the TLC, actually looks a pretty place to camp (bar the lack of mountain views), and the history would add to the experience, though the leeches would necessitate a certain vigilance.
But back to the walking, and in the fashion described above, as the successive climbs up the bumps seemed to increase in length and gradient, and the subsequent descents decreased (and no, my GPS confirms it was not just my imagination), we were standing at the foot of the ridge up which the pad heads, taking us on the final climb to Rhona. Graham took the lead, and I just concentrated on plodding onwards and upwards, my legs complaining of a lack of energy. He waited up for me at the top of each major bump, and I dread to think what I look like in some of the photos I think he took! But the anticipation and the view that seemed to increase with each step up was more than enough motivation to counter any increase in tiredness and though it seemed to take forever, it was paradoxically quite fast, and you could sense that the lake was just over that last rise.. A snack break, and appreciation of the view from where we sat on rocks on opposite sides of the track (always important not to get too carried away in getting to the destination, but to enjoy the journey and views along the way just as much), and then we were moving again.
And there it was.. the tannin stained lake and its private pristine beach that was to be all ours for the next two nights, nestled in amongst the mountains and ridges, the greeny-yellow-orangey-brown of button grass and the pink and white tinged grey of conglomerate rock in the foreground.. rendering any attempt to express the feelings of those moments insufficient…
It is most definitely a very special place, and over the rest of that day, the following tent bound day, and the morning of our last day, it served to bring out the almost child-like parts in us. We wondered with fresh eyes at nature and its beauty, whether it was the Snowgums that looked newly painted in earthly colours under rain’s brush; or the drops of water that hung from button grass stalks like jewels, glittering in the silver light; the looming shapes of mist covered jagged mountain ridges; the arrangement of conglomerate rock along the ridges to evoke a range of feelings (a fun obstacle course to bounce across, a challenge to shin up (the challenge is still on for next time), or there purely for aesthetic purpose); or the wildness and thrill of the sound of thunder and the flash of lightening, that highlights your world even through closed eyes.
We were dared to brave the freezing water of Lake Rhona.. refreshing yes, bracing, perhaps more accurate.. or down right freezing! But there was no chickening out after Graham had charged in like a bull at a gate, and straight back out, with plenty of noise just to make sure I knew how cold it was ;)! I took the slower approach, but no less painful I suspect. Perhaps a little quieter.. Some slightly more controlled bellows from Graham were also necessary to announce our presence to the mountains, and listen to the echoes as they reverberated mightily around us. More laughter.. oh the simple things that delight! And on another occasion, writing in the sand. But unlike childhood memories, there were no waves you had to race to finish messages before the slate was wiped clean, your words taken out to travel the oceans of the world. They remained there to be slowly dissolved into the sands of time by the gentle but constant massage of rain, or of the footsteps of new visitors making their mark.
That night after dinner and a battle to keep the swarming mozzies at arms length, we set off again, with the idea of climbing Reed Peak for sunset, but first, to respond to the beckoning of one particular twisted but strong snowgum, that I’d seen the first time we walked along the beach. It had a branch perfect for sitting on, and so begged the question of whether it was climbable. It looked quite doable, no tough bits, and so I was a child again, climbing a tree of my choosing (or did it choose me?) and sitting out as far as my weight could be safely born by the snowgum’s twisted arms. It swayed in the wind, in a way that was not noticeable to the human eye but that gave a very distinct feeling of being rocked in a cradle, or on a boat out at sea. On my slightly less dignified or elegant retreat, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Graham was also going up! I had thought he was just letting me indulge my craziness, but it was kind of nice to have someone else partake in it too (or some of his own, as the case may be).
The tree monkey pacified, we wandered up, going over a hill we needn’t have, but following a well worn pad nonetheless, then up the ridge. It became clear that we’d underestimated how long it would take us to get to the top, the sky was looking like a nice sunset wasn’t on the cards, and I for one was very tired, having been up just short of 24 hours. That we’d be returning in the dark with already stumbly feet was not something either of us were too keen on, so we agreed we’d take our chances the next day, come what may. A quick check of the weather on the phone, not so promising, a check back to base for Graham, and it was time to head down. I might have been tired, but there’s something about walking down the top of a ridge line (or down anything really) that awakens an urge in me to spread my arms out wide, and run, skip, jump, or otherwise descend at speed, flying as it were, along the mountain top. I even had Graham trying it at one stage.. and I wonder what he thought? It requires a sharpness, a concentration, a precision, the making of split second choices where weight placed on any single step is determined by assessment of balance, angle, friction, surface type and direction of travel, where perfection from one moment to the next is necessary, or you’ll end up head over heels. I love it, I love the challenge, I love the thrill, I love the freedom. It’s the closest I might ever come to flying.
We might not have seen the view west from the top of the ridge, or had a speccy sunset (which it was never going to be), but we had had a nice view south from on top, and did get a lovely golden glow across the lake on the way back for just a few moments, and that was certainly special enough. Having walked close to 20km that day, after working all night, I was more than ready for bed, and I slept more soundly than I had all week, waking at dawn the following day.
The morning was one of those misty, moody, atmospheric ones, where all attention is necessarily focused on the more immediate, as anything beyond hides behind a veil of grey-whiteness. Here the not knowing, not seeing adds mystery and intrigue to the place, even though the day before we’d had perfectly clear views. We weren’t going anywhere though, there is little point in climbing rock in conditions in which you can’t see a few metres ahead (you could be anywhere after all) and I know I for one wasn’t too keen on getting wet and cold. Instead we perfected the art of cooking breakfast and dinner in between the raindrops, chatted about life, and discussed future walks, both planned and (as yet) unplanned. There was no question about returning, that was almost taken for granted.
The following morning was still wet, but the mist had lifted a bit, sitting on the top of the ridge line. With a bit of luck, we somehow managed to time our departure to coincide with a period of no rain. As we descended the views opened up, in between rain fronts sweeping through. We avoided some, got caught in others, but none were particularly heavy or concerning, nor was it too cold. We walked with a sense of measured concern, over whether the river would be in flood by the time we got there. Apparently we had nothing to worry about, but it did do us good time wise.. with numerous breaks on the way up having made a total of 6.45hrs walking from the start to Lake Rhona, we walked that same distance on the return in a much faster 4.40hrs.. granted there was more downhill, but there was a lot of flat too!
All up, 34.4km, 1231m ascent, in about 13.5 hours, resulting in an even stronger desire to return and continue the exploration of Lake Rhona and the Denison Range..
****PLEASE NOTE: AS OF 5 JANUARY 2015***
Due to windfalls on the normal access road to Lake Rhona, please be advised that access is now via the following changed route: Junction of Gordon River Road & Florentine Road: Odometer 0; Drive along Florentine Road for 20 km, where you’ll come to the junction of Florentine/Eleven Road (Odometer 20); Turn left into Eleven Road; Eleven Road changes name to Gittus Road. Drive for 11 km along Eleven/Gittus Road (Odometer 31). At a T junction, turn left, drive for 1.2 km (Odometer 32.2) Turn left onto Range Road, drive for 3.3 km (Odometer 35.8); Turn left onto Terry Walsh Road, drive for 3.2 km. Carpark for Lake Rhona is at the end of this road. (Odometer 39).